Quick Hit: My designs would look strange on fat people…

Here’s a great post by Elisa & Bucky the Wonderdog over at Diary of a Mad Fatshionista.

The question she asked designers was, Would you ever consider designing for a woman my size?

So I asked Mr. Kostetsos this question, including the request that he not say “fashion is for everybody.” I did not have to worry.
His English was not very good, but his answer was clear: no.

Stunned, I asked if that meant he felt that plus-sized women didn’t have the right to wear his clothes.

He nodded, saying (with a great many hand gestures) “Pret-a-porter, yes.” But plus size customers were…“difficult—they want everything. You give them four designs, they want twelve, then they want twenty, all of them.” As if customers who weighed over 80 pounds did not deserve to have the radiant majesty of his attire desecrated by their adiposity. “I do not design this. The clothes they look wrong, they look strange. The clothes are not made for those bodies.”

The thing I find funny about this is that it goes to show you how very uncreative and scared this designer must be — that a larger body, with its potentially sharp curves, dips, winds, and inevitably larger real estate — could unnerve him so. That all he could design for was a very common, easy form.

In the rest of the arts, we’d call this lack of vision and talent. In fashion design, it’s called ‘having principles.’

It’s almost as if most high fashion actively encourages soldiers for the moral crusade against fat people…nah, too paranoid, right?

The Obesity Epidemic is a Moral Panic, FTW!

A quick hit today, for anyone who’s still wondering whether the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ is really a phenomenon rooted in concern over public health, or has reached the fever-pitch of a moral panic:

(h/t Corpulent)

Negative attitudes towards obese people are based on an emotional response of disgust, a new study suggests.

Previous research had focused on the fact that overweight individuals are blamed for being lazy and not exercising self-control, leading to negative evaluations of those individuals.

The new findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity, suggest that the emotion of disgust can explain that association and may help explain why negative attitudes toward obese individuals are so resistant to change.

“Although the scientific community acknowledges biological, behavioural and social contributors to body weight, a common belief in society at large is that one’s body weight is almost infinitely malleable,” says UNSW psychologist Dr Lenny Vartanian. “The problem with this idea of willpower is that we chalk it up to a moral weakness.”  Dr Vartanian’s findings suggest that this moral judgement is not based on logic but on an emotional response to obesity itself.

And further down the article, to leave no room for misinterpretation…

Disgust is a basic emotion that motivates distancing from a perceived physical or moral contaminant, Dr Vartanian says, yet such responses can change as a result of social influences: attitudes to smoking, for example, have swung from acceptance towards disgust since the 1950s.

“Attractiveness standards have shifted over time, with more curvaceous figures being preferred in the beginning of the 20th century and again in the 1950s, but more slender ideals being prominent in the 1920s and continually since the 1980s. In parallel with this latter trend, attitudes toward obese individuals are worse today than they were 40 years ago.

“It is possible that these body-type preferences over time have also become moral values, and that those who violate this moral value elicit a disgust response. Efforts to change negative attitudes toward obese individuals, therefore, might work toward reversing this moralization process and reducing the moral value placed on leaner body types.” [bold mine]

As an activist this kind of result only highlights the need to attack the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ as a moral panic, rather than some kind of extreme, yet well-intentioned, concern for public health. For instance, this means we need to see childhood obesity interventions for what they are—political capitalizations on the moral panic, not true concern. It means we need to hear our relatives’ weight-related comments not as concern, but as dutifully policing the standards of the moral panic. It means we need to understand that most doctors who shell out diet plans and gastric-banding pamphlets are willfully abandoning the Hippocratic Oath to be good soldiers for the crusade.

In fact, it is important at this point to note that in my opinion we can firmly conclude we are in the midst of a moral crusade, not just a moral panic. Moral panics are often reactions, temporary, lasting only as long as the perceived ‘threat’ exists as such. The study above makes it clear that the moral disgust of fat people isn’t transient and doesn’t have a context. It has become “We have always been at war with Eastasia…” That is, a fact of history and life that is portrayed as immutable though ultimately based in some kind of fundamental choice (usually the choice is whether or not to question it).

While fat-health-mythbusting gets a lot of face time in the movement, I think it’s important to note here that, at bottom, fat disgust is not determined by whether or not fat bodies are perceived as healthy. That’s simply the current popular vehicle for the hate to seem acceptable and reasonable. Rather, fat bodies have been dehumanized as monstrous lumps who exhibit some of the worst personal vices, universally loathed. How can one argue against an emotion? How can one myth-bust disgust?

Truly, it’s time to hunker down and really think about how we, as size activists, can effectively work within the context of this moral panic. Which messages best undermine the moral panic? I’m not quite sure at this point, but clearly the good/bad fatty dichotomy is something to avoid (the latest example of this was the Mia Freedman debacle, where feeders/gainers — and soldiers of the anti-fat moral crusade see all fat people as to some degree a feeder/gainer — were bashed and dehumanized, and a highly predictable moral panic feeding frenzy ensued in the comments).

The Mia Freedman Debacle, or, Why Moral Panics Need Strawmen

Bri King of Fat Lot of Good, fellow Fat Acceptance blogger and general advocate, recently came under fire as she found herself daring to push back against a so-called body image activist allowing virulently anti-fat comments on a recent post about feederism.

Bri has since been asked to comment for articles in several Australian news outlets. (students of sociology, pay close attention to the language used in the titles of each of these articles—five extra brownie points for some analysis, if you wish to provide it!)

1. Herald-Sun: Body blogger Mia Freedman gets heavied

2. Today/Tonight: Heavyweight fury

3. A Current Affair: Mia’s fat fight

The article is the fairest, though uses some cheap fat-mocking ‘colorful’ descriptive language here and there. Both of the other segments I watched briefly without the sound so that I could get a sense for the kind of imagery they put forth, and it’s immediately problematic — headless and legless fatties, thinner people who get attractive straight-on headshots, and so forth. But I think others can go through the segments with a bit more of a detailed analysis, what I want to talk about is what really went down, here, and why this is an example of how the strawman effect is the most powerful foundation block of a moral panic.

For Bri’s explanation and links to Mia’s post and its comments, please see her posts here (ordered by date):

1. This Angry Fatty won’t just shut up and go away…

2. still Angry Fatty

Freedman has since come back to explain that, in fact, she wasn’t talking about fat people in general but was highlighting the feederists, which we can all agree are bad, bad, bad! And why don’t us regular fatties just shut up about it, what, do we think that kind of behavior is good or something? Of course, the arguments being made against Bri are chock full of logical fallacies (extra points for those who list which ones!). And it shows either a great deal of ignorance or intellectual dishonesty on the part of a so-called body image advocate to claim that highlighting feederism in the midst of a moral panic where fat people are the folkdevils isn’t harmful to fat people in general.

Here are a few facts to chew on, in case you’re still not convinced:

  1. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if society wasn’t already panicked and disgusted by fat people in general. The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe there exist people who not only like being fat but want to get fatter?”
  2. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if the common wisdom wasn’t erroneously that people with few exceptions have the ability to control their body weight. The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe these people want to be fat when they could be thin if only they got their priorities straight or were sufficiently shamed, and further, that they want to be so very fat indeed?”
  3. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if the nanny-state wasn’t continually making its version of ‘health’ a public responsibility (thus placing people’s bodies into the black box of common ownership and hence critique). The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe these people are irresponsibly choosing fatness when it’s my wallet on the line?”

Let’s further the analysis, for those who still aren’t clear on the connection between these points — demonizing feederism in the context of a moral panic where fat people play the part of folkdevil — and why such a blog post, made by a so-called body image advocate, furthers general sizism and worsens general hate of all fat people.

Feeders/Gainers, and those who are seen as clearly choosing to get fatter, are the strawmen of the ‘obesity epidemic.’ Because one of the fundamental lines of reasoning behind the moral panic of fat is that the vast majority of fat people choose to be fat. Hence, in the common-wisdom narrative of the ‘obesity epidemic’ all fat people are, to some degree, feeders/gainers.

So demonizing feeders/gainers in the context of the ‘obesity epidemic’ moral panic is the same as demonizing the vast majority of fat people.

And the comments on Freedman’s site prove this point to be true, as do many of the comments on the Herald-Sun article linked above. Those commenters don’t care if Freedman was talking about feeders/gainers in particular — to them regular fatties aren’t really that different from feeders/gainers. So what Freedman has written has the effect of only reinforcing the bigoted notions of fat put forth by the common-wisdom narrative, reinforcing people’s disgust over fat people. What Freedman has written reinforces their horrified sensibilities concerning what and how it is proper to consume food or think about wellness and how they believe ‘proper thought’ to be inextricably tied to a particular ‘proper’ size. What Freedman has written reinforces the idea that it is okay to hate and ‘be against’ this behavior, which to them is only an extreme version of what they believe all fat people do.

Freedman, a so-called body image advocate, is doing nothing more than promoting the ‘proper’ body — one that isn’t too fat — by means of what she surely believes is well-placed concern about feederism.

Still don’t believe me? Take the tenor of the comments on any article which treats this debacle (including comments on Freedman’s blog). The high level of outrage and disgust signify rage and panic over someone daring to be an outspoken member of a deviant class. This is traditionally how moral panics police their deviant classes. If most of these commenters came in with honest curiosity or concern over health, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt the level of emotion would be quite a bit lower.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate a comment I made on Bri’s blog about this whole debacle, in particular the backlash against her take on the situation.

Remember, the ‘obesity epidemic’ is a moral panic, and by being an outspoken member of the deviant class you threaten the status quo and that’s obviously ruffling some feathers.

In fact, congratulations are in order: it seems you’ve advanced your particular message to the third stage of activism. For as Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

They’re definitely fighting you. Cheers, Bri, keep on!

EDIT (5/13/10, 11:30p EST): Please also take a look at Spilt Milk’s current Freedman post. She replies to a comment Mia Freedman made to Spilt Milk’s blog—it’s really fantastic, please read it!

NOTE: If you have come to submit the comment, “But don’t you know that feederism is bad? What, are you promoting feederism or something?” I might actually publish it, just to get laughs. But I request in any case that you re-read this post — and again, if you’re still scratching your head — and if you can’t get it after that, congratulations! You’re a bigoted pawn of the moral panic. Or should I say, I send my deepest regrets to your friends and family.

First Lady Releases Child Obesity Recommendations

…largely blames mothers for child’s obesity.

cue shock and surprise

Link to the AP article

Some particular gems (note throughout these that the child omgbesity is referred to, without challenge, as “the problem”):

Mrs. Obama has said she wants to help solve the problem in a generation so babies born today will come of age at a healthy weight. The report says that could happen if childhood obesity rates dropped to 5 percent by 2030.

Read: Non-experts who don’t apparently know anything about statistics, genetics, and the science of size can now control billions of dollars and influence countless lives as long as they’re somehow connected to an influential politician (this is not new, of course, but it can’t be reiterated too many times in my opinion).

Or: Welcome to the moral panic. Check your deviant status—and your children—at the door.

Or: The report says that one can solve the problem in a generation if rates drop to very low in a generation—i.e., one can solve the problem if one solves the problem—i.e., the utter BS non-speak tautologies presented as some kind of ‘revelation’ in order to push an agenda fueled by bias and the politics of crisotunity rather than facts and reasonable outcomes.

The report says a woman’s weight before she becomes pregnant and her weight gain during pregnancy are two of the most important factors that determine, before a child is born, whether he or she will become obese. [bold mine]

Read: Fat women have a higher likelihood of giving birth to fat children. Before driving in the Duh! Truck, realize that they’re not implying here that fat is genetic. In fact there isn’t the single, slightest nod paid to the overwhelming (77%) role genetics plays in the determination of weight. The report is written on the assumption that weight—for a mother before pregnancy, during pregnancy, and then the weight of the child—are completely controllable. Of course, instead of just assuming fat children would become thin children with the ‘proper’ diet, it attempts to correlate some hoo-doo about the physiology of fat mothers and future fat children. If this seems convoluted to you, then you’re on the right track. Instead of talking about genetics or talking about what fuels significant weight gain in pregnancy (someone more expert correct me if I’m wrong, but I was under the impression that large pregnancy weight gains in general are most strongly correlated with a concurrent cessation of a calorie-restricted diet), they couch everything in dubious ‘risk factor’ and correlative language.

(As an aside, if anyone has a copy of this actual report, I’d like to read it. I have a feeling it’s just a data dredge survey of some kind)

Something also very interesting to note, for those who have a nose for these public policy scienterrific press releases: the selective use of numbers. Note that the statistical correlations between fat moms (before pregnancy), weight gain (during pregnancy) are just reported as existent, while the correlation between breast-fed and reduction of obesity likelihood is stated outright (apparently 22%, but remember this is an odds ratio, so what that really means is that if the average bottle-fed child has a 15% chance of becoming obese, if they are breast fed then this goes down by 22% of 15% — that is, by 3%. So if the average bottle-fed child has a 15% chance of becoming obese, the average breast-fed child apparently has a 12% chance. The numbers are a bit less scary, no? That’s why they’re reported as odds ratios instead of real probabilities — to inflate their significance).

A Sizing Revolution

I’ve decided that it’s time to call for sizing which is based on the population of women who actually exist (going off US here, but could work for many other places too, with requisite tweaking. Submit your own in the comments! 🙂 ).

I also think that if it’s okay to size up to a 4xL without blinking an eye, we should move the ‘Medium’ up to an actual, population-based medium and include sizes like 2xS (double-extra-small).

So here’s my proposal for new sizing standards (US sizes):

0 – 2 = 2XS

4 – 6 = 1 XS

8 – 10 = S

12 – 14 = M

16 – 18 = L

20 – 22 = 1XL

24 – 26 = 2XL

28 – 30 = 3XL

32 – 34 = 4XL

…and so on.

Does this make complete sense to just me?

Ashley Graham on Jay Leno

Ashley Graham, the model whose Lane Bryant ad was banned from ABC and Fox for — being too racy? Showing too much ‘flesh’? No one really knows for sure — was interview on Jay Leno the other evening.

The news is that the commercial is back on (I guess being showed by NBC in the 9 o’clock hour?).

Part 1 of the interview, in which there is a very positive reaction to her concisely-put size acceptance messages:

Linking, having problems embedding on WordPress at the moment.

Part 2 of the interview (short):

Link

Note that you can click on the videos in my VodPod sidebar widget.