A Series on Obesity and Making Biological Excuses
July 25, 2011 4 Comments
In lieu of a glaring visual of what a fat person looks like, take a peek at this slide presentation from the CDC of the trend towards obesity over the last 15 years.
NPR has a feature series on American obesity and this morning they aired a feature on a formerly fit individual that’s now morbidly obese.
The personality profile drew my ire for its hand washing of the true nature of this issue, but we’ll get to that. The woman was a swimmer and sprinter before ballooning 100 pounds during college. That’s right. One-hundred pounds. Now clearly there’s something here. Most students gain five to 15 pounds once cut loose from the confines of parental logic towards food. At least that’s what I was told at orientation, about the Freshman Fifteen (more statistically accurate is the Freshman Five, I also heard).
But, so… This woman (Ms. Curtis) went from a swimmer and sprinter and hiker and all-around healthy attractive individual to, at the age of 37, weighing more than 300 pounds. Also, single, alone and unsatisfactorily employed.
“This is not a simple thing,” she sighs. “There are genetic components. I mean, I look just like [my] grandmother and my aunts.” Looking back, Curtis says, she has battled serious food addiction and body image issues since she was a little girl. “Clearly, there is this piece that is programmed in.”
Curtis also grants that willpower plays a large role. A primary role. But at each mention of willpower and personal failure, she also clarified some sort of fuzzy genetic component. Here’s my problem.
Fundamentally, what makes someone obese? Are they more subject to these biological components? We all evolved to crave certain nutrients rare in nature (sugar, simple carbs, fat, salt). We are not all obese. I know some diseases make it impossible to feel full or satisfied after eating. But the incidence of all the genetic irregularities that would excuse a 300 pound woman does not add up to the sum incidence of obesity in America. There are not enough diseases for the two populations to equal each other. Some people simply eat too much. Because…. Well. Because they choose to, it seems.
So, please, America. Let’s stop the hand-wringing. Let’s come out and make the obvious link in personality flaw between the obese and smokers, angry drivers, and drug abusers.
Curtis also mentions feeling judged: on a plane, at the grocery store checkout line with a tub of ice cream, and just routinely in public, getting looks, snickers, gasps from children.
These are appropriate responses, especially from children. If we take anything away from this national discussion on obesity it should be that obesity should shock and horrify us as a personal failure. We should not stay silent with our discomfort at living among grotesque displays of personal abuse: self-abuse. They’ve taken their lives into their hands and we do not have to tolerate what negatively effects us.
Curtis says this herself in the NPR profile:
“Now, it’s not just like ‘You’re fat and I feel sorry for you.’ It’s like ‘You’re fat and that’s taking a toll on my life. You’re burning more fossil fuels, you’re raising health care costs.’ It’s more vigilante. It’s more harsh.”
She says this stresses her and makes it harder. Well, I apologize that our discomfort makes you stressed and then, so I hear, you eat more. However, Curtis was 100 per cent correct. Whether on planes or at the hospital, obesity effects all of us. Our silence makes us complicit in the crime obese people wage on their biology. Does this mean to rub it in their face and sneer? No. Absolutely not. It’s not a joke. It’s no more comedic than problem drinking, smoking, abusive parenting, any other things which shock and horrify us. But at the very least we can be as vocal with our discomfort as we would be towards those other groups. We owe it to each other. Otherwise, whats the point of living in a human community?