We all know the widespread concern over the obesity epidemic, and we are familiar with the language surrounding it. We are familiar with the concerns about heart disease, diabetes, joint pain. We know that some of the issues contributing to health problems in America are a lack of access to fresh, healthy food for many people, not to mention time to cook that food. We know it’s more convenient to stop through a drive-thru on the way home and spend five dollars on dinner than it is to go into a grocery store, pick out ingredients, and prepare dinner at home. We know that not all kids have a safe place to play and not all adults prioritize exercise. We know that these things can sometimes contribute to people being fatter. But what I want more people to acknowledge is that even if we found solutions to all of these problems, fat people will still exist. And that’s okay.
I am a very fat person. I used to be pretty active, taking walks regularly around my neighborhood in the suburbs when I was younger. I was still very fat even then. I also ate a lot of junk food, like soda and candy, which I do less of now, but am also less active. Like many adults, I don’t always prioritize exercise when I’m tired from work, but that’s something I’m trying to change. I’m trying to exercise more, eat more whole foods, buy fast food less. But I will still be fat. I can’t envision a future for myself where I am not big. That doesn’t mean I don’t think I will ever lose weight if I change some of my eating habits and exercise more often, but that because of how big I am, and how I am built, I will still always be big. And that’s okay.
I struggle to not speak up when I hear people talk about the dreaded obesity epidemic and the poor fat kids and how sad it is that so many americans are fat. I get angry, because I am a fat american and that doesn’t somehow make me less worthy as a person. I would not be better if I was thin, I would just be thin. I want everyone to have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food. I want everyone to be able to access grocery stores as easily as they can access fast food chains. I want all kids to have safe, clean parks to play on. I want people to encourage physical activity just because it’s fun and healthy. I want kids to be given the best start possible by having healthy options in life. But none of this will eradicate obesity.
The problem as I see it is the assumption that behaviors like lack of exercise and unhealthy diet are only a concern for fat people. The average person might not think this way, and probably knows that healthy food and exercise are good for everyone regardless of size. But the language used to discuss the obesity epidemic, especially language used in the media, implies that we need to make lifestyle changes as a nation so that we won’t be as fat, not so we’ll just be healthier. Health campaigns that target fat people serve only to imply that only fat people need to worry about what they do because as long as you’re not fat, you must be perfectly healthy. The targeting of fat people makes us just that-targets. It singles us out, makes us the problem, makes us the poor sad result of too much junk food in America, portion sizes that are too large, sodas that are too big. The focus on obesity is dangerous because it implies that all fat people are unhealthy and that you only need to worry about your health if you’re fat.
Fat people are not all the same. We don’t all live off of fast food and big gulps from 7-11. We don’t all spend hours on our couch every day watching t.v. We don’t all need to be saved from a dreaded epidemic. We are people, not diseases. Everyone should be able to eat well and exercise in order to pursue health, and everyone should be informed of potential health risks to certain behaviors independent of a risk of getting fat.
When I speak out against the concern over the obesity epidemic, I am not speaking out against health. I am speaking out in favor of health for everyone. I am asking people to please see me as a human being, not a walking disease or a problem to be solved. I am asking people to not assume how I live my life based on the size of my body. I am asking people to stop seeing fat people as an unfortunate side affect of America’s problems. Fat people cannot be eradicated. All the safe playgrounds and fresh food in the world won’t make us all disappear. And that’s okay. If we want to solve the problems of food deserts, it should be for health. If we want kids to be more active, it should be for health. When we tie the language of health to the language of defeating the obesity epidemic, we make fat people a target and a problem, and we send a subtle message that thin people don’t have to worry about their health as much, even if they engage in the same lifestyle habits. Fat people can be healthy, just as thin people can be unhealthy. I don’t want to eat well and exercise so that I can shrink down to an acceptable size, I want to do so because it makes me feel better. And I will still exist. And I will still matter.