Fat Acceptance and the “Morality” of Suffering

I was going to provide plenty of links to things I’d known I’d read before, that tie into this, but I wasn’t able to find anything specific to reference, so my apologies!

Okay, the one reference I can give is to this post I just read on fibromyalgia, and some of the comments are right: there’s this notion here in our society that suffering is somehow noble, and complaining or somehow trying to alleviate that suffering through, you know, outside help or – mother of God! – a pill or two is immoral, taking the easy way out, propping up the pharmaceutical-industrial complex, what have you. You become less sympathetic for not possessing the superhuman upper lip that is endlessly stiff.

And so it is with people having the audacity to accept genetics and being fat. If they’re not practicing (occasionally extreme) self-denial, then they are immoral too, because true morality is in suffering. You know, as though it is possible to starve yourself into seeing God.

And you can see this dynamic at work, I think, in the way the more unrepentantly vocal and evangelical dieters react to those who don’t diet or do and don’t see results – they’re not trying hard enough, they’re not suffering enough! You don’t see your reward because you haven’t attained holiness through suffering and self-denial.

Or the existence of content non-dieters happily engaging in a life of indulgence, or moderation, or at the very least not self-denial, casts doubt on the holy quest of the ascetic – if they don’t deny themselves and are still reasonably at peace, maybe there is an error to the method of the monastic? That kind of realization can be hard to bear at times.

The bottom line here is that as Jews we can’t simply buy into this nonsense, because it has no place or precedent in our culture and history. We never believed in original sin, or the inevitability of man’s evil; our belief was that God created the world and saw that it was good, and created the world for us to inhabit it and enjoy it, not allow it to become bleak and desolate with pessimism and asceticism. Thanks to Maimonides we follow the philosophy of the golden mean, “everything in moderation including moderation”. Sometimes it’s ok to go a little overboard, sometimes it’s ok to abstain, but there’s no inherent virtue in it.

It is simply not for us to go about pretending that people with unseen diseases are “faking it” for the attention, or that people with prescription pain medication just aren’t trying hard enough to will the pain away with herbal supplements or good vibrations. We have no business trying to shame people into fitting some false ideal of “morality” through dieting or God forbid weight loss surgery. Suffering is not our way; if it was, why would so much of the prophetic books contain essentially just endless harangues against the Israelites for mistreating the poor?

We must work to enable everyone to maintain the level of dignity that all too few of us have the luxury, privilege, of taking for granted, and these sorts of diets and ideas about monasticism and asceticism and especially the intolerance and shaming of those who choose not to suffer in silence we must have no part of.


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