I came across an opinion piece last week about fat women (curiously yes, it was only about women) and how "we" should stop telling "them" they look fabulous. Why? Because it only encourages ladies to pork up and ruin the health system.
We're a "public health time bomb" and the plus-sized fashion industry is only encouraging us to take pride in our appearance because they want our fat dollars. Worse, the fatter we get, the less our husbands want to have sex with us (I didn't make that up, read the article). We cause other problems too but in short, we should do everyone a favour and just stop eating so much. Sigh.
I am 40-ears-old and I have been fat for 30 years. I was overweight by the time I was in my early teens and obese (ouch, what a loaded word) by the time I was in my late teens. The reasons I am fat are a complex mix of family dynamics, culture, genetics and yes, choice. My family are rural working class and we fit all the stereotypes when it comes to food – lots of it, poor quality ingredients and processed up the wazoo.
We could not afford the luxuries my own middle-class kids now enjoy – things like movies, dance classes, trips to Phillip Island and psychologists – and so we ate. Family treats included Friday night fish and chips, a block of chocolate in front of A Country Practice and lots of cans of soft drink. Bread was probably the healthiest part of my childhood diet. Of course, it was white and came wrapped in plastic.
As I've gotten older and, frankly, made more money, my diet has changed radically. Like most comfortable and educated Australians I pay an inordinate amount of attention to my diet and that of my family. The meat is grass-fed, the veggies are plentiful, the bread weighs as much as a brick. There's lots of fruit and everyone drinks water. Look, we grow Kale in our front yard. I exercise five times a week and make sure my kids are physically active. I get all my tests done and I am doing my absolute best to be healthy.
But I am still fat – a solid size 18 and firmly in the obese range. I'm not morbidly obese and requiring specialist hospital equipment, but are there health consequences? Yes. My lower back gets sore and I know that would be eased if I were lighter. I know this because I can read, but also because I used to be 20 kilos heavier and it was much sorer then.
I'd probably have more energy if I were in my prescribed weight range and no doubt there's more wear and tear on my knees and feet. I am also at greater risk of some diseases. For these reasons – and others – I would like to lose more weight.
And this is the main thing I want people like the author of that mean-spirited piece to understand – we are trying. Her suggestion that the plus-size industry has made us all so comfortable with being fatty-boombahs, that no one even knows being fat is bad, is stunningly ridiculous.
Does this woman live in the same culture as me? A culture that teaches all women and girls – and increasingly boys and men – that we should be judged on the size of our dress and not our IQ. A culture in which the leading cause of mental health issues for teenage girls is poor body image. A culture in which "health promotion" campaigns tell me my body is "toxic" rather than encourage me to be as healthy as I can. It is not easy to be big-boned these days, in fact, it can be bloody heartbreaking at times.
Do I accept being obese? No. As I said, I am trying. I refuse to be sucked into the commercial weight loss industry anymore – an industry that prays on the fears and insecurities of women only to offer appalling results. Like most fatties I have tried them all and after initial success felt like a complete failure when the weight piled back on (like it does for over 90 per cent of their clients – they don't put that "after photo" on the ads). Instead, I am exercising, eating whole foods, trying to eat less and in the process, I am looking as fabulous as possible. And, I have to say, I do look pretty bloody fabulous. People even want to have sex with me. I know!
Look, telling fat people we're ugly and toxic isn't going to suddenly make us want to slim down. All that does is lead to low-self esteem and shame. And that really is toxic.