Better Happy Than…Uh, Happy?

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

By the time I got this hat tip from Shakesville on an article for Self magazine on antidepressant weight gain (that was reproduced on both MSNBC and AOL; you can get to it through the Shakes link), Liss had already closed down the comment thread because of commenter issues. (That’s what I get for keeping vampire’s hours.) And although I pretty much covered this issue last time out, and won’t rehash it all here, I did find I had a few things to add after seeing the Shakes post and reading the article.

Okay, for starters, I’m not providing a direct link because of fat hate and ablism in the story, although it’s mitigated somewhat by the fact that the author (Lauren Slater), has actually experienced this. She knows that those of us who say we’re not living in a bathtub full of M&M’s and it really is the meds are not CBS-ing anyone, it’s really true that a lot of these meds can send you straight to Category 4 if you stay on them. And it’s in a Major Women’s Magazine and the frickin’ Today Show. Finally.

But eesh, just that title — “Rather Be Fat and Happy or Thin and Sad?” If you guessed that Slater comes down on the side of the latter — her friends don’t want to be seen with her! her husband is squicked out by her! her pets won’t let her pet them! (okay, I made up that last part, but still) — then you’ve obviously read one Major Women’s Magazine too many over the course of your lifetime (yeah, me too) and know that they’d never ever ever print a story that says it’s okay to be fat if it means you won’t ever have to be 5150-ed again. Gods forbid.

The hell of it is, I envy the shit out of Lauren Slater. She’s used to thinking of herself as a “petite person,” and has reaped the privileges that go along with that — great career, great circle of friends, great kids, great partner, and I’m guessing a fabulous home, too, and never any worries about money beyond the shouldn’t-have-charged-those-Jimmy-Choos-maybe-heehee kind. Yes, I know, there are fabulous fatties on the ‘Sphere and elsewhere who have nabbed all that for themselves without being thin (and since my Asperger diagnosis, I’ve become well aware that more of my social/professional difficulties have been about what’s going on above my neck than below it).

But though I do realize there’s a big dose of unhealthy entie-envy here, I’ve felt my whole life like my face has been pressed up against the glass watching women like Slater love their lives, those NPR-listening, oh-so-aware-and-sensitive ruling classers, whose words are actually listened to and respected, who don’t have to worry about anyone they want to know better rejecting them because of externals. How I’ve ached to be them, felt like I’ve been missing my whole life because I’m not.

If I had ever gotten to live her life, maybe I’d have been freaked out about getting Officially Fat too, even if the alternative was potentially being re-institutionalized. (Slater says she spent much of her childhood and young adulthood in mental institutions, so I know her depression had to be somewhere in the neighborhood of mine in severity.) But I had nothing much to lose by gaining weight, even a vast shitload of it. The partner(s) I eventually hooked up with weren’t going to have a problem with it, and the kind of friends I’ve tended to make don’t either, and I’ve never had a career (career? what career?) where my body habitus was going to mean diddleydoo. That doesn’t mean I’m 100% sanguine about it, mind you; I’d be lying if, as an ovary-carrying person with PCOS, I said I wasn’t concerned about what Remeron and everything else I’ve been on for the last almost-20 years could eventually do to me metabolically. But would I rather have diabetes than be perpetually terrified I’m going to swallow every pill in the house? On balance, I’d have to say yes, albeit gulping harder than I’d like to admit. (I hate needles something fierce.)

But I’m not her. Slater, in the end, sounds a lot less like someone who hates fatties than she does like someone who knows that the whole world hates fatties, and whose entire life setup depends upon maintaining her “petiteness,” regardless of how she feels about it personally. This makes me a lot more sad than angry, especially knowing that I’ve felt like a failure for much of my life for not being just like her. Losing what you and everyone else around you has come to depend upon is a lot different (not necessarily “worse,” mind you, just different) from never having had it in the first place. Slater isn’t really the problem; the anti-fat propaganda that has become our international wallpaper is.

But if Slater’s essay is dismaying, the AOL survey accompanying the story, which Liss put up at the Shakes link, is downright gabberflasting. The question is, “Would you be OK with weight gain if it meant you were happy?”, and out of almost 15,000 respondents, 76% said “no.” Wuh-what? As Scott Madin pointed out in the comment thread, tautology anyone? “Would you be happy to be happy if you were happy”? (Sounds like that old 70s song “Express Yourself,” doesn’t it? “It’s not what you look like when you’re doing what you’re doing/It’s what you’re doing when you’re doing what you look like you’re doing.” Cracks my shit up every time. The YouTube link, BTW, is audio-with-title-screen only.)

Besides, the wording is a bit nebulous, no? My next question would be, “As opposed to what?” Losing weight and feeling worse every day? Having a grand piano fall on my head? Being eaten alive by a pack of hungry opossums? I’ve experienced only one of those three things, but that’s enough to tell me that most of the people being surveyed have not. Do you have to have experienced life the way I have to know that there are far worse things in life than becoming a big whaleypants?


20 Responses to “Better Happy Than…Uh, Happy?”

  1. Esme Says:

    I lived the life Slater had for a long time. And I was damned miserable. I was THE American beauty ideal from the ages of 15-20, and I hated myself, starved myself and hurt myself, and thought I was already fat, nevermind the kind of fat I am now.

    And then someone finally noticed that being suicidal is a bad thing, and I was taking 5 bajillion different mood stabilizers (due to a rather major mis-diagnosis) and suddenly I was 200 lbs and oh god wasn’t it scary. And then I got the hell over myself, found a boyfriend who wasn’t demanding that I be a twig to deserve affection, and picked my life back up again. I was the thin and miserable, and now I’m the fat and happy, and I can damned well tell you that I prefer being happy to being sad. I mean, it’s a pretty obvious question, isn’t it? Are you happier being happy?

  2. wellroundedtype2 Says:


    I would rather be than not be. Isn’t that the question?

    I suppose that until she put on 80 pounds, she didn’t know it wouldn’t be something she could manage. But why she wasn’t honest with her daughter about the reason for her weight gain, and that she gained weight because she DIDN’T want to die, I don’t really understand.
    I also think she probably knows how mean people can be to fat people because she has those unexamined thoughts in her own head. The vast majority of us carry around those thoughts, but when we observe them and question their validity, they lose some of their power.
    Somewhere along the line, a provider could have said, hey, now that the Zyprexa has worked, and you’re out of the hole, why don’t we try to switch you to something that is better for your long-term health? If it’s really the metabolic issues that concerned her, that could have been the reason for the change in medications earlier on.
    Here’s to big patooties!

  3. Twistie Says:

    I used to be thin. Really. I was naturally thin. I ate whatever the hell and gained no weight. But then my body did what bodies in my family tend to do: it gained weight in adulthood.

    While I have had a couple bouts with situational depression – and while they have been pretty awful – I am not clinically depressed, have never had to take anti-depressants, nor have I had to take any other medication that has weight gain as a side effect. I am not on the autism spectrum.

    But you know what? Even when I started suddenly gaining weight in my twenties, getting fat never scared me.

    Then again, I tend to take a lot of things in stride that freak other people out in huge ways. You know, things like turning thirty, and turning forty, and finding my first wrinkle, and realizing that some long-lost filthy rich relative probably isn’t going to crawl out of the woodwork and leave me a fortune.

    I guess I just don’t see any reason to angst about the measurement of my waistband when I feel good about life in general. I can angst with the best of them about how stupid other people get about that measurement, but it’s about their stupid and mean rather than my failure to please rude small-minded people.

  4. the fat nutritionist Says:

    I don’t have too many words right now, but I can say with certainty: I have been “thin” and miserable, and I have been fat and accepting of myself. Despite all the hatred I know exists out there, some of which I’ve experienced personally, I still prefer the latter. So much that I can’t really express how much.

    It took a long time to get here, yeah. For a long time, I was fat but still not okay or happy with it. I’m glad I stuck with it, though, rather than getting back on the merry-go-round.

  5. vesta44 Says:

    I’ll take fat and happy over thinner and suicidal any day (been there done that and barely survived). It took me quite a while to figure out that getting thin wasn’t going to make me happy (thin or fat, I’m the same person inside, and I need to love me the way I am now, not the way I’ll be in some fantasy future).

  6. Lori Says:

    I really appreciate your take on this, Meowser, because my general response to people who would rather be thin than happy is just bewilderment. Thank you for taking the time to try to understand the thought process behind it.

    I take Zoloft. It doesn’t cause me to gain a huge amount of weight, but I tend to be about 20 pounds heavier when I take it than when I don’t take it. And, I will take those 20 pounds any day, over having multiple severe panic attacks every single day, to the point where I don’t want to leave my house. I honestly don’t see the point of being thinner if I’m too anxious and miserable to do anything. I’d much rather be fat and have a full life.

    I don’t think I ever stressed about the weight I gained taking Zoloft, because I was just so thrilled to get some relief from the panic attacks. It didn’t even occur to me that I should worry about it.

  7. Angela Says:

    Like you I’ve never really been what could even pass as really thin. At my very smallest I was not thin and it only made me feel incredibly weird in my own body. Even when I was a small child I had small legs and a big stomach that other kids started being mean to me about in kindergarten. That social reception combined with my own introversion and eccentricities took me down a very different path from the one so many women in our culture end up on so I really have a hard time understanding people who say that they would rather be dead than fat. If I had to choose I’d happily weigh more(I’m already back up near the supersize borderline) if it meant not ending up in an institution or dead. And no weighing more wouldn’t do wonders for my PCOS either but that’s what metformin and moderate activity are for.

  8. living400lbs Says:

    I think that “fat and happy vs thin and sad” understates things. For many people, it can be “fat and functional” vs “thin and unable to hold down a job” or “thin and institutionalized”.

    Then there’s those of us who gain weight when we’re depressed anyway, which is often just another reason to hate on ourselves. 😦

  9. Alexandra Lynch Says:

    I kind of got (am getting, actually, as it is still going on) a chance to look at the other side of this.

    I apparently was a thin kid. When I hit puberty, though, the weight went on, and I’ve always been a fat woman. About three years ago I discovered FA, and realized that since I had a fabulous husband, excellent boyfriends, good friends, and the things about my life that were bad were not weight-dependent, I could just shrug and embrace a different sort of beauty within myself and others.

    So I got my meds adjusted, went on a new one, and I love what it is doing for me mentally, I’d take it even if it was making me gain weight….but it’s not. It’s making me lose. And my first reaction was to freak the fuck out, because I like being a big woman in so many respects. After a bit…and some reassurance from the people who love me…I calmed down, and recognized that I have a long way to go before society would ever think of me as thin, and I can save the freaking out for when I drop into straight sizes, if that day comes. (Actually, with the family backside and front acreage, it’s just not going to happen, really.) But as I have an orthopedic problem, dropping weight has meant no small reduction in pain, and this has seriously improved my quality of life. You can’t get away from the whole “so many pounds per square inch the foot is carrying” equations.

    So while I rejoice in whatever size my body is, and am happy with it…there’s a very good reason for me to be less rather than more.

  10. Deanna Says:

    I read this article yesterday, and thought about it several times today, so I’m glad to see your post.

    Slater’s tale left me feeling both anger and sorrow. Anger, because the judgment and mistreatment of fat people in our society has led her to view herself as an unworthy wife, mother and friend when she is fat. Sorrow, because she would rather stop the successful treatment of her severe depression than be a heavy woman.

    But I have to ask: What kind of wife, mother or friend can you be if you are so ill you can’t leave your bed, are institutionalized, or dead at your own hand? These are the very real potential consequences of severe depression. Because of the long history of her illness, she must know the risks of refusing treatment. There’s even a part of me that wants to call her selfish, with her view that her “happiness” is more important than her “wellness.” However, I will refrain from that judgment, since it takes a powerful will to resist the resoundingly negative societal messages sent to fat people.

    I have a portrait of my great-grandmother that hangs above my desk. I wish I’d been able to get to know her, even if it had just been in my early childhood. Unfortunately, she died about a year before I was born. Her years of severe depression apparently became an unbearable burden. One afternoon, my grandfather found her hanging from a rope in the attic of their old farmhouse. Her struggle with depression was over. My assumption is that she would have given up anything, even her thinness, to have been offered the option of taking effective medication.

    I wonder if Slater ever thinks about the fact that her children are most likely at higher risk for depression. In my own family, my dad, my sisters, and I all struggle with the disease. I believe that my 20+ years of taking antidepressants have been a big factor in the weight gain I’ve experienced. However, they’ve been effective in treating the depression. I pray that if one of Slater’s children ever gets the “big D”, she doesn’t advise him/her to refuse treatment because they might get fat.

  11. Meowser Says:

    Thanks, everybody. Deanna, I’m so sorry about your great-grandmother. I don’t think there’s ever been a suicide in my family, but I did have a great-grandmother who was instutionalized in the 1920s in Canada (and of course, back then they just didn’t ever talk about it, so nobody knew the exact nature of her illness), and her daugher (my father’s mother) was pretty much impossible to deal with because of her undiagnosed brain cooties. She was unbelievably verbally abusive to just about everyone, herself included. (And I’m guessing more than a little ADD mixed in with the depression, also.)

    It’s hard to know for sure whether medication would have helped them, because individual brain chemistry can be pretty unpredictable and finding good mental health practitioners is no slam-dunk, even today. But I, too, wish they had had a chance to find out.

  12. Bilt4cmfrt Says:

    I seem to be coming at this from the other end of the spectrum. The only time I was EVER thin was in early childhood. Pre-k through, maybe 2nd grade. And I ‘know’ this logically through childhood pics (Quotes on *know* because I don’t remember it at all). Been creeping up on and settling comfortably into DETHFATZ in the 40+ years since. Yet this Möbius Loop of a question manages to crash stop my logic processor faster than James Kirk with a stack of plastic squares. It’s a ridiculous question. ‘Would I rather be skinny and miserable than fat and happy?’ Umm, fat-happy? Been there, done that, still doing it, no plans to stop. Now I’m sure someone somewhere will chime it with ‘but how do you know you won’t be happIER thin?’ Simple answer; I don’t. Now answer me this; How do YOU know that, after working hard like a good puppy and losing all the ‘disgusting’ fat that I will be HappIER?
    Want to throw the ‘Health’ question into the mix? Fine.
    I’m fat NOW and I’m healthy NOW, so what changes?
    Want to talk about future health? (Oh Goodie! Fun time!)
    Ok, I get skinny as you want. And get hit by a truck. Then what?
    I don’t know that will happen? You don’t KNOW I’m gonna get diabetes or have a heart attack or get cancer. Truth is, I might get skinny, be miserable, and STILL get one or all of the above.
    AND WE CAN DO THIS ALL DAY but the Bottom line is; I’m happy (don’t care if you don’t believe it) and you don’t really have a say in the matter.

    So, let’s get back to the Q at hand. Why, the HELL, would somebody CHOOSE to be skinny and miserable? ‘Cause I’m just not following on that one.

  13. wellroundedtype2 Says:

    Been thinking about this some more, and I think there’s confusion in the equation about what happiness is, and how holistic it is. People can say “I would rather be dead than fat” might be the same people who would say “I would rather be dead than poor” or “I would rather be dead than unmarried” or any other conditional thing.
    Happiness runs in a circular motion, right — what you think will make you happy does, to some degree, and the opposite is true.
    I want to be happy more than I want to be any particular size. I know that being thinner didn’t make me happy, and being fatter didn’t either. Happiness for me has to do with both my circumstances and my soul-fulfillment, my gratitude, my ability to live in the moment, my ability to express love for others. I would rather feel full of those things that bring me joy than empty of them, and to some extent, food is part of that equation.
    Where the author of the piece failed to think clearly, in part, was that she was surprised that she couldn’t “have it all” — the medication that was working, eating everything that tasted good without gaining weight, the abillity to be as active as she was before with a rapid weight gain without the muscles to support it, a change that made her less attractive to her spouse, and worried her children. That’s a big shift in a short amount of time in someone who had never been fat. Of course it’s not going to be the same. But rather than blaming the fat, she could share some of the blame with how society treats fatness, and how fatness is treated in her own mind.
    I hope she finds successful treatment that doesn’t lead to what to her are intolerable side effects.
    She appears to be striving to be less-fat and happy, not skinny and miserable.
    Zyprexa is a miracle drug for some, but there are other things out there to try if the side effects are intolerable.

    I think for the people who say they would rather be skinny and depressed than “fat and happy” are really unable to conceive of being “fat and happy.” If they thought it was possible, it might completely throw off their worldview.

  14. meowser Says:

    Zyprexa is a miracle drug for some, but there are other things out there to try if the side effects are intolerable.

    To be fair, though, she did say that she tried multiple other medications, over a period of decades, that offered her only partial remission. This, apparently, was the only drug that gave her the whole shebang.

    The situation is similar with me and Remeron, except that the SSRI did make me Officially Fat (probably because of PCOS) along with the partial remission. Remeron just made me fatter. But it also gave me a taste of what it’s like not to go through every day thinking I’m loser scum. When you’ve never known that in your life before, it can make you never, ever want to let go of the drug that made it possible.

    Plus, every writer with suicidally bad depression who takes meds has to have David Foster Wallace on the brain to some degree, I’d think. DFW’s story is a horrible one: He had a medication that worked for him, an MAO inhibitor (an older class of drug that requires the avoidance of nearly any food or beverage that has been fermented, including soy sauce). He discontinued his drug after a couple of bouts of accelerated hypertension after some inadvertent dietary indiscretions (frigging soy is in frigging everything now), had the depression return with a vengeance, and went back on the drug — only to find out that now it wasn’t working any more. You can guess the rest.

  15. Nerissa Says:

    The argument that it is always better to be happy and fat than less happy and slim makes the assumption that happiness is always our most important priority.

    Which is not the case. For example, lots of married people cheat on their spouses a few times and have very happy memories as a result. However, most eventually decide they’d rather be faithful to their marriage. Their identity, in this case as faithful spouses, trumps their happiness priority.

    Generally speaking our self-identity takes priority over our happiness. Therefore is is very possible for many women who identify as slim to prefer staying slim and less happy than heavier and more happy. In arguing against this approach to their lives you might as well be trying to convince a long term faithful spouse to cheat on their partner so they’d be happier.

  16. Blimp Says:

    Of course, it’s better to be thin and suicidal, as long as you can make sure that every one of your suicide attempts will fail. Being thin and suicidal is the fast track to big money! BTW, I’m a category 1 and well beyond the age when most people leave that category, but I still haven’t figured out how to fake depression.

    • Blimp Says:

      Category 1: eat calorie-rich foods without restraint, don’t have diarrhea, parasites, cancer, etc. (I hope), not a U.S. Marine or Army grunt or other hard laborer or super-athlete, yet stay skinny.

    • Blimp Says:

      Forgot to mention: category 1 stays skinny without cocaine, etc. When I think of all the things that can make people skinny who would otherwise be fat, I can only conclude that the preference for skinny comes from the desire that the bastard child born of illicit sex with an underage mate will miscarry.

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