Sunday, June 3, 2007

Fat In America (a good old-fashioned rant)

First, an acknowledgment: It is far more socially unacceptable and difficult for a woman to be F.I.A. than it is for a man.

Now that we've got that out of the way, let me postulate this: Fatism is the only socially acceptable, politically correct and downright hunky dory prejudice to continue to hold in this country. Making fun of the obese is still considered fair game and a good time for all. Racist, sexist and ethnic jokes all have their special place in the American pantheon of genre humor, but jokes about fat people are universally embraced. It is not even OK to protest if someone says something horrifying about an overweight person if you yourself happen to be fat. You're not being a good sport then. Plus, calling attention to your own "weight problem" is never a good idea, unless you happen to enjoy shame and abuse.

For those of us who are horizontally challenged (don't you just love the euphemisms?) certain truths pertain: We are the most diet-aware, nutritionally educated, over-therapyized and stereotyped demographic imaginable. In reality, there are no more lazy, stupid or negligent among the fat than there are in the general population. It is just that the nation is constantly being warned about the "obesity epidemic" in alarming terms that almost always stereotype and blame overweight folks.

We know plenty about how we "should" watch what we eat, exercise regularly and, if possible, make ourselves invisible so the rest of the country doesn't have us there spoiling the otherwise lovely vistas of our national malls, parks, theatres and retail outlets. Oh, and of course there can't be any fat movie or TV stars, with the rare exceptions of John Goodman and Oprah Winfrey. When's the last time a large person got to play the romantic lead? What, we don't have relationships? We aren't sexual?

But then, we Americans love to play Blame the Victim, regardless of the so-called crime. Our favorite pastimes include pillorying the poverty stricken, lambasting the drug and alcohol addicted, hating the homeless and deporting immigrants. The obese are only the latest in a long line of abused classes of Americans. And we are so much damn fun to tease!

Look, I doubt that you could find a single person in this country who, if attached to the ultimate lie detector device, would actually claim they WANT to be fat. The combination of genetics, the pornification of food, the sinister pharma-diet industry, the desirability of TV, DVDs, Internet, video games, the availability of fast food... all of these factors contribute to the overwhelming odds against losing weight or maintaining significant weight loss over time. Once the habits of being overweight take hold it is a herculean task to do anything about it.

Can we have a little civility, then? How about a little compassion in place of the derision that is now oh so fashionable. Obesity is a very visible "problem", so the overweight are like super-sized sitting ducks. (See how much fun it is to hate on the fat!)

What if other neuroses and personal issues were equally obvious? Would it be OK to target habitual liars if their noses did grow Pinocchio-like? How about if we could tell by the shape of someone's head that their credit cards were maxed out? What about smokers? Smoking cigarettes, despite being a proven technique for committing glacially-paced suicide, still retains its status as cool and chic, especially in the (dare I say it) red states. Let's start to ridicule smokers, shall we?

So, the F.I.A. don't want your pity. They don't want special consideration. They just want to be seen as normal. Just like you...with strengths and weaknesses... you know, human beings.