A Quick Comment (having to do with Healthism)

In summary: tiffabee posted “French Women Don’t Get Fat: Part III.” She was sitting with a woman from New Jersey on her way back to the airport, during her trip to Paris. Fifteen minutes into the ride, the woman starts talking about how there were “no overweight people in Paris.” Since the two of them (tiffabee and the woman) would be considered not overweight, tiffabee made the point that the woman just assumed she would engaged in the negative, hateful talk about fat people. Of course, tiffabee did not (hooray!).

However, there were some interesting comments to the post (some which had nothing to do with the post itself, as is characteristic of our weight-obsessed culture, which uses nearly any hook to harangue fat people and/or the obesity “problem” — which was, quite delightfully, tiffabee’s point all along — thanks, commenters, for playing into it so well! LOL ). Here are two comments I specifically addressed:


But come on, you have to admit, being obese isn’t healthy; it’s not comfortable either. I am constantly pissed off at how the inner thighs of my jeans wear off so quickly to the point of tearing.

I’m all for body image acceptance; I wish I loved my body more than I do. I also wish I was healthier. In the context of my family medical history, my obesity isn’t a good omen.

In the end, it’s not really about fat for me; it’s about health, which is NOT equal to thin (see Nicole Ritchie and most runway models); but obviously, we’re all susceptible to the popular conception of beauty, so all people tend to focus on is whether I’ll be able to wear a bikini or not.

It’s a vicious circle; if a less-than-stick-thin woman wears a bikini, people will stare and gag; so that woman will focus on getting thin so people won’t react that way; so then she’ll be the next one to stare and gag at the next fat woman that wears a bikini; and it goes on and on and on…


I don’t think that O’Maolchathaigh was equating obesity to immorality. He was merely saying that obesity is a problem.. not that obese people are.

I agree with many of you that people should be more accepting of overweight people. But we all make judgments, so I don’t see the point in being angry about it. When tiffabee says that she thinks people in LA could stand to gain a few pounds, she is essentially judging them on their weight. We are all guilty.

If we cannot say that people should lose weight, who are we to say that people should gain weight?
Unless we look at eating disorders such as anorexia and bulemia and so we must intervene for the people’s well-being. In which case, we must also say that we must intervene and say something about the eating disorder of eating excess to the point where you are putting your life at stake.

I think regulations on diet and exercise are important if a person cannot stick to one to save their lives (meaning this in the most literal way). That doesn’t mean I think all non-fat people should go out and start forcing overweight people to go on a diet. But some people are in need of regulation from a dietician or some kind of accountability from a friend or family member.

It’d be nice to acknowledge, also, that a lot of the spoken judgments about obese people stem from insecurity about one’s self-image. Perhaps that is the problem– the declining self-image today– and not the “status quo” or a lack of societal acceptance.

And my response:

I don’t “have to admit” being obese is unhealthy. You cannot look at a person and determine their health based on how much they weigh. That’s absolutely ludicrous, and no different from statistically-based assumptions about sex, religion, and class (i.e., not all women like romantic comedies, not all Catholics have big families, not all poor people live at McDonald’s).

Think I’m exaggerating? I’m not. I merely understand the nature of statistics, and I also understand how odds ratios have been used in the calculation of obesity stats in order to make some “risk factors” seem far, far more determinant of health status than they are. Read about that here: http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2006/12/study-sidebar-odds-ratios.html

Besides, carrying the torch of healthism doesn’t give you to the right to impose your beliefs on someone else, regardless. You don’t want to be fat? Fine, don’t be. But don’t start making blanket statements about connections with health that you don’t understand, and using the “but it’s obvious!” non-argument to make your case, and expect anyone to take it seriously. Also, don’t assume that the rest of us ascribe to any so-called “popular” notion of attractiveness. I certainly do not.

“If we cannot say that people should lose weight, who are we to say that people should gain weight?”

Someone can be starving to death and need to gain weight (because it’s been shown, over and over, that without food you do indeed waste away and die, regardless of who you are). But no, nobody on the street can be *sure* of that. In fact, last time I checked, health and medical issues are *private,* and are supposed to be your and your doctor’s business. The point is, no one can tell by looking at someone what their health problems were, and even if they could, then it woulds STILL BE NONE OF THEIR DAMN BUSINESS.

The problem with our society (in respect to weight issues) is that people make other people’s weight their business. Family members, friends, teachers, bosses, colleagues, and strangers feel free to comment on your body, what you’re eating, or subject you to long tirades on their own weight issues, eating, dieting, etc. Food has become a symbol of morality and strength amongst more than just fringe circles, with Mickey Dees seen as the lowest of the low and vegan whole-foods local markets seen as the pinnacle of morality. People feel free to sneer at or feel superior to others (especially if they’re fat) if they’re seen eating the “wrong” foods, buying the “wrong” groceries, or feeding their kids the “wrong” foods. Think I’m exaggerating? Ask any fat person who’s grocery-shopped. Ask someone who eats fast food in public if they don’t feel embarrassed if they think they’re eating the “wrong” foods, or if they feel proud if they just have a bottled water and an energy bar.

We’re taught to be “proud” of weight loss, that it’s an “accomplishment.” How can you extract that from morality? Accomplished = good, = better than non-accomplished, i.e., better than people who didn’t lose the weight. Weight loss, for all but the very thin, is generally seen as an accomplishment.

Gaining weight is seen as an accomplishment only in extreme cases, usually when dealing with people who are severely underweight. Even pregnant women are being increasingly coached not to gain “too much weight” during pregnancy, or they’ll risk having a big baby. Of course, this is completely unsupported by *any* evidence at all, at best a misinterpretation of diet.

The fact is, most of the commenters here can’t imagine a society where people *weren’t* morally judged based on their weight. Healthism is just another excuse for passing moral judgment on those you believe are being “willingly” unhealthful. Athletic injuries are quite common; and, you can easily argue, athletes bring them on themselves by being athletes in the first place. Yet there is no vilification of these “unhealthy” people. &etc.


10 comments on “A Quick Comment (having to do with Healthism)

  1. integgy says:

    What else can I say to this, but ‘thank you’?

    Sometimes I feel that it cannot be emphasized enough that health is a private issue, and the concern of the individual who is being judged as unhealthy based on appearance alone. I agree with you in that it’s sad that everyone thinks that everyone else’s weight is their problem. My mother likes to use the excuse that I’ll never be able to get health insurance at my weight, once I’m not covered by my father’s plan anymore. Well, that doesn’t indicate a personal flaw, as far as I’m concerned, it’s more of a societal flaw, and one of my major beefs with the privatization of healthcare. What I wouldn’t give for a universal healthcare system, man oh man.

  2. blablover5 says:

    Some people just made me sad.

    They’ve recently opened up the pool to our apartment and everyone is flocking to it as the temps rise. I can see women out there for hours just sitting in the sun. But they are A-ok in society because they are thin and running around in little bikinis.

    Really, how can one assume they are healthy because they are thin and dark when in reality they’ve been outside for hours doing lots of fun things to their DNA.

    Maybe we’re all supposed to wear signs that show off our health statistics.

  3. anniemcphee says:

    You know, for some of us this is a lot of repetition, but that’s what works, and it needs to be done. I think the fact that you’ve simplified your message and keep telling it and saying it everywhere is exactly the right course of action. (I saw you’d commented on a newspaper article and believe me, it stood out – you’re doing it right!)

    “Really, how can one assume they are healthy because they are thin and dark when in reality they’ve been outside for hours doing lots of fun things to their DNA.”

    Hehe. I am a vampire (er, figuratively) who has always disliked sunlight. And no, I’m not a ginger or a daywalker, why do you ask? But the moon is my favorite thing in the sky. It was nice to end up being vindicated when sunbathing turned out to be not so good. Not that I had ever tried – excursions to sunny water-filled places *always* ended with me having sun-poison, even after 15 SPF sunblock came out and I used it. It’s like wait a minute, people are doing this on purpose? Something I know can poison you?

  4. anniemcphee says:

    “Well, that doesn’t indicate a personal flaw, as far as I’m concerned, it’s more of a societal flaw, and one of my major beefs with the privatization of healthcare. What I wouldn’t give for a universal healthcare system, man oh man.”

    Medicine was always private, and it worked very well. Doctors who are old enough to remember will tell you that it was insurance, over-regulation and the un-privatizing of medicine that caused most of the problems. Before all that it didn’t used to be a big deal for doctors to treat charity patients.

    If you get your wish for universal healthcare all your problems will only be magnified X 1000 and get far far worse.

  5. BigLiberty says:

    My mom’s worked at a hospital for twenty-five years, Annie, and she completely agrees with you.

    Sadly, universal healthcare is not the ultimate fix some would like it to be. It will not protect you from lobbyists and special interests — in fact, it will make their guidelines and desired regulations law rather than merely insurer-based, meaning you can’t switch to another insurer if you disagree with the guidelines or ethics.

    As for everyone paying the same in universal health coverage? Not going to happen. Even in the UK, they’ve begun special “credit” programs where certain people, usually young, thinner, non-smokers, are given special credits for their youth, thinness, and non-smoker status not given to people who are older, fatter, or who engage in unhealthy behaviors like smoking.

    Effectively, you get a system that is set up on healthist (not healthy — there’s a big difference) principles, and people are, once again, sorted based on BMI numbers, or other health-related numbers (whose healthy/unhealthy thresholds are determined usually via pressure from special interests who control fallaciously-labeled “objective” world health organizations).

    Therefore, universal healthcare will not protect you from healthist abuses. It will merely turn them from private policy into law, and then make you pay to fund the creation of more healthist, junk-science, discriminatory regulations proposed by interested parties in bed with regulatory health commissions.

    Even non-corrupt, government often fails to most efficiently run business interests (and health insurance is, at the end of the day, a business interest). But with the certainty that it will be, in fact, corrupt? We should do all in our power to make sure a system like that is never allowed to come into being.

    In other words, if you think private health insurance is bad (and, like Annie said, many of its ethical transgressions can be traced to financial considerations surrounding the compliance with regulatory commissions’ guidelines) then you ain’t seen NUTHIN yet. Keep an honest, critical eye on the UK in the years to come, and see how they continue to treat fat people under their universal healthcare system, and ask yourself if you really want that in the US.

  6. anniemcphee says:

    Ah, that was so worth the wait.

    Also integgy, don’t feel picked on. I don’t blame anyone for thinking that something that is so often harped on as being a panacea might just be one. But definitely keep your ears open, because there are so many reasons why it’s the opposite of a panacea that it’s really hard to grasp at first. Countries that have adopted such destructive laws are finding out that there really is no such thing as a free lunch, and real people pay the price for such pie-in-the-sky systems. We have to try and learn those lessons before we make our own disaster here.

  7. BigLiberty says:

    Yes, integgy, don’t feel picked on! I’m approaching the idea of socialized medicine academically, it’s not personal. 🙂

    Just as there’s a lot of misinformation about fat, there’s a lot of misinformation about socialized healthcare. Just trying to bust a few myths. 😉

  8. violetyoshi says:

    I was thinking about how no matter how hard I try, I can’t put aside the idea I SHOULD be healthier, or I SHOULD weigh less. Even though I know from participating in the FA community, it’s all BS. It’s just you are constantly barraged with the thin thin thin message.

    I also saw an ad today where a really cute plus size girl was in a relationship and thought “Aww that’s sweet!”, then I realized it was an ad by another bariatric surgery company. Ick.

  9. integgy says:

    I don’t feel picked on at all, actually. I’m a very open person when it comes to opinions that differ from my own, and you both certainly know more about the medical field than I do, though I’m hoping to learn more as time goes on. My views on socialized medicine are not formed from in-depth knowledge, so much as a surface knowledge from what I’ve gathered from people I know and have known who live in the UK and Canada, and what they’ve described it as being. Though, upon looking back, I realize that all of my sources for socialized medicine are those who would fall into the category of having “health privilege” as they are young, slender, and (I can only assume) healthy, since I know some of them are active athletes, and none of them smoke.

    But I will definitely be keeping an ear and an eye out there, for sure. :3

  10. […] The worst thing for a movement is to have some members who are engaging in hypocrisy and that hypocrisy isn’t called out by the more vocal members of the movement. It creates a weak spot at which our opponents can readily plunge a rhetorical knife. I think the hypocrisy in which some of our members engage, and a hypocrisy which threatens to kill the movement or at the least make it a joke, is Healthism. […]

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