People have moo’d at me and called me a cow, and that’s annoying, but not as annoying as the number of people, businesses, and industries who call my fat friends I cash cows. That cash may not be coming to us since statistically we get paid less than our thin peers and are less likely to be hired. Ironically that’s part of a mass hysteria and prejudice that is perpetuated by a group of people and industries who make Billions of dollars off our backs. Now, people who I respect believe that the people behind the diet industry and Big Pharma have the best of intentions and truly believe that what they are doing is best for people’s health. I have a hard time believing that. Here are some reasons why:
Despite the fact that the American Diabetes Association tells us that most overweight people will never get diabetes, the concepts of obesity and diabetes have been so conflated that the term “diabesity” has come into vogue. Except it’s not by crazy random happenstance – the term “diabesity” was trademarked by a group called Shape Up America. According to their website, they are supposed to be “high profile national initiative to promote healthy weight and increased physical activity in America”. So why do you think for-profit diet companies like Weight Watchers International, Jenny Craig and Slim*Fast, not to mention pharmaceutical companies including Wyeth Ayerst, Ortho-McNeil, and Novartis, have donated millions of dollars to this initiative? An initiative which, if they thought it would actually work, would put them out of business? Do you think it’s possible that they know that the fat panic created by Shape Up will drive them customers who will have a 95% chance of failing and then becoming their customers again?
Speaking of diet companies, it wasn’t their idea to put disclaimers up every time they say that their product works. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and other weight loss companies have been successfully sued for deceptive trade practices by the Federal Trade Commission, and their disingenuous practices have lead the FTC to create regulations specifically for their advertising. So they didn’t change their very profitable behavior of selling a product that they know has limited success, they just disclaimed it.
Weight Watchers in particular has been caught doing some really shady research. Counting people as successes twice when they lost weight, gained it back, then lost it again, making it seem like people who succeed on their first diet to lose the 10 pounds they gained after a break-up prove that people on their 20th diet can lose over 100 pounds, counting people as “successes” for statistical purposes as soon as they lose 5% of their body weight, even if that leaves those people in the same BMI category in which they started (and therefore, based on their own literature, at the same health risks as when they started.)
The Strong4Life campaign put up billboards, bus shelter signs and commercials showing healthy confident fat kids acting like unhealthy unhappy fat kids who don’t have clothes that fit them, with slogans like “Being fat takes the fun out of being a kid”. They claimed that it was necessary to shame, stigmatize and humiliate fat kids in order to make them healthier. The program is the brainchild of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. They are a not-for-profit organization and in addition to taking donations from Waffle House, IHOP, and Dairy Queen while denouncing the food that they serve, they also took over $145,000 in donations from Coca-Cola and Pepsi. I notice that on the Strong4Life campaign’s Quick Start tips page, they caution against drinking juice, but say nothing about soda. Is it because the juice companies could not come up with $145,000? They are also running a weight loss clinic for kids including performing partial stomach amputations for weight loss in children despite the fact that the practice is considered highly questionable.
If these are their best intentions I’d hate to see their worst. Here are some of the many companies, industries, and people that benefit financially from the conflation of weight and health, the stereotype of thinness as beauty that lead to stigma and shame being heaped on fat people in our society, and from making sure that we focus on weight and not health:
- The diet industry – Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, MediFast,Slim*Fast, Jess Weiner etc.
- Pharmaceutical Companies that manufacture weight loss drugs
- The Biggest Loser Franchise (advertising for the show, DVDs, supplements, soundtracks, t-shirts, and more)
- Women’s magazines who depend on a staggering number of weight loss articles to sell issues
- Weight loss surgery centers, weight loss surgeons
- Companies, like Allergan, that sell weight loss surgery implements
- Doctors who specialize in weight loss
- Researchers who specialize in researching weight loss (to the exclusion of other health practices)
- Publishing companies who publish books about weight loss
- Authors of weight loss books
- And more…
One of my favorite things about the Support All Kids billboard campaign is that it gets money flowing in the other direction. It makes me happy to buy books about Health at Every Size and take workshops about Health at Every Size because it sends my money in the other direction. It makes me happy when I or one of my colleagues is paid as a speaker by universities and by those who attend our workshops. I am happy whenever I see that someone has created a product to help people live a HAES life because it allows people to get good information, and send their money in the other direction. I can’t stop everyone from calling me a cow, but by voting with my wallet I can stop being a cash cow for industries that perpetuate hysteria about, and shame and stigmatization of, my friends and me all the while claiming that it’s “for our own good”.
I did a piece for iVillage about Stacy Irvine, the girl whose collapse from anemia and breathing problems led to the discovery that her diet consisted almost entirely of chicken nuggets. Every article mentioned that she was at a healthy weight, although you would think that the situation would help them see that there is no such thing as a healthy weight. Anyway, you can find the article here, it is unapologetically HAES without the usual “of course, obesity is still bad blah blah blah” paragraph and so publishing it was a kind of a bold move for iVillage - so if you feel like reading and commenting then go for it!
Georgia Billboard Update
Speaking of that Georgia Billboard Campaign, we are only 98 donors away from hitting the 1,000 that we need to unlock our $5,000 More of Me To Love matching grant. At that point we’ll close donations and begin implementation. If you haven’t donated there is still time to stand up for bullied kids and be part of this. If you have donated then consider asking a friend to donate. You can link to http://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2012/02/02/enough-is-enough-the-big-fat-money-bomb/ to give them all the details and the donation links, or send them directly to the solidarity dollar site at http://tinyurl.com/solidaritydollar. It would be awesome to get this done today!
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