America has a weight problem: Today, more than 42% of Americans are obese, up from only 10% in the 1950s. And by problem, I mean it. Obesity causes more chronic illness than smoking, and can cut a decade off one’s life.
As we flirt with war, we lack the readiness: one in four young Americans is too heavy to serve. And obesity is expensive. It costs the average adult $2,500 a year over his normal-weight peers in medical bills alone. On 2016 estimates, obesity-driven chronic disease costs our nation $1.72 trillion per year. Not to mention the effect on kids. Obese kids are more likely to repeat a grade and less likely to put effort into school than their normal-weight peers. They can’t sleep as well and can’t participate in sports due to breathing problems.
But in our fight against obesity, we now have another enemy: the growing fat pride movement.
It has already taken lives. We’ve long known that about 80% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 were overweight or obese. But even though this is the only policy-amenable factor (versus, for example, an aging population) that made the United States more vulnerable to COVID, our public health leaders have avoided the weight-loss chat, preferring to bless our growing waistlines, close down gyms and endanger us.
The movement in favor of body positivity and acceptance of overweight people is not new. The National Association to Aid Fat Americans, founded in 1969, has long provided a social network for members. And the Fat Underground, formed shortly after, promotes fat activism, arguing that fat people suffer mistreatment from “commercial and sexist interests.” They seek protections “against classism, racism, sexism, ageism, capitalism, imperialism, and the like.”
Now, fat pride is positively mainstream. Fitness and lingerie brands showcase models less fit than the average American, and magazines scold fitness instructors to end their anti-fat bias. (Nevermind that many of us would ask for a refund if our fitness instructors made us gain fat.) Advertisements for “fat-inclusive” tailoring services grace the internet, as if sewing was previously size-selective.
Some of the activism is understandable: No one wants to pay extra for two airplane seats or be shut out of a million-dollar modeling contract.
But self-interest is hardly a movement. For an idea to become mainstream, it needs allies. Svelte CEOs like Leta Shy, the editor-in-chief of SELF Magazine, are needed as enablers. She is hardly alone — Mary Beth Laughton, the CEO of Athleta, and Cheryl Abel-Hodges, the CEO of Calvin Klein, have clearly benefited from hours in the gym and many a kale salad. Yet, they preach the opposite. Please stop lying to us. If it’s not good enough for you, you’re just having a laugh at a plus-size model’s expense.
And it’s a sinister laugh at that. Today’s executives tout fat pride to enrich themselves, selling the 74% of overweight or obese Americans more magazines, luxury yoga pants and undies. But then what? Tell Americans suffering from joint pain, addiction to fast food and increased health costs they’ve reached self-actualization while you bop out to the tennis court?
What’s the long game? There is no long game, and that’s the problem. Tough love and self-control is the long game, as it always is.
The world isn’t an easy place. To be sure, kids born without thin genes have it tough, a burden that will be shouldered for a lifetime. But helping kids overcome the world’s unfairness, mentally and physically, is a parent’s key job. We cannot agree to level down. This is no mere dissolution of standardized testing or AP classes, or other frivolity meant to equalize outcome. Here, thin, fit, rich people are messing with Americans’ lives. It’s time they stop.