Stop Pretending That It’s About My Health

Sometimes I break the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and I read the comments.  I’m always a bit taken aback by the way people who have no health knowledge tell us all about our health, and in particular by the tone of superiority that people take against fat people:

“Fat people need to be shamed.  I have always been a big believer in shame; it is the most human emotion and impetus for corrective behavior.”

“I can judge the obese and know that they have no self control.”
“I wished more people would get an epiphany about the risks of being obese and do something about it. Too many are content accept themselves for who they are.”
“I’m not a doctor but if you’re a 225, 5’2″ female and believe you’re healthy, then you’re in denial. Everybody knows that.  You just need to eat less and exercise more and you’ll lose weight and be healthy.”

Some of the most difficult comments for me read are like this one: “I’m fat and I think that we deserve to be shamed.  I know that I could eat less and exercise more but I let life get in the way.  Maybe if we were more humiliated we would be more motivated to do something about our fat, lazy asses.”

Today I was pondering how people develop such a sense of superiority that making comments like this seems like a reasonable thing to do.  And why do fat people allow it, sometimes even joining in? Then I remembered a couple of experiments that I studied in school:

In an effort to explain racism to her third grade students, Jane Elliot conducted a two day experiment.  On day one she told her students “This is a fact.  Blue eyed people are better than brown eyed people.”  Moments later a girl took longer than the others to get her book prepared. One student immediately said “She’s a brown eye” and the other blue-eyed students all chorused in agreement. The next day she changed the groups, telling the class that brown-eyed students were superior.   According to Elliot, “I watched what had been marvelous, wonderful, cooperative, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third graders in the space of fifteen minutes”

In the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor chose twenty-four students out of 75 to play the prisoners, the remainder to play guards, and live in a mock prison set up in the Stanford Psychology basement. The participants quickly adapted to their roles even beyond Zimbardo’s expectations.  Within a couple of days the “Officers” displayed authoritarian measures and eventually tortured some of the prisoners.  Many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and allowed the abuse, and, when asked by the the guards, inflicted punishment on other prisoners who tried to stop them.  The experiment was stopped after six day and remains controversial.

Imagine what would have happened if the experiments had continued for the rest of these people’s lives.  How would the brown-eyed kids be now?  How much money do you suppose people would pay to try to change their eye color?  How about the students who, after just a few days, allowed themselves to be subjected to torture just because someone told them that they are second class citizens?  Can you imagine what state they would be in after years of believing that they deserved to be treated so poorly?

I wonder if that’s how it became ok to treat fat people as if we’re a lower form of life?  It seems that at some point we started being told that fat people aren’t as good as thin people. That you can look at the size of a person and tell what they eat, how much they exercise, how much self-control they have, their physical fitness level, even how smart they are.  Of course that’s not supported by the research, but based on the experiments above, all it takes is an authority figure.  (A role filled by plenty of “scientists” and doctors on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies and the diet industry that makes $60,000,000,000 a year by telling people that they can put them in the superior group.).

Are fat people the brown-eyed students and inmates of the present day in a grand, unintentional social experiment?   Let’s all remember that  it’s not just a day, or a week of being called names and told the we’re less smart, less athletic, less healthy, than thin people -it’s a lifetime.  And it’s not an experiment.  The comments that I copied above aren’t third graders learning a lesson, they are regular people who’ve taken to heart the idea that they are better than us because they look different, and they are perpetuating that just as Ms. Elliot’s third graders did by calling us names, putting us down, and adopting an air of superiority.

And I don’t believe for a minute that most of these people care at all about my health.  I think the “it’s for your health” argument to justify this type of behavior is nothing more than a life-raft  in a sea of discrimination – something that people can hold onto that they feel justifies actions that they know, deep down, are discriminatory with no basis in fact.

Unfortunately we can’t turn the tables tomorrow like Ms. Elliot did and we can’t just end the experiment as they did at Stanford.  We can fight back.   But before we do I think that we might want to take a good hard look at our behavior and be sure that we don’t end up like the Stanford inmates – allowing ourselves to be subjected to horrible treatment and putting each other down to try to gain the acceptance of the “superior class”.  We can refuse to buy into the lie.  And when we read or hear people who are trying desperately to stay in the upper group by putting us down, we can realize that these people are behaving like confused third graders, sheeple who have allowed themselves to fall into a classic psychological trap.  Perhaps we can’t change their behavior, but we can support each other to stay out of the trap and, over time, expose this War Against Obesity OMIGODDEATHFATISCOMINGFORUS WONTSOMEBODYPLEASETHINKOFTHECHILDREN bs for the baseless, money-making power trip it really is.

Published in: on January 5, 2011 at 8:16 am  Comments (52)  

52 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Ragen, you are fucking amazing. Seriously, you rock my world.

    I’m going to post the shit out of this everywhere. And I’ve nabbed that second last paragraph to put up on Tumblr where it needs to be reblogged over and over and over again.

    Keep doing what you do. You really are one of the best.

    • Thank you, that means a lot coming from you! I’m glad that you liked it and I really appreciate the re-posting :)

  2. This is brilliant. Definitely bookmarking this one for those days when I read too many nasty comments.

    • Thanks, I’m glad you liked it. I adore your blog name!


  3. Great post. I’ve been saying for a long time that the obesity epi-panic is just that — a moral panic where fat people play the role of the modern folk devil. “For your health” is justification for continued discrimination, and it’s turned into such common-wisdom mythology that to question whether the higher weight/lower health correlative is based in fact is akin to blasphemy.

    It plays out whenever a fat-accepting person attempts to comment on these fat-related articles — watch how quickly he/she gets jumped on, as the mob lights its torches and sharpens its pitchforks to police the ‘second class’ back into its place.

    • Thanks, I absolutely agree with you, and I hate to sound all conspiracy theorist but I think that the people responsible for making it a moral panic did so purposefully for a profit.

  4. I was doing really well with my HAES attitude. Until the diet commercials started. I can’t watch TV for 5 minutes without being bombarded with the ads–and ultimately feeling that if I just give Jenny one chance with her revolutionized metabolic diet I would be cured of being a fat person for ever.

    But then a little voice chimes in at the dismal success rates of diets over the long term.

    Still…the hope and wish that I could be thin and happy like Jennifer Hudson on Weight Watchers rears its ugly head.

    I need you Ragen as the voice of sanity!

    Thank you!
    xo Susie

    • susie…good so i am not the only one…i have found myself literally YELLING fat acceptance epiteths at the screen when i cant fast forward through the commercials. i am especially disturbed at the recent change in the small print from “results not typical” to “results based on a 12 week diet”. EVERYBODY can lose weight in that short of a term….how long before it all comes back?

      and i wanna punch all those fat hot famous women (jennifer hudson, sara rue i am looking at you) who go on to be one of the diet spokespeople and bitch about how their life sucked fat and that they cant do anything…please you left your house before….acted in major movies, won awards….but no you suck because you are fat? HA! fuck you weight watchers.

      ragen again thank you…this year is being really tough and you have no idea what a lifeline you and the other bloggers are for me. i cant afford the therapy i probably need, but you and the other FA bloggers are really helping crawl out of the nightmare that is prolonged ED. thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart. its good to know i am not alone and you do it so eloquently.

      • Thanks Erylin. I’m glad that I can help and I agree with you, this is such an annoying time of year for Health at Every Size people. I think it’s ridiculous that anyone gets paid money to try to convince anyone else that they should change the size and shape of their bodies but that’s just me. Results not typical doesn’t even begin to describe it, the commercials should have to state results barely possible. Hang in there, soon the torrent of New Year’s Resolution diet commercials will slow down :)


      • Erilyn, I felt like you crawled inside my brain and wrote everything I’ve been thinking of late (especially about J. Hud and Sara Rue – boo!).

        It took me years, but eventually I realized that happy people who are satisfied with themselves and their lives don’t feel the need to feel superior to others, especially by putting them down. The fat hatred seems so much worse now than it was only 20 years ago (probably because it is now sanctioned by the medical community; and maybe because people can hide behind the anonymity of the internet), I’ve come to feel that what the nation is actually suffering from is mass low self-esteem. I’ve been fat, thin, and many places in between, and I’m sad to say that my lowest self-esteem and judgmental, superior attitude came from those ED thin years. So when I read those angry fat-hating comments (on the occasion that I, too, break my no-comments-reading rule), I try to remember that these are sad, unhappy people who feel terrible about them inside, and who need to put others down to quiet that little kernel of self-doubt that lays inside them. That doesn’t mean I have to like or accept or forgive or excuse those people, or accept their tyranny and oppression over others. But I do pity their small, sad, joyless little lives.

      • I find Sara Rue irritating at any size, but I actually like Jennifer Hudson. She did all those amazing things while she was heavy, and now it’s like she’s negating those accomplishments. If she gets heavy again, will the things she may accomplish then also be negated? It’s like the message is, it doesn’t matter what you do when you’re fat because what fat people do is meaningless.

        • Exactly, that’s what was so frustrating to me about Jennifer Hudson’s WW commercial. Thanks for the comment!


    • Ugh – the New Year’s diet commercials. I don’t watch regular TV so sometimes I forget. Let’s not assume that anybody is happy just because they are thin – we have no way to know. It’s just as possible that she is thin and suffering from massive anxiety because she knows she has less than a 5% chance to keep it off.

      Hang in there!

      Hugs :)


  5. The studies you cite are a scary example of how easily we humans fall into sheep-like behavior. Also, if we focus on criticizing and changing other’s behaviors, we don’t have to focus as much on ourselves.

    • Yes indeedy, I absolutely agree with you.


  6. Shame is indeed a POWERFUL motivator. It has motivated me to hate myself for being too fat. It has motivated me to feel less worthy than someone else even if we were toe to toe in 7 out of the 7emotional intelligence areas (Howard Gardner, Multiple Intelligences Theory) Shame of course trumping the 8th area; the emotional intelligence of being TOO FAT. (For Shame, Fat: The Intelligence Howard Gardner Missed). Shame kept me from swimming in public pools and oceans with my young son, from playing in playgrounds, and from taking the world by storm on the days that SHAME was standing guard at my door and wouldn’t let me out.
    Shame thrust me into sexual encounters that were disguised as intimacy but were really all about not believing I was worthy of anything more. Then Shame erased the after glow of having felt wanted with a brush stroke of its favorite color, That Didn’t Count Blue, who else would want a FAT girl?
    Shame motivated me to stay inside a self-imposed fortress that was constructed block by block of cinder blocks made of shame.
    Yes indeed, RAGEN Shame is a powerful motivator. It motivates people to NOT live a life….
    A life WITHOUT…(um…let’s see…big leap here, sarcasm dripping, no not dripping…torrentially spewing) Shame has motivated me to NOT live a life WITHOUT SHAME.
    YOUR POST WAS AWESOME!! May I share it on my Leftoverstogo FACEBOOK Page? Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz

    • Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I know a lot of people who were (or are) where you were and I love how you show that radical self-love can be more powerful than shame. Please feel free to share this and thank you for doing so!


  7. To misquote Zen teacher Cheri Huber from memory, “If punishing people into being good actually worked, don’t you think it would have by now?

    • Excellent misquote and I agree!

  8. The shame you write about eloquently is, sadly, alive and well, but has taken a few hits from the size acceptance movement, and HAES℠ activists as well. It is now possible, using widely available tools, literature, and blogs, for an emancipated person of size to eliminate shame from their lives–especially if they have an Internet connection and use it selectively. It probably helps to avoid watching television, ignore billboard advertising, and brainwash your relatives to stay off the topic at holiday get-togethers. :-)

    Bill Fabrey
    Mt Marion, NY

    • Hi Bill, I agree that it is possible to find the support structure and information that you need to eliminate shame. Especially if they can use those tools to help them see through the thinly veiled guises of television, billboards and relatives! :) Great website, I love the work that you are doing!


  9. If shaming fat people “worked,” everybody would be thin – attendant health risks be damned.

    • I agree, there’s certainly enough shame going around!


  10. Love this piece, your honesty and also love how social networking lets us in on and exposes the truth of these expereinces.
    I too have posted a link to this page on 2 my facebook pages “Diets Don’t Work” & “Mindful Eating”. Thnaks for sharing.
    Jane xo

    • Hi Jane,

      Glad you like piece and thank you for the links. I agree that social networking is an incredible tool – for exposing the truth and for connection and support.


  11. Thanks to a friend who posted a link to this blog post, I’ve found someone who says what I’m thinking in my head.
    I’ve spent the whole holiday season listening to my 86 year old mother make “helpful” comments about my size. I have a sister who is as fat or fatter than I am and she gets none of this treatment. My sister’s long time partner is fatter than both of us put together, ditto on the “no comments” for her.
    I was HWP before I got adult onset asthma, was put on high doses of prednisone and gained 150 lbs in two years. That was in 1990.
    Twenty years later I’ve lost 70 of those extra pounds over the course of the last 18 months due to getting off the prednisone and on to other meds that don’t cause the weight gain. I’ve also aged 20 years but I still walk everywhere I need to go and try to keep myself HAES.

    Thanks for your blog,

    • Hi Laura,

      I’m sorry that you’re having to deal with this with your mom, I know that can be really frustrating. Congratulations on staying HAES. Thanks for your kind words, I’m glad that you like the blog :)


    • I feel your prednisone pain! Also, due to asthma, I’ve had to have this awful drug on and off. Have gained 60 pounds in 6 months due to this med. It makes you hungry, on a primal level. It’s not like you’re wandering your house, thinking you want a snack. It’s more like the plant in Little Shop Of Horrors, saying “FEED ME!” And for me the personality change is no fun either. When you have to take it you have to take it, put don’t let your doc put you on it as every day med.

  12. You, are brilliant. It saddens and angers me that because I’m fat I get the never ending omgdeathfat speech from my family under the guise that it’s all “for my own health.”
    To help stay positive about the barage of comments my husband and I have a joke about “the Beetus” (diabitus, which I know I spelt wrong, but can’t think of how spell it). The VFHT I get the most is somewhere along the lines of “omgdeathfat!!!! The beetus is gonna git ya!” Now I know all types of diabitus are nothing to joke about, they can be serious and I have family members who suffer the consequences of not taking care of themselves, however, I know simply being over weight isn’t the cause. I eat a healthy diet and walk three miles a day 5 days a week (thank you public transit for being a hlaf mile from everywhere I need to go). Sure, because of family history I might develop type 2, but IF that happens, I know that there isn’t much I could have done to stop it because it isn’t something I can controll, and I know how to take care of it so it doesn’t become a problem.

    • Thank you so much, I’m so glad that you like the blog. I love “The Beetus” and I hope that you avoid type 2 and I’m really glad that you are aware that if you don’t it’s because of family history. Thanks for the comment!


  13. Thank you so much for this post! I’ve just happened onto your blog via Healing Through Creativity. I plan on being a regular reader now. I can’t stand the “I’m worried about your health” as a euphemism for “ugh, you just don’t fit our society’s model of aesthetics.” I’ve got my own sense, thank you very much. All my life, I’ve been judged, by self and other. Enough is enough!

    • Welcome to the blog! I’m glad that you like it. I think it’s awesome that you’ve decided enough is enough and I love the phrase “I’ve got my own sense, thank you very much.”


  14. I am just the opposite of one of those people who flamed you. I have come to the conclusion that shame, embarrassment and guilt need to be eradicated if our species is ever to evolve further. They have remained the primary tools of every backward faction imaginable. Some progressives try to use it, but to me it is a useless endeavor, because those who truly deserve by their actions to feel these emotions never do, and those who allow themselves to be ruled by these emotions make themselves targets of manipulation by the former.

    • I agree that shame is never the right way. Even if it produces the results you want, you have to look at the collateral damage you’ve done in the process. You make fantastic points, thanks for commenting!


  15. Simply amazing… thank you!

    • Thank you. Glad that you liked it!


  16. I LOVE this post!!!

    Recommended reading by ANYONE dealing with this issue, aside from a similar post on my blog, is a fantastic book I read on this subject.

    No Fat Chicks: How Big Business Profits Making Women Hate Their Bodies-How to Fight Back

    Seriously a great in depth look at how the media distorts and uses the healthwise consciousness to damage self esteems and bring financial gains. I could go on and on but it is your blog, if you wish you can read my post here:

    God Loves Fat Chicks and I Do Too!

    Thank you :)

    • Thanks so much, I’m really glad that you liked the post. And thanks for the list, that is a fantastic book and I enjoyed your post! Thanks for commenting :)


  17. Incredibly powerful and intelligently written. Thank you for taking the time and courage to not only write this post, but to celebrate your body so openly. I hope that not only women, but girls find your blog and your dancing and are inspired to love themselves. Enough with society trying to dictate what we should look like and feel about ourselves! I found your blog via Twitter and look forward to reading your future posts.

    • Welcome to the blog! I’m so glad that you liked it and thank you for the kind words. I absolutely agree with what you said about society not dictating what we look like and how we feel about ourselves. Thanks for the comment :)


  18. You wouldn’t understand unless you’ve ever been fat. Sick that you would post this!

  19. WARNING: As you know I approve all comments that are not overt spam. I do this to show how people react to someone who dares to suggest that people have the option of focusing on their health rather than a number on the scale. The following comment may be triggering for some due to: possible internalized oppression, fat on fat hate, paternalism, opinions stated as fact, medical opinions given by someone who claims no medical credentials, medical opinions that are unsupported by research, purposeful attempts at body shaming, diet talk, and obfuscation of the concepts of weight and health. The following comment may be humorous to many since this person took the time to write a five paragraph comment to give me medical and psychological advice, tell me that they know better than I how I feel and why I feel that way, tell me that they know how others feel and what their motivations are, while simultaneously accusing me of being narcissistic for thinking people care what I think. What I think – not that anyone cares :) – is that it takes a special person to run into hypocrisy head on at that speed. I do not purport to understand why people don’t spend their time creating something, rather than seeking out others who are creating something and trying to tear them down. Regardless, thank you bsj2312 (or whatever your real name is). You managed to fascinate and amuse me all while illustrating my point. Well done there. Also, you misspelled narcissistic but overall above average grammar, spelling and punctuation for this type of comment so thanks for that. ~Ragen Chastain (my real name)

    Wow. This is really funny. A whole blog and hundreds of comments from fat people who are trying to deny that being fat is unhealthy, trying to deny that Americans are overwhelmingly obese, not only compared to the rest of the world, but compared to generally accepted medical principles of human beings.

    Why would someone celebrate the fact that they are grossly overweight? This is not only unhealthy physically, but psychologically as well. Pretending that everything is okay doesn’t make it so.

    Now, I am not saying it is okay to ridicule the overweight. I am overweight myself. But I understand this and accept the fact that it was my own overindulgence that created the situation. I have gone from 280 in 1990 to 150 in 2000 back to 280 in 2010. It was all of my own doing, and I know it was wrong. I would never make excuses about it. Facts are facts. You cannot deny it any longer.

    Any feelings of punishment or shame you are experiencing are not coming from the outside world. They are coming from within yourself. If you want to know the truth, no one really much cares about you one way or the other. No one is trying to shame you into being skinny. They are merely reporting the facts and you are feeling shame because you know you are overeating and under-exercising. Don’t try to blame the outside world. It’s really narcisstic to think that these strangers really care enough about you to try and shame you into being skinny. They are just getting some laughs and forgetting about it. You are creating the shame.

    If you are tired of hearing about it, do something to correct it. The power is in your hands. Start counting calories. Promise yourself to be healthy. Don’t try to blame someone else for your problem, and don’t you dare try to pretend that obesity is not a problem. It is, and you know it.

  20. This post is amazing; I agree a billion percent. I think you were in my head because those are my “opinions” on the “it’s about your health” nonsense.

  21. Oh, Ragen, you warned us. I read your preface to the 5-paragraph comment, and thought, “Ok, I’ll just read the part that Ragen wrote, scroll down, and move on,” but nooo, I just had to read it. What saddens me so much is that so many people think and feel exactly the way that commenter thinks and feels.

    Time to go think about something else. “La la la la la! I am not reading anymore triggering stuff. La la la la la!” (*fingers in my ears*)

  22. My hope is that the person who posted their yo yo dieting experiences can also see that so much of who we are stays the same whether we are 155 or 250 or back down to 155. The one dimensional criteria (weight)for feeling good about ourselves and judging others is so limited. And unlike other personal characteristics that we as people are comprised of, weight, is generalized to our whole selves. It’s like saying that my entire self is better when my hair is red than when my hair is blond. It is one aspect of my total self. On my good days I embrace myself as a whole person, not a person broken up into components: weight, height, age, humor, intelligence, artistic ability…like those butcher maps…loins, haunches, steaks…ok, no “cow” jokes here please, you get my point. We are more than the sum of our parts and definable by any single part.

    • Can I just say that I love this? It’s a self-esteem issue that I always have trouble putting into words but have been really trying to deal with recently.

      There’s a wonderful quote from the memoir Wasted that touches on this concept: “No matter how thin you get, no matter how short you cut your hair, it’s still going to be you underneath.”

  23. I am desperately trying to lose weight due to a damaged spine and a desire to regain the ability to walk. Amidst all the stress and frustration of trying to thin down 30 kg without excercise (spine damage, ‘member?), stumbling across this blog is always a ray of sunshine. You remind me of my goal: Being able to walk. Not to wear a size six, just to -walk-.

    • Thank you for your kinds words. I’m so sorry to hear about your spine, I definitely hope that you are up and walking soon!


  24. I don’t want to shame you,
    but when quoting verbatim from wikipedia
    (or any other source)
    it’s appropriate to use a blockquote
    and link to the source

    • Stacy,

      I don’t want to shame you but I did not source this from wikipedia at all and what you are accusing me of is serious so please think twice before you do it again. I used an old textbook to pull the facts and I put the phrasing together myself. While there are some similarities (likely do to the common language used to describe such experiments and the fact that we’re describing the exact same thing), I don’t think that you know what verbatim means. I’ve provided my paragraph about the experiment, the wikipedia paragraph, and a definition of verbatim below to help you out. I would suggest that in the future if you don’t know what you’re talking about you ask a question rather than make a statement.

      Here is the paragraph that I think you’re talking about from wikipedia:
      Twenty-four students were selected out of 75 to play the prisoners and live in a mock prison in the basement of the Stanford psychology building. Roles were assigned randomly. The participants adapted to their roles well beyond what even Zimbardo himself expected, leading the “Officers” to display authoritarian measures and ultimately to subject some of the prisoners to torture. In turn, many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and accepted physical abuse, and, at the request of the guards, readily inflicted punishment on other prisoners who attempted to stop it. The experiment even affected Zimbardo himself, who, in his capacity as “Prison Superintendent,” lost sight of his role as psychologist and permitted the abuse to continue as though it were a real prison. Five of the prisoners were upset enough by the process to quit the experiment early, and the entire experiment was abruptly stopped after only six days. The experimental process and the results remain controversial. The entire experiment was filmed, with excerpts made publicly available.

      Here is my paragraph:
      In the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor chose twenty-four students out of 75 to play the prisoners, the remainder to play guards, and live in a mock prison set up in the Stanford Psychology basement. The participants quickly adapted to their roles even beyond Zimbardo’s expectations. Within a couple of days the “Officers” displayed authoritarian measures and eventually tortured some of the prisoners. Many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and allowed the abuse, and, when asked by the the guards, inflicted punishment on other prisoners who tried to stop them. The experiment was stopped after six day and remains controversial.

      Verbatim: in exactly the same words; word for word: to repeat something verbatim.

      • Damn! Now thats shameful. Ha! perhaps Ragen the pseudo concern of “for your health” has been replaced by concern over correct APA format in referencing. As in “i dont care if your fat but im worried about you becoming a plagiarist”. What a fantastic example of passive-aggression.Jeez they cunning little buggers arent they?

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