Dude, We all Know I’m Fat

I saw a promotional spot for a new series called “The Weight of the Nation”.  Oh, this cannot be good…

As obesity continues to diminish the quality of people’s lives and raise health care costs, the Institute of Medicine is pleased to join HBO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, and Kaiser Permanente in developing “The Weight of the Nation,” a new national campaign tackling the obesity crisis.

I am Type 3 Super Obese – I’m as fat as you can get on the (deeply flawed) BMI scale.  I am obese, it is not a crisis, please don’t tackle me.  My actual body size has not affected my quality of life at all. The only thing affecting my quality of life is the shame and stigma that I deal with from everyone from strangers on the internet to doctors, which is perpetuated when well respected institutions claim that my body is a crisis requiring tackling. Let’s be clear that if fat people’s “issues with our body size” are actually issues caused by social stigma, then the cure lies in ending social stigma, not ending fat people. And, based on all the science we have now,  ending stigma has the added benefit of actually being possible and quick – just stop doing it.  Let’s not forget that there are some very serious questions about how much obesity is affecting healthcare costs. Regardless, I just wanted to say very clearly that the PR firm that wrote this does not speak for my experience as an obese person, and has no right to try to replace my experiences with versions that will be more profitable for them.

The press release also stated:

Past studies by IOM and others have shown that obesity is not simply a failure of personal responsibility and combating it demands action at all levels — from the individual and the family, to communities, to the nation as a whole. IOM is also working with the collaborating organizations to develop action kits that will provide tools to help community-based groups take steps to prevent obesity.

I fear that this one is a little from column A and a lot from column shit.  Yay to “obesity is not simply a failure of personal responsibility”, except that the rest of it makes it sound to me like they think it’s a failure of family, community and National responsibility, rather than simply a body size which is separate from people’s health.  Maybe they’ll surprise me and all of these community actions will not be about shaming and stigmatizing fat people, and will be about focusing on healthy habits for yourself, and minding your own damn business. I certainly hope so.

Especially since they don’t have any answers.  Not even one scientific study of intentional weight loss has shown that longterm significant weight loss is possible.  This is just a bunch of people saying “You just [fill in the blank with a weight loss cliche: eat less and exercise more, send your kid outside to play, count your points, give up carbs etc.]”  Pro tip – anytime someone is talking about health and weight and they start a sentence with “You just…” it’s better than even money that they are about to say something that is wholly unsupported by the science.  Because health and weight are two separate things, both vastly complicated, and neither has answers simple enough to start with “You just…”

I am concerned about the trend I see of suggesting that the problem with obesity is that we just aren’t making fat people aware enough that they are fat. I saw an article the other day concerned that Doctors aren’t talking to their fat patients enough about their weight.  This is not mirrored in the testimonials of real live fat people I know who go to the doctor (including me – who had a doctor suggest that weight loss was a good treatment for strep throat).  Based on what I’m hearing from the actual community of fat people (and not those who make a profit on us) doctors can’t seem to STOP talking about our weight, even when it has nothing to do with the issue.

We already discussed how I felt about the article that suggested you confront a loved one about their weight over the holidays.

The folks over at Children’s Hospital of Atlanta – you remember them, they brought us the 100% logic-free message that their billboards don’t stigmatize or humiliate fat kids because the pictures of fat kids with stigmatizing, humiliating messages across them are targeted at parents.  They claim that they have to shame and humiliate fat kids because 75% of Georgia parents are unaware that their kids are fat.  I find that hard to believe, especially since they have refused many, many requests to give a source for that number.

So many messages about how we fatties need tough love, and someone has to tell us we’re fat.

Dude, we all know I’m fat.  What we disagree about is whether or not it’s any of their damn business,  and the fact that I think it’s just a descriptor – like I’m short and fat with curly hair – and they think it’s a reason to make my life endlessly miserable until I overcome all the scientific evidence and look like they want me to look, at which point I can engage in whatever unhealthy behaviors I want without comment unless I get fat again.  Since I’m, you know, me, I feel confident that I have final say on this due to that whole life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness thing.

It’s certainly possible that some of these “shame the fatties for their own good” proponents are so insulated by their thin privilege that they honestly don’t know what it’s like to be fat, and they think that fat people walk around getting the same treatment they do.  A problem that could be solved by having actual, real live fat people at the table for these discussions – talking with us instead of about us.

But I think that there is another contingent.  A group who, when they say: “We have to tell fat people they are fat,” are really saying “We have to shut these people up”.  The  strides that have been, and continue to be, made by my heroes – people like Marilyn Wann, Linda Bacon, Deb Burgard, Jon Robinson, Paul Campos and many others – combined with the massive amount of science that supports a health-based, rather than a weight-based health paradigm, and a community that is starting to find the strength to stand up and demand respect, is threatening the profits of a 60 billion dollar diet industry and a pharma and medical establishment that looks at fat people and sees dollar signs.

So when those industries say “We need to make sure that fat people know they’re fat, and get their families and communities involved in policing them” what I hear is “We need to keep these people down to keep our profits up”.

There is a beautiful quote by Ghandi:  First the ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.  I think that the diet, pharmaceutical and health companies may be moving out of the laughing at us phase. Just remember that as long as we keep fighting we are getting closer to winning.

Fat people do not have to buy into the very flawed idea that we are a crisis, or an epidemic that requires intervention, no matter how profitable or self-satisfactory it might be for others to claim that we are.

Big News

I’m a podcast! (Well, it’s big news for me because I had to master a couple types of technology to get it done.)  You can go to iTunes Store and search danceswithfat (all one word) or you can go to my podbean blogcast directly.  It’s completely free, I’ll record most of the blogs and put them up on a few day lag.  There’s already a back  log there.  Of course I still hope that you will come to the blog online to comment and interact, I just thought that this would be a neat addition for people who enjoy podcasts and/or might want to hear what these blogs sound like when I’m ranting them out loud.  By the way, I started with the intention that every one would be perfectly read, but I find that my perfectionist streak fades around take 6, so the experience is sometimes more authentic than perfect.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on January 20, 2012 at 8:54 am  Comments (25)  

25 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. You can’t build up from unstable ground – the (flawed) premise that everyone keeps operating from is that fat is a problem that needs to be solved. It is not recognized as a normal, acceptable character trait which is really all that it is. People are fat like they are tall, short, blonde, brunette, old, young, light or dark skinned etc. etc. etc. Of course no one could ever sell anyone anything if they didn’t undermine their identity first. “You’re short? Oh I have a pair of high heels that will look fabulous on you…You have *anycolor* hair? Oh that’s not the ‘in’ thing darling lets get you some dye…You’re *how* old? Oh my let me get you some cream for your face and you’ll want to contact Dr. Butcher for a discussion about your surgical options…I know, of *course* you’ll want to look your best so lets start with this skin tanner/skin bleacher/hair straightner/hair curler…”
    Fat is just another way people happen to look (wait ah ah nope we’re not going there – don’t you dare say one *word* about health until you’ve read all Ragen’s other blog posts).

    Seeing as it is a visual identifier and all of us either have eyes or at the very least the ability to physically interact with our bodies, being fat comes as a surprise to absolutely freaking no one!

    Society labels us as fat before we do – they slap that judgemental label on us so they can scare us into doing what they want us to do. Super models are told they are fat just as much (maybe more!) as clinically obese people are. If a size zero supermodel can be called ‘fat’ than the word ‘fat’ has. no. meaning. Except, of course, being used as a slur to stigmatize and oppress a particular group of people…

    • I’ve been reading dances with fat for about a year now and I do agree with Ragen about the shame and stigma directed to anyone who is heavy set. It is deplorable and just plain stupid to be treated like we have the plague. I’d like to be able to get down to 200 from my 265 pounds so that I look better in my clothes but I am not fooled into believing that my health is at great risk as they want you to believe. I generally eat healthy and I have a low risk life style meaning no great sins such as smoking, drinking, etc. I stay at home and I don’t even drive a car anymore. I keep angry emotions in check in spite of the emotional hurt inflicted upon me about my weight. Thank you for letting me comment. Karen

  2. My being fat is a ‘failure of personal responsibility’? How dare they write such things? If that isn’t incitement to hatred, then I don’t know what is.

    • Calm down. Read the quote again. They’re saying that it’s NOT a failure of personal responsibility — which I have to say, is progress given that our society as a whole thinks that we’re just being lazy gluttons with no self-discipline.

      • What they actually say is that it’s not “simply” a failure of personal responsibility. The “simply” to me implies that they are still implicating it.

      • I think the “not simply a failure of personal responsibility” is essentially them saying it’s not JUST a failure of personal responsibility. It is a failure of personal responsibility AND social, governmental, environmental, etc. factors. Which means they’re still saying it’s our fault.

        The cognitive disconnect between the “epidemic” thinking and the news that we’re not actually getting fatter, and haven’t been for a decade or more, still makes my brain hurt.

  3. Just for fun, let’s imagine what those “action steps” might be, that really would lead to a healthier population. How about working to create more walkable communities, where there are safe, accessible places for people of all sizes to move their bodies in ways they enjoy? How about working to prevent inner-city “food deserts” where people can’t get access to fresh, delicious food because there are no grocery stores in their neighborhoods? How about teaching kids to listen to their bodies’ wisdom about what, when and how much to eat? How about designing school PE programs so that every kid has the opportunity to try out lots of different kinds of movement and then do the ones that are fun for them? How about making sure that the social norm in those classes is acceptance of bodies of all sizes, and that teasing and shaming the fat kids never EVER is modeled by the instructor? How about making images of happy, physically active fat people more common in media, advertising, etc? There really could be things that IOM, CDC, NIH, etc. could do that would promote health at every size — let’s all encourage them to do those things. We already know we’re fat — that part can be checked off the list.

    • This is what steams me up about the whole ‘personal responsibility’ thing. You want responsibility? How about insisting that food manufacturers label foods accurately, so that if it says ‘banana baby food’ on the label, it has to actually BE bananas and not chemical banana flavouring slapped on some unpalatable substrate.

      How about insisting that people have a right to a healthy working environment, where they can sit down to a meal at lunch and eating at your desk, or not eating at all, is the exception rather than the rule? How about a working environment where movement, rather than being chained to a desk, is actually possible? How about we get rid of working environments like currently exist in call centres where people are monitored to make sure they’re not taking unauthorised toilet breaks? Where if they move their bodies they’re penalised for it?

      How about a working environment where people are told to go home at the first sign of illness, so they don’t endanger other people, rather than forced to carry on when they’re sub-par?

      How about insisting that people are paid a living wage, so they don’t have to endanger their health and ignore their nutritional, sleep and wellbeing needs because they’re so busy scrambling from one crappy job to another?

      How about bringing back cooking classes into schools, rather than sticking cameras above cafeteria food lines and shaming children for choosing the foods that were put in front of them to choose from?

      How about making public transport not just safe and timely, but also somewhat pleasant, to encourage people to use it rather than cars?

      When all of the above are taken as a given, then I’ll listen to public health messages telling me about my personal responsibility.

      • Tell it, sister!

      • Oh do not get me started on public transportation. Having been in South Korea, I think there’s a lot the US can do to improve in this area but it’s not worth it to the higher ups because cars are where the money is at, not public transportation. The government needs to put its money where its mouth is because when it comes to walking the walk, they don’t. They want to tackle obesity, they need to start by ending the various subsidies they have. They should subsidize fruits and veggies so that it’s not ridiculously more expensive to buy an apple than it does to buy a cheeseburger at Mc Donald’s (and sometimes, it IS!). But no, the people who declared ketchup as a vegetable really do not know all that much more about nutrition than they expect the rest of us to. Just totally boggles my mind.

      • Yes! All of this!

  4. “Past studies by IOM and others have shown that obesity is not simply a failure of personal responsibility”

    Personal responsibility? So now we have a responsibility to be thin? Really??

    “including me – who had a doctor suggest that weight loss was a good treatment for strep throat”

    And here I thought that antibiotics were the standard treatment for strep! At least that’s what I got from the doctor a couple of years ago when I got scarlet fever (don’t ask!). Maybe antibiotics only work on thin people…? Yeah, IDEK.

    “It’s certainly possible that some of these “shame the fatties for their own good” proponents are so insulated by their thin privilege that they honestly don’t know what it’s like to be fat, and they think that fat people walk around getting the same treatment they do.”

    I was never into “shaming fatties” (or anyone, really), but I do have to admit that until I began reading this blog, I had no idea that fat people *don’t* generally get the same treatment as the rest of us. Doctors prescribing weight loss for strep? Yeah, that’s definitely one that never even occurred to me!

    This blog is a real eye-opener, and I’m glad I stumbled up on it. It gives me a new perspective and has made me rethink a lot of things.

    So, thanks! :D

  5. {the experience is sometimes more authentic than perfect.}
    Ragen, I just love that turn of phrase. The fat life (or any life) may not be perfect, but it is authentic, and authentically ours to live.

  6. I just looked up this article about Halle Berry because I’d never heard about her diabetes prior to this blog. I had to laugh. They talked about how she was on set for a show and didn’t take care of herself and wasn’t eating right and she says “she couldn’t even pop out for a chocolate bar” which sort of says to me she wasn’t eating well when she DID eat, and later they said her treatment included a ‘drastic change in her diet to low fat, low carb, low sugar’ again implying she wasn’t already eating this way, yet at one point int he article they are talking about how people develop the disease and say, sedentary, overweight, poor diet, or genetic, then go on to explain her family background and say it was most likely genetic when Halle herself earlier in the article says nobody in her family ever had it! I had to just sit there and laugh at the lack of continuity of thought within their own story. NO family history provided, and just because she was thin, they just assumed that it couldn’t have anything to do with anything else. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-371528/Halle-Berry-My-battle-diabetes.html

    Type 2 Diabetes is not a fat person’s disease, just like any other disease. I was in a restaurant the other day eating with my family and a news show was playing on the wall. It was muted with closed captioning, and I suddenly realized it was talking about some weight loss hormone supplement to help you lose weight and this guy talking was spouting things like fat causes cancer, etc, etc and “we have to do something about this obesity crisis and I think this hormone is it” and I just wanted to throw my shoe at the TV and call him an idiot. I may have started freaking out a little before this blog, wondering how right he might be, wondering how safe the hormone is and if I could get a script for it, but not anymore. There was a time when doctors prescribed SMOKING to patients before anyone knew any better, as well as cocaine, opium, and lots of other things that had horrible/dangerous side effects. We think we’re so much smarter now but not much has changed…we just accept the side effects now as part of the package and let big pharma pull the wool over our eyes while laughing all the way to the bank. I don’t even want to know what kind of bad things we’ll someday learn is coming from these weight loss miracles.

    • There’s a book called _Diabetes Rising_ by a medical journalist. Apparently, both type 1 and type 2 diabetes have been increasing for the past century, and no one knows why. He lists about half a dozen theories about what’s going on, and none of them cover the evidence.

      I suspect that the current focus on type 2 as a moral issue has made is less likely that research that will find the real cause is going to happen.

      • I’d be forced to wonder, and at least check into, the idea that the rate isn’t rising precisely, but that it’s a combination of greater population size, changing diagnostic criteria, and more use of doctors. And who knows what all other things that may be causing people who would NOT have been diagnosed 20-30-40 years ago to be diagnosed now.

        But that doesn’t sell as many “interventions” as a panic about a moral failing. They don’t WANT to find a cause, because that would dry up their cash flow.

  7. If we invested as much effort into tackling the Idiocy Crisis in this country, as we do tacking the supposed “Obesity Crisis,” I suspect things would be a whole heck of a lot better in so many ways.

  8. “they think it’s a reason to make my life endlessly miserable until I overcome all the scientific evidence and look like they want me to look, at which point I can engage in whatever unhealthy behaviors I want without comment unless I get fat again.”

    This. Fourteen thousand times this. I need to add this to my sheet of inspiration that I take with me to any doctor’s visit in case things turn ugly.

  9. This seems like a fine opportunity to reference the immortal Kate Harding and her article “On problems to be solved” (http://kateharding.net/2008/07/08/on-problems-to-be-solved/, on the off chance that some folks new to the movement haven’t read it. She says it so well, that it deserves repeating anyway:

    Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

    But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan. It fucking infuriates me that with all of the many, many excellent reasons to do all the things I’ve just suggested, the only potential outcome that can muster the political will to enact any of it is weight loss. Fuck having a cleaner, safer, more fun environment that might lend itself to people generally feeling more energetic and vibrant (which might also lead to more productivity, for all the hardcore capitalists out there) — unless we can get rid of the fatties, it’s wasted money.

    Lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables is a problem to be solved. A polluted environment is a problem to be solved. Corporations weaseling their way into schools are a problem to be solved. Unsafe cities are a problem to be solved. Car-dependency is a problem to be solved. The need for many people to work every waking hour just to get by is a problem to be solved. The widespread belief that exercise is primarily a punishment for fatness or a talisman against it, not something enjoyable that generally makes people feel better, is a problem to be solved.

    Human bodies are not a fucking problem to be solved.

    Sing it, Kate!

  10. I read an article recently that says psychologists are studying the psyche of fat people, both unhappy and happy fat people, from what I can tell it’s to basically figure out if they are insane. Have you heard about this?

  11. Incredible post Ragen. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. The only weight problem I have is the problem that others have about my weight! Warmly, Dr. Deah, leftoverstogo.com

  12. At my last eye exam, my optometrist actually gave me a mini-lecture about dieting, under the guise that diabetes and high blood pressure can both have negative impacts on my already-poor eyesight. I just nodded and smiled as I reminded myself that diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and poor eyesight all run in my family. At the time, I bit my tongue rather than asking her exactly how many nutrition and weight management classes she had to take in her coursework to become an EYE doctor. pfft. ;p

    • I was being plagued by headaches for about a year. I had no history of headaches and went to a doctor who told me that my headaches weren’t migraines and asked if I had ever considered gastric bypass surgery. I found that taking 3 325mg of aspirin at the beginning of one of my dreadful head rapings took care of the problem and I didn’t have to shed a single lb. :)

      In Sept I was diagnosed with Hypothyroidism and put on meds and no more headaches…no more heart racing and lone atrial fib attacks, no more jumping up in my sleep gasping for air. All these things I was told was because I was fat so glad I have suffered with this for 10 F@#$@ing years.

      • One of the symptoms of hypothyroidism is weight gain. That doctor looked at your symptoms and focused on one of them as the cause of the others without looking at what they collectively pointed at. If you had tried to follow his advice, given the condition you have since been diagnosed with, you would have probably been unsuccessful and then both you and your doctor would be focusing on trying to fix a symptom rather than the root cause.

        These are reasons people distrust medical professionals who diagnose “fat” like it’s a disease on its own. *headdesk*

      • My brother’s fiancee left a doctor in tears because he absolutely refused to treat her headaches. She had had a procedure done that took care of her migraines for years and she wanted it done again but few doctors can do it. Her migraines are so bad she is unable to work and is trying to get on disability. The doctor told her that it was all hormonal and that she would just have to learn to live with them. My brother was LIVID. He called and informed the receptionist that they would NOT be paying for that appointment. Don’t get doctors sometimes, really don’t.


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