Fat and acceptance

I wrote previously about Sue Shekut's blog post triggered by a Men's Health story titled "I Hate Fat People," by Richard Cunniff, and now I return to the story itself. It is excellent, full of reporting and original thought, and I commend it to you wholeheartedly.

But what prompted me to write is Cunniff's passage on Marilyn Wann, author of "Fat! So?" and a leader of the fat-acceptance movement. Cunniff records her view that people need to forget about weight and focus on health and fitness, a view I wholeheartedly endorse.

But what comes next is a blast from absurdia. If Cunniff represents her correctly, and I'm guessing he does, Wann denies a connection between weight and health. As a former 365-pounder who's had almost 20 years in a normal-sized body, that's entirely unsupportable.

Wann says that obesity is a normal and even a desired element of social diversity, and if people who are overweight suffer more ill health than others, it's due to treatment discrimination.  "If fat people live in a society that's stigmatizing and discriminatory, we know that discrimination has a profound effect on people's health," Wann says.

This is loopy proof of the power of denial. When I ran short of breath while ascending stairs, it wasn't because someone snickered at my size just before I started, and the fact that I got picked last for sports teams was not what caused me to be the slowest player on the field. 

This is not to say that fat people are not scorned and discriminated against. I certainly was, to the extent that 20 years on, I still sometimes *think* a stranger is mistreating me because I'm fat, even though she or he couldn't know I ever was. Yes, the kids who ridiculed me for my size were mean, coarse, and unfair. I would say that my obesity accelerated because of how I reacted to the mistreatment, real or perceived. But regardless, I am quite sure the weight caused my body to function less efficiently than theirs did, not the taunting. They are separate issues.

In my strong experience, obesity worsened my physical health, and losing weight (and other actions) improved it. I can't imagine anyone else's experience differing markedly.

I will say, meanwhile, that before I could make much progress toward recovery, I had to practice fat acceptance too, but it led in a wholly different direction. I regularly ask in prayer for help "to accept myself as I am, even as I try to change a day at a time." This is paradoxical, of course — why would I want to change, if I were accepting where I was? But that's how it is for me (and, I aver, for many others): Acceptance doesn't mean approval, but I can't get to "there" before I acknowledge I'm "here."

Can you relate?


Author and wellness innovator Michael Prager helps smart companies
make investments in employee wellbeing that pay off in corporate success.
Video | Services | Clients