An Open Letter to Thin People: If You Think Fat Is Bad, You’re Contributing to The Obesity Epidemic

Dear Thin People,

Have you seen the Sarai Walker op-ed in the New York Times? If not, go check it out. In reading “Yes, I’m Fat. It’s O.K. I Said It,” I took away three main points:

  1. The supposedly “clear cut” connection between fat and negative health outcomes has been exaggerated, and is more complicated than it is typically made out to be by the medical community and the media;
  2. Treating fat people with respect does not undermine efforts to improve public health;
  3. It is important to challenge our knee-jerk “Fat Derangement Syndrome” reaction to a fat person feeling positively about her body.

It’s a powerful op-ed that embodies everything that inspired me to develop the Curvy Cupid Course with the mission of encouraging fellow plus-size women to put themselves out there and find love at any size.

Now. The letters to the editor that were printed in response to the op-ed. Here’s where it gets interesting.

Three letter-writers did not agree that we should challenge our immediate assumption that fat is bad. They did not agree that we should treat fat people with respect. They purported that it is dangerous to tell “a girl who is anorexic” or “a boy who is obese” that they are “perfect just the way [they] are.” (As a therapist trained in the treatment of eating disorders, I find this last stipulation to be abhorrent.)

These three letter writers did not agree that society should treat fat people with respect. Because they think it is dangerous to do so.

And in thinking this way, they have (somewhat innocently, I’m sure) contributed to the development of two major crises:

Crisis One:

Our culture despises fat people, and treats us as if we are stupid, lazy, ugly, and a public health concern – just by existing on this planet. Second-class status has been shown to take a significant toll on both mental and physical health, whether discrimination is based on race, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, or any other divisive marker. And as fat people, both adults and children, when we’re talking with doctors or parents or our classmates at school, we’re met with this “you are bad” message on a daily basis. In fact, the average for fat women is three incidences of weight-based discrimination per day.

Crisis two:

The increasing concentration of food production into large corporations has created a profit-hungry Big-Food monster. This behemoth is largely unregulated; rather, it is subsidized by the US Farm Bill. Walking down the aisles of a supermarket, we are bombarded with products that have woven sugar, salt, and fat into unrecognizable and highly addictive patterns that appeal to our basic evolutionary drives to eat more, more, more. And there are no large-scale efforts to curb this problem on a systemic level. Instead, our efforts to address the “obesity epidemic,” as evidenced even by the naming of the problem, are aimed at changing individual behavior patterns to get us eating whole, from-scratch foods within a convenience-food climate.

Fructose has been found to be more addictive than cocaine, and it is in nearly every processed food product available today. It has been strongly linked to the development of Type II Diabetes, atherosclerosis, hypertension, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, among many other health concerns.

But how can it be the fault of fat people that there are increasing amounts of a chronic, dose-dependent, hepatotoxic substance in our food supply?

What sense does it make to blame fat people for a public health scourge that is caused by Big Food and governmental inaction?

What good does it do to tell fat people every day that by crossing that line from a size 14 to a size 16 or above, we’ve suddenly developed dozens of additional negative personality characteristics (laziness, ugliness, ill-health) that we’ll never shake unless we lose weight?

What progress is made toward addressing these two massive health crises by telling fat children that they’re not okay just the way they are?

What harm does it do to society if we fat people learn to live, and love, and fully expand into our lives, just the way we are?

I suppose it simplifies things for folks if the reality is just “fat is bad.” Maybe in the same way that it is simpler when gay is immoral (no need to readjust the definition of marriage), women are the weaker sex (less complicated to have separate spheres for men and women), and everyone is born into one of two genders and stays there permanently (more black-and-white that way).        

But by putting the onus for solving the “obesity crisis” on fat people (to be accomplished by self-hatred and a constant drive to fix ourselves), it's like we're trying to cure climate change by shaming individuals into working really hard to reduce their body temperatures.

So if you’re a thin person who thinks fat is bad, it’s time to check your privilege. Download my Body-Positive Starter Kit and expand your thinking around this issue. Enough is enough. Let’s fight this battle on the proper battlefield.

And encourage your curvy friends to stop waiting ‘til they lose weight to start living their lives! Tell them they’re perfect just the way they are.

In friendship and fatness,

Curvy (aka Krista)