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Myth Nine: Fat is Lazy

June 27th, 2011     by Shaunta Grimes     Comments

Dr. Pattie Thomas and her husband Carl Wilkerson wrote a book called Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life that is just really awesome. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth investing in.

The first chapter of the book has 10 fat myths. As I read them, I had so many ideas and thoughts and things I wanted to say about each one. I contacted Dr. Thomas and she said that it would be okay for me to use her list to talk about each of the myths here. So-welcome to a 10-week series.

Myth number nine on the list: Fat is lazy.

I had an interesting experience this week in the forums for a site I write for.

Ah. Forums.

I clicked through to read what an exercise expert had to say about yo-yo dieting. I’d love to share exactly how the conversation went, but she has since taken the whole shebang down.

Let’s just say that she stated that yo-yo dieting wasn’t bad for you, and I said one of the biggest problems with it was that it indicated a weight obsession and offered some dieting-doesn’t-work statistics. She said she’d lost 30 pounds of “disgusting fat” and kept it off, plus helped lots of others lose their disgusting fat successfully, and that obesity is a choice not a disease.

I said it was neither. It’s a body type. I also pointed out that she may have some readers at her popular exercise site that would like to hear that they can be healthier even if they don’t lose a pound. It ended with her telling me that most fat people aren’t physically active like I am, if I was being honest about my activities, and that we were going to have to agree to disagree and eventually deleted the whole post.

The point of this rather long story is to showcase the myth that fat people are lazy.

Ragen at Dances with Fat has talked about the head-meet-wall experience of trying to prove your anti-laziness if you’re fat. That prompted me to write about a similar subject last week. But the truth is that it is literally impossible for me, or Ragen or any other fat person to prove that we aren’t lazy to everyone. Some will call us liars, no matter what proof we offer. Others will call us anecdotes—the rare fat and fit person.

Similar to the rare 2-headed water buffalo.

What is lazy anyway? A lazy person, according to Websters, is someone who is unwilling to exert energy, or someone who doesn’t put forth an effort.

How did fat people get tagged this way? Reality is, there are lazy myths about many minority groups. People with disabilities, especially invisible disabilities, are sometimes seen as lazy. People of colour are often labelled as lazy.

Maybe fat people get caught up in this myth because the general public equates exercise with thinness, so someone who is fat must not move. Ever. Maybe because in general fatness is equated with gluttony, and so the deadly sin of sloth just comes along for the ride.

There are some lazy fat people out there, just like there are some people of every size who are unwilling to exert energy or put forth an effort. But fat is not an indicator of laziness.

You can not look at a person and know by their body type whether or not they are lazy.

In fact, as I’m writing this, I can’t help thinking that the word “lazy” is really just a judgmental non sequitur. Think about it. Have you ever met a person who refused to exert any energy at all? Sure, there are some who would rather put their energy into World of Warcraft than finding a job, or those who put all their exertion into karaoke bars instead of taking college classes. But their energy is being used somewhere.

And there are fat people (like there are thin people) who for one reason or the other choose not to expend their energy at the gym or on a bike or taking a dance class. That doesn’t mean that instead they are melded with the sofa, with bonbons in one hand and a Double Big Gulp of Mountain Dew in the other. (And even if that is the case, it’s their own business.)

So, I’ll say it again: You can not look at a person and know by their body type whether or not they are lazy.

I’m not lazy. I’m fat. And I’m not an anomaly, either.

And neither are you.

If you have friends, a family, a job, go to school, ride a bike, play games, cook meals, grocery shop, clean toilets, read books, listen to music, volunteer your time, care for a pet, participate in a hobby, or just do whatever you need to do to survive as best you can—you aren’t lazy, even if you are fat. (Go ahead and insert whatever it is you do in that list.)

Here are some things that can sap away your will to exert energy: depression, fear, loneliness, self-loathing, social anxiety and discouragement. I’m sure you can think of more to add to this list.

Isn’t it funny how depression, fear, loneliness, self-loathing, social anxiety and discouragement are also often the side effects of being fat in a thin-centric, fat-phobic society?

Think about that.

Fat is lazy is most definitely a myth. But it can also become sort of self-fulfilling if reading about how you are on the verge of a painful and socially irresponsible death, experiencing snickers or outright abuse when you’re in public, having the contents of your grocery cart scrutinized by strangers or listening to someone you love lament your physical state causes you to experience a unique patch work quilt of depression, fear, loneliness, self-loathing, social anxiety or discouragement.

And guess what? Even experiencing a lack of motivation or inability to function as well as you could due to depression, fear, loneliness, self-loathing, social anxiety and discouragement isn’t the same as being lazy.

I say we just go ahead and stop using the word.


Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism at Live Once, Juicy. Come check out her indie published 99 cent novel, Devil You Don’t.

Tags: body politics

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