MML Rants And Raves No. 006: Fat Kids, Fat Chance?

While preparing our most recent blog entitled Some Ways To Combat Childhood Obesity, it got us thinking: how are obese (fat) people really perceived and treated by others?

Let’s be honest: just using the word “fat” in close proximity to the words “child” or “children” conjures up the instant mental impression that “the fat kid” will be picked on or bullied at school or by their peers in social settings simply because of their heavy appearance (even the “funny fat guy” that everyone laughs at is often marginalized because of his size). We conclude in our own minds (usually without a shred of evidence to support our belief) that the obese child’s physical appearance is a problem for that child. We know (somehow) that the obese child is unhappy and would prefer not to be obese (once again we assume that the child’s size is an issue for the child himself). And even if we do not want to admit it to ourselves, we are either critical of the child because of his “failure” in being fat or we pity the child because he is fat — it is interesting that there is such a broad spectrum of beliefs and preconceptions surrounding the whole realm of obesity/fatness (it seems that the word “fat” when used to describe someone for whatever purpose has been partially replaced by the word “obese” because the newer “o” word carries less baggage (no pun intended) attached to it than the “f” word).

Despite the well-intentioned efforts that many parents make in an earnest attempt to desensitize their offspring to fat people they know and fat people they will see in public, the readily and abundantly negative beliefs about being fat are all around us, at all times, in all venues, and are all-encompassing — for instance, TV commercials show extremely slender models receiving all of the attention because of their appearances (the lesson learned: fat people are less desirable), the limited availability of stylish clothing for fat people in stores (the lesson learned: fat people cannot “look good” in their clothes), the advertisers’ inside joke using the term “full figured” or “relaxed fit” when describing clothing sizes for fat people (the lesson learned: fat people are not quite as worthy as others), the lack of fat people as heroes in movies and the disproportionate depiction of fat people as buffoons or socially unacceptable characters on the fringes of society when they are allowed to be in movies (the lesson learned: fat people need to stay in the background while the others enjoy success or notoriety), etc.  Are you thinking to yourself, “I don’t think that way, that’s not me”? If so, think about this everyday occurrence and be honest with yourself: the vast majority of TV newscasters and TV correspondents are not fat (a fact, not just our perception) — when we see a TV personality who is fat, our minds immediately note the person’s fat appearance (think back to the last time you saw a fat TV personality on TV (if you can) — didn’t you immediately think to yourself, “Boy, he’s (she’s) fat”?).

Now it’s time for you to be honest with us: were you at least somewhat uncomfortable or surprised at our repeated use of the word “fat” in the paragraphs above? Of course many of you were because we are taught that using the word fat to describe another person is mean or abusive.

What do we think are the lessons to be learned? We need to move away from social judgments and mental perceptions about physical appearances when addressing our country’s fatness/obesity issues (especially with regard to children) if we are to have any hope of winning the war against (or at least slowly the advancement of ) obesity. We do not need to put subjective labels on fatness or obesity. We need to separate the causes of obesity and our efforts to reduce obesity from the social effects and social attitudes resulting from obesity. If people are fat, they must be able to separate any negative emotions regarding their feelings toward their obesity from their efforts to lose the fat. When we allow our emotions to influence or even dictate our efforts to become less fat, we are handicapping our chances at success. 

The discussion should not be framed as “you would not be fat if you did not want to be fat” or “you could lose weight if you wanted to” because approaching weight loss (that is, losing fat) on an emotional level is often doomed to failure. Why is it that when people are asked how they lost so much weight after having been morbidly obese for many years they often state that they lost the weight “because I want to be around for my children,” “I want to be around for my child’s graduation from high school,” or “I want to be able to walk my daughter down the aisle at her wedding,” etc.? Because their successful efforts were based on concrete and deeply-held and universally-relateable lifetime milestones that they internalized as goals for losing weight and were not based on emotions-laden, vaguely-articulated desires such as “I want to feel better about myself” or “I want my spouse to be more attracted to me.” In short, if you can visualize it, you can realize it!

Does this make sense to you? It does to us, but then again, it’s only our opinion.

Thanks for letting us rant.

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This entry was posted on Thursday, May 5th, 2011 at 10:59 am. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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