Most of us in western culture are told in many ways, both subtle and bombastic, that we are too fat.
You are probably not a pig.
Nevertheless, we’re told we are unhealthy, unattractive. We hear that we suffer from laziness, or lack of will power, and worse, selfish gluttony. All the ads, and even our friends, tell us we are fat.
There is shame, and confidence involved. Admittedly, this does not happen to me often, although I am, presently, overweight. Some, more than others, are ridiculed and fat shamed. It happens to some people, every day. They are made to feel miserable in order that someone (perhaps thinner, perhaps not,) can feel superior to the person, maybe you, when you are told you are fat.
I think there are at least four reasons our culture has become so overly obsessed with weight.
Society cheats us all
The first reason is that we ARE fatter, over all, then people once were. We live longer. We have access to medical needs, and most diseases of “wasting away” are addressed.
We are privileged to live in places where food is cheap, abundant, and easy to obtain. This was not the case for most of human history. As we all know all too well, we crave fat and sweets because for most of the last two hundred thousand years those things were in great scarcity.
Our forebears rarely had access to so much fat and sweets. The legacy of it is that we have more heart disease, eating disorders, diabetes, and other nutrition related illness.
I am an ecopsychologist, I perceive shame, waste, society, and our lived-in environments as entirely interconnected.
For the first time in history, as many people die of weight issues, as die of starvation. We also take more resources from Earth to bring this about.
We are fatter today because we discovered fossil fuels
It is no stretch to say that fossil fuels, and the artificial fertilizers they gave us, affect our overall diet. We also have tractors, and truckers, and every conceivable contraption to help move people from behind oxen or horse, and into concentrated cities with great access to widely distributed food.
That comes at a huge price of course. We no longer know the animals we eat. We have no personal contact with the persons who grew our food. We live busy lives due to the technology at hand, directly resulting due to our oil and machine fueled lives. This guarantees that we all but dismiss the origins of our food.
Due to this, we grow food in monocultures. We grow mostly corn, wheat, or soy, or food crops for the livestock. We do not accentuate healthy diversity, or nutrition.
In the Americas, especially, life styles built around walking cities never evolved. When someone tells you “Look at the people in Europe; they’re not fat!” they often do not factor in this reality. It is true that in many cultures there are fewer overweight people, but most of those people already had centuries old systems in place. Also, sadly, even they are now getting fast food and processed food, because of globalization, so monoculture and fast food convenience is spreading, even while unhealthy eating is too.
This is all the more reason why everyday people should stop blaming each other and demand walkable green cities, with tons and tons of carbon sinking vertical and roof top gardens.
After wiping out Erectus, Neanderthal, and other hominids, we went after flightless birds, and most mega fauna. By the Pleistocene, we were tired, cranky, and wanted a candy bar. We particularly craved one that markets itself as a health food bar, but in actuality, is crammed with oils, fats, and sugar.
When fat and sugar did become available, we are hard-wired to consume more and put on extra pounds for inevitable lean times. Now, there are no lean times, except of course in places most vulnerable to climate crisis. More on this later. Back to our four reasons:
We cheat mother nature
By investing in fossil fuels in the last two centuries, we dug up millions of years of stored carbon and threw it up in the air. We also used it for artificial fertilizers with the result of degraded soils. In the days of climate crisis, we face famines, refugees, plagues, and farm crisis for many reasons.
It’s smart to leave a clean plate, but stupid to put too much on it on the first place. Our biggest cheat is that rather than practicing evolutionary efficiency, we have perfected the art of waste.
Because nature designed us to reserve fat for those lean times, we learned to cheat nature. We learned to take more than our share of productivity from the natural world. Our productive agricultural land is stolen, in effect, from diverse habitats. Every year more land is pressed into our service for ranching and farming. This means we can’t have tigers, elephants, and biodiversity in general, unless we learn more sustainable methods, such as lab meat, organic conservation, feminism, and technological innovation.
The result is cheating nature by making more of us than any other species (save insects) and cheating ourselves by creating agricultural systems that plump us up both in numbers and in body size, while all other species are marginalized, except our domesticated stock, and vermin.
We cheat our own humanity
Once nature has been exploited to gobble up things like palm oil, factory farmed bacon, and more candy than all of history prior to 1800 ever saw, we began to cheat one another.
How did we do that? At the dawn of the 20th century people learned that with the industrial revolution we could not only produce more food, we could create non-food, make it delicious, and market it more widely.
Then, we could devise whole other industries, such as women’s beauty products, fitness devices, dietary plans, and so forth, to sell products and services to solve our growing weight problems.
We learned to cheat each other simply by suggesting that if you were not thin, pretty, rich, strong, or confident enough, you need to buy more stuff to get you there.
Advertising and industry are means to keep us on treadmills of consumption, guilt, and constant vigilance — particularly about appearance.
It is perhaps ironic, that those who profited from creating unhealthier lifestyles, are themselves susceptible to being inadequate. The rich, bold and beautiful seek to stay that way at all costs.
Chances are you won’t see many Kardashians once they are old, worn out, fat, or considered “useless.” Meanwhile, they will use their brand to continue to convince you of your inadequacy.
We cheat our family, friends, and lovers
We all feel like we are inadequate. We want to be better than everyone else. Women, especially, are programmed to be people pleasers. We’re programed to feel less self-worth unless we are pretty, confident, competent, and perfectly polite.
But being programmed is exhausting. We don’t feel perfectly polite, or competent, or confident about it at all. In fact, it is impossible to be agreeable, presentable, and competent at all times.
More inadequacy is unleashed. For men, in a changing world demanding equality, confidence is lost in regards to their manhood and masculinity. Most want to be seen as at least a supportive, and powerful, breadwinner, even if no longer the sole one.
Men want to present their best selves as eagerly as women do, but they are programed to believe that this is in terms of making more money, or status, than other men. This is only beginning to change through struggles for equality.
With our closest friends, and sometimes with lovers and family, all of these concerns bubble in a cauldron of closer intimacy. We are people with issues, and unless we train ourselves in how to cope with inevitable conflict and insecurity, we will suffer for it.
People feel cheated when someone’s photo does not match their in-person presentation. They feel cheated, too, when someone cares more about your photo match disparity than your “actual self.” Our character should always be more prized than our appearance, but society doesn’t work that way.
Then we get married, or become close friends, and these seemingly surface issues come out in all kinds of ways:
You begin to feel your friends helpful diet tips border on fat-shaming
You resent that your spouse has gained thirty pounds.
Your doctor seems to insinuate she cares about your unhealthy weight than your disease
Your kids show signs of eating disorders.
Your grocery haul does not match your list or your values.
For a long time, we have internalized guilt and regret at our inadequacy. We are not perfect people. We are racist. We are sexist. We are simply biased, inherently, by human nature. Unless we openly defend against it, we hurt one another without intention.
We cheat ourselves
Finally, the fourth reason we are fat is we cheat ourselves.
Rather than go into all the various ways in which we play negative mind tapes that constantly tear down our confidence, suffice it to say that we all think about our weight more than is healthy.
Fatphobia and fat-shaming are real. But nobody does it more to others than we do to ourselves. We play tapes in our minds that constantly tell ourselves we are fat, lazy, soft-willed, ugly, evil, whatever. We give ourselves bad messages that are centered on self, and not on hugging the rest of the world.
We feel too vulnerable, of course, to hug the rest of the world. We feel rejection would probably kill us. The truth is, our rejection of ourselves is usually, the greatest cheat of all.
I think some of us are too fat. We are too fat if we think of ourselves as too fat, suffer from our self-assessment, and suffer even more if we live in fatphobic culture. But many of us are not as fat, as we think. People don’t judge us as much as we assume, they are doing.
They themselves, are too often self-obsessed with what they perceive as their embarrassing shortcomings. Even when your pals are lighter than you, quite often, they think of themselves as too fat.
Overall, it is time to think of all the cheating we do to ourselves, both as society, and as individuals. Then, lighten up.