As a culture we are inundated with messages about health and weight that are based on fear. It seems that the weight loss industry discovered that “you know you want to look your best” (where “best” means “as close as possible to the current stereotypical photoshop beauty ideal”) was a much less powerful message that “NOBODY WILL EVER LOVE YOU!” Then they found that an even more effective message was “YOU’RE GONNA DIE FROM FAT.” ..so buy our products.
Then the media found that “Fat People Will End the World” made a much better story than “Habits are a Much Better Determinant of Health than Body Size.”
Healthcare professionals bought in and, often at the urging of the government, started trying to terrify their fat patients into losing weight.
There are obvious problems with this – the first being that it’s not based on evidence. First of all there is no evidence that those who lose weight long term are any more healthy than they would have been if they were fat and practicing basic healthy habits. The entire “lose weight to be healthy” idea is based upon an untested hypothesis. So few people have achieved significant long term weight loss that there simply aren’t enough to commission a statistically significant study.
Which leads us to the second problem – those who purport weight loss as a health intervention cannot produce a statistically significant study wherein more than a tiny fraction of participants lost weight long term, and many of those lost such a tiny amount of weight. Weight Watchers claims success because their average study participant maintained a 5 pound loss over 2 years. For most fat people 5 pounds wouldn’t make a dent in their BMI category – I know that I could lose 5 pounds over 2 years by exfoliating regularly but it would not likely lead to greater health.
But there are more problems created by the combination of fear of fat, and misleading people about the likelihood of becoming thin:
When you make people terrified of being fat then it becomes easier for them to believe that thin by any means necessary must be better than being fat. That works in the diet company’s favor when they suggest that while everyone else is being told to eat whole foods, farm to table with the least processing possible, fat people should pay to drink thin chocolate beverages with a laxative effect, reconstituted soy protein shakes five times a day from doctors who join multi-level marketing diet schemes., highly processed food that comes in a plastic bag for microwaving, or get our stomachs amputated. The only way that people pay for that is because they are terrified and mislead – logic could not take us on this ride.
It also causes problems within families. Fat people are pressured to make more and more weight loss attempts by partners who are terrified of losing their loved ones. Fat parents are accused of being bad parents who aren’t going to be around for their kids. Parents of fat kids are labeled as abusers and have their kids taken away.
Other people are encouraged to look at fat people and make ridiculous assumptions and comments. We walked into a theater a couple weeks ago and a stranger asked my fat girlfriend if she had diabetes and suggested a restrictive liquid diet. What the hell?
Those who aren’t fat are also affected by the fear of being fat, which can lead to everything from horrible self-esteem to disordered eating. Women body-shame each other in a desperate attempt to feel better about themselves. People spend massive amounts of their time, money, and energy trying to claw their way an inch closer to the cultural stereotype of beauty and away from the dreaded OMGDeathFat.
And all for nothing. Nothing. And to add insult to massive societal injury, the evidence we do have shows that if people are interested in being healthier (and they are under no obligation) the best path is simply to practice healthy habits and let their weight settle where it will.
We can opt out. We can say no. We can refuse to be terrorized into hating and fearing the bodies we live in every day. We can, as my friend CJ says, refuse to give away our self-esteem to companies who cheapen it and sell it back to us at a profit. And often we can do it with 4 little words “Show me the evidence.”
Holiday Sale – January or Bust!
I do Size Acceptance activism full time, and at this time of year I get the most requests for help and support, and the least paid talks, book signings, business consulting etc. So I’m having a January or Bust Sale. You’ll get 20% off whatever you buy plus an upgrade from media mail to priority shipping in the US. Support my work, get cool stuff, win-win.
Become a Member (not on sale, but still pretty cool!)
I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month Members are the first to know about new projects, get to see things before they are released, get “Member Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private. Join Now!