The Fat Balancing Act

This is a post initiated by Raznay’s “Some Studies Show Fat Is Bad… Mmmkay?” on the never-ending oodles of studies trying in every which way to investigate just why “fat people are so disgusting.” It discusses the implications of the mindset which is generated by assumptions made in these studies — that is, how fat people are commanded to strike an impossible, delicate balancing act in order to be granted the respect and dignity accorded axiomatically to their non-fat peers.

Like Raznay points out, this is often to the detriment of more deserving topics, like cancer research. Then again, many obesity researchers (not all — hi, Dr. Samantha! 🙂 ) I’ve run across in real life, in comments on blogs, and on their own blogs/articles, are convinced that fat cells and hormones are absolutely causing or triggering fat-related diseases in the predisposed.

But I think two major factors are never accounted for in most of these “fat is bad go mutilate yourself/starve your body/feel like a drain on society” studies: dieting history, and current dieting status of participants.

See, lots of fat people diet. In fact, we make up the larger proportion of dieters. (My ‘normal’ -sized stepdaughter would say, “Ew, diet! Why would I ever want to go on one of those? They sound awful.” — but that’s nurture as well as nature, there.)

And those of us who’ve dieted for any length of time know:

  1. Dieting makes brain fuzzy. Huh? What about the food I can’t eat now? Oh you were actually asking a math question? Mmm, math. (Homer drool)
  2. Dieting is very stressful. So is living in a fat-hating world. Researchers are finding out more and more about the deleterious effects of stress on physical health. What they find might account for some the more specious claims correlating cognitive decline and fatness — that is, it might be about anxiety, at bottom.

There are a great many novelists, scientists, and all-around smart people who are big. Some of my most beloved writers are big people. One of my favorite politicians puts Taft to shame. They’re all extremely smart. And they’re not outliers — in fact, I’m willing to wager that intelligent, capable people, correcting for the stress and side effects of a life time of dieting and social stigma, are present in fat populations to the same degree they are present in non-fat populations. If I could commission a study, I would.

Here’s one tweet from the #thingsfatpeoplearetold hashtag which rings particularly true with my own experience of being fat and mingling with ‘intelligentisia.’ —

“Fat people are stupid. If they weren’t, they wouldn’t be so fat.”

I’ve especially gotten this impression from intelligentsia who are/were themselves fat and take it upon themselves to expound on their diet/reduction techniques:

“Oh, it’s easy, I just bag up smaller portions and do all my meetings on the treadmill. I rigged a laptop stand and I can just exercise all day if I want to!”

Of course, they’re smart, but they nevertheless don’t seem to make the connection between their twig-like human garbage disposal of a colleague who hasn’t seen a treadmill in forever, and metabolism and predisposition. If all it takes is living on an exercise machine and having bags of carrots and grain around, whose kind of lifestyle are you living? Your thin colleague’s — who is “better” because he is thin — or a horse’s?

And why the hell should fat people have to live like livestock in order to get the most basic kind of respect freely granted to the naturally-thin? (no insult intended to horses or livestock, of course)

Many fat people who’ve played this game long enough know that we’re expected to conduct a very delicate balancing act every day, seven days a week, until we die. We are supposed to “have it all” — aspire to the high-powered position, parenthood, hobbies, and community involvement — while still paying 15+ hours/week of penance on a treadmill, powered by a handful of carrots, oats, and apples. And advertising, of course, since fat isn’t okay unless you’re ‘doing’ something about it. Then you’re a go-getter! But not if you stay fat for too long!

Sound familiar? It’s chasing the dollar on a string. The dollar is basic human respect and dignity; the string is a tool of oppression, that with which we’re controlled and kept in our place. The man working on his treadmill, surrounded by plastic baggies of veg — is he free? And what is he chasing after? Is it thinness, or is it basic human dignity and respect, despite the fact that he is otherwise an example of success? Perhaps he runs to deserve his success in some intangible way unavailable to a person of his size unless human sacrifice is made? And is this the Puritan work ethic rearing its ugly head yet again, or is it something else?

Being seen as a successful, respectable fat person is a delicate balance, one which I’m not sure most people can strike. But should we have to? When do we get to step off of our treadmills, abandon our baggies of ‘good’ treats, and enjoy the world? When do we get to start being more than second class citizens? Isn’t this world — love, drama, beauty, art, travel, science, family, pleasure — isn’t it our world, too?

Fat People Didn’t Exist in History

Except that, well, they did.

Here’s a picture of my great-grandparents and their kids (my grandpa is the little boy on the right):

My body type is extremely similar to my great-grandmother’s on the left, and I looked like the girl in the middle when I was a little girl.

So much for no fat people in history (this photo is about 100 years old).

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.

Biggest Losers?

My supervisor casually mentioned the other day that there was a “Biggest Loser” contest, and I had no idea what she meant at first. Then I realized – the company is having a diet competition. Well I simply said “Oh, I wouldn’t be interested in that,” which she already knows very well. She tried to interest me by saying the prize was $500. Well, thanks – I know she is concerned about my finances, and I appreciate it. But that is not the answer. Then I asked if she was interested, maybe that’s why she mentioned it. She expressed some annoyance that since we’re some of the only people on our shift, she wouldn’t have anyone to do it with so she wasn’t going to. At least I think that was the implication. Later, in a separate incident, a young man who I also work closely with came out with a jelly donut, and I knew the day guy had come back with a dozen really good gourmet donuts, and it looked plump and wonderful. I wasn’t hungry but I never get donuts, so I said “T, go get me one of those, please!” For some reason he decided to get fresh with me and told me to go get it myself. I playfully argued back that I had ordered his dinner for him and brought him things that he never ate, and he argued back all the things he does for me, and finally I trumped him. I pointed at him and said, “Do you have any idea what it’s like to be a fat woman asking for a donut?”Well my supervisor was shocked into a brief laugh – for some reason I guess no one expects you to say something like that. But it’s sort of true – once in a while you just don’t feel like asking a man for a donut, you know? If they were set out in my office, yeah, but it’s in the next room. Well, he countered that he didn’t know what it was like to be a fat woman but he did know what it was like to be a fat man and a fat kid, etc. Which was fair, so I said “Ok, I don’t care; I’m not ashamed to go get a damn donut.” He was actually happy – I think HE was embarrassed and he admiringly said, “See, I knew you don’t care what nobody says.” So he might have needed some inspiration too. I went, but there were no jelly left, so punchline is I never got the donut. But the actual point is she – my supervisor – only mentions being fat in hushed tones and I think it was kind of shocking, even though I’ve been really clear on this, that I really am not embarrassed about myself. That I don’t mind bringing up my size because it’s really obvious and people need to stop being so obsessed with it anyway.

So what does this all have to do with the picture? I was looking up a picture to go with “Biggest Loser” and came across this story. Featuring that woman. My first thought was “I love the blouse” and second was “she’s in this topic because she’s fat and fat people are in topics because they’re on a diet.” Ok that wasn’t precisely my second thought but I’m not telling you exactly what it was, so there.

But it was sadly exactly true. There are some really sad things in there. She’s on a show they call “The Biggest Loser” which is a really wonderful, not shitty name at all. Or concept. I think the losers are the people who make the show. She’s a size 27 (and she finds gorgeous clothes in that size, even if I wouldn’t wear a revealing blouse like that ’cause I’m shy that way and much older than her). She’s on this humiliating crash diet to fit into her wedding dress. They talk to her fiance.

Whereas nutritionists and community health experts have blasted The Biggest Loser boot camp as a humiliating exercise that sets up the contestants for failure and depression, Geoff shrugs and says: “I don’t want to say this is her last chance . . . but it’s probably her best chance.”

Nutritionists and health experts acknowledge that this thing is a disaster for human beings. Humiliating, depressing, and ultimately doomed. And this man who loves this woman can only shrug and say it’s her best chance? At what? Depression, failure and humiliation? Why? Do you love her?

Geoff…knows that Cat has by now lost a chunk of weight.

“Even the contestants who get thrown off in the first week lose weight,” he says.

So what? She is a size 27. If dieting worked as is claimed, it would take 80 weeks at least for her to get down to maybe 150 pounds. In one week, what can you possibly lose that matters unless you are two pounds ‘overweight’? It would probably take a year before the weight loss was noticeable, and that’s making the false assumption that dieting works like it’s supposed to.

He’s not praying for a hard-bellied babe. All he wants is for Cat to slim to the point where she can safely have a baby and live a long and healthy life. “I don’t want to lose her,” he says.

Who has told her or him that she can’t “safely” have a baby or live a long healthy life? She doesn’t look sick – just fat. Maybe she is, but sick people can’t participate in grueling self-torture exercises for television, so I doubt it. She might be sick afterwards, though. Or after she yo-yos around a while because everyone is telling her she can’t be fat and have a life. Someone please take this young man and shake him for me!

Then her twin sister gets in the act, and this makes me angry. The fiance is bad enough, but this is worse.

Says Melissa: “They get us to stand side by side and go, ‘Oh yeah, you’ve got the same eyes.’ I want my twin back.”

Melissa says the family has tried staging interventions without success. “There were times when we’d all be together and decide it was time to talk about Cat’s weight, but she wouldn’t be in it and the discussions always turned heated,” she says.

“She just wasn’t ready . . . it was like she wasn’t seeing how big she was. At the same time, there are four girls in the family and she’s the only one without a baby . . . and that hurts her.”

You want your twin back to reflect you and your self-image. You have your twin, but she needs to look different. Maybe you’re afraid you will end up looking like her because of genetics. You would stage interventions for her with your family? How cruel can you possibly be? Nowhere – please note that nowhere – is it suggested that she is stuffing herself full of deadly toxins (or, food). No one has mentioned her habits at all, just the fact that she is big. And in denial or something. (Why does she have to shrink to make you happy? Why don’t you accept her as she is?) It is just implied that since she is fat, she must be gorging herself to the busting point every single day year after year. But no one has said anything like that. They have said she’s big, she doesn’t fit a dress, she didn’t respond to family gangpiling, she makes her twin insecure and she doesn’t have a baby, but not that she is playing Nintendo all day and stuffing garbage bags of Doritos down her throat. So why do they think that eating is the problem, therefore not eating will solve it? Where is that logic from?

Also, why does her sister point out her not having a baby as anything to do with her being fat? She is engaged to be married. She is clearly not having a problem getting a man because of her fat. She is not married yet, therefore perhaps she is sad that she hasn’t gotten to this stage, but would like to do it in that order? Get married and then have a baby? What does any of that have to do with being fat? It is not suggested that she was trying to get pregnant before her wedding – in fact, I highly doubt it since she is trying to lose weight to fit in a wedding dress, not get a pregnant belly.

Saddest of all is that it seems clear she was resisting others’ bullying efforts to get her to conform to their ideas, even though if they bothered to learn they would know how tortuous diets are, and how futile in the long run. How, in fact, dangerous they are to one’s health. But instead of learning, they ran with the “common knowledge” and pressured her for years until she finally caved in and is subjecting herself to a brutal starvation diet and punishing exercise regimen as well as public humiliation. I can’t finish it. If there’s anything worse on the second page, maybe I don’t want to know.

Good Foods and Bad Foods – NuVal has Arrived

h/t to blablover5 at Introverted Wife!

Lock up your low-self-esteemed daughters, folks — the NuVal food valuation system has hit some grocery stores.

The NuVal system scores foods from 0 to 100, with 0 being “omgbad4u!” and 100 being “suprhelthy!” How does it work? Do they use a proven equation of inherent nutrition for optimum human well-being, rigorously tested over generations and conclusively shown to be true?

A: The following nutrients and nutrition factors are used in determining a food’s NuVal™ Score

  • Nutrients considered to have generally favorable effects on health:
    • Fiber
    • Folate
    • Vitamin A
    • Vitamin C
    • Vitamin D
    • Vitamin E
    • Vitamin B12
    • Vitamin B6
    • Potassium
    • Calcium
    • Zinc
    • Omega-3 fatty acids
    • Total bioflavanoids
    • Total carotenoids
    • Magnesium
    • Iron
  • Nutrients with generally unfavorable effects on health
    • Saturated fat
    • Trans fat
    • Sodium
    • Sugar
    • Cholesterol
  • Additional entries
    • Protein quality
    • Fat quality
    • Glycemic load
    • Energy density

Oooo, salt sugar trans fat bad (forget that sugar is the fundamental unit of energy, and that salt is a necessary, healthy regulator of blood pressure, one that my own cardiologist has prescribed I ingest). Folate good! Mmmm, folate!

Here are some pictures of it in action (check out the NuVal numbers at the bottom left of the price):

Onions are a 93 - so if I eat these all day, Ill be at optimum health? I mean, why eat lower scoring foods when youve got the win right there?

Onions are a 93 - so if I eat these all day, I'll be at optimum health? I mean, why eat lower scoring foods when you've got the win right there?

And sometimes similar foods can have wildly different scores, simply due to a bit of that horrible, awful, diabetes-causing supertoxin (but necessary for life), SUGAR!!

Del Monte Golden Corn - 91, gooooood!

Del Monte Golden Corn - 91, gooooood!

Sweet Whole Kernel Corn, 46, baaaaaad!

Sweet Whole Kernel Corn, 46, baaaaaad!

Quite predictably, sugar is indeed the main “bad weight” on the scores, pulling nutritious breakfasts everywhere down into the toilet:

Maple sugar-flavored instant oatmeal, 10, baaaaad! Toxic! Ruuuun!

Maple sugar-flavored instant oatmeal, 10, baaaaad! Toxic! Ruuuun!

How do those wise sages at NuVal tell what nutrients will make you fat unhealthy, or what nutrients will make you thin healthy?

Q: How did you determine what nutrients to use?
A: Nutrients for inclusion in the NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System were selected based on their established relevance to public health as reported and published by the scientific community. For more detailed information on the inclusion of each nutrient, and a bibliography of sources upon which each decision was based, please contact us at experts@NuVal.com.

Oh, “established relevance to public health!” Convincing! What, there aren’t any foods that have been shown to have an effect on “public health,” because public health necessarily deals in communicable diseases and not lifestyle and fat monitoring? Oh yes, and can someone please email them for that bibliography? I’m loathe to bloat up my mailbox with stuff from the “experts” at NuVal.

Oh yes, and just to mention — Meme Roth would probably be a member of the “scientific community” because she runs an anti-obesity pro-health foundation, right?

Here’s some more image goodness.

Don’t bother eating *any* chips, fatty — those carbs and salt make Doritos and Baked Lays just as bad:

Doritos - at a 23, at least theyre healthier than instant oatmeal, right?

Doritos - at a 23, at least they're healthier than instant oatmeal, right?

Baked Lays, 24 - stop snacking on carbs, fatty, and fill up on onions!

Baked Lays, 24 - stop snacking on carbs, fatty, and fill up on onions!

And just when you thought snack foods were bad enough, I bring you the antichrist of snack foods, the evil filler of arteries, the demon Fat himself, scoring only 2 — PRETZEL BUTTER BRAIDS!

Scienteriffic rayting sistem: butter in the title is ottomatic FAIL!

Scienteriffic rayting sistem: "butter" in the title is ottomatic FAIL!

And don’t think any type of food can be healthy, either. Here’s their scienterrific nutritional food ranges grouped by food type:

Scores range from 24 to 100

Scores range from 24 to 53

Scores range from 36 to 87

Scores range from 23 to 100

Scores range from 3 to 100

Scores range from 1 to 52

Scores range from 4 to 100

Scores range from 1 to 40

Scores range from 2 to 87

Scores range from 11 to 91

So eat your veggies, fruits, and whole grains, folks! Not even a damned dried-out, stringy piece of white turkey breast meat is as healthy as chomping on an onion. Meat ranges the third lowest, and cookies — gasp, demon cookies — range the very lowest.

I’ve figured it out — the skinniest healthiest way to be is to ride out, find a local farm, bend over, and start chewing. Do I get 100?

The whole NuVal site is an exercise in baloney. Everything they say to be “true,” “associated with,” “correlated with,” “good for,” “bad for,” etc has, in fact, not been rigorously and generally shown to be “true,” “associated with,” “correlated with,” “good for,” “bad for.” While the average person is fine with a normal amount of salt, for instance, my optimum health calls for more than a normal amount of salt.

I’ll leave you with a few more pictures.

The divide between 1% and skim milk is wide:

Gasp, a 78! Maybe I should toss some cut-up onions in there...

Gasp, a 78! Maybe I should toss some cut-up onions in there...

Forget onions! Ill live on my PERFECTLY HEALTHY skim milk all day! And Ill give it to my children and my baby and my grandmother, too, because 100 means 100 for *everyone*, right?

Forget onions! I'll live on my PERFECTLY HEALTHY skim milk all day! And I'll give it to my children and my baby and my grandmother, too, because 100 means 100 for *everyone*, right?

Don’t worry, folks. If this isn’t enough entertainment for you, the NuVal system will likely be hitting your store shelves very soon, right before it’s government mandated. Oh, brave new world!