[Content warning: eating disorders, bariatric surgery.]
In a weight-hating society, there will always be a fattest person and we will always know who that person is.
Keith Martin lived with that label. Today, there are news report of his death, which happened last March.
Mainstream media like to ask whether the fattest person alive will stay fat and die or lose weight and live. As if those are the only possibilities.
Here's a brief chronology of Keith Martin's life, compiled from media reports, but without the usual weight-shaming and blaming…
Keith Martin's mother died from pneumonia when he was 16. Afterward, he suffered with untreated depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, and a severe binge eating disorder. He didn't leave the house for 10 years and lost mobility. Both Keith and the medical professionals he consulted focused on his weight. There is no mention of treatment for his mental illness or his eating disorder. He was the subject of a tv documentary. He lost a large amount of weight through calorie restriction and then underwent so-called weight-loss surgery. He checked himself out of the hospital early, a week after the surgery, but soon developed sepsis and dehydration (common complications of bariatric surgeries) and had to return. Later, he developed pneumonia and was in the hospital for four months. Just one month after his release, he died from pneumonia. He was 44 years old.
Reports of his death tend to begin by describing how much he ate during a binge. Photos of him show him either completely naked or wearing only a sheet. In some, he is holding an array of food packages.
This is not the way we treat someone we care about.
The surgeon who clamped off a healthy internal organ in Keith Martin and who calls his death from pneumonia "unlucky," is asking for taxes on fast food and more funding for stomach squeezing and stomach slicing and stomach amputation surgeries.
That's not what I want for fat people or for any of us, but especially not for the fattest of us. (How excruciatingly painful must it be to not only face intense negativity about one's weight but also to be used as the ultimate example to inspire fears about weight in everyone else?) What I want for all of us is first that we're welcome to participate in all aspects of society. If fat people are not welcome to exist, there is simply no point in talking about our health. I want people of all sizes to have friends, family, lovers, social support, community, and a sense of our own worth and purpose in life. I want none of these things to depend on weight. I want all of us to enjoy our embodiment however we like. I want us all to think of health-enhancing behaviors without once thinking of weight or weight-loss goals. I want people with mental illness and eating disorders to get support and treatment, free from stigma. I want our ideas of health and our healthcare system and our mental health system to be free from a focus on weight or weight loss and to have social justice as a first priority. I don't believe there's a weight limit for this sort of Health At Every Size® approach. I think it can benefit everyone.
And then, if we do happen to notice that someone is the fattest person alive, that label might not itself be so damaging and possibly deadly.