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by Arthur Paul Patterson

ARISTOTLE REPRIMANDED GREENHORN scientists in his Academy for their immature disgust toward the gross and unappealing in nature. “The consideration of the lower forms of life ought not to excite a childish repugnance. In all natural things there is something to move wonder" (Boorstin 51). He believed that all things looked at impartially are manifestations of the divine. Ralph Waldo Emerson extended Aristotle's estimate of the beauty of nature into the process of death itself: “There is no object so foul that intense light will not make it beautiful. Even the corpse has its own beauty”(Emerson 9). In our society we consider physical deformities, decay, death, and any unpleasantness of appearance as objects of aversion. Aesthetic aversion to fat may be at the top of our contemporary list.

Ken Wilber (b. 1949), philosopher of science and consciousness, developed a unique method to reveal the deeper meaning of any subject. Approaching obesity from Wilber’s “four quadrants” (the objective, the subjective, the cultural and the systemic) has enabled me to appreciate the role that fat plays in culture. To understand fat we must suspend judgement on the unhealthy condition of obesity, look unflinchingly at fat as a substance that behaves in observable ways, and view it as an internal condition experienced by individuals. Once the objective and subjective perspectives have been considered we can view fat culturally and systemically.



Seeing Fat: The Objective Quadrant


Scientifically, fat can be described in terms of components and processes that are substantially agreed upon by researchers. In its pure form fat is a colourless, odourless, semi-solid comprised of three basic molecules, thus the name triglyceride. The molecules of hydrogen and carbon are chemically bound together by an agent called a glycerol. Fat is produced by the absorption or conversion of proteins and carbohydrates. There are two basic types of fat: unsaturated (fat derived from plants) and saturated (animal fat)

While present throughout the body, fat is especially related to the digestive and lymphatic (circulatory) systems. In addition to the sheer delight of making food taste better and increasing satiety, fat provides the body’s energy and insulation, helps absorb vitamins, creates cellular membrane and protects vulnerable organs. Obesity develops when fat is stored instead of converted into energy by the body. The presence of excessive fat deposits leaves individuals vulnerable to a variety of health dangers including high cholesterol, heart disease, hardening of the arteries and social psychological complications.

Treating obesity requires a multi-disciplined approach that may include behavioral therapy, nutritional counseling, exercise and chemical treatment aimed at increasing serotonin (and other neurotransmitters) levels in the brain. A restrictive food regime and yo-yo dieting unsupported by the above-mentioned therapies can increase weight and endanger health.

These are the objective facts of fat yet the first time I attempted to consider fat dispassionately, it was displayed in a way that left me reeling and revolted. Like Aristotle's young students I was grossed out by nature. My pseudo-scientific instructor placed a simulated example of two pounds of human fat tissue on the table. There it lay a brownish yellow, lumpy substance with a greasy, shiny texture. Isolated from its home in the human body, it was an undefined mass with no natural framework to contain it. It was not a part of anything, never mind a living person. Science, which can be so helpful if used correctly, can encourage a distortion of the facts of fat by addressing it in isolation.

Being Fat: The Subjective Quadrant


Fat is not an amorphous mass disassociated from me. Walt Whitman said, “I find no sweeter fat than sticks to my own bones” (Whitman sct. 50). My body is fat’s domicile that transmutes its mass and shape into a totality called Arthur Paul Patterson. Nothing is closer to me than the parts of my body and fat is one of those parts.

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