Nobody Really Wants to Eliminate Obesity

I know that with all of “war on obesity” stuff you hear it’s hard to believe, but stick with me here for a minute.  First let’s clarify who the War on Obesity is actually against. It would seem to be against obese people, but that’s not quite true.  “Obesity” as currently defined is the result of a mathematical formula involving a ratio of weight and height called “BMI”  We’ve discussed before why the BMI is BS.  Part of the reason is that there are so many exceptions to the rule. Since BMI doesn’t take muscle mass into account, many hardcore athletes (most of the NFL for example) are obese based on the formula.  Nobody wants to get rid of athletes or force them to lose muscle to conform and so they are given an exception. If you are mathematically obese but without what is considered an excess of adipose tissue, you are excepted from the war.

So let’s just be honest: Nobody wants to eliminate obesity, they want to eliminate people who are visibly fat.  There is no war on obesity, there is a war against fat people.  And the front lines of this war are everywhere we look and listen – magazine covers, billboards, commercials, infomercials, ads on the internet, random strangers on the street, health care and wellness professionals, talk show hosts etc.

Knowing that, today I’m going to ignore the mountain of scientific evidence that says that  intentional weight loss doesn’t work.  I’m going to ignore all of the evidence that Health at Every Size does work.  I’m going to ignore the many healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people who exist and disprove the efficacy of conflating weight and health.  My question today is: Even if we would all be healthier if we were thin, is the War on Obesity a good idea?

Have you ever had something that you hated: a purse, some shoes, a knick-knack that was a gift from someone?  Did you take good care if it?  Were you inspired to dust it and polish it and keep it beautiful.

Me either.

The war on obesity has branched out to cover not just the appearance of bodies, but also their health, intelligence and worthiness. The War tells us that if our bodies are fat then they are unhealthy, ugly, unattractive and not worthy of love. We are told that we are not thin because we are lazy, don’t make healthy choices, and lack will power.  We are told that thin is the same as healthy and that we can’t have health without attaining a “healthy weight”.

95% of dieters gain back all of their weight plus more within five years. Yet if we are part of this vast majority,  we are shamed, tsk’d and called weak failures.

The war on obesity tells us to hate ourselves.  Then it says that we have to take good care of ourselves.  Then it says that it doesn’t matter if we take good care of ourselves, we have to lose weight or we should keep hating ourselves until we hate ourselves enough to take good enough care of ourselves to lose weight.

It’s ridiculous.  It’s a system that sets us up to fail, participates in our failure, then makes us feel horrible for failing, all the while profiting the diet industry to the tune of almost $60,000,000,000 (yup, that’s sixty billion dollars) a year.

So back to my original question:  Even if we would all be healthier if we were thin, is the War on Obesity a good idea?

I think that the answer is no. And I say it’s time to opt out of the war on obesity all together because even if we would be healthier if we were thin, the war on obesity still doesn’t make sense.  Here’s how I think we can do it…

  1. Notice how often this happens.  Decide tomorrow to see how many messages you get about obesity – from television, the radio, the internet (how many diet ads are on the pages you look at) etc.  Notice how many of those messages are placed forward by someone who either wants you to buy their product or has something to gain by maintaining the status quo (ie: they derive their self-esteem from being “better” than fat people)
  2. Appreciate your body! Your body is amazing – think of all of the stuff that it is doing for you right now:  you are breathing, your heart is beating, you are blinking, the list goes on and on.  Your body deserves to be loved and appreciated!  Just as it is.  Right now.  Right this minute.
  3. Do things that make you feel good.  If you don’t feel as healthy as you would like, then I would absolutely encourage you to make choices to take care of your amazing body.  Not necessarily so that you change its size or shape, or to fit into a bikini.  Just for the joy of feeling good and taking care of your amazing body.
  4. Stop judging others by their weight. Stop assuming that very thin women have eating disorders.  Stop assuming that fat people are lazy or unhealthy.  Strike words like “skinny bitch”, “fat pig” etc. from your vocabulary
  5. Don’t push your idea of health onto other people.  Practice healthy choices for yourself and stop telling other people how they should live unless they are asking directly for your thoughts or advice.  Your experience is just that – YOUR experience.  Don’t confuse your experience for everyone else’s.
  6. Speak out when you see other people partaking in these behaviors.  Every time someone says something like this they are reinforcing to someone else that they are unhealthy, unattractive and unworthy.  The idea of making someone hate themselves healthy is ludicrous.
  7. Tell your story.  A lot of people don’t even know that Health at Ever Size is an option for them.  That’s the entire point of my blog. I don’t want to tell people what to choose for their health, I just want to make sure they know that HAES is an option.

Speaking of telling my story, an article about me is appearing in the June issue of “All You” magazine (which is found in Walmart Stores).  It was beautifully written by Virginia Sole-Smith from The Beauty Schooled Project.  I love her blog and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank her for the article and all of the support!

Published in: on May 27, 2011 at 1:59 am  Comments (18)  

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Kudos on the article!

  2. I’ve been amazed in just the few weeks that I’ve been learning more about HAES at how many anti-fat ads are out there. What’s scariest to me is that I (and I’m sure other women like me) don’t even cognitively see them anymore.

    Anyway, another post to make me think. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve been struggling with a few of these on the list. Primarily, the whole “not judging others for their weight.” I catch myself thinking some really catty things about thin women sometimes. But I comfort myself that at least I’m making an effort now.

    Congrats on the new article/interview! I generally don’t shop at Wal-Mart, but I’ll have to make an effort to get in there soon and see if I can find that mag.

    • Hmmm…I wonder why my picture isn’t working? *glares at WordPress*

    • Pange, don’t be ashamed… we all take on the programming of the world around us, that’s what we’ve learned to do. Now you’re learning something new, nurturing and that actually works! Yay :) But you were doing the best you knew, now you know something more helpful. It’s all good, wherever you’re up to … such a journey for us all…

  3. Re: “stop telling other people how they should live unless they are asking directly for your thoughts or advice”

    Amen. :)
    As the old saying goes: “24 hours in a day: 12 to mind your own business, 12 to let other people mind theirs.”

  4. Ragan,

    I appreciated the post, as usual. What I particularly liked was the way you got to the heart of the paradoxical propaganda. In general, I advocate choices and language that focus on support and health. The diet industry focuses on hype and fear. Thanks for another thought-provoking post!

    Ann

  5. Amazing post, as always!

  6. There is another reason why nobody REALLY wants to do away with ‘obesity’, &, yes, even those of us with visible fat…a couple of reasons, actually. One is that societies seem to need a scapegoat to blame for all their ills, many people need someone to whom they can feel superior. However, the biggest reason is that, if ‘obesity’ went away, a great many people would be out of a job. As you say yourself, the ‘obesity’ business brings in at least $60 billion per year; a lot of people would have to find themselves some honest work. They not only know that their weight loss methods don’t work, they don’t WANT them to work. They count on our business, &, even more, they count on our REPEAT business. They hate & fear fat activists because we take our business away from them & they fear & hate us more because we sometimes succeed in coaxing other people away from them.

    No, they don’t want an end to ‘obesity’. And, despite the messages they send, they don’t REALLY want to see visibly fat people go away either.

    • This is what I was about to add in. A big point of consumerism is desire, especially in fashion and beauty retail, and I mean that as far as weight goes and also beauty ideals. They want everyone to look at perfect looking women in ads and think “I want that dress! I want to look like that!” They make profit off of peoples desire and envy to change themselves. If we all looked like anyways, we wouldn’t pay as much attention to advertisements trying to get is to lose weight and look good.

  7. Excellent article, as usual. I especially find it to be true that not only are fat people required to hate themselves for being fat, it is now socially acceptable and even expected for other people to hate fat people and treat them with disdain, disgust, and outright disprespect. I for one am tired of the dirty looks and am getting a little closer every day to just punching people in the face for giving me the stink eye for daring to be larger than the template skinny size.

  8. Great post and so true! It reminds me of a post by Sandy Szwarc about the right way to fight stigma. http://junkfoodscience.blogspot.com/2008/08/i-think-therefore-i-am-part-four.html

    We don’t advocate for its victims to change, and when someone does that, that’s your BS alert that they are trying to sell you something. In this case, they are taking advantage of your insecurity about your appearance to sell you the hope of normalcy.

    The item number six on your list especially speaks to me. The internalization of stigma actually INCREASES maladies such as high blood pressure, hyperlipidemia, and all the other obesity-related illnesses. So hating someone healthy is really quite ironic.

    Again, great post.:)

  9. Interesting post. Reading your site has really raised my awareness of how often the focus is just on weight and not on health. How can war be declared on something that has cannot be effectively defined due to all of the variables? Why not declare war on high blood pressure or cholesterol or blood sugar? Those things have a proven direct impact on health. Weight is an easy target because it’s visible and measured with only a scale (and weight loss makes for dramatic television). Doesn’t make it right or any less frustrating.

    PS – I was reading a review in People magazine about the new show “Extreme Makeover: Weightloss Edition” and the host of the show said that they “focused on the super-obese (over 200 pounds).” What kind of random classification is that? Does he really thing that anyone over 200 pounds is super-obese? I’m really hoping that show has a health aspect to it, but I’m not holding my breath.

    • You raised a really good point with the weightloss shows example. I’ve had problems with injuries in the past so I’ve been exercising under the supervision of a certified athletic therapist*. She’s talked about getting letters from those sorts of shows asking her to nominate overweight clients to the program. She just sort of shakes her head that they can’t seem to understand that althletic therapy practices are closer to physiotherapy than a fitness trainer at the gym.

      * Just in case anyone isn’t familiar with AT, it focuses on identifying weak muscles and how the surrounding muscle systems compensate, eventually leading to injury. If one is already injured, they work with the patient to remain active in ways that won’t impede the healing and work on the disfunctions, if any, that caused the injury in the first place.

      • That’s very interesting. I used to be a hammer thrower (the track and field kind, not the construction kind… you wouldn’t believe how many people ask that question). In addition to the rigors of the event itself, there was a lot of varied training that went into it. Heavy Olympic lifting, sprinting, plyometrics, medicine ball exercises, running stairs (gah!), etc. Plus I was in military school at the time and needed to keep up my distance running for our semesterly physical fitness tests. You’d think I was in great shape. I wasn’t. I was beat up beyond belief (add in serious mental health issues, academic stress, and only 3 hours of sleep a night, in addition to my extreme weight loss efforts/lack of nutrition). My back and knees are still suffering. I’m currently in physical therapy to heal my second herniated disc in my cervical spine. I have a very hard time staying fit because I’m so limited in what I can do. I can barely run, though I want to try (slow jogging :)), I can’t lift anymore, I definitely can’t run stairs or do plyometrics. Someone like an AT sounds like it would be so helpful for me.

        How do they differ from a physical therapist?

  10. The June issue of ‘All You’ is on the shelves. I saw it Wednesday while shopping at Walmart, but put it back because I didn’t think I’d have time to read it this weekend. If only I’d known you were in it! But you’re worth a special trip to Wally World!

  11. I have thoughts like this from time to time in my head but don’t quite seem to be able to articulate it nearly so well as you do. Well done. Another enjoyable nicely expressed blog.

  12. Thank you for this post, and all the wonderful posts you post! (I sounds like Dr. Seuss)

    I have three things hanging on my fridge in my (new) apartment: the “Couch to 5K” program, Linda Bacon’s HAES “Live Well” Pledge, and your steps 1-7 in this article. :D

  13. One thing I’ve always hated about the war on obesity are the stock videos and photos the mainstream news media uses when talking about it. It’s always the same–groups of very large people huffing and puffing down the street, a few fat people sitting outside eating french fries or other fast food, and a token shot of the golden arches. Never in the years of reporting on obesity have they found someone like you that maintains a healthy and active lifestyle, but is not a size zero (and is completely okay with that.)

    I take offense at the assumption that we all just spend our lives huffing and puffing our way to McDonald’s every day, and the only way our lives will be validated is if we are thin (as opposed to simply healthy at any size.)


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