Friday, November 9, 2012

Fat Like Me

Fatboy.  Fatso.  Lardie.  Fat Albert.  Fat-Ass.  The Crisco Kid.  That last one's actually pretty funny.

I grew up being called these names and others like them on a daily basis.  It used to be confined pretty much to the schoolyard, or at least the schoolyard mentality -- in my experience, even some of the teachers were glad to join in.  But the joy of ridiculing fat people was too sublime to be forever contained, and so has become institutionalized in the popular culture.  A chosen few from among the myriad examples:
  • In the third Indiana Jones movie, the opening sequence shows young Master Jones as some sort of boy scout having an adventure with his troop, which included the obligatory obese fellow scout as comic relief.  Ha ha, poke fun at the fat kid, it's a lot easier than actually writing something, you know, funny.
  • In the 1980s movie, "Back to School", Rodney Dangerfield plays Thornton Mellon, a multi-millionaire clothing tycoon -- he owns a chain of "tall and fat" stores, which opens up a plethora of opportunities for fatty jokes.  E.g.,:  "Are you fat!?  When you go jogging, do you leave potholes?  When you go to the zoo, do the elephants throw you peanuts?  When a waiter hands you a menu, do you say, 'Okay'?"  Actually, these jokes are funny, and somehow they're not as hurtful when good-naturedly hurled by Rodney himself, who was no lightweight.  But what other group of people could you get away with insulting like that?
  • In one scene in a made-for-TV movie chronicling the life of George Washington, no less a personage than George himself gratuitously ridicules one of his officers for being fat.  (Had it happened that way in real life, one might deduce that being fat takes away any points earned for volunteering to run around in the cold winter wilderness fighting Redcoats to the death.)  
  • The narratives of innumerable commercials revolve around the pretty, trim and savvy wife mugging and smirking while throwing verbal barbs at her hapless husband, who is required by Madison Avenue to be fat and stupid (perhaps to encourage us to believe they are one and the same) and who just stands there mute as the deserving personification of the Stupid Consumer, in awe of his superior mate.
In short, all that trendy and high-minded talk about abolishing bigotry is baloney, a mask for finding more socially acceptable targets for it.  People do cherish their little hatreds, and obesity is high on the approved list.  Anti-fat bigotry is so much fun we can no longer confine it to the private sector; now we have the government weighing in, so to speak, that obesity is a "crisis".  My guess is, with ObamaCare, we will soon be the ones weighing in.  Remember, it's nobody's business who, or what, we have sex with, but if we eat too many Ho-hos, the national glare will be focused directly on you-know-who.  Let the witch hunts begin.  What did he eat and when did he eat it?  Maybe eventually Uncle Sam will steal fitness ideas from the Soviet Union and send overweight people to fat camps deep in the bowels of whatever part of the country most resembles Siberia.  (Duluth, maybe?)  It's for our own good after all, just like when one of Stalin's men took a pick ax and explained communism to a slow-learning Trotsky.

Come to think of it, big government often does solve obesity problems in a population.  Like Ethiopia did with Eritrea.  Like the Soviet Union did with the Ukraine.  Like North Korea is doing now with its own citizens.  You can't overeat if you don't have any food.  The obesity epidemic and public health will be the pretext for even bigger government, notwithstanding the number of people that big government has killed.
But I digress.  The consensus, even among people who don't believe in an objective morality, is that obesity is a moral failing.  The popular culture dives into that presumption like torch-wielding Puritans on a tethered witch.  I have heard obesity alluded to  as a sin from the pulpit -- the fruits of gluttony -- and as a threat to national security by a military leadership getting in step with the government's ever-changing cadences.   Joe McCarthy: out.  Your employer's Wellness program: in.  The idea that obesity might be a different kind of failure, perhaps genetic, recedes from view even as homosexuality, once thought to be a lifestyle choice, emerges with claims to genetic legitimacy.  We celebrate the glorious diversity of different lifestyles -- but only so long as it does not require super-sizing your fries or looking bad in Spandex.  Besides, being gay is cool and gays dress better.

But what if obesity is not a moral failing at all?  What if it's simply a problem of ignorance?  What if a lack of knowledge is at the root of this so-called epidemic?  Worse, what if obesity is actually being caused by misinformation emanating from the same authority figures in government and the nutrition field who are now chiding us for our girth while telling us things that are just not so?

In my next post, I will relate my personal struggles with obesity and detail some of my successes and failures in fighting this lifelong battle.   Meanwhile, let's just acknowledge the tremendous incentives to get thin -- gaining societal approval, looking and feeling better, perhaps living longer -- and observe one thing: people quit trying when they sense they cannot succeed.  Dismissing this as a simple lack of willpower is facile but arrogant, for the simple reason that you cannot directly feel what the fat person feels -- neither his hunger, nor his shame, nor the heartbreak of failure.  Set aside prejudices for just a short while, and consider the possibility that the deck may have been physiologically and/or psychologically stacked against many fat people.  And if you're a fatty like me, take hope in that there may be a solution that is far easier than you dreamed possible.