Saturday, April 2, 2016

The "O" word...

No, not that "O" word! Minds out of the gutter please people! :)

I mean the word "overweight."

I have heard this adjective to describe a person's looks for literally as long as I can remember.  It occurred to me recently that this is actually a terribly inaccurate way to describe someone.  Because when you say that something is "over" something, it implies that the something that it's over is empirically acceptable, and if you stay within that something you will not have to pay a penalty.

For example, the post office has its standard weights and measures, and if a package is oversized or goes beyond the arbitrary standard that someone devised, you have to pay more to ship it. The same goes for freight companies, airline baggage, and for the slicer at the deli.  And I understand that. You have to have some standard in place to base prices on.

However, if a person is described as overweight, the implication is that there is some standard that they are supposed to be.  Regardless of body type, genetic makeup, cultural background, or lineage.  Why is this? Do we call a person whose height measures 7 feet "over-tall?" What about a person who shops in the petite department - are they "over-short?"

Allow me to go on for a moment: If someone has sized 15 feet are their feet "over-long?" If an adult can only find hats that fit in the children's department, is her head "under-sized?"  The simple fact is, there is no standard height or weight of a human being so no one can be "over" or "under" anything!

In American culture it is perfectly acceptable to be whatever height you were genetically predestined to be. Same goes for DNA-determined attributes like eye color, hair color, nose length, hand size, etc. But is it NOT socially acceptable to be the weight that some of us were genetically predestined to be, and we have to work very hard daily to combat the genes that make us a certain size.  For some of us, it is truly as difficult as trying to change our eye color from the inside.

When I was studying to become an ASL interpreter I met a lot of Deaf people and learned some fundamentals about Deaf culture. What they communicated over and over again was "Don't call me 'hearing impaired!'  That makes me sound like I'm a regular hearing person who is broken and therefore defective. I'm NOT! I'm a whole, normal, Deaf person."  Being deaf is not a wrong or bad thing. It's simply a part of who they are intrinsically, the same as their hair color, their height, or their shoe size.

The same goes for us that the media would deem "overweight." And while we're usually not paying extra money for our oversized-ness, we are definitely paying for it in shame. Shame from the co-worker who doesn't say "You look so pretty today" but instead says, "That dress is very flattering on you." Or from the photographer who says, "Hmm....turn your head more this way so we don't see the double chin." Or from the relative who says, "Don't wear horizontal stripes dear, it widens you."

Who the hell decided how much space each human being is supposed to take up on the Earth? Why was it established that thin is to be aspired to and anything else means you're a lazy, unhealthy, unworthy person, regardless of what you do or how you treat others? Why are all of the celebrity news stories about how quickly they lost their baby weight or how their new workout regimen allowed them to get their next movie role?

It's really mind-boggling when you think about it, but because it's been drilled into our collective brains for so many generations we believe that, at all costs, thin is better.  Which is very interesting because I saw Bo Derek give an interview a few years ago and she said very matter-of-factly, "It's about how the bones line up, I was born with it. But a couple of hundred years ago I would not have been considered beautiful. I would have been the too-skinny scullery maid." In Fiddler on the Roof he laments wanting his wife "looking like rich man's wife with a proper double chin." All of the woman painted during Renaissance times had ample curves and were clearly wealthy enough to have their portraits painted.  A woman's natural body was celebrated and if you had some meat on your bones it signified prosperity and affluence.

But ever since Miss Scarlett laced herself into her respiration restricting corset, "the thinner the better" has been the female mantra for beauty and even for acceptance.

Now of course I'm not saying that obese (another "O" word) people are healthy and shouldn't lose weight for a variety of reasons.  But at least calling someone obese is the same as calling someone tall or short. It is just a description that doesn't imply a negative comparison against a standard.

We are all a combination of the genes from the thousands and thousands of people from our hereditary line. Even before birth we each got what we got.  In Scandinavia, a lot of people got "tall and blond." In Asia, a lot of people got "short with black hair." In Africa, a lot of people got "brown skin and curly hair." These are all socially acceptable monikers, and in some cultures,  the more ethnic you look, the more beautiful you are considered.  But for us in America, who are a mix of wherever our ancestors came from and whoever else they ended up with, it's the Barbie Doll standard, or you're labeled something derogatory.

Thankfully, things are changing.  Fashion designers are limiting the number of anorexic models they hire.  Larger-than-usual-sized women are finding success in the entertainment field. A size 16 model was recently featured on the cover of the swimsuit issue of Sports Illustrated (but not without multiple days of people constantly talking about it and weighing in - pun intended - on their positive and negative thoughts about it.)

It is my hope that the standard continues to change as the mainstream media gains more awareness of the detrimental effect that the pressure to achieve and maintain a certain weight, regardless of one's genetic predisposition, has on girls and women.  Calling people "overweight" implies that there is something wrong with them and they are not acceptable just as they are. BUT THERE IS NO STANDARDS OF WEIGHTS AND MEASURES FOR HUMAN BEINGS! We're not being shipped, we're not being packaged for transport, we're just trying to spend the short time we have here on Earth as happily and as peacefully as possible.

Can you let us?

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