A few years back I wrote a post about the fact that I hated the term “BBW” – big beautiful women. One of the reasons I wrote it was because I knew literally no one who’d ever used the phrase, either to describe themselves or someone they cared about. It was always something that was out in the ether, something that was an automatic deal breaker if I saw it on someone’s dating profile (not the fact that they were bigger girls, mind you, but the fact that they would use the BBW term). But a friend of mine hated it, so when I took this blog a bit more public – posting on Facebook and Twitter – I took it down for fear of being misunderstood.
Not this time.
I’m fat. Everybody who knows me knows this. So when you read this post, understand that I’m pointing fingers not just at a huge portion of society, but also myself. And I’m not fat because of some health issue or genetics, I’m fat because I love pizza, beer and whiskey, and I hate exercise. I’ve got no one to blame but myself.
A few weeks back, a comedienne named Nicole Arbour posted a six-minute rant on YouTube entitled “Dear Fat People”. It was funny and well-produced and, somewhat importantly, relatively non-promotional (aside from the standard, “Subscribe to my YouTube channel, find me on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter”).
Naturally, fat people went insane, a fact she predicted would happen within the first minute of her video. A rebuttal video was posted by Whitney Way Thore, the star of a TLC show called My Big Fat Fabulous Life. Watch that one here.
Now, hopefully you’ll watch the videos, because both of them are entertaining in their own ways, but I’m not one to give people homework, so let me give a quick (probably biased) breakdown.
Within the first minute of her video Nicole specifically states that she’s not speaking to people with a specific health condition that causes them to be overweight, an important distinction that Whitney apparently doesn’t comprehend, despite the fact that she specifically addresses it, but we’ll get back to that later. Beyond that, she argues that fat shaming and body shaming aren’t actually a thing, that these things don’t fall into the same category as racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. Essentially, all she’s saying is that fat people need to make better choices and that it’s ok to tell random people that they shouldn’t be fat, because their friends should be saying it to them.
Now, I don’t agree with some of the specifics of her video, but I believe the overall message is accurate. There is a rather significant portion of this country that is fat, that refuses to do anything about it, that makes excuses, and thinks that it’s perfectly ok to live as an obese person.
I know this because I watched Whitney’s video.
I’ll be honest. I thought Nicole’s video was funny, but not particularly noteworthy. If that video was all there was, I wouldn’t be writing this post. But I am. Because I found Whitney’s video to be somewhat appalling. So appalling that I’m going to break down my issues one by one.
- As I mentioned, very early in her video, Nicole specifically stated that she wasn’t speaking to people with health issues that cause their obesity. Despite this fact, less than a minute in Whitney points out that she has polycystic ovarian syndrome (“PCOS”), so, to quote Whitney, Nicole isn’t speaking to her. Except, Whitney says, she is, because no one can tell whether or not someone has health issues just by looking at them. That’s fair, but when the average size of a human being has grown to the extent that it has recently, it’s fair to assume most fat people are fat because they eat too much and don’t exercise. Additionally, while PCOS does have obesity as a symptom, it can also be brought on by substantial weight gain. In other words, Whitney’s not necessarily fat because she has PCOS. She could have PCOS because she’s fat.
- Whitney then pulls out her phone to read the definition of prejudice as “an unfair feeling of dislike for a person or group because of race, sex, religion, etc.” She then says that before you say that race, sex or religion are things that you can’t change but being fat is, we should go to a Muslim and say, “I’m sorry that I hate you for being Muslim, but you can change that.” Sorry Whitney, not anywhere near the same thing. There’s a huge difference between telling someone to switch religions and telling them to stop eating McDonald’s. Trust me, I’ve got a member of my family who was forced to become Jewish before getting married. Changing religions is a huge deal. Eating a salad instead of a pizza isn’t.
- Nicole had made a joke about “fat people parking spots”. Obviously there’s no such thing as fat people parking spots, but there are parking spots for disabled people, and a lot of fat people have been given disability permits either because they’re fat, or because they’ve got a disease related to their obesity. Whitney’s response: “Fat people parking spots? Dang, where they do that?” A joke, obviously, but it sounds like she’d choose the special parking spot over losing some weight.
- Whitney then reveals that she was fat for 12 years before being diagnosed as pre-diabetic, but her diabetic state was a “season 2 spoiler”, and that we should download all of her prior episodes so that we can feel better about her health. Sorry Whitney, I was mildly interested in your health, but after watching three minutes of your video, I don’t have much interest in watching you anymore, and I’m definitely not watching you if it results in you getting any money. Forgive me if I assume that your diabetic condition has something to do with your obesity.
- She then points out a number of “plus-sized” famous people, and how they’re crushing it in their careers. They are:
- Robyn Lawley, the first plus-sized model in the SI Swimsuit Issue. It’s a bit strange for her to be called plus-sized, considering she’s a size 12, and the average U.S. woman is a size 14 (yes, I understand the problems in the modeling industry, but I wouldn’t exactly call this woman fat).
- Oprah Winfrey, who has had well-publicized weight struggles for literally 2 decades.
- Jack Nicholson, who I don’t think anyone has ever considered plus-sized.
- Prince Fielder, who once went on a vegan diet to lose weight until he realized that being a vegan sucks. He also once ate someone’s nachos after missing out on a foul ball.
- Melissa McCarthy, who is an excellent and funny actress but frequently and somewhat annoyingly takes roles that poke fun at her size and appearance.
- An anonymous overweight woman doing a backstand. It would be interesting to know if she knew her picture would be used in this montage.
- Whitney herself.
- Whitney eventually closes by telling people that they are valuable to society and that their weight does not measure their worth. A fair point, absolutely true, and a point that had nothing to do with what Nicole was saying (in fact she said she was going to love fat people no matter what).
Let’s get one thing straight. I don’t think it’s appropriate to walk up to a random overweight stranger and telling them to make better choices. There’s a huge difference between helping people and being an asshole. If you act like Nicole Arbour suggests in her video, you’re an asshole.
But we have a societal problem with obesity. Think it’s not a problem? Look at the number of companies having competitions for who can walk the most steps over a certain period of time, or giving out bonuses for participating in health surveys and going for an annual physical. They know these activities improve your health – including cutting down on obesity. Health improvements cut down on the medical effects of obesity, which cuts down on the medical costs associated with those effects. When those effects include diabetes, heart disease, strokes, certain cancers and infertility, you can understand why companies would choose to be proactive.
As we’ve gotten fatter as a society, the anti-body shaming movement has exploded. “I’m perfect the way I am.” Forgive me for what may be a ridiculous comparison, but I compare the anti-body shaming movement to our need to give every child a trophy, no matter where they finish. We are not perfect the way we are. If you’re fat, you’re fat, and there will be repercussions. Not just for you, but for your friends, your family members, you co-workers, your employer and, yes, society as a whole.
Personally, I don’t care if my friends are fat. It’s not going to make me care about them any less. I have no problem dating overweight women, I’ve dated plenty in my life. I understand that society creates unrealistic physical expectations. Women obviously have way more issues with those unrealistic expectations than men, but there a lot more Brad Pitts and George Clooneys and Mark Wahlbergs in Hollywood than there are Seth Rogens and Jonah Hills.
That doesn’t mean we should move toward acceptance of an unhealthy lifestyle simply because it’s become more prevalent and people have begun to start movements against body shaming. It means we should expect better of ourselves.
I wasn’t going to post this. I wrote it up and then started doing some research (I know, most people start with the research, but not me!) and it turns out that it’s a far more complex issue than just saying, “Make better choices.” Who knew?
(I know, everybody knew.)
But yesterday I was out with some friends, and one of them looked at me and said, “When are you going to get your shit together?” A co-worker of his had recently dropped dead of a heart attack at work and I presume he didn’t want the same thing to happen to me (although this particular friend had never been one to express any real concern to me).
You know what I did?
I sat there speechless. I didn’t have an answer for him. I didn’t look at him and say, “That’s a really mean thing for you to say, you have no idea what’s going on in my life,” and I didn’t blame my mental state or some family history that may or may not have anything to do with my weight gain. I looked inside myself and said, “Things have gotta change.”
Then I ordered another drink and some chicken wings. Hey, I was watching the Lions and I hadn’t eaten all day. You would’ve done the same thing.
But I woke up this morning and I grabbed a slim fast for both breakfast and lunch. I took a picture of myself in the mirror that I won’t share with anyone. I ate cashews instead of a chocolate chip cookie. I kept track of how much water I drank. I took a 30-minute walk for lunch. I’m eating at home instead of getting pizza or meeting friends for drinks. It’s only one day, but my friend’s words are not going unheeded.
I’ve struggled with my weight all my life and I think it’s a big part of my self-esteem issues. But I have never blamed anyone else for them, and I have never said, “I’m ok the way I am,” because I’m not. I’ll never be as small as the BMI indexes tell me I should be, but that doesn’t make my current weight ok.
I don’t want to say body shaming is ok, because different motivations work for different people. But if it means it will motivate others to improve their lives instead of thinking they’re fine the way they are when they clearly are not, I’m fine with it.
So instead of making excuses as to why you’re fat, take my friend’s advice. Get your shit together.