Fat Boys

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?

19 thoughts on “Fat Boys

  1. Fatness is just one more way for women to fail …We’ve done our best to equate fatness with moral turpitude and general laziness.

    I would point you to a comment made over at my place the other day which made me roll my eyes. Specifically, this bit:

    For each of Kat’s examples, the split is one of a missed, and probably unrealistic expectation: “my wife will always be 125 lbs and we’ll have sex three times a day,”

    Now, Patrick was talking about divorce and the causes thereof. I thought it was interesting that when he attempted to articulate the reason for waning sexual activity in marriage he brought up only the woman’s weight as a factor. Because we all know that no matter how fat a man becomes, he will still be sexually viable and desirable. It’s only the wife’s weight we’re concerned with, apparently.

    That part of that comment has bugged me for days now, even though I’m taking it out of its original context. Fat women inherit a blame that I just don’t see parcelled out to fat men.

  2. Hmm. Well, I wonder how much of that goes back to the nonsense that women don’t really like sex. If we don’t really like sex in the first place, our desires don’t really matter. Therefore what our partners look like or can provide sexually isn’t really important.

  3. Hadn’t thought of it that way. Which may be part of why the whole “fat men aren’t a societal problem” thing is going on. Because, really, fat only affects sexual desire adversely for men. So, fat women are an inconvenience to them, or something like that. Fat men, on the other hand…no big deal.

  4. Well, clearly, you should not be friends with fat people, lest you yourself become fat. That’s the rather creepy undertone that has been bothering me about this story.

  5. That’s the rather creepy undertone that has been bothering me about this story.

    It’s actually a meta-tool for reinforcing both class and race prejudice as well as sizism.

    See, the “fat people” (ie. fat men) are ALSO statistically more likely to be

    a) non-Caucasion

    and

    b) making under $50K a year.

    So, not only should you not befriend fat people, you should definitely not trouble yourself to reach across ethnic or economic lines to do so.

    And of course, since a large majority of jobs are found through networking, this has the beautiful ability of keeping those non-white fellows poor.

    But let’s not talk about that, okay? Let’s put this “study” out there as a joke story and run it at the bottom of the news where folks will think of it as a fluff piece but then use it to NOKD anyone they feel like.

  6. Pingback: Der Juden Ist Verboten « Just Another Pretty Farce

  7. Coble, I hope people will go over and read your post, too, as I also definitely think that there’s something to be said for what you’re getting at.

    I also think that a part of it is that most folks in America get that the health care system is broken. Now, obviously, you and I have vastly different ideas about what might be done to fix that. But don’t you find it insidious that, just as we’re actually starting to have a serious discussion about why most people in the US don’t have health care and why there’s so little affordable health care, we have this push to punish fat workers by docking their pay or charging them more for insurance or whatever?

    I’m almost sure that a lot of this has to do with shifting blame for why folks can’t get affordable health care. It’s not the market’s fault or the insurance companies’ fault or the government’s fault. It’s all those fat (and as you note poor & minority) people ruining it for everyone.

  8. I’m almost sure that a lot of this has to do with shifting blame for why folks can’t get affordable health care. It’s not the market’s fault or the insurance companies’ fault or the government’s fault. It’s all those fat (and as you note poor & minority) people ruining it for everyone.

    That’s it precisely. Rather, that’s the attitude which fuels the witchhunt.

    The funny thing is that I don’t think people realise that they are TECHNICALLY overweight or obese according to insurance company definitions. Which means you get a lot of “average looking” people screaming for the financial tar-and-feathering of “fat people”, never once realising that oops, they is us.

    A lot of males, when questioned, think of “fat people” primarily as those who are seriously obese–above 350lbs. They don’t think of themselves, at 200 or 210 or whatever, to be “obese”.

    A lot of females who are in a “healthy” weight category don’t recognise overweight in proportion. I have several times been weighed by someone who refused to believe that the number on the scale was actually what I weight. (It’s apparently much higher than I “look”, according to some, but I think I look like others who’ve confessed to having weight in a similar range.)

    So the funny thing about the hysteria is that many people don’t truly understand what “overweight” even looks like in the real world.

  9. FWIW, I grew up as an obese male child and was pretty much routinely made to feel worthless, lazy, and immoral because of it. So it isn’t exclusive to women, though I don’t disagree that you get the worst of it.

  10. I’m almost sure that a lot of this has to do with shifting blame for why folks can’t get affordable health care. It’s not the market’s fault or the insurance companies’ fault or the government’s fault. It’s all those fat (and as you note poor & minority) people ruining it for everyone.

    I think there’s a connection, but I’m not sure it’s as direct as all that. As I think I said over here recently in another thread, I’m convinced that the current concentration on weight (and, more generally, on looks as a guide to character/competence) is connected with the increasing concentration of wealth in fewer hands. Since this is a big shift in how Americans generally think about economic fairness, there’s the need for justifications and big, big barriers. And weight works perfectly. The problem of affordable health care is connected in the sense that more and more health care here is reserved for a smaller and smaller part of the population.

  11. FWIW, I grew up as an obese male child

    You? Wow. I never would have guessed. Seriously.

    was pretty much routinely made to feel worthless, lazy, and immoral because of it.

    Well, Jennifer Chailt would tell you that it’s pretty much your own fault that others picked on you. Cause, you know, you were faaaat. Ewww.

  12. Just a couple of observations:
    The lack of affordable health care is only part of the problem. As is portrayed in the movie “Sicko,” part of the reason modern rich countries spend less per capita on health care is their general approach to health and living. The focus is often on preventive maintenance as opposed to throwing profit-gouging meds at entrenched, lifestyle-based conditions.

    This issue is related to another major problem in the U.S., which is the corporatization of our food supply. The corporate hive mind doesn’t give a shit about public health; it only cares about squeezing the last penny of profit out of consumers. That’s why our food choices are overpopulated with highly processed, unhealthy crap that is cheap to produce and that has an infinite shelf life.

    Aunt B., I’m a firefighter and it’s alarming to see how many of my colleagues are dangerously overweight. This is due largely to crappy eating habits, but it is difficult to blame them. Most of them have adopted the unwittingly corporate-friendly attitude that healthy, wholesome dietary practices are something to be sneered at.

    I don’t see this changing without heavy regulatory involvement at the federal and state levels, but decades of conservative dominance in our public sphere have made this increasingly unlikely for the near future. Hell, we’ve sunk to the point where we can no longer rely on the safety of our food supply, much less the dietary soundness of it.

  13. I just read, and now can’t find, this blog about this woman who is allergic to soy or soy gluten or something having to do with soy and she was talking about how she basically can’t eat anything she doesn’t make herself, because so many food companies toss soy into their foods for some reason.

    That was kind of my point with linking to the plastic story, as well. Often, we have no control over what we put in our bodies that might harm us.

    I wonder, with your colleagues, too, how much of that has to do with folks eating for comfort as well as sustenance. I mean, you are a firefighter. You see some of the worst moments in people’s lives. If I had to face that regularly, I’d be all about that second piece of cake.

  14. I wonder, with your colleagues, too, how much of that has to do with folks eating for comfort as well as sustenance. I mean, you are a firefighter. You see some of the worst moments in people’s lives. If I had to face that regularly, I’d be all about that second piece of cake.

    I think that also ties into the stuff we were talking about in your Food Insecure thread. Most any food can be comfort food, but a lot of the worst, most overprocessed food we have (and the cheapest and most portable) gives you a direct rush of good feeling…particularly if your schedule is really disruptive or stressful. I’d imagine all of that is applicable for firefighters.

    Actually, that reminds me of some things my chiropractor was talking about the other day. Fight or flight stress reactions do three major things – they raise your blood pressure (to get blood to your extremities more quickly), jump up your blood sugar (for quick fuel), and increase your cholesterol (again, quick fuel for certain processes). Great if you’re running from a tiger or into a burning building. Not so great if you’re just stressed out from a deadline that’s looming or getting chewed out by your boss.

    Being poor, having a stressful job/life, or living in a hostile environment are all stressful. And just because our lives have changed to involve a lot less running and fighting doesn’t mean that our bodies’ reactions have caught up. So the people with the least options to cope (need to keep that job, don’t know how to get away from that abusive situation, everyone hates you because you ‘look like a terrorist,’ don’t have the money to get to a gym and the streets aren’t safe after dark, which is when you get home…) are the people whose bodies are most betraying them.

    If we had better labor practices (actual vacations! universal childcare! and so on and so forth!), we would be healthier. Even if we didn’t change anything about the sedentary nature of our jobs, or the junky food we eat. If we had more social structures focused on keeping us healthy (universal healthcare springs to mind… but that’s just one facet – labor practices promoting taking time off when you “just” have a cold instead of spreading it to everyone in the office because you only get two free days and you need them in case your kids get sick would be a great start.) instead of fixing the problem once we’re too sick to stand, we’d be better off.

    Yes, ideally, we’d all be able to put the best things in our bodies and exercise enough and do everything possible to keep ourselves healthy. We should work toward insuring that. But we also need to look at the structures that put us in situations that make our bodies less likely to process things in ways that are beneficial. (And yes, that certainly includes emphasizing food safety and really monitoring the things that we can’t help but put in our bodies.)

  15. ideally, we’d all be able to put the best things in our bodies and exercise enough

    Ideally, our work would contain a mix of physical and sedentary elements, so that we wouldn’t need ‘exercise’ to keep us healthy.

  16. Ooh, I like your version better, nm. I hate exercising-as-currently-constructed, but I like doing things with my body.

  17. Dudes.

    yes. You are so correct. I used to work on my grandparents’ farm when I was younger, and my parents’ land when I was in high school.

    I could DO THINGS all day long, as part of my work. It makes sense when you’re clearing brush, hoeing strawberry plants, cleaning chicken and slopping hogs.

    But I RESIST getting on an exercise bike to peddle nowhere.

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