Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happiness, Determinism, and HUGE

The new ABC Family show Huge has been getting lots of press lately. The show focuses on a group of teens at a weight-loss camp, and it serves as the first show with a predominantly overweight (actually obese) cast. But what kind of messages will it send about body image, self-acceptance, and health?

Many people are worried that the show will reinforce stereotypes of fat people (that word is a choice, BTW. I don't think we need to use euphemisms for fat). And it certainly is replete with stereotypes, as are most TV shows and movies.

The question usually boils down to whether we should accept ourselves if we're fat or whether we should try and lose weight. But I don't know why people feel the need to take one side or the other.

The real problem I have with the self-acceptance and fat pride movement is the all-too-frequent accompanying message that you will always be fat, there's nothing you can do about it, so just get used to it and accept it. I think that's plain wrong. I've met SO many people who think they are destined to a life of obesity and then diabetes and heart disease because it "runs in their family." Well maybe those diseases run in your family because your family members all engage in the same unhealthy habits.

I think we should accept and be happy with ourselves by not letting our weight dictate who we are. Your weight does not determine whether you are a good or bad person. And you shouldn't wait to live your life until you reach some goal weight - go out and date, pursue your career, and be happy. And focus on your health at the same time. But don't fall into the trap of determinism that says that you have to accept your body because you cannot change it. You can. And even if certain lifestyle diseases do run in your family, you can fight your predisposition. In my family history, if you smoke, you die. So I don't smoke (for many other reasons, too). If in your family you get heart disease and diabetes after years of meat, dairy, and refined carbohydrates (and that's true for most everyone), then change your life! And not because you feel bad about yourself or you're a bad person. Change your life because it will make you happier in the long run.

I was just reading about a recent happiness study that said that short-term pleasures don't raise your happiness level, and the only thing that has a real effect is long-term pain and illness. So that means when people say "live a little" and eat a cupcake, they're actually encouraging you to sacrifice your happiness. Health nuts who love steamed vegetables really do derive as much pleasure from them as cake-lovers do from cake, and you can train yourself to love different foods. One thing the study found is that you will love what you eat when you are famished. So when you're super hungry, reach for vegetables instead of candy and start changing your preferences!

There are so many caveats I could list here - I'm not saying that we should never eat cake again or that all fat people are unhappy. But I am saying that when you live a healthy lifestyle, you will be happier in general and in the long run. Unhealthy habits like smoking and eating fatty food don't mean that you're enjoying your life more, and especially not when those habits start to deteriorate your health in a few decades. Sometimes your habits will kill you and some will just make you a prisoner in a useless body. You will deprive yourself of years with your children and grandchildren. So I can't support any movement that says that it's OK to be obese and that you will always be that way. You can change your life and your health, and the longer you do it the easier it becomes.

I could keep on this topic for quite a while, and maybe I'll revisit it more later.

And because I KNOW that giveaways make everyone happy, Kristen over at Kristen's Raw is having a great giveaway of her e-books. All you have to do is leave her a comment with your best parenting advice, because she just had a new baby!


  1. I really enjoyed your post today, Erika. You are full of healthy insight, and I appreciate that you can express empathy and realism in the same essay. I have found that you are so right on about retraining yourself to crave new flavors. I was grocery shopping with a friend yesterday and saw a line of bars on sale and she asked me why I didn't pick up any of the chocolate ones. It was weird, but I realized at that moment that I don't really like chocolate as a flavor as much as I do all the fruit flavors now that I've been vegan for 18 months. I crave apples and berries, whereas I used to make myself eat them "to be good" and "treat myself" to cookies or cake. Now my favorite thing in the world is a berry smoothie -- wow, I love them!! A variety of fruits with some berries and some ice and almond milk. Total dessert (or lunch!). Thanks for all the healthy inspiration. As always. :)

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