Why language is important

Can we laugh at this quote a quick moment?

Some experts say these new findings raise questions about the effectiveness of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic simply by improving access to healthy foods. Despite campaigns to get Americans to exercise more and eat healthier foods, obesity rates have not budged over the past decade, according to recently released federal data.

The language of the so-called obesity epidemic has become so unquestioningly ingrained in journalistic circles that the writer of this article can’t see the contradiction between an obesity rate that hasn’t ‘budged over the past decade,’ and stating in the previous sentence that we’re in an ‘obesity epidemic.’

George, you old bastard, you’ve won this round. Now please stop haunting us with your lessons about propaganda. It’s getting eerie to see doublespeak in the news as a matter of course rather than a soon-to-be-retracted error, or a sloppy intern-level mistake.

The article from which the quote is pulled is worth a read: Studies Question the Pairing of Food Deserts and Obesity

It’s a report on the findings of a study that conclude there’s no relationship between poor urban neighborhoods and lack of access to ‘healthy’ foods, and then concludes that increased levels of obesity in poor urban neighborhoods mustn’t be connected to what people were eating. Well, no kidding; it’s been known for a while that fat people in general don’t eat differently than thinner people in general. So blaming relative fatness on the assumption that fatness is related to what poorer people eat compared to what richer people eat doesn’t make sense in the context of what we know about how fatter and thinner people eat, in general. Still, the food desert argument has been used to stigmatize poorer fat people under the guise of concerned progressivism, especially on sites like Jezebel, for a long time. It probably has its root in some book by Pollan or one of those folks — I wouldn’t know, I don’t read that stuff.

10,000 Big Liberty points to anyone who guesses the next trend in weight-control-by-nannying via the vaunted elites (of both the governmental and corporate variety) of our respective societies. Tax breaks for weight loss surgery and fat camps for the kids? ‘Sin’ taxes on sugar and carbs (since everyone’s nuts about Paleo these days)? Required ‘extra’ PE or after-school PE/sports for kids who ‘fail’ on their BMI ‘report cards’? (sorry for all the single quotes, but I can’t stand talking in the bastardized language of the bigoted panic-drivers)

EDIT: withoutscene pointed out to me on Twitter that the writer of the article is no other than Gina Kolata of Rethinking Thin fame. Rethinking Thin got me to quit dieting. About six months after I read it I stumbled across the fat acceptance movement. I can’t believe I didn’t notice she wrote it. Chalk it up to cynicism, but I don’t even check author names of articles anymore — I expect them all to be anti-fat biased, no matter their credentials.

Advertisements

Open Letter to a Special Snowflake

Dear Special Snowflake,

We got it: you’re special. There’s nothing wrong with being special–in fact, I celebrate the specialness of each person I meet and get to know. While it’s interesting to study the rise of and adherence to conformity in society, I actually find conformists boring. I’m on the lookout for unique traits, those characteristics which set each of us apart.

I have no problem with your specialness. Rather, I have a problem with how you are not special. I’ll explain.

I know you think you are, by virtue of being A Special Snowflake, superior or set apart in a way that individuals are not typically set apart from each other. I know that you think your genetics, experiences, talents, and education have forged an individual so complex that no one else can in any way understand where you’re coming from, how you came to your conclusions, or intuit what you might do next. Further, I know that you think you have nothing in common with the un-Special Snowflakes around you.

That’s fine. I don’t even have a problem with how you view yourself–that’s your business. What I do have a problem with, however, is how you treat the un-Specials*. And the way you treat them is not special: cruel people have been treating other people cruelly since we slithered from the goop. The issue here is not how your specialness is special, but rather, how you use what you view is a superior uniqueness of self as license to abuse the people around you.

You say that by virtue of your Special-ness–genetics, talents, education, experiences, money–your cruelty is excused. From you, accusations are truth. From you, insults are necessary. From you, abuse is to be expected. You are a superior being: you do not have to play by social rules. Your Special-ness excuses it. Your Special-ness is so needed and desired by the world, that they are willing to put up with anything you dish out just to get a little of that Special something. Maybe you’ve even convinced someone else–a boss, a mentor, a lover, a parent–of your Special-ness, and that person does the work of covering up your cruelty, leaving you free to wreck even more havoc.

“But you don’t understand!” cries the Special Snowflake. “I am more intelligent than you are. I am more capable. I did work harder. I am a genius. I did suffer, once. I am suffering. You’re just jealous that you aren’t Special, like me. You’re stupid. You’re incompetent. You’re lazy. You’re ordinary. You’re sheltered. If you were Special like me, you’d see how Special I am.”

Legions of men and women of the Special Snowflake brigade have echoed you, over the centuries. Their birthright, abilities, intelligence, money, and power excused them from the need to be civil, and gave them allowance to be cruel. How Special is Special-ness of that sort, truly? It would seem, unfortunately, rather…ordinary.

So, Special Snowflake, at the risk of further raising your perpetually-elevated ire, I’m calling you out. You are ordinary. You are a pattern, a type that bubbles up over the course of history; in fact, you are so common that there is one of you in nearly every classroom and office. One can be intelligent, talented, well-educated, and monied without being cruel. There is no requirement to be cruel. Cruelty is a choice, even for Special Snowflakes.

Love,

BigLiberty

*Note that I’m not suggesting those who the the Special Snowflakes treats like un-Special aren’t special. Rather, I’m framing the judgment and perspective of the Special Snowflake.

The Conflation of Poor and Fat

You’ve heard it around. It makes it onto the various fat feeds from time-to-time. It even regularly pops up on Progressive blogs that are otherwise less judgmental of people of size. That is, some version of:

“Poor people are fatter on average because they have less access to the ‘right’ foods and less ability/time to do the ‘right’ exercise.”

I won’t go into the much-pitched and varied solutions to the statement above; rather, I want to talk about the statement above as a statement of fact. Because I’ve rarely been in a space, even a fat-positive space, where the statement above isn’t taken as a statement of fact.

But really, isn’t this just another example of correlation = causation?

That is, where is the proof that if the average poor fat family eats the same foods and does the same exercise as the average middle-class, average-weight family, they will become average-weight?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

That’s what I fucking thought.

I’m tired of the “Poor fats are fat because of their bad habits!” whether or not their habits are apologized for afterwards as being not their fault (the case in Progressive blogs, not so much in conservative spaces). It’s condescending, elitist, and makes me fucking furious. Unless you can back up your claims please cut that shit out. The vast majority of people are fat because they’re programmed to be fat, with some variation in a narrow range (like 30 lbs). (see my Truth About Fat: References)

Also, the perpetuation of the “Poor fats are fat because of diet/exercise” trope silences actual useful research as to why poorer people in “First World Countries” (I hate that fucking phrase) are fatter on average than their richer counterparts. That is, I believe discrimination, racism, and expectations play a much larger role than we think, and that understanding those factors as they contribute to the “poor fat problem” would be enlightening,  interesting, and possibly useful, unlike the tired, recycled, useless “The poor need to be educated to move more and eat better!” bullshit.

What do you think?

A Little Fat Sociology

Have you seen Google Books Ngram Viewer yet? They are awesome. Play with them right away. That is, after you read this post, of course. 😉

The basics – Google Books Ngram Viewer searches for keywords in Google Books from way back to 2008. You can search for multiple keywords (up to four worked best for me) and graph the results next to each other. It’s pretty awesome.

h/t to Sociological Images for first pointing this out to me. I immediately thought of building some graphs that were relevant to Fat Acceptance and the sociology of size. Here are some initial results. There’s a link to the NGrams Viewer for each graph above the image, and you can click on the images to enlarge them.

Fat Acceptance

link

BLUE - "fat liberation" RED - "fat acceptance" GREEN - "size acceptance" YELLOW - "fatphobia"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Perfect Bodies and Inner Beauty

link

 

BLUE - "thin figure" RED - "hourglass figure" GREEN - "perfect body" YELLOW - "inner beauty"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Fat is Ugly and Thin is Beautiful

link

BLUE - "fat is ugly" RED - "thin is beautiful"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Muffin Tops and Baby Weight

link

BLUE - "baby weight" RED - "love handles" GREEN - "muffin top" YELLOW - "junk in the trunk"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Obesity Epidemic

link

BLUE - "obesity epidemic" RED - "healthism" GREEN - "bmi"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Lose Weight…But You’re Too Skinny

link

BLUE - "need to lose weight" RED - "too skinny" GREEN - "go on a diet" YELLOW - "stop dieting"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Epidemics, Nutrition, and Surgery

link

BLUE - "obesity epidemic" RED - "childhood obesity" GREEN - "food pyramid" YELLOW - "gastric bypass"

(CLICK IMAGE TO ENLARGE)

Another interesting one – Shed pounds, burn calories

Universally Loathed

So many intelligent people can’t comprehend the genetics of size, which I find both astoundingly disappointing and rather nauseating.

If I hear one more time — just one more time — that the size of my body implies I’ve got some bevy of psychological issues, whoever makes that claim will be told in no uncertain terms why they are wrong. I’m done being silent about this, going along when other people spew misinformation and bigotry because I don’t want to rock whatever boat. I’m not out looking for a fight, but unfortunately you don’t have to go far these days to either get attacked or experience others being attacked for happening to embody the ‘wrong’ shape.

Nearly every group strives to disinclude fat people, to the extent where vociferous, well-reasoned  arguments will be levied against the culture of lookism only to then exclude fat people yet again. For example, a recent comment (which sparked this post), ran along the lines of: “Judging potential partners based on looks is wrong, but hey, sometimes you can tell when someone’s messed up and that’s when they’re OMGFAT!”

(because, the argument ‘from reason’ further stated, fat people must be fat because they overeat and they must overeat because they have some disturbing emotional problems which imply they are broken and hence undesirable partners)

I’ve had conversation with and read articles written by people with multiple degrees in tough disciplines which still cave to the rabid cultural assumptions surrounding size. My hypothesis is this usually stems from the fact that they themselves aren’t fat, nor do they have any experience with people of size. Since they’re perfectly reasonable and intelligent, that must mean fat people are broken! The same goes for average-sized people who rag on very thin people: they can’t seem to understand that many naturally thin people have tried to gain weight and can’t, and are mocked or derided for their size.

It’s all so very unscientific, and so very non-rigorous and logically fallacious that I can’t help to conclude there exists an intellectual double standard concerning size. I’m not quite sure why – perhaps it stems from the infallible authority granted to doctors and other medical researchers, who are of course just fallible people subject to the same bigotries as the rest of us, and who don’t necessarily conduct their research more rigorously nor do they possess some sort of super-reason inaccessible to the rest of us.

All of this leads me to conclude –

If you are a person of size there is one thing you can count on in modern society, and that’s being universally loathed.

So right, I’m pretty pissed off.

…because it’s abuse. It’s a way for one set of people to commit violence against another without having to make the effort to be physically violent. It’s a way for them to feel artificially superior by climbing on the backs of the deviant ranks, though really whatever status system being contrived is based on completely arbitrary values. (Like thinner is better – better for whom? Like more makeup is better than no makeup – better for whom? Like dark hair and blue eyes and fair skin is better – better for whom? Why? How did it come to pass? How is it rigorous or objective in any sense whatsoever?)

I’m going to say it right back – Modern Culture – yeah, look at me when I’m talking to you, damnit – I loathe you, too.

But my loathing is based in reason. Because I loathe any entity, group, or collection of ideas constructed in order to do violence to other people, to keep them from reaching their full potential.

I especially loathe intelligent individuals with willful blind spots. Perhaps that’s because I used to be one of them, I’m not sure. Regardless, while I don’t think intelligent people need to be perfect (honest intelligent people will be the first to claim that they’re not perfect) I do think they have a responsibility to closely examine their own potential biases. Else doff that elitist mantle: you are no enlightened thinker if you willfully latch onto a belief because it conveniently supports your worldview without making sure it is rationally sound.

Most modern intellectuals, along with everyone else, have been socialized to believe fat people are low-status, disgusting, and broken. Hence they are willfully ignorant with respect to any information that might suggest the opposite. They want to keep finding us ugly, and disgusting, and broken. They want to other us. They want their bigotry to be reinforced, because they have a visceral fear of fat people.

And visceral fears are difficult to root out. Flipping through the pages of history they might in fact be one of the stickiest points of human prejudice. Why is that? I have a few theories.

Visceral fears are self-regulating. Teach a populace to loathe something, and they often self-segregate based on that characteristic. In that same sense those fears are passed from generation to generation, since children will be — through horrid, memorable abuse and punishment for deviance, often at the hands of their parents, teachers, and peers — well-taught to toe loathing’s line.

So what do we do? How do we handle being loathed? Well I know what we can’t do — OBEY.

Which suggests that the initial reaction we must cultivate is ANGER.

(I won’t go into constructive/destructive anger at the moment, but obviously I believe the above falls into the constructive category)

So get angry. What makes you angry about the way you were treated in your past, or currently, or the way you fear you might be treated in the future? Why do you think it’s unfair? You have every right to loathe what is being done to you, because it is objectively wrong. You know that, you agree with that, or else you wouldn’t think this whole Fat/Size Acceptance thing holds any water.

Get pissed; you deserve it.

Call for Study Participants!

Hi all,

I’m posting this call for study participants the request of Michaela A. Null, a doctoral student at Purdue. She (and the study) look legitimately very interesting, and I encourage you to participate!

The study details are posted below.

Your friendly liberty-lovin’ size activist, BL


Call for Participants

Hi, my name is Michaela A. Null, and I am a doctoral student in Sociology at
Purdue University. I am doing a study about the embodiment of size-accepting fat
women, with attention to the ways in which gender, race, sexual orientation, and
body size intersect.

I am currently looking for individuals who are interested in volunteering to
participate in my study. If you are interested in volunteering to participate in
an interview, I ask that take an electronic informational survey, which will
take approximately 5 minutes. Please go here
[http://purdue.qualtrics.com/SE?SID=SV_etvIKJ1LFV0gFNi] and complete the
informational survey. After all survey data has been collected, participants
will be selected for interviews, which will be conducted in-person, by phone, or
via internet chat, and will last between an hour and an hour and a half.

Participation is voluntary and participants must be at least 18 years old.

This project has been approved by my university’s Institutional Review Board,
which protects human subjects of research. I will provide confidentiality to all
volunteers and participants will be referred to by a pseudonym in all research
documents.

If you have any questions regarding this study, you can contact me at
mnull@purdue.edu. For more information on me, you can access my university
profile here [http://www.cla.purdue.edu/sociology/directory/?p=Michaela_Null].
You can also contact Professor Eugene Jackson, Assistant Professor of Sociology
at Purdue University, at jacksone@purdue.edu.

Sincerely,

Michaela A. Null, Doctoral Candidate in Sociology, Purdue University

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.