Being Well Rounded
by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D.

While we have all experienced aspects of society's aversion to people who are round in shape, you may not know that being well-rounded in personality is a good indicator of mental health. People who have large number of roles in life tend to be healthier. When my husband was ill, I found that it helped me to survive his illness when I could define myself in ways other than that of being his wife. I was grateful to have a career and friends from my single days. When I studied animal behavior, I learned that animals have "niches," places where they fit in nature. A koala bear has a very narrow niche in that it requires a particular type of leaf for its diet. If koala bears were not considered to be so cute (and emblematic of Australia), they might not have survived. A blight on the kind of trees whose vegetation they require could wipe them out. On the other hand, one of the most ancient of any creatures on earth, the roach, can live just about anywhere--much to our dismay! Roaches have very large niches. They can eat all sorts of food, live in many climates, and outrun and/or hide from many predators.

We may prefer to identify ourselves with cute, cuddly koala bears, but we have a lot to learn from roaches. Having a large enough niche for ourselves is likely to improve our own longevity.

Regardless of how the dominant culture tries to define us--as lazy gluttons and as losers who have fat fetishes--we can be as well rounded as Dimensions models. Yes, there may be several people who only see us in a narrow way. But what roles do we have in our lives?

Are we activists in the fat acceptance movement? One such activist actually uses a Don Quixote logo on his business card to indicate this role. I found that my participation in the size acceptance movement enabled me to get beyond people's critical comments about weight. If they knew they would get an earful about prejudice, many people around me chose not to start in about what they and others ate/didn't eat/shouldn't eat or weigh, etc. It's sort of a fight-fire-with-fire approach. Maybe they just made their comments elsewhere, but at least they were not invading my "space" with them. And perhaps some even started to think and learn about weightism, and changed their minds.

Are we sexual or romantic beings? One glance at the personal ads in this issue can answer that! Again, the dominant culture presumes that fat and sexy are mutually exclusive; we tend to know better. I have noted that many fat women at NAAFA gatherings are quite certain that men find them sexy, even if they are not as certain about other ways to define themselves.

Are we family members? While some of us may have come from families which were hurtful and may have been as narrow as the dominant culture in their definitions of us and of the role of family, others of us may have come from warm, nurturing backgrounds. We may have lots of connections as children, parents, siblings, aunts and uncles, In fact, our lives may be so filled with our families that we almost never encounter strangers with strange ideas about fatness.

If we came from a hurtful family, we may have perfected a role as an outsider. Such a role allows us to evaluate from a different perspective, all or many of the dominant culture's narrow notions. These may include stereotypes not just about size, but about sex roles, work, fun, what is valuable, and so forth. Some of our greatest satirists, such as Jonathan Swift, have taken the perspective of outsiders in order to comment on the foibles of their cultures. Swift even took on perspectives of creatures vastly different in their sizes.

And some who came from hurtful families have created their own families-of-choice, consisting of others who support and nurture them. Many people have considered NAAFA to be one such family (even including its own rivalries), where they feel like they have many sisters and brothers whose size-related experiences share more in common than their birth families did. Others seem to be the heart of their workplace, their religious congregation, or their club, keeping track of the major and minor life events of others with whom they belong, celebrating birthdays and keeping in touch with someone who is ill or who retires.

Have you ever heard of "wounded healers"? Many people turn pain into healing. Their sensitivity helps them be more compassionate toward others who are in pain. Many fat people are nurses, for example. They have used their experiences as a means to contribute to others' well-being, and in so doing, have redefined themselves as healers. Others have turned people's ignorance into a challenge to educate them. Many fat parents and/or teachers use daily life as an opportunity to dispel ignorance, prejudice, and bad feelings and keep such bad feelings from spreading into the future. People who may have had difficulty finding attractive largesized clothing have learned to sew; others have become retailers of such clothing, while others have become image consultants to help people make the most of their looks, at any size. They have found that by being beautifully dressed and groomed, they can dispel some people's stereotypes about "fat slobs."

Some people develop their talents, perhaps even in response to having been excluded from expressing another side of themselves. The original fat lady who sings was probably an operatic diva. Babe Ruth used his bulk to help him slug home runs out of Yankee Stadium, while Akebono became a world-champion Sumo wrestler. Perhaps capitalizing on stereotypes of fat people as food-centered, fat cooks like Paul Prudhomme have earned fortune and fame. The underground comix artist R. Crumb was a fat admirer, as was Peter Paul Rubens.

Are we spiritually oriented? Have we dealt with prejudice by turning to a higher power, wherein we belong and are accepted as much as anybody else? Some people have noticed that there are many positive biblical allusions to fatness. Others have recognized the fat Buddha. You may be aware that nature consists of all sized creatures, whose abundance and variety play different and crucial roles, depending on (for example) food or water scarcity, the climate, or protection from predators.

We can take advantage of our fondness for well-rounded bodies to augment our well-rounded personalities. And here's another aspect to our well-roundedness: if you've read this far, you're obviously also a reader with good taste!

Well Being