America’s anti-fat bias doesn’t help any of us
“Sexy at any size,” the cover of this week’s People magazine announces: “Can we get real? Fed up with the pressure to look perfect, celebs get more confident living large, lean or in between.”
Weight, weight, weight just a minute. Let me get this straight. Celebrities get to be famous, rich and influential, and now they get to be fat, too?
They’re fed up with having to look perfect? What do these people think we pay them for? This is like, say, the cover of Editor & Publisher reading: “Braking the spell! Proofreaders sick and tired of correcting grammar, punctuation.” America didn’t spend millions of dollars to see the last James Bond movie because we thought Denise Richards was aiming for an Oscar. Looking perfect is your job, celebrities.
On the other hand … we have sort of become a nation of superficial, sex-crazed idolaters of youthful beauty, sort of. When I was little, we still listened to “Free to Be You and Me” in school, and this message was drummed into our heads: We should love everyone equally, no matter how they looked.
On a racial level, that message has largely been realized. I mean, it was especially easy for us to abide by that 20 years ago in North Dakota, where the only thing as white as the snow was the populace. But all over America, lip service at a bare minimum is paid to the idea that skin color shouldn’t have any bearing on how people are treated. Racism is far from wiped out, but we’ve made a lot of progress in half a century or less. After Sept. 11, Americans immediately spoke out pre-emptively against persecution of our country’s citizens of Middle Eastern descent. By and large, it’s OK to be any race you want anymore.
We have a ways to go when it comes to fatness. You can make jokes about fat people that might get you beat up if you were talking about Jews or blacks or, for that matter, women. This might not be a strictly American phenomenon, but then again – other countries’ fascination with “Baywatch” aside – watch some BBC programming sometime. The U.K. has some beautiful TV stars, sure, but some of their protagonists aren’t sexy enough to make it as extras on “Murder, She Wrote.” I would say Americans generally are very concerned with how young, hip, wealthy and thin they look.
Some of the concern is warranted, of course. If we’re keeping McDonald’s around, we’d better keep the health clubs, too. We know that being overweight is a big problem for a lot of people, even those who aren’t celebrities. The racism analogy above isn’t particularly valid, because, although many people are genetically predisposed to a certain body type, lots more are overweight not exactly by choice, but because they lack the desire or will to get into better shape – although it is within their grasp.
But whether people should or shouldn’t be fat isn’t the point. People are, and the point is, it shouldn’t be a factor in how anybody treats them.
Most overweight folks, I think, know they need to exercise more and eat better. Lord knows my body could use some work. But it’s not like the American anti-fat bias does a lot to improve the situation. People know they should change, and they don’t need to be laughed at to figure it out. As silly as it sounds, if millionaire celebrities are fed up with being pressured to look great – and that’s their job – us Joe Schmoes have gotta be sick of it, too.
Josh Wimmer lives in Nevada City. His column appears on Fridays. You can e-mail him at
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