Fat Traitor
One woman walks away from the 'fat is beautiful' movement

There's a big, fat civil war raging in the United States. On one side are the 97 million overweight or obese Americans. On the other side, there are the National Institutes of Health. It's only a matter of time before there are warning labels on Twinkies: "These can make you fat and kill you or cause you to kill a mayor and gay supervisor."

See also...
... by Nancy Evelyn Gold
... in the Whoa! section
... from December 16, 1999

At a more-than-fluffy 435 pounds, I fall clearly in the camp of the overweight confederacy. Although my 6-foot height is tall for a woman, this still gives me a Body Mass Index of 59. BMIs allow us to take sides in the fat war. If your BMI is less than 25, you're clearly a card-carrying thin person and you get all the rights and privileges thereof (like affordable life insurance, comfort in airline seats, etc). With a BMI greater than 30, it's time to take up arms. Welcome to the world of obesity. If you're over 40, you're "morbidly" obese. At 50+, welcome to my world, the world of the "super" obese (we've yet to find any blue tights or red capes that fit).

Responding angrily to the stringent BMI scale, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (www.naafa.org) has a policy on obesity research that states, "Obesity researchers' hypotheses often incorporate personal or cultural biases against fat people. Unproven assumptions about fatness frequently invalidate the basic premise of research studies." Right on!

Until just two years ago, I considered my weight a social issue. I lived life to its fullest, rode my motorcycle hard and fast, hiked and walked with a bounce in my step. Fifteen different weight loss programs had failed me, and the yo-yo diet syndrome had taken its toll. It was easy for me to buy into the warm and fuzzy words of NAAFA and the fat acceptance community. It was just like being a lesbian -- I didn't need to be thin; the world just needed to get over my being fat. I'm here, I'm fat, get used to that!

As I entered my 30-somethings, my body -- like any piece of aging machinery -- started having problems dealing with my excess weight. My lungs were less than thrilled about being buried under the equivalent of several wet blankets, and my back was stressed from needing to deal with a center of gravity that was out over my toes instead of over my hips. Something had to give... and everything did. At 31 I was effectively disabled. I had bad knees, a herniated disc, yeast infections in the folds of my skin, and numerous skin eruptions. Those warm and fuzzy words from NAAFA didn't make much sense anymore.

My fat friends told me the weight wasn't the issue, that these problems were just injuries. I guess I've got a lot of injured, clumsy, fat friends. Many can't make it up a half-flight of stairs, regularly break furniture, and generally live life as if they're moving through unseen Jell-O. I don't have many super-obese friends over 45, and I have none over 55.

As my "injuries" continued to plague me, I realized that it was time for me to see how the other half lives, to cross the line and live among the thin. But how do you defect from fat? With the success rate on diets less than 10 percent (worse than your odds on most slot machines), I had to find another method. I tried Fen-Phen and narrowly escaped heart damage. So I turned to the surgeon's knife.

Surgery to treat obesity has been around since 1954. What's new is that the deaths of the 1950s and 1960s, and the popped staples and failures of the 1970s, have led to new procedures. In the 1990s, the success rate is over 80 percent (defined as 70 percent of the excess weight staying off for at least five years). Mortality is now 1 in 200 -- pretty good odds if you're looking at a shortened life anyway.

Postoperative symptoms can include diarrhea, sweats, fainting when eating sweet foods, severe gas (bad enough to cause divorces), vitamin and mineral deficiencies, and a multitude of other woes. Still, most agree they would gladly do it again. Newer surgeries are said to avoid many side effects.

What does NAAFA say about this? "The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance condemns gastrointestinal surgery for weight loss under any circumstances. Until all weight loss surgeries are discontinued, NAAFA urges that such surgeries be restricted to controlled studies conducted by trained medical researchers. Further, NAAFA believes that the psychosocial suffering that fat people face is more appropriately relieved by social and political reform than by surgery."

While NAAFA may have started with the good intentions of advancing size acceptance, it's become a dogmatic association designed to help people remain in denial.

Today I'm standing on the Mason-Dixon Line of fat. I've burned my uniform, I'm walking my fat naked self across. Soon this fat girl will walk among the thin, as traitor or spy.

Nancy Evelyn Gold is a screenwriter, computer babe, and self-confessed motorcycle addict who knows more about Western medicine than she'd like.