Fat, fat, fat. That’s all anyone talks about anymore. Americans are all fat, and they need to be less fat, and being fat will kill you, and blah blah blah fat fat fat. I get so tired of hearing about fat that it makes me want to get as fat as I possibly can, just out of spite, and also laziness.
My beef (har!) with the fat discussion is that we’re lying when we say it’s about health. The issue is really that most Americans don’t like to LOOK at fat people, particularly when those people wear revealing clothing, and particularly when it’s women wearing belly shirts and low-rise jeans who have tattoos on their lower backs and who are in line in front of us at 7-Eleven buying what must be, by the looks of them, their twelfth pack of Ding Dongs TODAY.
We all know people who are larger than average who nonetheless wear it well, comport themselves with dignity, don’t make public appearances in the nude, and so on. It doesn’t bother us that those people are fat, because their fat doesn’t offend our sense of decorum. It’s when they go on a daytime talk show, scantily clad and spewing ignorance as they bounce around the stage, that we think, “Look at that fat idiot!”
Author Paul Campos has just published a book on this very subject, entitled, “The Obesity Myth: Why America’s Obsession with Weight Is Hazardous to Your Health.” Campos basically says that the statistics suggesting that obesity causes health problems are suspect — that fat people can be just as healthy as thin people.
Furthermore, he says our definition of “obesity” is messed up anyway. We use the “body mass index,” a mathematical formula that tells you, in one easy number, how fat you are. (You can find out your BMI here.) To determine your BMI, you simply multiply your height by itself, then divide it by your weight, then multiply it by twice your pants size, then add the loudness, in decibels, of the sound you make when you have to bend over to pick up something off the floor. If that number is less than 25, you’re OK. If it’s 25-29, you’re what the government calls a “fatty,” and the government is permitted to make taunting remarks such as, “Hey, Fatty!” or “Get a load of that fatty!” If it’s 30 or higher, you’re a “lardo,” and the government is required by the Constitution to say things like, “Geez, Lardo, go easy on the pie!”
Campos says this is all wrong. He points out that the BMIs of noted hotties Brad Pitt, Michael Jordan and Mel Gibson put them all in the “overweight” category, while Russell Crowe, George Clooney and Sammy Sosa are “obese.” Also, he points out the difference between our standards of “thinness” for women and men: If Jennifer Aniston had the same BMI as her husband, she would weigh 50 pounds more than she does, and everyone would talk about how fat she is, and they’d say it’s a good thing Ross convinced her to get off the plane, because it never would have gotten off the ground anyway. (She currently weighs 18 pounds and can fit in your jacket pocket.)
I think Campos has a point, despite the fact that, with the exception of athletes, it’s pretty difficult to find out how much celebrities weigh and thus determine their BMIs. (According to the best info I can find on the Internet, he’s right about the ones he listed, except Sammy Sosa, who at 6’0″ and 220 lbs. has a BMI of 29, which only makes him “overweight.”) There are cultures where being fat does not carry the stigma it does in America, where people have no problem with largeness, and where the people aren’t falling over dead from being fat, either.
For example, let us consider the island nations of Tonga and Samoa. One of the things I have always admired about these cultures is that they like their men to be both fat and shirtless. Being fat, sure, you see that some places. Or shirtless, that’s pretty common in some of your more tropical regions. But fat AND shirtless! Not just obese, but semi-nude, too! As if to say, “Yeah, we prefer our men super-sized — and we’re NOT ASHAMED OF IT! You Americans can take your image issues and go the hell back home!” (Note: Pacific Islanders are generally more friendly than that.)
You know how most countries hide their more peculiar or offensive traditions when they host the Olympics, so the rest of the world won’t think they’re insane? Well, if Tonga or Samoa had the Olympics, they’d send their fattest, most shirtless men to the airport to greet the visitors. The runway would be lined with enormous, topless men, their flapjack-sized nipples proudly displayed as they waved to their newly arrived guests, their pendulous arm fat flapping vigorously from the effort. Fat isn’t such a bad thing over there. And is it a coincidence that the OTHER thing those cultures are known for is being happy?
Which brings us to the subject of the fat people who got kicked out of the buffet for eating too much.
I’m proud to say this event, which was widely reported in the national media last month, occurred in Utah, a place where nothing is so innocuous that it will not offend someone. Sui Amaama and Isabelle Leota, a married Samoan couple, were asked to leave a Chuck-A-Rama buffet restaurant because they were eating too much roast beef. Specifically, Amaama was going back for his 12th slice when the manager cut him off, citing concerns that there would not be enough roast beef for the other customers. When Amaama and Leota asked for a refund, then, if they weren’t going to be allowed to eat all they could at this all-you-can-eat restaurant, the manager refused, and the police were eventually called to escort them out of the place.
The reason Amaama was eating 12 slices of roast beef was not, ironically, because he’s a fat guy (though he is a fat guy). It was because he was on a diet — the Atkins Diet, obviously, a perfect diet for gluttons because it allows you to eat all the fat you want as long as you avoid carbohydrates, and as long as you tell everyone you encounter, including strangers and infants, that you are on the Atkins Diet. He and his wife were both on this program, and they ate at Chuck-A-Rama at least twice a week, taking advantage of the plentiful Atkins-approved meats they have there.
Leota and Amaama later told The Salt Lake Tribune that they felt they were “targeted” because they were Pacific Islanders. Their lawyer said, “When people ask for a refund, do they normally call the police?” Leota said, “We want to end the stereotypes that Pacific Islanders eat more than your average customer.” She said this as she hefted an entire pit-roasted pig to her mouth and gnawed off one of its hooves.
No, I kid. But this is a complex issue, and I have a number of half-developed thoughts to share about it.
1. How much sympathy can we really have for people who admit to eating at Chuck-A-Rama twice a week? Good grief, have some dignity. At least go to Golden Corral, where they have those delicious fresh rolls. Chuck-A-Rama is a bland, mediocre buffet chain frequented by the elderly and the people who have to dine with the elderly. It has the word “Chuck” right there in the name. How many red flags do you need?
2. On the other hand, Chuck-A-Rama is understood to be an all-you-can-eat restaurant. That’s why people go, because it seems like a bargain. Amaama should therefore have been permitted to eat roast beef until the supply was depleted or until he exploded, whichever came first. The Chuck-A-Rama manager is not a bartender, required by law to cut you off when you’ve had too much. He can’t say, “Whoa, buddy, no more protein for you! You driving tonight? Lemme call you a cab.” No, instead he needs to keep serving you until you sweat au jus and fall into a coma.
3. On the other hand, 12 slices of roast beef is not part of any diet plan. I don’t care what Atkins says, 12 slices of roast beef might be OK according to the letter of the law, but surely it violates the spirit. I’m not saying you shouldn’t eat 12 slices of roast beef; I’m just saying that if you do, you shouldn’t pretend you’re trying to lose weight.
4. Leota said, “We want to end the stereotypes that Pacific Islanders eat more than your average customer,” even though her husband was going back for his 12TH SLICE OF ROAST BEEF. Guess what, Isabelle. That’s more than your average customer. That’s more than your average four customers combined, I’d wager. If you don’t want people to think you eat too much, then stopping eating too much.
To its credit, Chuck-A-Rama eventually apologized to the couple for the brouhaha and offered them some free meals, though I think you’ll agree it’s a sad state of affairs when a free meal at Chuck-A-Rama is considered fair compensation for anything. The whole problem could have been avoided if some of that fat-love from Samoa had made its way into American culture, because then Amaama and Leota wouldn’t have been trying to lose weight by eating at Chuck-A-Rama in the first place. Of course, if the customs of the Pacific Islands had ALL made it to America, they’d have been kicked out for being shirtless, so maybe we do need to draw the line somewhere.
The part about Ross convincing Jennifer Aniston to get off the plane is a reference to the final episode of "Friends," where Aniston's character Rachel did, in fact, get off the plane. As I'm sure you know.
Though the story of the Samoan couple was reported nationally via the Associated Press, it was The Salt Lake Tribune that first brought up the "discrimination" issue. Unfortunately, that article only referred to them as "Pacific Islanders," which I think is a rather useless description. Why not say WHICH Pacific island they're from? I thought newspapers were supposed to provide information, not give vague hints about things and let readers guess.
Anyway, the couple also appeared on a morning talk show and mentioned they were Samoan, thus saving me from having to say they were "from Tonga or Samoa, I'm not sure which." Because that probably would have been offensive or something.