Saturday, January 14, 2006

Fat People

I didn't write anything last week for the same reason I wasn't planning on writing anything this week: It seemed like I was spending too much time every week writing something that no one would ever read. But in the last couple of days, two people mentioned that they hadn't seen anything new in my blog for a while.

Two people isn't a lot of people, of course, but according to the million-to-one principle, for every person who takes the time to do something (like writing a letter to the editor, contacting a congressman, etc.), there are a million other people who thought about it, but for one reason or another just never got around to doing it. So if two people took the time to tell me they noticed that I hadn't written anything recently, it means that about two million people actually noticed it. The fact that I personally know each of the two people who contacted me (and am directly related to one of them) is probably irrelevant.

I read a news story about an interesting survey the other day. People were asked if they found overweight people unattractive, and a much lower percentage answered "yes" than when the same survey was taken sometime in the '80s or '90s. The article went on to say that since two thirds of the American population is overweight, the survey results aren't particularly surprising, since most of the people who took the survey were probably overweight.

Granted, there are a lot of fat people in this country, but I doubt if the fat people really outnumber everyone else two-to-one. It depends on how they determine who's overweight and who isn't. The BMI (Body Mass Index) has been used a lot in the past few years, even though it doesn't distinguish between a 200-pound bodybuilder and a 200-pound slob. So it can be misleading, but I wouldn't be surprised if that's how they arrived at the two thirds number. And I'd also like to know how many people they weighed to arrive at this percentage. I don't recall anyone ever weighing me, for example.

Anyway, regardless of the actual percentage, you do see a lot of fat people these days. And there are a lot more you don't see because they're too fat to get through the door, so they have to stay inside all day. This is unfortunate, but it dovetails very nicely into what I was planning on writing about a few weeks ago.

What I've observed lately is that our perceptions and attitudes about fat people have changed a lot in the last few decades. And just to be clear, I'm not talking about the people who could stand to lose a little weight, and I'm not talking about the morbidly obese people who need bariatric surgery. I'm talking about everyday run-of-the-mill fat people.

As we all know, what we consider the ideal body is pretty arbitrary. In some parts of the world, corpulence is admired and in other parts it's ridiculed. And the Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens liked to paint women who were chubby and plump so much that someone even coined the term "Rubenesque" to describe pleasingly plump women. That was 400 years ago, so you might expect body perception to have changed a lot since then -- and it has -- but things have changed a lot even in the last forty years.

Forty years ago, we still thought that being thin was better than being fat, but we weren't particularly obsessed with the idea. As a matter of fact, when fashion model Twiggy was introduced in the '60s, most people thought she was too skinny to be pretty, and her success was pretty much due to the fact that she was sort of a novelty. But now, a lot of very famous "supermodels" are about as skinny as Twiggy was, and nobody thinks anything of it.

A couple of decades later, it wasn't enough just to be thin -- you also had to be fit. That was in the '80s, when everyone spent all their free time at the gym.

Today, of course, we still idolize the thin and fit look. A lot of people are still desperate to be as thin as they can be, which isn't particularly healthy and is usually motivated by some pathologically misguided notion of physiological minimalism. This is more common in women than in men, but that's only because our culture tends to care about what women look like and not really care much about men.

Unfortunately, that's changing, and now men are going to plastic surgeons almost as much as women. They're becoming just as desperate to get liposuction treatments, implants, and other surgical procedures such as face lifts, "tummy tucks," and whatever else the doctors can invent and create a market for.

I think this is one of the stupidest things you can do to your body. (It's also not fair to those of us who manage to stay physically fit and good-looking without surgery, but that's an entirely different matter.)

To illustrate what I mean, here's a message to women who think that getting breast augmentation surgery will make them more sexually attractive to men. I don't think any man in the world has ever thought anything like this about a woman: "She's pretty, and she's intelligent, and she has a really nice personality. We get along so well together, and I know she wants to sleep with me, but her breasts are sort of small, so I think I'm going to pass."

Of course, a lot of women will counter by saying they want the surgery not to become more attractive to men, but to increase their self-esteem. My question to these women is, "Does it really make you feel better about yourself knowing you've got a couple of saline bags buried in your chest?"

As I mentioned a second ago, augmentation surgery is no longer exclusively for women. Men are getting chin implants, calf implants, pectoral implants, and even penile implants. And they're doing it for the same reasons as women: They want to be more attractive to the opposite sex, or they want to boost their self-esteem. My message to any man considering such a procedure is, "Don't be an idiot."

With the dramatic increase in plastic surgery, it might seem like we're even more obsessed with being thin and fit today than we were in the past, but if we are, I think there's an emerging backlash: For every artificially-enhanced man or woman you see, you can probably find a dozen or more fat people who not only aren't ashamed of their weight -- they actually seem to be proud of it.

And that's what I mean when I say our perceptions and attitudes about fat people have changed. By way of contrast, when I was in elementary school, there was really only one fat girl. She was so unusual because of her weight that everyone in the entire school constantly made fun of her. There was even a drinking fountain that she reputedly once drank from, and if anyone ever saw you drinking from that fountain, you'd be made fun of almost as much as she was. I didn't know her personally, since she wasn't in my grade, but today -- more than forty years later -- I still remember her name. And I don't remember the names of any of my actual friends from elementary school.

Of course, if that same girl were in elementary school today, you wouldn't even notice her, since she was probably no fatter than half the kids are today.

But I mentioned earlier that there's an emerging backlash of fat people calling attention to their obesity. You've probably noticed it as well. I've seen billboards advertising radio shows hosted by fat DJs, for example. They go by names like Fat Somebody or Big Somebody, and their photographs show that they truly are big and fat. I think it's fine not to be ashamed of your weight, but advertising how fat you are and being proud of it is just as ridiculous as wanting to be unnaturally thin.

Recently I saw a documentary on cable about four comedians on a week-long tour. You'd think a documentary about comedians would manage to be funny at times, but unfortunately this wasn't the case. It was actually pretty boring, but what struck me was that three of the comedians were overweight, and at one point on the tour -- presumably to keep themselves amused -- they stopped the bus, got outside, and ran around with their shirts off, deliberately calling attention their round overhanging bellies.

So fat people are proud to be fat. And ugly people are proud to be ugly. And stupid are proud to be stupid. And this may be one of the reasons our civilization is in decline.

By the way, the fourth comedian on the tour was on the thin side and also happened to be the only female comedian. She, of course, never removed her shirt. I think the documentary would have been a lot more interesting if the three guys had stayed inside the bus and kept their shirts on while she ran around naked from the waist up instead.

I don't know if I've successfully made the point I intended to make, but to wrap things up, I'll just say that there's no reason to be proud if you're fat, just as there's no reason to be obsessed with losing a lot of weight. Being too thin isn't healthy and neither is being too fat. It's best to be like me: muscular and fit and good-looking.

The one exception, of course, is if you happen to be traveling with a group of people and you find yourselves lost in the middle of nowhere with no hope for survival unless you resort to cannibalism. In this case, it's best if the person you eat is big and fat, not only because such a person will provide your group with more meat, but because the higher fat content will also make the meat more tasty.

And there you have it. I realize that today's little essay is a bit long and rambling, but as I mentioned in the very first sentence, I wasn't even planning on writing anything this week. So if you want me to keep writing, you should be prepared for the occasional hastily-written and meandering post. That goes for all two million of you.