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Obesity Awareness: Are We Numb?

Posted May 20 2013 2:45pm

20130520_obesity

When you blog consistently for 8 years, funny stuff start to happen, like people sending emails asking you random things.

Can you review our product? Do you mind checking out my site? We’d love to host a giveaway for your readers.  Would you like to interview so-and-so-trainer-you-never-heard-of they have a book coming out. Blah, blah, blah. 

Hey, I’m not complaining. I’m flattered and honestly, it’s a good “problem” to have.

I do my best to keep up, responding to the ones that seem to have come from another human being. Sometimes conversations ensue.

Recently Malene of TravelTheUnitedStates.wordpress.com reached out about her Obesity Awareness campaign. I was intrigued, but see, I have an issue with the concept of “Obesity Awareness.”

In all honestly, I hate that word/phrase and the way traditional media flings it around shoving facts and figures down our throats.  So I  responded to Malene and thought I’d share our conversation here because I may be silly. I’m sure you’ll tell me. Right?

 Dear Roni, (Yes, I did dig to find your email address)

On July 20th I start to walk around the US, an 9000 mile walk, to raise awareness about obesity.

When was the last time you saw an obesity awareness event that does not blame those who weigh too much? And, when was the last time you saw that same event aim to inspire, empower and provide fabulous free resources to anyone who wants to lose weight?

This is what I will do, and I could so use your help!

First of all of course, because I want my message to get out there. It is important for me to aid in an constructive conversation about obesity. I want to challenge the stigma and the discrimination. I want to humanize people who deals with overweight. I want to empower everyone who wants to live healthier.

See, part of my walk is for fund raising. I am fund raising for LiveFit Revolution an 501(3c) charity that gives us all the resources we need to lose weight completely free of charge. I really want to see this amazing resource go to the next level.

I also have to admit that without fund raising, I don’t get to walk. I don’t have the cash to fund this myself so I need to raise the money to start walking.

I would be so grateful if you would consider featuring something about my walk on your blog and with your readers. As a blogger yourself, I am sure you know the struggles for new bloggers of getting what they write seen.

Here is my blog: https://traveltheunitedstates.wordpress.com/

Thank you so much in advance,

Malene

Note: Her joke about digging to find my email cracks me up as it’s hidden on my FAQ page in hopes of curbing some of the email. I put it there over 5 years ago and totally forgot about it.

My response…

Hi Malene!

What an adventure!! So exciting!

I think what you’re doing is great but honestly I tend to avoid promoting campaigns that tout obesity awareness. I talk a little about why in this post..  http://ronisweigh.com/2012/05/sharing-the-skinny-on-obesity.html

We have almost too much “obesity awareness” in the media. Once that word gets thrown in the mix I feel like people shut down. We’re callous to it as a culture. Numb.

I’d love your thoughts on this as I wold love to support you any way I can, but like I said, I tend to cringe at obesity campaigns. We don’t need more numbers thrown in our faces, we need to work on changing our culture in a much deeper way.

Just my thoughts,

Roni

After I hit send I realized I sound like a lunatic offering unsolicited advice and shoving my opinion down her face, but she responded anyway!

Hey Roni,

Thank you so much for getting back to me and for your thoughts on “obesity awareness campaigns”.

Your comment that you have no desire to fight it out with the “fat acceptance” people really stuck with me. I had one very uncomfortable situation with people telling me that I contributed to the stigma of obesity because I wanted to fight against it, and I really do not want to spend one single minute of this endeavor on that side of the political discussion. I am not quite sure how to avoid this, but your mentioning that concern just crystallized for me that I have to put some thought in to that. I would love to hear something about how you avoided that conflict, because as mentioned I fell full on, headfirst into it a few days ago.

You are right that we see a lot of conversation about the “obesity epidemic” in the media, but I really think those conversations are very unhelpful. In fact, I think they increase the stigma of being obese, and I want to challenge them on my walk, not perpetuate them. I am hoping that when it comes to the media the excitement of my adventure, the pure scale of walking 9000 mile, especially starting at my size, will add a different note to the discussion.

All of the obesity awareness I see from the media or other places focuses directly or indirectly on blaming people for the excess weight. As I experience the conversation attention is exclusively focused on what we eat and how we exercise.

My message is a little different. As someone who has struggled with my weight throughout my life I want to focus a lot of attention on taking away the stigma and the blame. I do this for a number of reasons:

  • If we feel guilty about our weight then the shame makes it harder to lose weight
  • The discrimination we face every single day in society due to our weight is – well – it is what discrimination always is.
  • If we blame those who struggle with their weight for their troubles then we don’t have to care about it.
  • Due to this discrimination there are exceedingly few fund raisers, or constructive help available for people with weight issues unless they can pay for the help themselves.
  • The one biggest predictor of weight issues is poverty so a lot of overweight people can’t pay for the help they need
  • I actually believe that issues with our weight are a LOT more complex than to just focus on diet and exercise.

My message is that obesity is a complex medical, hormonal, genetic, emotional and life style based condition. Since life style is only one aspect of obesity it makes no sense to blame the overweight person.

It is a condition that we can take full control over through our life style choices of healthy eating and exercise. It is my goal to empower myself and others to get better at making those choices throughout my walk. If we have the tendency towards obesity then the life style choices we have to make in order to fight back might have to be a little more regimented than someone who does not have that tendency, but really my main focus will be on healthy, unprocessed foods and the enjoyment of moving.

I don’t say this to focus away from personal responsibility. I think we all have the responsibility to live as healthy lives as we can. As mentioned above I just really believe that the discrimination and stigma of obesity has taken a horrible turn.

More than anything I want to take a fun, exciting adventure, involve as many people as possible and make weight loss and a healthy life style something that is approachable for anyone. I want to empower people to think of their dreams and to take steps to realize those  dreams. I want to put the joy into moving. I want to put pure pleasure into the best of normal foods. Life is hard for people who struggle with extreme obesity, and I want to show myself and everyone else that it is possible to stop struggling and start living. I want to show people who are obese as strong human beings with their own dreams and aspirations, abilities and strengths. I want to kick the yucky, overly processed, ever so disgusting foods to the curb and label them as the inedible yuck that they are.

So, should I use some other word than obesity awareness? It seemed to cover what my intention is, but I am open to suggestions.

Thank you again for your email. I really hope you find something in my email that speaks to you, and that you are willing to feature something about my walk.

The only way I knew how to respond was with more of my opinions. Geesh, I’m kind of a jerk.

I totally understand your message as it’s similar to my own. I just think when you throw the word “obesity” in there it…

  1. Gives the media more fuel for their fire allowing them to skew it the way they always do
  2. Gives the fat acceptance people something to be angry about (as you already experienced)
  3. Turns off folks who do see it solely as personal responsibility.

I’m not sure what the answer is or what else you could call it but I think it would help to come up with something catchy that avoids the dreaded “o” word.

Again, only my opinion. Feel free to ignore the crazy blogger lady. :)

She was so nice to reply again and her response gave me an idea.

Hey Roni,

I definitely appreciate your feedback. It seems I unknowingly, and unintentionally stepped in to a mine field. I will have to spend some time on fine tuning my message, and truly it probably won’t be completely fine tuned until I hit the road and start to interact with larger numbers of people. In the end, if I focus on my walk and on empowerment, I can’t go wrong. At the moment I do focus some one the numbers around obesity, because I feel it might help motivate some to get involved, but that is actually already starting to change as I am finally getting speaking engagements.

I suppose, in the end, this will be part of the conversation I aim to have, and that just might be a great thing.

In the mean time I would still be so grateful for any and all support you can offer me. I need to get the word out there about my walk to as broad an audience as possible.

Why not share our conversation here on the blog and see what you guys think!

She agreed and here we are.

Am I being too sensitive? Honestly, every time I see someone spewing obesity stats I cringe. My gut reaction is: How is this helping anyone? We can continue talk about it or we can DO something.

Malene is DOING something and I think that’s pretty cool.

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