Thursday, January 19, 2012

That our culture promotes the problem and blames the individual

It's a new year and like every other January, we're bombarded by people on TV trying to sell us diet plans and gym equipment or convince us to consider becoming personal trainers. We hear and see a lot about the obesity/overweight epidemic in western cultures. There are always shame-filled current affair stories which zoom in on the chubby bellies of poor folk who are trying to do a bit of shopping. Even though you can't see their faces, I'm sure those who know them would be quick to shout, "That's Uncle George! I recognise his T-shirt." But have you noticed that we're urged to make sure we're trim, taut and terrific by the same society which is careful to keep chocolates, cakes, biscuits and other tasty delicacies right in front of our faces at supermarkets?

Just to get into Coles or Woolworths, we have to pass beautifully aesthetic looking mountains of Tim Tams or blocks of Cadbury chocolate. Pretty looking sweets or baked goods are always kept at eye level, whether we're looking for them or not. Fast food outlets are always dropping loyalty vouchers into our letter boxes, so we don't even need to leave home to be targeted. Honestly, I'd think that if our society was really serious about people being slender and healthy, they wouldn't make it so easy to indulge. Just recently, I found out that the Japanese government is actually taking action with compulsory check-ins and tape-measures for all their citizens. Even though it's debatable whether that's a wise action, at least they're doing something.

Some people might go so far as to say that our Australian society (along with American and lots of European) secretly likes to keep things as they are because a chubby culture is good for economic turnover. We wouldn't have 24-hour gyms and Jenny Craig outlets and Lite n' Easy cuisine without customers who are prepared to pay big money for them. Nobody would bother to watch programs such as "The Biggest Loser" and "Excess Baggage." If there's any truth at all in this, it's even more disappointing that individuals are shamed and made to feel like shapeless, slimy slugs just for carrying a few extra kilos.

I feel strongly about this because I've been one of the many victims of this situation over the years, being found all over the weight spectrum. During my late teens and into my twenties, I was anorexic. In 1987, when I did Year 12, I shivered with cold all the time, stopped menstruating and my hair started falling out, yet I was still too scared of being called fat to ease off on my rigid diet and risk not being chronically hungry.

In more recent years, I've been found a few kilos on the heavy side. Last year my Wii Fit was telling me I was on the very upper limit of normal weight, but now I'm a little heavier. The little lady who represents me shakes her head and slumps her shoulders with a sad expression to the sound of a rueful little tune. I'm not taking it too seriously because I'm not one of those who were designed to have a slender, delicate build anyway. We have to accept our genetics and anatomy.

How should we treat the subject? I definitely think we shouldn't even bother worrying about how many pounds or kilos we weigh. We can treat ourselves well by indulging our hearty appetites for the food nature provided and making sure we move our bodies the way nature intended. A good rule to observe may be the 'plant' rule. "If it comes from a plant, indulge in it. If it's made in a plant, go easy on it" without getting too extreme. I've heard a lot recently about the typical western diet not being ideal for the human body. I do believe that, but it can be the subject for another post.

I really love seeing the sturdy, happy, glowing sort of people who prove that larger folk can be the happiest and healthiest of all. If we're happy and sensible, I believe we can trust our bodies to set their own ideal weights, whether or not the match what we're told they're 'supposed' to be.

I think this quote from Stuart Wilde, who calls himself an 'urban mystic' is great.

"If you constantly deny yourself the lush and sensual things of life, eventually your spirit gets too thin. It's better that you're a little overweight and your heart is full and rich with life's experiences than winding up with a thin body and an anorexic spirit."

My spirit cries a big, resounding "YES" to that.


  1. Are you serious??!!! You are SO not overweight. Stupid Wii fit!!! Must be made in the same place that the clothes from shops like Supre, Ice & Valley Girl are, that's all I can say. Made for prepubescent girls not real women!

  2. Oh Paula you are gorgeous! I am so sorry that you went through such a hard time with your body. And I agree with you, our culture certinaly spouts the ideal of excess. It is certainly a battle and a strange one, in the eyes that have little to eat.

  3. I love that quote at the end!
    And I love your plant rule.
    I've also heard that if you Grandma doesn't recognise it - it isn't real food so don't eat too much of it.
    I too have starved myself - I was skinny - and so was my spirit.
    Perhaps Australia needs to make 2013 the year of healthy eating - and have no junk ads & no displays on the ends of isles in the shops.

  4. Thanks, everyone.
    Janet, I agree :) We've yet to see the exercise tool that takes into consideration women in their late 30s/early 40s who have had children (two of mine were almost 11 lbs). I'm convinced that the sags and muffin tops have their own special beauty. In fact, I remember enjoying a blog post you wrote on that very subject once.
    Nicole, it must come across as absolutely senseless to those who value the next meal just to stay functioning.
    Michelle, I think that quote resonates especially for those of us who have starved our spirits.

  5. As someone who has just shed a bunch of kilos, I have certainly noticed the health benefits of carrying less weight. One thing I have learned - there is a difference between indulgence and over-indulgence. I'm not going to refuse myself pleasures in food - but moderation is the key. :)

  6. Paula, thank you for this encouraging message. I have been on the opposite end of the scale I'm afraid, using food to merely see the day through; even the thought of not eating was enough to bring tears to my eyes.

    The obesity crisis is so much more than just a physical battle. I did Sure Slim many years ago and reached 82kgs! But it was by no means a sustainable lifestyle, so of course the lost kilo's were were their mates!

    I love the quote, and pray that I will be able to embrace its essence in my life.

  7. Great post Paula. Thank you for sharing your battle with your body - I think it's important that women share their battles and experiences so that others out there know they're not alone!

    Love that quote at the end too. I like the 80% rule. It means eat sensibly 80% of the time, but you can have 20% of pleasure eating :) It is ridiculous, impossible and too hard work to expect to watch what we eat 100% of the time (not to mention completely no fun!)

  8. Thanks Amanda and Helens.
    Amanda, I sure did notice last November! What might have seemed gradual for you appears dramatic to someone who hadn't seen you for several months. Good on you!! I think there's 'sweet spot' for all of us, where our bodies are free to simply bask and be happy rather than struggle with extra kilos or starve for what it's not getting.

  9. Helen C, you've struggled with all the emotional baggage that goes with the issue too, and Helen W, the 80% rule sounds like a good, common sense way of approaching eating.
    From what we've all said, I'm sure it's a spiritual battle too, as well as just mental and physical.
    I have more posts about inner beauty etc simmering away.

  10. Thanks Amanda and Helens.
    Amanda, I sure did notice last November! What might have seemed gradual for you appears dramatic to someone who hadn't seen you for several months. Good on you!! I think there's 'sweet spot' for all of us, where our bodies are free to simply bask and be happy rather than struggle with extra kilos or starve for what it's not getting.

  11. Amen to that, Paula. I am a pendulum weight person. I have been very overweight as a child and teenager, underweight as a young woman, and now just happy to maintain. Society does pressure us - and it's not fair. I agree that spirit and body are so connected that starving one means starving the other.

  12. Loved reading this, especially after reading an article about Queen Latifah, a plus-sized woman who is happy with who she is.

    We really have to fight the programming we've been fed over our lives. I spent my childhood alternately being told to finish everything on my plate and having teachers, doctors, and "friends" tell me I needed to lose weight. It can make you crazy. I'm trying to end the pattern by focusing on nutrition rather than weight, but it's hard to shield my kids from the thoughtless comments of others.

    Peace and Laughter,

  13. Yep, people like Queen Latifah, Nigella Lawson and super nanny Jo Frost are my heroes. It's hard enough not to be stung by thoughtless comments when you're not in the media limelight all the time. For plus sized women who are and still don't let it get to them, more power to them.


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