Friday, December 29, 2006

What do you think about fat people?

Ten minutes into our run today, I threw this question at my friend Sarah. I've never asked anyone this question before, and very rarely even use the two words 'fat' and 'people' in the same sentence. I always thought I was protecting the innocent, sparing this vulnerable category of people. I was prepared for Sarah to chide me for calling them fat, or comment on what a strange question that was. Sarah's very quick on the uptake, so after a beat, she answered like she had been waiting for someone to ask her this question for years. 'Fat people really bother me'. I laughed, because it was such an unexpected response. 'Why?' I encouraged more. 'Well first they're always complaining that they can't lose weight as they're eating a huge McDonalds meal'. I felt she was being harsh, and wanted to rescue my fat people. 'You know what's funny' I said, 'I think the majority of Americans are prejudiced against fat people, and I think it's mostly because we're scared of becoming them'. Sarah agreed completely, then we both shared stories of how we had gained lots of weight in highschool and college, and later lost it, so we could really appreciate how important maintaining our current healthy weights was. We also both agreed that it would be incredibly easy to get right back in that fat boat.
This whole topic came up because of another friend had just met this great new guy.. They were cyber-dating, she saw his photo and was attracted to him, and they had good email communications. Then he suddenly sent her a recent photo where he had obviously gained a lot of weight. That photo ended their relationship. She wasn't attracted to overweight men. And it got everyone thinking in our group: How do we feel about weight issues? Very strongly, apparently. My little sister Anna is the kindest person, would never say anything mean to anyone. She invented her own language when she was 6 years old. It's called da da da da da's. She has about 20 or 30 of them. At least five of them were created for Zhenya, our father, at various stages of emotional upset. She had one for uncle Steve getting out of the cab to visit us on Shabbos. She had one for me when I had my hair pulled back too tight in a bun. And she has one for fat people. That's just the way it is.
Every human deserves respect and sensitivity to her differences, but as humans, we can't help having a little fun. It's all fun and games until you've gained 10 pounds by eating your whole box of dried peaches.


Mike said...

I definitely feel an urge to judge them and I tend to take them less seriously. I think it's common to evaluate people, at least partly, on how attractive we find them and that makes sense to me in a potential dating or romantic situation. Still it amazes me that I have to force myself to focus on what an overweight person is saying in order to take it in and not just dismiss them. Once I do connect it's fine because their weight is no longer the only thing that I see about them.

I think your point about the peaches is perseptive, Tamar, because we are often afraid of people and things who remind us of a part of ourselves that we don't like or even hate. Becoming fat...or just reaching a weight that we consider unattractive for always a possibility. I think that's why people are often particularly cruel to others who are fat. It just comes too close to him so we need to push them away and say "that's not me."

Glad you're back to writing, Tamar!

tamar said...

mike~ It is all too close to home.. It's interesting how most people in normal everyday conversations never happen to touch on topics of our own personal prejuidices, so this really feels like a big can of worms being opened.. I cringed reading your first paragraph.. But how many people share your sentiments? Or are honest with themselves about it? Probably a lot more than we realize, gauging by the dominance of thin people in the media.. Coming from a very judgmental family, I strive everyday to withhold judgement, particularly of myself, because tzeddakah (tithing, or more literally in Hebrew 'justice') starts in concentric circles outwards, starting with ourselves

Mike said...

I think you're right. The ability to be kind and just starts with the ability to be fair and easy on ourselves. In addition, we all have our prejudices. Most people want to deny them and thus they take on a lot of unconscious power. Trying to be honest about them helps defuse their power. I think that's especially true in our society concerning homophobic feelings. There's such an unwillingness to look at them that they get expressed in all sorts of crazy ways.

Kevin said...

Tough one. Easy for all of us, myself included, to be judgemental when we see people that aren't like we are. Same goes to people that smoke.

I guess the challenge for all of us is to respect other people's diversity. If they choose to have an unhealthy lifestyle, it's really up to them.

I find it somewhat "humorous" to observe the food choices that overweight people make. It appears that weight control may not be a priority in their lives.

On the other hand, it's the prerogative of your friend to break off a potential relationship with someone overweight. Should the relationship progress, health related issues have a higher chance for those overweight and it might become her problem in the long run.

One other point to consider are those who have a problem with weight through no fault of their own. They may not eat that much but still face weight issues.

Jon said...

Happy New Year Tamar!

I have mixed feelings about it. I happen to be over weight. Not by a lot, but enough to turn some people off. I think part of it is due to self esteem issues and depression, but some of it has got to be genetic. There is also those that just learn to eat a certain way when they are raised. Fat parents usually have fat kids.

I agree that there are a lot of people out there that are turned off by fat people, but I think that goes with the degree of how over-weight a person is.

There are plenty of people that aren't turned off by fat people, and this does surprise people. When you see a hot woman and a somewhat dumpy guy you can't help but think "What the hell does she see in him?"

I have been lucky to have met plenty of women that don't mind my weight, but I am sure if it got much worse it would likely become an issue.

I say all this as I am trying to lose weight. I hope to lose 20 pounds. Wish me luck.

tamar said...

mike kevin and jon~ thanks for sharing your candid comments, as always..
Jon, good luck to you..g-d, I really hated dieting.. that's one great thing about running, you don't have to diet.. If you have any desire to run/approval from a doctor, maybe try that..

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Anonymous said...

Wow. I have unknowingly discussed the very same issue with Tamar on a couple of our night runs. It is a sensitive topic but certainly timely given the increasingly large amount of people with ever soaring body mass indices and the level of obesity in the United States.

Anonymous said...

i love your metaphors, humor, intensity, your ability to evoke universal suffering through a spill on the floor, your vivid our thoughts can run on parallel roads or explore completely different terrains...
onward fellow soldier!!!!! xxxyr sis

Anonymous said...

hello, tamar--

i found your blog after googling info on Grete's Great Gallop, and then continued to find great race write-ups and thoughts here that inspire a newer racer such as myself.

i hope you don't mind my commenting on this post, but it's a very ...sticky one, and it is the can of worms you feared you were opening, and there are so many perspectives on weight and fatness and skinniness, so it's hard not to have thoughts on what you have written and what others have commented.

first, i am thin, and grew up in a family of thin people, and played sports all the while and so grew up around mainly thin or at least athletically built people most of the time. i don't think i actually had a "fat" friend until college, and she had become fat when her thyroid glad went bust, so it was easy to be one of those people who accepted people who were fat for glandular reasons, but to look down on people who were fat for dietary or lifestyle reasons. although i would never have admitted it at the time, i think i did subconsciously judge fatter people as being somehow "less" than other people on the heirarchy of human dignity or something, i don't know. i thought it was all about willpower, or something, and that these people were failures or something, because clearly their willpower was not what it needed to be to get them skinny.

my views have changed a lot since then.

what i took for granted at the time was that my perspective was colored by my own metabolism (lighting fast until i hit 30), my experiences as a skinny kid, my experience as a kid in an athletic family, my experience as a lifelong runner, surrounded by other lifelong runners. my physical goals were chosen for me by the sports i was encouraged by my family to participate in while growing up-- dance, track, field hockey. in all of these things, agility and speed are key, and a light body facilitates these things, and the level of activity required for these sports facilitated calorie deficits and therefore light bodies. also, a light body was mine by nature-- i had to fight to keep my weight UP... so my willpower was never even really tested up until the last year or two. and even through my twenties, i gravitated toward people with similar families, similar high school experiences, similar personal histories as myself... and found myself with other athletic people as friends who tended to be thin or athletically lean. while i didn't feel it was good to make fun of fat people, i never really had the need to understand their end of life, either, so... i didn't understand it. and when i was around them, b/c i didn't understand their lives or challenges, i didn't really have the patience or tolerance for the aspects of their lives that i didn't understand-- ie, why they wouldn't start exercising, or why they would eat so much, or why they would go to burger king or why they would get upset if someone thin would look at a picture of themselves before they became thin with revulsion, or why they would take offense by a post like jon's that said "when you see a hot woman with a dumpy guy" when "hot"=skinny and "dumpy"=fat, etc.

over the last 3 or 4 years, i've been posting on a women's forum where there is only one other runner/athlete. the rest are just regular, everyday people. most struggle with their weight. and i. have. learned. a. LOT.

i have learned a lot about how painful it is to not be taken seriously as a human being because of how big you are, especially if you are a woman. i have learned a lot about how painful it is to be told you are ugly because you are fat (it's painful to be called ugly, period-- why do people feel it's okay to direct such comments to fat people? it's dehumanizing). i have learned a lot about how stupid it is to look down on someone for failing at something that was never a goal of theirs to begin with (or else i'd be beating myself up for not marrying that doctor my mother always hoped i'd marry!)(left that goal for my sister, ha). i have learned an awful lot about eating disorders and compulsive overeating linked to depression and anxiety, and the vicious circle it makes considering that many women are depressed and anxious because of the way they are treated as fat people. and when they DO make the attempt to lose weight (if they choose to-- more on this later), do you know how it must feel to them when they, self-conscious as they already are, are jeered as they jog down the street or pedal along on a bike? do you know how they feel when they're on the elliptical and they see people looking at their butts & snickering? think about how self-conscious you can be in a race when you feel like you're running slow or below-standard, and someone seems to notice. you feel so self-conscious, so embarrassed. now imagine that those people are actually SNICKERING or yelling at you that you don't belong there, that you should just go home and eat some ice cream instead. how discouraging, how depressing, how excruciatingly embarrassing. would kinda make me want to go seek my own kind, because even if it doesn't push me to move toward change, at least they wouldn't be assaulting my dignity, either.

and then there's the fact that... for some people, they've frankly got other sh*t to worry about than their weight or what you think of it. their metabolisms may be slower, and their jobs or school schedules may keep their free time tight. all runners know how it is-- we have to MAKE TIME for those runs and races, especially the long ones. we juggle our personal relationships, we don't make every extra work commitment that might earn kudos with the boss, we steer our weekends with friends closer to trails we've always wanted to run.

we do it because training is a commitment we *choose* to make, and we could never see it through unless running was a high priority in our lives. but who says OUR priorities must be the priorities held by others? how egotistical and narrow-sighted do we have to be to think that others must have the same values and priorites as ourselves in order for us to respect them?

i make soap on the side, and i have learned so much from this one woman who has become something of my soap mentor. she is younger than me, and fatter. and, i've realized, it's because-- oh my god, she is a different person than me, with different priorities! i have three priorities: my job, my running, family/relationship. my workday is 8 hours long, and then i run, and then i hang out with my dude. her workday is 14 hours long, and then she spends time with her kid (her #1 priority: that adorable, charming kid. her #2 priority: starting her own business-- you can bet that makes longer days. her #3: her adorable, charming kid.). while i am out running my run after work, she is still in her studio and is perfecting a technique that, if i am lucky, she will one day teach me. while i'm doing my long run on saturday, she's making paper boats with her son and floating them down the creek in the woods near their house. she is both parents to him, and it would take some huge, ignorant balls for me to ever suggest to her that she scrap one of those boat-making sessions to "make time" for a run.

there was a time when i didn't understand. there was a time when i would look at a fat person pulling into burger king and think, "are you kidding? don't you know what you're doing?? it's okay for ME to be here, but you..." -- and you know what? those days are so over, and i'm pretty embarrassed to have had those days to begin with (not like, "omg let me deny they ever happened!" more like when you find a paper you wrote in high school and are amazed at how limited your scope was then, and how much you had to learn in terms of syntax and flow).

who am i today? i'm a runner. i'm a teacher. i'm a skinny middle kid between skinny siblings from skinny parents. all those things come with their own set of issues-- which have made my own life colorful and challenging in its own way, but have in no way qualified me to judge the issues of those who have grown up as not-runners, not-teachers, not-thin people, not-athletes. i don't judge others by their bodies anymore, at least not anymore than i would judge them by their occupations (both are attributes that have complex histories and may or may not be fair indicators of Who that person Is today). I do encourage people to exercise, because I think it's healthy and fun, but when people can't or don't make time for it, I figure that's their business, not mine. When friends look at old pictures and groan, "Ewww, i was so GROSS! Disgusting!" I say, "Not gross, not disgusting-- just out of shape. Big difference." and I mean it. Loathing & self-loathing should be reserved for those who commit crimes against others or against humanity. Loathing is just too heavy a sentiment to be directed at bodyfat, which, ultimately, doesn't stop someone from being a great human being.

this is long, and i apologize, especially since we are strangers! but the title was "What do you think about fat people?" and... and i couldn't help but answer!

thanks for dealing w/ my exposition explosion, here. what a mess!


tamar said...

Michele~ Thank-you for sharing your thoughts.. Clearly this issue is important to you, and it's nice to see someone who also feels very sensitive to it.. I've shared your comments w another friend, and we both love what you said about how self-loathing should be reserved for criminals, etc. Personally, I often feel like a fat person, ie, feel that I'm being constantly judged.. And I know a lot of non-fat people feel that way..
Anyway.. Good luck with your running.. Are you going to do/have you done Grete's 1/2 marathon? I love that race! Take care..

Anonymous said...

Thankyou Michelle
I loved everything you wrote. It was what I needed to hear today. I am a black, single, with no childern, professional RN and I am fat. I know the health risks, the statistics and daily I get the comments and lack of respect from my own coworkers because of my weight. Luckily, I came from parents who instilled a very high self image and most days I can ignore it. I know I am valuable no matter what my BMI number reads. Thank you again.

tamar said...

Annonymous~ This post was written two years ago, but I'm glad that one of the comments written on it was of comfort to you. I'm sorry you receive poor treatment from your co-workers, there should and probably are policies to protect people from this sort of thing, but I know when it comes to this issue society in general tends to look the other way.

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