Fat cells: aren’t they beautiful? http://www.Huffingtonpost.com
‘Toddler, if you eat too many of those you’ll get fat.’
I like to think of myself as an easy-going, open sort of a parent, not the sort to censor other people’s speech in front of my children. Obviously there are some limits but swearing, politics, religion and why-I-disagree-with-your-bloody-mother-abouts are all fine by me.
‘You will; you’ll turn into a little pudding.’
Yet I am twitching now
‘Don’t!’ I say sharply. ‘I don’t want people saying things like that to her.’
The look I get back says: ‘Are you for real?‘ – but I am.
There are plenty of reasons to give a child for not eating a whole box of chocolates.
‘Because they’re Mummy’s favourites‘ might paint me in a selfish light;
‘Chocolates are naughty‘ might prove damaging;
but my least favourite is ‘in case you get fat’.
It presents ‘fat’ as an abhorrence to be avoided without even saying as much. Fat ‘bad’, thin ‘good’ is something that we pick up osmotically during infancy. I don’t know about Toddler, but a 2013 study from Leeds University suggested that four-year-olds were less likely to even want to be friends with a character in a book who was fat (when compared with an identical character of normal build http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2013/05/study-kids-are-prejudiced-against-fat-people-by-age-4/275980/. )
I sucked it up good and proper. I don’t suppose I was the only developing teenager to try to make their fingers meet around their thighs, distraught that they were no longer the stick-insects of six months previously. While a nice response might have been ‘Oh Look! I’m getting womanly-shaped legs at last!‘ what I actually thought was, ‘Fat bad, thin good. I’m shit.’ And I didn’t even develop an eating disorder: thousands of teenagers do.
So what is it about fatness that is so bad that we teach our children to be prejudiced against it – or even against their normal selves?
The health angle is a starting point. Obestiy increases your likelihood of a long list of diseases including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some types of cancer. But plenty of risk factors for various diseases don’t get stigmatised.
Anyway, it is a safe bet that aforesaid medical risks are probably not what the four-year-olds in the study were objecting to.
So is it aesthetics? Some of my friends call themselves ‘fat.’ As in, ‘I’m having a fat day’ when they mean ‘I feel unattractive’ (and they are never noticably fatter than yesterday).
However, I have a few friends who are fat. Every day. Interestingly, they all happen to be good-looking. That’s my opinion of course, but none of them are lacking in the attracting-partners department either. I’m not convinced that attractiveness is genuinely a concern for them. I’m not sure that whole simple fat = ugly assumption is plausable.
My current battle to stay slim is, I suspect, to do with power. In most species, ample bodyweight is associated with catching plenty food and hence success. It is a relatively new phase of human development that the biggest names in our generation (Kate Middleton, The Beckhams) are the thin ones. ‘I’m feeling fat’ = ‘I’m feeling powerless’ may make more sense.
A professional friend explained her theory that because she was ‘big’, people assumed her to be bad at her job: they thought she would be lazy or lack willpower, but she was in fact the boss. Being fat, so people think, is your own fault. Fatness demonstrates a morbid lack of personal self-control.
So, am I about to tell you that this is not OK? That being fat is somehow not a peron’s own fault and we shouldn’t be blaming them for it?
I am, actually: and I promise not to use the words ‘metabolic rate.’ The NHS believe one in four of us to be obese. 25% of us do not have genetically freaky low metabolims. Presumably a few do.
So the rest?
Well, for better or for worse, society has changed in the last hundred years. We have the technology that makes housework a (relatively) small job; both of a couple now work, rather than one staying home all day to cook, shop and clean. Food is more now packaged, preserved and served for instant gratification; it is sold in huge shops with carparks right outside. Workplaces have carparks too and are often too far to walk: housing no longer clusters around the local pit. We have central heating; we are warm at night. Our jobs are more likely to use brain than muscle.
In short, our daily lives don’t use up many calories any more. If a person gets exercise it is usually because they have made a conscious effort to go out and get exercise. If you enjoy exercise that’s fine, but if you have never done it – or if you find it difficult – then it takes a lot of motivation to go out there and increase your ‘calories used.’
So how about decreasing our ‘carlories in’? Well, ditto. Foods chosen on cost grounds are seldom healthy options; nor are foods chosen for taste. And food is everywhere; the way we bond with other people in our social group is by eating nice things together. Food labels are confusing: it takes time, effort and a magnifying glass to know what we are eating. Let me mention 2014s early buzz-phrase: ‘added sugar.’ Why are manufacturers adding mounds of sugar to Toddler’s cereal (it’s some supermarket corruption of Shreddies)? – anyway, they are.
In short, you don’t have to be lacking motivation to get fat: you could just be normal. Or you could be working a sixty-hour hour week as a human-rights lawyer and entertaining the kids at weekends. Unnecessary exercise and staving weight off your body are difficult: we are programmed to want to save energy and eat when the opportunity arises. It now seems likely that humans get addicted to the very stuff (sugar) that manufacturers are sneaking into not-quite-Shreddies (Shreddies, too). Our tendencies towards obesity, you see, all started out as evolutionary advantages.
So perhaps we are not right to blame every individual obese Type Two diabetic for not having the willpower involved in staying slim; perhaps it’s the set-up of society that is making it increasingly hard for normal people to control their weight.
Let me repeat a statistic: Twenty-five per cent of us are apparently obese, despite an apparent national obsession about wanting to be thin. Do you blame me for shielding my daughter from it? What does this tell us about the nation’s body image? What does that tell us about how easy it is to stay slim?