Hippies made us fat

Posted: Nov 29, 2001 12:00 AM
It wouldn't have taken a fortune-teller to figure that the new hit movie, Shallow Hal, would be stirring up controversy in our overly sensitive society. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA)-no joke-is protesting the film's use of fat jokes in a romantic comedy. Never mind that the movie has a redeeming message that beauty is on the inside, regardless of the fat on the outside. I don't necessarily quibble with the assertion that fat jokes can be cruel-heaven knows I've had thousands hurled at me, but the mindset of the advocacy group is troubling. Fat acceptance, which is the ostensible goal of the NAAFA, should never happen in the minds of people who need to keep off or lose weight. "Accepting" fat (and by fat, I mean significantly overweight) would be devastating-to fat people. Am I advocating the ridicule of obese people? Of course not; such behavior is reprehensible. But it's wrong to say, "Being fat is okay," because it's not okay. Just as Hal tells us, each person should be loved for his or her inner beauty, but that's a whole different animal than "fat acceptance." Obesity is a severe health problem in America, and "accepting" it is akin to accepting high rates of heart disease and diabetes. With the relatively rare exception of people with chemical or biological disorders, obesity is an affliction that is both beatable and entirely avoidable. To deny that is to throw in the towel and abdicate responsibility for our own general welfare. Before anyone gets fuming mad at my supposed ignorance and intolerance, keep in mind that I have had a lifelong struggle with weight. Not until I committed my heart and soul did I lose 80 pounds. It is precisely because I don't want anyone to go through what I did that I write this. As a nation, we have watched our girth grow substantially, from our chubby children to our beer-bellied baby boomers. The real danger is people who think like NAAFA that obesity should just be accepted, as if gluttony were an immutable trait like race or gender. But it's not. (Again, people with legitimate glandular or other problems are excluded.) Weight is completely within our own control, and the first step in losing weight is recognizing that simple, yet profound, fact. For some people, losing weight is no doubt more difficult than for others, but that just means more labor to achieve the desired goal. It should not be the excuse to waive the white flag. The cultural meltdown caused by the abandonment of personal responsibility has contributed to our current mess. In a world where no one is responsible for his or her actions, why should weight be any different? Being fat is not just another lifestyle choice. It is one with severe consequences, all of which can be mitigated or prevented with effort. But with the high failure rate of most diets, it's a lot easier for someone to just give up than keep trying. And the more "accepted" obesity becomes, the more reassured one feels in accepting his or her own obesity. Skeptics will point to either the feminist squeals about waif supermodels or to the plethora of "diet" foods in grocery stores. Of course impossibly thin girls grace the covers of fashion magazines, and there are millions of girls and women who idolize them. But outside the minority who strive for that extreme, many overweight people are content to either make continually meager efforts or do nothing at all. Look at how we "diet." We want weight loss in a pill or in pre-packaged foods designed to eliminate sacrifice. Dieting is chic so long as it still includes low-fat cookies and potato chips. No wonder we're an increasingly corpulent country. I speak from experience that eating low-fat snacks and drinking Diet Coke does little more than soothe the conscience. Our instant gratification society has eschewed the time-honored tradition of hard work yielding tangible results. We still want the bigger, better, faster, more-we just want it without sacrifice. This is the eminently foreseeable consequence of the 60's mindset, which divorced freedom from responsibility: a world where you can have your cake without baking it or putting on weight. The new attitudes about weight are merely one indicator of larger cultural shifts over the last 30 years. The emphasis on self-esteem and loving one's self has actually eroded self-confidence. Rather than believing in one's ability to lose weight, or do any other tough task, someone clinging to the feel-good mantra can now embrace the cop-out, "I like who I am." We should all love ourselves, but not at the expense of self-improvement. To borrow a phrase: hate the fat, but love yourself. Dreams of weight loss cannot become reality until one truly believes in the amazing capacity that lies within. Let's hope that for the sake of those with weight problems like mine that "fat acceptance" never happens.