The War on Obesity Is a War on Fat People

End this warIn response to my blog about the inconsistencies with the way obesity is treated when compared to other people who are viewed, whether correctly or erroneously, to not prioritize their health, reader Anna responded:

I have never taken the statement “war on obesity” as a war against a group of humans. So, although I get your post and where you are coming from, I believe the statement has been misconstrued.

I’ve heard this sentiment repeated many times and of course Anna is allowed to believe whatever she wants, but let’s examine the situation.

Let’s look at some ways in which the war on obesity is fought:

Now let’s examine how this plays out (aka, the casualties of the war)

  • Fat people are policed by others on their bodies, food and movement
  • Fat people are shamed, stigmatized, and bullied – the Journal of Pediatrics has identified bullying of overweight/obese children as the number one type of bullying that takes place
  • Fat people’s parenting abilities are called into question
  • Fat people experience stigma from their healthcare practitioners
  • Fat people get hired less and paid less than their thin counterparts
  • Fat people who suggest that they are human and deserve basic human respect get hatemail and deathreats
  • Studies find that “Those who are obese are reminded through their everyday encounters with family members, peers, healthcare providers, and strangers, that their being deviates from social norms.”
  • Studies show that even if fat people manage to lose weight, they are still subject to discrimination based on being previously fat

Maybe the people who started the War on Obesity thought that they could wage war against people’s fat without waging war on the fat people, but that’s just not working out.  Maybe those who started a war on obesity didn’t intend for this to happen, but intention isn’t everything and, at this point, it’s almost nothing.  Maybe people think I should be okay with them hating my current self but being willing to love the thin person they believe I could become, but I refuse to participate.

I think the belief that you can have a war on obesity without creating a war, and subsequent casualties, out of fat people is at best naive and at worst intentionally obtuse.  We cannot separate people from their bodies and any war on people’s fat becomes a war on fat people. Luckily the first step of the solution is pretty simple – end the war on obesity.  Right now. Then we have all kinds of options to make public health about providing information, access, and options without actively contributing to stigma, low self-esteem, and poor body image.

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Published in: on June 20, 2013 at 8:36 am  Comments (45)  

45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Can we please wage a war on the crappy and limted supply of food? (Gee, Michelle, I wish I had the staff and time to grow an organic White House garden.) Can we wage a war please on the lack of exercise apparel for large people? I am trying to pick things that aren’t people.

    • OH my God! I love you! I keep making these same arguments! My endocrinologist was all “You need to eat healthy organic food.” Really? That must be nice. Because I can’t afford that crap. And I’ve been accused SO many times of “not eating healthy” when I really DO eat healthy as much as I can afford to because most if not all other foods make me sick.

  2. I’d rather start a victory parade for common sense. Ragen, I’ve appointed you our Empress. Thank you so much. You’ve helped me in so many ways. Not just self esteem, but in raising my child.–Jen

  3. Hitting the nail squarely on the head, as usual, Ragen. I’m grateful for your voice of reason amid all the hysteria.

  4. I’m wondering, if the fat-bigotry ever ends, what comes next?

    • It probably will end, sort of, and there will be some other group behind it. Maybe tall people (can’t fit into planes those people) or short people (we could have storage to the sky if they would just get bigger) or the introverts (can’t they just party like the rest of us?) or the extroverts (those people meed to calm down and get serious) or the new alien race that is going to reveal themselves Dr. Who style.

      I feel so cynical saying this, but I am not entirely sure that people, all people, can actually just love themselves without finding a way to make themselves feel better by putting someone else down. I have been guilty of it (still am, though I am working on it). We should all just listen to what Mr. Rogers had to say. He was way ahead of all of us in the loving and accepting department!

      • or the new alien race that is going to reveal themselves Dr. Who style

        Does this mean I can be a Sontaran?

  5. I want to know why do they feel it’s okay eradicate any entire group of people that has existed throughout history? Do they not realize how horrible that sounds?

    • I remember being in the Metropolitan museum with another plus size friend of mine and both of us staring longingly at a statue from prehistoric humans that was basically a model of a fat woman. It was revered. We sighed… and I turned to her and said, “We were born in the wrong damn century.” She nodded, “Elizabethan sleeves were made huge because big arms were desirable. I can totally beat those bitches at their own game.”

  6. YES YES YES. If this is supposed to be an attempt to eradicate a disease, why is the outcome always punishing and humiliating people? Pay more money for health insurance, employee. No tests or treatments for you, actually sick patient; it’s “obvious” what your problem is. Hey, fat kid, you have to run laps and do situps; only the thin kids get to exercise in fun ways. Hey, poor kid, you have to be hungry all day every day because a school lunch that actually filled you up might make you F-A-T! Hey, fat parents: your kids are going into foster care because you are a disease.

    Imagine if we’d tried to eliminate polio like this.

    If being fat were actually bad, the “vaccination” against fatness, ironically enough, appears to be making sure that everybody has plenty to eat all their lives. Children who tend to put on fat seem to be born more often to parents who endured some type of food restriction. Epigenetics beats Weight Watchers every time.

    • Boo-ya and right on.

    • I read an article about this today. It was fascinating. Then it said that there’s some kind of airborne illness that can cause obesity as well as upper respiratory infections. I thought, “well hell. That sucks. Now people will avoid me because they don’t want to catch my fat.”

      • I read an article in Scientific American yrs ago that said that, that it was related to the cold virus. Another excuse to medicalize what they despise.

  7. Thanks for breaking it down, Ragen. Bullet points are helpful. For me, the actual casualties of the war should be even more emphasized. The War on Fat is killing and mutilating people as much as any war, it’s just happening more silently.

    Here’s Wikipedia’s first paragraph on Genocide:

    “Genocide is “the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, Caste, religious, or national group”,[1] though what constitutes enough of a “part” to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars.[2][3] While a precise definition varies among genocide scholars, a legal definition is found in the 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG). Article 2 of this convention defines genocide as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life, calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; [and] forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”‘

    I think we could add “body type” to the targeted groups. This is a genocide.

    • Duckie, people tend to think you’re being paranoid and Godwin-y (a misnomer, Godwin’s law says nothing about the validity of an argument comparing anything to the Nazis, only its inevitability, but anyway) if you ever mention certain former genocides in connection with this. But it never starts with actual killing; it starts with social ostracism and segregation. Genocide Watch sums up the stages pretty well here:

      http://genocidewatch.org/genocide/tenstagesofgenocide.html

      It happens gradually. You can’t work for our company. You shouldn’t get medical treatment. We don’t want to see you exercising in public, eating in restaurants, taking up space on public transport. You shouldn’t be allowed to have children. The different between these being merely not uncommon social attitudes, and them becoming actual laws, is perilously narrow, and I’d argue that it can’t happen unless the existing prejudice is there.

  8. Just a general and enthusiastic HURRAH to this brilliant post.

  9. “I have never taken the statement “war on obesity” as a war against a group of humans.”

    I cannot separate myself from my fatness or “obesity”. It’s part of my body. I am my body. A war on obesity is a war against people with fat bodies. Since people live in their bodies and they cannot remove their body from their personhood, it’s a war against fat people. I don’t see what’s so hard to understand about that. This is not a war against free-standing adipose. It’s a war against those being obese—hence having obesity. This smacks of those religious extremists with their “we’re not anti-gay people, just anti-gay” as if a person’s sexuality can be removed from their personhood. It’s another bullying, silencing, othering tactic of “hate the sin, *love* (not really—they’re goin to hell), the sinner” type bullshit.

    • Just to clarify as I left out important quotation marks. I meant to write: It’s a war against those considered “obese”–hence having “obesity”.

  10. Why can’t we wage a war against lack of intelligence? I am daily offended by people’s inability to critically think, their inability to string two intelligent sentences together and their inability to do their job in an insightful and intelligent manner. Yet, I am forced to continually suffer by living my life surrounded by these people, having them make excuses for their lack of ability to do a little studying now and then and take some pride in an ability to actually read an occasional book and forced to listen to others make excuses for them also – bosses, other co-workers who almost always lack just as much intelligence. Why must I suffer when all they have to do is do a little studying now and then?

    People are constantly complaining that they are being forced to suffer from an obese person’s bad choices. Why is it that I must suffer from an unintelligent person’s lack of intelligence when all they have to do is go home every night and study for an hour or so to improve themselves so as not to offend me so mightily?

    • Haha SO TRUE!!!

  11. Whenever I hear of people being unwilling or uninformed participants in medical experimentation, my bones go cold. Somewhat unusually for a little white goy girl, I learned about the Holocaust before I was ten–just picked it up somewhere and started reading–and, due to an interest in medicine and science, quickly zoned in on Josef Mengele’s work in the Zoo at Auschwitz-Binkenau. A few years later, I learned about Unit 731, the Japanese equivalent masterminded by Gen. Shirou Ishii. If anything, Unit 731 was more brutal and less humane than the Zoo. While Mengele and his team performed experiments like filling women’s uteri with concrete to see what happened to them, in Unit 731, Japanese soldiers raped Chinese women, impregnated them, and months later the women and their feti were vivisected.

    On the more personal side, apart from being put on medically sanctioned diets, including true starvation diets, from age eight into my mid-teens, from age 11 to age 15 or 16, I was essentially at the total control of two separate psychiatrists. The first simply abused me for profit, though he put me on multiple inappropriate medications that were known to cause dangerous or deadly side effects even at that time. How he got away with using them on a prepubescent child in an inpatient facility, I still have no idea. The second, however, forged a false diagnosis and used me for illegal and unethical medical experimentation. The drug he gave me, which has never been approved for use in anyone under 18–again, the grounds he used were shaky at best–caused years-long gaps in my memory, and left me with permanent neurological tics. He later died of Parkinson’s. Couldn’t have happened to a better guy.

    So, yes, this is war. But not the side of war people like to think of. Rather, it’s the side they prefer to forget simply because there are some brutalities are too wrong for the human psyche to comprehend.

    (PS, I might be a little biased on this matter. I’m the first to admit it.)

    • Susan, your penultimate paragraph speaks profoundly to me. People do not want to think about what is actually going on around them; it is much easier even for basically decent people to pretend to themselves that the world is a benign place.

      Your childhood experience is mind-numbingly awful, yet how many people realize this sort of stuff is happening? The power we give doctors with no oversight is staggering, yet they are hardly the crème de la crème of humankind. If anything, they strike me as stupider and crueler than ordinary people.

      • IME, the people who realize that the world can’t be fixed with love are the ones who’ve survived some form of tyranny, or who grow up under the shadow of those who did (ie, children of Holocaust survivors). In an odd sense, we’re the lucky ones. We’ve seen the darkness, and humans for what they can be.

        In my case, it eventually gave me my real calling. After 25 years of flailing due to not confronting what really happened (long, painful story there), I finally decided to go back to school to get a degree in social work. I want to work with kids and teenagers with psych issues. I’m disabled, so I can’t get a full-time job in a long-stay unit like I really want, but I can volunteer with an LGBT center and work with kids who’ve been kicked out of their homes or who’ve got a history of suicide attempts. Or I can volunteer with a homeless shelter and work with the kids there. Even ten hours a week is ten kids with something off their chests.

        All too often, it seems like this shit happens for personal gain. The fucking Nazis stripped the people they imprisoned dry, and sold everything from their possessions to their hair. Look at the genocides taking place in the Congo and the Sudan, and the dominant factions are claiming possessions, farmland, and resources like clean water left and right. With the War on Obesity, Americans aren’t exactly immune to the siren song of concentration camps–just ask George Takei–and there’s a shitload of money to be made there for the right people.

        I don’t mean to sound paranoid. If anything, I’m wary. Like I said before, doctors have profited off my body in immoral and illegal ways. With this AMA decision in place, well, let’s just say it may be time for me to start writing speculative fiction again.

        • You are not being paranoid or cynical (that’s what people call me). Did you know that in Salem people coveted the land of the people they hung as witches? To me, cynicism means the ability to do terrible things and think they’re just fine, not someone who has the emotional maturity to look at reality without flinching.

          In a sense, I was lucky. My parents did not suffer anything other than the normal terrible things families inflict on children, and I never survived something such as you went through. But my parents were extremely aware of what was going on in the world and my mother would tell me stories about racism and injustice. It is hard knowing what the (human) world is like, but I prefer knowing to pretending.

          I hope you can find something to do with kids that is meaningful for you and them. Kids so need someone to LISTEN to them!

      • That would be my endocrinologist. She’s a bitch.

  12. There seems to be something missing? The second to last paragraph ends with “I”. Did you mean to write something else there?

  13. The idea that one can have a war on obesity without making it a war on obese people reminds me a lot of the idea that one can “love the sinner but hate the sin”. I’m an ex-Pentecostal, so a lot of things regarded as a “sin” to them are impossible to separate from the sinner, so it is impossible to hate the sin without hating the sinner, too.

    But then, the War on Obesity only has a coherent context, at least to me, if I think that the people perpetrating and perpetuating it don’t think of fat as adipose tissue that does any number of amazing things more than just inert storage, but as a malevolent force that causes all kinds of harm to the person “afflicted” with it. And I have to wonder if that’s the case, considering that a lot of the diets I’ve seen and have been on have always looked and felt more like exercises in self-flagellation than anything that could reasonably be called “healthy”.

  14. The argument that it is a war on fat and not on fat people is the same bullshit argument Christians give when they discriminate against LGBT people, Love the sinner, hate the sin. When it’s who you are and it’s not something that can be changed without a great deal of suffering (now and in the long term), you have declared a war on people. Anything that would cause harm to another because “you don’t like it” is saying those people shouldn’t exist.

    • Looks like I had the exact same thought as the poster above. :)

      • We were on the same wavelength, and that’s super-awesome.

  15. Ironically enough – and I know this is only my experience but I’m willing to bet I’m not alone – not only did the war on obesity harm my health (and continues to do so) but it has also made me much, much *fatter*.

  16. So does this mean I can call in to work fat and get the day off? Hmmmm… :P

  17. I’ve talked to a lot of family members of those that are overweight and it’s such an odd mix of anger and supposedly love. I believe it’s the same for this “war on obesity”. They speak as if it’s coming from a place of love “we just want you to be healthy and live longer” yet there is a very strong sense of anger present too ,”what’s wrong with you why can’t you just do the right things and stop being lazy”.

    I believe we would see change in the world when people would stop needing those with excess weight (and everyone for that matter) as someone that needs to change anything. In other words, they act as if obesity makes them so uncomfortable that those that are obese must change to make them feel more comfortable. And of course that takes away a persons right to choose and live on their terms.

    One of my goals has been to do a talk to those that are loved ones of those that are overweight, whether it’s 5 lbs or 500 lbs and educate them on how unsupportive, judgmental and ignorant they are… from a loving place of course ;)

    • “Overweight” is problematic in that it implies that there is something wrong with the person it describes. Over what weight? It’s too bad that “fat” has become a synonym for lazy, stupid and ugly, instead of a simple descriptor like blonde or short. Nobody says that a blonde is “underpigmented” or a short person is “undertall.”

      If it didn’t carry all those nasty connotations, “fat” would be less insulting than “overweight.” “Overweight” is judgmental from the start, because it says that someone has failed to meet an approved standard.

      Why is it so hard to describe someone as fat?

      Why do people react so badly to being called fat? Because everyone knows they’re really being called uglystupidlazy. The ones who regularly post on this board would much rather be called fat than overweight. Please read through some of Ragen’s more recent archives and you’ll understand why.

      • I’m editing my own rambling for clarification!

        Michelle,

        One of Ragen’s goals is to help people to see the word “fat” as a neutral descriptor, not an insult that shall not be uttered.

        You’ll never get the judgment out of terms like “overweight” and “excess weight.”

      • I agree with you. Please note that these terms overweight or excess weight are the terms people come to me with. Part of the re-education process would need to be just that… Re-defining these words to be neutral.

        Also, personally “overweight” doesn’t feel negative to me. I mean when I was my heaviest I was comfortable saying I was overweight and not comfortable with calling myself fat. That’s just me though.

        • I think because fat has so much negative stigma related to it. I can’t unhear being told how horrible and gross I was. Overweight is considered PC but much in the way we no longer say someone is handicapped or retarded, we should find a way to describe someone that is fat, and maybe we should just take back the word.

          • Yes, but it sure won’t be easy. Fat and its many euphemisms (overweight, hefty, chubby, add your own…) are so loaded with stigma that even though I should know better, I still bristle when someone even hints that I might be OMG one of those things!!! The reaction is automatic and physical, because when people use those words to describe me, I feel like they’re telling me, “You’re ugly, lazy, and stupid. You don’t measure up (ha!) to my expectations.”

            I gotta stop doing that!

            • I agree. Since I started my business I have felt like I am going against a very strong current. A friend pointed out to me though it doesn’t have to be hard, it doesn’t have to feel as if you’re going against a current, you’re simply swimming in your own pond, and it won’t be long before others join you. When you re-define the words for yourself, others will follow. I’ve found this to be incredibly true.


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