Fat people can be as uncomfortable walking down the street as newly transitioned trans people- as vulnerable to abuse, and as hurt by it. Fat-shaming does no good: the advice “You’re too fat. It’s bad for you. Eat less, exercise more” sounds good, but everyone knows that stuff. It is a hurtful way of blaming fat people for their problems.
Don’t tell me the answer to my problems, it just gets me to self-blame more. I know what I ought to do, but cannot believe I would succeed, or motivate myself to try.
Though I noticed in my teens that my father would make helpful suggestions, I would dismiss them, and six months later be doing what he had proposed. I transitioned. It involved a lot of work with no certain end, over months, and I was motivated so I did it. Some people lose weight and keep it off.
I am swithering here. I need hope, and belief in possibilities. And I work on other things. But saying it is up to a traumatised person to deal with their problems creates a huge burden for them. Society should work to deal with our collective traumas.
The Guardian had an article against fat shaming, and the comments were almost all dismissive. Most upvotes went to dismissive comments:
-So being fat is an identity now?
-And medical advice is offensive.
“They know that stuff”, I commented. Someone replied, “So why do some people choose to ignore it, then?” “Sounds like common sense to me.” These decent, ordinary people don’t realise they are being hurtful, or perhaps believe they have to “be cruel to be kind”. “Normalising an unhealthy lifestyle is a ridiculous thing to do.”
Comfort eating does not tempt me. I do not overeat. A friend with a long apron and years of variable but too great weight would have a whole packet of biscuits, and “joke” to me about it- “You can’t have just one.” This was a person retired from a highly paid professional job. So I work my way into empathy: I know I have my own self-destructive avoidance behaviours, which I perform because they have value for me. They give me relief. I recognise the harm, and crave the relief. I have many problems, and am working on them, and do not need someone to point out just one and tell me, in a condescending manner, that I should work on that one in this obvious and simple way. And, I take that belief into myself: that I have not dealt with my problems better is a sign of weakness in me. I condemn myself, and my powerlessness increases.
Being fat can come from two distinct causes: comfort eating, an addictive or trauma-suppressing activity, and poor environment with lack of choice. And other things.
I am a taxpayer. Some of that tax goes to the NHS, which includes the profession of dietician. Dieticians give advice on diet and exercise to patients, especially when newly diagnosed with diabetes or other diseases, but also overweight. I like to think that the NHS has ways of promoting health. I hate to think that the work of dieticians might be useless, that they might not get the fat person healthier after all. Thin is not always healthier. Muscle is heavier, by volume, than fat.
And we have a pervasive cultural idea that keeping yourself in shape is a moral issue, and doing things which might hinder that are sinful. Eating cakes is “Indulgent”. I was fascinated to come across the concept of Healthism. It is a belief system that the pursuit of personal wellbeing is an individual moral obligation. Like other belief systems, it seems obvious, just common sense, to those within it. Each individual has the obligation to stay healthy, and some even argue that medical treatment should not be given to people who bring their problems on themselves.
What causes non-communicable diseases such as hypertension? Healthism explains it by diet and physical activity, but research shows racism increases hypertension. If instead of calling diabetes a non-communicable disease we call it a power-related disease, affected by the powerlessness and oppression people suffer, we see better solutions, which might actually mitigate the disease rather than blaming it on the sufferer.
Lack of control over your own life, as in a zero hours contract, causes stress. Racism, trauma, fat-shaming, loneliness and misogyny damage health. Exposure to pollution in air or water or substandard housing reduce life expectancy. Lack of power causes disease. Patriarchy imposes disease on its victims.
Lifestyle, from “bad choices”, is not the main cause of ill health. Oppression is. The answer is a social response, being kind and caring to each other, tackling the problems of pollution and oppression together as a society. We have an “obligation to help amplify others’ voices”.
The word “healthism” helps me see the belief system of personal responsibility and the solution of holding the powerful to account. It improves my self-worth: my situation is not solely my fault, a sign of weakness. Still, the chance of improvement is mostly down to me; but no-one has the right to impose that responsibility on others.