Like I was telling Coble this morning, I’ve accepted that I’m fat because I’m decadent, lazy and immoral, hell-bent on ruining the Earth and hogging all the natural resources, while I fuck your spouses and eat your ice cream. That’s fair. I’ve made my soft and cuddly bed. I’ll lie in it.
But I’m fascinated by the way we gender “fat” as “female.” I’ve long suspected that this is because there’s that cultural meme that women, no matter what we set out to do, are miserable failures. If you work outside the home, you’re ruining your children. If you stay at home with your kids, you’re a bad feminist. If you don’t have kids, you’re selfish. If you do have kids, you’re ruining the environment. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Fatness is just one more way for women to fail and making a woman’s weight cause for public concern–“it’s not healthy!”–is, I think, obviously another excuse to put women’s bodies on display and to normalize the idea that individual women must be prepared to be publicly scrutinized at any moment.
But then I read this little bit of news. I’m sure you all saw it, about how fat people tend to make their friends fat. I quote almost in whole:
Findings: 1) Your chances of becoming obese go up by more than half (and in some cases by 171 percent) if your friend becomes obese. 2) This effect exceeds the effect of having an obese sibling or spouse. 3) The effect happens even if your friend is far away. 4) Fat neighbors had no effect. 5) “Persons of the same sex had relatively greater influence on each other than those of the opposite sex.” Theories: 1) The results can’t be explained by fat people befriending each other; the social connection causes the fat transfer. 2) Common genes, food, or environments can’t explain the comparative results involving friends, siblings, spouses, and neighbors. 3) Maybe you emulate your fat friends. 4) Maybe they loosen your “norms about the acceptability of being overweight.”
But check out this paragraph in the study itself:
The sex of the ego and alter also appeared to be important. When the sample was restricted to same-sex friendships (87% of the total), the probability of obesity in an ego increased by 71% (95% CI, 13 to 145) if the alter became obese. For friends of the opposite sex, however, there was no significant association (P=0.64). Among friends of the same sex, a man had a 100% (95% CI, 26 to 197) increase in the chance of becoming obese if his male friend became obese, whereas the female-to-female spread of obesity was not significant (38% increased chance; 95% CI, –39 to 161).
Let me make this clear: The ego is the person being studied and the alter is his or her friend. If the ego and the alter are opposite sex, there’s no significant association between one’s obesity and the other’s. AND, and I quote, “the female-to-female spread of obesity was not significant.”
What’s this mean?
In plain English, even though news outlets such as Slate.com passed this off as a story about obese people, this is actually a story about obese men. Women don’t get fat from each other. Men do.
So, why don’t any of the stories acknowledge that? Why does the NEJM not seem able to acknowledge what its own study finds? Why can’t we talk plainly about men and fat?
Here’s my suspicion. We tend to think of women as inherently lazy, inherently not trying hard enough. So, if a woman is fat, it’s easy enough to assume she’s just a fuck up.
We don’t tend to think of men as fuck ups, though.
I was thinking about this this morning, how the Butcher has himself a belly even though he walks to and from work every day. Or my uncle, out there working construction for twelve hours at a time, and his big old pot belly. Shoot, the recalcitrant brother is so popular as a plumber because he’s scrawny enough to fit where most plumbers can’t.
Why are working class men fat? If they’re doing manual labor all day and we’ve been told that the reason we all are fat is that we’ve moved to a progressively more sedentary lifestyle, why are they fat, too?
I think we desperately don’t want to ask ourselves those questions because they point to outside factors. We’ve done our best to equate fatness with moral turpitude and general laziness. People are fat because they’re just not trying hard enough.
But what if people are fat not just because of what they willingly put into their bodies, but also because of what they cannot help but put into their bodies?