Thursday, September 5, 2013

Got into it with my cousin's spouse last night...

One of my cousins is gay and has a spouse who is very much "out", as it were.  My cousin is not obviously gay.  Indeed, he spent several years as a Marine officer and was good at military life.  His spouse is an interior decorator and, I think, motivated by aesthetics.  Anyway, we are Facebook friends, and I generally tolerate his very strong opinions.  He claims to be a liberal and certainly is when it comes to LGBT issues.  However, I found out last night that when it comes to helping poor people, he is as conservative as can be.

My cousin's spouse-- I'll call him "D"-- decided to chime in on the post I made about the "fat shaming" letters some school systems are sending home to parents of overweight kids.  D basically made a comment that maybe a little shaming was what these kids needed.  I, of course, disagreed strongly with that, and so did a couple of my friends, one of whom has been obese her whole life.

D made some very ignorant and overly simplistic comments about why so many kids are fat these days.    The fact is, things are different today than they were thirty years ago when we were kids.  In our day, we didn't have 24/7 access to news the way we do today.  So while there were crimes against children and abductions, we didn't hear about them back then the way we do today.  We also didn't have the CPS fear culture that we have now, in which people are much more likely to call the authorities if they see a child who is being abused or neglected.  Now, I don't knock calling CPS when it's really necessary, but it seems to me that the CPS threat is higher now than it ever was when I was growing up.  No parent wants to be visited by CPS, so that makes them more vigilant about letting their kids out to play in the neighborhood.  We also have more laws about supervising kids.

Then there's the issue of poverty.  D tried to tell me that "healthy" foods are cheaper than unhealthy foods are.  But D and my cousin are two guys who have jobs.  If you are a single parent trying to raise a bunch of kids, and maybe you don't have a car, or childcare, or even a refrigerator, it's not so easy to eat perishable whole foods all the time.  And if you're really broke, maybe junk food is one of your few pleasures in life.

In America, junk food is cheap and readily accessible... and you can buy a box of macaroni and cheese or Hamburger Helper somewhat inexpensively.  You can stock up with those processed foods like ramen noodles and they won't go bad sitting in your pantry, whereas produce, dairy products, and lean meats or eggs will go bad if you don't refrigerate them or use them quickly.  If you are a busy parent, you probably don't have time to mess with it.

Anyway, the point is that a lot of people think that obesity is a simple problem to fix.  If it were, though, we'd have a lot more thin people than we do.  People get fat for all kinds of reasons.  Sometimes they're medical.  Sometimes they're emotional.  Generally, getting fat means that you eat more than you need, but you have to find out why you do that before you can address fixing the problem.

In the course of our discussion last night, D proceeded to offer simplistic explanation after simplistic solution.  His comments were very shaming and revealed a rather ugly side of his personality.  On thinking about it later, I realized that the one and only time I met him, he expressed his attitude about people who are "fat".  At that time, which was around Thanksgiving 2000, my cousin's brother was married to a woman who had a beautiful teenaged daughter who fancied herself a singer.  She wasn't a very good singer, but she was really pretty.  D was sort of her "step-uncle" at the time, though my cousin has since divorced.  Anyway, the whole family was subjected to several spins of a CD this young lady had made and D was very enthusiastic about her "career".  He advised her not to get fat.

Granted, if you are planning to go into show business, that is sound advice.  It's not a good idea to be heavy if you want to be in show biz.  Even though there are heavy people who make it big, they are not the norm.  However, I distinctly remember the way D made that comment and it pretty much sounded like he holds fat people in contempt.  Even as we were discussing childhood obesity and fat letters last night, I noticed his comments veered off track and he started talking about fat adults on airplanes, which has nothing to do with kids in school who are being shamed for being heavy.

It occurred to me that if I said that being gay was a choice, D would be very offended.  I realize that many people think being overweight is a choice; and to some extent, maybe it is.  But very few people consciously choose to be fat.  They get that way for a lot of different reasons.  Many people, given a choice to be fat or thin, would choose to be thin.  It's much easier to be thin.  But they get fat-- a lot of times when they are young and have learned to use food as a coping mechanism or have developed a taste for unhealthy foods or have never been taught how to play or be athletic.  And once you get fat, it can be very hard to lose the weight.  When you don't see results quickly, it can be very easy to give up and accept being fat.  No one praises you if they don't see the results of your hard work.  Without that encouragement, it becomes hard to see the point of continuing.

I remember when I was waiting tables, I lost a lot of weight rather suddenly.  I was also dealing with depression.  I looked pretty good compared to how I looked when I first started that job.  At the same time, I often felt half crazy and suicidal.  I was always at the doctor's office because I kept getting sick.  I was seeing a psychiatrist at the time who used to make pointed derogatory comments about my weight and even prescribed Topamax in conjunction with the Wellbutrin I was already taking in an effort to get me to lose weight.  It didn't really work, though it was effective in killing my appetite.  When I got off the medications, I promptly gained weight.

D also made some rather shaming comments about poverty.  He commented on how poor people who are fat don't need food stamps.  He also commented on how fat people drive up his health costs... which really sounded very conservative to me.  It's true that being fat can lead to serious health consequences. But the truth is, diseases like cancer and diabetes are caused by a variety of factors that don't always have to do with weight.  Yes, being fat doesn't help and can be a serious risk factor, but it's not the ONLY risk factor.  And the whole healthcare cost argument is a whole other complex can of beans.  The way D was talking, everybody just needs to lose weight and then our healthcare costs would be less.

I finally told D that we were going to have to agree to disagree because it was my bedtime.  But I came away from that conversation thinking he needs a reality check.  And it became one more reason why I'd rather not hang out with my family of origin.  The older I get, the more I prefer the company of my dogs.

Bill and I try to eat well.  We don't buy a lot of snack foods or junk and we stay away from processed foods as much as possible.  I gave up diet soda a few months ago and rarely drink it now.  I could use more exercise and should probably quit drinking.  However, I have normal blood pressure, have never been hospitalized, and haven't spent money on prescription drugs since 2004.  So yeah, I'm fat, but I'm definitely not unhealthy.  Maybe I will be in the future, but chances are I would be anyway.  Everybody dies, right?



  1. My mom's best friend is a little chubby. She has multiple health problems that came on before her weight went up, and it's hard for her to work full-time AND exercise, and she has to work. She has multiple health issues that make exercise even tougher - in patricular, she had thyrpid eye disease and becasue her eye muscles had to be shortened to reduce double vision, she doesn't totally have tunnel vision, but she can't see far up or down. She trip[s over cracks in the sidewalk. If any of her preschoolers leave toys on the floor of the classroom close to wear she is standing, it's easy for her to trip over them. Exercise would maybe make her lose a little weight, but she'd inevitable trip over seams in sidewalks and get hurt more frequently. she also has IBS and can't eat until after school is over every day, which leads tounhealthy eating habits. In spite of this she's happy and makes the best of things.

    Everytime my parents see her my dad is all over my mom to say something to her about doing something about her weight. My mom tells him, "She KNOWS she's overweight. She doesn't need ME to tell her that." My mom says she's probably fifteen to twenty pounds over her ideal weight, but her blood pressure, cholesterol, etc., are good. If she has to consume all her calories on weekdays bewteenn 4:00 p.m. and bedtime, that's less than ideal, but if she doesn't feel like starving herself, my mom says it's her business and not my dad's.

    1. Good for your mom. Honestly, I hate going to doctors... although I will say that most of them don't give me shit about my weight, even though it's higher than it ought to be. When I had my physical to go to Germany, the physician's assistant, who wasn't so skinny herself, said she thought I had high blood pressure. My BP was up because military healthcare makes me crazy thanks to my unfortunate first gyno experience at the hands of an Air Force doc. Once she realized my BP was actually normal most of the time, she left me alone.

      What annoys me most are people who think they have the right to speak up about a person's body because they are "concerned" about their health. I think, by and large, that is utter bullshit. In fact, just today I was reading a blog post by a guy whose daughter was basically "stolen" from him by an ex. He happened to post a video he had taken of the social workers who had interviewed him and one of them was fat. You know, what these women did was despicable (and I say this as someone who is technically a social worker), but I couldn't help but notice that the people who commented about them universally made reference to that woman's weight. You know, she's fat and not all that attractive, but that has nothing to do with how she does her job. You could focus plenty on that and never mention her weight... and you would be every bit as effective. When people have to refer to women as "fat bitches" or "land whales", I lose respect for them. Fat people are people too... and some of them are very cool people. It's very limiting to dismiss them because you think their size is a character defect.

      That being said... that guy did go through hell and I don't blame him for his bitterness. But his anger should be squarely directed at his ex, not the people who were doing their jobs.

      As for your dad... I still think he's cool, but I bet he'd be up my ass about my weight. Oddly enough, I made reference to it today on Facebook and my former English prof wrote "You are not fat!" Have to say I love her for that (though she is wrong). ;-)

  2. My dad would never confront a woman abut her weight unless he was treating her medically. He would, however, if he knew you both very well, tell the Lt. Col. that he was worried about what even an extra five or ten pounds could do to your health, but he would also tell the Lt. Col. that he thought you looked lovely exactly the way you are. My dad would never be critical of a woman's appearance (except mine; he loves to tell me I look like a skeleton after I've been sick and am even skinnier than usual). He says when he criticizes my mom's friend to my mom that it's not about appearance, and I think he really means it. (For the record, my mom said that both times she was pregnant, he was constantly encouraging her to eat and to gain weight.)

    1. In all honesty, your parents sound like awesome, caring people. I'm sure that when he does say these things, it is because he cares. But perfect health is an elusive thing.


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