What does it mean to be fat? Well, it can actually mean a lot of things depending on who you ask, or who you’re referring to as fat. Being “fat” comes with a boatload of negative connotations that we probably didn’t even realize. However, the point of this article is to call attention to the fact that not many of us, or maybe too many of us know what it’s like to be fat but it’s not something we openly discuss in public. In fact, being “fat,” or clinically obese isn’t generally viewed as a medical condition in society, but mostly as a result of bad habits, and laziness. When in fact, it is a medical condition.
The definition of obesity from the Webster’s Medical Dictionary is as follows, “a condition that is characterized by excessive accumulation and storage of fat in the body and that in an adult is typically indicated by a body mass index of 30 or greater.” Below is a photo of the Body Mass Index Chart for both men and women. Please be informed that this is NOT necessarily the best way to tell if you are at a healthy weight, because it is only a ratio between your height and weight. It does not take into account your body fat percentage, which is a better way of knowing how much of your body is composed of fat. If you are a bodybuilder for example, or an athlete with a large amount of muscle, your BMI would read high because you would weigh heavier due to your muscle mass.
Below is a chart showing you the ranges of body fat percentages for men and women. This will give you a better idea of how much of your body is composed of fatty tissue, and how healthy your body fat percentage is.
One of the better ways to measure your body fat, that isn’t too expensive is to use calibers. If you do plan on using calibers, please have someone who has experience to help you measure your body fat. Especially, because you won’t be able to measure the skin folds on your back. Calibers do not measure your body fat directly, they are used to administer the “pinch test,” which takes measurements of skin folds on several points on the body. That information is then plugged into a mathematical formula that will give you, your body fat percentage. The accuracy of this test depends on the experience of the person administering the test, and the formula that they use to calculate your body fat. There is more than one formula to measure your body fat and it varies for each person depending on age, gender, race, and fitness level.
So, if you are really curious about your body fat percentage, please ask a fitness professional, or doctor to help you figure it out. There are picture charts to help you compare your body to the pictures to get an idea of where your body fat might be, BUT to make things simpler, I will describe to you what different body fat percentages look like. For example, I am a female between the ages of 26-30 years old. For both of my fitness competitions, I was at a body fat percentage between 11-15%. This is very lean, and a vast majority of female body builders at all levels are around this body fat percentage when they are on stage. It is very difficult for your body to maintain this body fat percentage for females for a long period of time. An ideal body fat percentage for my age would be between 20-24%
It was hard finding recent full body photos of myself to compare body fat percentages with you guys because I’ve stopped taking many selfies of myself since I stopped competing! However, I wanted to give you guys a good idea of what different body fat percentages can look on a person. A body fat percentage of 11-15% can look a lot different on someone depending on how tall they are, how much muscle they have and so on. The more muscle you have when being that lean the “healthier” you’ll look, and the more shapely your body will look. However, if you are at that body fat percentage, without much muscle, you will actually look quite sickly. The same goes for the “average” body fat percentages for women. If you have a body fat percentage of 26% and your around my age, depending on your height, you could look a lot different from me in the photo above. So, using photos of people’s body’s to compare body fat is again NOT an accurate way to find out how “fat” you are.
The sad thing is, this is how we all measure our bodies. We compare them to others, and determine whether we are fat, skinny, fit, beautiful, ugly etc. I think a lot of women care about their body fat percentages not because of their health but because they don’t want to be considered fat! And even if they are in the average, or above average range, many are in denial of how “fat” they really are! I mean, I’m sure they know they’re not thin, but they would never consider themselves to be obese. In my opinion, this is because many of us see someone who is obese as someone who weighs an extraordinary amount of weight, like the people you would see on My 600 lb life on TLC. And it’s not just women who make these sorts of assumptions, men share the same sort of denial, and men have become much more critical of their bodies. I wouldn’t say that it is to the same degree as women, but I definitely think younger generations of men are facing higher and higher standards of beauty and masculinity. The movie Fight Club addresses this issue quite well, the question of masculinity and beauty, but that’s another article.
There are so many articles talking about our unrealistic beauty standards and how they affect women, and men negatively. How it creates a whole bunch of body issues, eating disorders, suicides, and the list goes on. But what I want to address in this article is this aversion we have to being labeled FAT, and why that is? Because in reality many, many people fall into the average, leaning towards above average body fat percentage. I don’t think people are afraid to refer to themselves as fat, because people do it all the time, even if they are completely healthy, people will call themselves fat, because there is someone else out there thinner, and better looking than them, or because they no longer have the body they used to have. When in reality they probably picked the body they used to have apart as well. It seems as though many of us have a hard time accepting our bodies at all. However, it can be deeply hurtful when someone else refers to you as fat. It’s one thing to call yourself fat, but when someone else does, it either confirms what you already know which sucks, or it can have you questioning your self-worth. Because let’s face it being thin and fit is considered good and beautiful, and being fat is still considered ugly and bad. The thing is though, calling people fat, ugly, lazy, stupid, because they happen to weigh “above average,” or have a higher than “normal” body fat percentage, doesn’t solve anything. It doesn’t make you a better person, it doesn’t change the person you’re calling names, and it certainly doesn’t fix the problem of obesity in our society.
I didn’t realize until recently how much our society discriminates against people who are over weight and obese. I did not realize the amount of obstacles these people face on a regular basis. I had an idea, but I really didn’t know how much prejudice there was against people who are fat, until I watched a video that my friend had shared with me that her company had made discussing what it’s like to live in the shoes of someone who is clinically diagnosed with obesity. Besides the obvious stares, name calling, and judgement that they face everyday, there are a bunch of physical barriers that they face that aren’t as obvious as you would think. For example, furniture is made for the “average” person. There are a lot of chairs that aren’t wide enough, or, are not able to hold up weight over 230 lbs. I take for granted the body that I have, because I never have to worry about seating when I go to a show, restaurant, or public space, because I have no problems fitting into chairs and such. Basically, we haven’t included a large section of people in the designs for the spaces that we live in. Ignoring a group of people, and treating them as if they are not important, almost as if they are no longer human, will not encourage positive change in any way. If we want to help someone who is suffering from obesity, we must engage with them in a positive manner. We must include them and their needs, so that we can help improve their quality of life.
As a fitness professional, I realized that I cannot properly help my obese clients if I am judging them based on their body. None of us will be able to help them if we are already making assumptions about how they got that body in the first place. In reality people who are considered fat are actually hyper aware of their own bodies, because they are told on a constant basis that they don’t belong. Not necessarily directly, but definitely indirectly, through the design of our spaces, furniture, clothing, our media, and basically our society as a whole does not value someone who is “fat.” That is why no one really wants to be “fat.” Not because it is ugly, or that people hate their bodies, because there are many overweight people who are perfectly content with their bodies, but nobody wants to be considered fat, because nobody wants to be ugly, or unwanted. Everyone wants to feel like they matter, and that they belong. Speaking as a fitness professional, it is important that we treat people who are overweight as people, who matter, and who have feelings. They were not born obese, but circumstances whether they be health related, or not, have led them to obesity and it is not in our right to judge these people. Especially if we know nothing about them.
Obesity is a medical condition, and it affects many people in our society, and if we ever want to improve our quality of life, we must first stop with the prejudice. We must try to accommodate these people more in our society, not just in fashion, or media, but in all parts of everyday life. Throwing diet pills, nutritional facts, and telling them to get off their “lazy butts,” is not going to solve the problem of obesity, because that just perpetuates hate, and ignorance. If you truly want to help someone who is overweight, first get to know them, and then ask them what it is that they need to be successful. You may be surprised at how much they know about diet and exercise! Once you know what it is they need, you can then have a better chance of helping them succeed, but they MUST be included in the process. Don’t just assume what they need based on the fact that they are fat, because they are more than just a “fat person.” Anyway, my point, was that we don’t really consider what it must be like to be a fat person in our society. We don’t really take the time to consider their wants, needs, and feelings at all. We tend to disregard them all together or punish them for the way that they are. Instead, we should do our best to include all types of people from all shapes and sizes. As cheesy as it sounds, we must include everyone into the realm of fitness. People who are overweight should not feel as if they don’t belong in the gym, and making fun of people who are working out because of their size is disgusting to me and I know it happens all the time. But since when is it a crime for someone to go hard at the gym? Even if they happen to be overweight? Why are we discouraging people from doing something positive with their lives? It’s not fair to ridicule someone for their size, and then make them feel as if they don’t belong in environments where they can make a positive impact on their health. If we want to have a healthier society, then we must stop making people who are overweight feel as if they don’t belong.