Better Dead Than Fat

I like reading the search engine searches that lead people to my blog.  Sometimes, it’s entertaining to figure out how a search engine would use the criteria and point to me, like the one for “carribean fruitcake”.   Then there are the WTF moments, like the one asking for a specific porn. 

But then, there are the ones that cause me to shake my head.

I had one of those the other day.  The search input was “54% of women would rather be hit by a tr” (wordpress only gives so many keystrokes of the search, but I can guess the end of it).  Now, I just googled to see if I could find that statistic, and couldn’t find it.  I’ve found a couple references to that statistic, most prominently a post on Shapely Prose that had a YouTube movie produced by TriDelta.  But the original study or poll finding showing those numbers eludes me. 

It doesn’t matter whether the statistic is right.  What matters is that people actually think it’s better to die than be fat.  Because getting hit by a truck (especially if you aren’t protected by a car) is a sure way to die.

Why do so many people think it’s better to be dead than fat?   

To believe it would be better to be dead than fat negates the health issue argument that most fat people hear from concerned friends, families, strangers on a bus.  You know, where people say that it’s so unhealthy to be fat, that teh fatz will kill, does kill every single day.  Yet, isn’t being dead a lot more unhealthy than being alive but having high blood pressure?  Or bad knees?  Or sinusitis?  (Yeah, that last one comes from an acquaintance of mine who has regular bouts of sinusitis, but has been told by her doctors that she just needs to lose weight and the sinusitis will go away.)  

Now, maybe I’m just crazy (and that’s always possible), but I’d much rather be alive, and living with any disease, than be dead.   High cholesterol can be lowered.  Diabetes can be controlled.  Busted knee joints can be repaired or replaced.  Dead?  That’s permanent.

Please don’t take this as me being callous about truly terrible diseases.  I know about senile dementia and how it changes a person.  My grandfather had senile dementia for a few years before he died, most likely due to cumulative effects of some minor strokes.  My mother-in-law is suffering from that now.  I know about auto-immune diseases that make a person live with severe consequences of the disease.   I’ve known people who had cancer (both who survived, and who didn’t survive).  I know a man who died of an extremely aggressive, extremely rare cancer.  I’m not being callous here.  There are some diseases that are terrible and make a person yearn for death.  And if the phrase had been “I’d rather be dead than have *insert terrible disease here*”, I’d completely understand.  Heck, I told my husband, soon after the day my grandfather didn’t remember me, his eldest granddaughter, the one he raised for 11 years of my childhood, that I’d rather he shoot me than let me ever get to that condition.  So I am not unsympathetic to real suffering and the desire to end it.

Contrary to the above, to say “I’d rather be hit by a truck than fat” actually shows what I’ve been seeing and saying for a little while.  Fat fear, the obesity epipanic, is not at all about health.  If it was about health, they wouldn’t use something that was sure to kill you.  That’s like saying “I’d love to catch cancer so I can lose weight.”  Oh, wait, they do.  Never mind then.

Why is being thin so much more important than being healthy?  That’s really what it comes down to.  And no, if people really wanted to be healthy, they wouldn’t say they would rather be dead than fat.  Because people can be healthy while overweight (contrary to popular propaganda), but nobody can be healthy dead.

Anybody got any answers for me?  I’m drawing a blank here.

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25 Responses

  1. I just cross posted something about this. The media and the diet industry pushes this BETTER DEAD THAN FAT.

    Heck a recent weight loss show on the Style Network had 2 gastric bypass commercials in 20 mins!

    Great post!

  2. Because for people who think this way, not being approved of is worse than being dead. To their minds, saying no to the whole trying-to-get-approval deal means you don’t get the good jobs, the good life partners, the good friends, the good money, the good houses, the good schools for your kids — hey, even the good kids, the ones who actually want to be seen with you in public.

    You could dispute every one of these and come up with counterexamples until you have a serious oxygen deficit, and they will write off your counterexamples as flukes-that-prove-the-rule. Once someone gets hold of an idee fixe, they don’t let it go unless they are forced to. I was forced to. That’s why I did. Ultimately, if these people really were looking death in the face as opposed to living fat, would most of them pull the trigger? It’s easy to say “yes,” until death actually does have you by the shorthairs.

  3. Funny, I read the tr- as “train,” but I suppose that just makes it worse!

  4. It’s about power.

    Many people believe that they would feel powerless if they got fat. It would mean that they lost control of something that they feel responsible for. It would mean that they would be subject to the same harassment and prejudice they heap upon fat people/see heaped upon fat people daily. They believe that they would have no choice in who they sleep with, who they marry, which jobs they get, how much money they make, etc.

    People would rather be dead than lose control/feel powerless. That’s where much of the suffering comes from in diseases that cause people to desire death as an escape.

    Pain isn’t so bad when you know it won’t last. You don’t desire death when you stub your toe. When you are powerless to stop it and you know that you have zero control over it, pain can be unbearable. It is the same with emotional pain. It is the same with anything that makes people feel powerless. When you have no control over something, it can seem that the only way out is death.

    People believe that they would rather die than feel powerless. Some believe it so deeply that they attempt/commit suicide. Others learn that when it comes down being powerless and not being alive, they’d rather be powerless for a time and hope that they will be able to regain some amount of control in time.

  5. Here’s the link:
    http://blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-LZKLBFA5dKsXz.ftsC0Gjho2EQ–?cq=1&p=11967

    You have to know how to search in google. I used the search term “I’d rather be hit by a truck than be fat” and it popped right up. Hope that helps.

  6. But the original study or poll finding showing those numbers eludes me.

    I find these kinds of ‘studies’ unconvincing, to say the least.
    Really I’ve got a chainsaw here I’m going to cut off your arm or make you fat (I dunno, maybe I’ll put you on a diet or something). Who’s really going to say off with my arm then? It’s balls.

    But what the underlying attitude shows is that it is widely known that fatness is likely to be a permanent state, or else why wouldn’t they say; ‘no contest, I’ll be fat and I’ll lose the weight on one of those supereffective diets or lifestyle changes’

    Don’t believe them.

  7. But the original study or poll finding showing those numbers eludes me.

    FYI: This isn’t the study you’re looking for, but it’s related and I have citation information for it. A 2006 study, conducted by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, found that five percent of the 4,000 respondents would rather lose a limb than be fat. Nearly half of the people responding to the Yale survey said they would give up a year of their life rather than be fat.

    I wonder how many of the respondents to the Yale survey have actually been fat and if so, how this influenced their answers. If you’ve never been fat, the specter of becoming fat might seem like the absolute worse fate ever. On the flip side, if you’ve been fat and are now thin, the thought of regaining the weight can be equally terrifying. Unfortunately, I don’t think this question was asked of the respondents.

    For me personally, I was a fat kid turned morbidly obese adult. I was thin for a brief time, thanks to my eating disorder, and though my lowest weight was considered to be an “average” weight, it required of me an anorexic lifestyle to maintain. I now qualify as fat — and healthy — again. Would I like to be as thin as I once was? Sure. Am I willing to do what it took before to reach it? Hell no. My personal motto is that I’d rather be fat and healthy than thin and unhealthy.

  8. You reminded me of this:
    http://ca.youtube.com/watch?v=rZVjKlBCvhg

    “Death please… no… cake… cake!”

  9. I just got here via Shapely Prose, and this post speaks to me, so I’d like to add my two cents. First of all, I totally agree with you about death being preferable to certain diseases. However, I’ve seen many people in hospitals (I’m a med student) who were in horrible pain and/or severely handicapped by their disease and who still wanted to live. It’s pretty remarkable how dear most people hold on to life. Most healthy people would say they’d choose death in a situation like that, but few actually will once they actually are in that situation. And just as twilightriver wrote, it’s really about control. Terminally ill cancer patients will very seldomly choose to end their lives by overdosing on morphine (or something similar, I don’t know what they used in that study), even when being given that opportunity legally.
    Now, about the “obesity” thing. I think a lot of it has to do with the way our culture stigmatizes fat people. If fat people were treated with more dignity, fewer thin people would be so scared of becoming fat that they’d even consider choosing death over being fat. I for once see how horribly doctors treat fat patients every day (this is kind of why I became interested in fat acceptance).
    It probably has more to do with wanting to please and wanting to fit in, which is a big part of human behavior, because we are inherently social animals.
    I hope I got my point across, English is not my native language, so I apologize in advance for anything hurtful or insensitive I might have written.

  10. This is what’s behind the ‘NO FAT PEOPLE IN PRISON CAMPS’ nonsense–the idea that it’s better to be sick or dead than fat.

    I have known people who would rather be sick than gain weight, and those people were diagnosed with eating disorders. How do you put a whole culture into treatment, though?

  11. Madyson: Thank you. I just popped the actual part of the search into Google. My google-fu isn’t so hot sometimes.

    JupiterPluvius: I’ve never understood that phrase either. That’s compairing apples and oranges. Of course there’s no fat people in prison camps, the prisoners are fed a starvation diet. There’s a reason it’s called “starvation diet”.

    Barbara: Thanks for the cross post! I love your take on it too.

    Meowser: You could dispute every one of these and come up with counterexamples until you have a serious oxygen deficit, and they will write off your counterexamples as flukes-that-prove-the-rule. I’ve recently had a situation like this. I pulled out anecdotal evidence (which I knew was anecdotal) and was told “that’s a single instance”, when I countered with study after study, I was told I was cherry picking and those studies didn’t mean anything. Yet the other person knew for a FACT that teh fatz killz because his mother died from fat. I’m proud of myself in that I did not say “that’s a single instance”.

    Elizabeth: That was my first thought too, I got truck by googling. 🙂

    Wriggles: There was a time, before I had insurance to have the knee surgery, that my knee hurt so much I just wanted to have it cut off. I had no hope of getting insurance at the time, and the pain kept getting worse and worse. So, I can see a situation (much like the terrible illnesses that make a person say I’d rather be dead than _____) where a person could say “cut off that limb” and mean it. However, rather have a limb cut off than be fat? *shakes head*

    Rachel: Thank you for the study. Like I said earlier, sometimes my google-fu stinks. I agree with you about wondering how the study was conducted and what options were given, and also how it breaks down more. I mean, was it only skinny or normal sized women who’ve never been fat saying they’d rather be dead than fat? If so, then that also kind of skews the results a bit. Same if there were people who’d been fat and lost weight. Did they even take that information when having people fill out the questionaires?

    mrs.millur: I love it! “We’re out of cake!” “So my choice is … ‘or death’?!? I’ll have the chicken!”

    Julia: The friend who had the extremely rare, extremely agressive cancer hung on for six months after he was hospitalized. They gave him an estimate of two months when they realized how fast the cancer had hit him. So I understand about the will to live, survival instinct, whatever it is you want to call it. And you’re right, as humans, generally we want to be accepted. That’s why there are so many people right now working towards de-stigmatizing being fat.

    BTW, your English is very good, better, in fact, than some of the native speakers I’ve read or heard. Until you said English isn’t your native language, I had no clue you were ‘talking’ in a foriegn tongue. 🙂

  12. “They believe that they would have no choice in who they sleep with, who they marry, which jobs they get, how much money they make, etc.”

    *That’s* the nub, I think. We all know it’s a fallacy but some people believe this – and where does the belief come from? If there are supposedly so many of us (The Fat Majority, if you will) don’t they have plenty of examples in their day-to-day lives of fat people in happy relationships, with great jobs, making good money, etc, which *they themselves* made happen? How can people not see this for the bovine excrement it is?

  13. “That’s why there are so many people right now working towards de-stigmatizing being fat”
    And I’d definitely like to contribute. I think it’s horribly sad that so many people waste all their energy trying to lose weight when they could instead be pursuing a career, creating something (be it a family or a piece of art) or just having fun. I’m just getting acquainted with HAES and body/fat acceptance and I’m already determined to never tell my patients to lose weight. Thinking about it, it’s really strange that I didn’t come across this earlier.
    Oh, and thank you. English is my favorite language.

  14. I think it’s like the public speaking/death fear. People really don’t want to be fat, because it’s a looming fear. People tend to get fat as they age, and society tells us that if we’re not on top of our exercise and food consumption, we’ll become fat too. They know what will happen when they become fat, too, because society tells us that if we’re not skinny we won’t get hired for jobs, or get asked out on dates, and if we get fat while in a relationship we’ll be left (and there are the real fears: having to pay a lot more for health insurance potentially, getting treated badly, etc). People don’t think about the real implications of death, though, it’s just the go to when people really don’t want something.

  15. Like I said earlier, sometimes my google-fu stinks.

    Don’t worry; even if you googled it you might not have found it. I only know of it because I receive the Rudd Center’s email newsletter. A lot of fat acceptance activists dislike the Rudd Center because they promote the health risks of obesity and also programs designed to prevent obesity, but they’re one of the very few, perhaps only, official groups out there (outside of the largely inactive NAAFA and COFRA) doing anything to gauge the ways in which people of all sizes are hurt by size discrimination.

  16. I’m thinking that it’s morbid, intense obesity that people think when they hear “fat”, the 1,000 man who can’t get out of bed. That kind of helplessness is on par with major limb amputation, loss of cognitive functioning, and paralysis.

  17. If you were fat, you might died in few years or few decades. But, if you’re anorexia, you might shock or died in any possible next minutes.

  18. I once had someone say to me that she would rather be sick than ugly. At first I felt sort of insulted because I am sick and the statement seemed to diminish my experience, but then I thought about mental health for a while … and about the fact that every person is different … and got over it. I still couldn’t stop feeling a little shocked, though. There was an episode of House, M.D. where a woman actually chose beauty over health by refusing the treatment that would cure her while making her fat, opting to oppress her symptoms with meds instead. A wonderful plot, but scary because it’s so close to the truth.

  19. “where a woman actually chose beauty over health by refusing the treatment that would cure her”
    It’s actually what a lot of women do when they suffer from depression. Since a side effect of most antidepressants is weight gain, many women simply refuse to take them. They’d rather be thin than able to function normally. And those who are fat to begin with are sometimes not even prescribed antidepressants and are instead told to lose weight, because that would cure the depression.

    • I’m a counseling psychologist and overweight, due to medication for treating depression. I went to lunch with a thin friend about a year ago and we got talking about mental health, etc. I mentioned that, given the choice of being fat or being stable, I’d take being fat. She said that she wouldn’t – she’d rather be thin. And this friend ALSO had a Ph.D. in counseling psychology! Weight bias and weight fear is everywhere.

  20. julia, i’m going to gently disagree with your last comment. i’m fighting with my doctors about treatment for depression. now…i’m already not thin. i’ve been 40 pounds fatter than i am now, but i dont really recommend the “two people i loved dearly died within 2 years of one another, got no support, didnt give a rodent’s rump” diet. 😀

    but my weight isnt the issue. the issue is that i have chronic pain that isnt being treated. the depression is from *that*. dont toss an antidepressant at me and say “good enough”…find and treat the underlying cause. and my GP says “but you’re depressed, take this pill!” um, no. i have a wonderful new husband who adores me, i have a brand new kitty, my kids love me, i’m irritable about the diabetes and the reaction i’m having to the meds, but we’ll get that sorted. life is fairly good….except for that chronic pain.

    trust me, a year ago? yeah. depressed. today? nope. a headache, but not depressed. 🙂

    kitten, fat and happy

    • If you have chronic pain, check your thyroid. There is a link between fibromyalgia and hypothyroidism. Hypo also causes depression.

      I have an autoimmune thyroid condition and my symptoms included all over body aches and stiffness which went away when I started treating my symptoms with natural thyroid — against doctor’s orders. I didn’t even realize that my pain was associated with the thyroid until I started reading up on it and my symptoms disappeared with treatment.

      But beware, doctors are a$$es when it comes to treating thyroid conditions. They are more likely to blame your symptoms on your fat, or your age, and not your thyroid. And if your levels are “normal,” it’s even harder. It took me six years and four different doctors to get a diagnosis. And I only got it because the last doctor tested for thyroid antibodies. Despite my diagnosis, my doctor still insists on treating my condition incorrectly by relying on blood levels instead of symptoms. I’m moving on to a holistic practitioner who treats by symptom.

      There are several patient advocacy sites that can help such as Stop the Thyroid Madness, Dr. Lowe’s Thyroid Science, and Mary Shomon’s series on About.com. They can give pointers on how to find a good doctor for diagnosis and treatment, and how to self treat if you can’t find a doctor willing to listen.

      But your mention of depression and chronic pain really make me think you should look at your thyroid.

  21. Julia: There are a lot of reasons why somebody would refuse anti-depressants besides being afraid of gaining weight. Here in the US, at least, anti-depressants are pushed by doctors for almost everything. “Are you sad, not sleeping well? Here, have an anti-depressant.” A former doctor pushed anti-depressants on me every single time I saw him because I was fat. His reasoning was that I was fat (therefor depressed) and needed anti-depressants. At one point, he actually said, “If you tell me you aren’t depressed, I’ll call you a liar, because of how overweight you are.” *sighs* I resisted going on the anti-depressants, and finally found a new doctor rather than continue with him. Hey, I’m already fat, I’m not afraid of getting fat! 😀

    Kitten: And that’s the problem I have with a lot of doctors. They use one thing to explain away all the patients problems. For you, it was the depression, even though you have very real things going on that may cause a person to be sad or depressed. Instead of listening to the patient and trying to determine the exact problem, they become lazy.

    anon: Normally, I won’t let anonymous postings like this, with website and ‘address’ as CNN. I made an exception because of what you said wasn’t that of a troll. But please do note that if you post like this again, without a real email addy at least, I will delete and ban the comments.

  22. MissKitten: Yeah, I’ve noticed that antidepressants are readily prescribed in the US. It’s different over here, they are usually a last resort here, and you always have to do additional therapy. So people who are put on ADs in this country almost always really need them.
    But I totally agree with you, in cases where there are underlying causes, those must be found and treated. Doctors shouldn’t throw antidepressants at people because they’re too lazy to to the diagnostic work. It’s just that it’s so easy to do that, because depression doesn’t always have a clear cause. I hope everything works out for you. Chronic pain sucks.
    welshwmn3: I’m sorry you had such a bad experience. Just proves that doctors can screw up in a lot of ways. There’s lot up messed up reasoning and behavior out there. My physiology prof once said that he knew many of the female med students had eating disorders, just to go on to tell us how critcally important it was for us to maintain a certain BMI. Talk about mixed messages.
    Sorry fot the long comment. 🙂

  23. julia, i have no issue with people *needing* the antidepressants. mama has biological depression, i had a cousin who was schizophrenic, another cousin with bipolar disorder. chemical issues with the brain, i understand needing some help with. its when you have good reason for being sad and someone wants to toss drugs at you instead of listening and letting you get through to the other side of it that i have a problem. 🙂

    and mixed messages indeed! “dont get an eating disorder, but dont weigh above this amount, either” pffft. at least my dr recognises that some of the meds she put me on have water retention and weight gain as side effects and didnt fuss today.

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