Fat = Unfit? Slim = Fit? How simplistic! Symptom of Malaise?


This obsession with being slim and ‘fit’ at all costs speaks, to me, of a worryingly dangerous malaise in society and is, I feel, a symptom of deep dissatisfaction with the bodies we have been given!

But, this may just be a symptom of my own defensiveness, denial and determination to keep eating chocolate!!!

I thoroughly enjoyed writing my ‘FAT’ post yesterday – and it has certainly inspired a great deal of attention, and some most interesting comments. It has also, as I knew it would, thrown up some of the more questionable (in my view: don’t forget, this blog is full of my opinion; I am not trying to claim infallible knowledge or intrinsic rightness!) assumptions made about those people who carry extra flesh on their bodies.

The first links to an area of weight which I deliberately did not go into yesterday, considering it, I think rightly, a minefield best avoided, and that is the whole Weight: Health conundrum. There is, I think, an unspoken assumption that fat people over-eat, eat all the wrong things and do no exercise whatsoever. There is an implicit judgement that the overweight do it to themselves by being lazy, mouth-cramming slobs. This may be true in some cases, but by no means in all.

But to me, the really worrying – I would go so far as to say ‘scary’ – aspect of this kind of thinking is the link in all too many people’s minds between being slim/thin and health, beauty and fitness. It seems to be the case that a rigid article of belief, almost a God in its own right in a world which has turned away from more conventional deities, is that being THIN is good and being FAT is bad. Very Orwellian, isn’t it? I am always reminded of ‘Animal Farm‘ when I think of this – and how ‘Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad’ had, by the end, become the exact opposite.

My question – and it is just that: I am a writer, not a dictator/evangelist – is this: Is the oft-fanatical pursuit of the perfect, slim, fit body any healthier than the faults attributed to those of us who do not pursue perfection quite so avidly? In a world which includes anorexic teenagers, of both sexes, who refuse to eat and pace the walls of their homes, vomit the lining of their teeth away and stop the next phase of their sexual growth, this insistence upon a slim and toned body has, to me, a hollow ring of mockery about it.

We learn our food and exercise habits from our parents, either in following them slavishly or rebelling against them. It is my contention that too many impressionable young people see their primary caregivers – and, to be blunt, it is often the mother – off to the gym every day, exercising on the mat at home and casting daggers at the child for wanting to eat anything on this Frown List (which we, as humans with an infinite capacity for creation, have largely made up!). This, my friends, is the kind of oppressive, Big Brother atmosphere which breeds furtive binge-ing and vomiting. This is the kind of nonsense which spawns young girls who weigh five stone and wear huge garments to cover their furry, bone-protruding, dying bodies.

My opinion is clear: If you want to exercise, fine; there is nothing wrong with it, in moderation (and it has clear health benefits, both physically and emotionally) – but do not make it your religion or cast out those who do not do it as often as you do. Do not condemn your precious children to a life-time of eating disorders by an overly-righteous attitude towards getting thin. Do not, above all, make the mistake so many make whereby Food: Bad and Exercise: Good.

But the sickest irony, to me, in this need to be slim is the fact that we live in a world which still contains World Hunger – and that, in Third World Countries, putting flesh on is a sign of health. We handily forget the damage that being too thin can cause in our quest for perfection. We forget the osteoporosis waiting for us down the line, the infertility, the psychological problems. We forget that exercise can become an addiction in its own right – and one that is every bit as hard to break as cigarettes or drugs.

Food is not an enemy. Foods containing fat are not the Antichrist. You won’t go to Hell if you occasionally splurge on biscuits or eat chocolate. Butter is not Beelzebub! I do not think we do our children any favours by making them feel guilty about eating certain things. In fact, I would go as far as to say we do them harm because many of them then grab the forbidden fruit (metaphorically) in secret and thus begins a lifetime’s habit of sorrow, sickness and shame.

Let me share something with you: During the year in which I was divorcing my ex, while still sharing a house with him, and selling the house, I was so anxious that I ate almost nothing other than the occasional bowl of Granola. I started to lose weight. But was this healthy? No. I looked at a photo of myself from that time the other day and, yes, I looked trimmer, but I also looked white as a sheet, gaunt almost.

Now? My diet is mainly vegetarian, but I am experimenting with, enjoying and sharing treats from my childhood. I am getting back my lusty joy in food. I am luxuriating in the delight of preparing home-cooked meals. My love of food is fast returning!

I am also exercising regularly – but not in a gym. I am doing what our forebears did before expensive gyms were invented: Walking the landscape, and working with it, my faithful dog at my heels. Since Glastonbury is hilly, much of my walking is uphill, sometimes vertiginously so! I love it and am getting stronger.

But for me, it is not about reaching a certain weight on the scales, or getting into a size ten skirt (perish the thought); it is about my love of life returning; it is about connections with the earth and other people starting, like spring’s awakening, to bud and flower; it is about feeling good about who I am and where I am at. It is, that is to say, about enjoyment rather than punishment.

I have nothing against losing weight or becoming healthy. But I do feel very great loathing for the attitude which insists there is only one way to achieve this, one goal weight/size and that, if you carve your own, alternative path through the whole thing, you are wrong-headed, a sinner and will end up broken.

Once, many years ago, I was nine and a half stone and a size twelve.

‘Wow!’ you might think. ‘Fit and healthy and slim!’

But I wasn’t. I was drinking, smoking and binge-eating/starving to excess. I was, as I said yesterday, using laxatives to control my intake. I was waking up most mornings with a hangover and in floods of self-hating tears. I was running at least three miles every day in order to try and achieve this Holy Grail, this fantasy of female beauty: The Perfect Shape. I was punishing my body for its human love of food.

Frankly, if I had a daughter, I would rather she read this than the hundreds of Flesh is Wrong, Gym is Right, Carbs are the Devil sort of articles which are so prevalent in our time.

It is not about you agreeing with me. Many of you won’t – and that is your prerogative as thinking beings. It is about the right to live my life in a way that suits me – and my right to express my own views openly and candidly and, I hope, articulately!


20 thoughts on “Fat = Unfit? Slim = Fit? How simplistic! Symptom of Malaise?

  1. Jeanette

    Around the time that Lionel Shriver’s novel Big Brother was published, she wrote a very thought provoking Guardian article about the moral dualism created between the thin-good, fat- bad assumption. This duaism iss dangerous and the cause of much discrimination. Find your own healthy weight and exercise for your lifestyle, for your own unique body/frame , find the balance around enjoying food healthily (not to only comfort when things are going wrong or to fight boredom) and learn to love and respect your body as it ages. And ageing doesn’t have to equate to inevitable body decline or inevitable weight gain. Keep up those bracing hill walks with that wonderful dog companion or stay active and for goodness sake don’t feel gulit ridden on lazy days. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Powerful post, and I agree with a lot of it.

    Actually, I read a post from another blogger about avoiding judgment about people who are lighter than you for wanting to lose weight.

    One positive about me: Physical beauty is only skin-deep and I am comfortable in my skin and am comfortable not judging others, as several of my close female friends would not fit (pun not intended) the “standard” of beauty that some might hold. (Granted, I have the “privilege” of ridiculously-fast metabolism…)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I have struggled with my weight for the past 10 years or so steadily getting bigger. I love my food, am married to man who trained as a chef and who likes seeing me enjoy the meals he cooks.
    The problem for me is now I have diabete type 2 and have to lose some weight to get out of the obese category and get own to a ‘healthy’ weight. Of course I do agree with this, but after giving up smoking and drinking, I am finding it a bit miserable giving up eating many of my favourite foods!
    As you so rightly point out, slim is not always healthy. When I was much slimmer, I too chain smoked and drank like a fish! Bah, how unfair! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t it just? I think loving our food is so important – being a foodie myself, I would! My father was a very disciplined diabetic and was slim all his life – but he allowed himself the occasional little treat and adjusted his insulin dose to match. I think part of the problem is that exercise has come to mean rigid gym classes and an almost masochistic desire to get the maximum pain out of the whole thing. We tend to forget that walking for pleasure, gardening and so forth are just as valid and, in my view, a lot more fun! Activity which takes us out into the world around us seems, to me, to have such obvious physical and psychological advantages that I am always slightly surprised by this obsessive need to get down to a smelly, competitive gym. But that’s just me!!! xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Julie

    When I see a very fat or obese person, I see a traumatised person. The trauma is psychological and emotional and usually deeply hidden in the subconscious . Fat/Obesity has nothing to do with weakness of character. Fat/Obese people are like soldiers returning from the front: burdened and scared. Sometime, their trauma is traceable to childhood but it is also frequently found to have its source in the traumas of some already dead and forgotten ancestors who have passed it on down the generations.
    The cruel aspect of this psychological and emotional affliction is that it is made visible; it is in full view of all and everyone: a gift to the ignorant and vain who have a field day in judging and mocking…
    But the purpose of life is to heal. Once the pain has been acknowledged, the healing can start and this too, will be passed down the generations! No more victimisation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Much truth in this, I suspect, Julie, though I would say that very thin people can hide trauma equally successfully in their bodies. I think that either extreme, in its need to both loathe and venerate our human fuel (food), is a symptom of a wider societal malaise. xxx

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Julie

        Like you, I believe that anorexia is essentially a bodily response to a deep emotional trauma.
        I am not convinced that either obesity or anorexia iare a ‘symptom of a wider societal malaise’ , just a contributory factor. All societies, across the ages, have had pre-set conceptions of beauty and it is just bad luck when one’s body doesn’t fit in with the criteria of its own society…

        Liked by 1 person

  5. now from your words on this post to my doctors eyes so he gets over the “lose weight if you want to be healthy”kick. I have incipient diabetes and congestive heart failure. It isn’t like I can go to a gym and work out as it would probably kill me. I eat healthy (mostly veg and fruits, low carbs low proteins..lots of legumes. I “work out” by doing housework and gardening..walking the dog through parks, etc. I have (maybe) 10 pounds to shed. If they go, they go..if not, I don’t really care. the fact that i am still breathing is good enough for me. And this way, I can wear what i want (usually muumuus or scrubs) and no one gives a darn.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. the20somethingexistentialcrisis

    Great post!

    People are always trying to change their body, when their body is literally already changing on its own all the time — hello aging? Unfortunately, because I have thyroid disease I can’t just lose weight with the snap of the fingers, I have to actively change the way I live. And I’m all for being happy with yourself and loving yourself, but it gets to the point where you are your own worst enemy — sciatica in my left hip can testify to that.

    But as for what is “healthy” and “unhealthy” as it pertains to foods is debatable. For instance, I have been eating a ketogenic diet/lifestyle for the last eight weeks and lost 16 lbs. Most people, on a standard diet, would think this is insane because of the high fat intake required for a ketogenic and low carb intake. And I think the biggest slap in the face to the traditional diets is that I eat all the bacon I want, all the cheese, all the butter, all the steak, all the pork… but no bread, rice, potatoes, sugar, or other starchy veggies. And I’m probably the healthiest I’ve been in five or six years (since undergrad when I walked everywhere because I didn’t own a car.).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Know what you mean! I have Hypothyroidism and am on tablets for life. My view is that each person does what he or she needs to do in order to maintain good health and a reasonable level of activity. It is the fanaticism of some approaches that worries me and the US versus THEM which creeps into the rhetoric of most evangelising, whether it be relating to a mainstream religion or a diet regime. I think that, if we can create a system that works for us, as you have done, and use it without needing to fill others with guilt and woe, this may be one of the steps to wisdom and tolerance! xxx

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Comrade, I think you have mis-remembered ‘Four Legs Good; Two Legs Bad’…..

    In 5 years time they will reverse all health advice anyway: something like Pilates will be the new smoking! For a couple of years anyway…..

    Liked by 1 person

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