If there is one thing Americans are nearly as obsessive about as marriage and coupling, it may just be weight. Our appetite for diet books, weight-loss programs, weight-reduction surgeries, TV shows like “The Biggest Loser,” and all of the rest seems insatiable.
One of the implications of this incessant messaging is that there is always something new to try. If you think you need to lose weight, or if you just want to, a whole industry is right there to cheer you on (and entice you with more products to buy).
Within that cultural context, perhaps it is not surprising that an essay by Laura Bogart, “Why I Choose to be Fat,” immediately became popular. It was widely read at Salon.com, then picked up by Alternet.
For years, Bogart went through the paces of trying – sometimes successfully – to lose weight. Then she decided that she was finished with all of it. She left her physician and her therapist and found new professionals who did not see her weight as defining her physical or mental health.
Sociologist Erving Goffman authored some of the most influential writings on stigma. Some stigmas, he argued, take on the role of a “master status”: Everything about a person is filtered through that stigma. Bogart’s story illustrates how weight can take over a person’s life story:
“When you’re obese, you are your body. Every decision you make is viewed through the prism of your weight. Do you order the salad at lunch? Good for you! You’re taking control of your health. Do your order the pasta primavera? You don’t love yourself enough. Are you sitting alone on a park bench? You’re alone and lonely: Nobody can really love you until you love yourself. You couldn’t possibly just prefer solitude.”
Laura Bogart also learned that her own decision about her weight wasn’t just her own; other people claimed a stake in it:
“…if you choose, as I have chosen, to stop the presses, to throw out all the “inspirational” sizes in your closet, that your weekly meals don’t have to be more meticulously planned than the raid that killed Bin Laden, you aren’t just flipping off cultural expectations; you’re upending other people’s hopes for you.”
I also liked Bogart’s critical analysis of the popular cultural narratives about weight loss:
“…Fathers choke up remembering the day they knew they “had to make a change,” the day their toddlers randomly called them fat, as if that observational indictment means more than all those “I love you’s.” There’s always a former Miss Lonelyheart, a thirtysomething virgin who — after a gastric bypass or militant adherence to the Paleo diet — has shed half her body weight and is finally ready for Mr. Right. I’ve no doubt that they really do feel healthier and happier, and honestly (truly) good for them. I just wish that the entirety of their lives weren’t reduced to a single achievement.”
When I first read Bogart’s story, I had no intention of writing about it. I was just intrigued by the title. But afterwards, I kept thinking about it and how some of the themes seemed relevant to single life.
Single people, too, can be defined by their status. Other people assume that their not-married status is a problem, and sometimes offer to “fix them up.” They have a hard time believing that anyone could or would choose to be single. Some even have an investment in the single person’s life, and they actually get angry if they learn that you have chosen to be single.
There are many ways in which the single-stigma and the fat-stigma differ. If you are not persuaded that there are similarities that are enlightening, you may want to read Bogart’s essay anyway. It is insightful and beautifully written.
Woman enjoying a vista image available from Shutterstock.
This post currently has
You can read the comments or leave your own thoughts.
No trackbacks yet to this post.
Last reviewed: 2 Aug 2013