“Does this mirror make me look fat?”
Body image and weight are extremely controversial subjects. On the one side we have a fashion and entertainment industry that feels that even celebrities, professional full-time good-lookers, need improvement. On the other side we have a vicious pushback against the prevailing body image ideal, encouraging people (women in particular, as is always the case) to love their shapes.
Now, I believe that today’s prevailing body image is a little warped, and I’m strongly against retouching models to create an artificial, unrealistic standard of beauty. But I’m going to have to come out against the “fat pride” movement here, for a few reasons:
The “fat is beautiful” body image is the one that’s warped. Fat has been a luxury throughout most of human history. The average person could hope to have enough food to survive, maybe even live healthily. Today’s widespread obesity in the first world is an aberration caused by the availability of cheap food in abundance, the prevalence of unhealthy food in larger-than-life portions, and sedentary lifestyles with little-to-no physical activity. Being fat is as unnatural as being rail-thin like the much-derided size 0 models.
Fat equals unfit and unhealthy. Comparing body image isn’t just a question of aesthetics. A fat-celebrating ideal is objectively inferior because it promotes an unhealthy and incapable lifestyle. Now, there are healthy, fit people with love handles. I’m not talking about that at all; that’s just another shape of fit. I’m talking about having a shape that inhibits health and fitness, and that includes being too thin. Whatever shape we strive for should be healthy and in good physical shape.
Being fat is indicative of a character flaw. Pro-fat advocates often to paint an overweight body as “just the way I am,” and play the persecution card when criticized or made to feel less than ideal. Being fat isn’t a birth shape. It’s a choice, one that reveals a character flaw. Lest we forget, gluttony is one of the Seven Deadly Sins, conceived far before obesity became a widespread phenomenon. An inflated physical shape can reveal a lack of discipline, self-control, and self-respect, or deeper issues such as eating as a form of escapism from past trauma or daily struggles. Judging someone based solely on what’s on the inside is perfectly fine. Let’s just not forget that the outside can reflect the inside, and some outside symptoms can only exist if something inside is amiss.
Ideals are by definition outside the mainstream. A common complaint is that models don’t represent normal people. While I would like to see a greater range of shapes and sizes reflected by fashion models, I’m fine with them looking like something outside of what’s normal. That’s the point. Models represent an ideal, an ultimate goal to strive for, and forcing them to look like the average person removes the goal. One way or another, human society will esteem certain people as more attractive than others, whether or not it’s politically correct to do so publicly and openly. We should makes sure our ideal is a noble and healthy one, not try to dismantle the concept of an ideal altogether.
Now that I’ve risked coming off as a hater of the average person who has never had to deal with the real-world problems and insecurities plaguing the overweight, I should probably come clean and mention my struggle. Ever since I was a small child I’ve been overweight and out of shape. Part of it was due to a slow metabolism and a body that matured much later in life than the average person, but most of it was the simple, hard truth that I ate too much and exercised too little. I’ve struggled with my weight for decades. Been called cruel nicknames, the worst of them being Jabba the Hutt. Felt like a total failure for being unable to succeed at any sport. Lost a romantic partner of many years. After crying myself to sleep over it one too many times, I decided to change that. Now I’m finally in good shape, but my daily struggle isn’t over. It never will be. But it’s one that needs to happen. One must always struggle against one’s failings. Not celebrate them, and expect the world to join in the great lie that being fat is good.
Beauty comes in all different shapes and sizes. Society may have overreacted to the obesity crisis by worshipping unnaturally-thin models, but it is readjusting now. We as a society need role models to look up to and aspire to imitate in every area of life, and physical fitness is no exception. Naturally, we should always scrutinize this ideal and make sure that it is worthy of imitation. But we should never seek to destroy it when we fail to live up to its standards, even if it causes us to feel less than ideal from time to time. After all, is recognizing our flaws always a bad thing?