Body image and fat prejudice is a topic I've been trying to talk about almost ever since I started this journal, and I keep reading things that bring me back to it, and every time I start a post I give up because I'm pretty sure I'm going to offend people. Quite often I upset myself too. I've finally come to the conclusion that the best way to start discussing the question is to be very personal. I'm going to talk about my own experience of being fat, and not draw any implications yet.
I've been fat ever since I hit puberty. To be precise, I've been on the borderline between the "overweight" and "obese" BMI categories pretty much that whole time. On the whole, that hasn't really affected my life very negatively, but it has coloured my experience of the world.
My parents were absolutely scrupulous never to criticize my weight; that's a pretty important thing, and I'm very grateful for it. In fact, my mother didn't even complain about her own weight in front of me until I was past the most vulnerable age. I had a little bit of grief from Granny, such as occasionally complaining that I shouldn't wear certain things because they draw attention to my huge bottom. She held back from the worst of what she subjected my mother to when she was growing up, and I knew quite clearly that she has issues about body image and her relationship with food, so I was never strongly bothered by the fact that she's a tiny little woman and I'm (like Mum) positively huge compared to her. Oh, and my little sister went through a phase of constantly mocking me for being so fat; she's five years younger than me and was a late developer, so she was a scrawny kid throughout my adolescence. But I was older than her and bigger, and knew more about almost everything, and also knew exactly how to push her buttons and frequently did, so the only advantage she could hold over me was being thinner, so I wasn't exactly impressed by her teasing.
My other grandmother, who was a paediatrician, was the one who measured my weight and height at regular intervals, and compared me to her BMI charts and warned me to keep an eye on my weight and diet when I slipped into the "obese" category. With her medical background she knew that the only way to maintain weight is to eat a sensible, balanced diet and do plenty of exercise, so she never gave me stupid advice, and was much more focused on encouraging me to be healthy than thin. She also had a very good understanding of what it's like to be short and stocky and show our shared eastern European ancestry. (Apart from my fairer colouring I take after her quite a lot physically.) I clearly remember a conversation about how my tall, thin, glamourous cousin getting her first little black dress, and my grandmother commented that cousin E looked "slinky" in the dress, whereas she and I would never be slinky.
On the whole, I didn't get much trouble from my peers either. I attended an academically competitive girls' private school, where dieting was not socially encouraged. For a start, it showed that you valued appearance more than brains and personality, and were therefore probably a bimbo, and besides that we were always acutely aware of the plague of anorexia; There were always a couple of those nightmare skeletal faces reminiscent of the Belsen photos in most of my classes. A few of the teachers used to make snide remarks about my figure sometimes, but that was so obviously inappropriate that I ignored them. I quickly became aware that it was social death for any boy to be even polite to me in case he was suspected of fancying the fat girl, but being in a girls' school meant I didn't have to have much to do with boys, and I was not particularly interested in their approval. I assumed I would never have that coveted status symbol, a boyfriend, but since this meant never having to kiss disgusting teenaged boys, I was secretly quite relieved. Once I figured out that any boy who was nice to me was actually setting me up for humiliation, I became impossible to humiliate in that way. I doubt I would have had much success with boys even if I'd been thin, unless I had been fashionable and pretty as well.
So the first time I started to be concerned about my figure was when I was 14 and spending time with Spanish M. M was (and still is) drop-dead gorgeous in the stereotypically Spanish way, tiny and slender and high-breasted, and she was very active as a teenager, dancing quite seriously and doing a lot of other sports. She took it into her head that I was going to drop dead of a heart attack because of being so fat. I could hardly resist my best friend in tears, so I started trying to lose weight. Thanks to my grandmother's good advice I went about it pretty sensibly, and did slim down a little, but not enough to make a very visible difference.
Then I found Naomi Wolf's The beauty myth. I don't even know why I picked it up, cos I wasn't very interested in feminism. Wolf impressed me a lot; I didn't absolutely swallow everything that she wrote, but I really liked the way she presented evidence for her views and gave reasonable consideration to opposing ones. So instead of dieting I presented Spanish M with a comprehensive bibliography showing that heart disease is barely correlated with weight in women. And I learnt to be skeptical of the whole dieting industry (I didn't need so much innocculation against the beauty industry more generally, because I had no interest in being beautiful).
I hated "games" at school. Largely because I was incompetent at most of it, but also because the school so prioritized academic subjects that sport was badly squeezed. There was "gym" in a tiny, outdated little hall with almost no equipment, and swimming in a horrible grotty little pool we borrowed from a local boys' school, so much too small for the class that you were lucky to get five minutes in the water in a double period. Netball, which I have always hated. In summer, a little bit of "athletics" and tennis both taking place on a hankie sized bit of uneven grass, totally uninspiring; the girls who were competent and interested usually had access to athletics clubs if not their families' own private tennis courts and pools and so on. The only thing that slightly appealed to me was hockey, a game I found sufficiently intellectually stimulating to justify the pointless running about.
At one point when I was 17 or so, one of the games teachers told me that I might make quite a useful little hockey player if I lost some weight. Really, she should have told me that I'd be a useful player if I could improve my fitness; it was perfectly true that my skills were good but I didn't have the stamina to support them. So that led to my second attempt to diet. Again, I was sensible, I ate smaller portions of the same foods I would have eaten anyway, and ruthlessly cut out any snacks between meals, and ran a mile every morning before school. I saw some results; my fitness did improve, and I lost that classic 20 lb which is easy to lose if you restrict your diet in almost any fashion. I came back to school after a holiday and got lots of positive comments on the weight I'd lost; one teacher even looked at me and commented, woah, what happened to you? and did the hourglass gesture, which offended me deeply. But my asthma and my lack of any guidance in how to get properly fit were both against me, and it was also at about this time that hockey abolished the offside rule, and we started playing on Astroturf instead of grass. Even at my fittest, there was no way I could keep up with a game in those conditions. The teacher who started the whole thing put me in the hockey squad, which meant I was practising twice a week, and occasionally she would pick me for the B team, I think probably out of pity.
At my thinnest, and when I was as fit as I knew how to be, I was still towards the higher end of "overweight" according to BMI. I remember blue_mai taking me aside and explaining to me, with the utmost delicacy and tact, that I should realize that I was never going to be a model even if I lost weight. I was incredibly grateful to her for taking the extreme risk of insulting me to point that out, but I reassured her that I wasn't trying to be beautiful, I was just trying to make the hockey team and improve my general health. Then there came an evening in January, where I was sitting on the substitutes' bench during hockey practice as it was starting to get dark, freezing to death in my sports kit of polo shirt and short skirt, and hungry as I was constantly during that period, and absolutely craving chocolate to the point where I was practically hallucinating. I realized at that moment that I would rather be fat and unhealthy than spend the rest of my life hungry. I quit the hockey team and the diet, and never looked back.
So, by the time I left school I was almost exactly the figure I am now: 5'3'', and about 12 stone. Most of that is genetics, a little bit is how little I was active during my teenage years. During the critical period of puberty, my mother was feeding me, which meant that I ate fairly large quantities, but always extremely good, nutritious and balanced food. My sister, who has always been more active than me and who has eaten a lot better since we left home and she became a chef while I became a scientist who often doesn't have time to cook properly, has a pretty similar figure to mine, slightly thinner but still pretty solidly built. I'm lucky enough that I ended up reasonably curvy with that; I carry a lot of weight on my hips and thighs, but I have round, full breasts and a small waist in proportion to my size. But I don't take credit for a vaguely socially acceptable figure, any more than I feel ashamed because I'm so much bigger than my so-called "ideal" weight.
Now, when I was a teenager, I had no idea how to deal with my appearance. I was convinced I was ugly, I think partly because of the weight but also just that the ideal of pretty available to me was very narrrow and I obviously didn't fit it. I also genuinely didn't care, not in a sour grapes way, but because of the environment I was in, where appearance was so devalued, I wasn't in the least bit upset about being ugly. Clearly, thinking that you're ugly is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I also wore completely unflattering clothes. After I left school, I gradually became more confident in my appearance. Various factors affected that, I think the main one was meeting adults who felt confident enough to express a range of tastes in body shape rather than pretending to like only tall, thin, blonde women because that was socially acceptable. I still don't feel very excited about putting effort into appearance, but I know I can "dress up pretty" if I want to, and I know that a certain proportion of people find me attractive, and at least a fair number of people, though of course by no means everybody, think I'm at least acceptable aesthetically.
I still don't do anything like enough exercise, but I don't think that has much to do with my weight. I occasionally get comments that I "ought" to lose weight, even from medical professionals who should know better, but I tend to ignore them. For example, last time I was in the Family Planning Centre trying to get the Pill prescribed, the nurse said I could "stand to lose a couple of stone;" I didn't argue with her, because I wanted my contraceptives more than I wanted a debate, but she really, really should have told me to do more exercise, not to lose weight. I strongly suspect that if my lifestyle were absolutely perfect I wouldn't be a lot thinner than I am now, maybe a little thinner, but not a lot, and short of actual starvation I don't think I'm capable of reaching the "normal" weight category even if I wanted to. In short, at different times I've been both fat and ugly and fat and pretty, and fat and energetic and fat and lazy. (I have been thin and ugly, but only as a prepubescent child, so that doesn't count.) Note, though, how "fat and ugly" and "fat and lazy" roll off the tongue, whereas the positive pairings aren't idioms at all.
What upsets me is not that the hand I was dealt was one that included being so-called obese. It's the constant irritation of encountering hateful comments about fat people, even from sources that are otherwise quite sensitive and respectful. Sometimes people reassure me that they don't mean me, they mean really fat people. I'm not "fat", because I'm not ugly, or lazy, or stupid, or irresponsible. Well, guess what, most other fat people aren't those things either, or at least they're no more likely to be so than thin people. It's clearly true that many people are much fatter than me, and have often had a much, much more difficult time as a result than I have; I'm not trying to be a drama queen or look for sympathy here. But the thing is, any time somebody is making the assumption that there's some kind of size boundary above which you're a disgusting pig with no self-respect or willpower, the fact that I fall below that boundary in their eyes isn't much of a comfort to me. The boundary of what is defined as "fat" is very much dependent on context, and as I said at the beginning, the official medical definition makes me obese.
Another pattern that sometimes happens is that people justify their prejudiced comments because being fat is "unhealthy". But even if being fat is bad for you, which is debateable, there's no excuse to make prejudiced assumptions about people or even call for restrictions on their rights because they happen to have some unhealthy behaviours.
I'm going to leave this contentious topic at that for the time being. I just want to make it absolutely clear that comments about how disgusting fat people are, or about how fat people shouldn't get healthcare, or hurtful "jokes" about fatness, or anything along those lines, are comments about me. I hear them as comments about me, and in extreme cases, as threats to me. And I'm not prepared to hate my body in order to avoid being emotionally affected by those comments.
You are attractive and that is enough; more than enough, actually.
I do worry about your fitness, and it is dismaying to see you breathing heavily after walking up a moderate incline: that's a clear warning about your cardiovascular fitness and life expectancy. But, as I know to my cost, that's not a fat issue - thin people can be unfit, too.
I'm trying very hard not to bristle at this, but I think you're missing the point.
Why is it enough to be attractive? Enough for what? I can't say, well, I'm attractive (to Nile) so all's well with the world. It's a well known fact that being pretty mitigates many of the disadvantages of being in a discriminated minority. So yes, I have it a lot less bad than another person of my figure who isn't considered as attractive as I am; that doesn't mean that what such a person faces is acceptable.
My fitness isn't your business, frankly, and being melodramatic about it isn't a tactful way to express concern. I know that ideally I should be doing more exercise; that's almost nothing to do with this post. Breathlessness isn't really a good indicator since I'm asthmatic; I do get short of breath doing any kind of exercise in the cold, or simply being in SE England in the summer allergy season. It's a little better when I'm in better shape, but I still have trouble breathing rather before I'm actually tired, and I can do a lot more of the same exercise indoors than outdoors unless the conditions are optimal. I don't know why I'm even justifying myself to you this way; as it happens you've drawn the right conclusion (that I should do more exercise) from the wrong evidence. In any case it's bad manners to make that kind of personal remark unless I actually ask you for advice how I could be healthier.
And yes, you include the disclaimer that thin people can also be unfit, but I think thin people are a lot less likely to attract this kind of unsolicited advice.
4 rather unrelated things: umm... i don't remember that conversation. i suspect your diet alarmed me. i don't remember you as being fat at school - not drastically contrasted with M, or anything like that, certainly i didn't realise you were near the 'obese' BMI band. but then again i've always been rather sceptical of the BMI from the first time i came across it as a teenager - it told me i was just into the 'overweight' band and i thought that was plainly ridiculous... yes i agree there is a prevalent acceptance of fat-prejudice. someone at work says quite awful things about fat people but since he is basically deliberately rude, and since he pays no mind to being generally offensive about other things (especially nationality, sometimes race, but anyone's fair game for anything), i'm not sure there's anything i can do about it. i still wish he wouldn't. i think 'lose weight' is used as a shorthand for 'get fitter'. but nurses should know better. games at school was rubbish but actually i think very few people had access to anything outside it (maybe i just didn't speak to the people with tennis courts at home!). i seem to remember only ever having 1 proper athletics class (because no-one knew how to teach it safely, i understand) although someone's parents ran an after-school club for a summer. hockey was a poor football subsitute. at my fittest, around 15-17 years old, i was the heaviest i've ever been. muscles are weighty. i may be more coherent later.
i think 'lose weight' is used as a shorthand for 'get fitter'. but nurses should know better.
Yeah, fat-prejudice that comes from health-care professionals is the worst kind, because it can actually put people off seeking medical care and taking care of themselves properly. I know people who refuse to go to the doctor because they know that, regardless of what they're there for, they will be told to lose weight and be made to feel ashamed of their fatness.
I strongly suspect that if my lifestyle were absolutely perfect I wouldn't be a lot thinner than I am now For me, I don't just suspect that about myself, I reckon I've come as close as I can to proving it. I'm 5'8 and 15 stone, but far fitter than I need to be. I walk or cycle to work and run about at the gym for an hour an average of 4 times each week. I eat well and am as healthy as I know how to be, and I tend to get heavier rather than lighter (muscle weighs more than fat, they say) ... but all that aside, I'm actually mostly happy with how I look. I guess enough people have told me that they find me attractive that the standard model-size view of the world doesn't matter one iota.
I'm starting to hear more and more stories of people who can't do anything about their figure, no matter what they do. I don't know how common it is, and it's impossible to tell with such a huge pile of propaganda out there trying to convince people that all they need to do is cut down on the chips and get up from the couch, and they will become thin and beautiful and healthy and happy, so it's incomprehensible that anyone fails to do this simple thing. But I am absolutely convinced that the phenomenon exists, that a certain proportion of people stay thin however much they eat, and a certain proportion stay fat no matter how well they diet and exercise.
I'm really glad that you know that you are attractive even if you don't fit the standard parameters. Good for you overcoming all the nastiness to get to that point! And yes, being fit is far, far more important than being thin. So yay you.
A very thoughtful and well-written post that gives me plenty to chew on.
Coming from the other end of the BMI index, I am glad to hear about your experiences. I do remember talking about weight and body aplenty with you and I always admired your self-acceptance and self-confidence. There *is* the health-issue to worry about of course, but there's more to beauty than weight: there's poise, dress, charisma...
For me, discussing fatness on a personal level is a strange experience: I've always been skinny although I have my "padded" areas. Truth to be told, those areas annoy me and yes, I too, succumb to the notion that I would like to be slimmer (or atleast more tight) in those places. Going on oral contraceptices made me gain five kilos, from 50 to 55 and as ridiculous as it sounds, I feel "fat" in certain places: yes, I do have bubbly thighs, it's not Anorexia. I've had this with oral contraceptives before and this - but more importantly, other health issues - is a reason for me to stop taking them. It messes with my body too much.
I realise that me whining about my physique is perhaps a blasé luxury for some, but I just wanted to bring it to your attention that a lot of this issue is entirely in the eye of the beholder. Men love my curvy thighs and I really don't. I expect men to react similarly to your curvaceous physique.
It's true, there is an awful lot of prejudice about fatness and I wholeheartedly admit that I may be guilty of this myself unconsciously. We are drilled to harbour certain awful stereotypes about fat people which are discriminatory and absurd. But you must also realise that fatness comes in so many degrees and for so many reasons and yes, *some* of those are lifestyle. Just as I am naturally skinny and eat well, I have to acknowledge that some people will pin that Anorexia thing on me because there *are* thin people obsessing over their weight. Unfortunately, when at either end of the extreme, it's hard to avoid that kind of judgement.
I think in your individual case, you shouldn't worry too much: I know how you eat (healthy, mostly vegetarian, decent food) because I saw you eat (and fed you!) countless times and it's hardly gluttonous or unhealthy. You also have a naturally curvaceous body with curves in all the right places; it's just more padded that average, really. Yes, as you cited in your writing, you are fat AND beautiful!
I might be projecting, but I didn't know it bothered you to this degree, so here's a virtual hug for you! *HUGS*
You also have a naturally curvaceous body with curves in all the right places
I've been thinking about this sentence, in the context of livredor's post, and I'm not entirely happy with it. It implies people can have curves in wrong places and I don't think that's true, at least if we're talking about curves created by body fat.
Oh, I hadn't realized you were fat. My mental image of you is as a short, pretty woman who is of an average size and curvy shape.
Your appearance though is fairly irrelevant to me, though, because the nature of my friendship with you doesn't have any components that make appearance really matter. (Or in other words, I'm not likely to ever have sex with you.)
I don't generally judge other people's fitness. In almost all cases, it's always the same anyway - more than mine.
I'm really glad though that most people think I'm thin, or at least, a healthy weight. They already pick on anything about my life that they disagree with and say that obviously that connects to my poor health. If I were overweight, I'd probably never hear the end of it. There are a lot of conditions I don't want to develop because I think people, even doctors, would try to associate them with my health problems, even if I developed them later and causality doesn't work that way, and I don't want to have more problems dealing with my health by constantly having to say my weight isn't the problem or similar. They already constantly bring up depression, even though I'm not depressed. So, to me, being overweight would mean having to deal with more human stupidity. I deal with enough; I don't need more. I'm sorry that it so often does mean that for people, even people who are fairly healthy.
Although weight, to me, is also something I view as totally outside my control. I've had hugely varying diet and exercise over the course of my adulthood, but only an incredibly small number of things have ever affected my weight. My mysterious loss of appetite that meant I was starving myself without noticing caused me to rapidly lose weight until I figured it out and force-fed myself. So, starvation will cause weight loss, but is obviously not a healthy weight loss method. Medications have caused weight gain. Going off medications have caused weight loss back to around where I had been and then I restabilized. And that's it. So, the only method of weight loss that's ever happened for me is starvation. And the only thing that has caused me to gain weight is drugs. And I've tried changing the amount I exercise through a large range in my adulthood. If I ever need to change my weight, I don't know what I'd do. So, I generally assume that peole's weight is not something they can affect much.
You make some really sensible points, and thank you. I'm touched that you think I'm pretty even though you're totally straight and not at all interested in me in that way. But it's still nice that you noticed my appearance and bothered to compliment me on it!
I think you're very likely right; as someone with a lot of idiopathic health problems, if you were overweight, people, including doctors, would be sure to pin the blame on that and it would be even more horrible.
Thanks for providing another example where lifestyle and diet make little difference to weight, but medications can change your figure without altering your eating and exercising habits at all. There may be some people who can control their weight by eating or exercising more or less, I'm not ruling that out at all. It's just by no means universal in the way it's assumed to be (and it does seem like common sense that if you eat more and exercise less you'll get fatter, but unfortunately common sense is often wrong).
That's a really lovely thing to say, dear badger. Thank you. *hug* Even if I were a lot fatter or a lot uglier than I am, I'd still reckon I have a pretty good life with such lovely friends in it!
A tiny, cynical part of my brain is a bit depressed that it's even worth mentioning, though. It should be obvious that people don't care about their friends' weight! I mean, I can just about imagine someone saying to you: I don't care that you're so short, I love you anyway, but you would probably think they were a bit of an arse if they did make that kind of comment!
However, you seem to have ended up reacting in just the opposite direction with regards to anyone else — if I say I'm dieting and only eating 900 calories a day, you assume I'm starving myself when, in fact, that's just about the right number of calories for me, given my figure, size, build, etc. (Though I think we've agreed not to argue about that topic.) Just that someone else watching their weight shouldn't been seen as an attack against you not "watching" your weight, and I have the feeling you might subconsciously perceive it as such. Or maybe not.
(Also, if you were "constantly" hungry, then you probably weren't dieting right.)
No, I do honestly completely understand that some people feel happier and healthier when they diet, and that's not at all an attack on me for being fat. And I do realize that many perfectly healthy people just happen to have a smaller appetite than I do.
You want to be at a lower weight than the natural set point your body finds if you don't do anything positive about it. Obviously, that means you have to watch what you eat. I don't at all have a problem with that, and I seem to have accidentally given you the impression that I do because I'm upset about some tangentially related things. But not the fact that you sometimes diet, not at all.
There is no way in hell that 900 calories a day is adequate for any normal adult woman. No way. You know, the UN says that someone who doesn't have access to 2000 calories per day is classified as being in a situation of food poverty. You're talking about eating less than half of the minimum requirement not to count as desperately poor; obviously I'm worried. Now, someone who is trying to lose weight, or someone who has a naturally small frame, might want to eat a bit less than 2000 calories, fine. But a bit less is not less than half the recommendation needed not to starve!
As for being hungry, the only way to lose fat is to be in a situation where your body is using fat reserves for fuel. I can't see how that would happen if you're getting enough calories to support your activity levels, and if you're not, you're going to feel hungry, because that's what hunger is. There are ways round it; you can pharmacologically or psychologically mess around with your appetite so that you don't feel hungry when you should, or you can eat foods that deceive your metabolism, such as bulking ingredients with high volume and low calories, or high fat foods. But both of those seem to me more dangerous than simply feeling hungry.
I'm supportive of your plan to lose weight. I want you to be happy with yourself, and I know you won't be unless you're quite thin. (I happen to think you're the most beautiful person on the planet and that doesn't change much if you happen to be at the skinny end of your natural range or at the higher end with a little bit of padding. But I know you don't agree with me on that, and it's irrelevant anyway; a beautiful person is still allowed to want to be thinner if she likes.) I would just prefer for you to get to your ideal weight (that is ideal for you, what I think is irrelevant here) in a healthy way, not eating starvation rations for as long as you can bear it and then feeling guilty when you break your "diet" because you're too hungry to resist any more.
I'd like to discuss this at some point when I'm not on the hotel's computer! But, yeah. Compounded by Ruth Fowler's horrible 'I'm proud to be fattist' article on the Guardian website, linked to by hazyjayne, this last couple of weeks seem to have been a haze of fat-hate.
Coming at this from the opposite direction, as a teenager I mas made to see various specialists in case I had an eating disorder or was being malnourished. Was made to drink horrible supplements and the idea of using steroids to increase my weight was floated a few times. Lots of wasted time later, they decided that my low weight was normal and that I really was eating quite a bit more then most people. During it all I most resented the implication that I must be lying and that my parents must be covering it up, the only evidence for this being my BMI and that it was below a magic curve on the graph they kept pointing me at. I don't want to know how much crap I'd get were I female... :/
This thread has brought out so many stories of people being pressured to change their body shape and finding that it's impossible. And yes, that can be thin people just as much as fat people. It's horrible that BMI is used as a substitute for actually examining a patient's health, and it's horrible that people who happen to be naturally thin are assumed to be starving themselves. Stupid stupid stupid.
I don't want to pick on you, because for one thing I like you, for another thing you've had far more crap than most of us to deal with about body image stuff, and for a third thing you've been doing some fantastic stuff around body acceptance both for yourself and others recently. I really admire that.
But this comment is in some ways a typical example of something that bothers me: any time the topic of fat and health is mentioned, some people jump to point out that although they're fat, they actually eat really well, and plenty of thin people eat far more. That's completely true, but I somehow wish you didn't have to say it.
It's interesting that you provide an example of someone who has lost significant weight by changing her lifestyle. Of course, that's partly because your previous lifestyle was extreme in the extent to which it was restricted by arthritis, so you've actually gone from seriously inactive to seriously active. I have no doubt at all that's a good thing!
I'll agree with the above commenter that I didn't know you were fat. Curvy and lovely, yes.
I've been on the other side of this issue. I was underweight from high school until just a few years ago, and my friends worried that I had an eating disorder. I didn't--I just had a crazy metabolism that made it hard for me to gain weight even when I specifically tried to do so. It took going on the pill to add significant weight to my body (that's not why I started taking it, however). It's really difficult for people to accept "I'm doing the right things; this is just how my body is built." I don't know how to change that.
Aww *blush* Thank you! And thank you for your story of being unable to change your body shape; I do think that's very common, and people have a hard time believing it. Partly because of the magical thinking of wanting everything to happen for a reason, and partly because in the specific case of diet and weight it seems like common sense that eating more should make you fatter, and it's really confusing when it doesn't. But yes, it's just as likely for people to be naturally thin and not at all have a problem with eating, as it is for people to be naturally fat without ever eating too much.
The problem with this kind of approach is that it often ends up being just a version of how it's impossible for women to be perfect enough. There is a problem of people, especially girls, being pressured into attempting weight loss and hating their bodies, but that problem isn't solved by pointing the finger at extremely thin women and complaining about how disgusting they are, they must have an eating disorder, it's so unhealthy and unattractive and blah blah blah. In fact, promoting the message "you must be thin! thin! THIN!!!! otherwise you'll be ugly and disgusting and DIE!!!!" is made even worse if it becomes "you must be thin, but not too extremely thin because otherwise you'll be ugly and disgusting and DIE ANYWAY!" It makes the window of the supposedly ideal weight that everybody must strive for even narrower.
Excellent post; thank you. And count me as another person surprised to find that the BMI classes you that way - it really does seem to be such a terribly flawed system.
I'm very much with you on this: I realized at that moment that I would rather be fat and unhealthy than spend the rest of my life hungry. Food is a great pleasure to me, and being hungry makes me miserable (and cranky and less efficient at whatever I'm doing); life is too short to suffer unnecessarily. And I'm pretty sure that whatever I do I'm never ever going to be thin; yes, my diet and fitness suck, but I've never *been* thin, and I could lose half my bodyweight without making it into the "ok" category. I decided that I could either be fat and comfortable with myself, or fat and miserable, and I know which option I prefer.
I do think that the automatic equivalence (particularly on the part of health professionals) of "overweight" with "unfit" is causing so much unnecessary difficulty for a lot of people. My mother doesn't want to go to new doctors because they'll tell her to lose weight - but she swims for an hour, five days a week, is actually pretty fit, and can't do much more than she does because of her mobility issues. Her diet isn't bad, either. To tell her to "lose a couple of stone" is ridiculous and almost impossible, and even the attempt has had serious impacts on her quality of life. It's just so unhelpful - particularly in our society, where we're already so pressured by ideals of "appropriate" weight. There aren't any fat people who don't *know* they're fat; most people aren't that way by choice. So why guilt them by telling them they "ought" to weigh less? Bah.
I agree with your rants so very much. Being hungry all the time just isn't worth it. And clearly there's no healthy way to lose half your body weight, I find it weird that anyone should assume that's a good thing for you to do, especially not so you can achieve some arbitrary number. But yay for being comfortable with yourself. It's visible, you can tell when someone fits well in their body.
Doctors telling people to lose weight are just really infuriating. Partly because they make fat people scared of doctors, partly because it's medically stupid advice, and partly because they give ammunition to annoying people claiming it's justified to despise fat people because doctors do so too. Poor your mother having to put up with that, especially when she's really fit and has limited mobility.
And you're absolutely right that fat people know perfectly well they're fat and don't need reminding. Bah.
I've been on both the "You can't possibly not be bulimic, if you eat as much as that and are that thin you MUST be throwing up," side of things and the "No, no, the joint and muscle pain is because you're overweight, so is the depression," side of things. In my case there was a cause-and-effect problem: joint and muscle pain were making it harder for me to exercise, so I was doing less and gaining weight.
When I have been thin I have been very active (not just moderately so). I have dieted, I have exercised, but diets alone seem to do nothing for me; when I was walking 2-3 hours each day I could eat any amount of food without gaining any weight at all. When I was mostly sitting around the house because walking around the block was enough to make my lower back and my left hip extremely painful, it didn't matter if I made an effort to eat fewer calories.
I try to eat a reasonable amount of fruit and veg, where 'reasonable' is defined by me. This is mostly because I feel mentally and emotionally better when I am eating that way; I'm not going to attempt to unravel how much of that is psychosomatic and how much is biochemical.
I try to get a reasonable amount of exercise, where 'reasonable' is defined by me. This is partly simply for the sheer enjoyment of movement; the fitter I get the more I enjoy the act of exercise. It's also partly because I play a wind instrument, and my body is an important part of that instrument; exercise has direct and measurable effects on my musical performance. Lastly, it's because the only way I will ever be pain-free and prevent osteoarthritis is if I make sure my muscles are strong enough to support my joints (and make up for the lack of support from my ligaments), whatever weight I am.
My definition of 'reasonable' exercise is different from that of some people, partly because of the limitations presented to me by my particular body, and partly because my goals are performance-based rather than based on my body shape. I don't claim that I wouldn't like to have the figure I had at the peak of my physical health, but my appearance is the last in a long list of reasons to exercise.
Similarly, my definition of a 'reasonable' diet is different from that which others may hold; it is based on my particular preferences in the food I eat, my particular responses to being hungry or eating foods that are not the right thing for me at that time, my particular cost-benefit analysis when presented with high-calorie comfort food after a long day.
I get upset when anyone else tries to tell me that my definition of 'reasonable' is not actually reasonable, just because I haven't lost the 'extra' weight I am currently carrying (I do not know or care what my current BMI is). I am a grown-up human and I am capable of weighing the consequences of my own actions and making my own decisions. If a doctor tells me that were I lighter, I might have less joint pain, I will take that into account, but it is for ME to decide every single individual instance of diet or exercise, it is for ME to interpret whether my body is saying, "Oi, enough moving around for today," and sending permanent-damage signals instead of getting-tired signals, it is for ME to decide whether that chocolate bar or box of Kraft Dinner is worth the way I know it might make me feel later, and anyone trying to take those decisions away is belittling me in a way I find very offensive and oversimplifying the issue to the point of nonsense.
This is a really illustrative personal example, and also you make an important novel point about what's wrong with a lot of the weight and dieting stuff. Thanks.
You have found empirically that your activity level makes a big difference to your weight but diet doesn't. That makes sense, but it's so hard to tell these kinds of stories because anything that doesn't fit the expected model of "eat too much, get fat" is discredited.
You're a great case study of someone who became fatter because of your health problems preventing you from doing exercise. You didn't just decide to stuff your face with chips for a while and put on so much weight that your body couldn't cope. And yet people, including medical professionals who should know better, assume that being "fat" is the only possible reason there could be anything wrong with you. Also, the assumption that anyone thin must have an eating disorder is definitely part of the same problem, it's not a related problem or a thin people have it just as bad, it's exactly the same problem.
I also really like the point that it should be up to you how you eat and exercise. It's nobody else's business (except possibly a doctor or dietician actually working with you directly) to tell you how your lifestyle should be, any more than it's the business of random strangers to tell you what your figure should like. For most other aspects of life, we do assume that adults can calculate a cost benefit analysis for themselves, and of course both the costs and the benefits are going to be different for different people. But for diet, there is this rigid orthodoxy that everyone is supposed to follow, and if they don't, any random busybody feels entitled to pass comment.
I expect it must really count in your favour that you're so self-aware. You have a clear idea of the long term effects of your eating habits, you are very conscious of what exercise you can reasonably do and what is pushing too far. A lot of people just do what everybody else does and may well be less healthy because of it, but again, it's up to them how much time and effort they want to put into figuring these things out. But it absolutely is belittling for people to assume they know better than you how you should live healthily, an assumption based on the idea that everybody is much the same except that some people are stupid and don't realize they should control their diet and do more exercise.