I’ve long maintained that weight and health, while obviously linked, aren’t as closely tied as the medical community would have us believe. In my experience, they simply can’t be, since I’ve always weighed more than average (even as a slim/normal-sized toddler) and have had none of the health problems promised to a person with my shocking BMI.
I face the discrepancy between what I feel (and how well I know my body) and what doctors are taught every time I go in for a checkup. There’s even a chapter in my book about it – a very cranky, sometimes furious chapter. But I rarely see anyone else saying what I think (and often say, less and less in the right company!): that although there is a correlation between being overweight and being unhealthy, a causation has yet to be proven. Fat itself has been proven to cause problems (for example, too much body fat can mess with hormones and leave overweight women infertile), but the number on the scale has been scapegoated for decades without a scrap of basis as far as I can tell, besides the simple fact that it’s easier to weight people and make assumptions about their health than it is to actually investigate their health.
Anyway, before I get up on my soapbox and start ranting, the reason for this post is actually positive. The NYTimes ran an op-ed a couple of days ago about Black women and obesity; the writer held the opinion that Black women’s healthy self-image was causing them to allow their bodies to get too fat and therefore far too unhealthy. Now, I can’t speak to the racial or social issues here (although I will tell you that when I was heavy, and even now to this day, I often wished/wish I were Black, to gt a taste of what it must be like to grow up thinking skinny was a bad thing and curves were to be desired). That said, I did find her cut-off weight – she claimed to be concerned about her health at over 200 pounds, but was afraid her husband wouldn’t be attracted to her at anything below that point – arbitrary and weird. For one thing, 200 pounds looks VERY different on a 5’2″ woman than it does on a 5’7″ woman, not to mention how it looks on a man.
But, again, this isn’t meant to be a post about that op-ed. It’s about the reactions. See, NYT does this interesting thing called Room For Debate, where they invite writers to weigh in briefly on one or the other side of a contentious issue from a recent op-ed. And this week, obviously, it’s about weight and health. And it’s really interesting – normally the balance is pretty even between the two sides, but this time pretty much everyone comes out against the idea that a standard weight is more important than a healthy lifestyle.
Of course, they also talk about the social and racial implications of the op-ed, but what interested me the most was (obviously) the treatment of body image, health, and women. I urge you to head over there and read the different opinions for yourself. Then come back and tell me what you think, if you like.
Now I’m going to go finish my 8th glass of water for the day and do a few jumping jacks. It might make the floor shake a bit, but it’ll also be good for my heart.
I can’t afford the NYT anymore but from years of reading it, I can predict that the comments will be uninformed to mean. You will find the “just eat less, exercise more” crowd and the “you disgusting pig, look at yourself” crowd. There is also the “I did it so anyone can” group. The statistics show that even very large people die only a few STATISTICAL weeks sooner–of course, no statistic relates to an actual person. I have been fat all my life except for losing the 100 lbs twice for about six weeks each time before it climbed back on. I hate going to the doctor because nothing will be addressed except the um..elephant in the room. It’s not like there is a proved way to lose weight and keep it off and fat people are just insisting on not using it. We can reroute our guts inside, take shakily tested pills that make us poop our pants, drink weird shakes for every meal, eat veggies only, don’t eat white food, ingest someone else’s urine, etc etc. And guess what–our wonderful, adaptable human bodies find a way to soldier on in lieu of food. Sooo…walk if you still can and try to find another focus.
I totally agree with you about the general attitude of comments on articles like this, but luckily comments were closed on this one! That said, I think you’re completely spot-on about the casual cruelty and judgment people level at their overweight countrymen/-women. I’ve long felt that fattism is one of the last accepted prejudices.
My solution is to do exactly what you said: move, try to be healthy, and try not to focus on ‘losing weight’ per se. And I can only hope that articles like the ones in the mentioned NYT collection will help the rest of the world realize that making fat people out to be lazy slobs or selfish villains is incorrect, pointless, and cruel. As one of the writers said, shaming people has never been an effective way to help them get healthy.
PS I know the Times is ridiculously expensive (I log in with my family account), but I think you can read articles that you reach through clicking a link – it might be worth trying it with the link above.
Have just finished reading your book “Navel Gazing”. Really enjoyed your honesty and relating to your struggles with weight .Many will relate to what you have been through .I think you are one amazing woman!
Keep up the good writing.
Thank you so much for your kind comment! I’m so so pleased you liked the book.