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.

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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!)

Big Calorie Brother is Watching You, Fat Kids

In the annals of creepy monitoring of calorie counts, this expensive taxpayer-funded measure to study the calorie intake of children via photographing their lunch trays and ‘their leftovers’ is way up there:

Calorie Camera: Schools Photographing Students’ Lunch Trays

Health officials trying to reduce obesity and improve eating habits at five San Antonio elementary schools unveiled a $2 million research project Wednesday that will photograph students’ lunch trays before they sit down to eat and later take a snapshot of the leftovers.

Parents will receive the data for their children, and researchers hope eating habits at home will change once moms and dads see what their kids are choosing in school. The data also will be used to study what foods children are likely to choose and how much they’re eating.

Okay, fine, so this is just a study, right? Surely this isn’t about trying to socially engineer a marginalized class of people to conform to the ‘better’ characteristics of the elites, right? Wrong:

Researches selected poor, minority campuses where obesity rates and diabetes risk are higher. Among those is White Elementary, which is just off a busy interstate highway on the city’s poor east side, on a street dotted with fast-food restaurants and taquerias.

I like how they say “obesity rates and diabetes risk” are higher. You know they wanted to put “incidence of diabetes” is higher, but instead they had to use a redundant statement to get the word DIABETES in there. Because we all know that despite a very low real incidence of Type II Diabetes in children DIABETES is the bread-and-butter scare-word used to frighten parents and get concerned public activists in a righteous huff over the ‘childhood obesity epidemic’ (which isn’t confined to childhood, nor does ‘obese’ have much meaning since the growth charts are all comparative, and which isn’t an epidemic by any stretch of the imagination).

However, the article does have this refreshing insight which, in the context of the article, would seem to suggest such an expensive taxpayer-funded project in these dark times of deep deficits is short-sighted to say the least:

Researchers warn that obesity is not always the result of children eating too many calories. A previous study by the nonprofit center reported that 44 percent of children studied consumed calories below daily minimum requirements, but nearly one-third were still obese. Seven percent screened positive for type 2 diabetes.

If you as a parent don’t want to consent to having your child’s food photographed and nitpicked? Well, you’re just stupid and ignorant, says the school’s principal (who was very sure to get his name/school in the national news, I’m sure):

Mark Davis, the school’s principal, said getting consent from parents hasn’t been a problem. He suspects the small number of parents who withhold consent don’t understand the project, perhaps thinking it limits what their child can eat at school.

My prediction: next study will be recording the BMIs of students as well as the contents of their eaten lunch.

No Empathy for the Fat in Healthcare

I saw this Scientific American article in my Google Reader this morning, and it struck me right away that this — THIS — is what’s missing from the average fat person’s healthcare, compared to the average thinner person.

Empathy.

Missing But Crucial to Successful Healthcare: Empathy

Sure, empathy is in short supply in many doctor’s offices and bigger institutions, with the growing shortage of healthcare professionals in proportion to those who seek care. But many of the horror stories from First, Do No Harm are about a very particular lack of empathy for fat people from those same professionals, whether they be doctors, nurses, surgeons, nutritionists, and so on down the line.

Underlying the lack of empathy is the appalling prevalence of bias against fat people in the medical community, which often starts in medical school.

Many medical researchers also seem to lack empathy for fat people, as they twist themselves into statistical knots trying to make their conclusions fit the anti-obesity paradigm, making recommendations that are tantamount to the eradication of a whole population of people or children without so much as thinking about fat people as individual humans. They never blink an eye at talking about ‘eradicating obesity.’ But there is no such thing as ‘obesity,’ there are only obese people.

Perhaps if doctors had a little empathy, they wouldn’t start in on the weight discussion when their patient just needs antibiotics for a sinus infection. Perhaps if they had a little empathy, they wouldn’t recommend a course of treatment with such a huge failure rate. Perhaps if they had a little empathy, they would help their patient get that kidney transplant/knee replacement/IVF without demanding they first physically uncover the thin person within as some kind of marker of worthiness; that is, they would help their patient find an anaesthesiologist who can handle a person of their size.  Perhaps if they had a little empathy, they’d think about how to make their patient feel better rather than using Ailment X as yet another ‘teachable moment’ about their patient’s weight.

Empathy is crucial to good health care, as mentioned by the article in Scientific American. And for fat people it is, sadly, in particularly short supply.

More Healthist Doublespeak

The language of Healthism is so intertwined with notions of moral value that we tend to take its dicta as fact. This can lead to unfortunate reporting of scientific results, both by researchers in ‘conclusion’ sections, and by health reporters.

The most recent example of this is a study (h/t Regan at Dances with Fat) that shows people eat more calories after looking at pictures of larger people than say, a picture of a lamp or a person of ‘normal’ weight. This was translated by the study researchers and health reporters to suggest that people exhibit ‘unhealthy’ behaviors after exposure to fat images, with a not-too-subtle additional suggestion that fat images are harmful and fat is contagious through the power of bad example. Typical paranoid fodder for the moral panic.

Let’s just assume that the conclusions were sound, that people indeed do, in a vacuum, eat more calories after viewing pictures of larger people than they do after viewing pictures of ‘normal’ sized people or lamps. How can we deconstruct what’s going on? And how might we suggest that this kind of behavior isn’t, shockingly, necessarily a bad thing?

Let’s try a thought experiment. Let’s suppose we take a group of chronic dieters who self-report to hate their bodies and fear fatness.* Subject them to a slideshow of people who are even thinner, and who aren’t shown eating. As a bonus, the imagery is presented in a way as to suggest that thinness is what makes these models attractive and worthy of love and the good things in life. Directly afterwards, ask the study participants about their feelings towards their own bodies, and see how many candies they take from a bowl.

My guess, based on the literature of similar studies and good old-fashioned logic? They’ll feel even worse about their bodies, and will tend to restrict their eating more than usual.

Then, show the same group of people a slideshow of images from, say, Adipositivity and some fatshion blogs. Show them fat people in attractive poses and lighting, in pictures meant to suggest that they are attractive, and worthy of the good things in life. Would it be any surprise if the study participants, post-slideshow, felt better about their bodies, and tended to relax their chronic restriction a tad?

What I want to know: why is the second scenario supposed to be the ‘unhealthy’ one?

The power of Healthist language and concepts is much more pervasive than we think. Its stranglehold on common sense and higher reason — its doublespeak — ties even those who make a living researching these things into knots of contradiction.

*I chose this group to make the comparison clearer. It applies to a more general group of participants since the majority of women in Western culture have dieted, and are inundated with messages about how thinness is the same as healthiness, godliness, and worth. Men are increasingly being marketed to in a similar way, and more men diet now than ever before.

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.