Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Fat Trap - feeding off your low self-esteem

Obesity is an epidemic in the United States. It has become a major health problem, ironically among the poor, who have literally too much to eat. And more and more, we are seeing morbidly obese folks, weighing 300, 400 pounds or more - rising around in little electric scooters. It is a very sad situation.

However, that is not what this article is all about. The Fat Trap is a technique that marketers use to make people feel bad about themselves, in order to make them spend money. And while weight is one aspect of it, the marketers use many other criteria to make you feel bad about yourself and get you to spend. Many of these marketing techniques are targeted towards women, although men are just as vulnerable.

I visited a friend the other day. She is hardly obese, to say the least. But when I told her she was looking well (which she was) her reply was "Oh, I'm so FAT, I need to lose weight!"

I have heard this comment from various people, some who are overweight, some who maybe have a couple of extra pounds, some who are at an ideal body weight, and even from people who are dangerously thin. What is up with America's obsession with weight?

Like much else in our society, none of this occurs by accident, but rather by design. Using low self-esteem to manipulate and control populations is not a new trick. For eons, mankind has used these techniques to keep populations in line. Dividing people along racial, class, and other lines, and programming people to feel they are "inferior" is an easy way to manipulate people.

Psychological experiments along this line have shown that once people are told they are an inferior class, they will behave in a manner that fulfills these expectations. Students told, in an experiment, that they are prisoners, tend to act like, well, prisoners. Young students with brown eyes who are told, in an experiment, that they are inferior to students with blue eyes will not only believe, but act in a manner consistent with the expectations.

So, it is an easy task to program people to believe that they are less than whole or even less than human, if you can train them with the correct set of expectations. It is no longer acceptable in America to teach people they are inferior based on race, religion, or even class. So appearance is the new discriminator, and an easy way to keep consumers in line and get them to spend money on things they really don't need.

America's obsession with weight developed in the late 1950's and early 1960's. Watching older movies, it is interesting to note that many actors and actresses were fairly heavy. Even actors and actresses who were not "fat" by any means, were fairly plump and ill-defined. The handsome leading men of the era did not have the gym-rat bodies and rippling abs we expect today of any action hero. Rather, most had slab-sided stomachs and little muscle definition.

Perhaps it was the youth culture of the 1960's that changed all that. Suddenly, "thin is in!" and dieting took hold as a mania, particularly among young women. The diet plate special (a scoop of cottage cheese and a hamburger without a bun, don't ask me why) and cyclamate-sweetened soft drinks like"Tab" became popular.

I vividly remember my sister, who was hardly overweight, obsessing about being thin at the time. If a girl wanted to be "popular with the boys" she had to lose weight. Of course, there has always been one way for girls to be popular with the boys, and that has never changed. But for some reason, it was touted that being thin would not only get a young woman a date, but also help her snare a husband. But is appearance a proper basis for a lifelong mate selection?

Since that time, the norms for body types foisted on the American public have changed dramatically. The muscular gym-body, for both men and women, has become popular. For runway models, the anorexic thin "waif" look was touted. Ironically, this trend of pushing extreme body styles as a new "norm" took place at the same time that Americans became increasingly obese. In other words, our stars and celebrities were becoming thinner and thinner as we became fatter and fatter.

In a way, this sort of further divided the celebrity population from "the rest of us." With plastic surgery, cosmetic dentistry, a personal trainer and a diet plan, they could transform themselves into caricatures of human beings - caricatures that ordinary folks could never approach. Michael Jackson was probably an example of this trend taken to an extreme.

Even the few "fat" celebrities end up on this "thin" bandwagon, as they "struggle with their weight gain" and end up endorsing a weight loss product after losing dramatic amounts. If anything, the "fatties" in Hollywood are worse than the thin ones, as they endorse the entire negative-self-image concept even further.

And of course, for many celebrities, particularly comedians, the height of hilarity these days is to do a movie wearing a "fat suit", as though looking like their audience members is some sort of joke. It is an intersting message when a thin celebrity puts on a fat suit.

And it doesn't end with body weight. Facial wrinkles can be erased with the innocuously named "BoTox" (would you inject yourself with "Botulism Toxin" if it didn't have a cute name?) and teeth can be straightened and whitened with dental techniques. Facial features can be nipped and tucked. Nothing natural should be left alone.

And the problem is, many people buy into this entire charade, lock stock, and barrel. While in the past, we would age gracefully, today we are expected to chase perpetual youth.

And not suprisingly, an entire industry is ready and waiting to feed on your low self-esteem, with various quack "cures" for your alleged defects.

The internet is probably the worst purveyor of these, although I suspect television probably promotes them as well. Not a day goes by that I don't see a banner ad promoting a wrinkle removal cream or some form of tooth whitener "invented by a Mom!" (Apparently, Mom-invented things are somehow better for you, I guess).

And of course, there is a huge industry devoted to legitimate and crooked weight loss schemes. We are told we can lose weight if we buy all our food from Jenny Craig, or attend weight watchers. Or just cut to the chase and have the fat sucked out with a machine on an operating table. Or try one of the various herbal "fat burner" remedies which are not regulated by the FDA. All you need to do is spend a little money. Or a lot.

And of course, you can get those gym abs by buying an exercise machine, or some sort of gadget or gizmo. The "abdominizer" will turn you from festering blob to movie star in mere weeks, with little or no effort on your part. Call now, operators are standing by!

Of course, most of these "cures" don't work. The wrinkles come back, whitened teeth do not make you sexier, and the exercise or diet regimen is quickly dropped in favor of another bag of fast-food and a donut.

The consumer then feels worse about themselves, which feeds further into the cycle of low-self-esteem. "I'm ugly!" they think, "and I'm no good!". The low self-esteem then primes the pump for another round of consumer spending. Low-self-esteem promotes passivity and also low expectations. If you believe your are worthless, then you tend to accept a lot more crap - after all, itsn't that what you deserve?

Why are people obsessed with appearances in our society (but rarely with substance?) Again, it is to control and manipulate the population. Many folks are convinced they need to alter their appearance to attract friends or a mate. But many folks reject friends and mates based on appearance - convinced that they can "do better" with a hotter "trophy wife" the next time around. No wonder the divorce rate is skyrocketing!

So, rather than forming meaningful relationships that last a lifetime, and growing old together, cherishing each wrinkle and grey hair as a badge of honor, we are encouraged to dump our spouses for something new and younger (appearing) on the premise that love (and sex) are better when you are "thin".

Frankly, thin people are the most miserable folks I know. The kinds of people who obsess about their appearance and the appearance of their mates tend to have a number of superficial, short-term relationships, based largely on physical attraction and the premise of hot sex. But in reality, the sex is rarely any good, and the physical attraction wanes quickly, and they are once again "back on the market" looking for the perfect mate again.

Avoiding the Fat Trap is difficult for many Americans, as they receive most of their normative cues from television, which heavily promotes the low-self-esteem agenda. For example, take most morning news shows, which are largely aimed at women. Usually at least once a week, if not once a day, there is a segment on losing weight, usually featuring some new diet plan or book you can buy. Teary-eyed testimonials are given by the formerly fat, about how miserable they were, with their previous "condition" talked about in hushed tones, as if being 20 pounds overweight was akin to having cancer.

It is very subtle how these social cues are promoted, and while it is intentional, it is not part of some grand plan or conspiracy. However, individual marketers are well aware that you can use low-self-esteem issues to sell everything from toothpaste (with whitener!) to automobiles (to make you look sexier!). People who are well adjusted and feel good about themselves, well, you can't sell them anything!

So the first step toward finding your own internal happiness (and spending less money on worthless JUNK) is to TURN OFF THE TELEVISION. Television teaches you conflicting messages. Television says to be thin. Television says to eat a Big Mac. You can't do both.

The second step is to accept yourself for what you are, and realize that you have a limited lifespan, so you might as well get used to the body you are living in. If you have been overweight most of your life, chances are the best you can hope for is to lose some weight and be healthier. You cannot expect to end up looking like Kate Moss or Arnold Schwartzenegger (the old Arnold, not the new fat one). Accept who you are and then have realistic expectations about what you can change.

The third step is to change your lifestyle. As we get older, our diets should change, but few people change their diets. Most of us eat like growing teenagers, wolfing down hamburgers and french fries. As we get older, we need less of that sort of food and more roughage. You don't need to eat frozen "diet" entrees out of a box to lose weight. But a thing called the GREEN VEGETABLE might help, along with portion controls.

Similarly, you don't need to join a gym or buy a machine to get exercise. Walking is one of the best exercises you can do, and it is cheap and free. Yet our modern lifestyle, where we drive to every destination (even the gym) and sit for hours behind a computer screen, is an anthema to basic exercise. As I have noted before, you don't see a lot of fat people in Manhatten, simply because they walk more.

Feel good about yourself. Be kind to yourself. Happiness is something you have to find inside, not externally. One secret to reducing stress and being happy is to not let external things dictate your emotional state of being.

Once you jump off the low-self-esteem bandwagon, you can make more rational decisions about your life and take control of your life.

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