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Health is not an obligation

September 16, 2013

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Talk of suicide, dieting, eating disorders, self harm, strong language

In all our frenzy about Health at Every Size® (HAES) and our desire to negate the stereotypes of the unfit, unhealthy, unattractive, un-everything fatty we forget a key point:

Health is not an obligation.

Health is not an obligation.

Health is not an obligation.

Did I say that enough? Good. The thing is, being healthy is good, it’s great… if it’s what you want. I read somewhere once that women were willing to trade years off their life to be/stay thin, so why can’t I say I’m willing to trade years off my life to be happy? I’ve swallowed pills and slit my wrists and stared in the mirror for fucking hours hating everything about me. I’ve gone years Fat Tapewithout knowing what happiness was and living every day in misery because of my body hate. I’ve dieted and purged and restricted my food down to a praiseworthy 300 calories a day. I’ve heard of ever-more risky, dangerous, extreme, and ridiculous weight loss methods and thought, “Hey… that sounds good.” I would have traded years off my life to be thin. Well fuck that. No, no, I’m serious (and obviously in a cursing mood): fuck it. Because I’d rather be happy than thin. I’d rather be happy than watching blood drip down my fingers, hating myself more than when I started. I’d rather be happy than to have these scars. I’d rather be happy than to struggle with that stupid eating disorder. I’d rather be happy.

Why is that such a shock? No, why is it such an atrocity? Why is it a battle to see yourself as worthy? Why does my mind have to be war torn to be acceptable? Why does my body have to be some social construct of ideal for me to be happy? Okay, let’s say I’m not beautiful. Let’s say fat is gross and ugly. SO FUCKING WHAT?! I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being ugly because I’d rather be happy than beautiful, happy than thin, happy than some man’s play thing, some object to be laid out like a trophy. I’m happy to be a whole human fucking being.

And they do like to dehumanize us don’t they? Pathologize us, behead us, strip us of our humanity so that we are just our fat. Just a fat stomach with a mouth that consumes, consumes, consumes in a consumerist society and that’s bad, that’s wrong, that’s evil… except when thin people do it.  A redditor yesterday called me evil and a terrible human being for saying that you should be happy in the skin you’re in. Well fuck him. I will be happy in the skin I’m in because the alternative isn’t living; the alternative is being enslaved by your insecurity, it’s kneeling to pain and letting it wrap itself around you. That’s no kind of life to live. Worst yet is that people expect children to live like this. They bully and belittle and abuse children until they reach their breaking point or, if they don’t break, they learn that shame and humiliation are all there is to the human experience and they let is soak into their consciousness like a parasite. How could any person wish that on another person and think it was somehow helping? Please, please someone explain to me why a long, miserable life is better than a short, happy one.

I know the argument coming: “But if you’re thin you’ll be happy.” Except you won’t be. You’ll never be happy because you’ll never be perfect. Being free from oppression doesn’t make you love yourself any more. And more to the point, I shouldn’t have to work any harder to be happy just because I’m fat, than a thin person does just because they’re thin. It’s embarrassingly unequal to say that fat people have to work to be happy and thin people don’t. And gee, if being thin made us all happy wouldn’t all thin people completely love themselves? And yet they don’t because society will always be there, pushing you, tempting you, telling you you’re not good enough so they can sell you products to make you a little closer to worthy.

Not everyone is able or willing to pursue health and that’s okay. It doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you unworthy of love or support or friends or community or sex. You deserve to be loved and wanted and to be whole and happy. You don’t have to be healthy or able-bodied to deserve or gain those things.

Health… is not an obligation.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    September 16, 2013 11:10 am

    This is so spot on!!! I couldn’t agree more with you, and not only is health not an obligation, it’s also not even a remote possibility for some people (as well as being no one’s business but your own).

  2. Lucie D permalink
    September 16, 2013 11:21 am

    Wow! Powerful text! Thank you for writing it for me! Because, as I read your words, I feel like I wrote them myself…Be happy before anything else…I think happiness is the most important factor contributing to health, physical and mental.

    • Elizabeth permalink
      September 16, 2013 1:24 pm

      I can have a hard time defining happiness, but I can define lowered stress — which may be happiness! — and I think it may be the most important factor. I am so sick of people saying that stress is good for other people; if you know anything about animal physiology, you know that stress causes incredible harm.

  3. September 16, 2013 11:24 am

    I don’t think I can say “thank you” enough for this post. You’ve summed up how I feel. I would rather be alive, fat, and happy than thin and miserable because I can’t reach “perfection.” (Whatever the hell perfection is.)

  4. September 16, 2013 11:45 am

    I’m kind of conflicted with this one, because when you lose your health, you can lose so much else. What I would liked to see changed, is this fantasy about people having total control over their health and weight. This is a new idiocy in this culture that even though everyone eventually dies, that we supposedly have total control over the process including what weight we are. I have to admit being disabled and with constant health problems where I am BLAMED FOR THEM has taken a massive toll on my psyche. Sure some of the kinder doctors will admit the metabolic problems but when you see them throwing out things like “go on a juice diet!” “starve yourself!” it gets scary and it hurts.

    Our society is sick, all it cares about is looks, and standards of “achievement” issued from above by the corporations–the health thing is tied into that. Look at Lionel Shriver on my blog today, look how PROUD she is to be THIN and HEALTHY, as though she did something special to deserve it, and that everyone should run 10 miles and starve themselves to ACHIEVE what she has. I guess now the healthy automatically think they are BETTER today. Isn’t she fortunate she has the health to run those 10 miles, when I used to walk 2-3 before my weight gain and that was hard fought for? Her soul looks dark to me. Hmm maybe judgmental on my part but she judged her brother.

    • hlkolaya permalink
      September 18, 2013 10:42 am

      while it’s true that losing certain aspects of your health *can* have a serious impact on someone’s life it’s also not for us to dictate whether or not someone “should” be healthy. I know tons of people with, for example, heart conditions who refuse to change their lifestyle because eating what they want and not exercising is more important to them than good heart health. you’re right that the STIGMA associated with poor health can hurt one’s mental health too, but the cure for that is ending stigma, not everyone following what society wants them to do.

    • September 21, 2013 2:01 pm

      Not crazy about Shriver’s shtick either, but I actually like her “sourpuss” picture in your link. The world is not a beauty pageant, and a woman is no more obligated to smile and look happy all the time than she is to be thin and perfectly dressed/made-up all the time.

  5. September 16, 2013 12:41 pm

    Thank you for this post. It is something I have been thinking about a lot recently.

    Also, where did you get that graphic? I’d love to use it. If it is yours, would you mind my using it at some point? I would be happy to provide credit.

  6. JeninCanada permalink
    September 16, 2013 2:53 pm

    It’s radical to be happy AND fat, because so often we see that fat people are (and should be, and should remain) unhappy. The idea that you can be fat AND happy is so preposterous to some people it literally does. not. compute.

  7. Dizzyd permalink
    September 16, 2013 6:34 pm

    Elizabeth – usually it’s the bullies that would say that stress is good for other ppl (note it’s good for OTHER ppl, not them). This IS a sick society when you’re actively encouraged to hate yourself. (I can’t believe that guy called you ‘evil’ and a ‘terrible human being’ for saying you should basically be happy as it – idk – took away his one shot at happiness or something. But that’s the thing – our society ENCOURAGES that line of thinking by everyone from politicians to doctors, and worse, the diet industry PROFITS off of it! These parasites are allowed to profit off of killing ppl – emotionally and physically – all in the name of health, and those who don’t get with the program are allowed to pretty much be bullied to death! I remember that in the Bible it said in the last days ppl would call evil good and good evil – I can’t think of a better example.

  8. Dizzyd permalink
    September 16, 2013 7:06 pm

    Adding on – 500lbpeep – you’re right, ppl who are healthy SHOULD be thankful instead of smug, thinking it somehow is a mark of their worth or superiority – ‘cuz it could all be taken away like that! And who gave them the right to decide who has worth or value? An article on CNN talked about how being superficial may make you happy and those deemed attractive get all the goods – which shows how shallow our society is. Value is heaped on the ephemeral, the fleeting. It’s like saying it’s preferable to be a good-looking jerk than one who is plain yet kind. We tell our kids the opposite, but we don’t live it out in daily life. There’s a word for it – hypocrisy.

  9. Duckie permalink
    September 16, 2013 10:35 pm

    Wow. Part of that sounded like you made a recording of my internal life before size acceptance. It’s amazing how pervasive that thinking can be.

  10. Len permalink
    September 22, 2013 9:47 pm

    Such a wonderful, passionate piece of writing! Thank you for this.

    I was less happy when I was thin, for a few reasons: 1) I was literally starving, and suffering the associated poor health effects; 2) All the people I loved were SO impressed with my weight loss, making it obvious to me that not only did they not approve of me beforehand, but also in order to win that approval I had to be permanently suffering; and 3) In spite of finally getting to a ‘healthy BMI’ (huh) I still did not fit society’s expecations of beauty. I was PROMISED by Weight Watchers that when I reached that magic number on the scales my life would be perfect. It wasn’t.

    It still isn’t, but these days I look after my fat body with much more care. I eat and exercise mindfully, I am training my loved ones to accept that my body is under my own control, and I feed myself physically, mentally and spiritually.

    All the fat hate hurts, but not as badly as starving and punishing myself did: and this way, I blame the haters and not myself.


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