Monday, June 27, 2016

Coming Out as Fat

Today I listened to an episode of "This American Life" that was shared by a colleague.

It's moving. It's long, and you should listen to all of it.

But as an obesity researcher, it brings to light so many other important issues. As we try to change the "epidemic" of obesity, what are we really changing?

If we take individuals--especially children--and manage to help them lose significant amounts of weight, have we simply left them healthier, or have we created entirely new people? Living in the world as a fat person and as a thin person are two very different experiences.

From the episode: "It’s just such an unbalanced reward system. It took so much more kindness, hard work, and ingenuity to be a person in the world when I was fat."

And what happens when people lose weight and experience the world as a thin person, then regain it? I've done it, so I'll tell you. It magnifies what it takes to feel on even standing with your friends and colleagues. There has to be something--kindness, hard work, and ingenuity--that "makes up for" the obesity. You know what it feels like to fit in the chairs, to eat without guilt, to be able to buy clothes and partake in the simple act of getting dressed; and with that knowledge, you are overwhelmed with the intensity of the shame of what you should be.

Imagine that, if you haven't experienced it. Imagine living every moment of every day knowing that what you are is supposed to be transient, something you should always be trying to change. Now imagine being able to just come out and say "this is who I am" and I don't want to change it. This is not the same as saying "I want to be fat". This is like saying "I want to be the same person I am now", whatever happens to the body or whatever I decide to do with my life.

I want the children in our world to be healthy. But that healthiness encompasses mind and body, as well as their place in this world. I want children--everyone--to realize that people with obesity are just people. Obesity interventions shouldn't simply focus on doing no harm, but also need to prepare individuals to live "on the other side" (and, most likely, return). That reality may be as difficult to tolerate as the shame they had to begin with.