I just finished watching a documentary film called “Fed Up” about how totally screwed up our food system is, particularly when it comes to sugar. (I’ve also seen quite a number of documentaries on our food system, all of which are incredibly damning.) And I’ve read some blogs and such about the movie, and one of the primary critiques of the film is that it exploits fat hatred, and fat phobia. And then I came across this post, about a powerful art installation (the post does not include information about who the artist is – if you know, please let me know.) The post’s primary critique was this image, saying that among other things:
I call SUCH FUCKING BULLSHIT on the picture with the fat child. First, because being fat ISN’T A FUCKING CRUCIFIXION, ASSHOLE. It isn’t a damage or a blight or a sickness or a perversion or any kind of wrong. A kid being fat isn’t automatically a kid who’s got something wrong with them.
And what’s true is that statement above is very right, and very wrong. Across the spectrum, we have a set of truly problematic ways of thinking about and dealing with the issue of fat.
One one hand, we have a society which feeds us photoshopped pictures of models and stars that set completely unrealistic (CRAZY unrealistic) ideals for how women (particularly women) should look. We have objectified and fetishized thinness, to a degree that is, actually, crazy. It is simply not healthy to be as thin as women are “supposed” to be, and the amount of money that is spent on diet books, diet plans, surgery, gym memberships, etc. is, well, part of the reason I expect those ideals get perpetuated.
There is a lot of fat-phobia. It’s considered our fault if we don’t meet society’s standards. “You don’t work out enough, you eat too much, it’s all your fault.” But there is evidence that diets actually harm people, instead of helping them (and cause people to gain even more weight.) Sugar substitutes are harmful (and can also cause weight gain, and increase likelyhood of diabetes.) And these standards have made their way into the medical community, which has affected how research is done, and what conclusions are drawn. The whole “low fat” craze, which was based on faulty research, has probably harmed a lot more people than it benefited, since, it turns out fat isn’t the problem (except for transfats. They aren’t good). And doctors use the beauty standards instead of research when they talk to their patients (I’ve experienced this myself.)
But yet, there is a problem. Childhood obesity, which used to be rare, isn’t. And kids are getting Type II diabetes (it’s actually called “adult onset” for a reason.) Most of the food that is sold in most grocery stores is so processed, that it lacks much in the way of nutritional value, and totally screws with our metabolism. Industry leaders like McDonalds are a critical part of the picture. Food in our country has been designed to be addictive. It’s also designed to deliver the highest number of calories for the lowest cost. In many places in the US, obesity is a manifestation of lack of food security. And it turns out that the whole thing about “energy balance” (that is burning as many calories as you eat) is not so accurate. What kind of food you eat is at least as important as the number of calories you eat.
I was small (very small) for most of my early life. I didn’t get tall until college, and didn’t gain weight until I was in my 30s, when for a number of reasons, I stopped being so active. I would have gained some weight even if I’d kept active – because, genes. When I was growing up, there were varied pictures of thin women on the refrigerator. It embedded in me that standard that I know I can’t meet (and, at this point, have truly no interest in meeting.) I am learning to love this body, this big body. And part of learning to love this body is changing how I eat, and how active I am.
I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have enough privilege to make the choice to spend a much larger percentage of my money on food than most people. I eat as little processed food as I can, and I try to lessen it more and more (I’m down to brown rice pasta, gluten free bread, crackers, and organic tortilla chips – which I’m trying to eat somewhat sparingly, but it’s hard to give those things up.) and I have a new commitment to use sugar like I’d use cinnamon, or curry powder. It’s meant to be a seasoning. It’s actually pretty poisonous, and addictive. I’m working with a personal trainer (a trade, thankfully) and I’m focusing on flexibility, strength and endurance. Not losing weight. I don’t even have a scale.
We need both things. Proud fat/large/zaftig/big women and men proclaiming that there is nothing wrong with us. And the medical community needs to look at our actual health, not our weight.
And we need an honest discussion about our food system, and how it relates to our health (and the health of the planet, too.) We can’t let our responses to fat hatred and phobia blind us to the truth of how we have to change how we eat, and what food is available to whom.