So I got a notice in my inbox this week that a study has been announced that indicates “Not All Fat People are Unhappy.” And honestly, my first thought was, “Duh.” I mean it seems quite obvious to me that not all Fat people are miserable, much as it seems obvious that the Pope is Catholic. But apparently the notion that not all fat people are sick, miserable, about to die and ready to throw in the towel is something we need to prove again and again.
But you know, before I cast to many aspersions on the study, I think maybe we really just need to look at the headline drawn from the study results. Because there are actually quite a few interesting things indicated by this piece of research. Let’s look at a few:
1. Your happiness seems to have a lot more to do with homogeneity than body size. If you are a fat person who lives in a town with lots of other fat people, you tend to be more happy than if you live somewhere with no other fatties.
2. The study creators speculate that being fat does not in itself make people unhappy. In the accompanying press release, study co-author Philip M. Pendergast states:
“In that light, obesity in and of itself, does not appear to be the main reason obese individuals tend to be less satisfied with their lives than their non-obese peers. Instead, it appears to be society’s response to or stigmatization of those that are different from what is seen as ‘normal’ that drives this relationship.”
3. Women tend to pay a higher emotional price for being fat than men do. The study creators speculate that this is because women face more social stigma based on body size then men do. In the press release Pendergast also says,
“Think about the advertising we see on television or in magazines—we are bombarded by images of thin women, and we are told that is the ideal,”
So here is yet another study that seems to indicate that how we feel about our size may have a lot more to do with our actual health and wellness outcomes than what we weigh. It follows on the heels of many other studies we’ve talked about on this blog regarding stigma and health outcomes like this one or this one. And all of these studies lead me to ask one very important question.
Even if we knew how to make people permanently thin (which we do not) should we ask them to change their body size to fit in? If being different leads to social stigma, and social stigma leads to poor health outcomes, should we encourage everybody to be the same for the sake of their health?
Even if we knew how to make people all be the same size (which we categorically do not) it seems to me that the answer is to deal with stigma rather than to make a completely homogeneous society to reduce stress on everyone involved. What if we actively worked to fight stigma based on body size? What if we actively worked to help people accept their own differences? What if we could feel better about our bodies? Might we be singing a song like this magnificent lady right here?
I mean just check these fabulous lyrics:
I looked in the mirror
What did I see a brand new image
Of the same old me ohhhh
But now I wonder why should I be surprised
I like the things about me that I once despised
There was a time
When I wished my hair was fine
And I can remember when
I wished my lips were thin
Makes no difference now y’all
How you may feel
I’ve done reached the point
Where I wanna be real
I’m tired of living living in disguise
I like the things about me that I once despised
Let’s face it, Mavis Staples has got it going ON! But she leads me back to my original question. Why can’t we take some of this time, money and energy that we are currently spending on stigma-inducing ineffective advertising that convinces people that they not only must be thin, but may easily obtain this state of grace by eating yogurt, and spend it on something that might actually help people feel better? It will help them feel better emotionally, and it will help them feel better physically. Why can’t we take some of the time, energy and money we are spending driving wedges into our society, by creating classes of otherness which we can blame for all our problems from the high cost of airplane tickets to soaring healthcare prices and spend it on something that teaches us to celebrate our differences. It will bring us together. It will help us live and breathe as a community rather than a simple pile of competitors in a winner-take-all, Victoria’s Secret model competition. When will we reach the obvious conclusions? Bears poo in the woods, stigma doesn’t help people, and yes, the Pope is indeed Catholic.
Call me captain obvious if you like. I’ve stopped spending on diets and weight loss schemes and self hatred because I like the things about me that I once despised.
Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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