I think the worst thing about this column in the Herald is that its writer thinks she’s being helpful with tips like:
“I’m fat” is a lie
It’s not a useful description of a permanent characteristic, like “I have blue eyes” or “I’m 5 foot 4”
What is far more accurate and empowering is “I have fat”.
Here’s the thing, Louise:
I am fat.
It is a useful description.
Height and eye colour aren’t necessarily “permanent characteristics” either.
And there is absolutely nothing more harmful in my eyes than telling people to disown parts of their bodies.
That’s the whole fucking problem with our fatphobic weight culture. It’s a culture of body-hating. It’s a culture which drives people, especially women, into a cycle of self-hatred and judgement and constant fucking anxiety. It feeds billion-dollar industries peddling snake oil and lies. It distracts us from living our lives as beautiful unique
sparkleponies meat popsicles human beings. It buys into a (not really) shitty Judeo-Christian/Enlightenment/Descartian mind-versus-body dichotomy which is basically the root of a hell of a lot of oppressive systems (short version: we’re constantly sold the lie that our minds are all that matters while being oppressed via our delicious meaty bodies).
(Note: the same linguistic fuckery plays a role in the oppression of people of colour, people with disabilities, and trans people, but that’s a lot more complex than I’m qualified to speak on.)
No self-hate required.
This is the greatest lie of all. You can’t tell people to divorce themselves from their own physical existences and then say they shouldn’t hate themselves. That’s basically the fucking definition of self-hate.
Oh, and a final note to the sub who put this under the headless-fatty image used to illustrate the article:
The phrase; ‘I’m fat’, is not a body positive statement
I’M FAT, AND YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT’S A FUCKING BODY-POSITIVE STATEMENT.
It is not a surprise to me that the Greens, for all their good solid liberalism and appreciation of the complexity of economic and environmental issues in some areas, are massive morality-policers on others. (See also recent discussions on The Egonomist about Greens in Wellington local government (about 47 minutes in).) And I’ve posted before about their fat-hating food-policing ways. But this week Kevin Hague stepped up to beautifully illustrate the problems with fatphobic policy-making. You see,
First off: obesity is not a disease. You are invited to imagine other blog posts Hague might write which label basic characteristics of people’s bodies as conditions. Almost all of them will be racist. But to the well-marbled meat of the issue:
“We simply can’t afford the cost of obesity related disease to keep rising; hitting the one million mark should be a huge wake up call to the Government,” said Green Party health spokesperson Kevin Hague. … “At this rate we are going to be hit with a tidal wave of diabetes and heart disease that will cripple New Zealand’s health system.
Any day now, right, Kevin? And we’ll absolutely be able to distinguish the healthcare costs associated with Stupid Fatties Who Don’t Eat Fruit from the healthcare costs associated with poverty (another thing obesity is correlated with!) and an ageing population (another thing obesity is correlated with!) right?
“The Minister of Health has committed $60 million a year to diabetes and obesity prevention, which is an almost 30 percent decrease in funding since 2008; all the while obesity and diabetes rates soar,”
 Literally, citation needed. Because after scrounging around the Ministry of Health website, the Diabetes New Zealand website, and several google searches, you would not believe how difficult it is to find a basic run-down of historic diabetes rates which clearly distinguishes Type 1 and Type 2. Much less takes account of changes in the NZ population over that time. But the fact is, Kevin doesn’t need statistics. Because everyone knows that fatties Don’t Eat Enough Fruit, and everyone knows that Being Fat Gives You Diabetes, and everyone knows that we need condescending “traffic light” labelling so people can
more easily judge their neighbours’ purchases at the supermarket Make Informed Choices. Oh, and because I know you’re going to ask (Herald link):
Which is why this post is entirely illustrated with pictures of obese New Zealanders, promoting their disgusting unhealthy lifestyles.
The three things I will never stop saying about fatphobic policy-making:
- BMI is a completely unscientific metric
- There is literally no proven, sustained way to make naturally fat people thin
- Lack of access to “healthy” food is a fuckload more complex that price and “education”
In a very interesting but highly trigger-warning’ed article about what causes parents to “forget” their children and leave them in cars, this bit jumped out at me, in a discussion of why other people can be incredibly vicious and hateful to the parents involved:
Hickling is a clinical psychologist from Albany, N.Y., who has studied the effects of fatal auto accidents on the drivers who survive them. He says these people are often judged with disproportionate harshness by the public, even when it was clearly an accident, and even when it was indisputably not their fault.
Humans, Hickling said, have a fundamental need to create and maintain a narrative for their lives in which the universe is not implacable and heartless, that terrible things do not happen at random, and that catastrophe can be avoided if you are vigilant and responsible.
In hyperthermia cases, he believes, the parents are demonized for much the same reasons. “We are vulnerable, but we don’t want to be reminded of that. We want to believe that the world is understandable and controllable and unthreatening, that if we follow the rules, we’ll be okay. So, when this kind of thing happens to other people, we need to put them in a different category from us. We don’t want to resemble them, and the fact that we might is too terrifying to deal with. So, they have to be monsters.”
It jumped out at me because this is just so true of basically everything which pisses me off in society.
We have rape culture and rape myths because the alternative is living every day with the knowledge that the nice young man could just rape you on a first date, or your local minister could just be abusing the children of the parish, or you could be attacked even when you’re out running and you haven’t showered and you’re in your trackpants and surely no one is looking at you.
We have fat hatred because the alternative is understanding that really, it’s a roll of the dice what body type you have, and you having one of the “beautiful” body types has very little to do with your own personal virtues.
And we have beneficiary bashing because it’s a lot easier to hate on poor people and judge their “choices” than acknowledge that the capitalist sword of Damocles is hanging over all our heads on a daily basis.
Because really, the universe IS pretty implacable and heartless a lot of the time.
Of course, if you don’t labour under any of these illusions, the world is a pretty fucked up place to live in. And then there’s nothing for it but to start up an angry sweary blog and nuke all that shit from orbit.
We’ve been here before, people.
Now the American Medical Association has decided that obesity is a “disease”.
some doctors and obesity advocates said that having the nation’s largest physician group make the declaration would focus more attention on obesity.
Because you know, we as a society spend no time at all on the topic of weight and health and how disgusting and evil fat people are.
The first technical problem is that there’s no single definition of what a “disease” is – so sorry, fat-haters, you don’t really get “but SCIENCE!” free rein to keep hating on people whose bodies you dislike. From the article linked above:
To some extent, the question of whether obesity is a disease or not is a semantic one, since there is not even a universally agreed upon definition of what constitutes a disease. And the A.M.A.’s decision has no legal authority.
The second is that the AMA contradicted its own committee of experts on public health:
The report panned body mass index as a proxy for obesity, saying it’s limited as a stand-alone. Furthermore, calling obesity a disease may undermine prevention efforts and will do little to impact its treatment, the report said.
“Without a single, clear, authoritative, and widely accepted definition of disease, it is difficult to determine conclusively whether or not obesity is a medical disease state,” the council told the AMA’s policy-making House of Delegates. “Similarly, a sensitive and clinically practical diagnostic indicator of obesity remains elusive.”
The third is all about following the money, because the initial report above clearly states:
And [the declaration] could help improve reimbursement for obesity drugs, surgery and counseling.
i.e. could make it a lot easier for fat people to pay for drugs which don’t work, undergo dangerous surgery which doesn’t work, and be convinced they need therapy for their existence.
The weight cycling industry in the US alone is worth $66 billion a year. And yet it has not delivered a significant decrease in fatness in the US population. If someone were making $66 billion a year and only returning illusory results to its investors, we’d call it a Ponzi scheme and throw people in jail for it.
But the overwhelming issue is, of course, that my body is not a disease. Being fat is a characteristic of my body, like my eye colour, like my hair colour, like my skin tone. It is strongly influenced by genetics, just like my foot size (not a disease) and the shape of my ass (way too awesome to be a disease).
People always want to say “but I’m not talking about you, it’s just that obesity is linked blah blah blah”.
You’re lying, people. Maybe you’re lying to yourself, too, and do honestly believe that you’re a judgement-free snowflake whose only flaw is caring too much. But you’re lying nevertheless.
As has already been covered on far too many occasions, height is “linked” with plenty of health issues. Different ethnic and geographic backgrounds are linked with health issues – and we don’t say “let’s declare “spending your childhood in New Zealand” a disease” in order to “focus more attention” on iodine deficiencies.
We are, in many (but not all) other spheres, quite able to treat health issues on their own without demonizing the associated characteristics of the people who have those health issues. We do it for fat because we’ve accepted the idea that (a) fatness is controllable (despite reams and decades of scientific research to the contrary) and thus blameable, and (b) the “links” between weight and certain health issues is rock-hard and invariable, as opposed to the “links” between height and Alzheimer’s disease, which are just random, blameless flukes of nature.
When you talk about “obesity”, you’re talking about my entire life. Because the only way I will ever be not-fat, ironically, is if I am sick and that sickness, or the cure-or-kill-you treatment for it, causes unnatural, damaging weightloss which will reverse itself once I’m not sick – yep, being healthy would make me gain weight again.
You don’t “cure” obesity without killing me, and everyone else who’s fat. You don’t call obesity “a disease” without labelling every single fat person as inherently sick. And we’re not.
I was trying to summon the willpower to really engage with and critique the Greens’ food policy, but really, I’ve said enough about our demonisation of fatties and I just lack the spoons to point out in detail how the science around nutrition and diet is so far from settled it’s a joke, or to explain with pretty diagrams just how utterly corrupt a lot of the science around nutrition is.
Let’s just say, I think we should be thankful no large proportion of the NZ agriculture industry is dependent on corn. And now, I ramble a little.
Seriously, @thelemonofpink was entirely on the money:
I… Am not sure how I feel re Greens’ unhealthy food labelling policy. Gut reaction: food policing bullshit.
And … yeah, pretty much. The policy is a paint-by-numbers “fat is bad, sugar is bad, sodium is bad, kids don’t know where apples come from” bullshit.
It’s really disappointing to me because the Greens are simultaneously pushing a “people deserve to be informed” policy, yet ignoring the fact that study after study shows that pushing “healthy” foods and “lifestyles” on kids does fuck all to change their weight. Ignoring the fact that any policy which treats weight as a symptom of poor choice not only doesn’t work but invariably leads to bullying and stigmatisation. Ignoring the fact that in a culture as weight- and lifestyle-obsessed as ours, it’s really hard to fucking fathom how anyone could not have heard a million times before breakfast that they need to eat less, move more, buy whole foods, learn to cook, count calories, cut the fat, 5+ a day.
It comes down – as it always comes down – to the idea that being fat is a moral failing and if only the poor stupid fatties could be told that bacon is a sin and apples are a virtue then they’d just stop being fat!
We reject this kind of bullshit when we’re talking about poverty, and the Right insist that the poor just make bad choices and thus deserve to live in damp, dark homes, or that people choose to live on the dole because it’s so much money, or solo parents on the DPB just don’t want to look for work. When it’s food, and fatness? Suddenly personal responsibility is everyone’s favourite card to play.
And all of you queuing up to tell me that this kind of discussion isn’t eliminationist?
The Green Party envisions an organic nature where:
… New Zealand is a healthier nation without epidemics of obesity, type 2 diabetes or other food-related chronic health problems.
Yep, there we go again labelling people’s bodies as a disease.
I expect the Green Party to be better than this. But they’re not. Because fatness is certainly not “the last” acceptable form of prejudice, but it’s certainly one of the last where otherwise-liberal, anti-discrimination people drink the “but it’s scientific!!!” Flavor Aid.
Due to a lack of things making me want to swear a lot (it’s Easter! There was a Mythbusters marathon on Discovery!) here’s a random macro post spontaneously generated to ensure I keep up my daily posting schedule.
Fear The Refrigerator. BMI 43, motherfuckers.
At some point in this saga, I used the phrase “eliminationist”, and was promptly told off because the person I was arguing with never used that word.
I suppose it’s a bit like how someone can’t be misogynist just because they refer to all women as bitches, because, um, unless they use the word “misogynist” their behaviour can’t be described as misogynist.
Anyway, for people genuinely interested in the concept, the canonical post on it is at Shakesville. I paraphrase:
When you talk about eliminating obesity, stopping people getting fat, waving a magic wand and making everyone a “normal” weight, you are talking about eliminating me. Because I’m a fat person. I’m never going to be a thin person – because diets don’t work. Because there is no scientific evidence to support the idea you can make a fat person eternally thin.
To actually attain your dream world where no one is fat? You need to find a way to get rid of me.
And given how we know – from PEER REVIEWED SCIENCE!!! – that weight cycling damages people’s health, that “weight loss surgery” damages your life expectancy if you survive in, and that the medical profession will let you die because they’d rather diagnose all your health problems as being about your weight and not your ovarian cysts or your depression or your multiple sclerosis?
I think we can take a good, informed guess as to how that magical fat-free world is meant to come about.
I’m sorry, everyone.
I’ve been spreading misinformation on Twitter. Dangerous, subversive misinformation.
I started off with the radical notion that obesity isn’t a health problem. In the same way that being red-headed or having A+ blood isn’t a health problem. Those things may be “linked” statistically with certain conditions or illnesses or levels of mortality … that doesn’t make them illnesses in their own right.
Of course, people may say “oh, I didn’t mean individual health, I meant overall health”. Obesity is still not an illness. It doesn’t have a diagnosis, it doesn’t have a cure. It has some incredibly vague and imprecise alleged measurements, and a hell of a lot of
very profitable yet completely unreliable suggested treatments. But I choose not to see that as the same thing.
Also? BMI or amount of body fat are weak predictors of longevity, and being “overweight” is associated with greater longevity, especially for the 55+ age group; obesity may have a protective factor for people with type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and chronic kidney disease; obese people are more likely to survive a coronary bypass.
But clearly, I was wrong. My ass is an epidemic. My boobs are the plague. Despite my lack of actual health conditions like high blood pressure or heart disease or diabetes, I am fat, and ergo sick.
I pointed out that height is more affected by environment than weight.
Okay, okay, you got me. I was wrong. Because weight is 70-80% heritable, and height is 60-80% heritable. Or it’s 75-85% versus 90-95%. Either way, the lesson is clearly that I was wrong, and weight is totally something individuals can control, unlike their height, which is fixed by God.
I was basing this statement on studies which show things like activity-based programmes to reduce children’s BMI consistently fail.
I read Junkfood Science, and learned:
Professors and clinicians David Garner, Ph.D., and Susan Wooley, Ph.D., reviewed 500 studies on the long-term treatment efficacy, the biology of weight regulation, and health outcomes of weight loss, and confirmed that multiple researchers, using a variety of methodologies, have continued to fail to find any meaningful or replicable differences in the caloric intake or eating patterns of the obese compared to the non-obese to explain obesity.
And I discovered this study shows that there’s fuck-all difference between “metabolically healthy” obese people and thin people.
But look, it just makes sense that fat people are lazy gluttons. Science said so. Just not here.
I am at least smart enough to know that individual studies can be flawed, but I was truly taken in when my research found that meta-study after meta-study after meta-study shows weight loss programmes failing. If they bothered to follow the subjects for longer than a year. A lot didn’t. Probably for totally innocuous reasons.
See the “Also?” link above?
Long-term follow-up studies document that the majority of individuals regain virtually all of the weight that was lost during treatment, regardless of whether they maintain their diet or exercise program. Consider the Women’s Health Initiative, the largest and longest randomized, controlled dietary intervention clinical trial, designed to test the current recommendations. More than 20,000 women maintained a low-fat diet, reportedly reducing their calorie intake by an average of 360 calories per day and significantly increasing their activity. After almost eight years on this diet, there was almost no change in weight from starting point (a loss of 0.1 kg), and average waist circumference, which is a measure of abdominal fat, had increased (0.3 cm).
You know what does work to actually improve people’s health? The Health At Every Size approach. Which doesn’t result in weightloss. (It’s even been … PEER REVIEWED!!! More on that in a later post.)
But it’s probably all just a scheme so fatties can feel good about themselves and justify eating more doughnuts.
I said that successive generations are getting taller, that height is correlated with some illnesses, and that it thus surprises me (note: it doesn’t really) that no one runs around panicking about a tallness epidemic.
This was then presented as me actually arguing that height is a health problem. At this point I probably should’ve stopped, because I was clearly arguing with someone who had no intention of engaging honestly, but I am a glutton for
doughnuts punishment sometimes..
What I tried to clarify – and of course, Twitter is a bad medium for anything more complex than one full sentence – is that fatness is not sickness, and our social responses to sickness are ineffective and oppressive.
Like diets. Oh, said the other person, I never mentioned diets. Nope, he just talked about “controlling” body weight. Because there are totally safe predictable sustainable ways to do that which aren’t “diets”, right?
What there actually are are a lot of studies (PEER REVIEWED! SCIENCE!!!) which show that it’s seriously, seriously hard to permanently alter people’s weight. In either direction. And despite the constant panic-mongering over THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC, life expectancy continues to rise and the population is getting healthier – in actual measurable things.
There’s the way that messages about THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC have led to increased discrimination against fat people – including discrimination in the medical professional which has almost certainly killed people.
The 70-80% heritable link above? Also notes that stress has a major impact on body weight. Gosh, I wonder if underprivileged, poor, oppressed minorities, who are so often the Scary Fat People Who Will Eat Your Babies, might be under some stress that Good White People From Nice Schools don’t experience?
The “Also?” link above? Notes that:
Most prospective observational studies suggest that weight loss increases the risk of premature death among obese individuals, even when the weight loss is intentional and the studies are well controlled with regard to known confounding factors, including hazardous behavior and underlying diseases
So clearly the answer is to be born thin, to thin parents. But not too thin, obviously.
I apologise, people. I’ve been wilfully leading you all down a garden path to obesity. I will not rest until we all look like that fucking creepy vampire Pearl from Blade. Probably because I’m a jealous bitch, or something. (Well, I’m sure the more kindly fathaters will pretend to look on me with pity.)
I’ll stop worrying my little fat ladybrain about this now.
Until tomorrow’s post.
Hat tips (and seriously recommended reading): the Redefining Body Image resources page; Shapely Prose’s immortal FAQ; Dr Linda Bacon, the appropriately-named goddess of HAES; Big Liberty’s Truth Behind Fat: References; Junkfood Science.
No, not that Sookie.
This Sookie. And all the awesome no-food-policing, no-fat-shaming, no-two-dimensional-lack-of-character-development she represented. And the general non-judgey love-of-food that was such a vital part of Gilmore Girls.
(Because it’s Monday warm fuzzies I’m glossing over the big unsexy mega-white-class-privilege that was another vital part of Gilmore Girls, but you know. It’s there.)
Metiria Turei out-geeks John Banks. It’s not difficult, but it is funny.
Alison McCulloch again pool-shots it out of the park on Policing Pregnancy.
Manboobz on Seth MacFarlane’s beyond-obnoxious Oscars hosting. Trigger warnings for racism, sexual assault, sexism, and Seth MacFarlane.
Family First can’t even get their own polling to come out against marriage equality. H/T Russell Brown. And of course FF’s press release on the topic fails to trumpet that anti-equality feeling is dominant in the male/over 60 demographics.
Chris Rock on minimum wage, via Atheist Pinko Sluts Monthly.
Smile, Sizeist! is a new Tumblr documenting the very real, very violent shit that fat people are subjected to.
Rape culture is when the police coerce rape victims into withdrawing complaints to make their stats look better. And I’ve only just finished watching season 3 of The Wire.