Dear Ms. Novick:
There once was a time when I sincerely believed that I was open-minded regarding people who are overweight. I now know that I am not, and can never be, open-minded on the issue, and accordingly, make no such pretensions. I do not expect this missive to gain me any popularity, but certain things must be said, so I will say them.
Please do not get me wrong − it is highly appropriate, desirable and commendable to take pains to avoid hurting other person’s feelings. But if, indeed, one cannot even so much as allude to the issue of weight when conversing with a fat person, what then might induce fat people to take responsibility for the effects of their physical conditions upon other people? The answer, in a word, is “nothing!”
The social taboo against even mentioning the issue of weight serves to facilitate fat persons’ irresponsibility and unaccountability for their weight.
And so, the obesity epidemic is driving up health insurance costs which individuals and employers must pay.
On a more individual level, if I cannot even obliquely mention weight, how am I to deal with the obese woman sitting next to me on the airplane, whose flab protrudes out into my own seat so I cannot comfortable sit in it? Which wouldn’t be so bad, except that it’s a night flight, and the cabin lights have been switched off, but I cannot stay up and read because her obese belly obstructs the reading light?
And then there is the problem of the person in the back seat of my car, who is too fat to buckle him/herself into the seatbelt. If he/she doesn’t buckle up, then, in the event of a crash, he/she becomes a projectile in motion (and a very heavy one, at that), which would crash into the front seat occupants (including me) and cause grievous if not lethal damage. If I ask him/her to buckle up, he/she is forced to implicitly or explicitly say that he/she cannot reach the seat belts because of her body bulk. If I offer to help him/her buckle up the seatbelt, then that, too, indirectly implicates his/her weight (which, according to Novick, is a hurtful form of bullying).
And what of our Rosh Hashanah houseguest who was too fat to take care of her own personal hygiene? Where is the responsibility and accountability? There was none!
And then, there is the issue of stealth snacking. I know of no scientific study on the matter, but it seems that a significant percentage if not a majority (or even a totality) of fat people nosh on candy or other munchies at times other than meal time; moreover, there often is a secret candy stash in places such as automobiles, bedrooms, offices, etc. If the noshing is done “unofficially” at times other than meal times, then, somehow, it doesn’t figure into the fat person’s calculus of his or her calorie intake. If we so much as mention this, we are being hurtful bullies, but if we don’t mention it, then we are being facilitators.
In our effort to spare the feelings of the obese among us, we have become facilitators of their irresponsibility. So maybe there is some merit to harassing, singling out, hounding, maltreating, tormenting and discriminating against fat people. At least it just might induce them to take responsibility for what their bodies do to the rest of us. Trying to humor the fatsos has failed miserably!
You quite likely will disagree with the foregoing perspective. There is an excellent chance that you will be alienated by it, and you might even have negative feelings towards me personally on account of it. Nevertheless, the issues of responsibility and accountability must be part of the dialogue on acceptance of obese people. The problem is you seemingly would have the matter of weight never mentioned at all. And that means no dialogue at all!
My response next week
You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org