Sometimes I feel like society is giving us mixed messages about how to respond to fatness. Movies like “Shallow Hal,” which features Gwyneth Paltrow in a fat suit, teach us that it’s mean and superficial to judge someone for being morbidly obese, and there is a growing “size acceptance” movement— the International Size Acceptance Association (ISAA), the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA), among others– that aims to teach children in schools not to discriminate against fat people.
At the same time, Hollywood and the media inundates us these images of the slim body “ideal,” we are peppered with criticisms of our “fast-food” nation for being a country of fat, sedentary people, and Michelle Obama has spearheaded a popular “Let’s Move” campaign aimed at eliminating childhood obesity. There are shows about celebrity chefs headed all over the midwest to reform restaurant and cafeteria kitchens, and we sometimes find ourselves personally inconvenienced by an obese person that requires extra space on public transportation or otherwise.
I’ll admit that my gut reaction upon seeing an obese person (not just fat, or large, or big-boned- I mean morbidly, life-threateningly obese) is to be angry and disgusted. I hate that they take up two seats on the bus or the plane and sometimes need help getting up or down the bus steps, I want to punch them in the face when I see them eating a super-sized fries on a park bench or taking the little tram car to their gate at the airport instead of walking, I don’t understand how they allowed themselves to get that way, and it really infuriates me when I see that their children are on the same path.
Is it ok for me to feel that way? Does it make me superficial, or entitled, or intolerant? Am I supposed to have more compassion for obese people? Is it really just “in the genes” sometimes, or is it always a lifestyle choice?
Part of the problem, for me, is that my experiences with these people are almost always negative. I find that the obese people I interact with often have very negative, obnoxious and unapologetic attitudes, like, I’m not sorry you have to stand behind me for 15 minutes while the bus-driver lowers the handicapped ramp on this bus so that I can step on and be lifted into the bus even though I’m 35 and not actually handicapped. You can kiss my ass while I eat this entire bucket of KFC chicken, lick my fingers and litter the trash out the window.
I know that there are contributing factors to obesity that some people cannot help. I know that a McDonald’s Big Mac costs about the same as a stick of asparagus from Whole Foods, and that sometimes people sustain knee and back injuries that keep them sedentary for months on end. And I know that many people have golden hearts and sharp senses of humor under all those layers of lipids. But to what extent should we, as a society, be accepting of obesity, and to what extent should we show these people some tough love?
I’m interested to hear your thoughts, because I don’t know the answer to that question.