jump to navigation

Obesonomics. April 24, 2008

Posted by phledge in fat, yellow bile.

I made up a word.  That’s a great way to end the day.  🙂

I was contemplating the convergence of fat and socioeconomic status and I think I realize, at least in my own mind, why the “good fatty” might be given a reluctant stamp of approval in the patriarchal paradigm, whereas the “bad fatty” is, by this paradigm, left out to dry.*  In the United States it is difficult if damn near impossible to be a poor good fatty.  In order to achieve the goals set out by a pseudoscientific medical community that itself does not have consensus on what, actually, constitutes “healthy lifestyle” (Atkins bad, Ornish good?  NutriSystem bad, South Beach good?  To butter or to margarine?  What do we do with artificial sweeteners?  Oh our heads!), one generally has to have the agency to exercise daily and eat fresh foods.  If you can afford a gym membership and a weekly excursion to Whole Foods, you end up higher on the spectrum of “taking care of one’s self” than, say, someone who is lucky to spend five whole resting minutes to themselves before going from one labor-intensive minimum wage no benefits job to the next, lucky to be able to eat a spicy chicken sandwich off the dollar menu at any number of fast food restaurants across this fine land.  And I wonder if, in countries where fat is not condemned the way it is in America, the wealth is what’s attractive, the ability to stave off famine with both adipose and financial stores evidenced by an ample body.  So I’m fishing:  anyone live in, or know of, countries where fat is not a death sentence?  Does my theory pan out? ie, are those countries existing under the spectre of starvation for the less fortunate?  I know this is a sweeping generalization of Herculean proportions, but I’m seeing a lot of rich thin and fat poor, and wondering if teh fatz is not to blame for teh hatez.  (Well, I don’t think it should be the source of so much anger and judgment anyway, but I, I’m a tad biased.)

*Sorry I forgot this in the original publication:  I think the good/bad fatty dichotomy is horseshit.  Bears repeating.



1. Bri - April 25, 2008

Obesonomics… I love it. It rates up there with epi-panic.

2. BKJ - April 25, 2008

Yes, I ‘m here!!
I’m living in a country where FAT is spelled H-E-A-L-T-Y and also S-E-X-Y! Amazing, but true! I am a US expat who has been living in Burkina Faso for nine years now and I’ve found that there’s SUCH a different ideal of beauty here!!!!
In West Africa in general, being thin or losing weight is a marker of ILL HEALTH. It means that something is wrong with you. (Sadly, it is often associated with HIV.)

“Hey- you’ve gained weight” is a compliment in Burkina. In fact, another way for saying someone is fat is saying that she/he is “en forme” (in shape!)
Body fat, for both men and women is seen as a sign of wealth, health and general mad sexiness.

Luckily, I have an ideal body shape for this culture. At 5ft 7in and just over 200 lbs, I get lots of compliments from men and women alike! But figures much larger than mine are greatly admired.

Of course, more and more people have television and European/Developed World standards of beauty are trickling in. And certainly there are plenty of thin prostitutes to serve the tastes of white sex tourists and expats.
But the cultural ideal is still mostly traditional and very fat-positive. No death-sentance here!

That’s the news from Burkina Faso, where ALL the fatties are GOOD!

3. littlem - April 26, 2008

I’ve heard of it in Mauritania, and in certain of the South Sea Islands.

However, I think you hit on something pretty powerful and universal that transcends locale, time constraint, and America’s Puritanistic exercise + deprivation = pain + suffering = good conundrum.

Whatever is emblematic of what the wealthiest tenet of the population has is what’s sought after. And the more extreme manifestation of it that can be mustered up, the better.

It’s why the more you weigh in countries that value larger women, the better. It’s also why the thinner you are in cultures that value smaller women, the better.

Also, both increasing and decreasing one’s weight beyond one’s natural set point in either direction takes time and work, therefore the body shape, if conforming sufficiently to the cultural ideal, stands in as a synecdoche for effort, which shows that you have a “good work ethic”! Hurray!!


What I try not to froth at the mouth about the most, however — because the froth does not generally match my lipstick and is therefore not a good look — is how this drama, for the most part and at its extremes, even thought the men tend to be in charge of constructing the paradigm, plays out on the bodies of women.


4. chunque - April 27, 2008

yes, but let’s not forget that people in Burkina Fasso may be just as messed up — for different reasons — as Americans. Dying of AIDS is not a happy experience. For as stoopid, ignorant — and worst of all, proud — as Americans are, it’s no solution to point to Africans and say they have it better. In fact, it smells a bit of colonial imperialism to glorify the simple virtues of “lesser-industrialized” people.


5. phledge - April 27, 2008

Littlem, absolutely. And I think there’s a shorthand between “effort towards your body” meaning “effort as a human being,” which is what we in the States like to think is how people become rich. In some cases it’s true, but indeed many people have wealth through no fault or focus of their own. It’s why the phrase “choosing good parents” strikes a chord in most of us.

Chunque, I think that BKJ’s comments were a direct reaction to my question and not necessarily about the WHOLE state of affairs in Burkina Faso, or any other third world nation for that matter. I agree that this could very rapidly devolve into “we fatties should just move to Africa where people think we’re beautiful” and I hope that doesn’t happen. I’m just curious about others’ experiences and the intersection between wealth and body size. Her story is her own and I’m glad she shared it. But thank you for reminding us that comparing one aspect of the microculture to our own has to be kept at single-issue levels.

6. lwayswright - April 27, 2008

I have always had body issues….no matter how thin or how fat i have always felt fat! I am now very comfortable with myself. It actually took me finding out that I have lupus to realize that my body is important but the most important thing in life is my family, and that I look just right for me, my husband loves me, my kids love me and I will never be perfect and never will anyone else in society! The US is very hard on women especially with weight and it is sad. I wish those things would change so that girls could grow to be proud of who they are not what they look like!

7. littlem - April 27, 2008

Chunque for President.

No? Cabinet, maybe?

8. phledge - April 27, 2008

Have you read his/her blog? Freakin’ awesome!

9. BKJ - April 30, 2008

Thank you to Phledge for speaking up for me. I’m very glad you understood the post.
I certainly was just answering a SPECIFIC question. I did NOT mistake this blog for a place to air my views about, say, the complex issues surrounding life in a post-colonial impoverished African country. I can do that, as I have lived in Burkina for nine years helping women in difficulty become empowered and I think I have a good handle on the subject.

I think that Chunque purposely misunderstood my post and was purposely very rude in doing so. And littlem agrees? Nice.

This was the first time I ever posted on any kind of FA connected blog and it was not a good experience. *goes back to lurking*

10. phledge - April 30, 2008

BKJ, I wouldn’t take it personally. Please remember that a lot of folks out on the intertubes don’t think about what they say in comments on these kinds of complex topics, and Chunque’s response, IMO, reflects her concern toward that kind of thoughtlessness–I don’t think she was accusing you of it, but rather reminding us all that there’s more to it than the fat issues. Littlem is a commenter for whom I’ll vouch–she has much to do with me starting to blog in the first place–so I didn’t get the sense that she was attacking you either.

I definitely appreciated your input and I hope you’ll continue to read, reflect, and respond as you feel comfortable. It’s easy to lose inflection on the ‘tubes and sometimes meanings aren’t clear, but as long as we’re all patient with each other we should be able to come to some agreement!

11. BKJ - April 30, 2008

Well- that’s kind of my point. I don’t NEED to be reminded there’s more to life than fat issues. I am not an idiot. And I doubt you are either, from what I’ve read in your blog, which I have always enjoyed until now.
Again, wrote ONLY about fat issues because THAT’S WHAT WAS ASKED. I didn’t expect to have to trot out my credentials as a non- horrible person who has spent years working in a grass-roots help organisation here in Sub-Saharan Africa. I didn’t appreciate getting called a neo-colonialist by someone who is evidently pretty thoughtless.
And I don’ think that Chunque’s knee-jerk, ignorant reaction deserved a compliment of any kind.
What I wrote is perfectly valid. In fact, I’d like to add some things and clarify:
1. The fat esthetic is true here in Burkina for BOTH men and women, In THIS particular culture, I havre not seen it to be a patriarchal attack on women’s bodies or an atempt to control them. It really is just a reflection of the fact that wealthier people can buy more calories. And wealthy is good -Which was one of the main points of your original post . I AM aware that this is not true everywhere. I have lived in many different countries all over the world. I am just pointing out what is true where I am.
2. Thin people are not mocked, reviled or hated here in Burkina. They are not under huge pressure to conform to the ideal. In this sense, it is very, very different from the experience of a person in the USA or Europe who is not meeting the cultural ideal.
3. It is not a cultural tradition here to eat huge amounts and become very obese on purpose. Gluttony is not praised. But if by eating until you are full (a luxury few here have) makes you a bit fat, that is considered as a nice benefit.

12. phledge - April 30, 2008

BKJ, I’m excited to read your experiences in Burkina and I think everyone who reads this blog will benefit from your sharing, and I do appreciate how someone who is obviously very involved in making lives better would be disheartened to be characterized as the opposite. I don’t quite know how to handle what’s happened here because I really didn’t see Chunque’s comment as being rude; it was an important reminder, IMO. I really truly don’t think that anyone was accusing you of being neo-colonialist; in fact, I could have taken her comments as directed towards me for even asking the question! So I try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. Maybe I’m going about this the wrong way, but I do hope that all of the people who comment on this blog can respectfully find their common ground.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: