Sunday, September 20, 2009

Day 76: Fat ETs--It's Time to Assimilate

A crust
eaten in peace
is better than a banquet
partaken in anxiety.
~Aesop, Fables
Inspirational Song
Wayfaring Stranger
Emmylou Harris
All Fat People Are Not the Same
You may or may not have noticed that all fat people are not the same. I’ve heard people say, “It doesn’t matter if you have to lose 10 pounds or 110 pounds, the process is the same.” Au contraire.

The process may be the same, but the person trying to lose the weight is different. For one thing, the person who has to lose more than 100 pounds is very likely to have been struggling much longer than the person who has less weight to lose. In fact, they are likely to have little to nothing in common with the folks who have 30 lbs or less to lose. I call those 30 lb or less folks the fat masqueraders. Simply put they are not fat. They may not even register in the official books as “overweight.”

Fat Masqueraders
Perhaps thin at some point in their life, they now find themselves a tad heavier, or they may have always carried this “extra” weight and just want to see finally what “perfect” feels like. Good for them. All they have to do is buckle down a bit on the habits that are already bred in them. They intuitively know when to stop eating and their body adjusts naturally to an occasional overindulgence. Sure, they’ll have to concentrate and feel the pain of a new way of making choices, but the transition is a small one.

They may need to exercise in a more structured, scheduled way than they have previously. And I feel for them. It’s hard to start moving for the first time and fitting it all in. I hope they succeed. But they aren’t trying to do it with the mass of a whole person attached to them like the truly fat do.

There’s no way fat masqueraders can identify with the struggle of long term obesity. But more about those long-term strugglers in a minute because first, we have to cover the group I call the Nouveau Obese.

The Nouveau Obese
The Nouveau Obese have temporarily stepped into the world of obesity. Many of them crossed into the territory after a pregnancy or two. The baby weight just never came off and they kept gaining. Another smaller lot of them are 45ish, leaning toward menopause, and realizing for the first times in their lives that they can’t eat the same things they did when they were 20. These are the kind of people who are shocked to realize that peanuts are high in calories.

I feel for the Nouveau Obese, I really do, because for them being fat is akin to falling asleep as a white person and waking up a black person in a racist world. They just can’t understand why suddenly people aren’t treating them the same way as they used to. They can’t understand why suddenly their old clothes don’t fit or why someone in their family grimaces when they take their standard chunk of cake at an annual celebration. The first time they use the word fat in reference to themselves they can barely choke it out it hurts so much.

While the weight loss challenge that the Nouveau Obese is real and can take a long time and require painful, conscientious, and even ongoing changes, there’s one thing that keeps them from the lowest of despair. The key element the Nouveau Obese lack is a history of being obese. And therefore, obesity is an “acute” problem for them.

At some point in their lives, the Nouveau Obese shopped in “normal” size clothes stores. They may have been athletic—even playing on sports teams. They probably went to prom. They’ve likely worn evening gowns or traditional wedding dresses. They have a healthy self esteem that is ready to be uncovered—that is strong enough to burst through the extra flab.

Some of the Nouveau Obese can get a good chunk of the way toward goal by trimming some calories with the ole dieting standards that in the past haven’t been part of their food pantries—diet sodas, & lower fat milk--skip the fries most of the time. When the Nouveau Obese talk about their success from these actions, I have to try very hard not to hate them. Because, you see, the group I belong to has such a history of obesity that it’s like they’re a variation on the species, I like to call them, the ETs from Obesity World.

The ETs From Obesity World
People from Obesity World have genetics that are not yet understood by today’s scientists. We have a psyche and metabolism that makes us respond differently to food than the average human. Even our personalities are different. We’re the folks who caused the stereotypes to become initiated--like fat people are funny and maternal and generous. We claim as our people John Candy, all “mammies,” and Santa Claus.

We were fat before being fat was a national trend—before it became an epidemic that everyone was being blamed for.

We’ve struggled to fit in here on planet earth, but we are always a bit apart. Thank goodness for the likeness of our kin—the majority being full, with a likeness to being foam filled. Family times made second portions and food celebrations feel normal. No one’s arms reached around the other so all the hugs were without awkwardness.

We ETs from Obesity World share the history of an obese childhood. In the comfort of our fat homes, we stayed protected. But then came the painful awareness that not only were we different but so were our loved ones—the people we admired and looked up to.
Unaccustomed to our kind, this world’s stores relegated us to basements and back of the store sections to ill named departments like Pretty Plus or Huskies. Some of us grew up never fitting into a pair of jeans—or even pants that had a zipper. Some of us had the extra shame of wearing clothes that were tailor made so they would fit us —and leaving us to look all the more alien in our fake denim or handmade replicas of the trendy clothes.

And the shame didn’t leave us in adulthood. Some of us used the shame to excel in other areas—to push harder to rise beyond the prejudiced brought by our bodies. Others sunk into poverty and helplessness.

And that’s the other big connection between us ETs—a long shared shame. Shame of the shape of our bodies—moon faces, globular upper arms, pendulant breasts, blimpie or floppy stomachs, blossoming buttocks, and lumpy thighs-- that look the same as the parents we loved and grandparents we adored and great-grandparents whose pictures hang on the wall.

A shame like smoke that infiltrated our lives and kept us from running to play, or climbing, or jumping; a shame that kept us from expressing our normal sexuality—desiring to be admired and kissed; a shame so apparent to others that they avoided us because of it, or if they didn’t, we didn’t see them because our heads were hanging so low.

The longevity of our obesity in many cases kept us from even trying to lose weight. It seemed an unreachable impossibility—not of our world—even at times a denouncement of our heritage. Still, we know nutrition better than most. Raised on fat free milk, scornful of deep fried foods, experts in cooking boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Our tables are always set with a vegetable with our starch and protein. When we snack on peanuts, we don’t do it in ignorance—we do it with the face-on shame of knowing we are being “bad”—just like we do when we sneak back to the deep fried foods and the whole fat ice cream. We don’t know why we can’t help ourselves. . . indeed sometimes it feels like the choices come from our blood. . . a long line of genetic code. . .

It’s Time for Assimilation
But now it’s time for us to finally assimilate. We have to hold our heads high and step into our place in this world. We can no longer let shame keep us from claiming physical activity. We have as much a right to bare our globular arms as someone with freckles does or with dark skin or tattoos.
We need to claim health--regardless of our size. We need to eat well and move hard to take preventive steps toward heart disease and diabetes.
Let’s embrace ourselves so that others can embrace us. We can no longer let shame keep us from style—we need to shop in stores that cater to our size and make clothes to fit. We need to walk into stores, with our heads up and ask for clothes—we don’t need to buy online in shame.
We need to pull out our seat belt extenders and put them on in the open—just like a short person might unabashedly pull the car seat forward to reach the pedals.
The more we act like we are normal, the more normal people will treat us. And the less likely feelings of rejection will be the catalyst that triggers our fall into a vicious self-destructive cycle of eating more and doing less.

We may always be big; we even may always feel a bit alien because of our big laughs, and big hearts, and big needs for others. But we don’t have to distort these traits with excess to either prove ourselves or redeem ourselves. We can masquerade like fat masqueraders and lay claim to our most perfect selves.

Acceptance Requested
Just please be gentle with us. Don’t teach your kids to hate us—we fat folk are vulnerable to becoming like the victimized smokers who children point at and whisper about their “sin.” (I know a mother who skipped a page in The Night Before Christmas because it showed Santa holding a pipe. She didn’t want her daughter to think Santa was a bad man for smoking. Santa will be doomed if the trend continues. . .)
If you allow insurance or companies to alienate us, you’re ignoring the fact that we all have different genetic makeups, different passed down psyches and ways of responding to the world and coping with things. All of us have weaknesses and strengths. Many of us have chosen tendencies or inherited issues that move us toward costly health problems. First we’ll push out the smokers. Then the fat people. And then who will not get insurance or jobs next?


  1. i love this post so much i can barely stand it!!! i use weight loss resources online which i subscribe to and i use for my food diary. there is a message forum there with lots of possible forums for cyclers, walkers, brides to be, post pregnancy dieters etc etc. So i mentioned that i would like a 5+ stone section (70lb+ to lose) i actially need to lose 153 total. i had woman after woman mostly averaging around 140-150lb saying to me that 1lb or 100lb it is the same. BUT ITS NOT! nobody would listen and i though it was fat mentality. so thankyou.

  2. I think a lot of people are going to be stepping into that world of Nouveau Obese in the not-too-distant future because our world has just made it too easy to not eat in a healthy manner. I'm really seeing how close to the edge I am while I'm eating with a great deal of scrutiny and purpose; someone who's just going out and eating whatever, whenever... well, that's a quick ticket to Obese City.

    Wonderful post, as always.

  3. This is such a strong post. Thank you for sharing this.

    There is a huge divide in people who need to lose weight and the amount that needs to be lost. It's a sad thing. I have been in the middle of this and you have inspired me to make a post about this...I hope to have it up mby the weekend. I would love to have you read it. I will let you know when it is posted.

  4. Wow! You're post is SO true. I have only just begun my weight loss journey. I've lost 21.75 pounds and have another 190.25 to go to meet my goal. I've been overweight my whole life. Your post sounds like a page from my diary! Thank you for such a wonderful post!

  5. Thank you for helping me put my issue into perspective. Your blog and writing has inspired me, I come from both worlds, one side was anorexic at one point in my life, the other was obese. Now I am one of the "I would like to lose ten pounds" people, I'll give my head a shake and walk taller and prouder, all 5"1" of me, and I will remember your words.
    Thank you once again!

  6. I think the big problem is acceptance generally--we do not live in a society that accepts what's different, and what's different generally falls into the "what we think is less than perfect" category. I agree that it is all about being healthy--I have seen countless individuals who may have been perceived by others as "heavy" but who were far more physically fit than I ever have been. I will never claim to understand what it's like to be overweight, but I think we can all draw from our common experience of having once been misjudged or discriminated against to have a concept of how it feels.


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