Chewing the Fat

I’ll admit it. I’m mad- probably in all senses of the word, but today in the sense of being angry.


Oddly enough, it’s because of something that usually brings me tremendous joy: The articulate exchange of disparate opinions on FriendFeed.

I’m not going to link to the exchange that set me off because I don’t think it’s fair to gang up on the individual whose commentary actually represents a widespread (though wrongheaded) point-of-view: Fat people are only fat because they cannot control themselves. They don’t exercise but instead recline on the sofa scarfing entire chocolate cakes in one bite. Worse, I got the sense that this was meant to be particularly true of women who are all supposed to be a size zero even though the AVERAGE size in North America now is apparently a 14.

While the remarks were staggering in their callousness, what was worse was that they displayed a breathtaking level of ignorance.


Clearly the folks with the “fatties have no self-control” viewpoint are unaware that there are medical issues that can also contribute to weight gain or exponentially increase the difficulty in terms of shedding pounds. It can be the treatments such as mood stabilizers for bipolar disorder such as lithium or steroids such as prednisone which can be used to treat disorders from lupus to psoriasis to arthritis.

And then there are actual disorders such as  hypothyroidism or  the heartbreaking condition known as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. PCOS is a nasty endocrine disorder that can not only promote obesity and cystic acne in a woman but can also render her infertile in a worst-case scenario. But perhaps if women with PCOS just had more self-discipline, they could will themselves to ovulate right?

Obviously some people cannot imagine how hard it can be to be out and about in society today if you are overweight. They have no sense of the shame one can feel or the self-loathing at not being able to even come close to approximating the  [nearly impossible] ideal of a size two. Nor do they seem to understand that just because one’s nerve endings are more thickly-covered, it doesn’t mean that cruel, thoughtless commentary won’t strike home and hurt.

Nobody wants to be fat. Nobody wants to be mocked. And hopefully, nobody wants to remain ignorant either.


Aside from the ire of a woman who’s curvier than she’d like to be after the birth of a beautiful baby girl, what this situation has brought to the fore is this vital question:

Why is it still acceptable to make fun of fat people? Why can people make jokes about them they wouldn’t dare (and shouldn’t) make about any other minority?

Frankly, I’d rather be somewhat fat in body than a truly fat-headed fool — but hopefully both excess pounds and ingrained ignorance are conditions that can be overcome. Perhaps some sort of campaign is necessary? Or just a reminder that kindness and decency shouldn’t be rarities?


10 comments so far

  1. Mark Wilson on

    People always say that making fun of fat people is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. It seems to be accepted and it’s everywhere.

    How do you think we can reach a point where society sheds this being fat is a choice mentality?

    • abbymartin on


      I wish I knew. I don’t have an easy answer for that. How do you make people realize how hurtful and cruel they are being and that being fat is often no more a choice than say being gay? [And yet you’ll also meet some people who wrongheadedly believe that people could will themselves straight if they wanted to do so. There’s no shortage of flavours of moron out there….] Advertisers like Dove who have incorporated more realistic looking women have been praised and seen profits- if only other advertisers and the fashion industry would follow suit, there might be less of a stigma and less crazed striving to become skeletal in order to achieve the current standard of beauty. I don’t know. I’m stymied. What do you think? What would you do?

  2. John Deal on

    Paraphrasing Churchill, “Tomorrow I can lose weight. You, however, will still be stupid.”

    Speaking as one who lives in Tokyo surrounded by the horror of women with no breasts or bottoms and with legs whose thickness is often literally that of my arms, I welcome America and her collective feminine amplitude.

    • abbymartin on


      welcome to the blog.

      I like the paraphrase quite a bit.

      Thanks for the comment!

  3. Joelle Nebbe aka Iphigenie on

    There is a lot of truth in what you are saying,

    1) the definition of “beauty” and “fat” are totally off. The idea that you have to be scrawny, with one of 3 “beautiful” face shapes, thick lips, large eyes, and hairless – to me they all look like the idea that we ought to look as if we are all still somewhere between 12 and 14. Yeah, right.

    This will only change when the young girls growing up refuse to buy into this, and I suspect the digital/online world can go a long way towards helping that. After all I see many younger people perfectly happy to do video, video chat as they are, and successful with it, whereas I am too self conscious. Thank goodness for that 🙂

    2) once your metabolism is messed up – and that can be something you are born with, or triggered by an illness, or triggered by a bad lifestyle or even too much dieting – then there is not much you can do to lose weight by willpower alone.

    And the definition of “right” and “fat” are totally off in the world today.

    But still I can’t help it when I see someone truly fat, to think “how could they let it happen to themselves” – I can’t help to think that at some point when things were starting to go amiss, someone should have gotten medical help before it got to that level. I can’t help thinking that.

    That shouldn’t make them feel guilty, because I think guilt makes it even harder to accomplish any changes. Certainly guilt never worked any positive effect in me. But I still can’t help a certain idea that they “let it happen” to themselves. Not fair, perhaps, but I can’t help it either (and I have at least 1 friend who had this problem since childhood and certainly couldnt do anything)

    PS: a little story, I have another friend – 20 years ago he was an athlete, but when he stopped sports he didn’t change much of his eating behaviour – so he grew rounder… Now his doctor is warning him about high cholesterol, diabetes risk, and a few other things, and yet he still won’t do simple things like eat just 1 serving of dessert or go for walks. He has 2 small children, and frankly I just don’t get it – he’s not being asked to do anything drastic, eat a bit less and move a bit, and yet he won’t, not even to make sure his children have a dad for as long as possible. I like him a lot, he’s a great person and loads of fun and smart too – except in that area. I suspect he feels the social guilt and pressure and they have a bad effect, making him joke about it and not try anything. How you get out of this, I have no idea 😦

    • abbymartin on


      Welcome to the blog – and thank you for a lengthy & thoughtful comment!

      1.) I agree completely that if you are supposed to look like – say- Victoria Beckham – you are supposed to look like a tootsie pop- big head with a beautiful face and a stick body. You have to either have a very good metabolism or be rich enough to afford a staff of trainers & caterers to do that. It’s her career to be thin so…

      Agree with you that in terms of the fashion world, we’re all supposed to look like we are 13ish- but I’d go further and say exceptionally beautiful 13 year old boys. Cherubs or some such.

      2.) Too true.

      3.) Thank you for your candor. It is hard to look at someone and not wonder “how could they let that happen?” That’s human. But unlike some people, you don’t sound like the sort who makes nasty cracks at their expense. As you noted, sometimes it is metabolic and then it is truly hard to reverse. For others, it is a devil’s bargain- you have been depressed and you finally are on meds that make you feel normal but they have a side effect of making you gain weight. Or you have terrible psoriasis or arthritis and only a steroid will help the pain but then again you balloon. So do you choose pain or fat?

      And for others, it’s emotional eating- there is a hole in their lives they try to fill with food and then they get fat and that makes them feel worse and then they eat more- I have friends with that and it is awful because they are essentially making their own hell.

      Finally, yes, there are a few people who do let go of themselves for whatever reason. And no you shouldn’t make them feel guilty because believe me, they feel bad enough as it is – both physically and emotionally- about where they are. And because of the current standards and pressures, they feel there’s no way they can get there- so they may joke about it but inside, they hurt.

      I appreciate your honesty and so I ask you this: what would help change the thinking on this? Is there anything that you think would make people not assume the worst?

  4. Mark Wilson on

    Abby, as you stated, I think that the media’s portrayal of what is and what is not acceptable needs to change. You mentioned the Dove’s Campaign For Real Beauty. I think it’s a refreshing way to market a product to women. It would be great to believe that corporate responsibility could be commonplace. It’s not and it won’t be anytime in the near future. It’s a harsh reality but that’s the thing about reality. Too often, it’s harsh.

    I believe that there needs to be more education about nutrition to the general public.

    Abby, you and I both live in Canada. I wonder how many people have ever seen Health Canada’s Food Guide? It’s free and can be ordered online at

    I have a copy on my fridge. I have lost 60 lbs in the past year. It wasn’t from luck or sheer willpower. I was determined to make the right choices. I consulted with my doctor about the best way to lose weight. But I was only able to make the right decisions because I educated myself. I know that many people feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to start. It’s a very difficult journey to undertake. It was the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only do I look better, I’m healthier because of this decision.

    • abbymartin on


      First of all- you’re right. I’m living in a dream world if I believe those companies will appeal to women as they are instead of as they have been told they have to be. Alas.

      And it is an excellent point you make about education- Health Canada’s Food Guide really is a valuable resource.

      Finally, congratulations to you in losing 60 pounds over a year! It sounds like you did it healthily- gradually and with guidance from experts. No weird liquid diets or swallowing tapeworm eggs (that was a diet aid in the 20s if folklore is to be believed and a big “ick” to that.) You didn’t expect to lose 20 pounds in an instant. You were wise about it. And you achieved mightily! Hats off to you 🙂

  5. Bonnie on

    Jeez, I haven’t been on FriendFeed in a while (between FB, FF and Twitter, I felt overwhelmed) – what did I miss! I hope you gave them a piece of your mind!

    Ain’t the internet grand? You give these ignorant people a venue to spew their stupidity. On the other hand, at least you can identify them and call them on their bullshit.

    Good on you, Ab. Wish I could have witnessed it.

    • abbymartin on


      Thanks for the comment- especially appreciated coming from such a strong woman and talented writer!

      MUCH appreciated.

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