by Dana Schuster, MS
In recent weeks, the concept that fat is a contagious condition has once again been bandied about in both the media and online discussions. The latest (but not new) advice to help someone shed those unwanted pounds is: “ditch that fat friend!” or “distance yourself from your fat sister.” Apparently you too can “catch thin” by hanging out with only those folks who embody slimness. Oh, and all you thinner folks beware—stay away from any co-worker, family member, or friend that falls in the fatties category or you may just find yourself coming down with the dreaded fat bug!
Well, as a fat woman who by nature is an extremely social individual, I believe I have some expertise to speak to this issue of contagion. I imagine that it would not surprise those who do believe in the social contagion nature of fat to learn that I have quite a number of fat friends, with those whom I consider best friends often found to be in the most abundant packaging. But surprise! I also have many friends and colleagues who are housed in a variety of sizes and shapes – including some who would be judged to be thinner than ‘average’ but who are admittedly fat (positive) in their beliefs. And I will be the first to admit that what they ALL bring to the table when we are together is, without a doubt, highly contagious. Except for the thinness infection, to which I must have immunity. In fact, I would push this even a little further and say that what my fat (positive) best friends and colleagues bring to our social interactions is actively infectious – not simply a whiff of possible contagion.
Just take a look at this definition for “Infectious”:
Capable of being easily diffused or spread; sympathetic; readily communicated; as, infectious mirth.
I love this!
Words like “capable,” “sympathetic,” “readily communicated,” and “mirth” are hardly terms of impending catastrophe that might suggest I should barricade myself at home behind duct tape and plastic. Okay, I admit: I cherry-picked the part of the definition that suits my point, but hey, if the country’s top researchers get the big bucks to engage in this same ‘process of selection’ in framing their research findings, then it’s good enough for me! My point is, all that is “contagious” is not automatically or inherently the kiss of death; I contend it might just be a ‘hug of life’ instead. Think smiles. And laughter. And yawns, of course.
This element of social contagion was quite evident to me at the most recent gathering of the San Francisco Bay Area Health At Every Size® Think Tank, which meets quarterly. For the four plus hours we were together, I was keenly aware of the strength of my fat (positive) friends’ infectiousness. Their words and support and enthusiasm and energy and laughter seeped into every cell in my body. But guess what? I was THRILLED to have what they brought with them be so readily communicated to me.
Sorry social-contagion-of-fat-fear-mongers, but I feel incredibly fortunate and without a doubt healthier, to have this type of fat (positive) community engulfing me! As it turns out, one of the primary things we ended up discussing at our HAES® Think Tank meeting was how we might help others also create regular opportunities to connect with size-accepting friends, so they too could explore and experience the infectious nature of the HAES approach to living. Can you imagine the epidemic that might ensue if more people who are fed up with our weight-loss and body-judging culture were able to come together with other fat (positive) folks and discuss this alternative approach in a safe space? Who knows how many people who are now in the early stages of contagion might just find they are soon fully consumed and spreading the infection themselves within a relatively short span of time?
I believe, and know from personal experience, that when we can surround ourselves with weight-neutral, Health At Every Size® colleagues and fat (positive) friends, we know firsthand the great power of social infection. As we hang out together with like-minded (and bodied) folks, we experience the contagion of confidence, positivity, and hope, that comes from shared experiences, challenges, and insights, and the infectious delight of being truly heard and loved exactly as we are.
I can only hope that we in the HAES community might continue to expose as many people as we possibly can. Just think – perhaps by spreading the word about weight-neutral health and size acceptance in every single social encounter we have, we could infect enough people to cause Typhoid Mary to be viewed as a mere specter compared to the power of contagion wielded by HAES Hattie!
So, may the epidemic of fat (positivity) be with you, and become COMPLETELY CONTAGIOUS and widespread, and may the Health At Every Size® paradigm be INFINITELY INFECTIOUS and invade every corner of our world!
I, for one, am happy to be a primary agent of transmission.