Friday, 6 March 2009

Let’s Talk Fat

I want to talk about fat. Seriously disturbing, heart-stopping fat.

Not Queen Latifah’s I-am-a-real-woman’s gorgeous curves and I-love-me-as-I-am sexiness. No, I want to talk about something far more insidious: the overweight-is-okay and obesity-can-be-sexy idea that is driving some women to doing dangerous and unhealthy things to themselves.

As we mark International Women’s Day this year, there are many things to smile about, as women living in developed countries in the 21st century, moving toward greater gender equality: higher female literacy and lower infant mortality rates; increased educational opportunities; the freedom to pursue careers or be stay-at-home mums, if we so wish.

However, one thing hasn’t changed all that much: We women are still beset by body issues. We’re insecure about our bodies. We have too many hang-ups about our bits and bobs. We hate our boobs, butts and in between. We’re too fat, too thin, too tall, too short…the list of perceived imperfections is endless.

I’m all for Body Acceptance (and that includes Fat Acceptance, a movement striving for equality for the overweight and obese): accepting and loving your body shape and who you are, after you’ve done what can be reasonably expected to take care of yourself and stay healthy. This isn’t at all easy to do, bombarded as we are daily by unreal images in the media and reel life of what women ought to look like: skinny and stacked, with unnaturally taut skin, suspiciously pouty lips and no laughter lines.

However, Fat Admiration (the attraction to obese individuals) or Fat Fetishism (when this attraction becomes a fetish) is another matter altogether .

Last week, I read an article that left me feeling angry, bewildered and more than a little sad. Told in a first-person account, a morbidly super-sized woman (let’s call her LadyO) talks about her “online career,” exhibiting herself for a living.

LadyO is in her late 20s, weighs 227 kg and flaunts her fat on the Internet to as many as 300 male admirers, some of whom encourage her to put on even more weight. She plays up to the camera, wobbles around in skimpy outfits, raids the fridge, eats copiusly and measures herself for a paying audience.

It was her boyfriend’s idea. Duh. BF, who is about one-third her size, sets LadyO weight-gain targets, buys her groceries, cooks her meals and encourages her to gain weight. Talk about a gravy train.

There’s more. LadyO wants to gain another 45kg in a year, as long as she doesn’t have any health problems; her doctors have given her a clean bill of health, she says. At this point, I am grossed out, outraged and hopping mad.

Why Why Why? What in the world is she thinking? Confound that no-good, manipulative BF!

It is sad but true that, like many anorexics who believe they gain a measure of control over their lives by determining how much they weigh, how little they eat and how much they lose, the morbidly obese who display themselves for fame or gain argue that they are in control of their bodies and taking charge of their lives. This is major self-delusion masquerading as feminine empowerment, I say.

Indeed, Body Acceptance is a good thing. Let’s not underestimate the psychological scars and emotional trauma inflicted on heavier individuals by ignorant and cruel name-calling, taunts and weight-related jokes. But ignoring the very real dangers that obesity poses – greatly increased risks for heart disease, stroke, diabetes and breathing problems, to name a few (oh, and expectant mothers also put their unborn babies at risk) – is just plain obtuse, wishful thinking at best, and health-endangering at worst.

As we celebrate yet another International Women’s Day, my wish is that more of us will learn to love our bodies, including the imperfect (only to ourselves) bits. And that women grappling with really serious weight issues face up to the fact that being super-fat isn’t okay – because it’s not. The health dangers are real. And the people who care about you will, I hope, be honest enough to tell you that plainly, lovingly and tactfully, and by so doing start the healing process to a healthier you.

As for the boyfriend who seeks to empower you both to riches and cyber-infamy by exploiting your body…what a winner, huh. The best thing you could do for yourself would be to dump him! Now that would be a quick and easy way to shed a few toxic kilos, for starters.

-By lk


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