Is Being Overweight Acceptable?

I have many things to say yet I’m still sick and without any energy (although no longer eating like crap), so my bandwidth to produce coherent content is just not there right now! Hoping you all can help me keep the discussion going with this one. 

Tonight over on FitSugar, I saw the headline “Is Being Overweight More Acceptable Today?”

The question was raised after a new Gallup poll released that American’s weigh on average 20 pounds more than they did  20 years ago, and that those surveyed also said that their perception of what the ideal weight is has increased by about 10 pounds in the past 20 years.

The word “acceptable” is something that really bothers me. In definition, the word means “able to be agreed upon; suitable,” which doesn’t seem like the context that it’s delivered in. For example, Fat Acceptance in my mind doesn’t mean that fat is agreed upon as suitable by everyone. It has more to do with tolerance than acceptance. So for this discussion, I’ll jump to TOLERANCE.

A few questions for open discussion. No bashing or I’ll delete your ass. My site, my rules.

  • Do American’s tolerate higher weights today because they’re more prevalent?
  • Do American’s tolerate the poor food choices that are presented in schools and at the grocery stores, and is that why tolerance of higher weights is more widespread?
  • Do you think that as an overweight person, you are more accepted now than you would have been in the past?
  • If you aren’t overweight, do you have more tolerance for overweight people?
My quick thoughts:
  • We live in a society where we are more sedentary and have access to awful food because of the lifestyle that has adapted over the past 20 years.
  • Just because more people might look heavier doesn’t mean that they are accepted any more than they were 20 years ago.
  • I would like to believe that as humans we continue to evolve into kinder, more tolerant individuals that are supportive of all things different than ourselves, however I don’t think this is the case.
  • Perception of tolerance and acceptance is in the eyes of the beholder. If they think they’re being judged, we’re not doing good enough.
  • I think as individuals, we have an extremely difficult time working on things in the abstract, and instead are so focused on external, measurable results that effort is usually diminished unless peers deem it a success.

I would love to hear your thoughts. Please share below.

  • Jacki

    I started typing something else and got sidetracked by the idea of circus fat ladies.  My immediate thought was, “We don’t treat morbidly obese people as oddities anymore.”  But you know what?  We do.  I don’t get cable anymore, but for a awhile, there was a slew of reality shows – particularly on TLC – that basically turned morbidly obese people into a freak show.  “Half Ton Man” is one that comes to mind, but there were many. 

    I don’t think we tolerate poor food choices as much as we embrace them.   The food we have available today is fast and cheap – and packed with calories.  And we seem willing to make that trade-off.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t know that it is more acceptable as it isn’t such a shock anymore… I think being overweight is something you can’t hide, and people will judge you on it no matter who or what you are.  As someone who has been skinny and then put on weight, I can tell you, being overweight is not accepted with everything I do.  GREAT post!

  • Kristine Thompson

    This is a great discussion! AS someone who was morbidly obese for many years, do I think acceptance has increased? I don’t really think so. I find that now, I’m more successful and feel more accepted than I was before (that said, having been there, I think I’m accepting, but perhaps that’s just my opinion?)

    I do think there are some generic stereotypes about overweight people, including that they are lazy, they make bad choices, and they don’t take care of themselves. 

    Has society changed… if anything, I think we may have become more judgemental!

  • Kristine Thompson

    This is a great discussion! AS someone who was morbidly obese for many years, do I think acceptance has increased? I don’t really think so. I find that now, I’m more successful and feel more accepted than I was before (that said, having been there, I think I’m accepting, but perhaps that’s just my opinion?)

    I do think there are some generic stereotypes about overweight people, including that they are lazy, they make bad choices, and they don’t take care of themselves. 

    Has society changed… if anything, I think we may have become more judgemental!

  • Jenn M.

    Excellent thoughts on this challenging topic. I agree that acceptance has not increased and I think people who are overweight are still often stereotyped.

  • Heather

    I think the tolerance that is more prevalent today is tolerance of ignorance. Most people (I am generalizing) accept that what food choices are out there, in schools, in restaurants, etc, are “normal.” Surely these large corporations have their own scientists & dieticians who do the research to know that food is “good” and therefore that’s what they offer. Less thinking that I as a consumer have to do.

    We also accept a sedentary lifestyle as “normal.” It’s easier to drive a car than walk, to sit at our desk jobs all day, go through the drive-thru everything instead of get out of our cars, etc, etc. We sit in front of our TVs, play videos games, instead of getting outside to play or walk in the neighborhood.

    As to whether obese individuals are more accepted today, I’m not sure. There is still a lot of prejudice out there. But the causes for why more people are obese are definitely more tolerated, and that is my concern. Our society is full of people who want to sit on their backsides and let others do their thinking for them.

  • jnwalsh1

    To your first three questions: absolutely yes.  This is not to say that overweight people are all happy with themselves or that overweight people never encounter uncomfortable situations or criticism; however, with the majority of Americans overweight (I believe current stats are around 65%, with about half that majority qualifying as medically obese), it absolutely has become normalized.  Tweny-five years ago, when I was in high school, finding a prom dress in a size 16 or 18 was a project.  Now clothing for juniors, misses and women up to size 26 or 28 can be found in almost any department store, from WalMart to Macy’s.  Go to the men’s department in any store and you will find plenty of shirts in XXXL and even high end stores like Brooks Brothers have size 48 pants in stock as a regular item.  I had no problem finding wedding dresses in size 20 when I got married in 1999…there’s a market for large size clothing now because large size people are prevalent.  There are companies who specifically design and market “extra large” home items (bath towels, chairs, SCISSORS) to accommodate the obese.  

    As for your fourth question, I will be honest at the risk of being harsh: having spent a decade being obese and just having reached my fourth year of maintaining a 65+ lb. weight loss, I am less — I don’t know if “tolerant” is the word — it’s not like I shun overweight people or think they should be banished to an island somewhere…maybe I could say I am more perplexed by the thought processes and traps that I see overweight people using, that I used to use myself. I have many friends and acquaintances who are overweight, some dangerously so…some who “struggle” with it (yo-yo fad dieting, always talking about their weight, etc.) and some who are apparently fine with themselves the way they are and have no plans to change their lifestyle or lose weight.  I had periods of being both these things; one month starving on Weight Watchers, the next month saying, F*** this, I’m just going to eat whatever, and too bad; this is me.  Now I would say I am less tolerant of excuses (“I don’t have time to exercise,” “It costs too much to eat real food,” “I have a slow metabolism,” “I’ve had kids,” “I’m just not meant to be a size 4,” etc…because those are the excuses *I* used to use, and now I know how weak they were.  I certainly don’t mock or harass these friends about their weight, but I have less patience for their justifications and I also don’t appreciate it when they comment on what I’m eating/not eating, how much time I spend at the gym, what I’m wearing…which some of them feel is fine to do.

    Your assumptions about the abundance of processed junk foods that comprise the standard American diet and  the increasingly sedentary nature of our daily lives is absolutely correct; however, those are controllable variables and not our only options.  Making conscious choices to learn about nutrition, prepare and eat healthier meals in proper portions, and making time for activity and exercise are things that take effort.  Eating whatever packaged crap is close by while vegging out on the laptop or in front of the TV is taking the path of least resistance.

    Your second point…it’s not that people *look* heavier, it’s that they *are* heavier.  And I do think heavier people are more accepted (or expected) just because it is now the majority.  It is not odd in the least to see people who weigh 300 pounds or more.  One of the other commenters mentioned “circus fat ladies” and people no longer being treated as oddities, and she is right.  There is nothing unusual about being very large anymore.

    Third point: the world is a cruel place and becoming more so all the time.

    Fourth point:  Disagree.   Why is it my fault if someone else’s insecurities make him/her feel judged when I’m not judging him/her?  I don’t think it’s everyone else’s job to butter me up and make me feel good about myself.  As I said before, I KNOW that some of my overweight friends judge ME for my choices and that is because the changes I’ve made make them question their own choices…but that’s not my fault and not my problem.

    Fifth: interesting concept.  I like to think that I do what I do for myself, but hells yes, it sure is nice to be recognized for the effort.

  • Caroline Calcote

    I also don’t think being morbidly obese is any more acceptable than it ever was. Yes, I guess we are more accustomed to seeing very large people than people were 100 years ago, but I really don’t believe that means that anybody thinks it’s just fine. As a formerly morbidly obese person, I know that I am treated much differently by strangers than I was when I was very large. I think I was both more and less invisible when I was big, if that makes sense. I felt judgment, both overt and passive, but I also felt dismissed in many situations.

    I know that at 170# I am the same person that I was at 270#. The same person! I try very hard to not judge people based on their weight, but it is almost impossible if I am going to be completely honest. I don’t make judgments about whether that person is lazy or stupid, because I KNOW that people are not fat because of those things from personal experience, LOL. I usually wonder if they are sad and I can’t help but feel empathy (and honestly pity) because I know what a rough road it is to travel. I try to remind myself that you just don’t know a stranger’s story so you should not judge! It’s hard, though.

    I think this is a very difficult topic…hard to sort out feelings about it. I do know that I always feel like “never been obese” people just have no clue, although they usually have an opinion.

  • Anonymous

    Do American’s tolerate higher weights today because they’re more prevalent?  In general, I don’t think so.  I think maybe overweight/obese people do but all you have to do is read comments in any weight loss article on CNN or other mainstream media sites to see the worst of what society has to offer on their thoughts of overweight/fat people.

    Do American’s tolerate the poor food choices that are presented in schools and at the grocery stores, and is that why tolerance of higher weights is more widespread?  I think they tolerate them at schools because they don’t know how to change it or go about suggesting meaningful change in school programs.  I don’t think the grocery store is a viable example because you have choices there and the choice is all on you.  Even places like Whole Foods have what some would consider “poor” nutritional choices.

    Do you think that as an overweight person, you are more accepted now than you would have been in the past?  I think it’s less accepted than it was when I was a kid.  I can count on one hand how many times something was said to me about my weight because I didn’t/won’t hesitate to yell back.  But with the internet and social media bullying isn’t limited to the playground or school.  I’ve seen horrible things said to and about adults from co-workers, family, etc.  (One that comes to mind is a co-worker taking a pic of someone from behind and sending it to all of their co-workers saying “lay off the cupcakes people or you’ll end up looking like this.”  Grounds for harrassment in the workplace yet nothing was done)

    Great conversation starter!

  • Maggie

    Of course being overwight is acceptable.  We can accept you. In our workplace.  Into our homes.  In an embrace.  Into our lives. 
    Personally, I want to be friends with you, Emily!  If I met you, I’d want to hug you.  I would want to sit down with you and have some tea or a bottle of wine and talk about it all and I think there’d be tears.  I accept you.
    But I expect that for most overweight people, being accepted is not as easy as it is for healthy weight people – making friends, finding love, getting ahead at work can all be harder.  So there will be people and situations in which overweight are less accepted than others. 

    Even though it’s acceptable, or tolerable, if you looked me in the eyes and asked me to tell you the truth “Is my body ok?  Is it ok?” I’m honestly not sure what I’d say.  Maybe that yes, it’s ok because you can’t snap your fingers and just make it go away and I believe in “ok for right now.”  I have so much respect and admiration for you, that I want you to *feel* ok and still hear me say that your body is not ok.  And you could be mad at me, but I would still love you.

    We know it’s not ok to throw rocks at someone with a deformity or who has tremors or just looks differently than we expect.  And part of what we’re taught about those people is that they can’t help the way they are or the way they look.  So we try to be open and accept it. 
    What’s funny about overweightness is that you CAN help the way you look.  Except you can’t just snap your fingers and change it right that second. 

  • BarbaraMarie Cappello

    Do American’s tolerate higher weights today because they’re more prevalent?
     I think SOME people say they don’t want to be heavy and yet make poor choices.Do American’s tolerate the poor food choices that are presented in schools and at the grocery stores, and is that why tolerance of higher weights is more widespread?
    I think that  the differences in incomes can lead having to make poorer food/eating choices. I can speak for  the public schools in my neighborhood and neighborhoods around where I live. They have fought for better school choices and have brought change into the schools. From breakfast on up. They have also re-started having breakfast for the children who need in in the summer and for some schools, while on breaks. It is not an issue for private schools.  Do you think that as an overweight person, you are more accepted now than you would have been in the past?No I do not.  Due to medication, gained weight. The comments I hear from people do indicate that tolerance exists. is that why tolerance of higher weights is more widespread? No, I think that the images that are shown of overweight people and people who have increased theri weight indicate even less tolerance. I also think this contributes to why both genders now can heave real weight issues as a child and teen/young adult.
    If you aren’t overweight, do you have more tolerance for overweight people?I do not judge a person’s weight or lack of weight. 

  • Kate

    I used to be close to 300 lbs (I’m about 6′ tall) and could feel the constant judgment from people – I’m sure a lot of it was because my self-confidence was crap and I thought people were staring at me even if they weren’t.  Now at around 240 lbs, no longer morbidly obese and a lot more confident (I also made other lifestyle changes that have contributed to that), I rarely feel those judgments anymore.  I think more has been done to accommodate changing waistlines, but not at the rate at which the country is becoming obese.  I think people are less likely to call people in the overweight range “fat” than they used to be because of the extremes we now see, but I don’t think it will ever be acceptable in this society – nor do I think it should be.  I know for my health and for our economy, I should be losing a lot more weight and that lack of acceptance and is what motivates me even more.  Yes, people should treat each other with respect at any size and I think toleration is a facet of that.  Sadly, I’ve become MORE critical of people’s size because of my journey – I know it’s not easy to lose weight, but I know how possible it is, so I am even more likely to judge (it’s awful, I know!)

  • Cherie

    One thing that I haven’t seen discussed or touched on yet is geographic location. If you look at the CDC’s reporting of obese adults across America is is interesting to see the change from 1990- 2010 in percentages of obese Americans in relation to where they live. I know particularly for me I live in San Francisco, CA where adult obesity hovers somewhere around 16-20%. Although of course that number could be lower in one of the most “health conscious” cities around, it does make it so the prevalence and acceptance of obesity just isn’t there. New York- another heavily populated city/state, but one whose culture relies on foot traffic and public transportation to get anywhere also has a very low rate of obesity: around 18-20%. Compare that to Oklahoma’s >35% where to get anywhere you have to jump in your car and drive. 

    My point here is that perception is reality. If you live somewhere where you just don’t see a lot of obese/overweight people around you, you start to accept it less and less and it becomes a stigma. When you live somewhere where it is all around you then of course it is more accepted because it is all you know. This could be said of topics more far reaching than weight: religion, morals, gender issues etc… I don’t think it is whether or not “Americans” tolerate higher weights I think it is a personal question of whether or not you are willing to. 

    I was watching an episode of “Say Yes to the Dress” the other day where a bride to be was morbidly obese. The girl was absolutely beautiful, but I have to say a part of it made me a little sad. Everyone in her bridal party, and her immediate family was obese as well. Say Yes to the Dress wasn’t making any social commentary on this kind of weight being “unhealthy” nor did they present the bride in a “I know I’m overweight, but I’m tryin’ to lose it” kind of way. She was happy being the weight she was. Although I don’t want to bag on her, I don’t think that kind of  blind acceptance should be promoted. The fact of the matter is she was a young lady of 25, weighing over 300 pounds who needs to lose weight if she wants to make it to 50. She’s putting herself up for major health risks, not to mention complications if she decides to start a family. But in a town/state where everyone around her was also overweight she didn’t seem to think twice about it. 

    I don’t think anyone (I hope) chooses to be obese/overweight. But we can choose to do something about it once we get there. Regardless of the fact that it is so difficult to lose weight (we all know that!) we can’t stand by idle and accept or promote obesity. 

  • Chantelle

    This is such a sensitive issue for so many people! There is a never ending battle between what is acceptable. I live in Ireland and obesity is a growing problem and there is a real divide in our food culture. There is those who enjoy good, local food (bought at farmers markets etc) but they get branded as snobs for being “too good” to shop at a major supermarket and then there are people who buy bad food just because it is cheaper and so on. 

    With regards obesity, most people I know are accepting of it. They do not judge someone on their size. But I have encountered people that think obesity is just a result of laziness and this attitude disgusts me! Read any weight loss blog and you can see that the issues go far beyond not wanting to go the gym!

  • Candice @ Sailing on Paper

    This is a really hard topic for most people, I think. If you personally aren’t overweight, then you definitely know (and probably care about) someone who is overweight. I don’t ever think that morbidly obese individuals will be treated with less aversion than they historically have. But since we develop tolerance over time, our sense of “norm” will probably shift to a more overweight body. I don’t know if there’s a right answer to this, though. I’ve been overweight my whole life, so I don’t have a lot of skinny experience to compare it to. It’s an interesting discussion to bring up. 

  • Jody – Fit at 54

    I am not sure it is more “tolerable” now.. to me, this day & age, people seem so less tolerable in this political climate – just saying mean things no matter what & their way or the high way. I had hoped for better & still do…..

  • KCLAnderson (Karen)

    I’ve been thinking about this since you first posted this and I finally have an answer: the only thing that matters is that I practice understanding, acceptance, and tolerance of myself, which leads to understanding, acceptance, and tolerance of others, no matter what the issue. I believe that if we all practiced this our general health (physical, emotional, spiritual) would improve, and, as a result, many of us would lose weight. 

    • KCLAnderson (Karen)

      Wanted to add: Even if we lost weight, we still might not fit society’s narrow definition of what our bodies “should” look like, we might not all  be “athletes,” but we would be healthier.

  • Pingback: “Us Versus Them” Isn’t Helpful When It Comes To Health | KCLAnderson (Karen)()

  • Mollypfister

    Regarding point no. 1, statistically, if x number of people are overweight vs. x number however many years ago, yes, we are more tolerant because we still love the people we love and accept them. I don’t know if our attitudes have changed toward the amount of people we love and accept into our lives (I doubt it) so yes, statistically it’s more acceptable to be overweight and there are still people who love and care for them.

    Regarding no. 2, unfortunately I think the prevalence of crap food is more accepted because its in front of us everyday. If your family relies on food stamps (as an overwhelming majority of obese people do) financially, meals can’t contain as many fresh foods as they might want. Those same families rely in free school lunches, which aren’t much better. (Jamie Oliver FTW!)

    Regarding no. 4, no I don’t. (at least not as much as I wish I did). Which is sad. It’s something I haven’t made peace with within myself, so I continue to judge others.