Say It: Obesity = Obese People

For a long time bloggers and commenters in the Fatosphere have observed that when most anti-obesity crusaders talk about ‘obesity,’ they’re really talking about ‘obese people.’ There is no such thing as obesity in a vacuum, there are just people who are obese being looked at on a population-wide scale. And the definition of obese changes far too much for it to be any kind of solid abstraction.

When you realize that obesity means obese people, suddenly the comments being made by anti-obesity crusaders become a lot more grim. For instance, the heart-warmingly positive phrase: “We will eliminate obesity in a decade!” becomes “We will eliminate obese people in a decade.” Yikes.

Obesity = obese people. Say it. Write it. Stop using the word ‘obesity.’ Really expose what this whole moral panic is about.

“We really have declared war on obese people,” said Dr. Kimberly Redding, director of the Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Program at the Georgia Department of Public Health. … “Targeting obese people is not going to be a quick fix,” Redding said. (bold substitutions, mine. original here)

Also, childhood obesity = obese children. Say it. Write it. Never use the term ‘childhood obesity’ again.

Making the substitution (also, ‘epidemic of childhood obesity’ = ‘obese children’):

Spearheaded by Michelle Obama, a new presidential initiative would reverse the epidemic of obese children.

The goal, as set out in a report from the White House Task Force on Obese Children, is to reduce obese children from 20% to 5% by 2030.

To accomplish this, the plan makes 70 recommendations for early childhood, for parents and caregivers, for school meals and nutrition education, for access to healthy food, and for increasing physical activity.

“For the first time, the nation will have goals, benchmarks, and measurable outcomes that will help us tackle obese children one child, one family, and one community at a time,” Obama says in a news release. (bold substitutions, mine. original)

Um, yeah. Shudder. Finally, some Jamie Oliver to whet your palate for a change in this disturbing discourse:

In 2010 Jamie was awarded the prestigious TED Prize to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obese people.

Having proven himself as a campaigner in the UK, Jamie is fired up about leading the fight against obese people in the USA. The second season of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC is set to air in spring 2011 and will help to refocus the campaign to use cooking skills and fresh food to help end the crisis of obese people in America. (bold substitutions, mine. original)

I’m issuing a challenge to all my readers:  Stop using ‘obesity’ and ‘childhood obesity.’ Start saying and writing ‘obese people’ and ‘obese children’ instead. Stop playing the game on their turf, using their mealy-mouthed terms which pretend obesity is some kind of state of being that floats above the populace, or that childhood obesity is like a monster lurking in a child’s closet, rather than the child herself. Say it like it is.

You know the old adage about evil — if you are able to name its nature, then it loses its power.

Who’s with me?

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A Bad Day for Fat Liberty

And liberty, everywhere.

In Dundee, Scotland, fat kids from a non-neglectful household are being put up for adoption by the state because their parents failed to ‘slim them down.’

Seriously.

Fuck.

I’ve written a few times about how the loss of the individual right to body autonomy and the moral panic over fat can lead to such an outcome, that it was one of the many steps on the road of divesting fat people of their civil rights — that is, in criminalizing fatness.

For everyone who thinks fat hate and fatphobia is no big deal, and is just a personal health issue, please read this and think again.

The Fucking Awesome Truth

Go read this fucking awesome post by Joanna at Dead of Winter:

The Truth is Radical

It will blow your fucking socks off. It’s so old-school FA, I’m all a-quiver like it’s 2007 again. Dammit, I miss Junkfood Science!

Some candy:

Instead of feeling liberated with the knowledge that I was not a failure or defective because of my weight, my health, or my lifestyle, I insisted on holding onto my prejudices, not just against others, but myself.

Why would someone do this?

The reason is two-fold: One is that we still want to hold on to “The Fantasy of Being Thin” that Kate Harding discusses. The other, more subtle, one is that we can’t bear to face it. To face it would be to realize just how thoroughly people hate us and how pervasive fat hatred is, inserting itself in every area of life, held by virtually all people in our culture, and knowing there is no escape for it.

Ding-ding-ding-ding-DING! Sometimes when I really think about how much I’m hated — how irrevocably the culture equates my value as a human/women to my weight, and how many times and in how many ways I’ve been discriminated against, seen as less valuable or even valueless because I’m fat — well, I get really fucking depressed. It’s hard to handle. Really hard.

Finally, holy awesome, Batman:

No. It is our anti-fat, healthist culture that is radical. It refuses to acknowledge any factor in health, fitness, or weight besides lifestyle. It refuses to allow people with socially stigmatized bodies and lifestyles to exist. It refuses to allow them any measure of worth, intelligence, or morality. It seeks to deny basic rights and social support.

Joanna has written the post I’ve wanted to write for at least a year. Con-fucking-gratulations, I’m so fucking glad to see something like this on the feeds, it made my fucking weekend. And I’ve been having a pretty good fucking weekend.

(EDIT: I just found out this is my 250th post on Big Liberty. Holy fucking mother of shit. W00t!)

Weight- and Looks-Bullied Minnesota Girls Fulfill Suicide Pact

This is so sad. Thanks to my husband for emailing the link as soon as he saw it — we’re the parents of teenage girls and are extraordinarily alarmed by the prevalence and virulence of appearance- and weight-based bullying.

These poor girls were only 14. They hadn’t even begun their mature lives, and they already decided — apparently for a long time — that they wanted nothing of this abusive world.

Settle said that her niece, Haylee, had been the victim of bullying after moving to Minnesota from Indiana with her mother and 8-year-old brother.

“She was made fun of for being overweight, her red hair,” Settle said. “She posted on my [Facebook] wall that she really wanted to come back…that the people were mean and cruel and she didn’t fit in.”

Even though Haylee wasn’t severely overweight, she was so uncomfortable about her size that she rarely ate in public at school, Settle said.

Paige was Haylee’s closest friend.

Haylee’s letter was to her mother and detailed plans for her funeral, Settle said.

“She requested everything pink and princess and butterflies,” Settle said.

“She was actually one of the most giving loving girls you would ever meet… She just loved everyone unconditionally…She couldn’t stand people to be made fun of, tortured, teased. She stood up for the underdogs and she was one herself,” Settle said.

If the Fat Acceptance movement needs to be about anything, it needs to be against a world where 14 year-olds (and 9 year-olds, and 4 year-olds) are made to feel absolutely worthless and broken for their ‘wrong’ weight.

My good wishes go out to the family and friends of these poor girls.

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?

More on the irrational obesity crusade

I saw a great piece out of Cato not too long ago that I’ve been meaning to link. It also references an upcoming book by the authors Patrick Basham and John Luik: Diet Nation, Exposing the Obesity Crusade.

How the War on Obesity Went Pear-Shaped

One gem in particular, which should get you to want to read the full article:

Strangely, the obesity crusaders remain unaware that there is an absence of scientific evidence to support their assertions: firstly, that overweight and obesity increase one’s mortality risks; and secondly, that the overweight and moderately obese should lose weight because such loss will improve their health and lower their risk of heart disease.

In fact, the obesity crusaders’ assertions about weight and longevity ignore 40 years’ worth of international data that suggest obesity is not a cause of premature mortality. Many studies for different disease outcomes have demonstrated that the effect of both diet and physical activity are independent of the effect of BMI or various measures of body size or fat.

Oh, and in case that only whetted your appetite, here is another lovely article from the authors – Healthcare for All! Unless You’re Fat

And a teaser (please read the full article):

An NHS health trust now proposes to stop sending obese people and smokers for certain operations. NHS North Yorkshire and York is planning to stop patients who smoke, and those with a body mass index of more than 35, from having routine hip and knee surgeries because their unhealthy lifestyles allegedly lower the chance of the operations’ “success.”

….skip

Such discrimination on the grounds of lifestyle is illiberal and encroaches on individual rights, and is arguably beyond the legitimate function of the state. Refusing medical treatment to an individual who not only requires it but who has has financially contributed more than the average to its funding, as a means of coercing him or her toward healthier behaviour, is undemocratic and borders on tyranny.

Woo-hoo (sound of BL cheering at her screen)!

Here are some other great obesity-related articles from Cato (note that there are a lot of great science-related citations in the articles, so if you’re a collector of such things, do take that into account):