Thursday, August 7, 2008

Big Fat People

In a Big Fat World

I want to write about being fat.

There seem to be well-accepted rules which are evident to many about how to respond to a person who is considered large/big/fat/overweight/obese. I continually struggle with weight and become acutely aware of the antagonistic voices which are out there directed towards those of us who fit such fat status. Some of these voices include the following ideas (I must emphasize, this list is certainly not representative of ideas I personally value):

1. First of all, it is clear that those who are heavy are so because they choose to be. That is, they are making choices about food and exercise which are directly making them fat.

2. Secondly, and in a similar vein, we must assume that those who are not fat are that way because of their wise choices. They also are the product of their decisions. And their successful fat-fighting lifestyles must be examples for those of us who are fat.

3. Fat people are grouped together into a population. They are, in a very real way, through the politics of language, separated from the real communal settings which life has connected then to and instead they are identified by their fatness. The same happens for many others too, where questions of identity tend to centre almost exclusively upon specific issues such as race, sexual identity, disability, intelligence ratio, etc.

4. Fat is undoubtedly and unequivocally a bad thing. There is nothing honourable or redemptive about being fat. Fat is an enemy to be fought against.

5. Fat is considered the product of over-consumption, the product of capitalism gone awry. Fat is hated in the same way that pollution is hated, that carbon-spewing city traffic is hated – it is the product of having too much. (If fat people are the product of capitalism gone awry, if they are the product of people having too much, then why in the Western world is fat disproportionately an issue of the poor, and skinniness disproportionately connected to the rich?)

6. The evil of fat can be treated, if the fat person is willing to admit he is fat, and to submit to strict restrictive and painful regimes of sacrifice which are usually institutionally packaged, sold in an anti-fat marketplace, and then applied to the identified problems which are making the fat person.

7. It can be safely assumed that fat people are not putting adequate effort into their health. Therefore anyone who meets a fat person can feel free to offer that person advice, for such advice has previously either been lacking or it has not been heard by the fat person. More advice is needed and should be received gratefully by the fat person.

All this is no surprise to me. As with other supposed plagues upon our society, fat is addressed, even in the strict secular realm, within clear Christian traditions of fall redemption. Fat is a sin – a secular sin these days. Fat is a destroyer and is to be seen as having nothing redemptive about it. It must in turn be battled against. The people who are fat, however, can potentially receive salvation from their fatness by listening to righteous and priest-like experts who know how to become slim and fit; also, by entering secular confessional processes where one’s fat-producing choices are admitted; and then by entering strict regimes of sacrifice and penance – necessary pain designed to eradicate the evil of fat.

We all know, and, of all people, fat people certainly know that there are often effects upon the body for being fat. A quick reminder though, there are many other things that effect health. I would certainly not be surprised if one day it is discovered that extreme physical exertion, such as running marathons, performing triathlons, creates serious detrimental effects upon health. But, my argument is certainly not directed towards a stopping of these things, but rather at recognizing the innumerable possible influences upon health – not just the influence of fat.

We as individuals need to take actions upon our own health, and we need to do it out of love for our bodies, and knowing that others love our bodies, not out of a loathing for our bodies, our fat bodies, as fat people are repetitively asked to do.

I want to suggest that many fat people have done far more to try and improve their health than most of the population has done. They have often attempted to reduce dietary intake, to sacrifice, to enter painful and extensive exercise regimes. But such changes are incredibly difficult to maintain. And, those who do well in this type of sacrificial arrangement, I argue, are those who are already predisposed, either genetically, or through other life influences, toward a desire for sacrifice and pain. Those who are predisposed toward joy, celebration, the beauties of food and other bodily pleasures, find it excruciatingly difficult to keep up with such regimes of sacrifice. Yet, over and over again, they try... often to a shortly-maintained success followed by further weight gain -- often beyond their previous weight.

Rarely is the relationship between fat and poverty addressed. If I walk into a high-end store, set aside for the more well-moneyed, I generally see slim and well-groomed people walking around. Yet, if I go to Wal-Mart, where many of the lower-class people will shop, I see far more fat people. A lifestyle seems to develop for the poor that tends to exclude things such as gym membership, which leads toward not buying high quality proteins and fresh produce (these costs are becoming increasingly out of reach). The lifestyles of such people tend to become overly dependent upon highly processed carbohydrates – sugars and grain products. Such foods of course lead toward an increase in obesity.

Recently, the aboriginal community of Alert Bay, just off the North-East coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, decided to adopt a diet more approaching their traditional diet; it included high quantities of healthy fats (in previous generations they would eat eulachon grease – eulachon is a small fatty fish -- with much of their food); much local protein such as salmon, shellfish and game, leafy vegetables, small amounts of fruits and root vegetables. Many in the community who practiced this diet lost significant weight; many also found their cholesterol counts and their blood pressure improved. And, to top it off... they loved eating this way. Check out their story:


CBC (Discussion):

Canadians Talk:

However, if one is not able to catch one’s own protein, collect nature’s pickings in the wild, this kind of diet is very expensive to maintain. Urban settings invite those with little money to rely upon more affordable, high carbohydrate diets.

Certainly we can all learn to eat food which is real and nourishing – and we must discover these foods for ourselves. However, at the same time, I want to invite a renewal of celebration of fatness. Yes, I mean this! Fuck the attack on fat people. We are large in the world, and many of us have the potential for much joy and much influence. Let us carry ourselves with confidence and bravado!

A quick story... a few years ago I saw in a small Korean corner store a cheaply made, plastic, smiling Buddha. He was laughing hysterically. His eyes sparkled with pure joy and humour. But, what most struck me about this plastic Buddha was that he was very fat. Yes, this Buddha was fat and overwhelmingly happy. Like a fool... I never bought it! I wish I did, but, even so, I carry its memory with me.

Compare this happy, laughing and very fat Buddha with the religious image that the Western world was built upon. Not a fat god living in abundance, but an almost anorectic, dying Christ -- sacrificed, hanging upon a cross. I will argue that the joyless, sacrificial, anti-fat society, in which we live, as secular as it may appear, is clearly just a reinvention of certain Christian values in a world in which religion is supposed to be denied. I am at a point in life that I want that fat, laughing Buddha. Christianity, and the new secular Christianity, needs to discover its own fat heritage – for it is there.

For those of us who are considered fat, let us wear these fat bodies with dignity. Let us willingly impose our largeness with energy, with joy, and, of course, with the plastic Buddha’s sparkling eyes upon this anorectic Western world.

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