Today’s Logic Puzzle

In 2005, sources reported that:

3% to 5% of US adults were morbidly obese (BMI > 40)
25% of US adults were obese (BMI > 30)
66% of US adults were overweight OR obese (BMI > 25)

Yet newspapers and television tend to illustrate articles about the “OMG Obesity Panic!!1!! Most Americans are fat!!!” with images of extremely fat people like myself.   Are they perhaps afraid that MOST fat people don’t look fat enough to be scary? Hm?

One of the dirty little secrets of the obesity panic is that most “overweight and obese adults” aren’t very fat. By the numbers, most of the “overweight or obese” category can buy clothing in department stores—but that’s not the image left in people’s minds.  My size 14/16 friend who’s on the cusp of overweight and obese?  She’s a better example of the “OMG most Americans are Fat!” than I am.  Never mind that most of our friends don’t see her as fat or that’s she’s only on the cusp because they lowered the weight ranges.

I once got to listen to coworkers discuss how shocking it is that so many Americans are fat and – get this – musing about what sort of lives “those fat people had”.  Oh sure, many of these coworkers were on diets, and some would complain about doctors telling them they were a little overweight.  But they didn’t grasp that being “a little overweight” meant they were one of the “fat people”.  In this company of 50 people, only 2 of us were in the deathfat category — and we were the only ones seen as fat, and we were still told, “Oh, you’re not that fat”.

Right.  I’m superfat, but “I’m not that fat.”

Guess what, people.  Most “fat people” aren’t very fat. Yes, there are millions of us deathfat folks in the US.  That’s because 3 or 4 or 5 percent of hundreds of millions is millions.  Meanwhile there’s hundreds of millions of people who are technically fat who would be rejected as “not fat enough” for a headless fatty photo.


Update: The CDC’s Anthropometric Reference Data (PDF) bears this out as well.  Check tables 14 and 15 on BMI; note that 95% of American men have BMIs less than 38.6, and 95% of American women have BMIs less than 41.6.

As always, the BMI Project and Photographic Height/Weight Chart are useful for seeing what BMI categories mean in real life.

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38 thoughts on “Today’s Logic Puzzle

  1. Yeah, I get told the same thing, and at 5′ 8″ and 395 lbs, I’m also “death-looking-for-a-place-to-happen-supermorbidlyobese”. With a BMI of 53, I could pose for one of those “headless fatty” shots, but people who know me just don’t see me as “that” fat, even when they’re just as hysterical about the OMGOBESITYEPIPANIC as MSM.

  2. Just out of curiosity I went to an online BMI calculator, and whoa nellie, I’m also morbidly obese, at 5’10 and 280 pounds. I don’t think people look at me and think deathfat, either, even strangers, largely because I’m dancing for 2-3 hours a day, 4-5 days a week, and I think they look at that level of activity and can’t compute. The “good fattie” lens that people don when they see active fat must somehow subtract, like, 50 pounds or something from their already fucked-up perceptions.

    I’m deathfat!

    I want that t-shirt, and I want it two sizes too small, so I can punk-mod it and make it super slutty.

  3. I have an off-topic question…

    I’m interested in buying a fit ball for my desk at home and I notice you use one at work. Being about the same height/weight, is there a particular brand you use? I don’t want one to pop under me or some such thing…

    Thanks.

    • The home one, which we’ve had for 5 or 6 years, is a Sissel Original. I’m blanking on the work one’s make. The work one is rated to 600 lbs, and the home one to 500. So, read the fine print? :)

      We got them both at Relax The Back but there are plenty of other possibilities out there. You may want to try measuring the seat height you’d like to help you think about ball size, and realize the ball will compress a bit when you sit on it. If you can, I’d suggest going to a store that had balls inflated so you can try them out.

      Hope you find something you like! :)

  4. Have I mentioned how much I love coming to your blog? No? Okay :) Let me now mention how much I ENJOY your posts!!

    Second, I am 5’8 and 330lbs, so I’m also in the Death-fat-omg-obesity-boogaa-booga-booga!! category. And it brought me a hearty chuckle because I too work in a place where I’m “the fat one” even though all but 1 other person in the office would fall into the “overweight” category.

    And seriously? Speculating about what a “fat” persons life might be like??? Good grief people!

    • Glad you like it :)

      Re: the speculation, I do think it’s tied to all those headless fatty pictures. They assume that’s what fat people look like, and when they don’t see 1/3-2/3 of the room filled with bodies of that size, then they assume the fat people are somewhere else.

      Toss in that a) lots of people lie about their weight, which means a lot of people don’t know what 200 or 300 or 400lbs looks like, and b) they’re not thinking of fat people as people, but as headless fat bodies. So you end up with people who assume they don’t know any fat people — and if they do, well, you’re someone they know and assume you’re different. It’s insane.

  5. Most people don’t think I weigh over 300 lbs, and yet I am another super-sized fattie who should be ready to keel over any minute now.

    It’s interesting to see so many headless pics of us death fatties to illustrate the so-called obesity epidemic, yet the majority of obesity is in the size 14/16 range.

  6. Yeah, see, that’s the thing — I’m technically overweight (BMI 27) but I wouldn’t be, had I weighed the same eleven years ago. (Eleven years ago I was fifteen and weighed significantly less, due to . . . being fifteen and not twenty-six.)

    I am actually the face of the obesity epidemic (since when they trot out the two-thirds figure they mean overweight AND obese, and there are half again more overweight people than obese), and the only women who think I’m disgustingly fat are those with projective dysmorphia. (Like Anna Wintour. I’m about to move to Minnesota and be the size of a small house.)

    (I’m sort of built like that, only a smidge bigger. Also not currently on vacation.)

    • Stephanie – I’m in a similar position to you, though I’ve been “overweight” since I was in maybe middle or high school. My BMI is somewhere around 29 right now. The thing is, I wear around a size 10 or 12 and no one would ever guess I’m nearing “obese” territory.

  7. My BMI is around 43. I weigh around 222 pounds, at a little over five feet. I might be a candidate for a headless fatty photo, especially from the front.

    I remember being shocked that I was in such a small percentage of the population at my BMI, because it seems like there are so many other women my size. But it’s probably a “red car phenomenon.”

    • I remember being shocked that I was in such a small percentage of the population at my BMI, because it seems like there are so many other women my size. But it’s probably a “red car phenomenon.”

      Yup. Not to mention that there really are millions of us deathfat folks. It’s just that there are hundreds of millions who are smaller ;)

  8. You’d think that with all the usual “fat people are too stupid to know they’re fat” nonsense, they’d show something more representative of actual fat people. You know, to warn average-sized people that they’re not exempt from all of the terrible effects of weight gain.

  9. I am, at 5’6″ & around 200 pounds or so, not Deathfat, just maybe ‘coma fat’, & I don’t get flak, rude remarks, or strange looks. I also have cerebral palsy & have gotten plenty of abuse about that from idiots over the years, but virtually no reaction to my size. Of course, I also live in Maine, where, if anything, I am probably about average-sized or a bit less among adult women, but no one has ever accurately guessed my weight or accused me of eating myself to death, at least partly, I guess, because every time people see me, I am walking, which maybe makes me seem more ‘normal’ to them or whatever.

    • I’m about the same size as you, and I must remember to use the term “coma fat” sometime. I literally LOLed.

  10. Most people would never realize I’m a super death fattie either. I’m 5’4″ and about 310-315 right now. Most people assume I’m much smaller, and not one of “those” fat people they hear about on the news all the time.

    When my boss went on vacation, she bought me a t-shirt in a large. She was positive it would fit me – I wear a 6X/7X.

    • I had a former co-worker bring me a shirt of hers she no longer wanted. It was an extra large. I told her I wear a 3X/4X but she said it was cut big. I accepted it anyway. While I did manage to get it on me, it was way too constricting. I sold it at a yard sale that summer.

  11. People regularly guess my husband at about a eighty pounds less than he is, they have real trouble believing him when he says he’s 330. He’s very upfront about his weight, and I think he twists a few minds. I don’t know his BMI offhand, he’s six foot if anyone cares to calculate it.

  12. I am glad if I provided some laughs & smiles. I sometimes think that is often the best way to deal with all the stupidity surrounding body size & others’ perception of other people’s size.

  13. And, btw, you are not kidding when you say that most fat people are not all that fat. Apparently, some of them are not REMOTELY fat, such as my 35-year-old daughter-in-law, who took up running 5ks with my son because “I am getting fat & trying to keep it at bay.” She wants her jeans, which actually fit now, to be loose again. For the record, she is 5’4″ & MAYBE 120 pounds, tops. To her, I expect that I represent Jabba the Hut & what MIGHT happen to her (It wouldn’t, it isn’t in her genetic makeup) if she allowed herself to eat whatever she wants & accept her natural body & the natural changes which come with aging. Of course, my son is very thin & has a serious body image/food fear disorder & he has started running a lot with fellow police officers, some of whom are taut-bodied young female officers, so God forbid that Elana might not be able to compete with the bodies of the women with whom Eric runs & works. As more than a few people have pointed out around the fatosphere, no one can hate fat people worse than the majority of fat people do or believe more intensely in stereotypes, but these thin people are the worst example of fat hatred, food fears, & excessive ‘health’ obsession I have seen face-to-face. It scares the hell out of me to see how they control my granddaughter & what they teach her about food & body. Somewhere deep inside, I know that Eric knows that there is a strong genetic component in the sizes & shapes of people’s bodies & I swear that he would rather see Sasha dead or hospitalized on the verge of starvation one day than to have her look like me. And I know that he sees the ordinary, really average-sized fat people around him as very fat &, if he ever encounters anyone who IS ‘deathfat’, God only knows what he thinks! As a 30-year veteran of fat acceptance, I keep asking myself how I raised this person.

    I just saw them today & was again exposed to their insanity at my other granddaughter’s fourth birthday party, & I needed to vent a bit & share that I have seen where so much of the extreme attitudes about fatness & exaggerated fear of fatness have become so entrenched among so many people in today’s culture. Thanks for allowing me to share. I find myself saying lots of prayers for my granddaughters…& all the children growing up in this climate.

    • Patsy, your granddaughters are very lucky to have you. It sounds like they are going to be exposed to a whole lot of warped craziness but if you are a beacon in their lives, loving them, maybe they will be able to shake off the crazy.

      I grew up to have the same shape as my very slender mother — combined with the much heavier weight of my father’s mother. (I.e. my mother’s outline but everything much bigger!) And believe me, my folks held up my heavier relatives as a cautionary tale! Yes, I have suffered guilt and anxiety as I have gotten fat (because yes, I took the cautionary tale to heart) but loving my grandmother helps me to accept myself. I am in my mid fifties, and if she could come back in time, and be herself as she was in her mid fifties everybody would think we were sisters. (We would paint the town red, too.)

      Patsy, I’m very sorry for all the suffering that weight obsession causes your family but I’m glad that you are there for your grandchildren.

  14. I’m another one who is the secret face of the epidemic. I’m 5′ and around 165 pounds. That makes me just regular old “obese”, which I guess still means I’m going to drop dead, but maybe less horrificly that those who are super-obese (I love that term so much!).

    But I still wear an Australian 10-12-14, and most people wouldn’t even think to comment on my size. If I happen to make a comment about being fat (as in, you can be healthy AND fat) they invariably say “oh but you’re not fat”. And I just feel like going HELLO I’M OBESE THIS IS WHAT THE PANIC IS ABOUT. So far I haven’t done that… maybe some day I should! LOL.

  15. Well, if my son & daughter-in-law saw you, they would assure you that you ARE fat. There are definitely some people who do not see us as thinner than we are, though I too have had plenty of (other) people in my life assuring me that I wasn’t fat, or I wasn’t THAT fat, etc. My other daughter-in-law, who has always been more rational about body/health stuff, is apparently being convinced that she is too fat now, at about 5’5″ & maybe 150 pounds, because she has a congenital heart defect which she has had since birth & her doctor told her that she was putting too much strain on it by aging (she is just 30) & being “overweight”. She is, btw, already a three-time cancer survivor, she was bulimic as a young gymnast, & that doctor needs to get his ass kicked across three counties.

    I am kind of jealous that I cannot be a fat superhero. I guess I will just have to settle for being a fat annoyance & general pain in the ass to idiots & bigots.

  16. The last time I checked, I missed your post, Katia. Thank you so much for sharing & for understanding. I worry so much about what my son is doing to his child’s health right now….my dear friend, who knows & writes about the science, assures me that young children NEED ample sugar, salt, & fat in their diets for proper brain development…as well as future body image & eating disorders.

    I am sure that your grandmother was beautiful & that you are too. I had a fat mother who lived to be 85 & I am built like my fat grandmother, who lived to be 90. I think that Eric’s greatest fear is that Sasha will grow up to be built like me & it seems as if he is almost willing to kill her to prevent that.

    And as for the logic that this post discusses, it seems to me as if random strangers & friends generally do not see us as being as fat as we are, while family members tend to see us as being fatter than we are. I suppose that may be because strangers & friends do not have personal emotional stake or any of their own body image issues affected by our size.

  17. Sort of funny story…
    People also tend to use “fat” as shorthand for “person I don’t like.” At my last job, while I had a supervisor whom I got along with – liked very much in fact – well she wore, from my guess, about a size 6 or 8 and was constantly dieting because she was “too fat”. In the meantime I weighed well over 200 pounds. I said something one day in the course of a conversation I can’t remember anything else about that I was fat. He denial was instant and sure. “oh no! You’re not fat!” I was, at the time, “deathfat” – morbidly obese. People yell at me as I walk down the street sometimes, because I’m such a fat ass. I can’t even shop at Lane Bryant, their clothes are too small. But she insisted I was NOT fat. Why? because she liked me and knew I was a hard working employee, I suspect, and smart. No one she liked and who works hard can be fat! So she had “thin goggles” on when she saw me. Which is sort of flattering and frustrating all at once.

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  20. I’m 5’7″ and anywhere between 200-240 pounds (yeah, it varies THAT MUCH without my even noticing). I’m built kind of like Noel above — a thick layer of fat over an even thicker layer of muscle. I work outdoors and walk a lot and can lift heavy objects as well as people who look a whole lot more “fit” than me. And people underestimate my size all the time.

    This can be a problem at work occasionally, when ordering uniforms and gear. My boss will say, “Hey, you need an orange vest since you’ll be in the woods during hunting season.” And I’ll fill out the form, requesting an extra-large. He will think that’s a mistake and order a medium. Which I will not be able to button. I can’t pull my rubber boots or hip waders up all the way, either (you would think things made for fishermen would allow for thick legs — walking in water builds leg muscle, right? Apparently not.)

    When I first ordered uniforms, he at least asked instead of arbitrarily changing it, and I said, “No. I really meant extra-large.” He looked doubtful, but sent it in unchanged, so at least I have pants that fit. Well, they fit at the hips. Next time I will have to specify extra-large and extra-long.

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  29. The headless fatty pics also help fuel terror about getting fat.

    Because of X amount of people are OMG DEATH FAT and Y amount qualify as fat/obese, then SURELY those Y people will quickly become X people if they don’t sign up for some form of expensive weight loss program RIGHT AWAY!!!! It’s fear mongering. Fat is bad, and YOU could be NEXT to become fat!!!!!

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