As a fat woman who smokes, I fully acknowledge how many people are likely judging my lifestyle choices on a daily basis -- and because I am how I am, I will admit to having spent a considerable amount of time pondering how my appearance and public actions may be perceived by others.
When I'm walking my fat ass down the street, happily puffing on a cigarette, I often wonder how many passers-by may be thinking to themselves, "That poor girl is just ASKING for death to come sooner."
Stick a donut in my other hand and you may as well label me as a walking, talking, smoking depiction of "poor health."
I was even stopped once on my walk to work by an older gentleman in overcoat and fedora who kindly exclaimed, "My dear, you are far too beautiful to be smoking your way to an early grave! Please promise me you'll stop."
"I'll think about it," I replied flippantly as I continued to take a long, delicious drag.
Some people may suggest that my fatness and fondness for cigarettes revokes my right to healthcare access, and to those people I will promptly present my pudgy, nicotine-stained middle finger.
Last week, the Associated Press warned ominously that starting next January, ”Millions of smokers could be priced out of health insurance because of tobacco penalties in President Barack Obama’s health-care law.”
On the heels of this announcement are a myriad of other health-related debates, including whether or not we should just let fatties and smokers lead themselves to their obviously impending deaths by revoking their access to insurance.
The facts are irrefutable: I am indeed fat, I live with mental illness and a myriad of chronic health conditions (all of which I inherited at birth -- thanks genetics!), and I just so happen to find solace in smoking as I please.
One could even argue that my predilection to smoking has been passed down to me as well -- addiction and substance abuse happen to run rampant in my family, and those living with mental illnesses (like major depression and manic disorder) are statistically more inclined to take up the habit.
I could insert some sort of disclaimer here about how I'm trying to quit, or hope to quit soon someday -- but I refuse to make promises that I may not intend to keep and willfully maintain the right to live as I please, without apology.
It's not as if I am unaware of the impact smoking has on my body and overall health -- I mean, hell, is there a person alive today who can refute the health risks associated with smoking? I think not.
But I think it's safe to say that just as we are all human, we all have our weaknesses.
I hold onto cigarettes as a bittersweet vice that I’ve maintained since high school and often go through phases where I cut back or stop smoking completely. But to put it quite frankly: I really just simply adore smoking.
On average I will inhale about 3-5 a day, some days none, some days more. I’ve been known to go for days without thinking to light one up, have intermittently found myself not touching a cigarette for weeks on-end, and have even gone so far as to smoke two packs over the course of a weekend (usually when enjoying the company of fellow smokers, or in party-type situations when I tend to chain-smoke nervously and frequently due to debilitating social ineptitude).
In a lot of ways, my habits are varied and completely dependent upon my state of mind. I don't make it a routine, nor do I let anyone or anything dictate how often I light up. I don't smoke at certain times of day, or with my morning coffee, or even in the car during my daily commute to work. I don't over-think it and often try to make it a "treat."
For example, last night I chain-smoked half a pack during a catch-up marathon of "New Girl." So far today I've had one.
My point is that smoking is ultimately my prerogative and does NOT negate the fact that I deserve to be treated with fucking respect -- as a human being.
Regardless of whether or not you are able to grasp the fact that fatness does not automatically imply "poor health" -- can we not at least agree that ALL humans, regardless of how virtuously healthy they are, deserve to be treated as equals? That there is far more that needs to be taken into account here than simply shaming others and revoking rights? That the health of our nation is far more precious and complex than can be solved by resorting to such extreme measures?
In the UK, a pack of smokes can run you far more than the $6.50 I pay per pack here in Michigan for that very reason; smokers are made to pay the cost to get their fix, and so be it. I'll happily pay higher taxes on my tobacco purchases to "satisfy health care costs," or pay a higher premium. There may be pitfalls in that logic, I don't pretend to know the end-all-be-all solution.
But I'm positive that dangling access to health care in front of my face only to pull it away as I hold a cigarette to my lips will solve absolutely nothing. The same applies to the notion that those harboring "poor" eating habits will ultimately become a strain on the system.
Let us instead refocus our attention to the things that matter, that can cause real and actual change, like educating and supporting one another rather than shaming, providing access to good things in our government and communities rather than taking away, and making health care available to ALL PEOPLE, regardless of preexisting conditions, weight, or lifestyle habits.