When Government Fails The People
by Conrad H. Blickenstorfer Ph.D.

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I f you believe the official statistics, the United States has become a nation of fat people. According to certain definitions, more than half the population qualifies as "fat." And recent headlines proclaimed that if you're not fat now, chances are that you will be in a few years. A few decades into the next century, all Americans will be considered fat. This, of course, begs a few questions. First of all, if the statistically average American weighs so and so many pounds, shouldn't that person be considered of average weight, rather than be declared "fat" by some artificially derived standard?

How can the government and the weight loss industry decide what the average citizen should look like when nature says otherwise? Some 60 years ago, a certain government in Europe decided that its ideal citizen should be tall, blonde, and blue-eyed, and contain a certain generic heritage. Those who weren't blonde and blue-eyed and didn't have the desired genetic background were persecuted and eventually killed.

Today, the government tells us what the "ideal" person should weigh-even though that weight is increasingly out of sync with the population-and the diet industry tells us through its commercials what the ideal person should look like (tall and thin). Those who do not conform to these ideals are persecuted, discriminated against, and killed. The killing is not by force, as it was 60 years ago, but by forcing people who do not fit in into life-threatening and sometimes fatal practices (like bulimia and anorexia), life-threatening and sometimes fatal lifestyles (like yo-yo dieting and diet drugs), life-threatening and sometimes fatal attempts to conform (like weight-loss surgery), and by driving people into life-threatening (major depression) and sometimes fatal (suicide) frames of mind. And this is happening in what many consider the greatest nation on earth. A nation of freedom and prosperity. How could this happen?

I am certain that if you confronted the individual perpetrators, they'd all absolve themselves of any blame. The diet industry is just trying to make a buck, nothing personal against fat people. The medical establishment is just trying to help. They go by the book, and the book says fat is bad. All the well-meaning aunts and uncles and mothers and brothers are just doing it because it's for the fat person's own good. The bullies and fat bashers pick on fat people because they're just about the only group of people whom you can still abuse and insult and get away with it. The government, on the other hand, should know better.

It's the government's job to provide services to its citizens and to protect and support those who need protection and support. Declaring the majority of its citizens physically unfit and undesirable seems an odd way to accomplish these goals. Declaring "war on fat" seems an odd thing to do for a government that considers more than half of its citizens "fat." A much more rational way of dealing with gradual changes in the general population would be to adjust the rules and regulations with them.

If people are larger today, don't pretend it isn't so and don't hang on to old weight ideal from less prosperous, less secure days in our history. If the average woman is 5'4" and weighs 150 pounds, don't pretend that she is 5'8" and 120 pounds. If it has been proven-conclusively and irrefutably-that diets are harmful to your health and don't result in permanent weight loss, don't push them on people, don't encourage the private sector to focus its resources on diet products and diet drugs, and don't tolerate abuse and discrimination of fat people in employment, housing, and healthcare. Instead, regulate those industries, wipe out discrimination, find out what the new and larger average citizen needs to lead a healthy, productive, fulfilling life, and do what you can to educate the population. That's what a wise and compassionate government would do.

Government, of course, is elected by the people and one would think that a voting segment that now constitutes a majority of the population would elect a representative body that supports rather than persecutes its constituents in such basic areas as civil rights, healthcare, and freedom from discrimination. Unfortunately, as I pointed out in an earlier editorial, "fat" people do not identify with one another and do not vote as a block. And, in truth, the term "fat" itself is relative. Most people who are fat according to government tables don't consider themselves "fat". Sure they would like to lose 20 or 30 pounds, but it's not such a big deal, certainly not big enough to identify with "real" fat people or care about their concerns. But while it's true that the brunt of fat discrimination is suffered by a relatively small percentage of very fat people, more and more fat discrimination is extending its grip on that "silent majority" of moderately fat people.

Flight attendants are fired for being too fat, TV anchorwomen and business executives lose their jobs because they don't fit the corporate image anymore, and millions of "newly fat" people (i.e. those declared "fat" by new government tables) are driven to diet drugs and other unhealthy weight loss practices.

The very cover of this issue of Dimensions tells a tale: though she looks trim and slender by Dimensions standards, the government considers our model Catherine Schoenherr dangerously overweight. Though Catherine likes herself, she has faced enough discrimination in her life to wholeheartedly embrace the size acceptance movement and its goals of making this a nation where everyone is accepted, and not only those who fit into some artificial mold. She represents the millions of women who are subjected to an increasing degree of discrimination due to their size. A wise size acceptance movement will try to broaden its appeal to interest and include people like her in our fight. It will help to make the government listen. ß

Editor at Large