I wonder if using the word oppressed is maybe a bit dramatic. Maybe the experience is different when you weigh more than I did, (I was 220lbs) and it’s surely different being an obese woman, but from MY experiences I’m not sure that I would ever feel right referring to myself as having been oppressed. I’m new to the whole “embracing [my] body” thing, and I’m not trying to start a fight or anything. It’d be helpful if someone could just point me to some empirical studies on specific ways in which fat people are treated differently. I’ve certainly had shaming experiences that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been overweight, but I’m just hesitant to describe them as acts of oppression. It has certainly devastated my confidence in probably irreversible ways, and that HAS held me back in some ways in my life. I guess I’m just uncomfortable viewing myself as oppressed.
And maybe this is just my ignorance showing, I don’t mean this as an attack or as an attempt to set your efforts back; I’m just trying to learn.
Thanks for asking respectfully Max! Here is where I’m coming from:
The definition of oppression is “the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel, or unjust manner; to burden with cruel or unjust impositions or restraints”.
The simplest explanation I can give is that as long as my government is waging a war against me (the War on Obesity) a war in which they are actively trying to involve everyone from employers to restaurants to healthcare and insurance companies – and as long as there are people who assert that we should all hope for a world where people who look like me don’t exist – I will assert that I am the victim of oppression. I think that society’s attempt to police my body and eradicate (at least part of) me without my permission and by any means necessary constitutes the exercise of authority or power in a burdensome, cruel and unjust manner.
But let’s go deeper here, you had asked about studies and evidence, here’s some of that:
This article discusses workplace weight discrimination (which is legal almost everywhere) -trigger warning for possible victim blaming language
Here is a more scholarly article about workplace weight bias and wage discrimination
If I worked at Whole Foods, I wouldn’t get the same benefits package as my thin co-workers. No amount of healthy behaviors or metabolic health could get me the same benefits, I have to be thin. This idea of rewarding thin employees and punishing fat employees at the workplace (aptly nicknamed “Carrot and Stick” benefits) is gaining popularity.
Studies show that 24% of nurses said that they are “repulsed” by obese persons. More than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned described obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.”
I’ve personally had doctors refuse to set my broken toe unless i agreed to go to a class about weight loss surgery, tell me that my strep throat is due to my weight (and admit the lie when confronted, but defend that no matter what was wrong with me I would feel better if I lost weight), try to lie to me about my blood pressure to scare me into weight loss (and try to justify the lie as “for my own good” when confronted). I’ve been prescribed weight loss for anemia and a dislocated shoulder.
I get so much hate mail for giving people the option of focusing on healthy habits instead of weight loss that I created a separate website for it.
We get almost 400,000 negative messages about our bodies every year.
As a fat woman people feel comfortable making comments about what I eat, mooing at me out of cars, blaming me for everything from global warming to world hunger with absolutely no proof, and being unspeakably rude.
Behaviors that are considered unhealthy for thin people are encouraged for me.
People argue that I deserve to be shamed and ridiculed because my body proves that I’m not being personally responsible.
I was put in a movie as an example of a fat healthy woman. A professional editor, being paid for his work, went against the express wishes of the filmmaker to try to make a joke out of me.
People who look like me are not allowed to have any success, except weight loss, without the ridiculous accusation that we are promoting obesity. This creates a situation where people try to make sure that I neither have role models who look like me, nor am I a role model to others.
People posit that because I am fat I am an idiot who, if not told exactly what to eat, will simply binge on Twinkies and call it healthy eating.
I am told that because I’m fat I’m not a credible witness to MY OWN experience and that other people know better than I how I behave and what I truly want
Not to mention that studies funded by people who profit from selling weight loss that make ridiculous claims about fat people, from which they profit, are published as factual news
All of this, and there is not a shred of evidence that any intervention will be successful at bringing even a simple majority of participants into a “normal” weight range, since 95% of all participants gain back their weight (and often more) within 5 years. Stated eloquently by Wayne Miller, an Exercise Specialist from George Washington University:
“There isn’t even one peer-reviewed controlled clinical study of any intentional weight-loss diet that proves that people can be successful at long-term significant weight loss. No commercial program, clinical program, or research model has been able to demonstrate significant long-term weight loss for more than a small fraction of the participants. Given the potential dangers of weight cycling and repeated failure, it is unscientific and unethical to support the continued use of dieting as an intervention for obesity.”(emphasis added)
So yeah, I believe that fat people are being oppressed. I’m not trying to say we are more or less oppressed than any other group. I don’t believe in wasting time playing the Oppression Olympics. I believe in stepping up and getting involved which is why I do what I do. I think the idea that oppression is too strong a word is one of the things that keeps us oppressed which is why I use it.
That’s what makes sense to me. I also believe that everyone has the right to their own experience and so if someone doesn’t feel like oppressed is the right word for them I would never say that they should use it.
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