I’m on a mission to slowly chip away at my unplayed podcast episodes, and yesterday I caught up with This American Life. The latest episode, Tell Me I’m Fat, does a good job of portraying different angles of the obesity epidemic, but while listening to it, the fat acceptance portion of it struck a major chord with me. I’m the daughter of an obese women, and growing up I saw firsthand how she struggled with being fat. I witnessed her health problems, her countless diet attempts, her inability to participate in most physical activities, her discomfort while traveling, her unease in some social situations, and her efforts to placate all of these things with self-deprecating jokes. I hated the jokes more than anything, because I fiercely loved my mother and it killed me to know that underneath her humor was a sea of pain. As a child, I saw her start and stop countless diets. Diet Center. Weight Watchers. Atkins. South Beach. You name it, she tried it.
While she was an incredible woman… so smart, talented, funny, kind, and loving, it killed me that my mom was unable to participate in certain activities with me — I have fond memories of skiing with my dad, but not my mom. Of running around playing sports with my dad, but not my mom. One moment in particular sticks out in my mind. It was the fall of my senior year of high school, and my parents and I were on a weekend day trip to check out a prospective college. My dad and I wanted to walk around campus to explore, but my mom was too out of shape to even walk around the campus with her only child. Because being obese is incredibly taxing on your lungs, your heart, your bones, your joints…really, everything in your body. I vividly remember being so mad, so hurt, so frustrated, and so confused. And as a hormonal teenage girl, I unleashed my fury on her. WHY couldn’t she lose weight so we could have a better mother-daughter relationship?
My mom used to tell me that she hoped that I would never struggle with a weight problem like she did for so many years, because she knew how difficult it was. Seeing the scale hit 205 was a wakeup call for me, because I was starting down a path and knew that I did not like the destination. I could have very easily fallen into the excuse of, “But it’s in my genes to be overweight! I can’t help it, it’s not my fault.” And it is truly difficult for me to lose and maintain weight loss. I long ago accepted the fact that I’m not one of the lucky ones who can eat what I want while working out moderately and maintain a slim physique. It takes hard work sometimes, but I know that I want to be around for my husband, for my (someday) children, and for their children.
While I was able to break free, I still to this day struggle with resentment that she was never able to lose weight and maintain it. I sometimes thought that she didn’t love me enough to want to change and be healthier, a thought that I know in my heart wasn’t true, but it didn’t stop me from thinking it. My mom was taken from the world far too soon — when I was 25 and she was only 64. She passed away as the result of a protracted battle with cancer that spread throughout her body, and one of the worst thoughts that I had when she was sick was wondering if her illness was the result of decades of unhealthy life choices, of inactivity, and of carrying around 150+ lbs of excess bodyweight. I carry around two pictures of my mom with me in my notebook, to keep her memory close by, but also to remind me of her lifelong wish for me. I miss her dearly, yet am still plagued with guilt for feeling like she had a big part in sealing her fate. And that’s a shitty feeling to carry around with you.
So while it may be a polarizing, I have a huge problem with the recent fat acceptance movement. While someone can certainly be overweight and healthy, no one will ever convince me that it’s healthy, that it’s ok, and certainly not that it should be celebrated for someone to be morbidly obese. It’s dangerous, it’s selfish, and it’s hurtful to your loved ones. One of my favorite metaphors for life is that you have to put your own oxygen mask on first before you can help others. Self-care is an oft-neglected crucial aspect of life, and one that I wish more people prioritized. You’re only given one body with which to experience this wonderful thing called life. Why oh why would anyone not want to try to feel their best for as long as humanly possible? The greatest wealth is health, but by proclaiming that everyone is “healthy” no matter what size they are, we’re doing serious damage to ourselves, our society, our children, and future generations to come.