Will Chris Christie’s Fat Frankness Turn the Tide?

Chris Christie, Republican candidate for New Jersey governor, has been at the center of a controversy which has propelled him from the favorite to win to merely sitting on the knife’s edge of public opinion. What was the propellant?

His opponent’s focus on his fat (see Rachel’s excellent post on the subject).

But there are some who are claiming Christie may have turned the tide recently by doing nothing except coming out and defining that focus which has been weighting him down in the polls, as it were:

I found Chris Christie’s new tack very smart. He called out his opponent for the ads in a subtle, humorous way: by basically coming forward and owning his fat. “I’m fat, Don.”

Imus went on to, in mainstream media fashion, probe Christie for the numbers that would best determine whether or not he fell into some socially-shunned BMI category (which is why not allowing yourself to be labeled by such numbers is so important). Christie gave his height, but when Imus asked:

“How much do you weigh?”

Christie responded: “550 pounds.” (followed by laughter)

The point Christie was making wasn’t that 550 pounds was comically huge, but that he might as well weigh any number that is “large enough” to put him into some socially-shunned BMI category, since that was the way he was being treated, simply based on his appearance. The actual number isn’t the point. The point is that he falls into what is currently considered to be “too large,” and being too large to be taken seriously was what he was trying to own. He subtly expressed the ridiculousness of the importance of that number to his political campaign, while at the same time acknowledging that his opponent wants it to be important.

The Christie vs. Corzine race should be watched closely by those interested in fat politics. Whatever your affiliation (or lack thereof), this race could set the precedent for future races involving fat candidates of any party. If Christie is able to turn the ownership of his fat to his advantage, future campaigns against fat opponents might be less willing to utilize fatphobia in their platforms. If he isn’t, it is still an important case study, and could be a depressing sign that the moral panic against the obesity folkdevil has not yet reached its climax.

Quick Hit: Mika Brzezinski Thinks Americans too Fat, Answer – Higher Taxes

Here’s a quick hit (h/t NewsBusters.org):

Food Fight: MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski Advocates Tax on Meat, Soft Drinks, and People Who Consume Them

SCARBOROUGH: Now when we say ‘sugar,’ do you mean coke, cocaine, or is that code for sugar with Paterson, or is it actual sugar?

BRZEZINSKI: [ignoring Joe, continuing to read] “In view of our obesity epidemic and the extra burden it places on our health care system – not to mention the problems it causes on a crowded New York subway when your neighbor can’t fit into a single seat – it is a reasonable proposal.” He goes on now to talk about red meat.  And you all need to think about this.


BRZEZINSKI: No, people who want us not to just be an obese, sick country.  I’m going to read one more, Peter Singer again, Professor says –

That’s right, you disgusting fat pigs that are causing all the traffic problems (cuz, yanno, overcrowding isn’t due to bad scheduling or antiquated trains and lines…it’s due to your FAT!) should be taxed in order to shift the health care costs you will definitely, beyond-a-doubt based-on-scienterrific-studies incur at MY skinny-assed expense! (btw, not that Peter Singer doesn’t have very particular political views, no, he’s a very objective source on this).

More headbashing gold:

SCARBOROUGH: Don’t get mad. I can stay up for actually 20 hours consistently, but the thing is I haven’t had a great diet my whole life. Okay, I’ve probably eaten more Big Macs than most human beings alive, and I’m serious about it. But at the same time, I lead an active lifestyle. My blood pressure is 120 over 80. My cholesterol is fine. They’ve done one of those scans. I have no plaque. I want to live that way. That’s up to me.

BRZEZINSKI: I’m glad for you. This isn’t about you.

SCARBOROUGH: That’s up to Americans.

BRZEZINSKI: Look at America.

SCARBOROUGH: That’s the problem, Mika. It’s not about you. You want to project your values on everybody else. We don’t want to live like you. We think you have serious issues with how you treat your children. I want my children to eat a Big Mac. I want my children to have pizza. Now, afterwards, I’m going to take them outside, and I’m going to run them, and they’re going to be healthy.

BRZEZINSKI: So just run it off, and the calories will burn, and there won’t be plaque building up in their heart.

Yes, Mika. You obviously have a greater understanding of the science behind this than the average American you want to order around. :: cough ::

BRZEZINSKI: It’s not about you eating one, Willie.  It’s about America eating way too much and all the things they shouldn’t be eating and America being completely obese. And us pretending –

SCARBOROUGH: America, meet your new nanny, Mika Brzezinski.

BRZEZINSKI: – because it’s not P.C. to say you’re fat.  Fat and unhealthy.

SERWER: Tofu, bean curd, that’s where we end up.  That’s okay.

SCARBOROUGH: In Mika’s world, we end up eating tofu and bean curd.

BRZEZINSKI: No, in my world, we actually talk about what we’re putting in our bodies.

Yes. As if no one talks about what we eat ad nauseum now. No. There aren’t thousands of diet plans, food plans, nutritionists, dieticians, medical researchers, and lobbies that talk about food as a moral, financial, and health issue every fucking day. Nope. You’re right. Doesn’t exist. We need to talk about it MORE!

And the last, but not least, of the bigoted statements made by this ignoramus:

SCARBOROUGH: We know that you are trying to foist a nanny state on the rest of us.

BRZEZINSKI: All I want you to pay a little more so I don’t have to pay for your big butts, okay?

That’s fine. Though don’t look to my pocketbook the next time you tear an ACL working off that naughty, naughty pizza.
EDIT: I just wanted to note that the comments are pretty fat-positive, though this isn’t a blog that necessarily aligns itself with FA. It just typically holds the belief that your body is your business.

Refusing to be Weighed

I’ve decided that, as a political statement and a measure of self-protection, I will refuse to be weighed from now on.

Entirely. Completely.

As a show of solidarity, my thinnish husband said that he won’t let himself be weighed, either.

Political, in that:
* health information may become potentially much less private with the advent of electronic health records. I don’t want numbers that could be used to label me as some kind of social deviant, subject to higher taxes/fees/etc.

Self-protective, in that:
* I don’t want doctors to immediately see my weight/BMI first, and treat my condition second.

If doctors/nurses have a problem with this, I will calmly explain that I will not be weighed, and repeat whatever reason I came in for.

If health insurance companies ask for my weight, I will give them a safe number that won’t put me in any bad categories. It’s not a lie, I haven’t weighed myself in years. So I’m just giving them my best guess and, gosh, I’m bad at estimation!

If employers/employees require numbers for health initiatives, I will tell them no. If they insist, I will tell them they can try to drag me on a scale, if they like.

I know it’s radical — that’s the point. There really is very, very little reason to be weighed, and those numbers are being increasingly used to categorize us into “compliant” and “noncompliant”/”deviant” classes. But if we don’t let them assign a number — well, how are they going to categorize us? They can’t just field a guess.

What do you think? Will you refuse to be weighed? If not, why not?

EDIT: Based on a few comments, here is a brief note — I think the point is being missed, here, a bit. The idea is to ultimately keep a number that has potentially harmful social consequences from being recorded. It doesn’t matter if my doctor isn’t a government employee (especially if the pending healthcare legislation passes), acquiring that number is a simple matter of changing the law, or plundering electronic databases. The idea is to keep that number from being recorded because I do *not* trust my doctor to use that information wisely. I do *not* trust any body in our current fatphobic climate to use that number wisely. There might be some who are looking just to track stability and long term trends (and besides a sharp jump or drop in weight, what are those supposed to tell me about my health, anyway?) and not carp on BMI-bullshit myths, but that’s not something I’m going to trust. And I do not trust that my information is going to remain private. It might. But it could just as easily be shoved into a database that some bureaucracy would be able to dredge at will.

De-segregation of plus sizes at Fashion Bug

This post is inspired by Unapologetically Fat’s post on Fashion Bug, please read it, it’s great!

It was a late summer’s day, and my mother was down to visit. I hadn’t seen her since the wedding (so since May), so it was fantastic to have a visit. We usually go clothes shopping when she’s down — call it a bit of a tradition — and we talk about fat issues. Call that a tradition, too. My mom isn’t quite a convert to FA yet, in that she still has a bunch of image/health issues that unfortunately her doctors have compounded.

We decided to stop by Fashion Bug — I had heard there was a store re-do, and I was interested to see how it would look. I walked in, and was pleasantly surprised — it looked like a regular boutique, instead of the usual segregated sections (plus on the right, straight on the left). I could see the clothing more clearly. Instead of having a casual rack crammed next to formal rack (both made of the same cheap knits and polyester), there was a casual and formal side, in which straight and plus sizes generally populated every rack.

Prices and selection was better, yes. But what impressed me even more than that was that I was, for the first time in years, shopping next to women of all sizes. There was a straight-sized woman who was interested in the same shirt, for instance, as I was. There were straight and plus sizes interspersed, shopping together for the same things.

And it was a freaking wonderful feeling.

I had never really thought about how confining and shaming it was to be segregated to often the back corner of a store (in a much smaller section), next to the FOOD (Super Walmart’s new brilliant placement for its Plus section), or next to Maternity or the kid’s clothes (cuz fat people are never single or young, yanno). I told myself that it feels better to shop near people of my own size.

But you know what? It really didn’t. That day at Fashion Bug, when I was shopping amongst straight sized people for the first time in years, *that* is when the shame lifted. *That* is what made me feel like we were all normal, just differently sized. That fat and thin people don’t inherently like different things, or inherently represent different demographics (in a broad sense), or inherently don’t want to shop near one another, or that plus sized people should have smaller selections of cheaper-made clothing because they don’t *deserve* the selection the straight sizes get.

As far as I know, Fashion Bug is the first mainstream store to integrate the straight and plus sizes. For that, Fashion Bug, I will definitely give you more of my business (your price drop doesn’t hurt, either!).

All I know is that I loved, loved, loved being able to shop with my mom again, who is a straight size. That we aren’t banished to different ends of the store. That she doesn’t come back from her side with a top she rightly knows I’d love, but dangit, it’s just too small (not her fault, she perpetually thinks I’m a 1x for some reason lol).

STUDY: About those middle age fat chicks

There has been released recently a widely pressed study — another Nurse’s data dredge — showing that middle age women have increasingly greater chances of not making it to “healthy” old age (health is defined including certain levels of mobility, as well as the not having any diseases) if they are overweight or obese, compared to “thin” people.

Link to news article about study

Lie warnings in the news article — contains blatant lies via “expert” testimony (that weight is a modifiable, non-genetic factor — as  we know on this blog quite well, weight is 77% heritable, second only to height).

Link to the full text of the study

Looks like the study is another data dredge of the Nurse’s Health Study. Recall that this study is the parent of the most-cited article on health and obesity, “Body Weight and Mortality Among Women,” which concluded that even mild overweight (and extrapolating upwards from there) was associated with a greater risk of premature death. Sound a bit like the conclusions drawn in the most recent study, except replacing premature death with greater ill-health.

Recall Campos in “The Diet Myth” — he used the very study cited above to show how manipulations of data, and selective interpretations, could account for wildly different results. So different as to contradict the very conclusions of the authors themselves — in fact, he showed that the Nurse’s Health Study was another example of the inverted J-curve of mortality with respect to BMI, placing those at greatest risk of “premature” death in the underweight range, next in line the far opposite end of obesity (which is still on the level of some “normal” folk), and with the least chance of “premature” death in the overweight category.

Given the fact that this is the same Nurse’s Health Study, just a few years older, the inverted J-curve must still present itself. Which is likely why the authors didn’t tackle longevity in the study, just a very specially-defined “health” status, which likely maximized the amount of “unhealthy” over-70s in the overweight/obese category. Let’s check out the study a bit more.

Their definition of “health”:

Although there is no consensus on the definition of successful ageing or healthy survival, the working definitions in most previous studies8 9 11 12 were based on the concept raised by Rowe and Kahn, which incorporates not only chronic diseases but also physical, cognitive, and other functions.23 We used this same concept to derive our comprehensive working definition of healthy survival. Specifically, for our primary definition, healthy survivors were participants who survived to age 70 or older and as of age 70 were free from 11 major chronic diseases—that is, cancer (except non-melanoma skin cancer), diabetes, myocardial infarction, coronary artery bypass graft surgery, congestive heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (because cognitive function was assessed near 2000 for 99.1% of the study population, we used the disease status up to 2000 for this domain); had no major impairment of cognitive function; had no major limitation of physical functions; and had good mental health. We defined nurses who survived to the age of ≥70 and did not meet these four criteria as “usual survivors.” In our cohort, there were 1686 (9.9%) “healthy survivors.”

First of all, the study is a giant set of self-reported surveys. Got that? While causes of death and major diseases (like diabetes, cancer, Parkinson’s) are checked up on with medical records checks or with a phone interview or with additional questionnaires, the study authors are not bringing in the women and doing thorough checkups on them. That’s the nature of epidemiology — the belief that even though the data quality is vastly poorer to more rigorous, in-lab studies, if they crowd enough people on to the rolls, they will make up for the data quality with numbers. In other words, it comes down to the power of statistics to produce correlations that are then reported as study results.

Secondly, the definition of ill-health is very complicated, obviously crafted to maximize the results they obviously desire in their introduction (remember, introductions are usually written before the study is even begun — they are often extrapolations of the abstract, and the abstract is often what is submitted to various organizations in order to procure grant money to get funding to conduct the study).

And yes, we have the J-curve phenomenon, which is never mentioned in the study. Why could this be relevant? Simply because if there are more overweight and obese women living to old age than thin women (which is suggested by the J-curve), there is more potential for the number of overweight and obese women to have a greater incidence of “ill-health” as defined by the study. Then, if you play the numbers game just right, you can likely easily show that for every 1 “unheathy” older thin person, there were 1.8 “unhealthy” fat people. Yep — 80% is an odds ratio. It makes it look huge, right? Like 80% of all fat people who live to old age get sick? That’s why they used that number. It’s much less scary if you for every 5 unhealthy elderly thin people, there are 9 unhealthy elderly fat people, with “unhealthy” being defined on the four-point physical function, cognitive function, mental health, and chronic disease-having criteria as quoted above.

Here’s a quote to further give you the sense that the data was very chopped up and carefully manipulated to maximize the desired outcome. Note here that four BMI categories (underweight, normal, overweight, obese) are turned into several more:

For analysis of BMI, we grouped the nurses into six categories according to their baseline BMI: <18.5, 18.5-22.9 (reference), 23.0-24.9, 25.0-26.9, 27.0-29.9, and ≥30. For analysis of weight change, we calculated weight change between age 18 and 1976 and grouped the women into five categories: lost ≥4.0 kg, stable weight (reference), gained 4.0-9.9 kg, gained 10.0-14.9 kg, gained 15.0-19.9 kg, and gained ≥20 kg.

Furthermore…the first chart in the study really says it all…this is a null study. What is the difference between 22.9 and 24.4? I know, it’s subtraction, but apparently the to the authors, this is basically what underpins their entire set of results. That’s right — in 1976, when the study started, the average BMI of the group of ~1600 “healthy” survivors was 22.9, and the average BMI of the group of 15,379 “unhealthy” survivors was 24.4.

Also note that the study authors decided to disinclude women who had lost weight between ages 18 and the study start.

I think the strongest fishy smell to this study is that there was no discussion about how weight gain between 18 and 50 greater than a certain amount can be indicative of disorders they did not test for (PCOS, Cushings), and that they didn’t discuss the possibility that many of these women may have been undiagnosed with diseases which have weight gain as a symptom (like Type II diabetes, hypoglycemia, some thyroid conditions). It’s possible that in their four-point determination of “health” status, which was based on presence of chronic disease (only 11 diseases, not including PCOS, Cushings, lipedema, hypoglycemia, and some lymph disorders which have weight gain as a side effect), mental health, cognitive function, and physical function, ignores the way ones physical function, for instance, can be negatively impacted by lipedema and lymph disorders, or how one’s mental health can be negatively impacted by the stigma associated with PCOS and other weight-gain related conditions, or that one’s mental health can be negatively impacted to a large degree in our culture by being “fat.”

Another issue to address is that fatter people do have a well-known greater incidence of mobility issues when they age compared to thinner people. It’s just gravity, people.  A lean elderly person with no other chronic conditions will feel stronger, having the same rate of deterioration as a fatter elderly person. Does this mean that the fatter elderly person is less “healthy” and this means being fat is bad? I think the level of health is the same in the two, it’s the level of ability that is different. And in that sense, this study is clearly defining good health as being “most youthful.” And I don’t really agree with that definition, and though  I’m not a medical professional, I don’t think a lot of medical professionals would agree with that definition.

The study doesn’t draw as strong conclusions as it would proclaim. Even if we were to give them the benefit of the doubt in the most complete sense, what they are saying in their results is that elderly thin people — a small part of the population — will be about 80% more likely to not be depressed, and to be mobile, than all elderly people with BMIs over 30 (a much greater amount of people). What does that say, really? They are free of fat stigma, especially as is usually compounded by doctors, which elderly people have to visit far more often than the average younger person. They can also fight gravity better in their relatively deteriorated condition than people who are heavier. That’s common sense.

Finally, the funding:

Funding: The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health (grants AG13482, AG15424, and CA40356) and the Pilot and Feasibility program sponsored by the Boston Obesity Nutrition Research Center (DK46200). QS is supported by a postdoctoral fellowship from the Unilever Corporate Research. MKT is supported by the Yerby postdoctoral fellowship programme.

When it comes down to it, what this study *does* do very well is satisfy some of the most highly prized marketable points in favor of the diet industry:

1. Panic women further about their health. The younger, the better.

2. Make them believe that the “normal” BMI cutoff isn’t good enough. They should ideally be as thin as possible, with the best outcome their desire to be underweight (which was shown by this study to be the greatest indicator of “healthy” survival). Therefore, virtually all the population of women is “too fat,” at all points of their adult lives.

3. Get more middle-aged women, who are typically less vain and image-centric than young women, panicked about weight.

What do you think about this study?

EDIT: I also want to point out that all the study participants were white. Considering the strong genetic component of body size and what we are increasingly learning about the relationship between ethnicity and body size, the fact that this study is extrapolating to all non-white in its fundamental message is absurd, and another one of its many weaknesses. (not to say all people of particular ethnicities are shaped the same, of course – I’m shaped very differently from my own paternal grandmother, for instance)