>> Wednesday, September 16, 2009
There is a loud and sizable group of people out there who seem to think the best way to combat our current obesity epidemic is to dole out the shame, preferably by bucketfuls. No slur is too harsh, no joke of too poor taste, no belittling over the top. After all, if "you had any self-respect, you wouldn't look the way you do." That last would be a direct quote from my ex-husband.
Now, let me be clear, before someone thinks I'm saying something different than I'm saying. For nearly all of us fat folks, we got there through our own neglect and bad habits. And, to remedy this situation, we (and we alone) will have to fix it. True, some people have contributing ailments or circumstances that acerbated the situation, but, in most cases, if we were diligent and never let up, we might be able to control it anyway. Try, however, if you've always been skinny, not to think you know the level of sacrifice required just by looking.
Anyway, because the disease is perceived as self-inflicted, fat people don't tend to get much sympathy. Many see it as a narcissistic and self-indulgent malady without even the physiological impetus of addiction. This mindset has led, in many cases, to the thinking that, if we could just convince fat people how ugly, horrible, repulsive, and disgusting they were, how selfish, how destructive, they'd change their ways and reverse this obesity epidemic.
Well, in my opinion, there are a few things wrong with that line of reasoning. First, I think they're reading most fat people all wrong. In my experience, most people don't get fat because they feel empowered, because they want to show off their stature (as powerful Hawaiians once did). Perhaps there are a few who hold their fat as a badge of honor...naw, I just don't buy it.
No, I think most people end up fat because they already feel like a failure or feel ugly, because they're stressed, because they have low self-esteem. For some, they struggle to attain an unattainable goal (often a foolish one), like supermodel size. When they fail, even if they are healthy and beautiful, all they can see are the pockets of unsightly fat, the failure, the flaws. They give up. When they do, they eat whatever, stop exercising, get fatter, feel worse, and the cycle continues. It's one reason I hate (and have always hated) the focus on looks and slenderness - I think far too many of the "failures" end up obese because they can never be "good enough."
Or they're busy and stressed and the fat just sneaks up on 'em. They're chasin' babies while working full-time and running all their friends lives, and they turn around and realize that they never lost the baby weight and they've even packed on a couple dozen other pounds. They want to fix it, but they're loaded down with things to juggle. They sign up at the gym and or with classes but they can never make it. Then, when they drop that ball, they come up with rationalizations, or reassure themselves they'll deal with it later...as soon as they sew up this account or Suzy goes to kindergarten. By the time Suzy's graduating, 30 pounds has become 90 pounds and it's going to take more than a few afternoons in the club to get it off.
You don't even have to be insecure about your looks. It could be that you feel you're stupid or worthless or lonely or miserable, and food is your solace.
But, the bottom line, people already know they have a problem (even if they didn't see it coming) and telling them they're failures or ugly or miserable people isn't telling something they didn't already know. Might as well tell a manic depressive to snap out of it.
It's the sense of powerlessness that makes obesity so pervasive and challenging to overcome. Last time I lost a lot of weight, I had decided to leave a truly poisonous marriage finally. I lost 80 pounds in 6 months. And then I went through the three year divorce from hell, where I felt powerless to protect my daughter, to prevent financial ruin. It's an explanation not an excuse, but all that good was undone. And I'm going to have to take it off again.
And that's the thing, shame is wasted. We're not like a drunk insisting on getting in his car because he has rights or like a junkie who thinks he's invincible. We know we've failed, failed ourselves and, as others have noted, failed them too. We know our health is at risk and that many can't stand the sight of us. 'Cause you've told us.
Don't believe it doesn't work? Well, that's been the method of choice for decades. And obesity is more prevalent, not less. Just sayin'.