On Weight

Yeah, I totally suck at this “break from blogging” thing, huh?

So there’s an article in Marie Claire that’s making the rounds and stirring up all kinds of emotions. The central question in it is, is a tv show about obese people living ordinary lives ok? The answer to that question is yes. Absolutely. But the author raises two very interesting points that need to be addressed more thoroughly.

The first is the aesthetics of overweight or obesity. She finds it unappealing. Which is, I suppose, her right but she probably would have been better off not saying that in print. It made a lot of people really angry, and rightly so. We think of overweight and obesity as primarily aesthetic issues and there’s a real movement for people, especially women and girls, to accept their bodies and treat them well no matter their size. And that impulse is healthy and good.

But she also raises another point: being significantly overweight or obese is not a healthy condition. It is highly likely that being significantly overweight or obese will cause other health problems over time and can be the underlying factor in premature death. It is, in effect, an illness.

Perhaps it is time to stop addressing weight as primarily an aesthetic issue and address is primarily as a health issue.

I’m going to use an analogy here that has some flaws but bear with me. Imagine if you were seeing a doctor over a cancer diagnosis. You wouldn’t respond to the news of cancer by saying “But I’m beautiful the way I am!” It’s entirely irrelevant to the conversation. And even if the treatment for cancer is potentially disfiguring, you would (I hope) eventually come around to the understanding that the look of things is not nearly as important as the treatment of the underlying condition. For example, I would happily lose a breast to save my life because looks are not that important in the grand scheme. And I would refuse reconstruction if it was going to make detecting future cancer more difficult. I value my life far more than I value cleavage.

So if your doctor says to you “You weigh too much.” your first response should not be to think he’s insulting your appearance; you should understand that you’ve just been handed a diagnosis and need to keep listening for your treatment options.

That is so much easier said than done. I know. The psychology of weight, health and appearance, is more complicated than that. But I also don’t think I’m wrong in saying we need to address the health of the matter more strongly than we need to address the looks of the matter.

We also need to school ourselves in not judging people by their weight or any other appearance related criterion. We need to school our kids in the same thing. Bullying and mocking over weight and appearance are cruel in the extreme and don’t solve anything.  Acceptance of all kinds of appearances is a two way street.

You can be beautiful at any weight. Beauty is so subjective and so mutable. The perception of lacking beauty can lead to dangerous self-loathing. Changing one’s appearance, especially one’s weight is a vastly complicated process that is tangled up with emotions. I know. I know. I’m a woman in America. Trust me, I know. But I also know that thinking of your body only in terms of how it looks is the root cause of all sorts of behaviors that are detrimental to ensuring your body is in top operating condition. It leads to anorexia, bulimia, plastic surgery addiction, compulsive eating, compulsive exercising, and a host of other compulsive behaviors. Eventually the body shows the damage those behaviors create. And when the damage manifests, do looks matter? Do looks matter when you’re dying of malnutrition from bulimia? Do looks matter when you’ve had so many nose jobs that your breathing is permanently affected? Do looks mater when your organs can no longer support a body that has grown beyond their capacity?  The answer should be no.

The solution should be to say “Health first, looks later” and take steps to avoid reaching the crisis point.

If it were only that easy.

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13 comments for “On Weight

  1. October 27, 2010 at 9:45 am

    I actually agree with this post. When I first read the Marie Claire article, it left a bad taste in my mouth primarily because of the language she used to express herself. Had she couched her concern and/or feelings in different vocabulary she might not have woken up this morning to a horse’s head in her bed.

  2. October 27, 2010 at 9:52 am

    I’m not sure I think your analogy works well – going both ways. But I like that you looked at the issue through a new lens. I’ll definitely keep thinking about this.

  3. October 27, 2010 at 9:58 am

    I agree, the health aspect of being overweight is significant. I think that people immediately look at weight to determine health…just because a person is skinny doesn’t make them healthy. There are over weight people who eat better foods than I do…chances are I’m not healthier than they are because of size.

    That aside, in my opinion she brought up health as a way of excusing her prejudice to someone that was obese. In fact if she had actually watched the show, she would see that both of the main characters are actually trying to lose weight. They aren’t just like “I’m obese get over it” (if it was, her article would still be distasteful and out of place).

    In reading the comments on the article, someone stated they felt like she was going for the shock value, that most of her articles get hardly any comments. Well that has changed obviously…but I don’t think this takes the “any attention is good attention” way of thinking. She is a mess.

  4. October 27, 2010 at 10:26 am

    This really struck me. My step dad is very very overweight, and has developed diabetes as a result. His dr has told him losing weight would solve the bulk of his problems, but he has struggled with his weight all his life and is finding it hard to change. We support him as best we can and encourage him. And pray. We don’t want to lose him.
    On the issue of beauty, my husband worked in Africa, where having a wife/daughter who is large is considered a sign of wealth – you have enough food to feed her to gain the weight. The ideal of beauty there is not the stick figure, pre-pubescent figure we worship here, but neither are healty (unless you are pre-pubescent and have an amazing metabolism).
    Obesity IS a health issue and should be treated as such.

  5. October 27, 2010 at 10:28 am

    I fully agree with the author re: health. In our push to accept everyone, no matter how they look or what their social class status is, the fact remains that obesity is a huge (no pun intended) problem in this country. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. We are losing scope of the “being healthy” part in our push for beauty at any weight. It is not healthy. It is quite scary to think that we, as a society, are trying to just accept obesity. The fact remains that being morbidly obese is a risk factor for so many health issues: diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, etc.

    HOWEVER, this author was just being a plain old fashioned cock-smoking asshat (that statement is now a permanent part of my vocabulary, thank you very much!). She was aiming for the shock factor and hitting where it hurts. Her comments were so abusive and harsh in her comments, it simply shocked me and turned me off. Not only did she sit in judgement (who the hell is she to judge people) but her words were just plain MEAN. If it really grosses her out to watch two fat people making out with rolls and rolls of fat or even to see a fat person walk across the room, I mean, c’mon! and the fact remains, that this was not a personal blog, but it was written for a woman’s magazine. The editor should have known better!

    Oh HELL No, now I think I am going to have to write a blog about this. I am just furious!

  6. October 27, 2010 at 10:50 am

    And if the author of that article had BEEN someone’s personal doctor, who was aware of their specific health conditions and speaking to them as a medical professional, saying “You need to lose weight” would have been perfectly acceptable.

    But she is NONE OF THOSE THINGS. She’s just a regular old asshat, claiming to care about “health” as an excuse to be Mrs. Judgey McJudgerson.

  7. October 27, 2010 at 10:57 am

    i think the marie claire author could have gotten her point across more gracefully and in a less offensive manner. I believe we all have freedom of opinion and freedom of speech. I have spent the majority of my life “too skinny” by societal standards. People believe they have the right to come up to me and discuss my weight “issues” because they are concerned with my health. However I don’t even come close to voicing any of the concerns I have for my friend who is morbidly obese. Instead I listen to her tears, her screaming and yelling at a society that is “biased” against fat people, all the “why don’t they make cute clothes in my size”, all that. I listen as she is out of breath getting in and out of her car. according to society it is wrong for me to say anything to her but it is ok for strangers to talk to me because they think I am too skinny. This is a huge double standard and it is wrong. I am within my BMI range for my height. I do look skinnier than most people who are my weight and height. I always have been skinny (exception of a couple of years after my 3rd born). I used to be borderline anorexic but I am not anymore. I eat the same amount, same foods as my friends I just have a hard time keeping weight on and don’t wear my weight the same as most people do.
    The show Mike and Molly wasn’t appealing to me specifically because of the weight of the actors however I made a decision to give it a chance and it is a cute, funny show. I don’t think there is one single show on television that doesn’t have something inappropriate on it. Look at family guy, the simpsons, roseanne, two and a half men, george lopez’s sitcom, reba… television is freedom of speech. If you don’t like it, turn it off.

  8. October 27, 2010 at 11:09 am

    The thing about the article that gets me the most is the idea that people don’t want to “have” to see that. I am dumbfounded by this. If anyone is put off by the show, why not just change the channel rather than protest or write an article.

    It seems the assumption is that overweight people shouldn’t be on TV unless it is because they are trying to lose the weight. That is apparently all they should ever be focusing on.

    As someone who struggles with this everyday, yes I am trying to lose my baby weight but in the meantime I have a life to live. Why can’t we have a show about people who are living life in addition to being fat? The fact is they represent more of America than the girls of Sex and the City ever will.

    Are we not allowed to see unhealthy behavior on TV. I mean Don Draper isn’t spending every episode of Mad Men trying to kick his smoking habit. Dexter is still slashing up his victims (aren’t we afraid this will glamorize serial killing). Hank Moody is still sleeping with anything that walks (and many things that don’t). I take issue with people who are so appalled because being overweight is so “unhealthy.” There are many shows that have unhealthy behavior front and center.

  9. Lynn
    October 27, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    So I read your post and your readers’ comments first, then read the article. As someone who is overweight and has struggled with weight issues my entire life, I have to say that I did not have the visceral reaction some of you are describing. Why? Am I used to this kind of attitude? Do I assume that most people feel that way? I agree with some of her post. But I also believe that much of the problem lies with the way our society is operating right now. The availability of fast food, the fact that food that is good for you is (generally speaking) much more expensive than processed crap, the rush-around, hurry up and grab something on the run mindset are major challenges.

    It did bug me that she put nutrition information in the post. Get real. I could tell you, perhaps better than a nutritionist, what I am supposed to do. And go to the YMCA for advice? WTF? She is obviously not living in the real world. Also, totally offended that this was on Marie Claire’s site. But not surprised–I stopped reading most women’s magazine after I read an issue that a fantastic article about anorexia and eating disorders followed by an article on how to lose 5 pounds quickly to fit into that dress for a party (eat only salads for a week! stay at the gym an extra 30 minutes!).

    I thought it was funny that she has a typo–“heroine addict” rather than “heroin addict.” A new kind of hero worship I suppose. 😎 I think she is a crappy writer, FWIW. “Then again” “Then again” I mean, who is editing this woman?

  10. Kate
    October 27, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    I think what you said is interesting, but I am curious. Have you watched the show? (I don’t mean that in an in your face way.) It is about two 30 something people in Chicago who meet and are falling in love. My husband and I have watched it several times and it is funny. We laughed out loud last time it was one and then shusshed each other so we wouldn’t wake up the kids. It reminds us of all the sitcoms we watched in our childhoods like Cosby Show, or Growing Pains, or Family Ties. The people are mostly nice to each other and they have conflicts and talk them out. And they talk about being fat and how hard it is and how there is no easy answer. And it isn’t gross to watch them kiss. It is kind of sweet.

  11. bee
    October 30, 2010 at 8:17 am

    it wasn’t an article, it was a blog hosted by marie claire, hence the shittastic writing.

  12. Jenny
    November 4, 2010 at 10:23 am

    The whole obesity thing is so complicated. It’s complicated by societal attitudes, by genetics, by our sedentary culture, and by a multi-billion dollar diet industry. I’m a pretty hardcore proponent of the “Health at any size” argument, and not because I think that obesity never causes health problems but really because I think that obesity BY ITSELF is not a cause (or that simply losing weight is ever a “cure.) I mean, we have a malnutrition problem in many areas of our country because people don’t have access to healthy food – and those people who are malnourished are also overweight. It’s insane when you think about it. I myself have had the experience of having a medical profession ignore real problems and just tell me “Lose weight and it’ll go away.” Fuck that, I don’t buy it and it didn’t work even when I did what they said. I mean, yeah, right now I know I eat badly too much of the time and am getting less exercise then in years and that if I changed those behaviors I would likely lose weight – but I will never be within the range of “normal weight.” My body is not built that way and the fact is that I don’t have any of the health problems associated with being overweight. Anyway, I’ll stop talking about myself now but it is hard to not get defensive about this stuff. I didn’t read the marie claire article cause I know it will just piss me off. Being hateful and excusing yourself because “obesity isn’t healthy” is really pathetic and ugly.

    This is a really good related article and well-timed: http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=the-fattest-ape-an-evolutionary-tal-2010-11-02

  13. November 17, 2010 at 3:51 am

    Although it is true that being obese can be an aesthetic issue, we don’t need anybody telling that to us. It is then more of a healthy issue and I know the millions of obese population will agree with this conclusion…

    We need understanding, common!

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