Obesity (How Repetition Reinforces)

Think of the last time you saw an obese person. What’s the first thing that came to mind as you saw that person?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve had the privilege of speaking with a few people who belong to the overweight side of humans (another word, obese). Some of them got the support structure, took the right effort for several years and were able to lose a significant amount of weight, while some others couldn’t.

During my conversations about them, particularly their childhood, I thought of the overweight kids of my school, especially the one in my class and the way the students of the class used to make fun of them. This post is a collection of ideas about this particular situation of human existence. Further, since the picking on the obese begins with childhood itself, a lot of my examples are from school life.

First, let’s go through the basics.

What is Obesity?

As per WHO, ‘overweight and obesity are defined as abnormal or excessive fat accumulation that may impair health’.
In other words, excessive accumulation of fat by the body leads to increase in weight, resulting in what is called as obesity.

What causes Obesity?

Body science says there are multiple reasons for obesity. Overeating is a common reason which is normally in the control of the individual.
At the same time, there are other reasons such as genetics and certain health conditions such as underactive thyroid and some others which also cause obesity. Such factors leading to obesity are typically not in control of the individual. The ‘y’ factor of the individual, if you may say so, in the Equation of Life.

The Childhood

A number of kids who are obese in childhood are not because of overeating. In the same family, two children are raised. One of them is slim, other fat. This is typically not because of overeating since by virtue of being in the same family, they are getting access to the same kind of foodstuffs and are, under normal circumstances, eating the same type and quantity of food.

Therefore, chances are high that a large number of obese kids you and I have met in our schools during childhood were obese because of some or the other health conditions.

Either case, the fact remains.

Obesity: A Negative Exception

Thanks to all the marketing efforts for portraying that slim is the new in, be it zero size fashion models with pointy faces appearing on television, on the cover of magazines, on the beaches, in our films or be it six pack dudes roaming around topless (at times even bottomless).

Continuous repetition of the idea of slim and a perfect figure or physique exhibited by the global marketing industry has created an inherent impression in the mind that being fat, is just bad. (Although it’s quite counterintuitive that 90% of the eating material you see at a supermarket or a shopping mall is not going help you go anywhere near that dream of slimness!)

As a result of the entire focus of attractiveness pointed towards the slim, as per the Theory of Expectations, being fat becomes a Negative Exception in the eyes of the looker. A negative exception is something which is distinctively noticeable but unattractive to the senses. The most common example of a negative exception is the foul smell coming from a pile of trash.

Think of the last time you saw an obese person. What’s the first thing that came to mind as you saw that person?

“Unattractive? Fat? Disgust? Pity? Fear? Sadness?”

Chances are you would have felt the above much more than anything else such as an appreciation of the person for his/her smile for example.

It is as if fat and everything related to it has somehow been considered to be negative. It has become a taboo.

Repetition Reinforces

There was no problem with all this marketing and consideration of obese as good/bad if we would have kept it to ourselves, but no. We humans are complicated creatures. We enjoy being vocal and vividly verbal over certain issues and matters. As it so happens, obesity is one of them.

Why else would we have had gotten nicknames like: “Motu”, “Moti”, “Bubbly”, “Fatty” “Haathi”, “Baby elephant”, “Gorilla”, “Chimpanzee” and a lot more.

Why else when it comes to eating, would we make fun of obese people, as if they eat the entire world in one meal?

Why else do we say things to obese kids such as, “How will your marriage happen, you are so fat?”, “It’ll be so difficult for us to find the right bride/groom for you?” “Your health will suffer because of your condition.”

Why else, when in school you never get to know the crushes of a fat person. Because every time they tried telling you who they had a crush on, they were ridiculed by saying, “Hey Fatty, have you looked at yourself in the mirror? Do you even think you can get anywhere with that person?!”

Why else would you choose a slim person over a fat one to represent the school in a contest, or represent the family in certain matters in spite of the fact that latter is better?

I recall the last time I took part at a competition in school, I had a continuous support of my parents and my teachers. Those few words of appreciation by someone before the contest worked wonders to push me to achieve my full potential. Words have power, a lot of it. The more such words of appreciation and applause about something I receive when I’m a kid, the more confident I got in that particular area and the more increased my chances of excelling in that particular area.

Since childhood, rarely have we been giving words of appreciation to obese children. Repetition reinforces. What kind of impact do you think such words repeated over time would do to a small child when he/she is in school? Make him/her be more confident and win at things related to life? I wish!

It’s true that we don’t always call someone “Mota” or “Moti” for the sake of making fun of them. After it becomes a nickname, the name just goes on even though we care as much for the person as we care for anybody else. However, for people who sit at the other side of the table, it’s just a nickname, they don’t even think about it too much after some time. For people who are on the receiving side, words have power.

The Psyche of Obesity

The good or the bad thing about the way we are created by nature is that none of us can really see ourselves, unless we stand in front of the mirror. The only face that is the least familiar to me is my own face. As a result, a child defines his/her way of looking at the self and at the world by the feedback he/she gets from parents, peers, and teachers. Even today when I am an adult, if someone comes and tells me that I’m looking good, I immediately start feeling happy and confident. The question is what kind of feedback does an obese kid get when he/she is in school? Is that feedback leading to confidence and assertiveness or is it leading to anything else? The feedback they receive is going to define the way they look at the world.

As a result of all of these factors, you find obese children not getting too much attached with a lot of people. Friendships circle or the ‘social circle’ gets reduced.

Some of the following things may happen as a result:

a. A feeling of loneliness because of no/few close friendships.
b. A key problem with being called ‘fat’ is that the person can’t react with anger every time someone calls them fat. Further, since everyone is doing the same, the anger itself has the potential to lead to loneliness, and no one wants to be lonely. We are social animals by design. So the next best option is to ignore being called as ‘fat’ and create a persona of another good quality, mostly humor, to get liked by people. In other words, this leads to using humor as a ‘defense mechanism’.
c. Further, obese people are being constantly told what to eat, what to do, what not to eat, what not to do, how not to behave and so on by the well-wishers. All of this irrespective of whether they have asked for their advice or not. No one wants to hear unwanted advice, including obese people. This leads to a feeling of anguish towards the world at large. Anger at one’s own friends and family members every time they were asked not to eat the pizza slice when the pizza was ready on the plate.
d. Most importantly, in case of obese, there is little acceptance of myself as who I am. There is always a yearning to change, to be someone else. Which usually begins by asking existential questions like, “Why was I built that way?” “Why is there no one to understand and support me with this?”

God created differences. Man created judgments.

Someone is fat, another thin. Someone is tall, another short. Someone is born with only one eye, someone is born without the ability of hearing, and someone is born with all five senses working well. God only created us different.

It is we who have judged and created goods and bads out of them.

A garden is good but a forest is not. A squirrel is good but a rat is not. Snakes and spiders are not good, cats and dogs are. Black color is not good, white is, a rainbow even better.

Arbitrary comparison between things have led to an imaginary ideas of good and bad out of the different ways in which God created us.

So what is the way out?

Quite frankly, I see one of three things happening.

1. Accept the differences without judgment. Which means if someone is obese, let them be obese and accept them for who they are. Don’t worry about their wedding, don’t worry about their future. This means no teasing, no nicknames, no making fun by picking on anybody in school, no disturbing them by raising unnecessary concern at home. Understanding that God created all of us to be the way we are and no change is necessary. All humans are equal and no human is more equal than others. In other words, Utopia! So much of wishful thinking!

2. Accept the situation, educate the obese. Words have a powerful impact on a person, until the time the person introspects within them and tries to understand who they really are. This would involve informing the obese that the world has always been like that and it will forever be. The world is not in my hands. What is in my hands the way I behave and react to it. Let me not react to what they say and let me find out who I really am. Meditation may help in this regard. However, until the time the majority is on the other side, educating just the obese is not going to do anything significant.

3. Accept the obese, educate the rest. Words do have a powerful impact on us. This text is for you and me and everyone else who does not face this challenge of obesity on a daily basis. I may not be obese, but every time I am giving words to someone that disturbs their Equilibrium, am I doing any good to my own self? Why to unnecessarily make fun of someone over something that was not in their control from the first instance. I’m sure they must already have tried a lot to take themselves out of it. If at all, provide help in any way possible, if not by words then by mere presence of yours in a non-judgmental way. Look as equal, as if there was nothing to comment on and feel and judge about from the first instance. Understand that someone’s life situation is not for my humor and amusement.

This is a long shot because of the sheer numbers, however it still makes sense to inform and educate the rest much more than anything else.

Epilogue

In the world of big, bigger and biggest beers, burgers and pizzas, gaining weight is easy. Losing takes a lot of effort and determination and a lot of time, at times even years. Taking that kind of effort over a prolonged period of time requires motivation, that too from outside especially at times when the self is lost. This reflects the importance of people in life. One motivates the other and vice versa.

Obesity, for whatever reason it may be caused, is not something that is to be frowned upon. It is true that slim looks better and more appealing to the eye. There is a reason why marketers have size zero and six packs models in their campaigns. If such is the case, if we really want to take ourselves to a slimmer and a thinner world, let us first accept ourselves the way we are and then create an environment where each one of us helps the other and gets the opportunity to elevate ourselves to a higher state of existence. Until then, let’s not disturb anybody’s Equilibrium unnecessarily.

  • Tanjul

    Agastya Maurya rightly said words have power and this article has proved it once again. Well I tell my fellow workout friends to actually accept the way they are because until and unless they won’t accept themselves, they cannot even work towards what they want to achieve (phyiscally, in this sense). The need of the hour is to educate people around to understand we all cannot be ‘the people’ in those magazines and television, because they are someone whose profession is being ‘perfect’ (if at all it exists). I hope people get that being ‘real’ is more important than being ‘slim’. Slim doesn’t define a person in each and every way.

    • That’s absolutely true Tanjul. There is a need to educate people that the slim of the magazines is not the only way. In fact a smile can actually take one a million miles!
      And this need to go to both. People who are obese to accept and love themselves for who they are, and also to those who don’t want to see obesity in their family and schools.

      I hope I am able to reach out to them one day for a better and peaceful coexistence.

  • Sonal Choudhary

    Very well written! Usually it is not so easy to understand the psyche and psychological situations of those in whose shoes you have never been. However, you, my dear friend have done a very good job at this.

    Being obese since childhood, I can relate to every word you have penned down.

    Though I don’t blame the society completely for the lower self-esteem that most obese people carry. We (the obese ones) too are responsible for it because we at times choose this situation for self pity and that is the most dangerous bit.

    We all need to first learn to accept and love our own selves before expecting any acceptance from society.

    Thanks for bringing out the hidden side and putting it across in such simple yet powerful words! Keep doing the good work.

    • Thank you Sonal for the kind words 🙂

      It is my forever attempt to bring understand the psyche, to understand the mind and to communicate the ideas as simple as I can. Your appreciation means a lot!

      That part is true, not always does the situation come out of society. I feel the society plays a major role in shaping the thoughts of the obese kids at the age when they don’t have the power to retaliate. Self pity is the counter effect which then comes out from within as a result.

      What rather should be is self love but that’s a complicated thing. It is my hope that this post reaches to as many people as possible so at least we realize what we’ve been doing, knowingly or unknowingly and that there is no need to do certain things.

      Thanks!

  • Trisha Sengupta

    It is a very well written. I can relate to almost every word. Thanks for such a thoughtful piece.