By Lesley | June 19, 2009
Back in November of 2008, I wrote a post in which I used the phrase “death fat”. At the time, I didn’t actually expect people would connect with it in such numbers. As a result, I’ve been continually surprised by the ongoing adoption of death fat, by bunches of people in bunches of contexts.
However, in some quarters, it seems some folk aren’t getting “death fat” as a concept. There are also a fair number of folks landing here at Fatshionista.com by googling “death fat”, which leads me to believe that there are lingering questions. So I thought I’d clarify a few things, as I see them. (Your death-fat mileage, as in all things, may vary.)
1) Death fat is funny. It’s pointing out the ridiculousness of “morbid obesity” as determined by the BMI scale, considering this measurement marks not only Actual Fat People as in danger of being killed by numbers on a scale, but many athletes as well, simply because BMI works based only on height and weight and does not calculate for the types of tissue making up an allegedly-morbidly-obese body.
2) Death fat is funny. It’s highlighting that “morbid obesity” is an hilariously-overwrought turn of phrase*, particularly given the simple reality that not everyone who falls under this category is in imminent danger – or even long-term danger – of death by fat.
3) DEATH FAT IS FUNNY. Laughter relieves stress; for example, the stress of being a fat person who is routinely told – by an individual and/or by cultural discourse as a whole – that you are morally suspect, intellectually-inferior, physically-disgusting, and/or ultimately doomed to die (unlike, uh, everyone else). Dealing with the above is occasionally stressful even for me, and I have the good fortune to possess a healthy dose of criticism with which to process it.
Ultimately, I employ death fat as a means of gently poking fun at strangers who would get all wrought up over their manufactured concerns about my health. If I had my choice, I’d much rather folks just pretend I don’t need them to instruct me on how unhealthy they think I must be.
This could function in the same way we pretend that You, Nameless Fat Shamer and Health Cop, frequently accost drinkers in a bar to inform them of how they’re endangering their health, because you Care. And just like we pretend that every single time you see a woman on the street who appears to be over 40 years of age, you demand she inform you of whether she’s had a mammogram, and if not, you give her a tiny piece of your tiny mind. (Alternatively, you can substitute a colonoscopy for the mammogram, just in case she has done that already, so you’re not robbed of your opportunity to wag a shameful finger at a stranger.) And just like we pretend that every time someone near you sneezes, you can magically produce chicken soup from thin air and send them to bed, great paragon of health-promotion that you are. Just like we pretend that it’s not fatness alone that troubles your Delicate Health Sensibilities, and that the attention paid to fatness is more an aesthetic problem that conveniently uses health as an excuse to provide uninvited “intervention”… let’s likewise pretend I’m capable of looking after myself and managing my own physical well-being.
Of course, it’s just possible that maybe everyone who would lecture a fatty on the Inevitable Health Consequences doesn’t actually do these other things. And if they don’t, it’s probably because they’d be considered unwelcome, inappropriate, and intrusive.
Hence, death fat. It gives me a laugh. It disarms those who would debate with me on matters that are not their concern. If people are going to bring up the threat of death (an inevitability, after all, no matter what one weighs or how healthy one might be) at fat people and dramatically swing it like an axe at our throats, I am going to smile patiently and nod and admit, yes, it’s true, someday I’m going to die. But it won’t be after spending my whole life miserably chasing a body I’m not meant to have. It won’t be after spending my whole life fearing and doubting myself. And in the end it’s not something you need to worry about anyway; don’t let your own life pass you by because you’re trying to tell me how to live mine.
* I am aware that some in the medical community are actively trying to phase “morbidly obese” out, in favor of obesity class I, class II, etc. I suspect the movement to do so is rooted in the indisputable over-the-topness of the original phrasing.
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