At the moment there is an expansive movement in the United States to change the agricultural-industrial complex, which has strangled the environment and us. America is fat, and getting fatter. The good thing however is that we are talking about why we are fat, as a nation, in structural terms and not simply personal-choice terms. The two are certainly related and I think both deserve attention. Looking at the external causes of why we are so fat, such as the prevalence of fast foods and processed foods, is helpful in understanding how easily people can become overweight. When you are surrounded by a sea of corn-based products, with added fat, salt, and stabilizers, it’s easy to see why the national waistline has been growing. A conversation has started about how the agricultural system is related to the national obesity epidemic. And this is a great thing.

However, what is not great is the equally nascent movement to be happy and proud of one’s body, even if you are overweight or obese. I must say that I feel quite ambivalent about this. Mental health & personal happiness = good. Obesity = bad. Fat people want to be respected and not stigmatized. While it is not right to make light of a problem someone struggles with, pushing towards acceptance is alarming to me. Yes, there are some people who have bodies that simply will not cooperate. Some people just have bad genetics. However, with the sheer number of overweight people in America, it’s a step backwards to have a simultaneous movement for wider acceptance of fat people. How can we work towards understanding the structural problems and personal choice mistakes in order to improve our national health when there is a parallel movement to justify and accept obesity?

For the majority of obese people, being fat reflects an imbalance. The most obvious imbalance is one in calories: you cannot be overweight unless you take in more calories than your body requires. While a glass of red wine has many useful health benefits, taking an extra three glasses a night will have consequences. Beyond this, many people slip into obesity because of an imbalance in their lives, such as happiness or friendship or having a driving passion. Obesity is an outcome from another imbalance. The caloric imbalance is also often compounded by a lack of exercise, which is a third imbalance added to the problem. Food is comfort, food is a crutch. To justify their fatness though simply obscures this imbalance. Is there a current movement to accept drug addicts or alcoholics? No. There has been a movement to understand their predicament as a deeper issue than simply personal choice, say genetics or growing up in a violent situation, but this understanding of how they might have arrived in such a situation is not acceptance of their behavior. It is an attempt to understand why, but the goal is still for them to correct and avoid drinking or snorting or shooting.

To simply say we must accept fat people for who they really are obscures the fact that they are living in an imbalanced fashion. Shouldn’t we also hope, and even ask, that they change their behavior? Everyone deserves respect, but I do not think we can slow the obesity epidemic in America if acceptance of weight problems means that people don’t seek to change their lifestyle, situation, and weight. A spare tire, like the disheveled appearance of a junkie, is a sign, it is a window into that person’s soul and shows that something is going on inside that needs work. If the message is that the body doesn’t need any work, it is going to be impossible to change the course of this obvious national problem.

I do not think fat people should be harangued or vilified or demonized. No, they have a problem which needs to be sorted out. Maybe it is as simple as finding a group of healthy friends. In some cases though, it is much deeper than that. Food can become an insulator against many other pains and people who have used food as a wall of protection likely need more help to sort out their imbalance. Some drug addicts have genetic problems that predispose them to their abuse. Some though simply slip into a bad lifestyle and before they know it, they’re addicted. Similarly, some obese people have genetic problems that lead to their weight problems. But, in America today the fact is that most obese people have simply slipped into a bad lifestyle and gain ten, then twenty, then fifty pounds before they know it. Yes, it is important to realize the structural issues that enable this decline (or expansion?). However, it is dangerous to promote acceptance and comfort in one’s own imbalanced body.

Many obese people are simply in a state of disharmony with their body, mind, and lifestyle. Their weight could be the result of a variety of factors, circumstances, and choices. But, I don’t think we can solve the national health epidemic of overweight and obese people if the efforts to address structural issues, and also personal choices, are obscured by the simultaneous message of being happy with who you are, no matter what you waistline. This gives the message that imbalance is okay. It’s not. It strangles the spirit and passion of the person. It also is not healthy for the nation, our economy, or the environment. Try wearing a weighted vest of fifty pounds around on a daily basis and see how it affects your happiness. Sure, some of the problems might arise from how others treat you. But, the purest reflection of the problem that extra weight causes is that it places a literal burden on you every minute of every day. How can anyone be truly happy when they continually have that burden to bear?