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Obesity as an illness of metaphor

Photo by melliegrunt / by NCND 2.0 CC

I’ve been reading The Pain Chronicles by Melanie Thernstrom, a well-researched and fascinating book about pain viewed through the filters of history, literature, science, religion and the author’s personal experiences. Of particular interest to me was the idea that disease is sometimes seen as metaphor. For example, a common 19th century belief about consumption (a.k.a. tuberculosis) was that it was a “spiritualizing struggle between the body and the soul, in which mortal flesh was slowly consumed in a way that heightened both beauty and creativity.” This view seems sort of silly now that we know tuberculosis is caused by mycobacterium tuberculosis. Similarly, cancer was once seen as a sign of repression, and HIV was originally viewed as punishment for homosexuality, both of which have similarly been proven false after the mechanisms of the disease were discovered.

This is when it occurred to me that obesity is still seen as a disease of metaphor.

Obese people have been assigned many traits by mainstream culture. They’re weak-willed. They’re lazy. They don’t [...]

A sickness I can name

I have a cold and I’m rather enjoying it. I sneeze and people say “Bless you.” My throat is sore, so I take cough drops. When people see the wastebasket full of tissues, they know I have a cold. It’s visible and understandable. Everyone has had a cold. They know what that feels like. They know what to do. Take Vitamin C. Keep Kleenex handy. Cover your mouth when you sneeze. It will pass eventually.

It is not like my headache, which no one can see. They might notice the zoned out look in my eyes or notice me rub my temples, but otherwise my chronic pain is invisible. When I try to explain what is wrong with me, they don’t understand. They’ll say, “How are your headaches?” using the plural. They don’t get that the headache never goes away, that it’s just one headache, not many. They try to empathize, but they don’t really know what it’s like, and I’m thankful because I would not wish the experience on others. They can say “That must [...]

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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