August 26, 2010

Fat chance

image from amplestuff.comI watched another weight-related documentary last week, a Canadian one from the 1990's. It was called Fat Chance, and this was the description given on Netflix:
Rick Zakowich is an imaginative therapist who moonlights as an intriguing blues singer. Talented and magnetic, Rick also weighs 400 pounds, and while he's chock-full of energy and charisma, he's almost always affixed with only one label: fat guy. This documentary is a detailed diary of Rick's life that begins as he set out on his quest to lose 220 pounds -- a feat that proves more difficult than he'd originally planned.
To be honest, it took a few days for me to put together my thoughts on it.

In the first part of the movie, we meet Rick. He has been overweight his entire life, and when discussing about his childhood, he talks about how his parents' love was tied to food, but when he went to school, he learned otherwise - that fat is something negative, that being fat means you are lazy or stupid or you have no self-control. He is profoundly depressed:
Publicly I'm okay, but these are really very dark times for me.
and he is nearly at tears when he says that he wishes that God would accept his bargain and trade years of his life just to be thin.

We see Rick going to the doctor, trudging through workouts, and visibly suffering through healthy meals. image from edgelandfilms.comThere are many scenes that show Rick doing simple tasks like going to the supermarket, taking a swim, or walking down the street - but the focus is not on Rick, it's on those around him, mostly children and teenagers who snicker and point. He talks about his lack of romantic relationships due to his size and self-esteem:
I wouldn't be lying if I said I've been lonely a good part of my life ... it's like, my life is on hold until I lose this weight.
He had been married once, many years earlier, and has a daughter. He says that this is the only real, meaningful relationship he has in his life.

There was a definite moment when it seemed that the movie's message changed, and it was when Rick's goal did. At one point, he decides to form a support group for overweight and obese men, and in doing so, he reconnects with a doctor whom he met a few years ago, Dr. Mo Lerner. Dr. Lerner speaks very openly about his feelings of failure - despite being a skilled doctor, he feels it is no accomplishment since the rest of his life isn't truly being lived. With Dr. Lerner, Rick takes a trip to a NAAFA conference. (For anyone unfamiliar with the acronym, they are the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.)

NAAFA logo
We see Rick and Dr. Lerner sitting in on lectures and feeling, for the first time, that they are among a non-judgmental crowd. There is a motivational speaker who later talks to Rick one-on-one about the downsides of dieting; she claimed that she wouldn't want to belong to the "disgusting thin world" since the thin people are the ones who are currently telling her she is abnormal, and she is totally happy the way she is:image from
Who would I be to subscribe to an aesthetic belief, to want to be part of a people who saw me as unattractive? Moses didn't come off the mountain and say "Ugh! Fat people! Spit on 'em!"
After this, we see Rick acting very differently than before. His efforts are turned away from diet and exercise and focus more on fat acceptance - at one point, he takes a meeting with the mayor to get the signs changed on public restrooms so people will know they are "fat friendly."

So, my thoughts. I guess going into it, I assumed the film would be about this guy putting his sweat and tears into changing his life for the better. And I guess coming out of it, I wasn't wrong. But the way his life changed was different from what I had expected. At the end of the movie, Rick Zakowich hasn't had any significant weight loss, but his quality of life changed completely. He was no longer sitting alone in his apartment feeling sorry for himself, he was out with like-minded friends. Whether or not you agree with NAAFA and their message, you have to see that Rick's outlook on life is greatly improved and he feels that there is a great deal of meaning and purpose, and for him, that makes this the right answer.

I had a number of disagreements with the statements being made in the scenes at the NAAFA conference - mostly relating to the fact that, while it is true that you cannot determine if someone is healthy just by physical appearance, I know my own body, and I know that carrying around an excessive 210 pounds is not only emotionally but physically painful. But the biggest one was a statement made by the motivational speaker. I guess one of the greatest lessons I took from this movie was that, just as there are thin vs. fat prejudices, there are just as many fat vs. thin ones. She was talking about the benefits to having lived her entire life as an overweight/obese person, and she said that she had to work harder for everything, and that she wouldn't have been a compassionate person if it weren't for her size. Someday I want to have kids, and I'd like to think that they are going to be hard-working and compassionate people, no matter what size they are.

1 comment:

Retta said...

I appreciate the movie review. Now I won't waste time watching it, LOL!

I have sooo many reasons I could go off on a rant about the squirrelly thinking of some of the naafa people... but instead will just say this to them: come back and talk to me when you are 50, or 60... if you live that long... and THEN tell me how happy you are with being morbidly obese.

Pain. Physical pain, emotional pain. When the pain of being obese becomes greater than the pain of change, that is when we tend to get more honest with ourselves, and willing to do what it takes to make changes.

All the prejudices, both ways, are sad. We would all be better off with a little more compassion, yes? I agree with acceptance, just wish that it wasn't used as an excuse to not get healthier.

Good review!