Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Shame of Affluence

I borrowed a book from a friend the other day. While I was reading it, a folded piece of paper fell out from between the pages. I'm not generally too nosy, but I peeked anyway, and I was shocked to see that it was a photo of a skeletal, starved little boy, printed out from a website. The caption informed me that this child was from Darfur, one of many victims of the atrocities happening there.

I was stricken and ashamed. Here we are, tut-tutting and navel-gazing about how OMG FAT Americans are, and how it's going to KILL US ALL, when thirty thousand children worldwide die of starvation and preventable illness every single day.

How selfish and stupid it is to fret about the "possible" health effects of excess adipose tissue when there are still people in the world, even in the United States, who are starving to death.

Before I had ever heard of fat acceptance and size-positivism, I would tell people that, even if fat makes me unhealthy, I am leaps and bounds luckier and healthier than those who do not have access to adequate food, let alone basic medical care, shelter, and safety.

I suspect that there are many who feel guilt and shame for their affluence, and that is part of the reason for this anger and hatred toward fat. Fat indicates that we are well-fed and not forced into hard labor. How can we stand ourselves, knowing that there is someone else out there suffering and starving? How can we reconcile our robust food supply and medical care with the fact that many others don't even have one guaranteed meal per day?

It is important to remember, though, that in order to give another person a hand up, you have to be in the position to do so. If you're starving and sick, you're not going to be able to help someone else who's in the same position. Do not be ashamed of your wealth; it is vain to self-flagellate over that sort of guilt. Acknowledge your position of power--the power to help someone else improve their lives. The answer is not to degrade yourself into poverty; it is to lift the stricken up to equal footing. How you do that is up to you.

1 comment:

Tari said...

This is one of my"pet peeve" doesn't have quite the gravitas, but this is a huge deal to me. I am perpetually shocked and sometimes a little disgusted by the way Western culture seems so focused on superficial bullshit, instead of, I dunno, saving the starving people. Or hell, rescuing victims of natural disasters or genocide or famine or AIDS or any of the million other things that actually *do* kill people (unlike fat).