Here it is:
The editors at the News and Review forwarded your eloquent letter to me, and that letter deserves a reply, though it's not likely that anything I say will change your view of the piece I wrote.
First, let me apologize for any pain my essay may have caused. My intention was not to belittle fat people, but rather to make a serious point about the epidemic of obesity in our nation, and to connect that epidemic with the laziness and apathy I find in the American populace. I did not intend to offer insult, though your letter clearly shows that I did, and I regret that. It was not my intent to make fun of people who have often been the target of derision.
But when some 60% of the nation has become obese, and when rates of Type II diabetes due to diet are skyrocketing, clearly there is something wrong. And, though it may seem a stretch, when a majority of Americans exercise neither their bodies, their minds, nor their franchise to vote, that also suggests that something is wrong.
The target of my piece was not individuals who are overweight--though your letter gives me to know it came across that way--but a nation that has grown flabby in character. And, though I know that many people fight the problem of weight just as I sometimes do, I also know that, for most people, weight loss can be accomplished rather simply by minding caloric intake, along with a program of exercise.
Beyond the laziness and the ignorance that leads a big swath of the population to eat processed foods and supersized portions from fast food restaurants, there is the problem of high fructose additives in much of what is sold to us. And, though many people struggle mightily to manage their weight, I think you must agree that a significant percentage of people who are currently overweight have taken no responsibility for their own health, neither by informing themselves about nutrition, nor by attempting in any way to control their caloric intake.
I don't blame you for resenting a writer who presumes to use you as a metaphor for a national malaise, though there surely is some correlation between the large number of people who refuse to take responsibility either for their weight or the state of the nation, who are lazily indifferent to the news whether that news is about nutrition, justice, or wars in distant lands.
I admired your letter, both in style and substance, and I regret that my attempt to express an opinion about the sorry state of the nation bore hurt for people struggling to control their weight, or their attitudes about their bodies.
And of course, I had to respond to that:
Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think that what is frustrating to myself and to others like me who have struggled with weight and dieting for most of our lives is that there is an assumption, based in a large part on how we look, that we are exactly what you have described: people who do not have a care for the consequences of our actions. Indeed, with greater and greater stridency this message is proclaimed by the media everyday.
But someone out there is feeding the multi-billion dollar weight loss/fitness enterprises. The sheer amount of money that people put out to try to lose weight, the growing numbers of people who are willing to risk their life to undergo bariatric surgeries each year, tell me, at least that people are trying, even though recent reviews of the literature confirm that diets are not effective for the majority of dieters over the long term.
And those who are at the greatest risk for being overweight and obese, those populations which eat processed foods and fast food most often? They are often poor with limited access to afordable whole foods in their neighborhoods. And exercise? I once made the mistake of asking one of my West Oakland clients who couldn't afford a gym membership why she just didn't walk in her neighborhood. I got a good lesson in what it is like to walk alone through a neighborhood with limited resources.
I did understand your analogy regarding obesity and our country's disproportionate consumption of the world's resources, but I guess that for me it does not work. I don't think that the people in the US are lazy, per se, or don't care about people in other countries (although it's almost always true that an individual will care more about those that they have a common bond with than others), I think instead there exists a profound apathy. People feel utterly helpless in the face of a problem the scope of which you describe.
I wonder what instead it would be like if, instead of insulting people for their actions in an attempt to shame them into change, someone like you could propose an empowering message of confidence in the power of what people can do if they put their minds to it?
There is a small and growing number of people who advocate Health at Every Size within the fat acceptance movement. Hearing this message helped me to break a rather distructive spiral of attempting to diet my way into a better life, and I now have more motivation to actually do things which keep me living rather than retreating from life until I weighed what I should.
People need inspiration. We need to hear, if we are to vote, what initiatives would begin to help change the world, even on a small scale. We need to learn about the grassroots efforts that we who are not leaders can provide support to.
I thank you for the opportunity to create dialogue, and I'm glad you were able to hear what I had written. If you would like to learn more about some of the research about weight and obesity that is ignored or how some of the current research is being twisted, I would recommend reading Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin or go to visit the very interesting website Junk Food Science.