Living large

Stories like this break my heart (click the image to read the article in a new window).

Evidently, being fat can cost you your job (which is legal). It could even cost you your family, which is apparently also legal. Certainly it takes a toll on a lot of other things, too, including one’s relationshipsorgans, joints, and overall health. (These links are just the tip of the iceberg of stories like this.) In Japan, it’s actually illegal to be fat, and it might become so as well in the U.S. because, according to Eric Topol, chief of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, obese people are “ruining our health care economics.” They’re the only ones responsible for doing so, apparently, and they need to be punished.

I have to wonder whether all the recent hysteria (there’s no other word for it) regarding obesity is really deserved or whether fat people are simply the latest target of the free-floating rage and prejudice that society has directed at some group or other all through history. Being fat is still considered an individual choice, so the fat person herself is the only one at fault–not Big Food, or Big Agriculture, or the USDA and its ever-shifting food pyramid, or the prevalence of “food deserts” in this country, or the people who decide what will be served in school cafeterias, or the fact that the most unhealthy food is so incredibly cheap. No, it all comes down to those weak, greedy, undisciplined people who selfishly and mindlessly overstuff their faces who are entirely to blame for their predicament. Their “doom.”

If you want to see hatred on display at its most unhinged and vitriolic, observe any online discussion about personal responsibility and obesity. The knives will come out flashing from people who probably consider themselves to be decent souls in their everyday lives, but who cannot resist venting their utter disgust at heavy people simply because either they are not themselves overweight or–and these are the ones I just love–they have overcome their own weight problem and think that “anyone can do it, you just have to have self-discipline.”

I have a dog in this fight: According to the actuarial charts and BMI calculators, I am not just overweight but obese, and have been since I was about 10 years old. I played sports from fifth grade up through high school, and although I was never really any good, it wasn’t because I was heavy, just lacking coordination and balance (which was true of some of my “normal weight” classmates as well; not everyone is given athletic gifts). I have had many, many good friends and a few significant others, and none of those relationships began or ended because of my weight (although some relationships never started because of my weight,  which is just as well). I fit just fine into airplane and theater seats. I shop at the upper end of “regular” women’s clothing sizes, not the “plus” sizes. I rode a bicycle across the United States at the age of 35 without ever being within less than 30 pounds of my “ideal” body weight. Right now I weigh about 15 pounds more than I did in high school, which, from what I hear and see at the reunions, is hardly exceptional. This is what “obesity” looks like.

Also, and this is the most important point I want to make: I have not been to a doctor for anything more than minor injuries and routine checkups, ever. The most serious medical issues I’ve ever had are a broken collar bone from a bicycle accident when I was in high school and a cracked ankle when I tried rock climbing (for the first and last time) about 12 years ago. The media carry overheated stories almost daily about how unhealthy being fat is and how expensive it is in terms of medical care, yet I have never been hospitalized, have not needed a doctor’s care at all for the past several years, and have never been treated for any illness, injury or condition that was directly caused by or attributable to my being overweight. No doctor has ever suggested that my losing weight would improve any specific aspect of my health (although of course a few have suggested that I lose weight anyway). I don’t take any prescription medications. I do not have diabetes and or high blood sugar. My heart, lungs, kidneys and joints all function normally and don’t appear to need replacing. I walk my dogs and do yoga nearly every day, and I can still easily ride a bike into the double-digit miles. I’m sure as heck not a drain on the healthcare system–I don’t even know where my health insurance card is because I haven’t had to use it in so long. And yet, there are those who say that I and people who are heavy like me are not only “ruining our healthcare economics” but also “crushing” this country and this planet. Should I pay higher healthcare premiums or higher taxes simply because of the number I put up on the scale or the diameter of my waist?

The people I personally know who have degenerative joint disease, lupus, diabetes and heart disease are all “normal” weight. Their individual healthcare costs in a single month probably exceed mine for the past five years. But nobody is raging against them and their irresponsible, gluttonous habits, blaming them for creating their own illnesses, writing legislation designed to penalize them in various ways or prevent them from easily obtaining certain foods, or taking pictures of them in public to post on the internet (always with their faces concealed or their heads cropped off but their guts/butts/thighs prominently displayed) alongside stories about the “epidemic” of their disease.

Not everyone who is overweight is healthy, of course–there are real consequences of carrying excess weight for many, many people. But it’s also true that not everyone who is heavy is sick. Illness and disease are equal opportunity misfortunes, and being thin or height-weight proportionate or “fit” is no protection by itself. Seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong had testicular cancer, Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has diabetes, 1988 and 1994 Olympic Champion and four-time World Champion figure skater Sergei Grinkov died of heart disease at the age of 28.

Bodies age, wear out, break down, become diseased, and die. Every single one of them. Of course we all can and should take care of our own health as best we are able, but to condemn and penalize heavy people solely because of their size/weight and tell them “you’re a threat to us all” is not only cruel in the extreme, it is also just plain wrong.

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One thought on “Living large

  1. Pingback: The sin and shame of being overweight | Going Forward

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