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The lottery

January 7, 2008

People Magazine’s* annual “Half their size!!!!!!!11111!!!!!!” issue arrived in the mailbox a few days ago. For those who aren’t part of the intellectual elite and don’t have a subscription to People, they put out this issue every year where they focus on a few people who’ve lost a lot of weight. About Half their Size!!!(tm) in fact.

It’s really pretty standard. You have the awful ‘before’ shot where they find a picture of the woman (it’s mostly women) in the ugliest outfit she’s ever owned in the worst lighting she’s ever stood in and with the unhappiest expression she’s ever had on her face. The stories are all the same: Being fat was miserable, they were ‘addicted’ to food, they had some scare or some epiphany and golly gee whiz, they finally got off their butts and did something!

Are you feeling inspired yet?

Really, I wouldn’t normally blog about this kind of thing. I mean, each new year it’s like people all get obliviated** and forget the gym membership they didn’t use and the diet plan they hated and all the people they saw in magazines and on tv last year who lost weight and assured them that anyone could lose large amounts of weight and keep it off if they only ‘really’ tried this time. But as I was flipping through it, something caught my eye: A section that compared what the former fatties used to eat to their new diet.

I’m pretty sure that some number fudging was going on here, a little dietetic license to increase the horror and the drama, but even so the numbers showed something fairly interesting. For all the repitition of the ‘calories in/calories out’ idea in the magazine, the number of calories people reported eating while at their highest weights were dramatically different. The women who were within 20lbs of each other and were close to the same height reported a caloric intake that was 2000 calories/day different.

Now I know the fact that people have different metabolisms and can support similar bodies on drastically different diets is not really news to any of my readers, but I’m continually amazed by how everyone can keep seeing all this evidence that there exists no monolithic fat lifestyle and yet persist believing that there exists a simple and effective way to go from being fat to being thin.

The more I read, the more incredulous I became. These people work out 6 days a week for at least an hour at a time. Intense workouts too. Their new diets are spartan with no room for real sugar in their oatmeal (splenda in oatmeal? ick) and meals consisting only of plain broccoli and 20 almonds (yum?)

Does no one else realize that most thin people don’t live this way? Haven’t we all seen thin people eat oatmeal with actual sugar in it? Am I the only person who knows thin people that don’t spend 6-12 hours a week at the gym?

As I was reading, I kept thinking that if I were one of these people eating small amounts of bland food and exercising my ass off and I saw a naturally thin person sitting around eating donuts or something that I would probably want to stab them in the heart. Not because thin people suck or anything, just because it’s terrible to have to work 10 times as hard to receive that same privileges as people who have just won the genetic lottery.

No one, well no one sane, would tell me that I needed to work extra hard to overcome being a lesbian since the existence of lots of effortless heterosexuals (and even bisexuals!) would maybe point to sexual preference being something people don’t have to work extra hard at. But not so with fat. It must be defeated and if you have to spend hours a day in a gym and forgo flavor in your diet, then so be it.

And the few people who succeed will be held up as examples of discipline and righteousness and their 1300 calorie/day diets and their obsessive working out will also be praised. Because the only other option is to acknowledge that we’ve been wasting a lot of time and a lot of money and whole lotta mental space on trying to emulate a look that is best acheived through an accident of birth (or in the case of celebrities and models, a combination of genetics and behaviors that are either very damaging or are only possible with expensive trainers, chefs and such.)

It’s really an overused tactic in terms of patriarchy. You attach all sorts of positive qualities to an inherent state of being and you ignore all the exceptions while you take any individual in the group posessing those qualities as absolute proof of the entire group’s superiority. So all men get to benefit from the few men who are mathematical geniuses (see, men are better at math even if I can’t solve a basic equation!), all white people benefit from the few who have done extraordinary things (even though I work all day in an office and go home to watch tivo, I’m totally like someone who ‘built civilizations’!***),  and all thin people benefit from the few who have to work out constantly and heavily restrict what they eat (we have so much more discipline than those fast food-loving fatties.)

The insidious thing about fat though and why we might need to find some new tactics is that most fat people have been convinced that they can one day join the privileged group. A lot of justice movements have been based on people’s knowing that they would never be allowed to participate or be taken seriously in lots of arenas because they could never actually become part of the privileged group. Fat people are for the most part still convinced that thin people have some secret, some strength that they lack. I mean, the evidence is right there on our asses and our hips and our bellies! Thin people are good so as soon as I am good, as soon as I behave correctly, then I will be thin.

Of course we know it doesn’t work that way. And we know that for those people who lose a lot of weight, it will often come back. And then they’ll blame themselves for that one time they ate a cookie or that one time they only worked out five days a week because if being thin is proof of your superior control than any deviation must also be proof of your weakness. The only other option is that maybe they don’t have a damn thing to do with each other.

But that doesn’t make for a good cover story. 

*Oh, shut up

**Yes I am a dork

***White people did not “invent civilization”, but that doesn’t stop that idea from being repeated all the damn time.

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10 Comments
  1. January 7, 2008 6:01 pm

    Whenever I see these kinds of “success” stories, I always wish I had the contact info of the people featured so that five years later, I can check up and see how they’re really doing.

  2. January 7, 2008 6:03 pm

    Great post.

  3. January 7, 2008 6:11 pm

    Rachel,

    I did notice that they didn’t feature a single person who had kept the weight off for more than 4 years. How strange…

  4. Arwen permalink
    January 7, 2008 6:34 pm

    Great, great post.

  5. January 7, 2008 6:35 pm

    *hoots, whistles, applause, etc.*

    Excellent post.

  6. Miriam Heddy permalink
    January 7, 2008 6:44 pm

    Thank you for pointing out the connection to privilege. And you’re right on in noting that thin is one of the few kinds of privilege that people (especially women) believe they can buy or bribe or starve their way into getting (even though there’s no real evidence they can *keep* that privilege).

    My entrance into FA was via feminism, and it continues to be the most compelling explanation for why resistance is important, and why the movement matters.

  7. January 7, 2008 7:21 pm

    Oh, and I should have thanked you for the warning as well. Now I know I’d better bring some of my own reading material to the gym tonight, since I do usually like to read People while I’m elliptical-ing.

    Again, excellent post.

  8. January 7, 2008 8:01 pm

    It’s really an overused tactic in terms of patriarchy. You attach all sorts of positive qualities to an inherent state of being and you ignore all the exceptions while you take any individual in the group posessing those qualities as absolute proof of the entire group’s superiority. So all men get to benefit from the few men who are mathematical geniuses (see, men are better at math even if I can’t solve a basic equation!), all white people benefit from the few who have done extraordinary things (even though I work all day in an office and go home to watch tivo, I’m totally like someone who ‘built civilizations’!***), and all thin people benefit from the few who have to work out constantly and heavily restrict what they eat (we have so much more discipline than those fast food-loving fatties.)

    EXACTLY.

    It’s like people who have worked minimum-wage jobs or pretty close to it for pretty much forever, voting for politicians who want to do things like wipe out estate taxes and income taxes on the wealthy, thinking, “Well, I’m not like the rest of these poor dumb slobs, someday I’ll create that magic Web site or magic invention or magic business or magic Creative Thing that’s going to get me millions. And when I do, they’d better not tax my ass! Let the people who aren’t as deserving as I am foot the bill!” That this is exactly how rich people view them, right now, and likely forever, and that they are being royally rooked by this mentality, never enters their minds.

  9. Rachel permalink
    January 7, 2008 9:33 pm

    Excellent post. All I can say is “EXACTLY!!”

  10. rebecca permalink
    January 14, 2008 3:51 pm

    That issue of People is like passing an accident – you don’t want to look, but YOU…MUST…LOOK! I could not BELIEVE they were tacitly advocating people eating so little, and such gross food! It mostly didn’t even look healthy since some people were basically on starvation diets – it seems criminal for that tall man to be existing on so little, and working out so much.

    And I’m going to have to say a big “AMEN!” to being pissed at super thin people for getting to eat whatever they want while you sit there eating carrot sticks. It can make a person very bitter to buy into the idea that they can totally change the way they’re built, and their genetics.

    Also, I work as a nanny, so I’ve met a lot of wealthy women. Most of them are crazy-thin, yes. They wear super expensive clothes, their cheap purses are $500, they even have someone who comes solely to clean out the cat’s litter box. And they are the bitchiest, most unhappy people I’ve ever encountered. They have no real friends because they’re too busy competing with each other over who’s the thinnest and richest. I’d so much rather be poor, poochy, and happy. Let them pity me and think I’m jealous – they don’t know that everyone I know pities THEM.

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