The High Price of Fat Fear

Design by Kris Owen

Design by Kris Owen

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.”

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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.

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Published in: on December 6, 2012 at 12:39 pm  Comments (9)  

9 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I don’t often get to comment a lot here, because I’m so busy, but I always make time to read your posts in my email inbox every day. This struck a massive chord with me, because of my partner.

    I myself am a UK size 16, but I eat normal healthy portions of all the food I need, exercise regularly, and have been doing Karate for nine years. I’m happy in my own skin, despite it being a long journey to accept myself at this size. Your blog posts help a lot, because they bolster what my brain already knows–that I want to be healthy and happy; size is irrelevant.

    I just wish I could convince my partner. I love him to pieces, and he does carry extra weight. But he also plays sports in the summer, and eats the same as I do. But because of people at his work making comment on his weight, and ludicrous adverts of men with sixteen abs, he feels self-concious about it. I try to encourage not to worry about that, and just to exercise and whatnot. I love him no matter, whether he was thin, fat, or somewhere in between. He keeps saying he wants to ‘lose weight so I like him’. It’s a un-logical argument that I dismiss every time, and point out exactly what I’ve said above. It’s slow progress, but I think he’s starting to believe me when I tell him it doesn’t matter what he looks like. :)

    So I’m especially angry when the media likes to push this ‘fear’ issue. His father died when he was young from a heart attack, and his father was overweight, so he puts two and two together and makes five. The media and diet companies makes him worry more, because he feels that if he doesn’t lose weight, he might die. I can’t think of anything more sickening to tell people about something that is personal and nothing to do with health!!!

    Basically, I’ll be showing him your brilliant blog post today, Ragen, and I hope he reads it and realises that I’m not the only one telling him this. You’re a wonderful lady, and I’m so glad you are able to share this message with so many people. :)

  2. I am being denied health care due to my weight. Last year I had bariatric surgery, on the advice of my doctor, and have since lost close to 85lbs. About a year ago, I woke up with horrendous back pain, and it took me over 6 months to find out that I had herniated discs in my lower back. Every single doctor that I have seen in the past year for this have ALL told me that it is directly related to my weight and I need to lose approximately 130lbs before I can get any kind of treatment or relief. An ER doctor told me yesterday that “people over 150lbs don’t have back pain that is not related to their weight.” Not the fact that I was an EMT for 7 years. I am in debilitating pain every day with no relief in sight.

    • I have a friend who is an auto mechanic, and one of his coworkers had a car fall on him and he was essentially folded in half the wrong way–that is, the back of his head toward his feet. Obviously, he ended up with severe back problems. When he tried to apply for something–I think it was either worker’s comp or disability (it has to be worker’s comp, because people aren’t denied SSD because of weight, are they?)–he was denied because they said the back problems were due to his weight. It’s pretty ridiculous.

      I’m so sorry that you’re suffering and I hope you find someone soon who can help you!

  3. This is spot on, as usual, Ragen. And that 5 lb weight loss that WW considers “success”? My weight can fluctuate that much from day to day, and has done so whether I weighed 175 lbs or 375 lbs. Oh, and those markers that doctors consider when they look at my health have been the same (in the “normal” range) at every weight I’ve ever been in the last 40 years (and I’m 59 now). So obviously, I’ve either been doing something right, or I just have lucky genes (I’m betting on the lucky genes).

    • I get that too. My weight runs on a ten pound average but I’m scolded when it’s on an up day and celebrated when it’s on a down day. Plus the hassle with good health markers. I’m so sick of nurses taking my blood pressure multiple times and asking to rerun tests because they can’t believe someone of my weight would have healthy markers. It’s like they can’t believe evidence when it runs counter to their assumptions even if it means giving poor treatment to their patient.

  4. I bought into that fear for a while, so much so that I ended up in the ER thinking I was having a heart attack, once (cuz despite the fact that I was 23 and felt healthy, I was fat, and fat people die from heart attacks all the time because medicine says so). It turned out to be a panic attack and sore chest muscles from working out. I’ve had numerous panic attacks since then, all centered on the ingrained belief that fat = unhealthy. DESPITE knowing that it’s not true. What a mental sickness this industry has unleashed on the world, that healthy people are afraid of dying just because of the way they look.

  5. Gah this type of thing is always so frustrating to me. Every person I’ve talked to that opposes size acceptance and not judging based on looks claims that “everyone knows” all these things and yet when I ask for even a single study or article with proof on what they claim “everybody knows” they can’t give me a single one. They always claim well there must be some or just look on Google scholar or that some website can’t possibly have misinformed assumptions. I wish someone would do a population study on alot of these things “everybody knows” but I’m betting they don’t because the conclusions will prove the opposite of what “everybody knows.”

  6. You are right on target, as usual. Plus “I could lose 5 lbs by exfoliating”–hysterical!

  7. I used to be so upset about all this, I hated my body and wanted to hide it. Not I love it and flaunt my assets. My boyfriend really helped me gain my confidence. With all this negative input from the world around us, we need someone to whisper in your ear, “you’re beautiful no matter what anyone else thinks.” Thanks for all the help with this blog!


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