Friday, January 18, 2008

Big Buts, part two: The 400-lb straw man

"But...people are like 400 pounds now! Epidemic! Epidemic!

My first reaction to this "but" is to say, "Are you one of them? No? Then it's none of your business." However, I know that isn't good enough for some people, because people who use "buts" are always but-ing in on other people's private lives. So, with apologies to those out there who ARE 400 pounds, and an invitation to you for input, I am going to kick this "but" right here and now.

First of all, the "obesity epidemic" does not, despite what the pictures next to the hysterical articles depict, mean that there is a majority of people who are, and I apologize for this, "super" sized. Yes, very large people exist, and they may or may not have problems because of their size, but the so-called epidemic is aimed at smaller people, while holding up images of 400 pound people (headless female ones, usually) to frighten us into thinking that we are all "doomed" to become that image if we don't toe* the thindustry line right away.

My friends (and foes), this is what we call a "straw man". People who bring up the subject of the very fat (and please, if anyone who fits this category can give me the most polite term, I would be grateful, and more than happy to edit this post to put it right) as a reason for 200-pound women to start eating in a disorderly fashion are being completely ridiculous. Yes, 400 pound people exist, but that does not mean that EVERYONE will become that large simply from eating too much--and the haters know it. They know perfectly well that there are thin people who eat huge volumes of food without gaining an ounce, and they are WELL AWARE that a moderately fat woman is not going to become 400 pounds just because she doesn't engage in calorie restriction.

But yet, they hold up those headless photos, wagging their fingers in our faces, and tell us that we'll sure be sorry when we LOOK LIKE THAT, because how else are they going to be able to claim that they're doing us a favor by being complete asswipes to us? How else are they going to excuse their hateful behavior without looking selfish (as with the "health care costs" argument, which IS a selfish argument)? It doesn't matter that they know it's not true, and that we know it's not true; as long as they can hold up the photos and be patronizing douchebags, they shut down the argument with hyperbole. I can say, "But I really don't eat Big Macs, I'm a vegetarian," and they can completely disregard what I just said, hold up the picture, and say, "DO YOU WANT TO LOOK LIKE THIS YOU FATTY FATTY MC FATTY? STOP EATING BIG MACS! AND IF YOU DON'T, YOU WILL DESERVE TO BE THE 400 POUND FATTY THAT YOU'RE GOING TO BE!" I mean, really, how do you respond to that, when the other side just keeps spraying spittle in your face, and refusing to engage in polite, meaningful discourse? You can't.

What you can do, though, is know the truth--that eating hamburgers isn't what makes a very fat person fat. There have to be other factors involved, including thyroid disease, insulin resistance, stuff like that. I mean, gosh, does anyone remember the woman who had a 900 pound (correct me if that's the wrong number; I don't have internet connection up here; just using the laptop) ovarian cyst removed? You don't diet away a cyst. Yet, because of the shaming and cruelty fat people have to endure, she did not get medical treatment to diagnose the cyst until it had grown to frightening proportions. Are you haters proud of yourselves for that one?

I'm a fat woman. I don't presume to speak for people who weigh significantly more than I do, but I do know that, unless a serious medical problem crops up, I am highly unlikely to become one of them, no matter how much cake I eat, no matter if I choose the real sour cream instead of the fat free stuff. If I eat more calories than usual, my metabolism rises to burn the extra energy so that I don't rise significantly above my setpoint. Trust me on this; I have had erratic eating behavior without a major change in weight beyond the normal fluctuations a woman's body goes through. So light a match and set that straw man aflame--and don't fall for the hysterical hand-wringing anymore.

Small addendum: I read on Sandy's blog that Celebrity Attention Whore Chef's goal in dissecting a 400-lb man on television is to show how bad the "average British diet" is. If that were true, he'd be dissecting an average British man--176 pounds. Using the gory spectacle of the 400-pound cadaver, however, is a very clear example of this ridiculous straw man that fatphobics are shoving in our faces. I, for one, am NOT fooled. How about you?

* "Toe the line" is the correct form of this phrase. People, please stop saying "tow the line", you aren't pulling it behind a boat, you're standing there with your toes along the line, all in a perfect row together, like good little soldiers.


Cassandra said...

The 400 lb. statement is also incredibly deceptive. People have no flippin' idea what pounds really look like. I weigh about 385 lbs., but I'm 6'1" and an all around big lady. I mean I wear a size 12 mens shoe, have huge hands, broad shoulders, very large breasts and a matching butt. Yes I'm fat, but you wouldn't outrightly guess that I'm near 400 pounds. If they're using pictures of people they know are 400 pounds as a shocker for !OBESITY! they have to be of people who are 5'2". Another aspect that is frequently forgetten - if someone is 400 lbs and isn't confined to a wheel chair, guess what? They have enough muscle to carry all that weight! Which means a good chunk of the weight is attributed to muscle!

Ashley said...

The most infuriating thing about this argument to my mind is the unsaid, but clearly implied, idea that once you've reached the mythical (and as Cassandra above mentioned, deceptive as hell) 400 lbs, you then become a hideous creature no longer deserving of civility or kindness or the label "human." Your massive, monstrorous bulk makes you so incredibly offensive to all that is good and right that you simply EXISTING is enough to scare people into such drastic steps as cutting away whole portions of digestive tracts and starving themselves.

It's nothing short of hate, in its pure and most vile form. Hate that dehumanizes and demonizes other human beings with hearts and minds and feelings. A 400 lbs person is no less of a person than a 120 lbs person. You don't inversely lose humanity in pace with the weight you gain. To suggest otherwise, as so many people do, is horrible.

A very nice series so far. Keep it up.

Mercurior said...

i am 23 stone , i am 6 foot tall, a few years back i went to the doctors with a sore throat i had a throat infection that had spread to my lungs. NOT good.

and my doctor wanted my height and weight.. so a sore throat is a sypmtom of obesity??

she did my blood pressure, with 4 different machines, as my bp was normal, she thought the first 3 machines were wrong.. she tried to say i needed a diet i just said i am happy the way i am, she tested my cholesterol my heart rayte the usual.. and i was normal.. which actually upset her.. i was going home and i was giggling..

i get my weight from my fathers side they are all short and round, mums side men are tall and thin..

i celebrate my fatness, i am fat.. but i wuld rather be fat and happy that thin and unhappy.

thoughtracer said...

When I was thin-fat, which I guess is what I will call it when I was less fat, because I was always fat, I weighed 186lbs, and wore a size 14-16. I remember my then, very first boyfriend calling his best friend and asking if it was OK to date a person who weighed that much. (Mind you, we were 20, and 19, respectively. Adults). His friend said: That's fucking huge!

I wasn't actually huge. Everything was flat and small. I felt exposed I was so small. And I felt unsafe, too.

I weight 263 pounds now. I guarantee you, no one has any idea I weigh that much.

People have no idea what weight actually looks like on others, or sometimes, even on themselves.

Furthermore, I don't understand why there has to be this line over what is acceptbly fat and what is not acceptably fat, you know? Like 400 pounds is the cut off? Society hates us all, really. If I am confident and happy, I'm threatening the thin-culture-norm at my weight, just as much as someone who weighs more than me who is confident and happy. Because anyone who is not struggling to control their weight and miserable about it is going against what is acceptable.


Rachel said...

Mercurior: You should submit your story to the First, Do No Harm blog at

Tammy said...

if someone is 400 lbs and isn't confined to a wheel chair, guess what? They have enough muscle to carry all that weight! Which means a good chunk of the weight is attributed to muscle!

I am one of those people :) My therapist told me to think of myself as a weightlifter, but even stronger - because they have spotters and pick up/drop the weights quickly - and I don't. I carry mine around and never put it down - and that makes me pretty damn strong. No, I'm not thrilled with this weight and want to weigh less, but it's no one's business but mine, so kiss off.

Mercurior said...

people assumed i was unhealthy, but then i had to prove it, i bench pressed 600lbs with my arms , over 800 with my legs (i broke the machine it couldnt cope with the force of my legs..)

Anonymous said...

If Jamie used an average British man, he wouldn't get the freak show raitings he's going for. I mean, I was thinking he should just admit that's what he's after.

"See the kids who are begging their parents for chips and pies through the fence! Witness Jamie Oliver in a fat suit! Behold the 400 pound cadaver! Come to Jamie Oliver's Freak Show!"

Anonymous said...

Rather late, I know, but speaking as someone who does weigh about 400lbs, I can contribute a bit as to why.

1) Genetics. My mother was also a supersize person. This doesn't necessarily mean I had to be, but my body is physically capable of it.

2) Dieting. I yo-yo'd from 4th grade through 12th, and on and off again in college. Lose 40, gain 60, lose 20, gain 35, rinse and repeat ad nauseum. I'm sure I've thoroughly screwed up my metabolism. At least I don't have diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol.

3) Depression. I've had 5 major depressive episodes in my life, and I gained about 30lbs during each of the first 4. That's 120lbs right there. The last one did not have a major weight gain, but I was also on celexa and wellbutrin during that one.

Just one person's data point, I would be interesting to do some actual research on very fat people to see what correlations there are (and realizing that correlation is not necessarily causation!)