Obesity, insults, and living by your values

November 14, 2012 by Joshua
in Blog, Fitness

In a recent online discussion a guy talking about a tv show on morbidly obese people talked about people on the show disparagingly. He also said he used to be fat.

Other people took him to task and criticized him as insulting and rude.

I’m not sure I agree he was necessarily insulting and rude. For one thing, he later clarified he said what he did in part “to galvanise people into action and not blame their condition on nebulous causes.” To me, that intent meets the Golden Rule.

Maybe I’m revealing my ignorance and not that I say “you’re fat” to anyone, but I don’t see calling someone fat as insulting. If someone takes being called fat as an insult, I see it as their choice — one that insults themselves, and makes doing something about it harder.

Allow me to explain.

Two comparisons for context

I understand people in many places in the world dislike America. I understand within the U.S. many people dislike New York. Yet if anyone intending to insult me calls me American or a New Yorker, I won’t take it as an insult, no matter how much they intended to insult me. If anyone calls me a New Yorker as an insult, I’ll respond with something like “Damn straight I’m a New Yorker. I love this city and that’s why I live here.”

I have a friend who is fat. She likes eating food and dislikes exercising. She describes herself as fat. She kept in good shape for a long time until she met her boyfriend, who also likes eating and dislikes exercising. When they got together they agreed, in their terms, they “didn’t need to keep trying any more.”

Values

As I see it, she is living by her values. As with everyone, some of her values differ from mine, which doesn’t affect that we’re great friends. I respect her for living by her values the same as I respect everyone for living by their values.

She knows she’s living by her values. If you tried to insult her by calling her fat she’d say “Damn straight I’m fat. I love every bit of food I eat and that’s why I look like this.” As another example, thought I don’t know Mario Batali beyond just seeing a few pictures of him, big and nearly always smiling, and having eaten at a couple of his restaurants, I bet he would respond similarly.

A lot of people see being called fat as insulting. It seems to me it’s only insulting to someone who considers fatness bad, which clearly not everyone does. Leaving aside people with medical conditions that make it difficult or impossible to stay in shape (since the U.S. population’s obesity doubled in a couple generations, implying genetics didn’t cause the change, that includes tens or hundreds of millions of people just in the U.S.) and children not old enough to learn about nutrition and exercise on their own, there are hundreds of millions of people who could be fit but choose fattening behavior.

Questions

If someone says you’re fat and you take it as an insult, aren’t you the one saying fat is bad? No one can make me consider being a New Yorker insulting or living in New York bad.

If someone considers being fat bad and is fat because of their choices (not medical causes or being too young), what’s the problem with the word or speaker? Isn’t the their behavior the cause? Doesn’t focusing attention on the word or speaker distract from the cause and, therefore, solution?

If living by your values makes you fat, wouldn’t you say “Damn straight I’m fat. I love the food I eat and that’s why I look like this”?

If so, aren’t you highlighting that you aren’t living by your values?

If so, aren’t you making improvement difficult by deflecting attention from your choices to their words?

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