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Just Wait: Fat Discrimination and Healthism

July 18, 2013

My father was a fairly thin young man. He was a very active and quite slim blue-eyed blonde with delicate features. As he grew, he saw his older sisters and brothers (he’s the youngest of nine) all go from thin to fat as they aged. My mother was a chubby child with dark hair and eyes, and she used drugs — legal and illegal — to keep herself thin in her teens, twenties, and thirties. Her family was very large with brothers reaching heights of six-and-a-half feet and often weighing over 400 pounds with broad backs and strong-boned faces.

Mom and Dad

My mommy and my daddy before they were married. Aren’t they pretty?!

It’s obvious that my brother and I have a mix of these genes. I have always been a chubby, dark-haired, dark-eyed girl with a face much like my mother’s. She was tall in her youth, but hovers around short-to-average height like my father’s family. My brother was a thin, dirty-blonde, brown-eyed boy with the delicate features of my father until he hit puberty, then he popped up to 6’4″ tall and filled out to about 400 pounds, looking, all-in-all, like a near replica of my mother’s brothers with my father’s sweet face.

Despite being intimately acquainted with his own genes and well acquainted with the almost-eerily similar body shapes and sizes of my mother’s family, my father loves to dwell on the supposed doom and gloom that my and my brother’s sizes will lead to.

“Well, you’re healthy now,” he says. “But it’ll catch up to you, eventually.”

Honestly, I think we’ve all heard this line… probably multiple times.

When a fatty is healthy, we’re often told to wait until we’re unhealthy, as if getting sick or getting older means that we were never and could never be healthy.

When a thin person is healthy, they’re allowed to be healthy. No one tells a thin person to wait until their thinness catches up with them. No one negates a thin person’s health by assuming their good numbers are a fluke or a mistake.

In fact, the assumption goes to the extreme, as we’ve all seen before, and not only are healthy thin people healthy, but people are healthy just because they’re thin. And, alternately, fat people are unhealthy just by virtue of their fatness.

This all leads to healthism its effect on fat people. We’re presumed unhealthy, unhealthy through our own doings, and therefore, not deserving of respect, care, kindness, and human decency.

This discrimination goes so far that fat Boy Scouts aren’t allowed to attend their National Jamboree because if they’re fat, they’re not healthy enough to camp, apparently.

Reports of emergency helicopters not being able to carry fat patients garners comments about “natural selection” and “culling the herd.” Yeah, “the herd.” I wonder when a fat person stops being a person and becomes an animal?

And it doesn’t matter if we’re truly unhealthy or not. Always remember that because healthism is a great tool for tearing fat communities apart.

You don’t owe anyone your health. Being healthy isn’t something anyone has to be. Whether you have control over your health or not, not being healthy does not make you a bad person, undeserving of love, kindness, respect, or rights. I just want that to be clear. Healthy or not, everyone deserves to be treated well. Period.

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9 Comments leave one →
  1. July 18, 2013 2:56 pm

    I’d clap furiously, if this wasn’t the internet. Nicely written and exactly the point!

  2. vesta44 permalink
    July 18, 2013 3:35 pm

    Excellent post. I’m so sick and tired of being presumed unhealthy simply because I’m fat. When you add in the fact that I’m also disabled, I really catch hell from people because they assume that my fatness “caused” the disability. I even heard it at my husband’s step-grandson’s funeral yesterday (I had to use my mobility scooter at the church). I heard from one person who said that if Derek, who was only 18, could go into cardiac arrest and die at that young age, and he was so thin and looked so healthy, then I was just a heart attack waiting to happen (and they were shocked that I hadn’t had several heart attacks already or needed bypass surgery). I told them that size or weight didn’t really mean much when it came to health, and I’d appreciate very much if they kept those kinds of opinions to themselves, that fat people didn’t need to hear that kind of shit, and especially not at a funeral of a family member (and I didn’t really know Derek all that well, I’d only seen him 5 or 6 times in the whole 6 1/2 years Mike and I have been married). There is no getting away from the healthism that seems to be rampant in our society now. I’ve said before that I don’t owe it to anyone to be healthy, that whatever health we have is the luck of the genetic draw, and I’ve lucked out in several ways on that front, but that that’s exactly what it is, luck, and not anything I’ve done to “deserve” it.

  3. July 18, 2013 6:15 pm

    Well said!

  4. Dizzyd permalink
    July 19, 2013 6:33 pm

    Sounds like the same old BS that they tell every stigmatized group that doesn’t “get with the program” and conform. Deny their humanity and tell them they “deserve” their punishment. They’re still doing it to others. It’s nothing new – the trolls don’t bother to think for themselves and parrot the same crap. (There’s a link on “Fuck that noise” – I think that was the one – that shows the blogs from those talking about fat women’s choices of outerwear in summer heat, and swear to God, they all said the same basic exact thing – “Dress for the body you have and not the body you want.” Not one of them came up with anything different.) And I agree with you, Vesta44, NOBODY deserves to be treated with less than full human dignity and respect, no matter their size or their health. Unfortunately, a lot of people out there need to have it driven home into their little pea brains with a 2×4 upside the head before it finally sinks in. (Sadly, I think you could probably beat them until their brains fall out and it would still never get across!)

  5. BBDee permalink
    July 20, 2013 12:41 am

    Healthism is creeping into our culture from all directions and in many cases much more subtle than the blatant attacks we fatties get. Health consciousness is becoming the new Puritanism. Just as Puritans justified their lack of compassion for others with religious excuses–their view being bad things happen to people because they weren’t ‘righteous” and “God-fearing”, modern society is doing the same thing with “healthy lifestyle’ obsession. Even the non-fatties get this judgment hurled at them. Anymore it seems if ANYONE gets cancer, heart disease, or any number of illnesses advertised as “preventable” the first thing blurted out is “they didn’t live a healthy lifestyle.” I have noticed this viewpoint being promoted more and more in TV commercials. First of all, has anyone else noticed in recent years the exponential increase in ads for prescription medications? And one such commercial said “Some patients ACHIEVED remission…” Notice the shift of “personal responsibility”, read: BLAME in that word choice… And another commercial for a local pharmacy chain starts right out with “Health is a CHOICE”… Our society is still crying “REPENT, YOU SINNERS!!!” as loud and clear as in the days of the Salem Witch Trials!

    • Elizabeth permalink
      July 20, 2013 5:48 pm

      First, ads for prescription meds used to be verboten; they’ve increased because we now allow them, whereas many countries do not. Second, as long as we blame individuals for cancer and other illnesses, we can continue to view them as personal tragedies rather than the results of our societal choices to poison our environment, etc. You are absolutely right that this is just a new face for the same old self-righteousness; it seems people who are of a certain class always need to distinguish themselves and their “healthy lifestyles” from the rest of us slobs. We are not the deserving, which is why we are poor and get sick. Of course, the righteous get sick, too — how could they not, in our stressful world and polluted environment? — and a doctor once told me that her upper-class patients were angry and indignant that they got ill.

      • BBDee permalink
        July 20, 2013 9:51 pm

        LOL, yeah, they are indignant that they got us slobs to do the work for them, got us slobs to buy their shoddy products, got us slobs to live in the most polluted areas from their industrial wastes, but they couldn’t make us slobs get sick for them (oops, sorry, we were too busy getting sick for ourselves)…

    • July 22, 2013 10:37 am

      Beautiful observation, BBDee! So true and so sad, isn’t it?

  6. Dizzyd permalink
    July 22, 2013 3:58 pm

    Our society needs to remember the old adage of ‘taking the log out of your own eye before trying to take the speck out of your brother’s’. And that was JESUS who said that – the same one our society says they base our ‘Christian nation’ on. He also said ‘judge not lest you be judged’. Unfortunately, there are too many self-appointed judges going around poking their fingers into people’s eyes worse than a Three Stooges family reunion.

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