The Emperor’s New Clothes Are Extra Large
Political correctness may just be The Emperor’s New Clothes of our time. If someone has diabetes, we can say they have diabetes. If someone has cancer, we can say that they have cancer. If someone has a heart attack we can say that they had a heart attack. Yet if the afflicted individual is also fat, which is the catalyst for the majority of disease and death in the U.S.; it’s not okay to say that they’re fat. Honest dialogue about fat is not politically correct and we tend to squirm, avoid, and even fear the topic.
“He’s a big boy”. “She’s pleasantly plump.” “I’m big-boned.” “He’s always had a healthy appetite.” “She’s the heavy set one.” “I haven’t lost my baby fat yet (years postpartum).” “I used to be thin (years after that era).” I’m sure you can add your own excuses that you’ve either heard or said for yourself or others. We’ve all said them because it seems harsh and rude to speak the truth in this case. It’s okay to describe someone as “slim” (or even “thin”). E.g., “Everything looks great on you because you’re so slim.” But we never say, “You’re too fat for that.” We don’t say, “You know the person I’m talking about, the fat man who works on the 5th floor.” Instead we might say “overweight” or “heavy”, but to say obese or fat seems taboo and almost like we’re calling them a bad name.
But here’s the thing: Is excess weight ever a secret? Alcoholism might be. Drug addiction might be. Anorexia and bulimia might be, but fat is right there out front for all to see and it’s exceedingly hard to hide. We think we might be hiding it under jackets and “girdles” (aka today’s “Spanx”), and beneath flowing cardigans, yet it’s usually evident. Have you ever known a person who is fat to grumble about a picture taken of them, saying they don’t like it because it makes them look fat? This is about straight talk here, so let’s look at the reality of this: so, it’s okay for others to see them that way day after day, while they try to avoid mirrors–especially full-length ones–as much as possible, but show them a picture of reality…the one we see every day and they don’t want to see it. Herein is part of the problem…the tip of the iceberg of the issues we are facing.
We don’t want to talk about or face it, yet each day we live with fat is one more day we are compromising our health. If we arrived at work drunk, our malady would very quickly be addressed by management. Yet we arrive at work impaired by fat, on the road to disease, a painful journey which we could avoid, but instead everyone avoids talking about it.
Avoidance of any issue does not make it go away. Yet, as a society we have enabled and thus encouraged the overweight and obesity epidemic that now afflicts over 2/3 of adults, 1/3 of children and teens1 , and…Even… our pets.
We have woven a web of little white lies which deceive ourselves and protect us from facing the truth. One of these, the stickiest wicket of all is the concept of appearance and self-image. I’m not going to get into this which could be an entire article on its own, but to say that excepting for the disease of anorexia, which is about far more than food or fat, when we feel good about ourselves because we’re in good shape through proper nutrition and exercise, self-image is not an issue.
It’s the rare overweight wife–even if just a few pounds overweight, or maybe especially then–who has never asked her husband, “Do you think this makes me look fat?” And, similarly, it is the rare husband who confidently speaks the truth as he sees it if he wants to keep the peace at home. “No Honey, you know I think you look great.” Or, “There is just more of you to love.” Or, “You have great curves.” Yet the woman knows in her heart, whether or not she’s fat. If she is overweight and avoiding dealing with it she’s impairing her relationship with herself, with her health and often with her husband and family. Ultimately, no sweet words from her husband can make her feel better, for in her heart she knows the truth.
Men are not exempt of course. The lies they tell themselves are often about their waist size, such as, “I still wear the same size pants.” Meanwhile, those pants are riding lower on their hips, under a protruding belly. Or, “Well, it goes with age and I’m not fat, my chest has just slipped.” Similarly when the jacket size increases, “Well my shoulders are just bigger.” What happens to the structure of our bodies with weight gain over the years is that we get a wider, broader silhouette, which can camouflage the truth if we don’t want to face it, yet that width is fleshed out in body fat.
Under a shroud of illusion of The Emperor’s caravan, our perspective on the societal “norm” of body size has increased in direct relationship to our super-sized food portions, and larger sized dinner plates, while compounded by our generally sedentary work and personal life. Fifty years ago, before we were plagued by so many of today’s diseases, we and our children were not super-sized. Today, to sell more clothing, manufacturers have downsized their clothing sizes, where a size 8 in the 1950’s is now a size 4 or less today.2 3 The Emperor’s tailors add their spin to the cloth of deception.
All levels of managers who are also fit know that fitness increases their productivity and vibrant contribution at work. Yet management is shackled by political correctness and actual laws that make it extremely difficult to speak openly about the fat epidemic with employees.
The crowd is awakening however, and the whispers about the truth of The Emperor’s New Clothes are turning to a growing buzz. It’s time for facing that which is uncomfortable and do the kinder thing of stopping the enabling language. Avoiding the issue is in large measure responsible for creating the issue. It’s time to help those who are struggling with fat and obesity face it head on, or to make the conscious choice of trudging down the costly and painful road of disease. Let the conversation of fat and the shame around that be illuminated with the light of truth that can serve immeasurably to dispel the shadows of disease. Let’s get comfortable with calling it what it is: a high health risk, and let’s place our energy on healing through natural solutions that will save jobs, save wasted dollars on all levels, and most importantly, that will save, extend, and improve lives.
There is obesity in my family. In fact, it is my mother, and it is her genes that I have inherited. Yet even in this frank article, I first avoided writing these words here. It is not a topic that we can discuss openly, and to share this feels like a betrayal of her. And yet, for anyone who knows us or her, well, it’s just an obvious fact that she is overweight. So too have I wrestled with the infernal 10-30lbs all of my adult life. Even today, in my fifties, I have not yet arrived at my “perfect” weight and in my 20’s I was bulimic, which compromised my health. So I can speak as one who has struggled, as one who has deleted and disposed of photos, as one who has called in sick fat because I felt too miserable after a binge and didn’t want to see and be seen. I can speak as one whose work has been hampered by it; And as one who has said to her husband, “Does this make me look fat?”, hoping he could tell me a lie I could believe, while knowing all along that nothing he could say would change what was. I know the pain and struggle of fat.
I know the pain of feeling uncomfortable in one’s skin, of not wanting to leave the house, of hoping no one will notice if the loose cardigan is worn. I know the pain of feeling weak and a failure; of avoiding intimacy, of disappointing friends and relatives because my weight caused me to not want to participate in their lives, sometimes when they needed me most.
So if you’re reading this and you’re fat, I understand your anguish, your frustration, and your shame. I understand too the armor you’re donning when you’ve given up and decided that that’s just the way you are…just who you are. But, what I also understand is that it doesn’t have to be that way. You have a choice and making the right choices daily gets ever easier, one step at a time. It starts with being honest with one-self and with those around us. Being honest about our problem and seeking help is the first step on the road to a fitter, healthier, happier life. Seek out the friends, family, and co-workers who support us in our journey to be our best, most vibrant, healthy selves, not the ones who will help us to make the best excuses for indulging and caving in. You are worth it. Your life matters and it’s not about food. Eat to live, don’t live to eat.
My family was recently inspired by a documentary titled: Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead4 , which you might enjoy. In this film one man who is morbidly obese embarks on a wellness journey in which he loses over 200lbs and resolves chronic disease while spending under $500 on whole “garden” foods and $0 for exercise. Meanwhile, his older brother who is also obese suffers a heart attack which costs over $54,000 in medical bills. The older brother finds even walking a chore while the formerly morbidly obese man gets his life back, and so much more.
We are eating our way into debt and disease. According to the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), healthier diets could prevent at least $71 billion per year in medical costs, lost productivity, and lost lives5 , while obesity alone is estimated to cost $117 billion. That’s unconscionable. That’s insanity. We spend money on food we don’t need; which makes us sick and then spend our way into debt and disease, when just saying “no” to junk and “yes” to healthy could avoid it all.
5 Elizabeth Frazao. “High Costs of Poor Eating Patterns in the United States.” In America’s Eating Habits: Changes and Consequences. Edited by Elizabeth Frazao. Economic Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Washington, DC: USDA, 1999. Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 750, pp. 5-32.
This brings to mind the horrendous costs associated with the natural disasters of Hurricane Katrina ($82 billion) or Japan’s earthquake and tsunami ($309 billion). The difference here is that a vast majority of the money spent on obesity and obesity related diseases are unequivocally avoidable.
Fitness and right eating are emphatically less expensive than medical costs and the quality of health over disease is priceless and incomparable. So, it’s time to stop beating around the bush with family, friends, and colleagues. With compassion, understanding, and solutions, we can call fat what it is, and we can stop making excuses for ourselves and others.
If a fat person says they need to lose weight, instead of the usual retorts along the lines of, “Oh you look fine”, we might say something like, “Well, you’ll feel better and have more energy, so yes, you should do it! How can I help you?” If a fat person says, “I know I shouldn’t, but…” to that slice of dessert, we can learn not to help them in their excuses, and to say, “So don’t do it, it will make you feel bad” instead of “Oh, you’ve worked hard…you deserve it.” This is not at all about targeting people who suffer from the fat malady. Rather, this is about being honest about The Emperor’s New Clothes.
There are many who will assume this article is a judgment on people who are fat. There are those who will take offense. It is not. Remember, I have been there, a close loved one is there, and I still wrestle with weight, and while keeping within the “normal” range through diet and exercise, some days and weeks are better than others. What helps me the most are the family and friends who support me in health and fitness, who don’t enable my wrong choices with excuses, and who encourage my best while I do the same for them.
There is the pressure of political correctness which implies that to address someone’s weight is to criticize their appearance. The avoidance is because of the assumption that to speak of someone’s fat is to criticize how they look. Certainly, fat dramatically affects appearance, however, what if we look at this issue based on what’s more important, which is the disease-in-the-making reality of fat.
Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. So, why do friends make excuses for friends who are fat? Because we want to help them to feel better, because we want them to enjoy treats too, because we don’t want to make them feel bad….and often because we want them to make excuses for us too. If this characterizes our relationships it time to imbue those relationships with new pacts of honesty and determination, or to seek new ones with those who are seeking to be the best that they can be. Studies show that we are more likely to be overweight if we hang out with others who are, and conversely, if we hang out with people who are fit, we’re more likely to be fit.6 7 This applies to all areas of life, so same thing with business success, wealth, and even health and happiness.
If the fat represented an outer visible cancerous cell like basal cell carcinoma on a friend, wouldn’t we beseech them to do something about it right away? If we could see their heart laboring under the stress of the excess, wouldn’t we be alarmed and immediately urge them to take significant measures to heal? If our friend ran across the street in traffic, without looking, we would shout out in alarm for them to STOP!?
No one wants to be, and nor should they be, policed to eat or not eat something. Everyone should have the freedom of choice to be fit and healthy or to choose fat and inevitably, disease, and any other fallout. But, let’s call it what it is. Let’s free the dialogue from taboo, and let’s be honest about the consequences and all potential ramifications. Let The Emperor know that his new clothes are transparent and not hiding his excess. Let’s address the fat issue from understanding, compassion, and a fierce honesty for ourselves, our friends, and our loved ones. If The Emperor’s New Clothes Are Extra Large, let’s call it like it is….then invite her to the gym.
LeAura Alderson is CEO of My Trainer Fitness, publisher of do-it-yourself “personal trainer” workouts to-go on laminated cards in books of 24 and packs of 6 complete workouts for accessible fitness for work, gym, and home. For benefits, incentives, premiums, and engaging presentations, contact: LeAura@MyTrainerFitness.com. www.MyTrainerFitness.com