Sadly I hear stories all the time about a fat person who has put their life on hold – they skip events, they don’t do things that they want to do, they don’t hang out with friends, they don’t even attempt to date, so crushed are they by self-hatred derived by bullying and stigma, that their life is a living hell. We are told (often by someone trying to sell us weight loss) that this person is a prisoner of their fat, that the solution to all of these problems is weight loss. That weight loss will somehow free them from their prison of fat and allow them to live a full life.
I would suggest that they are prisoners – but not of fat. They are prisoners of war – the war on obesity. A war waged on them by the government, which is actively encouraging people to stereotype fat people and make wild guesses about our “cost” to society, and blame us for anything bad in their lives. They are actively recruiting our bosses, doctors, friends, family, and strangers who interact with us to join in the battle. The war on obesity has casualties. It also has prisoners.
When there is a movement of public and private interests to stigmatize people for the way they look – for a physical characteristic that they can’t possibly hide, then some will choose to try to escape the incessant stigma, shame and bullying by doing the only thing they can – hiding themselves, withdrawing from life.
And then they get shamed for withdrawing and blamed for the poor treatment that they are receiving. Surrender, they are told, act the way we want you to act and look the way we want you to look and all of this pain will go away. Never mind that there’s no proof that it’s even possible for more than a tiny fraction of people to become thin. Never mind that the cure for social stigma and bullying is for people to stop stigmatizing and bullying people – not weight loss. Surrender they are told. Surrender and pay the piper – the diet industry can’t make 60 billion (and rising every year) dollars a year without your contribution.
I say enough is enough. I say it’s time to call for an end to the ridiculous notion that there can be a war on obesity without having a war on obese people. That war can be waged on our fat but not on the “thin people” they claim, without evidence, live underneath it. It’s time to call for an end to the assertion that the casualties and prisoners of this war are acceptable collateral damage, so important is the goal of a world where everyone has the same height/weight ratio. Well, maybe not so much important as… profitable.
I used to be a prisoner of the war on obesity – spending my time desperately hoping that I could change my body so that I could start living the life that I wanted to live. Even after I learned that there were options to fight back, to escape, I remained casualty for a long time – deeply damaged by the stigma, shame and bullying that were heaped upon me by family, friends, doctors, strangers and the government the seems to think that ‘inalienable rights” actually means “rights you’ll get as soon as you’re thin.”
Things are different now. There’s still plenty of stigma, shame, and bullying. There’s still a war being fought against me for how I look. People are still trying to leverage an inappropriate use of power to alienate me from my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I still have rough days. But I’m no longer a prisoner, no longer a casualty. I’m a combatant now. And If the government wants a war on obesity, I’ll damn well give them one.