On Mother's Day, nearly two weeks ago, my mother-in-law said something to me that I can't seem to shake; it's been festering since then, so I thought I'd write it out. During the afternoon of Mother's Day, she and my father-in-law went to see a performance by one of the traveling improv troupes of The Second City; Jonathan and I had already purchased tickets to see it the following weekend and I was eager to hear her review.
Because my brain zeroed in on her comment, I am no longer able to remember the context of it; it's as if, after she said it, I was incapable of hearing anything else. In reference to some skit or part of the show that she was describing, my mother-in-law made the comment that the performers "are all obese." Here is a promotional photo of the group that performed at our theatre:
In my foggy remembrance, I believe that my mother-in-law was referring to a particular skit that involved all of the women plus one of the men, who was dressed as a woman; it was hilarious, and she made this remark offhandedly while broadly describing, without giving too much away, why she enjoyed it.
That comment stuck with me and I distinctly remember watching the actors walk onto the stage, expecting these huge people, and thinking, "these are the obese people?" I'll admit that I'm not a great judge of size, but I didn't really get the impression that any of these individuals would be classified as obese.
My mother-in-law has a graduate degree in public health; she was instrumental in the development and passage of Arkansas Act 1220 of 2003, which has now been duplicated and inacted in many other states and countries (she has traveled to both the U.K. and Canada promoting this program). In short, it required (it has since been modified significantly) the assessment and reporting, to parents and a statewide information collection database, of each public school child's BMI (body mass index) in an effort to curb increasing rates of childhood obesity.
This work is very important to her and, while I completely disagree with it on many levels, I respect her efforts and accomplishments. Elementary school children no longer have access to vending machines full of sugar (there are different types of snacks available now) and there is more oversight with regard to vendors who sell food in the school cafeteria, especially to young children. It doesn't change the fact that public school cafeteria food is still processed crap and that, thanks to financial allocations within the public school system, this is not likely to change.
As you can see, my mother-in-law has been conditioned, by our society and culture, to believe that anyone who is not at a particular size (I'm not sure exactly what size that is) is unhealthy, even "obese." I seriously doubt that I could have a meaningful conversation with her regarding my assertion of health at every size; I'm not insinuating that people who have been diagnosed with clinical obesity are healthy, but I'm completely against judging a person's health by their outward appearance.
When I was around 12 years old, I wore a women's size 16 pants; was I obese? I don't know; we weren't using the trusty BMI back then, thank God. I know that I was very active, I had a healthy outlook on life (until I found out that I was "fat") and good relationships with other people my age; I was happy.
I would bet that the women on that stage are no larger than I was, years ago, and I didn't care a thing about their appearance as they performed. They are intelligent, witty, talented, fierce with their craft and I have a ton of respect for them. We should all be so lucky.