Tag: fat

Fat Stigma

fat shame: stigma and the fat body in American Culture by Amy Erdman Farrell

I want to tell everyone about a book I am obsessed with- Fat Shame: Stigma and the Fat Body in American Culture by Amy Erdman Farrell.  In this amazing book Farrell goes back two hundred years into the history of what she calls ‘fat denigration’.  In other words, being ‘fat’ has become a way of dismissing people for a variety of reason that have nothing to do with health.  Even more interesting she examines the history of the diet and anti-obesity movements to show how the have always been about profit rather than health.

The Goodreads description summarizes the book well:

“Tracing the cultural denigration of fatness to the mid 19th century, Amy Farrell argues that the stigma associated with a fat body proceeded any health concerns about a large body size. Firmly in place by the time the diet industry began to flourish in the 1920s, the development of fat stigma was related not only to cultural anxieties that emerged during the modern period related to consumer excess, but, even more profoundly, to prevailing ideas about race, civilization and evolution. For 19th and early 20th century thinkers, fatness was a key marker of inferiority, of an uncivilized, barbaric, and primitive body. This idea—that fatness is a sign of a primitive person—endures today, fueling both our $60 billion “war on fat” and our cultural distress over the “obesity epidemic.

Farrell draws on a wide array of sources, including political cartoons, popular literature, postcards, advertisements, and physicians’ manuals, to explore the link between our historic denigration of fatness and our contemporary concern over obesity. Her work sheds particular light on feminisms’ fraught relationship to fatness. From the white suffragists of the early 20th century to contemporary public figures like Oprah Winfrey, Monica Lewinsky, and even the Obama family, Farrell explores the ways that those who seek to shed stigmatized identities—whether of gender, race, ethnicity or class—often take part in weight reduction schemes and fat mockery in order to validate themselves as “civilized.” In sharp contrast to these narratives of fat shame are the ideas of contemporary fat activists, whose articulation of a new vision of the body Farrell explores in depth. This book is significant for anyone concerned about the contemporary “war on fat” and the ways that notions of the “civilized body” continue to legitimate discrimination and cultural oppression.”

I don’t know if I an explain it any better. It is brilliant book and has validated many feelings I have held since I was a little girl.  I can’t agree with Farrell more when she says:

“we often associate certain diseases with specific types of personalities, blaming the victims and shaming them into silence.  In a similar vein I would argue that we have imposed equally dangerous cultural meanings onto fatness. Fatness in the United States ‘means’ excess of desire, of bodily urges not controlled, of immoral, lazy and sinful habits.  Much more than a neutral description of a type of flesh, fatness caries with it such stigma as propels us to take drastic extreme measures to remove it”

She then goes into various dangerous measures some go to rid themselves of their ‘fat shame’.  “Clearly, fatness is a discrediting attribute for which people will go to extraordinary extremes to eliminate.  One has only to think of tape worms and arsenic of the early 20th century or the debilitating gastric bypass surgery of today to recognize these extreme measures. It is a physical stigma or an ‘abomination of the body,’ one that is clearly visible.  Fat people cannot hide their stigma…Because our culture assigns many meanings to fatness beyond the actual physical trait- that a person is glutinous, or filling a deeply disturbed psychological need, or irresponsible and unable to control primitive urges- it also has the traits of a ‘character stigma’…fat people are treated as not quite human, entities to whom the normal standards or polite and respectful behavior do not apply.”

There are so many examples from pop culture of fat stigma it is hard to know where to start.  Everything from Chris Farley to Homer Simpson reiterate that fat=stupid, lazy and incompetent.  (I love the Simpsons btw).  Even a child’s film like Walle reinforces that fat people are irresponsible, lazy and idol.

Now there may be some of you who think ‘she’s reinforcing unhealthy obesity’ but she’s not.  She is meticulously chronicling the history of what it means to be fat in America.  Our society puts all kinds of limits  and stereotypes on overweight individuals including ‘the unfair treatment they receive in employment, medical care, and social life.”

She also shows a number of studies that argue with the direct link between fatness and ill health. “They (diet establishment) argue that studies with headlines that tout the ‘dangers of obesity’ usually demonstrate that a sedentary lifestyle and a diet of processed food result in ill health; and that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and an active lifestyle will improve health, but it may or may not result in weight loss”

Even presentations that on the surface seem to encourage the right kind of weight loss, like the show ‘Biggest Loser’, subtly make the connection of weight loss and increased health.  They also subliminally imply an individual who does not lose weight is a ‘loser’ in their quest for health.

The most impactful part of the book for me is a study she mentions by UC Davis.

“In this study, a group of fat women was divided into 2 groups, one receiving coaching in restrictive eating (diet) and exercise, the other being encouraged to eat a healthy diet, listen to their bodies cues, to foster ways to engage in fun exercise and take part in a fat acceptance discussion group.  Significantly group 1- the traditional diet/exercise group- initially lost weight, but by the end half had dropped out; most had regained weight; blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measures had not improved and self-esteem levels had dropped.  In contrast, group 2 hadn’t lost any weight, but most stayed with the 2 year program; their blood pressure, cholesterol, and other metabolic measures had improved dramatically; their self-esteem levels increased substantially; and they exercised regularly.  Encouraged to pay attention to their bodies, to stop restricting calories, to fight the discrimination they experienced as fat people, and to enjoy their bodies through physical movement and eating well- the non-dieters showed significant health improvements.  But, and this is the key point, they never became thin.”

Please forgive the long quote but isn’t that fascinating?  I was blown away.  It reminded me of why I started this whole journey.  Losing weight was part of it but a small part.  I wanted to have more energy, to be able to do more of the athletic activities I saw around me.  I may still weigh over 250 lbs but there is no doubt I am healthier now than I was a year ago.  This was such a great revelation for me because I was becoming too focused on the weight loss- seeing it as the full marker of my success.  The fact I hadn’t lost the 100 lbs in one year, despite practically killing myself, made me feel frustrated and a little depressed.  (I might add that these feelings were entirely self-imposed as I have received nothing but praise and encouragement from family and friends).

For some reason I have always found it comforting to read about the history of philosophies and trends.  Through understanding how our culture got to where it is helps me understand those around me and my own feelings at the same time.  It was this sense of understanding the world that caused me to eat up philosophy and political science books in college and it is something I still love to this day.  Farrell’s book helped me to understand my own feelings of inadequacy in a new way and to finally get why a nation saw me as a fat person through a particular lens.   After all, they’ve had over 200 years to develop these bad habits and judgements!

It also makes me want to prove the haters wrong and be a shining light to those who feel depressed over their weight.  I want them to know they do have value, even if society says they are worthless.  I see the worth.  I know how hard it is to get healthy, but getting healthy should be the goal and if weight loss comes with, so be it!

Here’s a clip of Amy Farrell on the Colbert Report talking about her book.


I couldn’t embed it because of comedy central’s copyright.

I know this is a long post but I really wanted to get the word out on this book.  It is a bit academic (incredibly well researched) but I wish that everyone would read it.

A Good Moment

All of my friends, family and blog readers know I have done a lot of whining as I’ve ventured down the road to physical fitness.  While I would like to bear all the difficulties with gentile grace, the stresses and struggles have at times been more than I can endure alone.  It’s all I can do to keep from screaming with  frustration.   (Seriously, if you only knew how much I want to complain and don’t, you’d find me restrained). Thank you in advance for your continued support and patience with my struggles.

It is with this history in mind that I share a perk of my weight loss I experienced today.

First some background.  As I have mentioned on this blog I am a member of the Tree house Athletic Club in Draper.  This is a nationally award winning gym- the best in the state with amazing personnel, incredible facilities and a serene spa environment.  I could not have experienced half of my success at any other facility.

In fact, the gym is so great a special program called Real Life Fitness trains there.  This is basically a fitness boot camp (or a fitness retreat as it is called on their website) where people from around the country come for stays ranging from 2 weeks to 4 months.  From what I’ve seen of the program it looks pretty good.  It’s a bit too military for me (sometimes their trainers are out on the floor yelling and it makes me crazy! I hate that kind of trainer.) I have never watched the show but I guess its designed to mimic The Biggest Loser.

Anyway, the process appears grueling and difficult.  As I have not been a participant, it is tough for me to comment on its effectiveness, but I have noticed improvement in some patients as I work out with them each day.  My only worry is whether they can keep up such a difficult routine when they get home?  Some of them are doing 7 hours or more of exercise a day!  I am glad I decided to go with the steady-as-she comes approach instead of something like Real Life.  I don’t think I will be as fearful of gaining once I achieve my goals.

Now getting to today- I did a quick workout this afternoon (had voice lesson so I had to hustle).  As I put away my gym clothes and water bottle in my locker I noticed a woman who looked depressed sitting in the lounge area.  I could tell she was a new Real Life’r and I said:

“Rough workout?”

“Yeah, I felt like I was going to pass out.” she said

“How long have you been here?” I said

“Just 2 days. You been here a while ?” she said (I must have looked in pretty good shape for her to say that!)

“I’m not in Real Life.  I live here in Draper but I’ve been working on losing weight for the last year.”

“Really?  They just told me I need to lose 67 lbs” she said her face filled with despair.

“Well, don’t over do it.  You can only do so much.  Your body will fight back big time- especially at the beginning”  I continued “People have no idea when they say ‘get off your butt and work out how hard it is going to be.  You are talking about 3 years of your life 2 hours a day with other major lifestyle changes.  It isn’t just get off your butt. ”

“Seriously” she said. “I’m so sick of hearing that.”

“I’ve been working hard for a year and lost 40-some pounds and still have a long way to go.  If I can do it, anyone can do it.  Don’t get discouraged. ” I said.

“I appreciate that.” she said as tears welled up in her eyes.  Of course, this made me cry!  Unless you’ve been where me and this nameless woman have, you don’t understand.

“Really. It feels impossible right now but you can do it!”

I had to rush off to make my lesson but as I exited the gym I shed another tear or two to marvel at where I’d come in 10 months time.  Back then I’d never have been able to give that woman advice.  I wasn’t going to Tree house until August!  It was a sweet moment of victory- one which I hope to repeat many times in future years.  I also hope a few people are similarly inspired by this blog- despite the complaining.  It would make it all worth it!

Some people when they change their life they look at the discarded versions of themselves with disdain and maybe a bit of anger.  I promise to all of you that I will not do it.  Talking to that lady today made me realize I can inspire people and lift them up.  Believe me, those struggling with weight-loss get enough negative feedback- they don’t need to hear any from me.  I hope I am the first one with a hug and a word of encouragement.  I hope I always see people’s potential and accept them for who they are now, while never doubting their ability to change.  This is my goal and mission statement.  You guys better help me keep it!  If I get out of line remind me of my commitment and give me a bit of a wake-up slap!

Today was a tender mercy I will never forget.  Too many more…

My Ode to Cheese

Oh glorious cheese, how do I miss you?  Can I count the ways? Cheddar, Havarti, Goat, Feta, Monterrey Jack, Blue, Mozzarella, Gouda, Fontina, Parmesan, Brie and the list goes on.

Ever since my diet I have given myself a strict no cheese eating limitation.  I realized that almost every fattening thing I like has cheese on it.  By opting out of this one ingredient my entire lifestyle has become significantly healthier.   That said I miss my cheese!

Now I’m not talking about some lame processed Velveeta crap cheese.  No sir, the cheese I crave is the quality aged cheeses pounced full of taste.  I do not accept any of these mild or medium level lame cheeses.  I’m talking STRONG cheese that practically assault you with its flavor.  This is part of the reason why most fast food cheese does not tempt me.  It is not at the level of cheese flavor I constantly seek for.

Long ago are the days when my fridge blessed me with blocks of Irish Havarti, Shaved Parm and Tillamook Aged Reserve Cheddar.  In a blink of an eye I could whip up a quesadilla with nothing but sharp cheddar and Tabasco and it would be a masterpiece. Ah yum!  Then I could make a grilled cheese with lots of mustard, panini style, with my Lean Mean Grill.  Now my LMG never gets used because there is no cheese!

Moving on, I long for the days of  home made macaroni and cheese (or the doctored up boxed stuff which now I eat plain.  Gross!) fettuccine alfredo, cheese burgers, cheesy tacos, salads, burritos etc. Most importantly cheese on pizza.  I have fallen off the bandwagon twice for pizza.  I LOVE the stuff. Why does it have to be so darn good and why does the cheese on it have to be so yummy!  Why?  Why?

Someday dear cheese perhaps we can be friends again but for now I am simply left with the memory of better times.  Times when the  oohy, goey goodness of cheese could be welcomed with open arms.  Perhaps the 180 lb version of Rachel will be ready to embrace cheese once more but until then we must part ways and live together only in memory….

Oh how I miss cheese!  A similar entry will be done in a few weeks on chocolate, butter, pie crust, thai food, snacking, etc.  Even though I’m not really dieting- Dieting sucks! My uncle Tom once told me that if you get to a certain level of fitness you can eat whatever you want and still be skinny.  There’s the dream! Someday if I work hard enough I can eat cheese and not feel bad about it!  On that note I’m off to have a glorious cheesy dream!

Crazy Doctor

I think I would have been better off with Dr. Nick!

Anyone who is my facebook friend knows about the crazy experience I had last week.  On Monday I went to Provo for an appointment with an endocrinologist. My regular doctor had recommended  I see her because of my history of hormonal problems.  I don’t want to over-share but I have the following unusual symptoms:

1. Gained at least 50 lbs the year I went through puberty (the photos are striking from year to year)

2. Have been over 200 since I was 12.

3. I was an active child/teenager and yet the weight never went.  I was on the swim team in high school and a life guard but never went below 200.

4. Have been diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 17 which can effect hormone levels.

5.  Have other signs I won’t go into and recently had a bunch of blood work done and it showed some imbalances.

Given these conditions I thought perhaps hormone levels could be a piece in the weight loss puzzle.  I was not looking for an easy answer or something to blame. I know my habits are the majority of the problem but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other contributing factors.

With this positive attitude I went to the doctor expecting to be listened to and treated with respect.  Boy was I wrong.  The minute I got in with the doctor everything was rushed.  Even when they weighed me they rushed through it and didn’t wait for the scale to settle.  (it was one of those old scales where you move the weights over).  She said I was 287 but I know I am less then that!

Once I was seated she proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions that got progressively more strange.  Without taking a second to LISTEN to the points I have listed above she asked me about my upbringing, what kinds of food my mother made for me, how social I was as a child, how active I was growing up.  Then she gave me a huge lecture on the epidemic of  childhood obesity and told me my mother must have fed me bad foods and that I was an unhappy child, leading me to binge eat.  I tried to tell her this wasn’t true and that in general I was a very happy child and that my mother fed us good food.  We hardly ever went to fast food and most meals were made from scratch.  I also asked “if it is all my mother’s fault then why are my siblings twigs?”.  This received no response but more lecturing.

Then we got on to my adult life.  I told her I had lost 31 lbs and you know what she said- “I’d have to see a picture of you before?”  Can you believe that?  I was shocked that she didn’t believe me! Next she asked about my current social life- “Do your friends eat a lot of junk food?  Are they all overweight?”  I told her my friends are supportive and amazing, which produced a scoff of disbelief.  “Do you eat junk food, fast food? I bet your candy eater?  Are you a soda drinker?”  “NOOO”  I responded as adamantly as I could.  I even told her about my no fast food pledge, but she clearly thought I was just telling her what she wanted to hear.   Then she asked me about all of the diets I’d tried.  I told her weight watchers, american heart association, slim fast etc.  Her response was

“Weight watchers is the best.How long did you try it?”

“Around 6 months.  I didn’t really like it” I replied

“Oh that ‘s not long enough.  It has to be at least a year.  You should do it again.” she said

Merits of weight watchers aside, I couldn’t believe a medical professional was specifically endorsing a company.  Bizarre.  Then she became more bizarre by telling me I should watch The Biggest Loser because it would inspire me to lose weight!  I felt like saying “I have a blog talking about that show…” but she didn’t listen to a word I said.  From the moment I set in that office she had me pinned as “another fattie trying to get an easy answer”.  I’m sure she must get that a lot but in my case I was the exception to the rule.  There are valid signs that perhaps a problem exists.  And even if it doesn’t exist, I think my hormone imbalances are at least worth looking into.  No doctor should assume the worst out of his or her patients and everyone fattie or not deserves to be treated with respect.

Believe it or not the appointment got even stranger.  I have a birthmark on my head that guess what I’ve had since BIRTH!  I’ve had tons of doctors look at my head over the years and never has anyone mentioned a problem.  This doctor did about a 1 minute exam on me and then looked at my birthmark and said “Oh you should have someone look at that right away.  I would definitely have that taken care of?”  In shock I tried to ask why, what was the problem, etc and I got no response.  I’m telling you she didn’t listen to a word I said!

Finally at the end she gave me a prescription for a diabetes drug which she said “would help me lose weight.”  Of course, she also said “it has side effects like nausea and vomiting (maybe that helps with the weight loss!).   I am tested quite often for my blood sugar and insulin and have never been high or on the edge of high.  Never.  I felt she gave me this prescription because I was fat and it would be the magic pill she thought I was there for.  Of course, I have not filled this prescription!

When the appointment was mercifully over I left and noticed the doctor left with another doctor talking about “the surgery they  had”.  Clearly she was rushed and maybe that is part of her bad behavior, but I don’t think it explains all.  This woman took one look at me and made her medical judgments right then and there.  She refused to listen, she lectured, and she treated me with disdain.  Thank goodness I am at a strong point because in previous years an experience like that would have sent me into tears.  I felt so judged by her.  I’ve never felt so uncomfortable in a doctors office, or so marginalized by anyone in my life.

The entire experience had one positive effect.  Earlier in the day I had been with my trainer and my swim coach.  They were both so encouraging. My swim coach thinks if I keep up my current physical activity I could participate in a triathlon in May!  I told him “I feel like I have just as good a chance of having a baby in May as running a triathlon!  I can’t even run a lap”.  Nevertheless, he believes I can do it.

My swim coach, trainer, family, friends blogging community, acquaintances, everyone, has been nothing but super encouraging as I’ve been working to change my life.  They have all been the opposite of this mean old witch of a doctor.  I immediately told my referring doctor to not use her anymore and explained what had happened.  I also told my insurance company and got a different doctor to try.

Finally I called the office to get my records sent and complain.  I still can’t believe the receptionists response to my complaint:

“We get that a lot” and then she added “She’s from the East Coast.

I told her that I’m from Maryland and folks there still expect to be treated with respect and be listened to.  I can handle blunt, even rude but to be treated with disdain is not appropriate ANYWHERE!  I don’t care where you live a doctor should never pre-diagnose a person based on his or her appearance.   That is wrong and as an East Coaster I am offended  by such a lame excuse! East Coast my foot!

Anyway, it was a challenging experience that made me feel uncomfortable, angry, sad and judged but it also reminded me of all the support and love I have every day.  Thank you to all of you for everything.  I couldn’t do it alone.  (I’ve tried and it doesn’t work!).

Ps.  Enter my recipe contest.  I hope my list of comfort foods hasn’t dissuaded anyone.  You can send me any recipe you think is tasty.  It can be gluten free, vegetarian, vegan.  Whatever.  As long as it is good I will give it a try!  Send to smilingldsgirl@yahoo.com.