Civil rights, women’s rights, the fight for gay rights; we have progressed a lot in the last half-century toward equality for everyone. So, why is it that fat people are still treated not only as second-class citizens but as second-rate human beings; we have all seen the talk shows, hosts or supermodels dress up in a fat suite and then go about their day they drop something in the street no one stops to help, they get on a bus to stares and dirty looks. People assume that fat people smell, that they are lazy and slovenly; people assume that fat individuals do not exercise, eat insane portion sizes and load their diet with junk foods. The general public assumes the obese lack will power, self control and common sense. We have now gone so for as to blame fat people for the renovation of hospitals to include larger beds and doorways and forced fat people to buy extra airplane seats, when they wish to fly. Thanks to so called weight loss experts we think everyone with a weight problem is an “emotional eater” bearing some kind of psychological issue. The nations health craze has caused people to view the size of your waistline as the new judgment of character; somehow if you are obese you do not have character, good moral fiber and forfeit the right to be called a good person. And, much of the battle of the bulge is not fought on the grounds of health but on the grounds of improving how others see the obese person.
That may be hard to believe but it is the harsh and revealing truth; being fat has become more than a casual stigma likely to engender taunts on a playground. It has become full-scale discrimination on every level. The so called overweight have gone from having to fight for their rights in social circles to fighting for them everywhere, as if the social ones weren’t damaging enough, as if we, in the 21st century, should not have grown beyond that as well. An Oprah special on weight issues with kids and teens brings home this point; a workshop designed to get kids to voice their feelings about their weight and their lives revealed things such as young girls angry that their ant had to make their prom dress, angry that that guys won’t talk to them. Obese women, even those healthy but something other than a size 8, have long expressed the discomfort and self-consciousness in buying clothing. But a true sign of how far we have gone in society to the extreme is Jillian Michaels on a talk show speaking with a young girl who was constantly bullied for her size calling her gorgeous and saying we’re gunna get you healthy, yet saying nothing about the deplorable behavior of those doing the taunting and its prevalence in all of society. The focus is instead on fixing the “problem” in reducing the person’s size, getting them to exercise. We are still giving out the message that you can’t have the basic needs and desires of life if you are not an ideal size; this is echoed in comments made by Star Jones for a show she did in which she talked to a group of people who, like herself battled weight issues. “I was smart but I was big; I was pretty but I was big.”
And unfortunately the depth of those buts keep getting bigger and bigger as more comes to light about how weight can effect your life; getting healthy has become synonymous with getting skinny. Fears about obesity and the spread of type 2 diabetes as well as the cost of health care have pushed weight discrimination dangerously close to acceptable as employers don’t want to hire a fat person, putting in gyms providing yoga classes and more all in an effort not to pay out insurance benefits. People were shocked when one insurance company denied a baby coverage on the grounds that he was too fat; the child was between 4-6 months old and only eating breast milk. Once the story aired the insurance company was more than happy to provide coverage, but such trends only confirm the worst fears of those with lifelong weight battles. Gastric bypass has become a popular weight reducer in the name of get skinny to get healthy, despite complications that can leave patients malnourished and suffering from a kind of surgery induced anorexia. People having the surgery on the premise championed by those who have lost tremendous amounts of weight and reiterated by doctors “you can be fat and happy but you can’t be fat and healthy;” however this is a misnomer. Al Rocker prior to having his gastric by pass surgery had none of the health issues such as high blood pressure or diabetes, neither did Oprah before she began her long lasting weight lost transformation actress Monique has spent years saying big is beautiful.
Not only does it not always offer health, not only is it not the simple have to touted by too many in the general public, one of the backlashes of having the surgery is it changes family dynamics when one overweight member gets the surgery and others don’t, it can change personality as the person no longer has to be outgoing to be accepted socially they become shy, reserved and often lonely. In addition to the complications that can come with the surgery there are also the after effects scars that can leave the patient feeling skinny but ugly; others due to the amount of weight lost need a full body lift to remove excess skin and look normal. Another point to be made on the health front is the constantly changing recommendations in all fields but especially those dealing with obesity; recently doctors changed the weight brackets and what is considered overweight, obese and morbidly obese, throwing people who were otherwise deemed healthy into one of those categories. Likewise somehow we forgot the deal with airplane seats is A- they simply found a new way to charge more money and B- they downsized the seats or what they deem acceptable to put in a seat for the benefit of their own profit margin. We see it all the time in the grocery store, on bottles of everything from lotion to soap from paper towels to feminine products. Yet we fail to recognize it as it relates to people with a so-called weight problem.
Perhaps the worst part of all of this is not just that for all the craze, all the hype, all the health we promote in this country, few are winning against their weight, but no one is questioning any of it, no one is saying hold it- maybe there needs to be a social change. Whereas slavery had those who opposed it long before the civil war, civil rights had its solders, so to speak, long before there was a movement and gay rights had its forward thinkers before there was more than a thought of hate crimes legislation and before it was ever dreamed we would begin to enact laws allowing same sex marriage, there is no such thinking when it comes to how we treat the obese, in fact many support what is happening in favor of deceased taxes and lower healthcare costs. “I was smart but I was big; I was pretty but I was big.” There should be no but after those statements; a persons worth should not be tied to their size. A person’s ability to get a job shouldn’t be based on the size of their waste, their attractiveness. We shouldn’t be allowing elementary schools to weigh children and teach them to compare those kind of numbers at age 5, then send letters home to parents advising they join the school offered exercise program; as a parent in one school district put it the child was husky like other relatives, had healthy food in the cart and the kid looked like a future foot ball player not sumo a wrestler. To say nothing of simply weighing a child does not take into account their build, if are they muscular or not, are they taller or shorter for their age, and yet this goes on perhaps in a school near you. Jillian Michaels should have grabbed that microphone, pointed her face to the viewing audience and called for the social change in this country that’s needed not just because she battled her own issues, not just because she works with people that have medical constraints but because it’s the truth; there does need to be a social change, because it’s the right thing to do, the right thing to say.
And why is it so right, because the one thing left out of all the judgments about people and their weight, the things the public have seemed to miss include diseases that cause weight gain, medications that can cause weight gain, hormonal imbalances the latter of which many times go unnoticed by doctors. The majority is now under the impression that obese people use genetics as a crutch and therefore discount its effects on the body. Researchers are quick to announce that high fat, high salt, high sugar foods may trigger addiction centers in the brain but they appear to have no idea why and advise traditional addiction treatment. Leading to the question how long is it before the general public starts calling the obese addicts? The truth is we don’t know what causes the majority of obesity and therefore may well be discriminating against people for something with a medical basis not a psychological one, not a personality one, not a character one. Many people, particularly women, who have tried multiple weight loss methods, models who have struggled to keep a weight to remain in that circuit talk about they were skinny but miserable; others have said they would rather be “fat” and happy, fat meaning something other than a size 8. So maybe the lesson here is a timeless one, not how much time you have, how many years you live on so called rabbit food, but what you do with it, not the size of your waistline but what you do with your life. Maybe it’s time we let everyone, yes the “obese” too, get down to doing that and what they look like won’t matter. Maybe it’s time we realized the obese too have rights, the rights of the human race, the rights of living in the free world, something no one should have to be told.