Fat: State of Mind or State of Body?

Posted on January 27, 2012


A friend of mine posted this link/blog post on facebook, but I didn’t respond there because I didn’t want to muddy up her post with my weird-ass thoughts, which always meander and tend toward heavy-handed pragmatism. Read that article before reading this bloated one, since this is more or less a response.

There are two things at play when any person (a child or an adult) feels fat:

  1. they are fat
  2. they feel fat, which can be due to #1… but certainly not always

At age 7, the mom probably took the right approach, though it’s hard to say. Since it’s very unlikely the picture of the girl is of her kid, there’s no way to say if her child’s actually overweight or simply feeling that way. Not to be dramatic, but the image chosen could quite simply be — for lack of a better word — distracting propaganda. It immediately makes us think that the issue of fat-awareness is purely mental and extremely unhealthy as an attitude, when the article says nothing about whether there are legitimate reasons for her daughter’s concern. But I say again: the kid’s 7. Tomorrow she might be scrawny and her friends will say she’s “kind of skinny.” The point is that the image conveys to us what the author wants to convey.  Moving on.

Let’s face something right up front, since I think reality can often be obfuscated by touchy-feely, politically correct self-empowerment bullshit: childhood obesity is a serious issue, and a very prevalent one. It’s not subjective; there are hordes of kids out there who are overweight and obese, and it’s a health issue, not an issue of body image. Again, see bullets 1 and 2 above.

With that in mind, giving your kid confidence is one thing (and it’s awesome — yay parents who rock!). However… Hiding the truth from them in order to bestow that confidence is another. If a kid’s allergic to peanuts, you don’t force-feed your kid peanuts and just tell her/him: “You’re just special: you react differently than others! There’s nothing wrong with you — your eyes aren’t bulging and your face isn’t turning blue, and if it is, it’s the most beautiful shade of blue!”

Most of us would bitch-slap that parent, no? Should we do less for a parent who simply tries to empower their kid without facing an actual issue of obesity? An anecdote: I was (ahem — am) terrible at math. However, my parents didn’t tell me math was fucking stupid and “who needs it anyway, kiddo?”. They told me I wasn’t very good at math, and math is important. The reality was that I’d have to try harder than other kids just to get a mediocre grade. That was all there was to it; that was the situation. C’est la vie — no one’s good at everything and telling a kid they’re super special and that they’re fantastic in every way, at everything they try, is outright fucking retarded. Support and encourage kids but never shelter them from themselves.

Anyway. Back to the article. 7-year-old. Actual state of health unknown but body health image initially poor. Mom leads by example. Issue diffused but likely not gone. My first thought was: So what happens when her daughter’s 16 or 17? What’s the mom’s response when her daughter’s 30? Do you empower the girl at the risk of her health, assuming there is (or ought to) a legitimate health concern? (I’m not being rhetorical. Most of you readers are parents. I’m not. I want your input on this subject, even — okay, especially — knowing it will be fairly divisive.)

The funny thing is that body image doesn’t really improve much, even when one goes from being overweight to not-overweight. I’d actually say that people getting in shape or who have gotten in shape are — or can be — worse, mentally. It’s like they’ve seen the dark side and any manifestation of that dark side — no matter how slight — can seriously mess with them, like suddenly spotting a spider nestled in that bunch of bananas you were reaching for. I’m not even talking about eating disorders, though that’s certainly a very poignant, and scary, reminder of what can be at stake here.

Primal folks will know exactly what I’m talking about; we work through our own issues every fucking day, though hopefully to positive effect. In my own case, I went from 207 lb to 165 (I think? dunno anymore) and I think I actually felt less concerned about things when I was at the slowly shifting weights of 195, 182, and 173, all of which were long plateaus for me, than I do now at 165, which is basically where the sidewalk ends, as it were. (and now I want to read that book again. Stupid brain.)

Now it’s about the little things. My weight won’t change much at this point, and we all know how the scale tends to matter anyway. I’m not self-conscious these days (I’m actually fairly body-confident), but that self-consciousness has been replaced by a kind of pointed doggedness. I think perhaps a certain MDA Tabata workout guy can relate? It’s all minutiae at this point, really. Sometimes I think I bug the shit out of my friends with my opt-outs and whatnot when it comes to eating and drinking, which are very common (and wicked-awesome) activities for me and my friends to engage in. Have supper together. Hit a pub together. Those are staple activities, without which we’d wither and die, socially. . . especially in the winter. (For instance, only 30 minutes til I hit up Irene’s Pub with Steve. Woo!)

Okay, I’ve rambled as much as I think I can, or ought to. Here’s the central idea of the above-linked article: girl-power-yay mom diffuses an “I’m fat” body issue of her 7-year-old daughter by leading by example. Good. My concern: was there a health issue that needs to be addressed and not merely obscured and, more generally, do we want to encourage men and women to feel great about themselves if it means telling them they’re fine when they’re at risk, health-wise? After all, if you’re pre-diabetic, your doctor isn’t about to tell you, “Nah! You’re awesome. Just feel good about who you are, man. You gotta love yourself and everything will follow.”

Here’s what I say: Feel great when you deserve to (and don’t be a shit to yourself when it comes to recognizing that). Be concerned when you should be. Take action when you can. Dismiss sycophants (and parents can be the worst offenders here) and seek out honest appraisal. Seek help — not enablement — if needed. Recognize, share, and exult in even small milestones. Push ever forward.

Puntastically enough, it’s all food for thought. I’m curious to hear what you moms and dads have to say. Childless single guy. . .  out!