Honestly, I don’t have a good answer. And I think that’s a good thing.
As one of my readers put it, it’s “simple physics” to know that more weight on your body can put more strain on your joints. That’s a fine thing to acknowledge. And some conditions, like diabetes, are definitely linked to weight gain. But from there, it gets murky.
I know that I can gain 10-20 pounds and still be considered reasonable attractive by (admittedly arbitrary) social standards. Maybe that stops at 25 pounds. Maybe 30. The point is, when you’re debating whether 5 pounds or 10 is what makes a difference, you’ve lost perspective. You’ve forgotten that we’re talking about humans, not shipments of grain.
I do not want to be the arbiter of how fat is too fat. I don’t want anyone else judging that for me, so why would I want to be the judge for someone else?
Of all the senseless cruel bullshit happening in the world today, why would I waste my time judging someone based on how their body allocates calories? Yes, you can go the public health route and claim that we as a society end up paying for the health problems of folks who are overweight…but that’s such a complex tangle of issues. Research from Harvard shows that the body doesn’t treat all calories equally. Nutrition is a young science, and one that’s difficult to standardize. And so on.
I’d rather see us pouring effort into making sure healthy food, exercise options, and affordable medical care are available to all. Start public health and media campaigns to remove the shame and stigma from being fat. Let’s spread that message through universal comprehensive sex ed while we’re at it (hey, a girl can dream!). Give it 20 years after implementing all those changes, and then let’s see how folks are doing. Maybe some people’s bodies still have a higher set-point than others…but if they’re as active as they want to be, and happy, does weight really matter?
So, that’s my answer on the “how fat is too fat” question: I don’t care.
If you’re going to attack fatness and fat people as a systemic issue (e.g. “they’re costing everyone more money through their increased healthcare needs!”), then address it as a systemic issue using evidence-based harm-reduction interventions, wait a couple decades, and then see how it goes.
If you’re going to attack fatness and fat people as a personal issue, as in, you just can’t stand the sight of them, well, start by admitting that you’re bigoted. Then move on with your life. Focus your energy on fixing the problems in the world that maaaaybe deserve a bit more priority (e.g. violence, global health disparities, homophobia, racism, sexual assault, transphobia, etc.). If you honestly can’t stand the thought of people enjoying themselves at any size, I guess you can ignore it when it happens. But if you’re intentionally locking out joy, you might want to reexamine what’s going on in your life.