The Folly of Fearing Fat

Reality and PerceptionAs 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 “Other People’s Bodies Aren’t Our Business” or “Habits are a Much Better Determinant of Future Health than Body Size.”

Healthcare professionals bought in and, often at the urging of the government, started trying to terrify their fat patients into attempting to lose weight.  Then sad, pathetic people with too much time on their hands started to become obsessed with blaming fat people for everything and/or trying to make sure that we don’t get a moment’s peace with tactics ranging from rants in every comment section on the internet to sending hatemail to those of us who refuse to live the way they think we should.

There are obvious problems with this – the first being that it’s not based on evidence.  First 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 study wherein more than a tiny fraction of participants lost weight long term, and even the “successes” lost a tiny amount of weight. Weight Watchers claims success because their average study participant maintained a 5 pound loss over 2 years.

But there are more problems created by the combination of fear of fat, and misleading people about the likelihood and benefits 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 etc., 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., eat food that is delivered to us frozen in a plastic bag for microwaving, or get our stomachs amputated, and other questionable practices.

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.

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 let’s remember that health is not an obligation,  barometer of worthiness, entirely within our contorl, or guaranteed under any circumstance) 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, whether it’s by the companies who, as my friend CJ says, try to take our self-esteem, cheapen it and sell it back to us at a profit.  We can refuse to bow to the pressure from those who have bought into the lies that form the profit base for those companies whether they are well-intentioned family and friends or horribly misguided internet trolls.

We can make sure that public health is about making options and information accessible to the public, not about making individual’s bodies the public’s business.

We can insist on our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – which are not size, or health, or healthy habit dependent – and which should include living without constant stigma, shame, and oppression, or fear of being or becoming fat.

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Published in: on July 31, 2014 at 1:57 pm  Comments (21)  

21 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Some days I get so demoralized by all the fat phobias out there. Thanks again for everything you do, Ragen.

  2. This post reminds me a lot of days past (thankfully past) when I was so desperate to be thin and lose weight, by any means necessary. I knew what I was doing (mainly- starving myself) was not healthy and was dangerous. I didn’t care. My goal wasn’t health, it was thin. Because at the time, being thin and thus seen as more attractive, and not subjected to negative comments about my weight and assumptions about my health, felt preferable even if it meant actually being less healthy or dying younger.

    Which is all to say that making “obesity” out to be the WORST THING EVER, the message that nothing else is as unhealthy as obesity, and that weight loss is always preferable, does not actually encourage health at all. Which feels sort of like a “duh” but somehow a lot of people still don’t see that.

    • “I knew what I was doing (mainly- starving myself) was not healthy and was dangerous. I didn’t care. My goal wasn’t health, it was thin. Because at the time, being thin and thus seen as more attractive, and not subjected to negative comments about my weight and assumptions about my health, felt preferable even if it meant actually being less healthy or dying younger.”

      That was me, too. I knew all the lines about my health I was supposed to spout when people inquired about my obsessive calorie-counting, and I dutifully recited them, but the truth is I knew the extremes I went to to lose weight weren’t even remotely good for me. I didn’t care. I was literally born fat and my body stabilized at the proportional size it is now when I was between five and six years old, so when I went on my first restriction, I’d spent my entire life being treated *terribly* for being fat. I didn’t want to be “healthy.” I didn’t even really want to be pretty. I wanted a body society wouldn’t take as blanket permission to hurt me. Program after program I was enrolled in to “fix” my “childhood obesity” had shown me diet and exercise couldn’t give me that body, no matter what the adults around me believed or wished was true, so I began to restrict, vomit, and put myself on “exercise programs” too extreme for TBL. I did not do these things to be “healthy.” At no point was health even on my radar.

      Funnily enough, one of my earliest turning points towards fat acceptance was hearing myself say that over the phone. I was arguing with my grandmother after I’d regained about ten pounds while still on what I didn’t know at the time would be my final ever calorie-restrictive diet. She dared suggest that if I’d gained weight under those circumstances, maybe my body needed it. I went ballistic on her, screaming over the phone that I didn’t *care* what my body needed, and *society* didn’t care what my body needed; regardless of the lip service paid to health, how thin I looked on the outside was *all* that mattered and *all* that was taken into account.

      And while I’d always known that inside and never had any illusions my multiple diets were ever about anything but fitting into a superficial template, somehow when I said it out loud, it’s like… I had this moment of clarity when I could hear just how messed up and wrong-headed it was. It went away, as I was still a good year and a good ten more pounds of calorie-restricted regain away from FA, but I still remember that conversation.

      • A lot of what you wrote really hits hard to read as so much of it I could have written a few years ago. It’s interesting to see so many of us knew our desperate attempts to lose weight was never really about health, and that mostly it was all about conformity and an attempt to end the abuse society and our culture heaps on us, rather than about health.

        I too was born fat. Weighing about 10 lbs when I was born. I was a fat baby, a fat kid, a fat teen, and now a fat adult. I’ve literally been fat my entire life, and never have I known a day not being fat in my whole life. I’ve also always been very healthy. In fact, the only time I ever have been sick and got unhealthy was when I was desperate to lose weight and after no getting thin doing it the “right way” so many times I stooped to extremes in an attempt to get there. I was once 78 pounds lighter, but it took a year and a half of EXTREME things that lifetime eating disorder movies are made of – and it made me truly unhealthy for the first time in my life (aside from a few colds and the occasional flu every few years).

        My point being, this bullshit about “but health” when it comes to fat people and trying to dictate people’s body sizes and shapes is just that, it’s bullshit. It’s not about health, it’s about money. The diet industry, “beauty” industry, “health care professionals”, they all have their hands in the “fat” cookie jar. I get so tired of hearing the health argument and the fear mongering, when it’s not, and never has been, about health.

  3. On problems with families …

    So, I got married last week. We’ve lived together for years and decided it was time to marry. Very small, just a courthouse ceremony with a couple of friends as witnesses. I called my aunt to tell her. What was her reaction?

    That when people are happy they tend to put on weight (that one’s new to me!), and that therefore I need to be careful! She said twice “I want you to remember that.”

    Yes, she really said that. No “congratulations,” no “that’s wonderful,” no “tell your new husband how happy I am for both of you,” nope, none of that. Just “Watch out or you’ll get even fatter.”

    I’m trying to laugh it off — she’s getting more and more ornery in her old age — but really, WTF?

    • Wow, that’s a new one – and ewww your aunt should get together with my extended family, it sounds like they’d get along beautifully. lol It’s fun having weight obsessed family members eh? And when I say fun I mean not even remotely. heh

      I don’t get to see my extended family very often, just mainly saw them during holidays in which they said things about “do you really need to eat that”, “you’re too young to be that fat”, “you have such a pretty face, if only you’d lose weight”, every single holiday. Thankfully I moved several hundred miles away and don’t get to visit as it’s too far to travel, so I don’t have to hear that anymore from them.

    • Oh, and Elizabeth, CONGRATULATIONS on getting married! :D I hope you and your husband have a long and happy life together! :)

      • Thank you, Stacey!!

        • Oops, sorry Stacy, automatic spell check put an “e” in your name even though I typed it without …

    • This is why none of my extended family will know, if or when I get marred. I have gotten so tired of their weight obsesses bs, that I no longer speak to them.

      • Also congrats!

  4. The only time I got anywhere near my “ideal weight” (according to Jenny Craig) I was about 155, down from 207. I lived on caffeine, PB, and carrot sticks and taught full-time. Up at 6 am, hard-core teaching until 2.32, home at 3, in bed asleep at 3.30, up at 5.45, worked on papers and planning until 9.30, then back in bed (after heating up another JC meal and pretending it tasted fab). On the weekends, I slept. Seriously, that’s all I did. I slept.

    And developed heart problems. And thyroid problems. And discovered I had PCOS. When I was at my “thinnest”, I was also at my most unhealthy.

    Yeah. Thin is not the answer with this chickie poo.

    • Wow. When I was a student getting my first degree, I’d get up at 5:30am, then basically sit around until the bus came an hr later (trying to wake up), then mid afternoon, I’d have some fried rice from the Chinese place at the food court and be absolutely starving halfway through it, then extremely shaky the rest of the day, taking forever getting back to the train to get home. Yeah, having low blood sugar and not eating enough totally wasn’t healthy for me. I only wanted to be thin, get the magic # on the scale to read low 100s or even double digits.

      Never happened though!

  5. A time will come when all assumptions turn out to have been almost comically flawed.

    • I’ve heard others say this (eg. philosophers, statisticians), and I think it’s true. I think it’s worth giving this a go: when next at a doctor, one should ask if heavier bodies fall faster than smaller bodies.

      Maybe it’ll get them thinking about their presuppositions.

  6. Thank you for the encouragement. :)

  7. Wonder what Ragen and others think of this, I recently received my quarterly newsletter of a local Fibromyalgia group I’m in, that’s run by volunteers with Fibro themselves, mostly women. The last one of about 3 months ago had some awful article in it by the editor (who last Christmas at our dinner event went on about diet she was on) about all the evils of sugar, she said she had got it from the internet.

    It had a very long list of all the evils sugar could do to you and I for one didn’t appreciate being lectured to. What I then found amusing is at the end of most newsletters, including this one, was a recipe for some cake or other, with sugar in it!!

    Then the next one arrived on the doormat the other day and it said, “here is as promised from last edition, the 2nd long list of all the evils sugar can do”, this was noted by the editor’s comment, “I think we all need to watch our daily sugar content”, so there’s that thing that it’s not just for their use, they feel they know best for everyone else to, with the excuse that we all have Fibro, doesn’t wash with me. But yet again there was a recipe for some cake or biscuits that had in it, guess what-yes, the evil sugar! There was also a notice about an upcoming AGM type of meeting in October and there would be tea, coffee and CAKE provided, but what about the sugar, I don’t think they think it through?

    Anyway, as this year I’ve been reviewing many of the organisations I’m in, membership costs, meetings, social or otherwise and if I really want to be in them. Some of that is because due to disability, fatigue etc., don’t have the energy, time etc., but also it;s been my habit from years ago to keep doing things out of habit and feeling I have to, even if I’m not happy with getting lectured, meeting people I don’t like etc., so now I being more ruthless and selfish about this, so as I haven’t been going to many of the local Fibro meetings for similar reasons (they meet in a cafe that’s large and very noisy) also find that just because we all have Fibro, doesn’t mean we have much else in common.

    Marion, UK

    • Cake is good for you. :)

      • Yes, it is!

    • Ugh! Reminds me of these stupid women’s magazines that every store in the USA seems to have for sale at each cash register with the latest Fad Diet Sure Fire Weight Loss Scheme on one part of the cover and the promise of a recipe for the Bestest Most Indulgent Dessert Evah on another part of the cover.

      • Yep. I was at the store this week, and had to wait in line to unload, and I saw about 10 of those, plus Nat. Geo. Pretty pitiful selection.


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