Shaming The Obese Cont.


Red Dreher responds to my earlier post. I found this interesting:

I don't know to what extent shame is productive, and when it's destructive. Lying there hating yourself and not doing anything about it is certainly destructive. But if I got satisfied with my condition, I would never bother to cook healthier food, reduce my portions, and even get on the exercise machine. I hate this therapeutic culture that tells us to be satisfied with mediocrity and laziness, and to despise self-disciplined excellence as judgmental. (And, it's corollary, to expect the easy way out.) I know I'm lazy, and I don't want to be comfortable with that.
Hmm. I'm sympathetic to a lot of this as it reflects much of my own inner conversation. But I'm not convinced that this perspective--the perspective of the striver--is always best for whatever struggle I'm going through. I also have significant problems with applying the striver's perspective to society as a whole. 

I've had the "I'm lazy" conversation, and it's an easy one to slip into if you come from a family, like mine, where the Puritan Work Ethic is household law. But the older I get, the less use I have for that conversation. I now tend to think that people do things for specific reasons, some of them knowable, some of them not. The best thing about this journey I'm on isn't the weight loss (although I have to say, that's been, like, really cool) it's the deeper understanding of self. It's the consciousness part, not just of what you eat and why, but of the line between individual agency--which is strong and should never be discounted--and that part of you that you don't actually control. 

It's the little things, like knowing that if I take a three-mile run in the park, that's cool and fun and all. But I should not expect to come home and knock out 2,000 words on my latest feature. I can tell myself I'm lazy all day. It won't matter. If I spend the day running errands around the city and don't eat anything, I should expect that I'm going to have an eight ounce hamburger and fries. There are rules for me, that aren't actually set by me. And just as I have had to learn to respect my individual agency, I've had to learn to respect that part of me that I don't control. I'm not religious, but I think there's a little God in that.

I have had to stop seeing this as a matter of working harder and working more . A few weeks ago, I was in Chicago at a lunch and was served bread pudding for dessert. It was the best bread pudding I'd ever had in my life, and the best dessert I'd had in about a year. I ate about half of it, and I think a younger me would have focused on willpower, denial and mental laziness. The older me thinks that eating is a complete experience--it's about consuming enough of the thing to bring you pleasure, and not marring the experience, and the memory, by eating so much that you feel sick and weighed down. Thinking like that doesn't require much control. It just requires understanding your expectations.

But you know, as I often say this is memoir not sociology. I don't know if there's any policy here. People are so very different and are moved by so many different things. The only real question is the one my Pops always loves to ask--How's that working for you?
Jump to comments
Presented by

Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What Do You See When You Look in the Mirror?

In a series of candid video interviews, women talk about self-image, self-judgment, and what it means to love their bodies

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.


What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.


Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.


Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in National

From This Author

Just In