We’re Gonna Need More Wars

Public HealthThere is an argument that suggests that it’s ok to body police, bully, shame, stigmatize and have a war against obese people because being fat is an indication that someone doesn’t prioritize their health and that costs taxpayer dollars, and so prioritizing health is a social obligation and the punishment for not holding up our end of the bargain is that the government has declared war on us.

For today let’s set aside the fact that body size is not an indication of behaviors, health, or prioritization of health.  Even if it were true that fat people don’t prioritize our health, the argument is still bullshit – a convenient lie used to justify indefensible bigotry. The way I know that is that if people truly believed the argument, there would be a lot more wars:

The War on Football Players:  Football players, especially at the professional level, are absolutely not prioritizing their health. When their careers end their bodies are often in horrible shape – multiple concussions, blown knees, some players admit to having had over 50 surgeries after leaving the NFL. They retire at an average age of 28 years old with no salary, studies show that 78% go bankrupt within 5 years of retirement, but they don’t get insurance until they turn 50 and then only if they are vested and qualified.  This sounds expensive, let’s get that war going.

The War on Insomniacs:  Lack of sleep has been shown to be detrimental to people’s health.  Studies suggest that most people are shown to need 7-8 hours of sleep a night. Sounds like we’re gonna need to gear up for a war on people who choose to sleep less than what is shown to be healthy.

The War on Rock Stars:  The rock star life that we celebrate as a culture includes drugs, alcohol, and a schedule of, rehearsals, shows, and appearances that runs performers ragged.  These people are clearly not prioritizing their health. Where’s the war?

The War on Unhealthy Thin People:  This whole idea rests on stereotypes about fat people – that you can tell by a fat body that someone doesn’t eat well and doesn’t exercise enough.  Of course that’s no more true then the idea that every thin person eats well and exercises. Everyone knows a thin person who eats a ton of “junk food” never exercises and remains thin. If we’re going to do this we’re going to need to have a war on those people too.

The potential list goes on – UFC fighters brag about not prioritizing their health, professional bullriders, X Games athletes, people who choose to work third shift, people who choose jobs with repetitive motion, people who climb mountains, Iron Man triathletes, people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street, people who buy cars that don’t have the highest safety ratings etc.

The truth is that there are many ways to prioritize and de-prioritize our health and none of them can be be judged by body size.  People of all sizes prioritize their health at different levels for different reasons.  Fat people simply make good scapegoats because we share a single physical characteristic that is easily picked out in a crowd. The prejudice is kept in place by “everybody knows” thinking, the frantic shouting down of good research, embarrassingly poor research done from a platform of confirmation bias or for profit, and lies about healthcare costs.

In what should be a blinding flash of the obvious (with a nod to my friend Stan), the solution is not to have more wars on more people.  The solution is to end the wars.

I don’t believe that health is a moral, social, or personal obligation (you can choose to prioritize things other than your health just like professional bull riders, X Games participants, stressed-out sleepless executives, those who have elective plastic surgery, sky divers, and people who don’t look both ways before they cross the street). Also, let’s not kid ourselves – our health isn’t completely within our control.  Health is multi-dimensional and includes genetics, access, stress, environment, and behaviors among other things.

It’s time to recognize that public health is not about making the individual’s health the public’s business.  It’s about removing stress whenever possible (like, say, the stress of having the government fight a war against you or hearing politicians promise that in a generation they will have eradicated all the people who look like you) and providing information, access, and options to people of all sizes.

Those who disagree with that better be prepared to police EVERYBODY and fight a war on people who don’t prioritize their health on every imaginable front because it’s unacceptable to simply pick a group of people who can be identified by sight and start “calculating their cost” to support the idea of having a war to eradicate us.

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Published in: on June 18, 2013 at 8:38 am  Comments (36)  

36 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Just had a conversation with my mom about something like this. The best way to control people and therefore run a state is creating enemies. Whether you pick on people on welfare or on muslims or on fat people you create something one can use as the ultimate scapegoat to conceal the real problems. In german you call that “Feindbild”, the concept of the enemy. And to create your enemies you create stereotypes: All people on welfare are lazy, we pay for them with our taxes and they don’t want to work, or all fat people eat junk food and are lazy and don’t exercise and we pay for their unhealthy behaviour blah blah blah… I think the only war we have to fight is the war against stereotypes.

    • Klara,

      You nailed it. Trying to build a war on fat people is just another way of dividing and conquering. If fat people are the scapegoat, then legislators don’t have to worry about real problems – like unemployment/jobs, global warming, violence of all kinds.

      Thanks for mentioning this all-important point.

    • Klara, it’s the concept of “othering” – dividing the world into “us” and “them.” You’re right on.

    • This might be the history nerd in me talking, but it seems appropriate that the German language would have a single word for that particular complex concept.

      • From a linguistic standpoint–it’s a compound word. Feind= enemy, Bild= in this case it is the verbal noun for bilden, v. to create.

        In linguistical parliance it is a very simple construct–but quite powerful. No dilly-dallying around the topic here!

        • I never got to really study Deutsch, but would that be pronounced approximately similarly to “fiend build?”

          (I studied Sino-Asiatic and Semitic languages rather than Indo-European ones, so the German, French, etc. I know is mostly a matter of picking it up as I go. Same with Spanish, but I live in a heavily Latino region, so I get by pretty well. Oh, and the ones I really focused on were Han Yu/Mandarin, Japanese, Hebrew, and less time than I wanted with the Babylonian dialect of Akkadian.)

      • Susan: Oh yes it is! And I think the concept is even more effective if you choose a scapegoat like fat people, because everyone could become fat quite easily. So you can also use the fear of becoming fat, people become even more obsessed with being thin… and when you are busy with dieting and exercise and concerns about your looks and weight you won’t be concerned about other (more important) things. And as Naomi Wolf put it: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”

    • One of the things I like so much about many fat activists is that their analysis goes way beyond body acceptance. How many people are aware of what you wrote, Klara? You don’t know how refreshing it is to this disabled semi-hermit to know she is not alone in understanding that creating “enemies” is a great way to control people.

      And are we sick of wars or what? This country seems to like nothing better than unwinnable, indefinable wars. I think the only war we have to fight is the battle against propaganda invading and taking over our minds (just another way to state the war against stereotypes).

      Now I have to remember that German word Feindbild.

      • Sadly, horrible propaganda is mostly not seen as such, I think. Sometimes I have the feeling that people just love to have a scapegoat they can bully and make responsible for all evil without ever questioning it. Some people (sadly even in my family) use foreigners and muslims, others hate unemployed people without ever asking why they don’t have a job. Propaganda is a horrible instrument. And to come back to history: The german Nazis had their own minister for propaganda who was one of the most powerful and most evil of them all…
        I think, Elizabeth, the battle against propaganda really is the one to fight, stereotypes are just one part of it, an instrument of it, thanks for this important thought!

        • Scapegoating is based in fear and insecurity. It’s a way to break someone else down so you can make them smaller than yourself.

          • Sadly yes. When will people finally realize that it doesn’t work? Putting others down will never lift you up…

          • And self-righteousness is such a terrible addiction. “I’m so much better than people on welfare/fat people/people who don’t go to church/blah blah blah.” My poor husband listens to this stuff constantly from other nurses and feels sick inside.

  2. In the olden (ie pre-Ragen) days, when I would hear the fat talk, I would be bothered, argue back or just plain feel bad. But this weekend I sailed regally by (I hope) when my mother who is losing weight from a chronic unpleasant disease was being complimented by my sister. ITS NOT LIKE I HAVEN’T TRIED TO EDUCATE THEM!

    But, its their business as adults to think this horrible thing is a diet-aid. All I can do is shepherd my child by quickly, say goodbye and keep on going. Not going to go there.

    I have this blog and the followers to help me. Thanks. –Jen

    • Oh, no.😦 {{{{{HUGS}}}}} and huge mojo to your mom, Jen.

      I hope your sister finally gets it through her skull that being sick isn’t a Lookin’ Good party. My sister got the congrats, “You look great!” when she developed bilateral hand shingles in her late forties and was in too much pain to eat… until she wound up looking like she’d been liberated from Birkenau. She’s slowly building up some muscle and fat reserves again, but she’s still only a size 4-6 on a body that’s naturally a 12-14. Through it all, she kept working. She’s a teacher, teaches combined first and second grades, loves it. I have no idea how she managed to do it between pain, weakness, and wasting.

      • Yikes that’s some scary shit.

      • When my grandma got cancer for the last time, she started losing weight rapidly until her skin was draped on her bones. She had been fat all her life. I’ll never forget when we went to my grandparent’s house and she looked at me smiling while she pulled out the waist of her stretchpants. She was so happy to be losing weight. “But grandma, you’re losing weight because you’re dying,” I was thinking. I felt so sick. I can never forget that. How strong is the social discourse about being thin that my grandma was ok with terminal cancer as long as she lost weight.

  3. I’ve been following you for about a month now and, damn, girl, this is the best one yet. Thank you so much for being brave, articulate, and so darn smart!

  4. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    Because of course it isn’t about health at all, as we all know. It’s about the fact that some of us dare to walk around not looking like Booth Girls at a sci-fi convention. How dare we not be considered f**kable by the sacred Males 18-32 Demographic?

    • Bingo!!

    • I look like a booth girl! My booth just happens to switch between Erebor and the Shire.

    • It’s not even just that we dare to walk around being fat. Is that we dare to love our fat bodies, and refuse to be ashamed of ourselves. I think that’s what gets to them the most.

  5. Well written Ragen, and so to the point!! When it comes to enjoying the rest of my life, healthy food or not, I have decided I much prefer to eat somewhat what I want and not worry about the calories! I have two conditions that already limit what I can eat and I just don’t want any more barriers to food! That’s my stand and I’m sticking to it!! Thanks for your constant support and ‘war on the war’ you do each day! Blessings, Carol

  6. Where’s the war on cancer and arthritis patients? They choose to put those horrible cytotoxic chemicals in their bodies, and everyone knows how terrible they are. You throw up, lose your hair, sleep all the time, can’t work. Some people even start smoking pot to deal with it! If anybody’s not taking care of their health, it’s them.

  7. Great illustration of how utterly ridiculous the War on Obesity is. It’s getting to old comic book cover standards now (Content Advisory for the whole site: Everything. Seriously, everything. The War Propaganda Cover gallery alone is worth a warning in and of itself).

    And thank you for saying again that healthy habits aren’t something that I owe anyone. It’s good to hear that from at least one person.

  8. So I posted this to my fb today and got this response:

    “Safety in football is a constant discussion, with safety reps and owners fining players that don’t wear padding (mandatory hip pads are going into effect, fines on leading with the helmet), second layer reviews on when a player can return instead of a player being allowed to say they’re fine, mandatory financial counseling, etc. Insomnia is something doctors routinely address. There is an attack on junk food, soda’s, anorexia, illegal drugs, excessive alcohol use, smoking….there are strategies and attempts to improve 3rd shift, there are all sorts of ergonomic experts focused on repetitive motion tasks. People that are unusually thin are also counseled on diet and tested for possible causes. Companies are moving towards better work/life balance for improved health which means improved productivity. Everything she mentions in the first part is recognized as a problem and is being addressed.”

    Ragen, Twistie, Cie, Susan, et al – I’d love to know what you would say to this. I just didn’t have the sanity points today to handle it. A few of the RnTers had some comebacks to it, which helped untrigger me.

    • I’m not Ragen, but I’d reply with – “Safety and whether or not these unhealthy practices are addressed aren’t the issues here. The issue is that fat people are bullied and villified for their perceived lack of ‘health’ in a way these other groups are not. People don’t make snarky remarks about professional sports people and the toll their careers take on their bodies; people don’t post snarky Facebook posts wondering why insomniacs don’t just quit whining and *sleep* already… after all, everyone else seems to manage it, so are insomniacs just lazy or too stubborn to help themselves? What it comes down to is that none of us has the right to judge how someone else prioritises their health. Because doing so just makes us into an are*hole” (or words to that effect) 🙂

    • Ugh, I don’t have the Sanity Watchers points to deal with it either. We larger folk are the current scapegoat and a lot of very sorry individuals are trying to hold on tooth and nail to that scapegoat. It doesn’t help that their crappy opinions are backed by the multi billion dollar diet industry.

  9. It seems like anytime the word ‘war’ is used, it’s to scare people into either giving up their rights, or taking away the rights of others. War on Terrorism, War on Drugs, War on Obesity…

    • Yes. This exactly. And now the AMA has declared obesity a “disease.” I am trying to figure out if I am more angry or more disappointed today at hearing that news, as it further institutionalizes bigotry.

      • I could WEEP.

      • At one time, homosexuality was considered a disease, too. Autism was widely believed to be a form of schizophrenia. Stomach ulcers were “definitively” triggered by stress. Every single one of these was standard AMA MO less than 50 years ago, and some doctors continued to treat them as such well after standards were revised. Stupid shit gets “defined” in medicine far too frequently, to terrible detriment. (Hell, two of the above examples affected me directly, and I’m only 36.) It takes a long time to fix the damage, but in time, the medical establishment realizes its mistakes and becomes horrified at the ignorance of its former self.

        • Bipolar disorder was once classified as a psychosis across the board. I remember taking a psychology class in high school and thinking that I exhibited certain features of bipolar disorder, although I have Type II so the manias aren’t as pronounced. I mentioned this to the teacher and she said “oh, you couldn’t have manic depression. That’s a psychosis. Clearly, you aren’t psychotic.”
          It would be 22 years later that I would finally receive a correct diagnosis of my illness rather than “depression with anxiety,” which somehow carries less stigma than bipolar disorder.
          The AMA and friends are doing nobody any favors. There are plenty of people walking around being improperly treated because they are blindly following incorrect paradigms. They are treating the chart rather than the patient.

          • As I understand it, diabetes (I think Type II) was once considered psychosomatic. The prescription was good food and a nice, brisk, daily walk in the fresh air! Yep, that’ll treat a psychosomatic disorder. Or bring down some people’s blood sugar due to severe insulin resistance.

    • If you look at it through the eyes of law of attraction, positive brings about positive, negative brings about negative. Anytime there’s been a ‘war’ it’s always brought about more of what’s being fought against.

      Instead of war, we should be focusing on what we want. Peace Rallies, Clean Living, Healthy Habit Reformation…

      “I will never attend an anti-war rally; if you have a peace rally, invite me.” ~ Mother Theresa


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