Saturday, November 17, 2007

Overweight, Obese and ... Immoral?

Recently Blythe posted about American and German stereotypes of one another as it relates to body size and image. She says that "Many Americans are unhappy with their weight..." and Nicole commented that "American society is absolutely nutso on the weight issue." Nicole went on to say that she feels that "some of that stems from the very American conflation of fat with immorality, over-consumption and sloth and thin with control and virtue." The discussion got me thinking about my own views on weight, so I thought I would try to put some thoughts on paper... or in this case, the internet! I'll start with the weight issue before moving to the discussion on perceptions, etc.

Weight is a sensitive issue for many people It is true. A lot of people are unhappy with their weight. I must admit, I spend a fair amount of time and energy obsessing about my own weight. When I was younger I was over obsessed with my weight, and then I started enjoying food and my body. Then, I got pregnant and (of course) gained a ridiculous amount of weight, which I was set on losing. And I have lost that weight and then some. However, once again, I am stuck on maintaining my weight, which if you use the crappy BMI, fluctuates between "normal" and "underweight."

On the other hand, using the BMI, Kevin is overweight. Yes, my husband. The professional basketball player with a ridiculously low body fat percentage. While we were in France the first time, the team sent him to see a dietitian, and she said that he needed to lose 15 pounds! No kidding. FYI... this is what he looked like...and he still does except a bit more muscular.

Keeping that in mind though, it is not just Americans who are obsessed. The French are too. For that matter, at 5-3 and 120 pounds (pre-pregnancy), there were times I felt fat in France. Crazy, but true. Anyway, I have to agree with the many people who say that using BMI is flawed. The index does not take in to consideration ones frame, body fat percentage, or lifestyle factors.

Is anyone's obsession healthy? Fat. Skinny. Is it healthy to obsess? All things considered, I have to say no. One of my summer coaches, a girl I looked up to, had a very unhealthy obsession with thinness and an eating disorder to go with it. She died from complications that resulted from her illness.

That being said, I don't think people should ignore the problems that can possibly result from being extremely overweight or underweight. When someone is so large that he or she cannot walk from the car to the house without getting out of breath or someone is so small that their ribs poke out, I automatically question their situation. Is it right of me to do so? No. But it happens. I am not talking about people who might be a little fat or a little skinny. I am talking about people who are very fat or obese (or conversely extremely skinny).

This is where decisions have to be made. Rather than writing an entire book, I am going to limit the discussion to obese and ignore the issues related to extremely skinny.

Nicole commented on the American association of "fat with immorality, over-consumption and sloth and thin with control and virtue."

I am not so sure about immorality and virtue (I suppose gluttony?), but my own personal writings have often times made the association of obesity with a lack of control and motivation and thinness with control and discipline. Again, is it right? I don't know... probably not, because it is not my place to judge, but when I look at what it takes for most people to lose weight or maintain weight, disciplined eating and exercise come to mind. It takes motivation to do those things. But is it virtuous? Morally excellent? I don't think so.

I seem to dismiss some of the underlying issues sometimes associated with obesity. Studies have shown that some people eat due to emotional issues. People eat fatty foods because they tend to be cheaper, readily available, and less time consuming to prepare. In America's fast paced society, it seems that we make obesity easy to obtain. Do these things need to be addressed? I think so.

Right or wrong, I do feel badly for people who are obese (again, not just fat, but unable to move type of fat... i.e. obese by body fat percentage). I can not imagine walking around a grocery store being so challenging for me that I physically cannot do it. I cannot imagine not being able to lift and carry my son.

Certainly, this post does not provide any earth shattering information, but hopefully it will cause others to think and open their minds. It is amazing how a post on cultural differences on body image has resulted in this LONG post, but there is so much to say! There is nothing wrong or immoral about having a different body shape or size, but that is not to say that there are not problems associated with obese (or again extremely underweight) people. Problems that need to be addressed.

Happy posting, and challenge your mind daily!



3 comments:

Peggy W said...

I believe exercise is a component of body weight too. A physician I know once said that if a person's vitals (blood chemistry, blood pressure, etc) were better indications of health. To keep all that stuff in balance means a healthy diet and exercise and mental balance too.
Have you ever read Covert Bailey's book, FIT OR FAT? He shows that thin does not equate to FIT, nor does FAT equate to unFIT. It's more complex than that. Essentially, muscle weighs more than fat so the scale seldom tells a complete health story.

KaritaG said...

when it comes right down to it, it seems that we, as americans, do not value fresh/healthy food as the europeans do, and therefore it is easier/faster/more convenient to eat unhealthily. since college I have become MUCH more interested in nutrition and health-based as opposed to body-based eating, and I am generally constantly frustrated at how difficult it is to eat a legitimately healthy diet as opposed to a diet that is fast/easy or will make you look like a supermodel. we make fat or skinny easy, but not "normal." just my two cents.

ChristinaG said...

BMI is a terrible judge of overweightness. I've never been fit according to my BMI. When I was on the track team and working out 4 hours a day, I was obese (my waist had the same circumference as my thighs back then - 24 inches!).

I'm (apparently) very densely built, cause even when I was a vegetarian, eating 1400 calories a day, an doing an hour of high impact cardio daily, I was still overweight BMI-wise (I was a size 8 and people were worrying because my ribs were starting to show). Now, while I am fully aware that I'm overweight, my BMI falls into the morbidly obese range, which I don't consider myself - I'm only a size 16 darnitall! So, I'd agree that body fat percentage is a much better measure.

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