Beliefnet
Rod Dreher

This revolting Donna Simpson person weighs 602 pounds, and is trying to get to 1,000 pounds. Why? She makes her money with a website in which pervs (like her kinky boyfriend) pay to watch her shove food in her mouth and jiggle around. “I love eating and people love watching me eat,” she says. “It makes people happy, and I’m not harming anyone.”Really? Leaving aside the violation of her own human dignity, she had a child by her boyfriend, and it took a team of 19 doctors to deliver the baby via C-section. Who paid for that? She’s so immobilized by her weight that she can’t move more than 20 feet on her own power. She’s got diabetes, and almost certainly won’t live long at this rate. If she were this fat, and struggling to lose weight, that would be one thing. But she wants to get even fatter. It’s very sad, yes, but also an outrage:

But Donna’s ambition proved expensive, so she decided to set up a website after discovering that there were men willing to pay to watch large women eat. “My food costs £400 a week,” says Donna. “In a typical day I’ll eat four burgers and fries, a loaf of bread with peanut butter and jam, four servings of meatloaf and mashed potato, a large pizza, a chocolate cake with ice cream and cream, 12 cupcakes, two cheesecakes and fizzy drinks. And I don’t want Philippe to foot the bill just because I’m too big to go out and work.”

She has to degrade herself for male perverts to make money to feed her appetites. How is it that she’s any different from the mall girls? Donna’s gluttony is not simply a matter of her “not harming anyone,” obviously. There is her child to think about. Besides which, America’s obesity epidemic is going to end up costing all of us an estimated $344 billion in health costs by 2018, when, at the current rate, a staggering 43 percent of all Americans are projected to be obese. That’s about 30 times the entire yearly national income of Haiti. Haiti is a country where some people are so poor and hungry they eat dirt to survive:Think of them, and think of the gluttonous Donna Simpson and her enablers, and tell me that America’s obesity epidemic is not in some sense a spiritual cancer. Lent always makes me think about how I let my appetites — especially my love of food and wine –control me to an unhealthy degree. About this time, halfway through Lent, when I’ve gotten accustomed to eating much small portions, I am made aware of the relationship between my own gluttony and the extra pounds I’ve packed on over the last year. I weight about 20 or 25 pounds more than I should — not quite obesity level, but approaching it. Much of the time I wonder, “How did this happen? I eat a healthy diet.” But Lent shows me how it happens: I typically eat way more than I need, but convince myself that this is normal. UPDATE: Which brings me to something I don’t get about Harriet Brown’s NYTimes column today decrying the stigmatization of fat people. Below the jump, an excerpt, followed by my question. Please keep following this discussion, and have your say in the comboxes. Here’s Brown:

Dr. Cosgrove may be unusually blunt, but he is far from alone. Public attitudes about fat have never been more judgmental; stigmatizing fat people has become not just acceptable but, in some circles, de rigueur. I’ve sat in meetings with colleagues who wouldn’t dream of disparaging anyone’s color, sex, economic status or general attractiveness, yet feel free to comment witheringly on a person’s weight. … Despite the abundance of research showing that most people are unable to make significant long-term changes in their weight, it’s clear that doctors tend to view obesity as a matter of personal responsibility. Perhaps they see shame and stigma as a health care strategy.

OK, let’s stipulate that making fun of people for their obesity, or treating them cruelly because of it, is plain wrong. As someone who has struggled all his life to control his weight, I can tell you that fat people know they’re fat, and for most of us, I’d wager, it’s always on our minds. Even when I’ve been pretty trim, the fear of being fat again has always been there. But here’s the thing: why isn’t weight maintenance a matter of personal responsibility? I don’t want to suffer from heart disease and diabetes, which run in my family, and if social pressure to stay at a healthy weight is what keeps me from getting too fat, why is that a bad thing? A propensity to be overweight runs in my family, on both sides, so the genetic odds aren’t in my favor. I have friends who never have to watch what they eat or drink; they’re skinny as beanpoles. Unfair! Yeah, okay, but so what? I’ve got to play the hand that was dealt me. I don’t need enablers to tell me that it’s okay that I’m overweight, that it’s not my fault, that I should just accept being overweight. If I had made good-faith efforts to diet and exercise faithfully, but was still overweight, I could accept that. But I can’t lie to myself. I don’t exercise at all, and outside of Lent, I am prone to eat larger portions than I should. Besides, I know I can diet down to a healthy weight; I lost 27 pounds easily eight years ago, when I cut out white flour and sugar. Never felt better in my life. But I didn’t maintain my discipline, and now I’ve gained most of that weight back. Does that mean that I am, as Brown would have it, “unable” to make significant long-term changes in my weight? Or is it the case that I am unwilling to do so? I vote the latter. Nobody is holding a gun to my head forcing me to eat bread and pasta, or to have much larger servings of anything than I really need. I’m choosing to do this. Lent really is clarifying, because now I have a religious reason to restrict my diet, and I see that I can do it if I put my mind to it (and I’m losing a little bit of weight too). If Brown were correct, and that most everybody who is obese can’t do anything about it, why is it that obesity rates have skyrocketed over the course of a single generation? Look at this map. Obesity like this isn’t something that just happened. We are eating too much, we’re eating the wrong kind of food, and we’re not exercising. Of course some of us will have a more difficult time than others controlling our weight, owing to our genetic inheritance, or environmental factors (e.g., it may be harder to exercise, or to access healthier food). But in the main, I simply don’t buy that obesity is something largely beyond the individual’s ability to control. In that sense, it’s hard to know is to what extent stigmatizing it is healthy. What you permit, you encourage. Yet it’s also true, at least in my experience, that almost no one can be harder on a fat person than he is on himself. This is psychologically complicated. But look, stigmatizing smoking has had a dramatic effect, and a positive one. Is it really easier to quit smoking, given how deeply addictive nicotine is, than to lose weight?

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