On the fat of the land


The call hit one of those voice queues, and after a few key punches I finally got a live person on the line. Somehow I’d reached an Indian call centre instead of the local bank. Yes, he assured me, I had the right number and he could help me.

Turns out, he couldn’t. All I really needed was to reach one of my coworkers who’d dropped into the bank for a staff birthday party. While I waited for his return call, I hunted up my coworker’s cell number, found it and solved my own problem. But I was left wondering why my local bank was rerouting their calls to India.

We all know the answer: it’s cheaper to answer the phone in India than it is in our local office. Our bank can get by with one less receptionist. But that receptionist they don’t need is another unemployed local person who’s still looking for a job—or more likely given up looking for a job. Instead, he or she is sitting home watching the afternoon soaps or surfing the net.

Of course, unlike in India, nobody’s exactly starving here. Quite the contrary, despite the lack of jobs, there never seems to be a lack of food. In fact, a lot of people seem to be getting fat, whether they’re working or not. There could be a lot of reasons for that, but a major factor, I think, is the fact that most of us are connected to a computer screen. So much of our “real” work, physical work has been off-shored, that almost 80% of our Canadian workforce has been relegated to the service sector and its network of LCD screens. How can one stay physically active when one’s work depends on remaining almost entirely motionless?

I’m not trying to make excuses for fat people, though. After all, I’ve been putting on a little weight myself. I mean, I sympathize, but please, fat people should realize that they make the rest of us kind of uncomfortable. They really need to lose weight, not only for their own physical health, but for our aesthetic health too, don’t you think?

Well no, I don’t. And I read in the Globe and Mail a couple of weeks ago that some researchers beg to differ too. After doing some extensive research, they determined that being overweight doesn’t affect mortality rates one bit. They found out that even morbidly obese people live as long as the rest of us. In actual fact the folks most at risk for sudden death are skinny men. How about that for bursting a bubble?

What the researchers did conclude is that fat is the new class separator. Skinny people—those who can afford to work out I suppose—now automatically belong the new upper class. Fat people, those still chained to their work terminals, are the new lower class.

This attitude is pervasive. Males now judge almost every female by the state of her waistline, as if that were an indication of her female worth. Yet most of those same men are sorely out of shape themselves, droopy bellies and all.

To paraphrase the infamous John Lennon song: “fat is the nigger of the world.” Or at least that’s the way it is here in the ‘developed’ world. There was a time, and not that long ago, that heavier women were viewed to be far more attractive. A look back at the history of art gives a pretty good idea of what our forefathers thought was attractive. And skinny was definitely not it.

The reason fat is such an enemy of the urban fashionista is that food is now so plentiful and readily available that only those people without willpower or discipline are fat. What a load of crap. People are fat because the survival of our species favoured those of us who could actually store a little energy between widely spaced meals. Hell, today even our dogs and cats are fat—even the dogs and cats of skinny people.

Let’s call this aversion to fat what it really is—prejudice.

Interestingly, that same research study also found out that black people don’t look down as much on their fat brothers and sisters. Fat black people seem to be just fine as far as skinny black people are concerned. Black people are more “fat blind” than the rest of us. I mean, how cool is that?

In the future, if we do end up hitting a period of crashing supplies of fossil fuel, rising prices and food shortages, we may start to envy our weight prone friends, and that may start to make the skinny among us a little nervous. Thin may not be all that “in”.

It’s all probably a lot like men’s fashion. When times are tough new suits get a more generous cut and the lapels go wider. When times are good, the lapels shrink back down. Scarcity makes fat more attractive, abundance makes lean more appealing.

On an even more commercial note, the weight reduction industry has a seriously vested interest in keeping up the notion that fat is unhealthy, even though most of what they offer is totally ineffective for most people over the long haul, even though yo-yo dieting and weight gain, by all accounts is more dangerous than simply staying fat. But what is healthy, anyway?

That pair of eagles I see fishing I the river don’t look fat. The deer on Ministers Island look full at this time of year, but they don’t look fat. Feral cats and dogs running wild in the neighbourhood don’t look fat, either. There’s a wild animal health that comes from foraging and struggle. But us? We’re domesticated—even those of us who do work out.

Make that: especially those of us who work out. Workout freaks (as opposed to real workers) seem to have an artificial health, a sort of over-health that real workers don’t have. Real workers have a kind of lean and rangy look, more like wild animals. Workout addicts, on the other hand, have that constructed, “deliberately engineered” look.

This new body fashion began in the 1960s when modern affluence peaked. The youth movement dominated everything, and the ideal for both men and women was to look as much as a hyperactive 13-year-old as possible. But who knew we were all going to live so long?

Today we’re living longer, getting older and getting fatter. But our expectations continue to exceed our own reflections in the mirror.


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