The anti-fat hysteria that is currently manifesting in an all out "War on Obesity" is weighing heavily (no pun intended) on my mind.
I've been keeping up with the Junk Food Science blog, which very logically picks apart the media hype, leaving behind the science of the situation. You can draw your own conclusions after reading the blog, but the gist is this: Fat isn't killing us in droves; cancer, heart disease, and the like are mostly the result of your genes. Dieting is damaging to the body. Diets don't actually work anyway, if you look at long-term studies (people gain the weight back plus some in five years or so; most studies don't go past the two year mark).
The "war on fat" is harmful and deadly, especially to women, in several ways:
- Doctors overlook real problems because they are fat-focused
- Some doctors are so averse to fat women that they actually will avoid doing exams (including pap smears) on them
- Because a moral judgement is often made on fat people ("You have only yourself to blame"), they often don't get proper treatment for unrelated health issues
- Harmful and potentially deadly weight-loss measures are pushed on fat people (bariatric surgery, drugs, diets)
Furthermore, the "kids are fat and going to die" hype is overblown and based on some very skewed statistics. I am not going to rehash everything on Junk Food Science, because Ms. Szwarc is far more eloquent than I am, but there is one awful correlation that is being blatantly ignored by the media: Eating disorders are on the rise. The bombardment of fat-hatred coming from all sides--television, government officials, doctors, school officials, and others--is driving more people, especially young people, to anorexia and bulimia. The fashion industry couldn't dream of having this kind of effect on youth. Thin is just not "in", it's trumpeted as healthy, life-extending, and, dare I say it, moral.
The message I am seeing is this: "If you get fat, it is because you cannot control your disgusting self, and you will be punished by horrible diseases and DEATH." Who needs religion when we've got the fat police to control our behavior? No need to threaten people with damnation; just convince them that they'll never die or get sick as long as they're thin. It's frighteningly powerful.
I'm going to make a scary admission here, and some readers are going to be utterly shocked and dumbfounded by this. I ask in advance that, if you are upset by it, please don't treat me any differently than if you had never known. It's hard to say this, and I'm really nervous about the consequences. When I was younger, I managed to fit into the doctor's chart for "appropriate weight" for my height by not eating. That's a roundabout way of saying it, but I can't bring myself to be more direct than that.
Young people who starve themselves are not doing it because they are stupid; they do it because they are ill. They can't just snap out of it. They aren't making conscious, rational choices. If they recover, it will always be there. It's a piece of them, lurking, popping up every now and then. You can learn to compartmentalize it, squash it a bit, make it less powerful, but it's there.
When I am at a restaurant, it rears its ugly head sometimes. I don't want people to look at me eating, because that little voice is telling me that other people are judging me. They think I shouldn't be eating, because I am fat. It doesn't matter what the food item is; even eating a tomato would make me feel that way, but if it's something like cheesecake, I feel even more self-conscious. It's almost like the sick part of me is reading the minds of other customers:
"Look at her, what does she think she's doing? She shouldn't eat until she is thinner."
"Look, she's eating a salad. Isn't that cute, sweetie...but it probably won't do you any good. Why are you bothering?"
"Maybe she should pass the plate to the skinny boyfriend, she certainly doesn't need it."
Worst of all:
"What's a guy like that doing with a pig like her?"
It's there, and I push it away, but every so often, I'll somehow feel full after only a few bites. Almost nauseated, even, because I'm self-conscious, disgusted with myself for just eating, and feeling guilty for not having the self control to starve myself. Yes, I KNOW it doesn't make any sense. It's completely irrational.
I've visited the "Pro-ana" communities because I had to see for myself that people were glorifying a mental illness. I couldn't look for very long, because that sick part of me was starting to feel validated. "See, all these girls are managing to control themselves and be thin, what happened to YOU? You used to look like that, you pig." I talked back to it. "They're sick, and some of them are going to die young because of it. Some of them HAVE." And I clicked away to something else.
I'm worried, because this is something that is so deeply rooted, so insidious, and it's being programmed into the minds of every child and teenager today. Generating paranoia about fat and eating is a foolish and cruel thing to do, and I am truly sorry for all of the young people that are going to suffer for it. Those who have the nerve to starve themselves are going to do it, and those who don't will hate themselves for it. Utterly abominable.
For the record, I'm fat now. I don't know if it's genetic (I generally look like my father in facial features and body shape), or the result of damage to my metabolism done in those miserable teenage years, but here I am. My doctors have declared me wonderfully healthy*, with great cholesterol scores, excellent blood pressure, and all that nonsense. My tall, thin significant other, however, who eats the same stuff I do and in about the same amounts, has tested high for "bad" cholesterol. I used to blame my vegetarianism for my good cholesterol and blood pressure, but I guess it's all genetics, baby.
* "Healthy", but fibromyalgia-stricken. They've figured out that fibro's a neurological thing, so my fatness isn't to blame for that either. My brain works great for thinking and stuff, but not so great for sorting out false alarm pain signals!