Recently, I read an article on “fattism” in the U.K. An obese woman was riding a train and an average weight woman attacked her violently for no other reason than she was overweight. The article itself was scary, but the comments were of greater interest to me.
A comment that particularly caught my eye was one that said that being fat isn’t a normal or natural state. As “evidence” that this was the case, the commenter noted that people weren't grossly overweight or morbidly obese 22,000 years ago. Setting aside the fact that this person has no way of proving the presence or absence of people who were very overweight so long ago, the comment betrayed some interesting myopia.
The question really isn’t whether or not people were obese prior to the dawn of civilization. The important thing to consider is whether or not they would have been if they were exposed to the same circumstances that we are current living in. If people thousands of years ago had been given access to plentiful amounts of highly caloric food that could be acquired without physical effort, you can bet many of them would have been obese. In fact, there’s every likelihood that they would have seen being fat as a good thing as it would have ensured survival and been an indication of one being part of a tribe that had consistent access to food.
The thing that frustrates me about fattism is that people don’t seem to realize that evolution is what has lead so many people to be obese. Fattists act as though obesity is an unnatural state which is incomprehensible through any lens other than one of personal failure. The human brain developed as a result of the consumption of fat. In fact, the brain itself is composed of layers of specialized fatty tissue. Our intelligence and higher functioning would never have developed if our ancestors didn’t have a taste for the fattiest foods available.
Being overweight is not a natural state, but eating everything in sight is a natural act. The behavior that fattists find so reprehensible, a lack of ability to resist available food, is actually the most natural behavior of all. The part of our lives which is unnatural is not our actions in stuffing lots of food into our hungry maws, but the easily available food. It is actually far less natural to be surrounded by food and choose not to eat it than to choose to eat it all. If we approach obesity as the consequence of our biological nature (as it has been shaped by evolution) rather than an unnatural state which only people who have failed to develop habits that "normal" people have acquired, it might be easier to deal with and treat the problem.
Of course, fattists are not interested in logic, evidence, or science. They are only interested in blame and finding a way to feel smugly superior to people who are overweight.