Thursday, February 04, 2010

The scarlet letter "O"

"Your people are so large!"


Those are the first words out of any foreigner's mouth when they talk about the United States. 


(Frankly, it gets old – it's like saying "Your women wear veils!" in Saudi Arabia or "Look—parkas!" in Alaska.)


Now, however, the world is wondering:  Does Michelle Obama have the right to mention one long-ago incident when the family doctor cautioned "less crap, more veggies" for a too-quickly-growing daughter?


"Overweight" is a loaded word.  Even worse, "obese." These words imply more than just a health condition or physical attribute. You attack an individual's very moral fiber, intelligence, socioeconomic status, competitiveness, desirability and worth as a human being.


These words hold so much power and scorn that a mere health recommendation can send a fragile psyche into spirals of shame and self-hatred – and cause a Yahoo news article to inspire over 4,000 comments.  An unhealthy BMI – not salary, religion or political views – is the thing of which one must never speak.   


But everyone else is talking about it—from international visitors appalled by Outback's Bloomin' Onions to those ubiquitous Internet ads about belly fat.  You cannot go five minutes in this society without some kind of reminder about portion control, healthy choices, "taking care of yourself," carbs, transfats, cardio, core workouts, ad nauseum.


So why can't we welcome the voice of a woman who addresses the subject from a common-sense perspective?


At 2:50 PM, Blogger GChen said...

I'm a mom, a blogger, and a Ph.D. student, and I need your help. I'm doing a study about why women blog, and you have been selected at random to participate in a short survey about what motivates you to blog and what you get out of blogging.

I hope you will take it by clicking this link. Please do not forward the link.

Thanks in advance for your help. Feel free to contact me at if you have any questions.

Gina Chen
Ph.D. student
S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications
Syracuse University

At 12:14 PM, Blogger Alice said...

I came across your blog randomly and I think your post is rather interesting.

"Obese" and "overweight" are definitely loaded words. But I think so is the word "healthy" because someone with meat on their bones, who might not necessarily exercise, is labeled "healthy" just for not being stick thin.

While a person's worth shouldn't be determined by their BMI, we live in an increasingly shallow society. On top of that, people are very careful to be politically correct. So kudos to Michelle Obama for addressing it. It's about time.


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