On Being Pro-Liberty and Anti-Dieting

elizebeth has a post today, in which she says:

The conflict comes when I think about suggesting that path for others. It’s one thing for me to say “I’M” fine with accepting my fate…but am I promoting the idea that others should too?

What if the science is suggesting that being naturally fat ALSO means I’m naturally meant to die a little earlier than my thin counterparts?

Am I suggesting that EVERYONE should just accept that? Do I think we’re just supposed to accept our genetic destinies, regardless of the possible outcome?

It’s a hard question.

At the very same time, I also can’t imagine trying to DICTATE how people SHOULD live their lives. Which is why I take a diet neutral stance.

If people can find some way to be happy with who they are AND diet with the goal of weight loss, who am I to say their choice is wrong?

So, if I am to say that I’m “pro-fat”, I have to add the addendum that I’m also “pro-liberty.”

I think there are a few things going on here. First off, there is the murky suggestion that ‘science might say…’ and then a hypothetical decision being made based on what you’re hypothetically positing science is saying at the moment. Namely, that certain fat people ‘will’ die sooner than other people, due to their fat.

Many studies have shown a J-curve relationship between BMI and mortality (here’s one). They each suggest that underweight is the most risky category in which to reside throughout life, and overweight the least risky. ‘Normal’ and small fats (BMI 30 – 35) have the same risk. BMI > 35 has more risk than the others except underweight. I would guess that further partitioning the BMI >35 range would show most of the ‘increased risk’ was at the far higher end. I would also suggest that most people at the higher end of the BMI range are fat due to illness or some kind of condition (that is, fat as a symptom). And it would be the illness or condition that’s a greater predictor of early mortality, which would be conflated with fat in most risk-factor analyses (which don’t care about chicken-and-the-egg causation, just correlation).

So, that being said, your blanket implication (without any real analysis of the gravity of that implication) that ‘science might say…fatties are doomed to die earlier,’ and how you as an individual process that pseudoscienterrific statement, doesn’t really fall out of the evidence.

What I’m seeing a lot of in this post is this fake-skeptical balancing act which seems to grant the fatphobics their arguments in the name of ‘skepticism,’ then goes on a hypothetical walk around the pond to sort out implications. It just doesn’t mean anything. It’s not like we’re in the nineteenth century, when no real science had been conducted on this subject. You don’t have to sit around and ‘wonder’ what might be true. Go out there and read the evidence (The Fat Nutritionist has a superb list of links…magnifica, amica!), and then sort it out on your own. It’ll make your arguments on the implications of science a lot more rational. I mean, I could sit around and say, “Hey, what if unicorns do exist?” and write a blog post about the implications, but it wouldn’t really mean anything in reality, would it?

It’s your blog, you can say anything you wish on it. But as a fat acceptance activist, I take issue with some of your claims (especially since you’re on the Fat Liberation feed), and the way you choose to argue them.

Okay, time for the next point here — on why being pro-liberty doesn’t mean one has to be diet-neutral (or anything-neutral).

There’s a false dichotomy being built in elizebeth’s argument above. The suggestion is that those of us who don’t take a diet-neutral stance want to dictate to others how they should live. But, of course, that simply isn’t true. I can root for you to have the power to make any choice about your body you deem expedient, or not, for whatever, or no, reasons. All being pro-liberty means is that one is anti-interventionist. It doesn’t mean that one has to sit twiddling their thumbs in a dieting-obsessed, fatphobic world, and not speak out against these things.

As an anti-interventionist pro-liberty gal, I think I can speak to this point with some kind of expertise.

The evidence suggests that dieting doesn’t work. The evidence suggests that we are in a moral panic where fat people play the part of folkdevil. The evidence suggests that the vast majority of fat people are programmed to be some degree of fat. Many pro-interventionist, anti-fat studies are conducted in a non-rigorous manner, play fast and loose with the statistical analysis, are meant as anti-fat propaganda/marketing pieces which go straight to AP press-release and then to your local nightly news, or feature giant conflicts of interest in funding or authorship.

Okay, let’s check — yep, I’m still pro-liberty. Now, what just happened here?

I was able to define clear points on why I’m fat accepting, and how the evidence plays a crucial role in that state of being. I didn’t breathe a word about what other people should or shouldn’t do—in effect, I was engaging in education and promotion, not public policy. There’s a difference. I didn’t assume that my fat readers fell into any particular categories, nor did I feel the need to talk out of both sides of my mouth in order to appear as some kind of ‘moderate.’

What I don’t think is understood clearly is that this ‘skepticism’ being employed on some pro-fat blogs is not making your arguments appear more reasonable, it’s just watering down their meaning to nearly nothing. I can still give my opponent his best argument while fashioning one of my own. For instance, even if fatness qua fatness is associated a higher risk of death in some fat populations, that doesn’t meant the ‘obesity epidemic’ is a reasonable movement of any kind. Because, quite simply, there are other populations that experience this same kind of J-curve relationship with respect to mortality, with respect to other characteristics. Athletes and tall people, for instance. Yet, I don’t see people talking about a Tall Epidemic, or angrily protesting outside Olympic stadia that they have to support these athletes and their irresponsible, health-costly lifestyles.

We’re in a moral panic. Moral panics infuriate pro-liberty people like me. The vastness of the ignorance that needs to be put in motion in order to force society to evolve to this state is astounding. Additionally, moral panics often result in some kind of intervention forced on deviant groups by the other groups in power.

So what does being pro-liberty have to do with taking a neutral stance on dieting? Well, nothing. I can be pro-liberty and anti-dieting without contradiction. However, one cannot be pro-dieting and anti-dieting without contradiction. And one certainly can’t be fat accepting while weakly arguing the other side’s case without necessary logical and evidential caveats, under the guise of ‘skepticism.’

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4 comments on “On Being Pro-Liberty and Anti-Dieting

  1. Katie says:

    I don’t know what’s going on with Elizabeth lately. I’m frustrated that it’s been a week since I registered for her site but I still haven’t been approved so I can’t comment directly. I appreciate your post here in response; you said a lot of the same things I would have, but more eloquently. The only thing I personally would add is that her posts have been very triggering for me lately, which is frustrating since they come up on FA feeds that I expect NOT to trigger my ed.

  2. bigliberty says:

    I’m sorry, Katie; do you think I should remove her blog from the Fat Liberation feed? The last thing I want to do is trigger people who are looking for a fat-positive space.

  3. Katie says:

    Oh! I didn’t even realize you were in charge of the Fat Lib feed… I mean I think I knew that, but then I forgot. It’s hard for me to keep track of everyone 🙂

    I’m not sure, I would really like to see Elizabeth engage some of this first before taking her off, because I personally tend to prefer talking through things (which is why I tried to register to comment a post so that I could engage this dialogue with her directly). I really like some of the stuff she writes, it’s just that when she veers off into “well maybe we should diet” land that my PTSD/ED triggers go off.

  4. bigliberty says:

    Katie,

    I totally get it. I’ve found myself triggered a bit recently, as well, but I suppose I was hoping it was a bit of a fluke. I’m thinking it might be more than that, however.

    I just posted something on this blog where people can comment on concerns they might have about the Fat Liberation feed, including this concern about elizebeth’s blog.

    http://biglibertyblog.com/2010/03/08/fat-liberation-feed-update/

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