One of the many issues with the idea of the “War on Obesity” or “Preventing Obesity” or talking about “the Obese” is that it defines people entirely by their body size. The government is waging war against a body size. Society talks about people with the same body size as if they can be defined and understood completely by the mathematical equation that defines us as “obese” – a definition that has been changed by the very people who profit from it.
Billions of dollars are being spent fighting a war against bodies whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is greater than 30, based on the incredibly shoddy research that suggests that the things would be cheaper if there are no more bodies that meet that height/weight ratio.
This idea of “The Obese” ignores the fact that the only thing obese people have in common is our height and weight ratio. Fat people are as varied in behavior as any group of people who share only a single physical characteristic (and the shame and stigma that currently comes along with it.) Not to mention that this group includes people who are very muscular, as well as skewing with height. Kate Harding’s BMI Project gives us a visual representation of how arbitrary these categories are. The arbitrary categories of “overweight” and “obese” are separated by a few pounds, but we are supposed to believe that those four pounds create a major different in disease outcome and life expectancy regardless of behaviors, genetics, or body composition?
The CDC table says that in adults a BMI of “30 and over” is considered obese. So, based on health risks that are attributed to “the obese” at my height I would be at the same risk if I weighed 174 pounds, or if I weighed 1,074 pounds. Even the charts that include “classes” of obesity have a category of “x weight and up” (which is my current category – “Class 3 – Super Obese” which, it turns out, does not come with a cape and a secret identity as it sounds like it should,) which means that if I believe this whole BMI/body size = health thing, I have same risk at my current weight of around 300 pounds, or if I doubled or even tripled my weight.
When the US Surgeon General announced that “Obesity is the terror within. It is eroding our society. It will bring a disease burden we can’t afford,” he starting a campaign encouraging people (friends, family, bosses, doctors, and employers of fat people) to fear, blame, and stigmatize a group of citizens based on nothing more than how we look. To reduce fat people to our bodies, suggest that those bodies are failings (though I vehemently disagree with this), and that being fat is such a massive failing that it should overshadow anything else that we do or are – it doesn’t matter what we accomplish or who we are, you can tell by looking at us that we are domestic terrorists eroding society.
When medicine substitutes body size for health, they are being lazy and cheap – trying to use an easy and inexpensive method to determine health instead of the complicated work of treating the actual patient in front of them. We can treat each individual as such, use basic testing to get information, listen to them when they talk about their bodies and what they are experiencing, and only discuss weight when it becomes medically necessary (for example, large unexplained weight fluctuations.)
Rather than assuming that fat people’s health issues are all caused by their fatness but the exact same health issues in thin people are caused by something else, rather than studying body size and making guesses about what would happen if we could eliminate certain body sizes (which we have no idea how to do), we could study health issues, and interventions that can help people of all sizes.
Rather than pouring money into a War against the result of a mathematical calculation, rather than wasting billions of dollars in anti body size campaigns that have absolutely no evidence to suggest that they will succeed at changing body size or health long term, research and medical science could stop being so ridiculously lazy and start actually looking at health.
This society tells people that, if someone is fat, our bodies define us – that they knows everything they need to know about us with just a cursory glance, and that the news is not good. This is why size acceptance activism is necessary – because people and societal institutions define, stigmatize, bully and oppress us based on our size – all sanctioned, even encouraged, by the government – based on stereotypes, assumptions and bigotry. Our bodies are amazing, but they are not all that there is to us, and my activism is working toward a world where, though I will always be willing and happy to advocate for my fat body, there will be no need to do so.
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