Every Body’s Beautiful

It’s politically incorrect to suggest otherwise. However—-

Though we should refrain from disparaging overweight people, society’s trend to accept obesity as normal is not only ill conceived but also harmful to those who suffer from it. They deserve respect, but the last thing they need is less motivation to correct their life threatening condition.

If someone is content to be obese it may improve their emotional comfort but it doesn’t make the excess weight any less detrimental to their health. Nor does it make them any less unattractive to most people. When I hear an obese person say they embrace their body, what I really hear is “It’s too hard to change myself, so I convinced myself I don’t just accept the way I am, but I feel great about it.” OK. If they say so. But I’d bet a deep dive into their psyche would reveal they are in a state of deep denial.

Overweight and obese people now outnumber those of healthy weight two to one. It is the norm. That something becomes the “norm,” however, does not make it normal.

Recently a notion has taken hold that overweight is mostly genetic and lifestyle changes ultimately are in vain.

Sorry. That’s sheer fantasy.

In children for whom cognitive therapy, calorie restriction and exercise don’t work ( which too often they don’t due to both the lack of health insurance coverage for such treatment and parents, many themselves obese, who are unwilling to put in the effort to support the program) the American Pediatric Association has recommended weight loss drugs and bariatric surgery as a second resort. This has set off a firestorm of public criticism.

I suspect the criticism is less based on concern about the potential adverse effects of such treatment than on the a position now in vogue that obesity is a normal variant of body type and treatment would stigmatize kids. If so, it is misguided.

Ponder this. How does bariatric surgery bring about weight loss?

The answer is simple. It forces the person to eat less!

In other words the person who failed at dieting, concluded their condition was “glandular,” then lost a lot of weight after surgery (or appetite suppression drug treatment) obviously didn’t have a genetic disorder. They simply didn’t restrict calories enough long enough to lose weight.

That’s not a disparagement. Changing an ingrained habit is extremely difficult and breaking food related habits is among the most difficult.

It may be true that some people are so genetically geared toward being plump that even meaningful changes in diet and exercise don’t work well. Yet it is illogical to view the majority of the obese as having no potential control over their condition. Especially children.

If it were not for the fact that being more than just a bit chubby has severe health consequences and limits a person’s ability to fully function, I’d be less at odds with the normalizers. But, sadly, the cost of the obesity epidemic, to the individual personally and to the nation financially, is staggering. To normalize obesity is, on the surface, a kindness, but a consequence of not shaming is that it will encourage people to simply give in to this highly preventable and serious medical disorder.

If obesity is really mostly based on genetics these days, then there must have been a mass mutation in the human genome since my generation was young. That’s not how mutations work. Yes, there could be recent environmental causes of the body’s tendency to accumulate adipose tissue other than the obvious—larger portions of calorie dense foods and an increasingly sedentary lifestyle typical of our “obesogenic” culture. For example, the alteration of the gut microbiome due to the overuse of antibiotics or pollutants in the air and water. Still calories-in/calories-out remains the main factor in the overwhelming majority of people.

Look at the class photos from my elementary school years and you will see my point. You can’t actually look at them. I got rid of them years ago. They’d stir up unpleasant memories in several ways and in one way in particular. Though the photos confirm that my generation of kids were overwhelmingly of normal weight, sadly, I was not one of them.

Though I was not grossly obese, I was more than just a bit chubby. That had adverse effects on me in several ways, not the least of which being that I was the kid who got picked last for sports teams. The humiliation and low self esteem attached to that defined my pre-teen years.

It also motivated me to fix my problem.

One day, at the age of about 13, I picked up a piece of paper and created two columns. One was labeled “Sit Ups” and the other “Push Ups.” I then got down on the floor, did as many of each as I could and posted my performance. Day after day I did this and watched with satisfaction as the numbers climbed. At the same time I modified my diet, reducing portions and eschewing calorie dense junk food in favor of fruits and vegetables. In effect, I enacted step one of the Pediatric Association recommendations. As would be the case for most people who faithfully sustain such a program, the pounds started melting off.

The next phase in my metamorphosis was my decision to join the school swim team. This was the one sport that weight didn’t negatively impact. Through my teens, I continued to train, became captain of the high school team and gained admission to a top tier small college after being recruited by their swim coach. Being a “jock” also led to social rewards.

From this success, largely the result of a dogged determination never again to be that nerdy little fat kid, flowed all the rest of my achievements in life. It established an attitude, an approach to life, that has served me well in whatever I set my mind to do. I developed faith that if I worked hard enough and persevered long enough, I could reach goals that at one time seemed unattainable. The act of taking control of my body did far more than change my shape; it shaped my character as well.

What made me able to enact this life altering course? Was I just lucky not to have some fat gene that, today, so many who are overweight want to believe they have?

Obviously not.

My good fortune, aside from possessing two things that actually are largely genetic, intelligence and a compulsive personality style, was that I grew up in an era when people were told that some things that are now accepted as normal were not normal.

Though it’s unkind to shame people, feeling shame, which is out of fashion in our narcissistic world, is an excellent motivator. I am grateful for having had that painful push to steer my life in a better direction. I feel sorry for the many people who are fed, along with excessive portions of junk food, the notion that they cannot, and should not try, to take control of their weight and other critical aspects of their lives that usually would respond to genuine and sustained effort.

We are helpless victims only if we believe we are, and in our current society, in too many ways, we are permitted, even encouraged, to deny responsibility for our problems.

Of course we should accept people as they are, but sometimes this is no kindness. It’s harmful when they are lulled into resigned acceptance of a less than optimal life situation, be it their weight or any other aspects of life that can be improved on when people take on the daunting, but infinitely rewarding, challenge to change.


  1. Looking at past generations, it is obvious that something in the environment has changed to cause an epidemic of obesity. Farm subsidies to calorific crops, a food industry the pushes what sells, more frequent eating out or ready-made meals, and changed lifestyles multiply their effect as your blog points out. I seems that all this adds up to a cultural shift as well leaving individuals to try to fight the trend of the majority. It also seems that culture is winning.


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