Growing up, I was always fat. Not as fat as I am now, but never, ever skinny. Never small. I was tall and athletic and big—I knocked stuff over, I blocked people's views, I was always in the way. Even if they made fashionable clothes in my size (which they didn't—OOH, MORE LOUD-PATTERNED SMOCKS, PLEASE), I didn't know how to make anything look good on my body. I was the girl the mean kids would target with the old, "See that guy over there? He likes you" gag. Good one, bros! In case you don't get it, the punchline is that I'm fat. So obviously he didn't like me—it would be against all the laws of the universe. At the same time, though, I played three sports, I was active and healthy, I was good at school, I was funny, and I was popular. I was a happy kid. And I was still miserable. Because that's what fat does.
I cannot even imagine being that same fat kid in 2012—having to put up with all the misery and the shame and the tunics (SO MANY TUNICS), along with the added pain of knowing that the government officially considers you an epidemic. You're a "problem" that needs to be "fixed." Newscasters with knitted brows talk about you in the abstract like your butt is a crime wave or a natural disaster; they show bodies that look like yours with their heads chopped off; they tell you that this body you have—the one that grew around you out of nowhere, that you're just getting used to—is bankrupting the nation and mowing down future generations like fucking tuberculosis. Tu-pork-ulosis. Whatever.
The Atlantic today has a quick rundown of a new anti-obesity campaign out of Minnesota that urges parents to set better examples for their kids, and in doing so supposedly "plays on a moral imperative that lies in the gray area between educating and shaming." This is the new generation of anti-fat-people ads, one that's aware of the concept of "shaming" and is actively trying not to hurt any feelings. This is one of the good ones. And it still makes me, a former fat kid and current fat adult, want to die.
"To be honest, we've spent a lot of years promoting physical activity, a little bit like what the White House campaign is currently doing, in a very positive, sort of fun way," said Dr. Marc Manley, vice president and chief prevention officer for the Blue Cross. "But at the same time we're realizing that this problem of obesity is a really serious problem." So their two new commercials, which debuted this month, take a decisively more aggressive stance.
In the first ad, a fat mother and her fat child walk through a grocery store. The mother fills her cart with, apparently, all of her "usual" foods—chocolate cereal, gallons of orange soda, an enormous bucket of ice cream, something called "Pizza Poppers"; and the little girl, following behind, fills her tiny cart with the same foods. Then the mom turns around and looks at the child and is like, "Holy shit, MY GROSS CHILD IS FAT BECAUSE PIZZA POPPERS!!!" And, scene. "Obesity affects everybody."
Here is the thing.
I know no one will ever believe me when I say this, so fine. Whatever. But since, apparently, this isn't evident even among health professionals churning out ad campaigns, I do not fucking eat chocolate cereal and buckets of ice cream. Here is what I actually do: Pretty much every morning before work I walk 1.1 miles uphill to a coffee shop, which is across the street from the organic co-op where I do all my grocery shopping. I eat normal, human amounts of unprocessed, fresh, largely local foods. I have no mobility problems. I have flawless cholesterol and blood pressure. I never get colds, I have never been hospitalized. I have a great job, I make a good living, I'm in an incredibly happy relationship. Sometimes I eat dessert, sometimes I don't. I pay taxes. I take care of my family. I do not commit crimes. I'm nice to strangers. In general, I think you could say that I contribute more to the world than I take out of it.
And I'm a fucking epidemic? I'm a problem?
You have the gall to make generalizations about my life because, in your eyes, I superficially resemble a massive, diverse swath of the population whose lives you've also deigned to generalize? Whose complex, painful, messy, joyous lives you've boiled down to, "Har har too many Cheetos"? Please.
Even if I did eat a bucket of pancake-flavored ice cream for breakfast, burrito ice cream for lunch, and salisbury steak ice cream for dinner (OMPH GROMPH GROMPH), I still shouldn't have to justify my existence to the world in the way I just did. But the fact that I exist, and I am not the sinister straw-fatty pictured in the above commercial—doesn't it seem likely that there are other fat people like me out there who also aren't lying about their lifestyles? And in that case, isn't this commercial FUCKING USELESS NONSENSE? Congratulations! You guys totally "got serious" and took down not-the-problem-at-all.
It would be possible to make a commercial calling for more accountability and transparency in food production and food marketing—the way that corporations and agribusiness feed people poison and call it nutrition. It would be possible to create healthy food that the poorest Americans can afford. All of this is possible. But instead, Plan A is to punish the people? That's what we're going with? Really? Her?
The second commercial opens on two fat kids sitting at a fast food table bragging about how much their dads can eat. "My dad can eat 1000 chicken nuggets!" "My dad ate an entire dolphin!" And then the fat dad comes up, laden with cheeseburgers, and is all, "OOPS, FAT DAD SAD!!!" You guys. This has literally never happened. No fat people are super pumped about being fat. What is the point—seriously, please tell me—of inventing a fake problem to attack on television that does nothing but open up fat children to ridicule? While leaving the actual problem to expand unchecked? Why on earth would we do that?
Look. I don't want people to die. I don't want the next generation of kids to have lower life-expectancies than their parents. I want people to be healthy! But first of all, though weight loss can certainly improve some people's health, "fat" does not universally equal "unhealthy." Health itself is a much more effective and specific goal. And campaigns like this—which target fat people instead of the system that makes them fat—do nothing but hurt that supposed cause. An anti-fat-people campaign is still an ANTI-PEOPLE CAMPAIGN. And I'm pretty sure that treating people (fat people are people!) like animals, cartoonish ice cream addicts, and disease vectors is decidedly bad for people's health. The times in my life when I've been healthiest align directly with the times I've been happiest. This is not a loose correlation.
Here's a thought, America: If you really want people to be healthier (I'm not entirely convinced that you do, but that's another article altogether), why don't we treat the concept of getting healthy the way that getting healthy actually works? There is nothing that anyone is going to do or say that's going to make fat people skinny tomorrow. Sorry. There is no magic commercial that's going to shame people into becoming thin overnight—just like there's no housewife who discovered one weird trick to burning off belly fat. It's just not going to happen. The real problem is much bigger, much harder to solve, and much less fun for people who get off on hating fat people.
The truth is that we live in a country where the system of food production is colossally fucked. There is a systematic campaign to trick people into eating garbage because garbage is cheap to produce. There are whole communities who either can't afford or physically can't access fresh, healthy ingredients. The "obesity epidemic" is not a "fat kids love Cheetos epidemic." No fat people are up in arms when you criticize Kellogg's for claiming that Frosted Flakes are "part of a nutritious breakfast." No fat people get defensive when you make fun of that LUDICROUS Nutella commercial where the mom says she feeds her kids candy-spread for breakfast because it's "wholesome nuts with a hint of cocoa" or whatever. Because those things? They are what's known as ACTUAL PROBLEMS.
And you know what? Even if we managed to fix our insane food production and distribution system, there will still be fat people and that will be just fine. There have always been fat people. There are fat people like me, who hardly ever eat any processed foods. There are fat people with glandular issues. There are disabled fat people who would love to exercise but can't. There are healthy fat people. And sure, there are fat people who—fuck it—just really really like Cheetos. Guess what? Those people are allowed to exist too! There are a million different kinds of fat people in the world because FAT PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE. And kids are people. And if your solution to this "problem" is telling already vulnerable fat kids that they're an epidemic that's ruining the world, then fuck you. Try harder.