UPDATED: Aug. 21, 2019 — This story has been updated to better reflect the intentions of the author.
I was right there nodding my head in approval when shampoo commercials started featuring “plus-size” models. I was proud when the magazines (which had been teaching us all terrible body image ideals all along) suddenly “woke up,” and realized that “real” people are beautiful, too. So… the same publications that didn’t know what they were talking about when they were pushing everyone to be skinny and/or ripped are now being celebrated for pushing another false narrative? The narrative that you should be exactly as you are? What if exactly as you are is as terrible for your health as what they were serving before? Do we celebrate that flip as enlightenment or liberation?
First and foremost, I am not suggesting everyone should be thin. I’m not suggesting everyone should be fit. I’m not suggesting everyone who isn’t is ugly, stupid, dirty, bad or immoral. I’m not suggesting fat people should be bullied, harassed, ignored, ridiculed or humiliated. I’m not suggesting fat people should be ashamed of themselves.
Let’s take a moment to define fat. When I say “fat,” I don’t mean a man with up to 25 percent body fat, or a woman up to 35 percent. That is the upper edge of overweight, and it would be ideal for that man to be between 10 percent-20 percent (or the woman to be 20 percent-30 percent). The problem is when a man slips past 25 percent, or a woman edges up above 35 percent. After that, a person is fat. What’s more, when a man gets above 30 percent body fat (and a woman gets above 40 percent), that individual is obese. And what is even more alarming is when a man edges past 40 percent (or a woman slides past 50 percent), and then lands right into morbid obesity. Look at that term: Morbid obesity. That which is morbid, by definition, is associated with the unpleasant or abnormal, especially concerning disease and death. And that is very specifically what obesity creates in the body: Morbidity.
There is not a single situation I can think of wherein someone’s health is improved by being fat. And no, I will not use euphemisms here. A fat person isn’t cushioned, plus-sized, curvy, thick, cuddly or pleasantly plump. A fat person is fat. This coddling has already been done too much, and it has created a normalizing effect that really needs to be questioned and challenged.
This does not mean I blame people for being fat, or that I think they are failures by default. Far from it.
They pump “food” full of chemicals to rev up our appetites, then pump it full of other substances that block our ability to feel full. They include massive amounts of sugar in practically everything so that our pleasure and reward responses are constantly innervated, perhaps to the point of addiction. And then they make up stupid theories like the famine mode to encourage health-conscious people to come back into the fold by eating so frequently (six times a day??? REALLY??) that their insulin responses become constantly elevated. Add to this all the fat-storing hormones released by the fight or flight response to stress, as well as sedentary jobs, and what would anyone expect to happen?
The final straw for me was the new video by Lizzo, “Tempo.”
I fell in love with her the moment I heard her for the first time. Her sense of confidence was inspiring. Her acceptance of herself was admirable. She speaks truth to people who would shame her for being herself. She celebrates the idea that all sorts of people can be attractive. I love that. I agree. It’s a great message. However…
Lizzo, and many other fat famous people tend to justify their self-love within the parameters of humor or sassiness. And what is that? It’s an inverted fat joke, and how is that actually helpful or healthy? How is it empowering to be huge and knowingly eat crap food in a music video while simultaneously acknowledging to some degree that it’s oddly repulsive and needs to be softened with whimsy? But the moment that gave me a visceral response? When umpteen huge women in small shorts (so, it’s now equal opportunity sexual objectification?) formed a circle around Lizzo and started twerking.
Not because these women were celebrating themselves. Not that they want to be attractive. Not that they want to dance and be happy. But because they are feeding into the utterly false narrative that their weight is normal. It is not. “I was born this way!” Bitch, no you weren’t! You didn’t pop out of your mama weighing as much as two or three babies. Miss me with that nonsense.
There is a famous Buddhist mantra that has been misquoted so much that it no longer means anything. The first half is, “You are perfect as you are.” And people conveniently stop there. The full quote is, “You are perfect as you are, and you can be better.” That isn’t so sweet, but it’s far more empowering. In its full form, this means that you are deserving of every goodness, joy, and success. You are a sentient being full of light, love and talent. And you also have room to improve yourself with education, relationships, adventures, and hard-won wisdom.
No, it is not healthy, helpful, empowering, desirable, smart or kind to feed into the idea that fat is fab. It is not. Accepting it from others, or promoting it yourself, means you are contributing to the idea that expecting someone to take care of themself is an insult. And how are you helping then? Of 350 million Americans, 70 percent are overweight (245 million people). If you wouldn’t cheer and celebrate when someone starves themself to death with an eating disorder, why would you do it when they are engorging themselves to death?
Jack Kirven completed the MFA in Dance at UCLA, and earned certification as a personal trainer through NASM. His wellness philosophy is founded upon integrated lifestyles as opposed to isolated workouts. Visit him at jackkirven.com and INTEGRE8Twellness.com.