"Obesity will crush the United States into oblivion." That's the final line of the trailer for HBO's upcoming fatpocalypse documentary Weight of the Nation (which, as far as I can tell, was directed by Roland Emmerich and ends with Will Smith blowing up the fat-people mothership with a nuclear warhead). That's right, you guys. The fat people are coming. To crush the entire nation. Into oblivioooooooooon. This is why we can't have nice nations.
New numbers came out this week, forecasting national gloom and doom at the sticky sausage-hands of the "dangerously obese." Kind of. By 2030, the study predicts, 42 percent of American adults will fit the clinical definition of obesity, and the result of that will be…"costs." Cue bottomless hand-wringing about "choices" and "self-control" and "eat less, exercise more." The fat people must be stopped!
"If we don't do anything, this is going to really hinder any efforts to contain future health-care costs," Justin G. Trogdon, an economist and one of the authors of the projection, told experts Monday at the start of the two-day "Weight of the Nation" conference in Washington.
Now. Here's the thing. Maybe obesity is a gruesome scourge that's going to literally sink the United States like a new-timey Lost City of Fatlantis (w-evs, suckers! Fat is buoyant!)—but that's actually not what this post is about. I do not want to talk about whether or not BMIs are bullshit, or whether or not the obesity "epidemic" (PANIC! PANIC! PANIC!) actually leveled off more than a decade ago, or the way that pretty much everyone erroneously conflates size with health. I'm not going to sit here and try to convince the internet that real-world weight loss is infinitely more complicated and painful than calories in/calories out. I want to put all that contentious shit in a jar right now (and put a cloth over the jar so the contentious shit goes to sleep like some idiot parrot) and just talk about the way we talk about fat people.
Fat people in America are reduced to nothing but fatness. A fat person has a health problem of any kind? It's because they're fat. A fat person is single? Well, duh. Fat. They deserve it. A fat person is poor? That's not surprising—obviously they have bad judgment and no impulse control! Because why would a smart person choose to be fat? If a fat person goes to a restaurant and sits on a broken chair and the chair collapses under them, it's because they're fat. But if a thin person sits on the same broken chair and the chair collapses under them, it's because they sat on a broken chair.
And that kind of reductive, simplistic thinking makes it incredibly easy to rest a whole nation's problems on the shoulders of the "obese."
I know this is a terribly uncool, bleeding-heart thing to say, but language like "crush the United States into oblivion" hurts people. It sets up fat people—in case you forgot, fat people are people—as not just the adversaries of our own health or some lady's airplane elbow room or your boner (the usual crimes), but as the future downfall of humanity itself. The assumption that you have a right to legislate another person's body "for their own good," or "for the children," or even "because they're gross," is its own kind of crazy—but to inflate that assumption to apocalyptic proportions, railing against the nation-obliterating medical bills of nebulous future straw-fatties, is fucking bonkers. Actively pushing this idea that fat people, via their choices or lack of willpower (or whatever it is you've decided turned their body into a shape you don't like), are ruining the country just makes the country a worse place for fat people to live. Which isn't going make fat people any less fat; it only makes them more miserable and you more of a dick.
The way that our country treats human bodies, fat and thin and in between, is barbaric. (And if any of you are gearing up to huff and puff and pretend not to know what I'm talking about, spare me—just go read the comments on literally any blog post that mentions the word "fat.") We substitute shame and bullying for the kind of systemic infrastructure changes that might actually improve people's health—then shake our heads in judgy dismay when our lazy, self-serving shortcut doesn't "fix" anything. We frame people's bodies as physical manifestations of their supposed moral failings, just so that we can congratulate ourselves on not being them. We publicly humiliate and dehumanize children to prop up the multibillion-dollar weight-loss industry. And then we tell fat people that they're the villains.
Like, okay. Air travel sucks. I get it. You're mad because you spent $300 to sit inside a hurtling sky-dildo and breathe other people's recycled farts, and on top of that you have to have a fat person's fat elbow a little bit in your area for a few hours. I'm so very sorry. But do you know what? I'm on Team Fat Person's Elbow no matter what (and not just because I am a fat person with elbows). Because the pain and degradation that's built in to that fat person's life lasts a lot longer than your eight hour flight. If I was about to get on a long international flight and the stewardess was like, "FYI, ma'am, if you publicly humiliate this bearded lady, we'll give you free vodka all the way to Heathrow," I would totally want the free vodka, but obviously I wouldn't do it. Because my conscience is more important than temporary comforts. (Also then I would call the FAA because that is some hella fucked-up carnival airline.)
Here's my point. People, right now, are actively campaigning against kindness, and treating it like a legitimate and productive political stance. But that's insane. Even if shaming and hurting people was the "solution" to the obesity "problem"—which it isn't—it still wouldn't be worth it to me. Because humanity is more important. Maybe being kind to fat people (and, really, I mean all people) isn't a perfect system—maybe you're going to be uncomfortable on a plane once in a while, and it's possible that some fat weirdo somewhere is going to, uh, game the system and get hella free open-heart surgeries ON UNCLE SAM'S DIME (or whatever stupid con you think we're running in the name of cake). But, being a compassionate human being, I can absorb that margin of error and I am proud to do so.
Whether or not you believe that fat people actually cost our nation money, the real problem with this whole shame industrial complex is that it doesn't fucking work. Not only does it hurt people, it's embarrassingly ineffective—a cruel hobby, not a political act. Everyone on earth who is concerned about this issue—whether you're a person who thinks that fatness is irrelevant, or someone who's bullied because of your body, or a concerned citizen who genuinely wants to improve the health of the nation—should be on the same side here. Be fucking nice.
Campaign for better P.E. programs and healthier school lunches. Work to overhaul our country's horrific food-production system. Seek logical solutions for how to cope with a physically larger populace. Because believe me, Americans aren't going to miraculously start getting smaller once you yell at us enough. Shame is stagnation. It won't fix anything. Bullying is not activism. Hurting is not helping. Cut it out.