Fat, Unpublished, and Nearly Hopeless
Two of those statements are true and one is just hyperbolic clickbait.
I am fat. I am unpublished. But this post has more to do with the first statement than the latter. So why am I writing about being fat? Well, it’s something odd that has come up in my reading and in my interactions with the internet over the last few weeks and I felt like it was time to weigh in on my perception of the concept of obesity within culture and specifically within the writing world.
So first up, let me give you some hard numbers. And no, not obesity statistics. Instead, let me tell you about myself. I am currently six feet, five inches tall. I weigh, as of this writing, 269lbs. I have weighed, at my peak, 377lbs. That was August of 2010. I spent the balance of 2010 and the first part of 2011 dropping from 377 to 282. I then spent from 2011-2015 sitting on that plateau. My BMI began at 44.7, Morbidly Obese. It went down to 33.44 which is considered Obese. If you do the calculation that takes into account my height, my what they call my “New BMI” is 29.65 which is just considered Overweight (hurrah!). So I say all that to say this: I am certifiably fat. I am at less risk of dropping dead than I was, but I still have a ways to go on my journey.
And I write all that and am owning all of that because I have seen the internet become increasingly polemic with regard to weight. Some of you are probably saying, “No duh,” and others may have no idea what I’m talking about. For instance, Reddit recently banned a subreddit entitled r/fatpeoplehate. The reason they banned it was fairly self-explanatory. People posting pictures of obese people and then making fun of them (at best) or wishing them an early grave (yes I saw those posts) was probably not a healthy expression of support for people trying to get out of their situation. Conversely, there are numerous corners of the internet, Tumblr specifically, where the other side of the spectrum lives and declares fat to be, well, not fat. So the one side, the one poll, is that all fat people are a drain on healthcare, goodness, hygiene, etc and the other side is that there is no such thing unhealthy obesity and that people can be a victim of their body’s choices rather than their own.
Among writers, one of my near and dear tribes, I find the same spectrum exists. Some writers go so far out of their way to justify unhealthy eating/exercise habits and choices that it becomes a comical thought for their protagonist to be involved in a physical fight without needing a medic right after. If your character is morbidly obese, it’s unlikely they can literally run a mile, even adrenaline-fueled, and not at least need a minute at the end. On the other side, I have read stuff from writers who barely veil their disgust at people who aren’t rock hard bodied fitness freaks. And then you have the sort of weird mixture where the author creates a pairing of obese and non-obese romantic partners in an unlikely scenario. (Note: I am not saying those pairings don’t occur, but there is a definite Mary Sue in how some of those pairings are written.)
So why even bring this up? Why talk about weight on a writer’s writing blog? Because I want honesty in writing. Even fantasy must connect me to the fantastic with honest inroads. I want to see weight addressed in my work and in my friends’ work without derision and scorn but also without breathless, eye-batting unreality. People don’t usually write about middle-aged pudgy writers struggling to catch their breath when climbing six flights of stairs. Nor do they often write about the strange double standard that exists between male obesity and female obesity. But given how central weight, healthy and unhealthy both, are to Western life these days, I think it might be time to let art do what art does and tell us how things are and how things can be.
That not every obese person is some kind of slothful monster. That not every person with a low BMI is by default more beautiful or healthier than others. But also that maybe being healthy and making good choices with regard to diet and exercise are keys to taking care of yourself for your health and the sake of others who love and need you. We writers have a chance to stand in the middle and speak the truth to both sides. Let’s use our powers for good in both directions.