As you know, my opinions on “obesity” have gone through significant shifts in the past year. Some days I go out into the world and I’m intent on shaking things up. Depending on the circle in which I go to “shake,” the results vary. For instance, I recently responded to a vegan chef’s Facebook post where she shared the PCRM’s fat-shaming airplane ad with the snarky comment: “Having just gotten off a cramped airplane, I thought this was apropos!” I felt compelled to respond, noticing she had 4k friends, and I wanted her large vegan fan-base to know that not all vegans are fat-hating elitists. Of course, the author – who often writes about the need to be compassionate to animals – ripped my head off and nearly wished me dead, writing twice that a lack of sense of humor would kill me sooner than any diet would. I think she presumed because I was in contention with the ad that I must be unhealthy (and probably fat, eh?). Anyway, this is all to say – the world is rife with fat hate…even from people who extol compassion.
But this post isn’t about crying ourselves a river over the ignorance of other people. In fact, I hope you will find hope, as I have. I can see subtle shifts occurring in the medical community. While I bemoaned the UK’s creation of an obesity “fighting” group of doctors, I’ve also been happy to see quite a few studies published recently that contend with the issue that weight-loss should be the focus of obesity programs. There have also been many people getting vocal in the media about the bullshit that defines the parameters of “obesity.”
The more I think about our bodies and the hyper-focus placed upon them, the more I see added complexity. There has to be a reason we are all obsessed with “fighting” obesity – a “crisis” we created the second we defined the parameters and used a bogus tool, i.e. BMI, to determine them – rather than obsessed collectively about solving the economic “crisis” and focusing on the inequitable nature of health care in the U.S. or the disparities in access to health care. Or, god forbid, fighting for health. When I see the simplistic rhetoric often used towards fat people: “eat less, move more,” I liken it to someone advising a person to get a hold on her finances by “spending less, saving more.” This advice is so surface and doesn’t address the web of complexity dictating and affecting her ability to do so, or even her desire to do so.
From an overarching cerebral perspective – the preponderance of “fat” people should be regarded as a sign of the times and studied objectively. It has occurred to me that we should view fat much like we view the peppered moth – an evolutionary adaptation to industrialization and our heightened “mobility” (meaning our technical mobility, since, clearly we are less physically mobile as a whole, right? heh.).
With the advent of industry in England, the black moth – which had originally been scarce and seen as a genetic anomaly – thrived because it could avoid predation when landing on soot-covered trees. In pre-industrial England, grey moths thrived because the tree trunks were yet to be dirtied with industrial pollutants.
This is not something to “fight” or something to declare war against – this is something to observe, study and approach with an open-mind rather than fear and hate. I do realize the comparison between the peppered moth and obesity is not without problems, but I think it can spark a fruitful dialogue because it allows us to look outside the “symptom.” In other words, much like we now know that the thriving of the black moth in industrial age England, via genetic mutation, was due to the rise of industry, and its resultant pollutants, perhaps we can ask ourselves – how is industry affecting our bodies? Is the fact that we are larger now than ever before a result of this industry? And, what does that mean?
I am not alone in wondering if the preponderance of fat is an evolutionary adaptation – see “Obesity: a disease or a biological adaptation? An update” here [citation: Chaput, J.-P., Doucet, É. and Tremblay, A. (2012), Obesity: a disease or a biological adaptation? An update. Obesity Reviews. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2012.00992.x]. Thanks to reader, Sarah, for sending me the study. Here’s a quote I’ve culled to get your brains churning:
- “Our lack of success to reverse the trend in obesity prevalence has helped us in realizing that a focus on weight loss as an indicator of success is not only ineffective at producing thinner, healthier bodies, but also damaging, contributing to food and body preoccupation, repeated cycles of weight loss and regain, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, and weight stigmatization and discrimination (2). Taken together, these findings strongly suggest that it is maybe time to shift the focus away from body weight and centre our efforts on the promotion of a healthy lifestyle.”
We have approached – and many of us continue to approach – obesity from the perspective of “how can we fix this?” rather than “what is this telling us?” We’ve assigned morals to our bodies: fat=bad, thin=good and created a collective pathos toward any body that does not fit a rigid archetype that is more illusion than possibility. The medical community has largely oversimplified and conflated “healthy” with “thin.” But instead of us rising to address this inequity, many of us have listened, internalized and turned a blind eye to what we know is the truth: it ain’t that simple or there would be no fat people. It’s time to drop the “crisis” talk and ask – is obesity the peppered moth of the mobile age?
The Cranky One