Man eating pizza
our growing waistlines, our 'food toxic' environment...can one be fat and fit?


I am a woman in my 30's 5'4" tall, a workout fanatic and wear a size 4 or 6 jeans. Yet, I still feel fat. Our society IS toxic; As a writer, fitness trainer and secondary school English teacher, I see the incredibly bad diets and sedentary lifestyles that lead to obesity in many of my students on the one hand, while watching others starve themselves.

I think however, the best example of just how bizarre our culture has become is what I saw at the mall last week. I stopped to get a pretzel, (and had to beg them to make it without butter) and sat between two other tables. At one, a woman who must haved weighed more than 300 pounds, had two pretzles, cream cheese and a rich coffee drink with whipped cream. At the other, a young woman, so thin every bone could be seen through her skin, drank steamed skimmed milk and nibbled some dry cereal from a plastic bag she'd obviously brought from home. In the end, she threw half her milk away. The other woman ate every bite. I'm not sure which sight was sadder.

Lucy Walker
ojai, ca


What a great program you put together tonight! I would like to recommend a resource for parents of girls ages 8-14. It's a magazine called New Moon: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams (www.newmoon.org).

This magazine encourages girls to discover and appreciate who they are, not what they look like--quite a culture-changing idea! And the magazine is edited by girls, so that they can talk peer to peer about the issues they love and/or worry about. I hope that parents will be able to look into this resource and find a community for their daughters to thrive in without being pushed to be appearance-focused.

Bridget E
missoula, mt


So much of the nation's collective weight struggles should be blamed on the food industry. Sugar is often one of the primary ingredients in many foods -- even foods which you wouldn't think should contain sugar, like spaghetti sauce, tomato soup. It's often disguised as corn syrup, potato starch, maltodextrin, dextrose, etc., but it's all sugar and I'd be willing to bet that most of it isn't necessary. Read labels. Write to manufacturers. It's the only way food manufacturers will makes changes in their products.

Lu Ray
dayton, ohio


I found broadcast concerning obesity was very timely. I am a nutrition minor and work in an industry were opportunities for counceling arise often. I find it very interesting, but logical that someone who would be considered morbidly obese by traditional standards would actually be fit. We live in a society of extremes, with no vision of moderation to anchor ourselves to. Despite this, I have seen many of the patients I work with find a balance for themselves by taking this healthy approach toward food and exercise. The downward spiral seems to reverse itself best when exercise enters the picture. Instead of linking food with negative emotions, many have come to regard food as fuel for their training and performance. When they view these priorities as a gift to themselves rather than something they have to do because it's good for them they make the transformation easier.

Cecilia Melton
houston, texas


This is my second time seeing the documentary. The first time was on the Canadian Documentary program "Witness" in addition I have seen Jaqueline Hope on many talk shows. When I saw the program the first time, my reaction came mostly from painful experience. (Have a good look at my name and see the first double whammy.) At age 30 I am now seeing the war against the female body as a fight for control over one's life.

Since the traditional barriers are now nearly down, there is a new barrier in its place. It is amazing how normally intelligent women fret about gaining two pounds or not fitting into some near impossible fashion trend. What is equally as frightening is now men are feeling the same pressure to look a certain type. One co-worker of mine worried about his body composition, mentioning there is still fat he needed to lose. However he looks like a fit man, and a very handsome one too. Yet, like all of us at one point, he falls into the "image is everything" trap which grips North America.

North America is a continent driven by image. Images of success are equated with thin women or muscular men. The Monica Lewinsky incident hilights a very intersting paradox. If Monica Lewinsky had been a size 6 rather than her current size, would the press paint a different portrait of the whole affair. Think about it: The most powerful man in the world could have had any exotic beauty he wanted. Why pick a woman who looks like Monica Lewinsky? Perhaps the preferemce for fat is hardwired in our genes in other ways.

Fatima DeMelo
winnipeg, manitoba


I found "Fat" to be a well researched and accurate piece. The fear of being overweight is an obsession in our culture which is driven by the diet and fast food industries. It's easier to point at the individuals failure to control their eating habits than to examine how the society contributes to our country's obesity levels. I am not obese, but have been force fed our culture's "idea" of beauty all my life.

All women, both fat and thin must stand together and reject the images and industies that try to control how we look and feel about ourselves. The truth is that if we follow healthy lifestyles (not fad diets) excercize,and reject the idea of perfection, we will be happier, fitter and more in control of our own lives... and isn't that the point?

Phyllis DuBose
kansas city, mo


Your program on "fat" was very well done. The invasive, uncontrolled and agressive food advertising campaign is alarming. By targeting children, it condemns them to a lifelong problematic relationship with food which can cause obesity.

The public and the medical community should now seriously think of fighting against food advertising as they have done it against tabacco advertising, which has targeted children with a view to create an lifelong addiction. Like cigarette packages, junk food advertisements should be labelled as a health hazard if consumed in excess, TV advertising should be limited and should not be target children.Warnings should be imposed.

In brief, there should be more regulations aimed at preserving public health and more awareness of the dangers posed by junk food advertising.

Sybile Lazar
washington, dc


I want to thank PBS for tackling the hard issues head on, and for doing it honestly. I watched the program last night, and was so impressed by its progressive tone, the thorough research, and the variety of women interviewed.

As a feminist and a lesbian, it is extremely refreshing to turn on the television and see a program that reflects my own views-and-presents them in a way that is accessible to a wide audience.

I also wanted to comment on the work of Melanie Coles-- what a talented photographer. Her work is essential and important, as is the work of Big, Bold, and Beautiful. Bravo, PBS

Nikki DeBlosi
arlington, va


Having spent the first 13 years of my life morbidly obese, I know the pain and heartache of those who are living the daily hell of obesity. Hell, not just because they can't have the body of their dreams, but because they feel the presure from the rest of the world to be thin. Now 17 years later, as a "normal weight" 30 year old, I think back to the teasing and discrimination that your program mentioned and know that the stories are true. The namecalling, the looks of disgust, the shame, it all weighs heavy on your mind and doesn't easily go away even if the pounds do. After losing nearly a quarter of my body weight in Jr. High I was on a mental high. People thought I was more polite, cleaner, and smarter. I was moved from "low" math and English classes right up to "high" level classes, and I was constantly praised. The mental high was temporary however, as the pressures to stay thin grew, and yet another hell began- Bulimia. After years of struggling with my body I have found the right mix of food intake, physical activity, and mental attitude. The key is that all three of these areas must be delt with. The human body evolved in a labor intensive and food limited environment, not in the physically inactive and fast food world of the past few decades. I do agree that genetics plays a large roll in our lives, but we must also be accountable. We must not allow ourselves to eat massive amounts of food just because we can, or spend all of our free time in front of a television or computer screen! Controlling our food portions and ample physical activity must be part of our daily lives! In fact, if the only thing one did to help themselves be healthier was to accumulate 45 minutes of moderate physical activity every day they would be on the long road to a healthier lifestyle.

Former fat kid, now exercise physiologist.

lincoln, ne


Thank you for this timely look at the predjudices people have about the way we are supposedly supposed to look.

I am a ("morbidly obese") 41 year old mother of six beautiful children. I came from a family of four girls and one boy. I was constantly teased about my weight at home as well as school. You see no one in my immediate family was even overweight except me. I was also put on drugs to lose weight at the age of 12. I saw the big change in the way people treated me when I became thin.

It was soooo sickening and very depressing because it proved to me that the real me inside didn't matter. It was only my shell that these shallow people were interested in.

I agree wholeheartedly that a person can be fat and fit. I need to exercise more than I do, and you know what? I'm going to start as a result of this wonderful eye opening show you have presented. As far as all of you obese men out there I know I'm not the only woman who find you attractive. Frontline thank you again.

mary bizarro
dixon, ca


, I'm 42 and strongly believe that genetics must be applied to the fat equation. Some freinds workout diligenty and avoid certain foods and still are overweight. In my case, I've found that carbohydrates are my worst enemy, enter the Adkins Diet. I know people whom have lost 50 pounds look and feel healthly from this diet. This diet must be researched more intensely due to its success with so many people and its high fat content.

I've lost weight utilizing the Quick Weight Loss program but gained it all back - then some. There is something to the restriction of carbohydrates. The wholesale marketing of wafer thin bodies is just another media mind wash of e corporate greed.

Rick Baity
annapolis, md


I did not see your show on "fat" however, I too believe there is a double standard with regard to weight in this country and possibly the world. Almost all models/anchor women/etc. are thin. Of couse there is Oprah and she goes up and down. Myself I am overweight and have been mostly since my late teens. It runs in my family although my Mom was always a good weight. As resulty at 58, I have a badly arthritic deteriorated spine condition involving a lot of pain, paralysis to my left foot, bad knees, constant pain & I walk with a cane. Since 9/20/99 I have been on Xenical and have lost approx 40 pounds. I am eating low fat although I do not paricularly count the fat grams, I just know that what I eat is not over the allowed daily amount. I sometimes but not always write down what I eat. Exercise, I've always hated it but because of pain the the likelyhood that back surgery will be only a band to a condition that will return I am in Phy. theraphy and learning the need for exercise which definitely makes me feel better. Lowfat is the best eating plan I have ever tried and I've tried most of them!!! I live alone and as long as I don't have sweets in the house, don't go to the grocery store hungry and walk around the sweets I am doing great. I recommend talking with your phy if you are overweight and trying Xenical to see if it is right for you, it sure is for me.

Thanks for letting me voice my opinion.

Linda T
birmingham, al


Thanks for airing such a poignant, important topic . It is so important for society to understand the oppression that fat people experience. I am a Physician Assistant student who will take these lessons into my practice as I treat patients who suffer/live with obesity. I will also take it to heart as I become more gentle with my own battle with obesity. If I was teased as a child or adolescent, I have conveniently forgotten or ignored most of it but in my past life as a death investigator for the medical examiner's office, I investigated several cases of obese individuals who could no longer take the pain and decided suicide was the only option left to them. One tragic case involved a 390 pound woman who could not fasten her seatbelt and was ejected to her death in a traffic accident that would not have been fatal. There are many other stories though most people die of natural disease processes secondary to obesity, etc. I hope you visit this topic again because the media still portrays gaunt, anorexic models as the norm. Thanks again.

Barb Mallory
everett, wa


Dear Frontline, I am an exercise physiologist who would like to thank you for FAT. It was encouraging to see the many letters written in response to the show. You have people thinking. I am writing to you during Eating Disorders Week: 2/20 thru 2/27. My role has been to go out to local high schools with the slogan "DON'T WEIGH YOUR SELF-ESTEEM...IT'S WHAT'S INSIDE THAT COUNTS! Too many adolescents are hung up on the myth that to be valued we must be thin (particularly in my city!). We forget that if we were all blind body size might not matter quite as much. This is not to say that health is not an important issue, but in my world practicing healthy lifestyle habits like exercise and healthy eating WILL improve an individual's health REGARDLESS of absolute body weight. Kudos again on FAT.

cheryl milson
los angeles, ca


Thanks to Frontline for bringing together information and insights I was aware of, from various feminist and nutritionalist sources, as well as my own observations. I would propose that a good thing for anyone to ask is: Have I flexibility, strength and endurance? Am I getting the nutrients I need? My opinion and observation is that people who can answer `yes' to those questions tend to be vital, beautiful and desirable, whatever their girth. I have a further question, that the flesh experts may be able to answer - Why is the fat on some males' bodies quite firm, usually concentrated in a paunch and/or buttocks - and that of others much softer, and usually more generally distributed, as is fat of females tends to be? [My impression is the firmer fat is characteristic of excessive diet overtaking a solidly built frame. The person in question may in fact be fairly fit. Squoodgier fat seems to be tied to hereditary obesity. Or, perhaps, something to do with hormone levels (as is suggested, by the squidgy, malleable fat I find on females.)

closter, nj

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