Big Fat Facts Big Fat Index

To the Smaller Fats

Ever since I first got involved in size acceptance, I've occasionally had people ask me why I considered myself fat. More problematically, I've had people ask me why I thought I had anything useful to say about fat acceptance, since I've never been bigger than a size 20.

Why do they ask? Well, I'm not all that heavy by some people's standards, I guess, and I don't think that "obese" is the first word that pops into people's heads when they look at me. Maybe it's partly because of HAES and big-but-proportional genes, but it's mostly because the majority of people don't have an accurate idea of what people with a 30+ BMI look like. I was heavier than average as a child and a lot heavier than average as a teenager, and as I've stayed roughly the same size over the years, I've gotten to an age and a point in history where I look larger than average, but not in any kind of an exceptional way. Nobody stares in wonder at the immense hugeness of a pleasant looking, middle class, middle aged woman who wears a 16W/UK20.

But here's the thing. I am way over on the heavy side of the US BMI bell curve; according to this calculator, I'm in the heaviest 15% for an American woman of my age and height. That's right. They say that 30% of Americans (...23% of Brits... 22% of Aussies) are obese, and I'm smack dab in the middle of the obese category by percentile. I'm not an average sized American woman. I'm an average obese American woman.

Obesity is defined by BMI. It isn't defined by 'Damn, she's big!' or 'look at the moobs on that guy!' and 'look at those people huff and puff walking up those stairs!' When they talk about 'the obese' in the news, they are talking about everyone with a BMI over 30, not just the ones who are exceptionally large, who are proportioned in a different way than smaller people, who have a low muscle percentage, or who are in poor physical condition. Hello, other large-side-of-average-looking people whose BMIs are over 30! I am not an exception, and neither are you. When they talk about 'the obese' they're talking about us.

And if they're going to go around constantly talking shit about the people they've put into the obese category by the use of BMI, then hell yes, obese people with BMIs between 30 and 40 - the vast majority of obese people - should be speaking out. And hell yes, our experiences are the legitimate experiences of obese people. They don't get to say that 30% of Americans are obese and then pat people who are smack dab in the middle of their "obese" BMI category on the head and say "Oh, you're fine. We weren't talking about you."

The medical studies are about us, so if the results don't make sense, we should take a closer look. We are the ones being charged higher insurance rates. We're the ones being blamed for everything from global warming to the collapse of the US health care system. We're the ones that the good, upstanding thin folk are being discouraged from befriending or even gazing upon, lest they become like us (newest piece of dog dirt from BBC radio, and I can't find a link for it). We're the ones who are being accused of abusing our children if they (shock! horror! surprise!) come out looking like us.

Do you have a BMI over 30, no chronic health problems, use less health care than average, and seldom get sick? They're still talking about you. Do you suspect that no one at work knows you're obese, think you look good for your size, and feel like you shouldn't rock the boat when you're asked to shoulder more than your share of the health insurance burden? You're definitely not an exception. Is your lifestyle average or healthier than average, yet your BMI is still in the obese category? Yeah, that's not unusual. Are you well educated and reasonably successful in your career, and sure that you're not one of those junk food eating, lazy, smelly fat people that are out there someplace - possibly at WalMart - and it's that type of obese person, not you, that they're talking about? No, you're wrong. It's you. Are you athletic, with a high muscle percentage? People with high muscle percentages aren't excluded from the medical studies and obesity is defined by BMI. You're one of us, too.

The moral panic doesn't work without a high percentage of the population being defined as obese, and the high percentage of the population that is obese is made up mostly of people with BMIs between 30 and 40 who, thanks to the use of headless fatties, don't register as obese, visually, to most people. But you know what? Rather than hiding behind the fact that most people can't tell we're obese, we should speak out. Because they're talking about us.

One more thing. The people who do register as obese visually; people with 40+ BMIs, people who do look quite fat because of how they're proportioned or for whatever reason? You can't judge their worth, their intelligence, or their strength by their size. You can't judge their health or habits by their size (and we have no business judging people on that basis, in any case). They don't deserve discrimination. They don't deserve social exclusion. They don't deserve to be laughed at. They don't deserve pity or a patronizing attitude. Size discrimination and the moral panic over obesity is impacting them harder than it impacts us, and we should do everything in our power to support them and not to add to the crap that they're already dealing with. In our groups of friends, in our jobs, and in our families, we should be the last people to judge, show prejudice, or discriminate against other fat people.

...and... I kind of want to post a picture of myself for the rad fatties project, but am not sure about putting it on the BFB main page. So here I am, if you want to see what I look like.

Alexandra Beller Dances | Safe / Sexy (or powerful)?

AndyJo's picture
April 19th, 2011 | Link | Thank you! This is

Thank you! This is excellent.

Sometimes I have these !CLICK! moments when I realize what you say is true. I have been told I am an oddity (as a fat woman) where I work in that I am in a customer-facing position. Not said in "so many words", but with great meaning. I have found that, very frequently, women who are fat and who have educations similar to mine end up in positions that are not customer-facing. Now, some of those women might not WANT such a job - I could be projecting. They may be perfectly happy doing whatever they do, but I don't know. The company is way better than average in how it treats people, but all employers have warts. I think this is one of them for my employer.

I'm not "out" though at work about HAES or FA. To be fair, I don't discuss religion or politics or my private life either, although I make exceptions for those people who have become close personal friends and we might discuss all of the above in private. That said, I try to BE an example. An example not of "good fatty", but of someone who knows herself and stands her ground. Doesn't always work, but I'm fairly happy; and from a corporate-cultural perspective the company is not at all a bad place to be. It is better than most. Maybe that's the best we can hope for unless we create our own enterprises. That said, I have to say that I would prefer NOT to hear what other employees have to say about fat women and/or me in particular. Of that, I would prefer to remain ignorant.

--Andy Jo--

Viola's picture
April 19th, 2011 | Link | I'm morbidly obese, so I use

I'm morbidly obese, so I use that term when the topic of fat comes up, just so people know what a morbidly obese person looks like. I'm about 265 which puts my BMI at close to 44, which happens to be my age. Laughing out loud

Whenever the BMI stuff comes up, and it is pointed out that people who don't even look fat are considered obese, people usually say that ridiculous because it doesn't take muscle into account, I tell them it's not supposed to. It's just a ratio of body mass to height. I'm assuming the statistics that correlate BMI to certain risks are including both the muscular and non-muscular--the number certainly matters to those who want to use it to discriminate.

I've also been told that I'm not morbidly obese, those are the people who have to be cut out of their homes.

Bree's picture
April 19th, 2011 | Link | BMI should not be used as an

BMI should not be used as an indicator of overall health but alas, the medical community just doesn't want to get rid of it. If they did, then fat people wouldn't be shamed into endless dieting, getting WLS and going on pills for "fat diseases."

I'm morbidly obese as well, but I've been told because my fat is "proportionate" (nothing stands out on me visually, I'm big overall) I look better than those who have a body part or parts that stand out. But at the same time, the media, medical community and random trolls in general have the most issues with my size because I'm a larger fat. But even if I lost 50, 75, or 100 lbs, I would still be deathfat.

DeeLeigh's picture
April 20th, 2011 | Link | You know, it's really

You know, it's really interesting to me that everyone seems to relate to this, regardless of their size. I guess that in maintaining this fat person = folk devil thing, people find it necessary to give a pass to every actual fat person that they know and like. So, all of us are constantly being told we're exceptions. Not just the smaller fats; all of us.

It seems to me that would have the effect of disarming the people who are most able to fight size discrimination. "Oh don't worry your little head about that! Obviously, you're not the type of person we meant." And the people who don't get that pass? They are horribly beaten down and nobody listens to them, even if they're able to get their heads above water for long enough to say something in their own defense. It's insidious.

richie79's picture
April 20th, 2011 | Link | As I've mentioned before,

As I've mentioned before, over the last 18 months or so I've (inexplicably and through no deliberate action on my part) gone from being on the cusp of 'morbidly obese' at around 300lb to the cusp of 'obese' (230-ish). However ironic comments to my wife about my becoming 'skinny' and 'socially acceptable' were quickly dealt a dose of FA reality when I attempted to find jeans to replace those acquired in the US at my biggest, searching fruitlessly through at least half-a-dozen different stores which claimed to offer a good range of sizes.

Noting the narrowness of the 'normal' range (for 6' me, it equates to a range of about 35lb) on a graphical representation of a BMI chart serves to demonstrate how ridiculous it is to expect the entire range of human variation to fit into such a tightly-defined little box. Unfortunately ditching it would bring the pack of lies which underpin their whole obesity panic crashing down, and so regardless of how many flaws are identified, I don't think it's going to be replaced anytime soon as a measure of 'normality', overall health and (increasingly) individual morality.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

pani113's picture
April 21st, 2011 | Link | Bravo DeeLeigh! You are

Bravo DeeLeigh! You are smart AND beautiful BTW! I so agree with everything you said. I have many "midsized" friends though, who don't really realize it affects them too. They are in denial, thinking that normal for them is just one diet away so why bother to fight for fat rights. On the other hand, when I joined NAAFA, I did get a cool reception from some (certainly not all) members who did not think I was fat enough! Sigh!!!

"Fat can be beautiful. Intolerance is ALWAYS ugly!"

Dannan April 21st, 2011 | Link | Eurgh

My mother does this. She eats very very very little to avoid getting 'obese' like she sees in the news and hurting her health. At the same time, she tells me 'You have a great body! Loads of women would kill to have your curves! You're not THAT kind of fat, you know!' (May I point out right now, my mother is only ever so slightly chubby but doesnt lose a SINGLE POUND from how little she eats. She's just being unhealthy).

Anyway, my point - my BMI stands at around 36, and I'm only 5 foot tall. I'm around a size 18/20. I think I am DEATH FAT by this calculation? Either way, I am apparently obese and about to die a terrible death. My mother doesnt know this, doesnt know my calculations. Every time I buy clothes she thinks I'm 'buying bigger for comfort, you're not a size 20!' - no, I'm buying MY SIZE. So while she keeps wittering on about how she's afraid of being obese in todays 'epidemic', the daughter she's saying is 'not THAT kind of fat' IS infact THAT kind of fat. Very much that kind of fat. And well aware of it.

JennyLinsky April 23rd, 2011 | Link | DeeLeigh, I just ran myself

DeeLeigh, I just ran myself through the same calculator you did. My BMI is 26.8, which places me at the 53rd percentile for my sex and age. In other words, I'm average.

They're talking about me, too. According to the obesity "experts," I am at increased risk for every disease on the planet but anorexia. Yet no one outside of a modeling agency would ever consider me fat. Whenever I mention I have a big butt, for instance, people look me like I'm crazy.

*shoves a giant BMI calculator up the ass of the nearest diet doctor*

Lillian's picture
April 23rd, 2011 | Link | I decided to do it. My BMI

I decided to do it. My BMI is 28. I'm at the 50 percentile for my age. I see myself as fat when I put on clothes or look in the mirror since I don't have the flat belly that I had when I exercised excessively. The feeling of being fat only lasts a few minutes most days. I'm told that I'm not fat if I comment about it.

DeeLeigh's picture
May 8th, 2011 | Link | Kate Harding's BMI slideshow

Kate Harding's BMI slideshow and BMI Flickr group are pretty cool, too.

strawberry May 8th, 2011 | Link | Welcome Ebay313! I'm not

Welcome Ebay313!

I'm not surprised at the blob reference - totally disgusted, yes, but not surprised. After all, this is a world where many underweight women (yeah I know, under WHOSE weight?) call themselves "fat cows".

Here is a great link to a visual height-weight chart:

JennyLinsky, the irony is that people of any size can get anorexia. It's a BEHAVIOR. By the way, if the giant BMI calculator does not have the desired effect, add a couple of diet books at the tail end, along with a diet shake that has first been frozen solid.

JennyLinsky May 14th, 2011 | Link | Pardon me. I should have

Pardon me. I should have specified "being diagnosed with anorexia nervosa." By the time someone can be formally diagnosed with that, s/he is already severely underweight - at least, that was true the last time I read up on the subject, which was around 20 years ago. Unless a revolution has happened in the medical profession, I would be very surprised if someone my size got diagnosed with anorexia nervosa.

As far as actually having from that behavior, yes, people of any size can suffer from it.

Lillian's picture
May 8th, 2011 | Link | To Ebay313, you have a very

To Ebay313, you have a very cute figure. I would guess that most people looking at you wouldn't think of you as being obese just a little overweight. With actresses reporting themselves with having such low weights, it's not surprising that we think as a society that a woman's weight is much lower than it is. Most people see weights in their minds as normal that are actually very thin. This is a very welcoming group. Welcome to BFB.

vesta44's picture
May 8th, 2011 | Link | Ebay313 - I would never have

Ebay313 - I would never have guessed your weight or BMI and been correct on either, but then, I'm not good at that kind of thing as that's not one of the ways I pick people for friends Smiling I'm 57 now, but when I was 19, I was 5' 9" and weighed 175 lbs (gave me a BMI of 25.8, just barely "overweight", but I thought I was fat, even though none of the guys I dated ever thought I was (and the guy at Expo 74 who did the "guess your weight/age/birthday" guessed my weight at 140 and made me get on the scale to prove I weighed guess he was rather chagrined that he actually guessed wrong for a change). My BMI now is somewhere north of 55, which makes me DEATHFATZ, but I'm not wheelchair-bound yet, or bed-bound either, for that matter. Peoples' idea of what a "normal" weight looks like has been so skewed by Hollywood and the media, not to mention the diet industry and doctors, that they wouldn't know "normal" if it came up and bit them on the ass.
Personally, I think everyone, no matter what their size is, should have to wear a huge button for a month that states their height, weight, and BMI for all the world to see. You can bet that a lot of eyes would be opened. A lot of those doctors that are pushing diets/diet pills/ WLS - they're "overweight/obese" by BMI. How many athletes are "overweight/obese" by BMI? How many male actors are "overweight/obese" by BMI? How many actresses are "underweight" by BMI? I won't even ask about models, we know the answer to that one. If people could actually see what the media is talking about when they talk about "overweight" and "obese" instead of seeing just the headless fatties like me, with BMIs over 50/60, I would bet that they wouldn't be buying into the hysteria nearly as much as they are now. They would see that this moral panic they're all up in arms about isn't based on the majority of fat people, it's based on the outliers like me, who, at most, are only .5% - 1% of all fat people (and a lot of us, in spite of being DEATHFATZ, are still relatively healthy). I think it would be rather difficult to sustain a moral outrage about fat if those who are so outraged by it could actually see how many people around them, who don't look fat the way the media has portrayed fat, are "fat" (and how many of those who are outraged actually qualify as 'overweight/obese" by BMI? I think that would shock them too). I think it would shock them and scare the begeezus out of them for the way they've been brainwashed (I hope it would anyway, but I think I'm being optimistic there).

WLS - Sorry, not my preferred way of dying. *glares at doctor recommending it*

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