Founded in 1974, the Women’s Center was established to:
Dismantle, from a feminist perspective, all forms of oppression, including but not limited to those based on ability, age, class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Advocate for an equitable environment free from violence and harassment based on gender, race, and sexual orientation.
Create an anti-racist, non-sexist, queer-affirmative space where all people can feel valued and safe.
Facilitate and strengthen connections among people across lines of difference through programming and educational campaigns.
Integrate an appreciation of Women's Gender and Multicultural Studies across the disciplines.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Size Doesn't Matter

Trigger Warning: This post may be triggering for people who struggle with body image or eating disorders, or have been oppressed on the basis of weight.

The topic of weight somehow exists simultaneously as a subject for public discussion as well as a shameful subject to be hidden. We are taught not to bring up weight or talk about it openly, but at the same time, weight is so frequently the subject of unsolicited advice or public commentary. For some reason, we (as a culture) seem to view it as "okay" to comment on another person's appearance if we can justify it by telling ourselves it is "for their own good." I'd like to make a few points that elaborate on why such comments are never, ever for someone else's own good.

So many times when I breach this topic with folks, the ultimate point that is made is that "I'm not biased against large people, it's just a fact that being fat is unhealthy. They should improve their diet and exercise more for their own well-being." The most important thing to bear in mind on this topic is that size is not directly correlated with health. Someone who is large may eat well and exercise regularly, whereas someone who is thin may live off of fast food. Just because someone is large does not mean they have an unhealthy lifestyle, and for that reason alone, it is completely inappropriate to offer unsolicited advice about health.

There are many reasons people are the size they are. Biologically, there are genetic sources that dictate fat storage, to some degree, called adipocytes.

These fat cells store lipids in our bodies and, like all cells, are happiest (so to speak) when they maintain a state of homeostasis. The adipocytes we are born with may be predisposed to store a lot or little fat, but either way they will work as hard as they can to maintain that level. No matter how much weight is lost, the number of adipocytes remains the same, and they will all push the body to return to the weight they are programmed for. In the case of a person whose fat cells store higher amounts, diet and exercise may be part of their lifestyle, but it simply will not dramatically affect their weight.

The standards to which society holds people to, in terms of size, are unreasonable. If we applied such  arbitrary rules to other aspects of life, it would sound controlling--not to mention ridiculous. I'd like to look at things that are said to large people and analyze them as if they were said about other identities. Let's start with the concept I opened with; that being fat predisposes an individual for a number of health concerns. It is thought of as an unhealthy way of living because of the associations with diabetes and heart disease. Now, if we told light-skinned people to stop being light-skinned because of the clear association such a skin tone has with melanoma and other skin cancers, we'd be laughed at. Skin tone is something that is genetically determined and it is unethical, not mention rude, to assume someone would want to change it. To return to the subject of size, the same concept applies. Adipocytes are genetic factors that determine fat storage, and such factors are simply uncontrollable.

Now, I do understand that some people gain weight because of their lifestyle. They may not eat right or exercise regularly; but I also have points of defense for these situations as well. In many cases, socioeconomic status determines the kinds of food and exercise options available to a individual. If you are working two jobs, you frankly don't have time to go to the gym. If you have a very limited food budget, shopping at Whole Foods and buying fresh produce just isn't an option. As a point of comparison, getting a $100 hot stone massage once a day may indeed benefit your overall well-being, but that surely doesn't mean it is a viable option for you or your family.

But there are still people who can afford healthy food options and a gym membership who choose to eat fattening foods and choose to watch 4 episodes of Parks and Recreation instead of going on a bike ride. What's my point for those people? I have a very simple comparison that I think a number of readers can relate to. Even though raw cookie dough carries a risk of causing salmonella, how many people choose to eat it anyway? They are aware of the risk, but have weighed both sides, and decided that the enjoyment they will get out of the experience is worth it. This may or may not be true for everyone, but those of us who choose to eat the cookie dough have a right to make autonomous decisions for ourselves. We can own the consequences. At no point is this, in any way, anyone else's business.

The factors that contribute to human shapes and sizes are highly varied, but ultimately they are our own. At no point does any person relinquish ownership of their body for public scrutiny, and it is never okay to offer unsolicited advice on health. That being said, a woman interviewed for this great Cosmopolitan article makes an excellent point about when it may be appropriate to talk to someone about their weight and health:

"If you're thinking about confronting someone about their weight, is it really the weight that you have an issue with? Do they seem more tired or out of sorts? Talk to them about that. Do they seem really unhappy about themselves? Maybe compliment them about how cool they are. If you're just concerned that someone doesn't look as attractive to you anymore, the problem is you, not their weight"

No comments:

Post a Comment