Real Fucking Fat Acceptance

(this post has NO TRIGGER WARNINGS, no diet ratings, or anything. It’s just FA, baby.)

There is an unavoidable plethora of diet-talk, fat-negative-talk, and pro-weightloss-intervention-speak  nearly everywhere in Western society. What actual fucking fat acceptance (FA) does is first off give you a break from all of that. Secondly, it challenges those negative, hurtful, and hateful messages. But, most importantly, it does a third thing: through discoveries and analyses of medical and sociological literature, it provides convincing evidence that:

  1. diets don’t work for the vast majority of dieters,
  2. fat is largely genetic,
  3. the correlations between fat and certain conditions haven’t yet been shown to be causative,
  4. the ‘obesity epidemic’ is a moral panic.

I personally best summed up the reality of the ‘obesity epidemic’ in my post, The Tall Epidemic. Tall people are at greater risk for certain conditions, too; tall people could be argued to cost more health-dollars that normal-height people; and tallness, though largely genetic, is not entirely so (one’s height can be stunted by means of poor nutrition during childhood, for instance). Like fatness, tallness is hard to correct, though due to the nature of the tissue only the most drastic means of correction can be undergone, like surgery (but there is also surgery to ‘correct’ fatness, mind).

Not to plug, but you should really read it if you’re teetering on the edge of uncertainty about whether, goshdarnit, perhaps certain people or populations should try to reduce their weight, or that perhaps maybe us fatties are doomed to a shorter lifespan due to our fat, and why that’s alarming and perhaps should be corrected, if not through dieting now, ultimately through the next-gen ‘safe’ anti-fatness measure that’s coming down the pipeline.

Because hiding under the veil of the concerned skeptic doesn’t wash with me. Because, ultimately, the ‘obesity epidemic’ doesn’t have a darned thing to do with actual health. If it did, other populations who arguably engage in ‘risky’ lifestyles, like being tall, or male, or an athlete, would be focused on, too. Once you accept the premise that one doesn’t choose to be fat, then giving credence to arguments that the weight of certain populations should be reduced for their own good is no different han giving credence to arguments that the height of certain populations should be reduced for their own good. Silly, no? And yet, here we are.

Real fucking fat acceptance. Riff-raff. Extremists. Those hard-liners in the community who recognize that lending credence to anti-fat arguments is not only usually at odds with more rigorous arguments and scientific reasoning, but also it is at odds with sociological realities. It doesn’t take much digging and studying to come to this conclusion: that’s why there’s a bevy of FA 101 posts floating around the ‘sphere which many of us link to religiously. Because we’ve made these arguments before. We’ve read these studies. We’ve lived our experiences. And, despite our best skeptic sensibilities (or perhaps due to them), many of us are coming to the same conclusions, namely, the four points listed above.

I always find it kind of amusing when I get the occasional troll or even attack-post on an external blog which loops back around to this argument that us riff-raff hardliners are delusional and enforce an echo-chamber precisely because we can’t handle opposition to our ideas, which to them is the veritable house of cards that blow down with a single strong whuff of anti-fat logic.

In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The trolls, anti-fats, and concerned skeptics tend to be the delusional ones. And lazy, to boot. See, the reason why I personally (and I’m sure many of my FA brethren) sift out these common anti-fat arguments is because we:

  1. have already heard them and responded to them earlier in our blog, or there exists an awesome FA 101 post on another blog (the trolls are too lazy to read, especially links)
  2. know that we’d be engaging in a particularly prolonged game of bash-head-on-wall if we choose to argue with these trolls (they are impervious to logic)
  3. understand that these knock-down-drag-outs in comments sections sap our energy to make more posts and tackle new subjects, which is ultimately more important (they are unreasonable)

A mentor of mine, a philosopher and economist, once told me that you have to give your opponent his best argument if you are to argue effectively. Most riff-raff hardliner FA blogs do just that: we are not burying our heads in the sand with respect to actual fucking medical research and actual fucking reality. In fact, most of these ‘skeptics’ engaging in balancing acts between calling themselves fat accepting and lending credence to the same tired old points the riff-raff have debunked years ago and over, and over, and over again are the ones burying their heads in the sand. It’s even worse than the ignorance perpetuated by the true pro-weightloss anti-fat ubiquity, because you’ve ostensibly had the opportunity to educate yourself in that you have access to challenging arguments, and still you cling to hope?– fear?– loathing?– whatever it might be to make you uncomfortable with the strong body of evidence gathered by us actual fucking fat acceptance riff-raff hardliners.

Because, your arguments? Heard them before, debunked them last weeks, probably multiple times. Our credentials? Well, I can read and understand scientific literature — logic and rigor are my two oft-used watermarks, and you know what? Most anti-fat pro-interventionists studies, they don’t measure up. From the sociological angle, there is the impeturbable elephant in the room mentioned above: all signs point to us being in a moral panic, and not just the media or the great unwashed, but the research community, as well. And we all know what great science comes out of the research community operating within a moral panic.

I’m not sure exactly what I’d term this new pro-FA-while-skeptical-of-FA-while-ignoring-the-body-of-evidence-FA-has-built community, but I know what it’s not: real fucking fat acceptance.

Note for the comments: I famously have little patience for bullshit I’ve already argued seven thousand times. New angles are interesting, but old stuff? Boring. And arguing old stuff already debunked because it’s some kind of chesnut you fear to abandon? Trolling, and will be moderated into the ether. Because I’m not here to hold your hand through FA 101. And if you’re too lazy to do your homework or too delusional/irrational to understand it, that’s not my fucking problem.

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What I eat, and how much I exercise

I’m sure many of you wonder how much (and what) I eat, and how much I exercise. For someone who myth-busts the health-claims made in support of losing weight, and so forth, I should be interested in some way of being healthy and living the longest and happiest I can, correct?

That is, in fact, correct. I am. Does eating and exercise have something to do with it? Why, yes.

As for how much (and what) I eat, and how much (and how) I exercise?

NONE OF YOUR FUCKING BUSINESS.

I know some people catalogue their activity, as if to say, “See, I’m buying into Healthist attitudes, yet I’m still fat! Aren’t I morally upstanding, and aren’t your expectations of how one looks when they follow Healthist doctrine so very wrong?”

The problem with the above attitude is that it never calls into question whether or not tying particularly popular ideas of how to be “healthy” to moral rectitude is a good thing. It also implies that accepting a fat person is somehow conditional on whether or not they buy into Healthist propaganda.

This is not acceptance, in any way, shape or form. HAES is not fat acceptance. It’s another expression of Healthism, of Health as “goodness.” Why do I say HAES is not fat acceptance? Suppose no fat people adopted HAES-approved approaches. Then HAES wouldn’t be about fat people, it would be about how some fat (and thinner) people *could* be healthier, if only they did X and Y.

See the difference? It’s not about accepting fat. It’s another version of Healthism, of the “should” inherit in Healthist attitudes, as opposed to people who just want to do what’s best for themselves and cross their fingers that others just sod the fuck off with their misplaced concern or outright sanctimony.

There’s only one difference between a person who doesn’t believe in FA outright, and one who claims to believe in FA with an HAES-only perspective or focus: one person who promotes popular ideas of how to be “healthy” thinks those ideas will always make someone thinner, and the other person promoting a “healthy” lifestyle thinks that it won’t necessary lead to weight loss.

For those that want to defend HAES, I need to include the disclaimer that I don’t think all the ideas of HAES are phooey in my own day-to-day life. However, that’s also true for more mainstream varieties of “health.” But what I do to make myself feel better/live longer contains no inherent “should” for someone else. I don’t think it is imperative that others are active (even if we qualify activity with the words “fun” and “interesting”), and I don’t think it is imperative that others pick their brains to intuit what it is they should eat at the moment (even if there is “wiggle room” in the determination).

It’s just another group of myths and semi-truths. Does it make some people feel good to do it? Sure. But does it make them better people? No. Are people who don’t engage in it morally reprehensible, or even worse off from an *objective* health standpoint? No, and impossible to determine generally. Finally, is it fat acceptance? No, it is not. It’s just another group of people hawking yet another “healthy lifestyle.” Only this time, there are some fat people in the bunch!

Why is HAES so attractive to some people in FA? I think it gives one a weapon, a “comeback” as it were, to a troll who wants to say “Well, you can’t be fat and healthy!” The comeback: “Studies of HAES have shown to be healthier blah di blah…”

Why is the need to be seen as healthy so imperative? I think it’s less rewarding, but much more honest (and more helpful for promoting *actual* fucking fat acceptance) to tell the troll to MYOB.

It’s not easy. But fighting the moral imperative to be healthy with another form of a moral imperative to be healthy isn’t going to get fat people anywhere. The problem is with Healthism. The problem is with how Healthist attitudes are cordoning off certain subgroups of individuals and treating them like second-class citizens. And it’s *not just about fat people*, though fat is the most popular excuse used these days. It’s about smokers, and people who belong to demographics which have a greater genetic tendency to certain diseases or body characteristics.

Reject Healthism, and tell concern trolls to MYOB. Don’t apologize. Don’t detail your behavior. Tell them to get the fuck out of your clothing, and that your body is YOUR business. This goes for spouses too, certain readers of mine. No relationship, I repeat, *NO* relationship merits this kind of terrorism in the name of the Holy Grail of Health.

A Nice Follow-Up – Obesity Epi-Panic

If you haven’t already, please read Sandy’s “The sky is not falling” post over at Junkfood Science. I think it serves as a great follow-up to my post this week on the Obesity Epi-Panic.

Summary: A new study came out: Americans are living longer and are healthier than ever before. We are not dropping like flies due to obesity. Fat kids aren’t dropping dead from heart attacks in their teens. Fat young adults aren’t dropping dead from heart attacks in their 20s, 30s.

One of the most important parts of a moral panic is called “Disproportionality.” That is, the reaction to the current folk devil is highly disproportionate to the actual threat that folk devil poses. This could also be in the form of some “looming threat lying down the road,” i.e., that this current generation of kids is going to die in hordes in their 50s.

Dang, I had no idea fifteen extra lbs of adipose tissue was so toxic, did you?

The point is, we all need to TAKE A DEEP BREATH. Shut off the local news. Stop reading the health columns of the NYTimes. Ignore water-cooler diet comparisons. And USE YOUR COMMON SENSE.

It’ll be okay, I swear. 🙂

Moral Panics, Moral Crusades, and the Obesity Folk Devil

I’m currently doing research into moral panics and moral crusades, partly because they’re interesting on their own merits (and a hell of a good way for a writer to get some meta-knowledge of societal movements), and partly because as time goes by (and I do more research), I realize that we’re both in a moral panic AND and moral crusade.

Moral panics are characterized by exaggerated responses to perceived (sometimes not even real) threats to society, with a necessary, stereotyped “folk devil” scapegoat who can do no right. Here’s a link to the Wiki article on moral panics.

Our folk devil is the fattie.

That’s not to say other forms of prejudice don’t exist, but that we are in the midst of a moral panic that is the “Obesity Epidemic,” and the moral crusade that is “The War on Obesity.” Never in history have they been spelled out so transparently.

Though I’m going to post in more detail on it in the future, how well does the “Obesity Epidemic” fit the model of a moral panic? Judge for yourself. Here’s a quote from the Wiki article:

Characteristics

Moral Panics have several distinct features:

  1. Panic/anxiety: This is often very intense and there seems to be no problem greater than the subject of the panic.
  2. Short lived: The Panic lasts for only a few months at the most and can recur.
  3. Emotive language and images: Phrases such as “monsters”, “decay”, and “crisis” are used to emphasize the acuteness of the problem. Medical language can also be used out of context such as the word “epidemic”.
  4. Case Studies: These are often dramatic and unrepresentative.
  5. Statistics: Often misused or written in such a way that makes the reader think the problem is worse than it is; for example, “400% greater” may mislead some into thinking that something is 400 times higher rather than 5 times.
  6. Demonization of a group: Sometimes the chosen group does not even exist[citation needed] and those that do are mostly socially or economically marginal. Often the media can portray a group in a way that they don’t really exist and the group will eventually live up to the stereotype created for them.
  7. A Media led or generation phenomenon: Printed to start with and then TV and radio follow amplifying the panic which is then reflected elsewhere such as politics. Even in Victorian society moral panics were seen to be adopted by the media in the form of pamphlets, handbills and newspapers.[5]

With the exception of the Wiki’s reference to a necessary short-lived character to the moral panic (which is contested as not necessarily true by one of the leading experts in the field, N. Beh-Yehuda, in his book, “Moral Panics: The Social Construction of Deviance” ), what do you see paralleling the common fears created by/associated with the “Obesity Epidemic”?

Also, a point that Ben-Yehuda touches upon is that some moral panics can be accompanied by moral crusades, which is the torch-carrying by activist groups to eliminate a group or behavior deemed to be the “root of all society’s ills” by those same activists. In a moral crusade, moral entrepreneurs jump on the bandwagon of a moral panic for profit. Media, the government, etc all take part in the propaganda associated with the perpetuation of the moral crusade.

More and more, I’m beginning to believe that, in fact, we are in the midst — I’d argue even not at the peak, as of yet — of a moral panic and moral crusade against fatness.

What has been so fascinating to me, reflecting upon this possibility, is the fact that moral panics and moral crusades often have a catalyst, an overreaction to which begins the panic and/or crusade. Sometimes the catalyst seems far removed from the panic itself, like the anxiety towards privileged youths which caused the Mods and Rockers mess of the 1960s in the UK.

I’m positing a possible catalyst to the “Obesity Epidemic” moral panic and the “War on Obesity” moral crusade: an aging population who is afraid to die, and are desperately seeking a Fountain of Youth for both themselves and their children. Weight gain is associated with increasing age (at least until about 60-65), and that’s right about where the Baby Boomer generation is, now.

For you see, at the bottom of the “Obesity Epidemic” and the “War on Obesity” is a movement called Healthism. Drink one glass of wine a day, for optimal health! No, two! And don’t eat broccoli. Wait, remember to eat your broccoli! Buy this anti-aging anti-cellulite super-sunblocker cream, and make sure to go tanning before you hit the beach in your tankini! Spend at least 90 minutes a day in a gym, but don’t get water-bottle wrinkles around your mouth!

The ultimate goal of Healthists is, in fact, the Fountain of Youth. Tall order, you say? No kidding. Then again, the ultimate goal of Prohibitionists was a familial Utopia, where all families had doting dads and innocent fathers. The ultimate goal of the War on Drugs people is similar. But now that our nation isn’t in such a crisis over families (my theory is the War on Drugs was a response to the growing number of divorces and the increasing acceptability of the legitimacy of non-hetero relationships), our aging population has begun to panic over impending death.

Why do you think age-related diseases are the ones that they believe “curing” obesity will exterminate? Obesity is just a stand-in for their own terror at the inevitable. And millions of people are paying the price — such is the stereotyping, scapegoat-making nature of the moral panic and moral crusade.

What are your thoughts? Do you think I’m way off the mark here? Or do you think some of these ideas hold water?