Rarely have I felt physically ill after reading a news article, but a scathing post at The Blaze literally turned my stomach. Long-held judgements about fat people make it easy for some “experts” to question, “Why not just let these health sinners die?”. It seems that in the eyes of many, we fat people are still being judged as worthless, lazy, weak-willed, and undisciplined.
I guess what upset me most about the article was the blatant stereotyping that thin folks use to form their opinions. Stereotypes are rarely valid, and they never seem to help folks address the root problem. In fact, with the issue of obesity, stereotyping often makes things worse.
For example, a friend and I were talking last week. I explained how being fat can present a barrier to getting quality medical care. As a fat person, I put off going to the doctor as long as possible because I dread the shame that’ll come from even the most caring professionals. Even if the reason for which I’m seeking care has NOTHING to do with my weight, it gets brought up. And even if the provider doesn’t say anything to me directly, there’s still a different standard.
From an ABC News article:
“Fifty percent of doctors found that fat patients were ‘awkward, ugly, weak-willed and unlikely to comply with treatment’ and 24 percent of nurses said they were repulsed by their obese patients.”
And Heaven forbid that we should actually get honest about what makes us fat in the first place. Now, don’t hear me wrong. I’m not saying that I have no responsibility in my obesity. What I AM saying is that the issue is complicated, and it’s not simply an issue of eating too many Ding Dongs and watching too much television. Folks are afraid to have honest conversations about the roles that Big Ag, food lobbies, the federal government, and others play in helping to send vulnerable folks over the edge.
What do I mean by “vulnerable” and “over the edge”? Well, I’ll use my own story as an example. I distinctly remember weighing 110 pounds in the third grade. In the fifth grade, I weighed 155 pounds. Now, I’ll give you the fact that my physical activity was limited because of my blindness, but I watched less TV than today’s kids do, I was outside a lot more than today’s kids are, and I didn’t have as much access to the “junk” that kids eat today. My genetics made me more susceptible to the damaging effects of excess dietary carbohydrate as well as the addictive effects of modern-day wheat and refined sugar while other blind classmates could eat whatever they wanted and stay thin.
If folks are “gifted” with less vulnerable genetics, it can be harder to view fat people with compassion. Again, I’ll use myself as an example. As a blind person, I can’t imagine how someone can pick up a newspaper and read it. It’s not in my realm of understanding because when I pick up a newspaper, all I see are dark blobs that I have to assume are newsprint and images. Now, that doesn’t mean that I’m going to insist that newsprint doesn’t exist just because I can’t see it. In essence though, that’s what a lot of thin people do when they judge fat people.
There are very few fat people who actually choose to be fat. In fact, I would argue that despite the way society stereotypes us, those of us who’re trying to affect change in our lives, health, and bodies have WAY more discipline and willpower than a naturally thin person. What kind of determination does it take to do something repeatedly that isn’t working? What kind of knuckle-biting occurs when a fat person is starving, depressed, and exhausted doing what the “experts” recommend without seeing results? What kind of determination do I show by dedicating many of my waking hours to the pursuit of the answer that’s right for me?
Most days, it takes more courage to participate in society than a thin person could possibly understand. Simple tasks like going to the store, going to work, or attending your child’s school play open us up to ridicule, judgement, and shame. We’re judged constantly, and to hear some people say that we “sinners” should just be left to die says something about this world. Life is hard, but do we really have to make it any harder than it needs to be? And why is the continued prejudice against fat people acceptable? Why is it ever acceptable to treat folks with less than a minimal amount of dignity and respect?