Monday, September 1, 2014

Do We Have Secret Fat Envy?

This guest post graciously submitted by Virginia Sole-Smith

fat, envy, freedom, health, labels, nutrition, weight, sexy, acceptance, women, girls, body image,

Rebecca DiLiberto (producer/executive editor of The Ricki Lake Show, which my inner ’90s child is randomly a bit excited about although I usually consider myself strictly an Ellen girl) has a post up over on Huffington Post called Why You Can Have Everything You Want (Even Though You’re Fat). 

And at first, I though it was going to be the usual “I finally realized that there’s nothing wrong with being a size 14″ coming of age/finding love tale, which I’m all for (there is nothing wrong with being a size 14) but I get a lot of, if you know what I mean.

But DiLiberto actually posits a more interesting notion: “One of the reasons skinny people make life so difficult for fat people is that they’re jealous.” My head made a tiny record scratch noise when I heard that, and I bet yours did too. After all, we’re conditioned to believe that it should be the other way around. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a skinnier-than-you friend express some form of “I’m so fat!” and immediately thought, “if she hates her body, what on earth can she be thinking about me?” Right.

DiLiberto claims otherwise. She says skinny people are:

Jealous that fat people eat what they want. Jealous that fat people don’t derive their self-esteem from the labels sewn into the clothes on their backs. Jealous of the psychic freedom that comes from refusing to live by everybody else’s rules.

Now, admittedly, this is an op-ed. DiLiberto hasn’t dug up some sort of placebo-blind controlled study proving that thin people carry around this huge pile of fat envy, and it would be painting with an awfully broad brush to say they all do. But I will say this: Every time a new study comes out showing what skinny people do to stay skinny, I wish somebody would ask them how they actually feel about their bodies while doing this.

Case in point: The Centers for Disease Control’s annual National Health Interview Survey just reported that women who study nutrition labels tend to weigh about 8 pounds less than women who don’t evaluate the nutrition content of their meals. Every media outlet — even Jezebel! — interpreted this finding to mean “hey, we should all be reading a lot more nutrition labels.” And I’m not saying reading nutrition labels is inherently bad (I do it myself).

But here’s what the study didn’t ask the label readers: If checking fat grams made them feel super guilty about eating that donut? If their need to total up calorie counts and sugar content stems from negative feelings about their bodies? If the information they glean from labels ever caused them to restrict food in an unhealthy manner? If occasionally they’d like to take a break from constant label-reading vigilance and try listening to their bodies to determine what to eat?

So yeah. Being envious of people who don’t appear to obsess over this stuff even if it means they’ve forsaken being thin? I can see it. 

But to whatever degree it is true, I can’t say I’m exactly happy about it. This is why I tell women not to indulge in skinny women-bashing of the “go eat a sandwich” varietyNobody wins when we have one group of women enviously assuming that another group has it so damn easy just because they wear a different jeans size. And of course, lots of fat people don’t actually eat whatever they want/do derive self-esteem from clothing labels/etc — just like people of all sizes get caught in these traps.

But what I like about DiLiberto’s post is that we’re establishing the possibility that you could eat what you want, derive your sense of self-worth from something other than a clothing size and refuse to live by everybody else’s rules. And really, you can do this no matter whether you’re fat, thin, or somewhere in between. We can all choose to opt out of the preconceptions. DiLiberto concludes:

You can be both fat and pretty. Both fat and handsome. Both fat and self-confident. Both fat and rich. Both fat and wildly attractive. Both fat and — yes, it’s true — happy.

And I love that. But I’d replace “you can be… fat” with “you can have your current body.” And you can still be all of those things.

[Photo: "Seven Deadly Sins by Rox Steady" via dingler1109's flickr photostream. A little intense, I know (and actually about Louisiana oil spills) but I didn't want one of those terrible stock photos of a skinny girl looking mad at a fat girl or vice versa. Because, oy.]

This post was originally published on September 19, 2012.

Virginia Sole-Smith

As a writer, I’ve hung out in discount nail salons, embedded as a Mary Kay lady, talked my way into Mexican sweatshops, and learned how to wax, Brazilian-style, in order to explore key health, social and economic issues facing women today.

My work has appeared in more than 40 national magazines and newspapers including GlamourParentsSlate, and Harper’s. Online, I’ve enjoyed stints as a contributing blogger for AOLiVillage Health, and Planet Green. I also wrote The Essential Green You, the third volume in Deirdre Imus’ best-selling Green This! series (Simon & Schuster, 2009). I spent ten years in New York City, and prior to becoming a freelance journalist in 2005, was on the editorial staffs of Organic Style and SeventeenThe Nation Institute’s Investigative Fund and the Economic Hardship Reporting Project have supported several of my projects.

Comments

2 Responses to “Do We Have Secret Fat Envy?”
  1. This sort of talk does nothing to further understanding and only serves to further polarize people on either side of the issue. It operates from a huge number of almost certainly erroneous assumptions. One is that fat people are largely happy with themselves and overeat or eat what they want and therefore derive satisfaction from their consumption. Most fat people hate themselves for eating and many do not even enjoy their food. Most super obese people don’t even eat for the taste. They do it for psychological reasons (trust me, I weighed over 300 lbs. for most of my life and I know). Eating for very overweight people is often about psychological survival, not pleasure.

    Another big assumption is that thin people are thinking, “she eats whatever she wants, I wish I could”. This is wrong on multiple levels. Most thin people see fat people not as having enjoyable food they can’t have, but gorging on enjoyable food that thin people eat in moderation. The notion that thin people operate from a state of deprivation is based on the toxic diet culture, not on what the average thin person eats. Additionally, it assumes most thin people want to eat and deprive themselves. I have not seen that as being the case. I think thin people with eating disorders are all about deprivation. Healthy thin people don’t think about food in that way. They eat when hungry, stop when sated. They don’t hanker for tons of food and go away hungry nor do they eschew all pleasurable food. Healthy thin people don’t think much about food at all. I’ll grant you that there are fewer of such people than ever, but they do exist.

    Fat people don’t hate thin people because they are jealous and thin ones don’t hate fat ones out of jealousy. In both cases, it is an elevation of self-worth at the expense of another by deriding the value of that person’s choices. This sort of opinion is toxic. This is a second wrong which adding to the first one does not make a “right”.

  2. Hi Screaming Fat Girl!

    Thanks for your comments. I think we’re actually speaking the same language here: I’m not asserting that the reasons for fat-envy or thin-envy are particularly logical. I’m exploring why we make those kinds of assumptions despite the fact that they can be so very off-base, as you point out.

    Of course it would be gross generalization to say that all thin people envy fat people or vice versa. But that sort of jealousy does happen because we can all get caught up in our own struggles and assume that somebody who is different from us must have it “so much easier.” The truth is that fat or thin, we all have some degree of struggle to feel good about our bodies and our health choices in a culture that tries to define us by these things.

    My one caveat about your response is that I think you might want to be careful about using your own experience as the jumping off point for assumptions like “most fat people hate themselves” or “most super obese people don’t even eat for the taste.” You are the best witness to your own experience, but you cannot speak for anyone who has ever weighed the same as you weighed. There are lots of fat people who love themselves and eat for pleasure, for health, and all sorts of other reasons. Danceswithfat.wordpress.com and anytimeyoga.wordpress.com are two favorite blogs that provide some excellent proof of this.

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