Does Fat Shaming Work? And Why Are We Fat, Anyhow?

I feel I have to address the comments Bill Maher made in his editorial segment at the end of his show on Friday. I’m certainly not the only one who will. I’m sure there will be many posts and articles in the coming days (which isn’t unusual for Bill). In my summary, Bill Maher argued for the use of shame to relieve the public of the negative health effects of being fat. He characterized shame as a useful tool to promote healthy behaviors in the same vain as smoking, drinking, and wearing a seat belt. Bill Maher has been frequently cited for his views on African Americans, Muslims, and gay and trans people… and Stan Lee. So this isn’t new. And he’s made discriminatory remarks about fat people many times before. Still, as someone who’s been fat most of their life, and spent a great deal of time studying how the media handles diet, weight, and health, I’m going to address issues that I see with his argument.

I think people who are addicted to smoking tobacco or drinking alcohol should not be shamed out of it. Like any addiction, there are neural, hormonal, behavioral, and socioeconomic factors that support smoking and drinking. From what I’ve read, shaming isn’t even the most effective way to change any behavior – not for children or for adults. People generally understand if their behaviors are harmful. They still feel compelled to do them anyway. Only if you address the factors supporting peoples’ addictions can they be free to “will” their way to new behaviors. Also, drinking in particular has a long grandfathered history in Western cultures, integrated into so many aspects of life. How are addicts supposed to fight THAT, exactly? …Even with the current science on how harmful drinking can be. More than that, food addiction and eating disorders are not the same because – and really, this doesn’t take much observational prowess to point out – you chemically MUST eat, practically every single day, for the rest of your life. If you want to stop smoking or drinking, ideally you would aim for abstinence because you would want to mitigate the temptation to overdo it, and to eliminate any other opportunities to do further damage to your body than you already have. But what if you were told you needed to drink an alcoholic beverage every single day – forever – but any more will hasten your death?

I do agree with the premise that corporations are greedy and manipulate us into behaviors that hurt us in order to increase their profits. We should have the choice about how we want our bodies to look and whether we eat more healthfully. Right now, we don’t have that choice. Sugars are addictive, the liver doesn’t process fructose very well, vegetables are relatively expensive, and people don’t have cultural allowances for homemade meals. Exercise isn’t seamlessly integrated into everyday life for many people – instead, it’s optional, and it’s up to each person individually to figure out how they can do it. This is… a pain in the ass. Scientists estimate that at least 70% of people have enough abdominal fat to affect health outcomes. That’s got to be a larger pool of folks than people who have eating disorders. For many people, fat is something that just kind of… happens. And a lot of them aren’t even noticeably fat. Shame certainly isn’t going to reach these people, and it shouldn’t. Easy access to unhealthy food, and rituals designed around it, are definitely part of why people less healthy than they could be. But holding people individually accountable to eating better is incredibly difficult in this context, and it’s only one contributor to why people get fat. And let’s say you can get people who are already experiencing poorer health from being fat, or from having an eating disorder, to adopt healthier eating and exercise habits. Their bodies will still never behave as if they hadn’t had an unhealthier experience, what with the changes to the reward system of the brain, the hormone ghrelin, and increased fat cell count and long-term lowering of metabolism in some cases. Does fixing “bad” eating habits change all of this? Will they never need to cross paths with food advertising, restaurants, or catered events? We do not have the tools (yet) to effectively treat the entire body for the adverse effects of getting fat. But we can invest in changing the infrastructure that supports the lack of food choice and exercise opportunities. And all the while, let’s not shame people anymore.

I’ll post references when I get around to it. In the meantime, I’m exhausted. I could go for some cookies and some bread. And like, also a danish.

I’m Not Too Hot About The City

This city is a joke, and the joke’s on me. Party people throughout the building. Tourists and shoppers on the weekend.  Cars and motorcycles screaming by at night, and buses by day. The people are squeezed, and public services have no funding. Can the police help me? Can the bus company help me? I barely got food assistance and I had to appeal my disability. Are these people really going to do anything to protect MY interests?

City life here is nightmarish. The arts are held hostage by a cage of homelessness, gun violence, and public health hazards. And there sure are hazards – potholes, screaming vehicles, construction sites, just to name a few. I’m supposed to appreciate the history? The affluence? The neighborhood charms? Give me a break. Why the rich choose to live here is beyond me. Cafes are quaint, but they’re loud and cramped. Public transportation is gross, loud, and unreliable. Parking is expensive and quite a maneuver to pull off. Clothing stores are here, but they’re for small people with money. I’m neither of these things. The highways and bridges are oddly designed and require experience just to survive without hitting anyone, and then when you do, all you have to look forward to is traffic and aggressive drivers. I feel bad that I may never enjoy the museums and the theaters, the galleries and the schools. This place sells itself as a furnace of learning and creativity, but all I’ve seen in the four years I’ve lived here are social inequalities and bombastic, disruptive events. The biggest benefit I’ve gotten for living in this city has been the access to good healthcare and psychotherapy, but I think it only serves to mitigate the damage from living here. I’ve never had a job and I’m terrified of committing myself to new people and new situations, but I have to get out of here.

Going To The Theater is Hard

There are at least 3 draws to going to the theater that I can see, and I seem to have problem with each of them.

  1. The history. When you go to the theater, you’re taking part in the history of live performance as well as the design of the theater itself. You’re part of a tradition but perhaps more important, you can step into the past and experience something that others before you have experienced. You have the chance to see through their eyes and to sit where they sat. It’s all the more impressive if you know figures in history that have visited the theater or been on stage. For me though, “history” is code for “outdated” or “dangerous.” The seats are too small for me, it hurt to twist my body to see the stage, and it’s a germ hazard. I have no romance for the experience of those who came before me if new technologies render these hazards unnecessary.
  2. The collective. The theater experience is a group effort, where people from diverse backgrounds have an opportunity to convene, cooperate, and enjoy an experience they can share with each other. For me, this is harrowing. We all have different physical and emotional needs and it’s difficult to compromise by sitting next to many strangers and following directions from theater personnel. Also, you’re deferent to market forces when it comes to the loudness of the speakers. For example, I’ve been to a small theater where the noise from the seats would often go above 100 dB, and when I asked the technician about it, they said that people really like it (and in this theater, BYOB is allowed). Besides my hearing issues, this is proven to be a dangerous level of sound. I’m in danger because the theater has to sell enough tickets to keep afloat, and to do that, they have to give the masses what they want. No amount of imagined camaraderie could grant me enough deindividuation to ignore the discomfort and danger I’m exposed to.
  3. The aesthetic. In a large, ornate theater, the architecture is often impressive. The set design and the costumes can be rich and ingenious. When it comes to musicals in particular, you can hear live voice, dance, and an orchestra. You can be dazzled and surprised by all the sights and sounds. While I admit that there is a quality to this experience that is not replicable by viewing media at home, I’m an investigative person and I like understanding how things work. Often when I’m at a show, unless I’ve studied the aspects of the craft beforehand, I feel assaulted by the experience someone else wants to give me, with little context as to how it came together and why the members of the production made their creative choices. These questions bounce around in my mind and I’m usually unable to take in the sensations, or even follow the plot or the dialogue.

But wait! I forgot to mention how theatergoing is divorced from its historical context. I live in the city, so if I go to a show it’s typically in a busy downtown area. The obnoxious street noises alone makes getting there and waiting outside an extremely miserable ordeal. These theaters were built many decades ago, before highways and sometimes even the automobile. When I go to the theater, I feel like I’m part of a forced nostalgia where I have to experience the inconvenience of the old without being able to escape the nuisances of modern life. Sorry, but pass.

The Trap of Perfectionism

Is it more of a lie to go into a social setting or try a new skill while feeling broken and damaged? Or is it more of a lie to deny yourself an opportunity to be who you are even on days where you feel hurt or scared? My entire life I’ve a put a moratorium on taking risks and expressing myself because I’m afraid and embarrassed about either my body or my perceived lack of knowledge on a subject. I like to be right. I like to feel in control. And the worst part is that I would rather make up a story that there’s something terribly wrong with my health than sit in a state of uncertainty. I fill in the gaps, and more often than not, I fill those gaps with negative assumptions. But in my quest for authenticity, I am confronted with the fact that I am deliberately silencing myself because I want things to look correct. It’s black-and-white thinking. If your eyes hurt, don’t look at things. If your ears hurt, don’t listen to things. If your feet hurt, don’t walk. If your voice hurts, don’t speak. And I believe these thoughts – they feel rational. I feel like, if I’m injured, you’re not seeing the real me. You’re seeing a lie. But life is more complicated than that. It’s healthy to reaffirm your love for your hobbies and for the people close to you by indulging them and being present, even when you feel like you’re not your best. Some injuries don’t heal unless you exercise that part of your body. Long-term plans require short-term sacrifices. The intersection of your passion and your circumstances results in new experiences, and maybe that’s something I should learn to appreciate better.

Studying Neurodiversity

The hope, when it comes to investigating people’s differences, is to: a) better accommodate and integrate them into a more inclusive and diverse system, or b) give a reason to extricate people from the system and absolve them of responsibility to that system. There are good reasons to assume that no social system can ever be good for the individual – they could be ignorant, oppressive, and presumptuous by design. Social systems may necessarily benefit some members at the expense of others, fostering greater inequality than there would be in the absence of such systems. Libertarians may argue that, even with good intentions, accidental harm done by society to individuals is more unethical than allowing individuals to suffer without intervention.

Naruto – Goals and Philosophy

Naruto is driven less by a need for glory than a desire to be accepted. He works diligently and learns as much as he can about his world so he can make as many connections as possible. He is very sympathetic toward people who feel alone. Naruto strives to convince others that unity can overcome any suffering. He derives his power from the connections he makes with others, through senjutsu, his relationships with the tailed beasts, and his relationships with his friends. He is stubborn and hyper-focused on his goals. He is so possessive of his bonds with others that he will chase people down and sacrifice his body, especially for Sasuke. Besides unity, Naruto focuses on the future rather than the past, and is more existentialist than essentialist. He believes that everyone has the power to choose who they want to be, and that no matter what mistakes you’ve made in the past, there’s always a way to change yourself. As such, Naruto doesn’t accept fatalist or essentialist logic as excuses for not changing, leading to clashes with such people as Neji, Gaara, and Obito. Despite his parents’ death and the deaths of mentors and friends, Naruto shoulders the memory of the people he’s lost and goes on to foster new relationships

Sasuke focuses more on the past, and is more essentialist in nature. From the beginning of the story, Sasuke falls back on his innate Uchiha abilities and prides himself on his heritage. He is so distraught by the pain of losing his family that revenge becomes more important to him than protecting the bonds of the friends and mentors he’s come to know. Like most other Uchiha, Sasuke tries to take everything on himself without acknowledging anyone else. This escalates to the point that he would rather appoint himself dictator who oppresses everyone equally than strive for cooperation on an even footing. Obito, Itachi, and Madara are also examples of Uchiha who tried to take on too much by themselves.  

My Resolution

My name is Nicholas – “Niko” and “Nick” to those closest to me, who have witnessed my struggles and endured them alongside me in one form or another, I assume, because they were relieved with what I had to offer more than they felt frustrated, saddened, or scared whenever I’m around. These people include my mom; my sister; my childhood friend; my grandmothers; the multitude of physicians, mental health workers, and counselors who have worked with me; and the few teachers I’ve had who believed in me. I have also been forced to work with people who made coping with life much, much worse – people who found me overly inquisitive, needlessly defiant, self-centered, and hypersensitive – namely school administrators, teachers, and my dad, who was ill and abusive for most of the 16 years I experienced him before he died. The rigidity, ignorance, and duplicitousness of these people made my need to be around the people I like and trust that much more important.

I find my obsessive need for certainty to be the biggest challenge of my life. I regret most that I have always tended to retreat from new opportunities because I wanted to control how I felt during new experiences. I regret that I judge my experiences as “less than” and that I don’t appreciate being able to tackle problems when I’m not feeling well. I feel like I close myself off from the possibility of having unexpected positive experiences, instead deriving pleasure only from the occasional satisfaction of controlling for multiple disturbances from the outside world that I know cause me distress. Even that is a hollow victory.

Even still I might most regret the long swaths of time in between actually documenting and re-conceptualizing my emotional reality without judgment – that is, expressing myself. For me, what should feel like catharsis is at least initially preceded by a devastating feeling of immense defeat. But I must admit that I’m probably programmed to describe and evaluate life rather than fix it. It’s not what I want, but it’s what I am.

Human society is a giant disaster. Outside of the arts, human beings are denied the dignity of access to knowledge about human history and perspectives on the human experience. What does it mean to be human? What can humans hope to achieve, individually and collectively? Who has power and why? Are identities fixed or mutable, and how does that affect our concept of justice? Why do humans bicker about choices they can only make within a world they didn’t design? Why aren’t more people frustrated about their lack of say in that design? Every technological innovation is context dependent – made to solve certain problems for certain people. The written word was designed to manage taxes and other financial transactions in ancient Sumer. Canned goods were mass-produced to support soldiers overseas during World War II. We take all these inventions for granted. They’re embedded in our culture, and our identities. We’ve coopted technologies to solve problems they weren’t meant to solve and made them so widespread that opting out is practically impossible. I think people ought to have a choice. If someone gets hurt experimenting with a new transportation technology, it’s unfortunate. If someone gets into a car accident because they had to learn how to drive, choose from a list of cars, choose from a list of roads, and choose from a list of jobs they don’t want to do because they have to make money to survive, then I would consider this to be an absurd, grossly unfair violation of people’s liberties.

There are still other examples. Many people have to ride the subway to work, and in addition to threats from other people, riders are subjected to the risk of hearing loss from dangerously high noise levels. Technologies people use to attempt to mask street noise, like listening to music over earbuds, only make the damage worse. If people were more aware of the damage they’re experiencing and the positive experiences they could enjoy in the future if they conserved their senses, I would hope that they would be very angry about the current state of affairs and demand a change, and hold the right people accountable. Accountable parties include the State, whose outdated statutes, slow bureaucracies, and corrupt symbiosis with corporate lobbies trap people in endless irritation, boredom, and anxiety; and the corporations, who take advantage of this ennui with the mass marketing of entertainment, fashion, gadgets, supplements, and services that distract us without solving our underlying problems, often while exacerbating them.

I’m 27 years old and I suffer from many health conditions – Asperger’s, OCD, depression, a lifelong food addiction, social anxiety, panic attacks, sciatic pain, TMJ dysfunction, and just this year, hearing sensitivity and tinnitus.  I’m passionate about sketch and stand-up comedy, voice acting, and animation. I’ve drawn all my life and I’ve been journaling in some form or another for almost as long. My favorite music is new wave and EDM, and I’ve also enjoyed Europop, disco, and funk. I derive strength, excitement, and wonder from orchestral cinematic scores in films and video games as well as chiptune music, which I enjoy playing on the Yamaha keyboard I’ve had since I was 15. I like to eat healthy whenever I can and I enjoy eating and cooking Mediterranean and Japanese foods. I like to dance even though I’m rarely in the mood. I like learning new things about world history, psychology, languages, and of course the arts. Honestly I’ve been depressed for so long that I’ve forgotten how happy these things have made me – and how happy I hope I can still be in the future. I enjoy communicating what I learn with people around me every chance I get. I get the most joy from teaching people new things and from making people laugh. While I am scared and embarrassed about my changing body, it doesn’t change the main obligation I have to myself: to express how I feel. In the past two years I made two big achievements: I came out as gay, and I went back to school to finish undergrad. I wouldn’t have been able to do these things without my mom and my sister’s support. I’m writing this now because my ear problems are getting worse and I feel panicked and confused. Sounds hurt so much and I’m having balancing trouble, and I’m afraid I’m never going to enjoy life again. So before I completely lose all hope and all perspective, I wanted to write this reflection, but also a resolution. I resolve to stay alive as long as I can so I can write and perform like the people I’ve always admired, and to take a crack at addressing the problems in society that keep us from creating our world and changing ourselves. And I hope to help the people I care about to feel not so alone.

Thanks for reading.