Jennifer has been interested in what makes people tick as long as she can remember. After stints in show business (professional extra, story analyst, writer’s assistant, script typist) and publishing (D.C. Comics), she found her way to the field of psychology, where she earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology at CSPP-LA. Her favorite things are people’s stories, real or fictional, which is why she loves books, movies and good stand-up comedy.
Jennifer blogs about weight issues at Weight Minding.
Human beings pride themselves on their ability to think. We think we’re the smartest animals on the planet. We probably are, but what a lot of people don’t notice is that thinking can really be a handicap sometimes. For instance, a lot of Eastern philosophy includes the concept of being in the moment, without regretting the past or anxiously anticipating the future. Most other animals do that all the time, without any philosophy at all. Your dog isn’t worrying about tomorrow’s dinner or yesterday’s fight with a neighbor dog; she’s just here in the moment: “what happens NOW?” Meanwhile, just try to forget that hostile exchange at work, the embarrassing moment at the gym, or your upcoming trip to Europe.
There’s also the problem of overthinking. Every encounter with another person or group gets assessed. We make lightning-quick judgments thousands of times a day about people we know, servers at restaurants, customer service representatives, the way we represent ourselves… even the flow of traffic. Have you ever been stuck in your car during rush hour and noticed that every lane but yours seems to be moving? How about participating in a group conversation where everyone seems to have a chance to talk but you? How about when that hottie in line starts talking to you? In all these situations there’s a good chance you’re overthinking: everyone gets stuck in the one non-moving lane occasionally; some people are more adept or more aggressive than others about jumping into a conversation; and that hottie in line could be interested in you or just bored and tired of waiting silently.
There are lots of times when we’re not doing ourselves any good by using our brains. We make faulty assessments, both negative and positive, we drive ourselves nuts anticipating problems that never happen and we waste time feeling bad about the past. Sometimes the more intelligent someone is, the more fucked up s/he is as well, since a lot of smart people cling to their intelligence as a sign that they’re valuable, while failing to develop the well-rounded life skills that make for a really fulfilling existence.
Thinking is all very well, in its place, but don’t overestimate it.
The terms overweight and obese are familiar. They both signify too fat, with overweight being conditional: too fat, but not hideously so, whereas obese means oh my god! I have a problem with this. I acknowledge that being heavy is a social no-no, in spite of the fact that 67% of the U.S. is considered to be at least overweight. I acknowledge that bodies that don’t conform to the mold of thin and/or fit are looked at as signs that the people living in them are clearly defective in morals, deficient in understanding and miserably poor at willpower. I acknowledge that a lot of people think these things, although I know they are wrong.
We have come to a point in our scientific knowledge where the origins of our obsession with weight, and the resulting increase in body size are becoming very clear. It is also becoming clear that being fat, unlike dieting, is not an automatic health risk. We aren’t yet at a point where everyone knows this, the way everyone “knows” that being fat is bad for your health, but we will be, and probably pretty soon. One of the problems that slows us up is language: overweight and obese. Over what weight? And what exactly qualifies as obese? These words are used in two ways: medically and socially. In medicine, it is helpful, sometimes crucial to know someone’s weight when determining how much medicine, anesthesia or blood to give them. This has nothing to do with their qualities as a human being. Socially, overweight and obesity tell us how defective someone is: the overweight woman or man is imperfect, but not too bad, while the obese woman or man is worthless, at least physically.
If you’re not sure whether I’m being ironic, I am and I’m not. I do not believe that you can weigh someone’s worth by their body size, but I do believe that many people do. And here’s the point: if we are going to change the world’s view on fat (which definitely needs to happen), we need to find other ways of speaking about it. I know people can’t flip their thinking easily or quickly most of the time, but this is an area where change needs to happen, and the sooner the better. The country as a whole didn’t start getting fatter until people began panicking about their weight. Once fat became the boogeyman, a lot of healthy people needlessly began to try to lose weight and started a health-wrecking, weight-gaining pattern of yo-yo dieting.
If you really want people to lose weight, stop blaming them, stop shaming them, stop butting in with your unwanted opinions and do something useful: find a descriptor for body size that isn’t pejorative. Maybe something like small, medium, large and extra-large, like drink sizes. It’s still subjective: one person’s small might be another person’s large, but it’s less specific about describing amount of fat: large or extra-large could as easily refer to a muscular person as a fat person. Imagine: Melissa McCarthy and Arnold Schwarzenegger, both called large!