Fat People: You Don’t Have To Justify Your Existence

Dear fat people,

You don’t have to justify your existence to anyone. Not TV doctors. Not lapsed surgeons. Not authors of diet books. Not researchers running an ‘obesity’ center. Not your own doctor. Not your parents. Not your spouse.

When they ask, “Well, don’t you think being fat is unhealthy?” You don’t have to educate them. It’s not your job to give them reasons why you have accepted your body.

When they say, “You must justify your fatness. I’m paying for you!”, tell them they don’t have a problem with you, they’ve got a problem with the system and how it apportions dollars and care. If they’re so concerned about being able to control who and what they ‘pay for’ then they need to take it up with their elected representative or an actual economist, not you.

You don’t have to tell the fatphobes why they’re wrong. Why they’re creating a fictional narrative about your life that isn’t your life. Why threatening you with future health ills is absurd and childish. Why they don’t understand the economics of insurance markets. They probably won’t listen anyway. They’re not looking for reasons to be okay with you. They’re looking for reasons to feel better than you. To blame you for their slimmer pocketbook, or global warming, or world hunger. To absolve themselves from responsibility for those things. To justify their own disconnectedness and indolence. To soothe the guilt of their own consumerism.

Dear fat people: all fat people, of all colors and backgrounds, of all those varying ways to be fat and visibly so, even if you’re just fat in your own family circle or if you’ve been used as a headless fatty folk devil in a news article: you don’t have to justify your existence.

You don’t have to justify your existence by performing health. Or by subscribing to HAES. Or by having a list of studies on-hand whenever some ubiquitous fatphobe challenges your experience and threatens you with the deterioration of your health and even early death if you don’t agree with them.

Fat discrimination is wrong. Don’t listen when they say you’re “lazy, unfit, immoral, liars, burdens.” Sadly, you aren’t the first group of people to be labeled as the biggest sinners, the biggest losers, the folk devils that must be fought and vanquished at all costs, the root of all evil. It’s a formula, an effective one that most people don’t even realize they’re playing into.

There’s no conspiracy. The fat public health panic, known colloquially as the ‘obesity epidemic’ even though obesity is neither a disease nor an epidemic, emerged as a response to a complex panel of variables. No one person sat down one day and said, “You know what we should do? Pathologize fatness, stigmatize fat people, make a bunch of money off it, then sell fat stigmatization to governments and world health organizations so we can codify dieting in their health regulations.”

Timing is everything: an aging population means that diseases highly correlated with aging like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes are going up, up, up. People are smoking less, getting taller and healthier, and also dieting much more regularly: all states of being that, in addition to aging, result in increased average weight. Fudge with an old statistical tool for insurance tables called the BMI and suddenly you’ve got a health panic on your hands.

Healthism emerged, partially as a response to an aging population afraid of death and convinced that if they ate the right things and did the right amount of exercise they could extend their lifespans to Auroran lengths (see: Asimov), partially as an outgrowth of modern Puritanism, partially because of the fat health panic outlined above, partially as a vehicle of elitism and classism and ableism, and for many other reasons not useful to go into here.

Dear fat people: you don’t deserve to be discriminated against. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t have to justify your existence. You don’t have to buy into the myth of health, an arbitrary measure whose definition has not only changed throughout history but means different things to different individuals, to different practitioners of health, even.

You don’t have to justify your existence. If you do, you lose. You lose for yourself, and you lose for the rest of us. What is fat discrimination? Believing that fat people don’t have the right to simply be. That, if they exist as fat people, they are “lazy, unfit, immoral, liars, burdens.” The answer is not to argue that you are “active, fit, moral, trustworthy, generous.”

What right does anyone have to require that in order to live unabused they must live up to a standard the abusers don’t expect of themselves? It’s a lose-lose situation. Ceding to fatphobes the right to question your existence also cedes to them that if you as a fat person didn’t perform exercise, or didn’t count calories, or weren’t ‘healthy,’ or were disabled, or just didn’t adhere to the Healthistic model of virtue, that they would be justified in flailing and abusing you.

Dear fat people: you don’t have to justify your existence. You aren’t supervillains: if you don’t fit into the Healthistic box the fatphobes say you must the world won’t stop turning. Children won’t die. The landmass of your country won’t be swallowed by the oceans. You won’t suddenly get all the so-called fat diseases. You won’t bankrupt your government’s economy.

You will be one precious person saying, “No. Healthism is wrong. Health is bullshit. You’re creating a hierarchy of acceptable, codified discrimination with a bullshit arbitrary measure. And I’m not buying it.”

One precious person, going against a seemingly irresistible tide. You won’t be the villain. You’ll be the hero.

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Other reasons why fat person cost calculations are bogus

Ragen has a great article out today, please take a look if you haven’t seen it already:

The True Cost of Fatties

In her post, Ragen talks about how the back of the envelope ‘study’ done a couple of years ago that suggests fat people are killing the planet with all the extra gas we consume, and the usual shady numbers we see about how much extra healthcare dollars fat people consume. Apparently fat fatties eat money just like they eat Twinkies — in excess, and uncaring as to how it effects anyone else in their lives. We’re truly terrible people, a costly evil scourge that must be eradicated…at all costs.

Which leads me to my first additional point to Ragen’s post:

When we hear fat person cost calculations, there’s an ever-present underlying assumption that if fatties were thinnies or normals, we wouldn’t consume those extra resources. However, overwhelming evidence shows that in order to maintain a significant amount of weight loss down from a natural setpoint of significantly higher, individuals need to dedicate something like a part-time job to it: exercising for several hours a day, paying for expensive diet plans or special meals or therapies, measuring and weighing and planning and special shopping trips and scribbling in a journal–you get the picture. There’s a $60 billion dollar diet industry that derives most of its income from people going on and off temporary diets. If fat people were to do what the above ‘experts’ claim and go on mandatory, permanent, life-long diets, imagine how that number would explode. It would likely eclipse the (shady) amount (badly) estimated spent on fatty healthcare ($147 billion in 2008).

The next part of the fat person cost calculation has to do with absenteeism and the murkily-defined and -exampled presenteeism. Presenteeism is, as defined, when workers show up to work but have much lower levels of productivity than a coworker doing the same job.

…presenteeism was measured and monetized as the lost time between arriving at work and starting work on days when the employee is not feeling well, and the average frequency of losing concentration, repeating a job, working more slowly than usual, feeling fatigued at work, and doing nothing at work. [2]

From what I’ve seen, fat people are accused of presenteeism because they’re assumed to have greater health-related obstructions to doing their job. This would be most pronounced in markets that rely on physical labor. However, the studies I’ve seen that show a ‘significant’ (1% difference! Le gasp!) increase in presenteeism as defined don’t correct for age, which is strongly positively associated with both fatness and decreased productivity in manual jobs.

Fatty presenteeism and absenteeism is estimated to cost employers $73.1 billion annually. My question is, naturally: how much more productive is a starving person? (dieting is indistinguishable from a famine state) How much more productive is someone who spends a part-time job in addition to their full time job keeping off weight? How much would it cost the economy as a whole if we estimated the lost productivity of fat people due to the fact that in order to maintain a thinner state, they would have to dedicate something like 15 – 20 hours a week they could have spent working additional hours, raising up a new generation of workers, or supporting their community and the productivity of others? Methinks that would be a hella more than $73.1 billion a year.

Now for the second point I wanted to add to, or rather stress, in Ragen’s analysis:

You can single out practically any group of people you want and find additional ‘costs’ associated to their ‘lifestyles’ or genetic differences. Thin people are the awesome du jour, but they’ve got their own set of associated costs (if you believe the hype that they’re more active and so on): cost of gas getting back and forth to the gym, athletic injuries, diet plans, they live longer and hoo boy is that expensive, they take more vacations, they tend to be richer and hence de facto consume more resources, and so on. Let’s add that up.

Or parents, as mentioned by Ragen and by me in another forum: parents, especially of unfashionably large families, consume mountains more resources than childless people, have high levels of absenteeism in the workplace, and cost their employers much more in family insurance plans, childcare benefits, and so on. Let’s add that up.

Or people who get tattoos — let’s go after them, shall we? They get sicker more often, as a new tattoo is the same as an open wound. They tend to hang out in edgier clubs, are exposed to the possibility of more violence, and are probably more likely to be drug users (a purely correlative assessment, of course). Let’s add that up. And don’t get me started on people with psychological disorders like depression, bipolar, or those who’ve had traumatic backgrounds, or who are part of prejudicial groups — the extra health costs associated with their therapies and prescriptions and their decreased productivity is nigh-on criminal(big flashing sarcasm meter on all these points, of course)

And so on, and on, and on…

So why fatties? Because we cost so much more than other groups? Nope. Because our costly status is preventable, or cheaper to treat? Nope (see my Truth About Fat: References page). Because:

Fat people are scapegoats.

For what? For a breaking healthcare system, a broken health insurance paradigm, a slowing economy, global warming, hunger in non-Western countries, the declining standard of Western beauty, and pretty much anything else some random person doesn’t like and doesn’t want to either understand or tolerate.

We are in a moral panic, not an epidemic. Fat people ‘cost more’ because we are hated. Fat people destroying the earth, or anything else for that matter, is a proxy for how the moral crusaders believe we are destroying humanity.

References

1. Rising obesity will cost U.S. health care $344 billion a yearUSA TODAY, November 17, 2009.

2. Obese Workers Cost Workplace More Than Medical Expenses, Absenteeism. Duke Global Health Institute, October 7, 2010.

3. Obesity Promotes Global Warming? John Tierney.The New York Times, May 16, 2008, 9:49 AM

4. Wrestling with the ‘Double Burden’: Hunger and ObesityWorld Food Program USA. By Sara Draper-Zivetz  Published on February 18, 2011

Unpacking the Fat: People Like Me

1. People like me get thrown off flights, especially if they’re too full, and asked to pay double for the privilege of waiting for the next one.

2. People like me can’t shop in most malls. We get strange looks and downright condescension if we go into certain stores.

3. I can’t turn on the TV and expect to see someone like me, in general. If I do, then that person is almost always being portrayed as something broken to be fixed, or otherwise in a negative light.

4. When I see people like me talked about in the news, it’s about how horrible people like me are, and what is the best way to get rid of people like me.

5. If I go to an adoption agency I will be told that people like me shouldn’t be parents.

6. If I go to an infertility clinic I will be told that people like me shouldn’t be parents.

7. If my child is someone like me (which they have a good chance of being) I will be told I shouldn’t be a parent. My child might even get taken away from me.

8. I can’t open a magazine and expect to see people like me. However I can expect to see ad after ad for products on how to prevent becoming like me, or how to ‘fix’ someone like me.

9. If I ride the subway/bus, I get dirty looks. People don’t think someone like me deserves to sit. If I stand, they tell me that I’m in the way of everyone else.

10. If I take a walk down the street in a populated area I can expect to be told how horrible I am from passing cars, pedestrians, people in shops — anyone I meet. I might even get things thrown at me, like garbage.

11. If I go to the gym I can expect to get talked down to, and treated like the reason I’m there is to ‘fix’ myself from being so broken and horrible.

12. If I drive my car instead of walk it’s taken as proof of why people like me are horrible. If I don’t go to a public gym it’s taken as proof of why people like me are so horrible.

13. There is big money for people who are trying to eliminate  people like me. They especially want to eliminate children who are like me. Most other people, even some people like me, think this is a wonderful thing. They hail an ‘enlightened’ future world that no longer has people like me in it.

14. People like me are blamed for the broken healthcare system.

15. People like me are blamed for global warming.

16. People like me are told that we can’t do certain things, and when we do, we’re told that we’re the exception that proves the rule.

17. I pay three times as much as what other people do for clothes, and it’s often much worse quality, style, fit, and selection. Clothes for people like me are segregated in stores and online, if they are available at all.

18. With some regularity the media debates on morning and news shows if people like me should exist, and how best to get rid of us if not.

19. People like me aren’t in trendy establishments. We are either barred from going, or the place can’t accommodate us, or we get condescended to and pressured to leave as soon as we walk through the door.

20. I can wear the same style and cut of clothing as someone who is not like me, and told that while it is perfectly decent on her, it is indecent on me.

21. People like me are told that we shouldn’t leave the house because of how awful we are, but that we are so awful because we never leave the house.

22. People like me are denied life-saving surgeries and the opportunity to donate organs unless we change.

23. My friends and family think it’s their duty to tell me how horrible I am, and how I should change.

24. People like me are told that we are stupid, lazy, immoral, and broken with regularity. I can expect to hear this several times a day.

25. People like me are never the heroes of books or movies. We are usually cast as the villain.

26. People like me have a harder time getting hired. Employers believe that people like me aren’t good representatives of their company, regardless of our skills, work ethic, experience, or talent. People like me are much less likely to appear in employee circulars and marketing materials. There are even workplace groups and contests where people like me are rewarded for altering themselves, and people who aren’t like me are rewarded for not being like me.

27. People like me are told that we aren’t as intelligent as other people. We are told that it is impossible for us to be economists, health care workers, or honest debaters.

28. People like me are told that we are the worst witnesses to our own experience. We are called liars if we relay experiences that do not hold true to what mainstream culture says about people like me. People who call us liars aren’t just our enemies – they are doctors, nurses, teachers, and our own family.

29. For people like me, social events like family gatherings and class reunions are often battlefields.

30. There is a whole month of the year dedicated to eliminating or preventing people like me. It’s called “Resolution Season” and is widely viewed as a positive and constructive, rather than negative and destructive, phenomenon. During this time of the year it’s nearly impossible to watch television, open a newspaper/magazine, read online media, or walk down a city street without being reminded that people like me are undesirable.

31. Many Western countries have publicly funded campaigns which claim people like me are a problem to be rid of.

32. The very existence of people like me is called one of the top problems of our modern age.

DISCLAIMER: Not complete, nor in any particular order. A list like this is always a work in progress. I might edit to add more later. Feel free to add your own in the comments, and I might add them to the list. Thanks to the authors of the many privilege-unpacking lists I’ve seen in my time.

EDIT (2/9/12): Added #26 – #31. 

Fat Double Standards

Really quickly — because I’m actually supposed to be writing my novel right now — here’s a hilarious addition to the double standards in weight reporting.

Early-Stage Alzheimer’s Could Make People Lose Weight

According to EurekAlert, scientists looked at 506 people ranging from those with no memory problems to those with full-blown Alzheimer’s. They found that people who had markers of Alzheimer’s called beta-amyloid plaques in their brains — even if they had no symptoms — had a lower BMI on average than those who had no markers. This means Alzheimer’s, even in its early stages, might be doing something to make people skinnier. Says study author Jeffrey M. Burns, “These results suggest Alzheimer’s disease brain changes are associated with systemic metabolic changes in the very earliest phases of the disease. This might be due to damage in the area of the brain called the hypothalamus that plays a role in regulating energy metabolism and food intake.”

So hey though, I’m sure you remember that study done not too long ago that concluded people with higher BMI were at greater risk for developing Alzheimer’s. Cuz yanno — fat causes ill health period. This is ignoring the fact that greater fatness is correlated with and may be causes by conditions that are known to be risk markers for development of dementia later in life (like insulin resistance, thyroid issues and diabetes). Again, we have the chicken-and-the-egg problem that plagues weight research: the assumption that weight always comes first, that it’s most always controllable, and that correlations having anything to do with higher BMI mean a prescription of weight loss.

Do you see the double standard in the above article? Thin people with a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s means that Alzheimer’s causes thinness (and researchers are willing to do all that’s necessary to prove that particular conclusion, not to mention assume it from the outset without proof as such). But fat people with a higher prevalence of Alzheimer’s means that — wait for it — fat causes Alzheimer’s! And researchers (on the GlaxoSmithKline/Eli Lilly/Johnson&Johnson/etc dole) will do anything they can to prove that particular conclusion, not to mention assume it from the outset without proof as such.

Show Your Fatty Papers

Recently I got mud on my boots in a popular feminist news blog. The topic was a new weight loss drug, and far be it for me to leave that shit alone.

I mocked its promised 11% weight loss (in the short term, since that shit gives you kidney lesions and can’t be taken long term) and brought up the 40% – 80% hereditary nature of body weight (which I got by scouring Google Scholar one weekend. I suggest you try it, it’s fascinating. Turns out I was underestimating – it’s more like 65% – 85% (see here and here)).

The response? I was asked how I ‘knew’ that my body weight was genetic. Did I get a genetic test done or something? Really. The commenter really wanted to know, guys, honest.

I asked how the commenter ‘knew’ their eye color, nose shape, and height were genetic. Did they get a test done? Really. I wanted to know.

The point of this is that body weight is highly heritable, as heritable as height, and so on. We know this. We’ve known this for nigh on fifty years now. It’s not even a little in question. But this obesity moral panic is so advanced, so strong, has so penetrated popular culture with its toxic propaganda and lies, that people find the generally genetic nature of body weight so unbelievable they demand our fatty ‘papers’ before we’re allowed to say our body weight is genetic.

If this isn’t proof enough that size discrimination and fat loathing has nothing to do with facts or science, I don’t know what is.

Chris Christie’s Too Fat to be President! – Roundup

Recently Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, has been attacked and concern-trolled over his weight; more specifically, that he has the utter gall to fat it around in the political arena. Even though Christie has said multiple times he’s not interested in running for president in the 2012 elections, it appears that trying to keep him out of the race he’s probably not going to enter was too much a temptation for some fatphobic concern trolls in the media.

However, what surprised the hell out of me is that after a round of attacks on Christie, came a round of defense, and not necessarily from his political allies. Turns out Atlantic columnist and economist/blogger Megan McArdle has done her homework on fat rights and size issues. Go Megan! You don’t know how rare you are, most journos and bloggers just swallow the obesity panic hype straight-up. Also, Jonathan Chait (Paul Campos’ co-author) has an article defending Chris Christie against fatphobic attacks. There are a few other defenders, some from the Fatosphere itself.

Without further ado, here’s the roundup.

ATTACKS ON/CONCERNS ABOUT CHRISTIE’S WEIGHT

FATOSPHERE RESPONSES

DEFENSE OF CHRISTIE AGAINST FATPHOBIC ATTACKS

I also have a few posts from during the NJ governor’s campaign on Chris Christie, his weight, and how it might play into his political life and the public perception of fat people:

What do you think of this hullabaloo over Christie’s weight?

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?