No Pitying, No Preaching, No Problem

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I was watching a cooking show.  There was a chef whose passion was “healthy cooking.”  She started out by talking about how many people in her family “struggle with their weight”, she teared up as she talked about how sad it was for her to watch.

Then, when she went in front of the judges with a soup that was a horrific looking combination of black eyed peas and cabbage – pureed –   she suddenly got angry and went on a rant about how she was “fed up” how there is “no excuse for it.” Happily the judges were not into the attitude which for me neatly  summed up two reactions that people have to fat people that I find utterly inappropriate and unwelcome.

First – Pity.  Don’t want it, don’t need it, won’t listen to it.  There is nothing pitiable about my body.  As I’ve mentioned before I do not “suffer” from obesity, I do suffer from people’s attitudes about my body.  That’s a suffering that will end as soon as people acknowledge that bodies come in different sizes for different reasons, that there is no wrong way to have a body, and that it’s nobody else’s business at all.  When someone says that they pity me because of my body it indicates that they think there is something superior about their bodies. My body is amazing and I won’t allow it to be treated that way without sticking up for it.  People can keep their pity, and their opinions and assumptions of my body, to themselves.

Preaching is the second issue.  It seems like every time I turn around someone’s trying to score points by giving “tough talk” to us fatties.  Telling us that they are just fed up with us and our big, fleshy bodies like we should care how they feel.  Saying that the world needs to stop “coddling” us, asserting that the world would be better if we didn’t exist,  waging war on us for power, politics and profit.  Suggesting that the problem with fat people is that we’re just not bullied and oppressed enough.  Somehow certain that the reason we’re not thin is that 386,170 negative messages a year about our body are just not enough. That somebody needs to tell us we’re fat. If shaming fat people made us thin, we’d all be thin.

I reflect sometimes on how the achievements of fat people are made more impressive because we accomplish things under the crushing weight of near constant stigma and bullying. Despite the pitying, the preaching, and the constant drumbeat of “your body is wrong”, we keep rising above, keep fighting back.  Just getting out of bed when you know the work water cooler conversation is going to be about fat shaming documentaries, or going to the gym when you know you might deal with jerks are gold medal sports some days and we just keep doing it.

So go fatties go! Everyone else can keep their pitying and preaching to themselves, I think we’re fine.

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Published in: on January 31, 2014 at 9:34 am  Comments (15)  

I See Fat People, They Are Everywhere

Tonight in the State of the Union, President Obama gave Michelle Obama credit for lowering childhood obesity.  This is not so cut and dried as it might sound.  Australian scholar Michael Gard points out in his new book, The End of the Obesity Epidemic, that over the last decade obesity rates among both adults and children have leveled off or declined all over the world, including in the United States. In 1998 35 million Americans went to bed a so-called “healthy weight” and woke up fat thanks to a commission of scientists with ties to weight loss programs and drugs who successfully lobbied to have what is considered a “healthy” weight lowered (creating 25 million new potential clients in the process.)

But try to calmly enter this information into the discussion and you’ll often find yourself  shouted down by people yelling – I see fat people everywhere and I didn’t before! 65% of people are fat!  I see fat people everywhere and they are all [fill in the blank with a stereotype]!    This may be a good time to remember that observation, while part of the scientific method, is not science in itself, here’s why:

First, there’s Confirmation Bias –  that people tend to favor information that confirms their preconceptions or hypotheses, regardless of whether or not the information is true. They also tend to interpret ambiguous results as supporting their point of view.  Everyone is subject to this, including me, researchers are taught to be aware of it.  (Interestingly, this is why it took me so long to choose a Behavior Centered Health approach – I was certain that I had to lose weight to be healthy and it took a while for the facts that were staring me in the face to set in).  Back to our world overrun with fatties… we must accept the possibility that it’s not that there are a ton more fatties, or that every fatty fits into some stereotypes (and let’s be clear that the problem here is stereotyping and not fat people), but rather that confirmation bias is driving society to seek out evidence to support their conclusion and ignore that which does not.  Similarly, when someone posts a comment on one of my dance videos saying how lazy I am they are ignoring the evidence in front of them because they are letting their confirmation bias run away unchecked, or because they are a jackass.  Actually, the two aren’t mutually exclusive.  At any rate, this is something that we all have to be aware of – especially if we are reviewing and interpreting data.

The second issue is frame of reference. I’ve heard more than one doctor say “I know that obesity causes health problems, every obese person I see has health problems!”  Well, you’re a doctor – do a lot of people stop by your office to say that they feel great?  When  a friend of mine suggested that there are fat people without binge eating disorder a therapist specializing in binge eating disorder told her that “It’s my experience that someone that size probably has binge eating disorder”.  Perhaps that’s because her experience is with fat people coming to her to deal with binge eating disorder.  It’s like a podiatrist saying that every person with feet has foot problems.  If all you’ve got is a hammer, every problem can start to look like a nail.

Next we have sample size.  Maybe you saw a fat person eating McDonalds – this does not a statistically significant sample size make, though that person has every right to eat whatever he or she wants.  Similarly, if you, or your sister in law’s best friend’s nanny’s aunt, lost weight and kept it off for 5 years then you are a statistical anomaly, if you were on TV the bottom of the screen would read “Results Not Typical”, you are not proof that weight loss works for the majority or even the minority of people.

The next thing to think about is meaning.  Even if it’s true that there are tons more fat people than there used to be, do we know (and I’m not talking  about “everybody knows”, I’m talking about evidence-based knowing) why it’s happening or what it means?  We are also taller than we used to be but nobody’s freaking out about the tallness epidemic.  The hysteria around obesity and its healthcare costs (which, despite popular opinion, have been shown to be way overblown) has somehow made it ok to skip the steps where we look dispassionately at why a phenomenon happens and what it means and instead we’ve jumped right to  “We’re gonna die! Quick, shame the fatties!!!”.

Finally, we have to look deeper.  I heard someone say the other day that they were at a hospital and most of the people there were fat, thus proving that fat people are less healthy.  All of the issues from above apply but let’s look deeper.  According to research out of Yale, in this culture fat people have a more than 50% chance that when we go to the doctor, she or he will view us, and treat us, as if we are awkward, unattractive, lazy, weak-willed,  and unlikely to comply with treatment. Even when fat people do go to the doctor they are often humiliated and receive sub-par care.  Without so much as touching us, let alone using proper diagnostics, doctors diagnose us as fat, give us a treatment protocol of weight loss and send us on our way (People have relayed having been prescribed weight loss without even being touched by their doctor for sudden onset intense back pain that turned out to be ruptured discs, abdominal pain that turned out to be a cancer, and abdominal pain that turned out to be gallstones that required emergency surgery).  So, many fat people have horrible experiences that lead to them to avoiding the doctor, and when we go we often get subpar treatment.  Both of these things can lead to us not getting proper early intervention, thus even if the scenario is true,  finding us in the hospital for situations that a thin person may have had solved by their doctor in its early stages because they were listened to with more respect and given a treatment plan based on proper diagnostics.  You can’t just accept things  at face value if you want to get to the truth.  It helps to ask yourself:  Is this statement true?  If it is true what might it mean?  What is might be causing this?

Observation can be powerful but we have to be careful about drawing large scale conclusions based only on what we can see.  This is something that researchers struggle mightily with.  You know how when you paint a room the painting is easy but the set up is a pain – all that taping and prepping, laying down the tarp, etc.?  That’s how setting up research is – actually performing the research is the easy part. The difficult part is in setting it up – making sure that you have a statistically significant sample size, making sure it can be extrapolated to the population of interest, deciding what variables to control for and how to control for them etc.  Good researchers go to great pains to do this well, and they always state their limitations so it’s foolish to think that we can look around and get information that’s just as good or better.

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Published in: on January 29, 2014 at 11:02 am  Comments (36)  

Mother Jones Meltdown

facepalmWhen you read that “researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between [thing x and thing y]” what do you imagine the percent of correlation to be (after, of course, you realize that since it’s just correlation so all they’ve found is that two things sometimes happen at the same time, without any idea of what causes them, and with the distinct possibility that they are completely unrelated.) Still, what would your expectation be if a source that it supposed to be reporting the news said that there was a “statistically significant correlation?” Would you expect that correlation to be 80%?  50%?  Would you expect it to be .02 percent?

That’s exactly what Mother Jones did on their Facebook post today.  Their teaser for an article they linked to by Pacific Standard called  “Grand Obese Party” (see what they did there – so clever) read “Researchers have found a statistically significant correlation between support for Mitt Romney and a pudgy populace.” The story this linked to reported a study that had found that “a one percent increase in county-level support for Romney corresponds to a 0.02 percent increase in age-adjusted obesity rates.” I guess “Having Cured All Diseases and Ended Poverty and Hunger, Researchers are Spending Money to See if Republicans are Fatter than Democrats” was just too long for a headline.

[Edit for quick discussion of statistical significance:  The reason I ask about expectation is that the paper is either counting on the readers to not understand statistical significance or they don’t understand it themselves. Either way, just really poor journalism. Statistical significance is about the probability that an effect doesn’t occur by happenstance.  One of the first things I learned in my stats and research methods classes (right after correlation never ever implies causation) is that statistical significance is not an indicator of meaningful results.  Unfortunately reporters who don’t understand research often think that “statistically significant” sounds important and all “science-y” and this kind of “news story” is the result – where they report the results as if they are important because they were “statistically significant”  and don’t tell you that, for example, the sample was a small group of middle aged white men which severely limits how they can extrapolate results.

Even more ridiculous:

The researchers argue this reflects poorly on the Republican party’s emphasis on “personal responsibility” for reducing obesity risk. Successful fat-fighting strategies “will necessarily involve government intervention,” they argue, “because they involve workplace, school, marketing and agricultural policies.”

Bigger government or bigger waistlines: The choice is yours.

First of all, nobody has a “successful” intervention for obesity – we have no idea how to make fat people not fat.  What we do have is a political climate where any idea that someone suggests will “reduce obesity” is likely to be implemented with absolutely no evidence required.  That’s how we ended up with programs in schools that didn’t do anything to make fat students smaller, but did increase eating disorders.

So let’s review:  Mother Jones contributed to a climate of bullying, stigma, and shaming of fat people for a .02% correlation, some cheap alliteration, and the suggestion that people should vote for the party that will best eradicate a group of people based on how they look.   Pretty sure this is the definition of being a hack.

This member of the “pudgy populace” is not impressed.

ACTIVISM OPPORTUNITY:

Let’s give some feedback:

Pacific Standard (who ran the piece):  pacificstandard@alissaneilpr.com

Mother Jones:  backtalk@motherjones.com

Comment on MJ’s Facebook thread about the piece:

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151981633102144&set=a.86221162143.85117.7642602143&type=1

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 10:16 am  Comments (31)  

Me, My Body, and Relationship Counseling

love-tummyMy body and I used to have a seriously bad relationship, and looking back it’s not that surprising. I grew up the daughter of a Marine and a multi-sport athlete. If I fell and ran to my father, I could expect to hear “Are you hurt or are you injured?” Hurt meant that it was time to suck it up; injured meant you were going to the doctor. He, along with coaches and dance teachers told me to “walk it off”, “play through the pain” and that “pain is fear leaving the body.”

I was told over and over again that my body was just a limitation to be overcome through mental toughness  – blocking out or working through the pain. It didn’t come naturally at first – I seemed to have an innate sense that my body deserved better than that, but at some point I turned a corner and got really good at thinking of my body as something separate, and something to be ignored.

I worked through stress fractures, and an IT band so tight it felt like it was going to rip in half, pulled muscles, sprains, strains, jammed fingers, knee injuries and a host of other issues. I ignored my body when it asked for food and hydration, and I scoffed at it when it asked for rest.

I became a compulsive exerciser and I started to look down on my body even more. I refused to give it what it needed and pushed it beyond reasonable, and then unreasonable, limits.  When my body would finally bend or break under the strain, I treated it with utter contempt. I believed that my body was just a “meat sack,”  a collection of muscles and bones that were trying to limit what I could do. I believed that my mind had to be stronger than my body and I felt triumphant when I ignored my body’s signals and “pushed through.”

If I ever had an acquaintance who treated me the way that I treated my body for all those years, I would never speak to them again. In fact, I would never have let it go on that long. But through all of this my body stuck with me (even though I wasn’t giving it the food, hydration, or rest it needed), my body continued to support me. It never gave up on me. If my body could talk, all it would have said for years would have probably be something like “&$*#(*@ *$*&*#(*$  and for the love of pete can we please take a nap?!” but I wouldn’t have listened.

We live in a culture that preaches that our bodies are limitations. I still think of my body as something separate (and I know and honor those for whom that doesn’t work.)  But it’s different now –  I consider my body is a cherished friend.  Think of everything your body does for you without you even asking: breathing, blinking, heart beating… every cell in your body is getting blood right now and you’re not even thinking about it.

I don’t know about you, but there are days when I am too distracted to focus on a game of solitaire. I’m pretty sure that  if I was consciously in charge of breathing and blinking and heart beat I would have been dead in middle school when I got my first Walkman and regularly walked into stuff because I was so into the soundtrack of A Chorus Line.

I’m not saying that pushing your body is always wrong, you have to decide what works for you. I know I’ve danced through plenty of injuries. What I’m suggesting is that you consider treating your body like you would treat a friend.  I can’t even count the things that my best friend has done for me, even though he might rather have been doing something else (hello marathon!) because he’s my best friend and he loves me and I asked. It’s the same with my body.

I’m privileged to be temporarily able-bodied and I learned more about that when I had a neck injury last year and lost the use of my right arm for almost three months.  I learned that even if my body has limitations, that doesn’t make my body a limitation and that I worked best when it was me and my body against a problem, and not me against my body. I don’t know what is in the future for me and my body and like any relationship, my body and I have to keep up the communication and we have breakdowns, but we’ve come a long way since our days of giving each other the silent treatment, and I’m feel like our relationship is healthier than it’s ever been.

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Published in: on January 24, 2014 at 8:44 am  Comments (16)  

Just By Looking At Us

People believing that they can glean tons of information about others based only on their body size is reaching *cough* epidemic levels in this country.

As has been said by the brilliant Marilyn Wann, there are exactly two things that you can tell by looking at someone’s size:

  1. What size they are
  2. What your preconceived notions and prejudices about that particular body size are

When people look at someone and think they know anything other than those two things, they are just acting on their preconceived notions and prejudices (which which is made much worse when they are doctors, eating disorder professionals and other people who should know better).

Many current cultures have developed intense preconceived notions and prejudices against body sizes (in some cultures they are against fat bodies, in some cultures they are against thin bodies).  In US culture there is currently a strong bias against fat bodies.  We are not the first or only group to be the subject of stereotyping and scapegoating, and we have options (always options, never obligations!)

We can notice how often these messages come at us from people who either want to sell us something, or want to put us down as a way to raise themselves up.  We can point out situations where we feel that people are operating from stereotypes and preconceived notions if we feel like it. We can remind people that health is multi-dimensional, not entirely under our control, and that each person gets to choose what health means to them, how important health is to them, and what path supports their priorities and goals.

Perhaps most importantly, we can work to be the person in charge of how we feel about ourselves, and to decide that we like, even love ourselves, regardless of how close or far we are from some arbitrary social ideal.  So as we deal with being stereotyped, stigmatized, and scapegoated, it may help to remember that it’s not us, it’s them, and we are under no obligation to buy into their stereotypes when we choose how to view ourselves.

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Published in: on January 23, 2014 at 10:21 am  Comments (10)  

Things That Are Still A Diet

Success and DietsThe term “Diet” has taken on the meaning of ” a method of eating which leads to weight loss.”  None of these methods have been shown to work for more than a tiny fraction of people (research list here) and it seems that information has gotten around because more and more companies are trying to market their “Diet” as anything but. This is, of course, bullshit.

Lean Cuisine has ads that say “ditch the diet and go on a try it!” and then suggest that people eat their frozen meals to lose weight.

Special K says that you should stop worrying about the number on the scale. Don’t get your hopes up, they still want us to buy their products in an attempt to lose weight, they just want us to call it “Size Sassy”. Seriously.

Weight Watchers says they aren’t a Diet, they’re a lifestyle choice.  It’s a lifestyle where you choose to be on a Diet. Also it really doesn’t work and they know it.

If someone is suggesting that you should eat fewer calories than you need (whether or not it’s in concern with burning calories through movement) in the hope that your body will consume itself and become smaller, they are putting you on a program that is almost sure to fail.  They can call it a try-it, a lifestyle choice, Size Sassy, or Petunia the Petulant Porcupine, but at the end of the day it’s the same Diet concept that’s been shown to fail the vast majority of people, and have the exact opposite of the intended effect on the majority of people you try it.  Which, I imagine, is why they are in such a hurry to call it something else.

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Published in: on January 22, 2014 at 7:13 am  Comments (42)  

Being a Jerk is Not Actually Brave

Jillian MichaelsYou know those people who pride themselves on “telling it like it is” and giving “tough love” to fatties.  Jillian Michaels, the authors of Skinny Bitch, Dr. Oz, random people I meet in the gym…People who defend their bullying actions by saying “Someone needs to be brave and stop coddling these fatties. I’m that person, put down the bon bons and get off your ass fatty”.  Here’s what I would like to say to them:

Newsflash  – there is not a fat person in this culture who hasn’t heard this before.  There are very few fat people who haven’t heard it in the last two hours.  We know what you think of us.  We are all too aware that you let your assumptions run wild and then treat us like your assumptions and stereotypes are true, and like public health means making fat peoples’ health the public’s business. We are aware that you think “Fat bad, thin good, shame the fatties grunt grunt grunt”. We can hear this message  386,170  times every year.  I’ve been fat for 17 years, which means I’ve heard it around 6,564,890 times.  How can you possibly think that hearing it 6,564,891 times is going to improve my life?   Being 6,564,891 does not make you special or brave, it makes you one more doody in a big ole pile of poo.  It is an act of hubris that is almost beyond understanding to not only be a bully, but to ask for credit by claiming that your bullying is an act of bravery.

Maybe you are actually so deluded that you think this is a good idea.  Maybe this is all an exercise to stroke your massive ego.  Maybe you think you’re the fatty whisperer.  Or maybe it just makes you feel good to treat people like crap.  I don’t really care because bullying is inappropriate in any guise.   If someone is interested in hearing your “tough” talk I’m sure you’ll be among the very first people to know and then let ‘er rip, otherwise how about you sit down and shut up.

Or you could swim against the stream and treat fat people like the intelligent human beings we are- not like confused misguided sheep who need your strong guidance – and encourage others to do the same.  Let there be a fat person who only hears 386,169 messages about their body because you refused to pile on the shame and body hate.  That’s brave.

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Published in: on January 21, 2014 at 6:49 am  Comments (64)  

Research, the Media and Obesity – A Case Study

Reality and PerceptionIn a discussion about fatness and health that I was involved in on Facebook, someone posted an article called “Direct Link Between Obesity and Pancreatic Cancer” with the statement “there is an animal study that shows a direct, causal link between obesity and pancreatic cancer.”

This is a perfect example of how the media does a terrible job of reporting research around weight and health. I’m going to talk about this using just the contents of the article itself to demonstrate how poorly this was reported.

What the research actually studied was the effects of two different diets on signs of possible future cancer in mice.  They found that one diet led to higher body size and higher incidence of lesions that are often a precursor to cancer.   What the researchers actually found was correctly stated in the piece:  “These observations suggest that such a diet leads to weight gain, metabolism disturbances, pancreas inflammation and pancreas lesions that are precursors to cancer.” This is hardly proving causality between body size and cancer (note the use of the terms “such a diet” and  “suggest”), in fact, they are considering body size a possible side effect of diet, but are clear that this study is looking at diet, not body size.

The only fat mice they studied were fat mice who had been fed a specific high calorie, high fat diet.  They didn’t test low calorie high fat diets, high fat low calorie diets, diets that were high fat and calorie and included 5 servings of fruits and vegetables and 30 minutes of movement a day, nor did they have a group of mice of various sizes doing intuitive eating.  They studied only two specific diets – one high fat high calorie, the other low fat low calorie which limits the conclusions that they can draw about diet and cancer, and pretty much excludes any conclusions about general body size separate from diet.

The researcher said “These lesions take a long time to develop into cancer, so there is enough time for cancer preventive strategies, such as changing to a lower fat, lower calorie diet, to have a positive effect.”  Whether or not we agree with the conclusions (and let’s remember that they didn’t actually test these strategies to see if they worked in these mice), note that they do not recommend a change in body size, but rather a change in diet because, once again, this is a study of what the mice ate, not the body size of the mice.

The media is stating the correct facts and then drawing completely incorrect conclusions.   In order for there to be a “direct causal link” between obesity and cancer, they would have to study body size, not diet (because not all fat people/mice eat the same diet) and they would have to figure out the mechanism by which having a body with a specific ratio of weight and height (which is what “obesity” is) causes cancer (pro tip, assuming that all fat people eat a high calorie high fat diet is stereotyping, not science).  This study doesn’t even come close to doing that and so we’re back to correlation and we’ve talked about the many issues with that. The media has a pesky habit of reporting science in the context of the stereotypes and prejudices of our time, this story appeared on a website called Medical News Today so I can understand why people would take the headline at face value but, as we’ve so often seen, when it comes to the media and reporting on “obesity” and health, it’s always reader beware.

If you’re looking for more information about the issues with research and recommendations about “obesity” and health, I recommend this article http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9

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Published in: on January 20, 2014 at 10:36 am  Comments (25)  

Obesity, Smoking, and Public Health

Public HealthIt seems like more and more often I’m seeing public health discussion in which fat is compared to smoking.  This is absolutely not an apt comparison and here is why.

The main difference is pretty simple.  Smoking in a behavior – every smoker smokes.  Being fat is a body size, being listed as “overweight” or “obese” in current medial science is a ratio of weight and height and it’s been changed over time, including at the request of companies that sell dieting.  Fat people are as varied in their habits and behaviors as any group of people who share one physical characteristic.

Now let’s talk about what a successful intervention looks like.  Smokers become non-smokers when they quit smoking – when they stop doing a single specific behavior. In order for  fat people to become not fat, they must change their body size.  There are no studies where more than a tiny fraction of fat people are able to become thin in the long term, with the behavioral solutions of “eat less and exercise more” failing just as often as what are considered fad diets.  Because being fat is a body size, not a behavior, there’s not a clear behavioral intervention.

For these reasons, even if someone believes that being fat requires public health intervention (and I don’t think it does) and even if someone believes that shaming smokers has been/is a good public health intervention (and I’m not suggesting that it is) they cannot logically draw the conclusion that shaming is an appropriate intervention for fat people.  Shaming smokers shames people for something that they do, shaming fat people shames them for who they are.  If smokers wish to avoid the shame and stigma they have the option to hide their behavior.  Fat people have no such option except to avoid ever going out in public.  It’s simply not the same thing.

Then there are issues with attempts and failures.  Even if we assume that smoking and weight loss have a similar failure rate (ie: the vast majority of people fail long term) the difference here is that a smoker is statistically healthier for every day they don’t smoke – even if they start smoking again.  Dieting does not work that way.  Each time we feed our body less food than it needs to survive in the hopes that it will eat itself and become smaller, we open ourselves up to health risks including those from weight cycling and from caloric deficit, as well as rebound weight gain.  If we think that being fat is unhealthy, then statistically a weight loss intervention is the worst possible recommendation since the majority of people who lose weight end up gaining it back plus more.

Smoking is causally related to health problems, obesity is correlationally related.  There is good research showing that quitting smoking improves health. In addition to a lack of evidence that significant long term weight loss is likely or even possible for most people, there is also no research showing that fat people who are able suppress their weight have health improvements because of the weight loss.  There is, in fact, research that suggests that they don’t.

Regardless of what you believe about smoking and “obesity”, they are simply not comparable from a public health perspective and continuing to treat them as if they are does a disservice to everyone involved.

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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on January 17, 2014 at 10:45 am  Comments (45)  

Fat People and Tax Dollars

“As long as my insurance and tax dollars continue to pay for there [sic] diabetes, and heart disease, I’ll continue to feel justified in telling every overweight person I see that they need to lose weight.  Shame is powerful and there [sic] fat is costing me real money”

So I read when I broke the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and read the comments.

First of all, when someone brings this up I typically demand to see their list of things that their tax dollars pay for, broken down into things that they want to pay for and things that they don’t, and the interventions in which they are participating for each of the things they don’t want to pay for.  Nobody has ever produced such a list – I think that’s because this really doesn’t have anything to do with their tax dollars, it’s simply a convenient way to couch their size bigotry.

This argument is based on shaky claims that fat people are unhealthy and going to cost more money than thin people in healthcare.   I’m going to look at this two ways.  First the reality, and then as if those assumptions were true:

Reality:

Independent research has shown that the cost claims about fat people’s healthcare are seriously overblown (thanks to a world where people can say almost anything about fat people and it will be believed.)   The truth is, you cannot tell how healthy a person is by looking at them, you can only tell what size they are.  There is no such thing as a healthy weight.  Health is complicated, multidimensional, and not entirely within our control.  People make all kinds of choices that don’t prioritize their health, they are allowed to make those choices, and you can’t tell based on their size.

Also, research from Columbia has shown that shame and stigma can have negative affects on our health, so it’s possible that if their tax dollars are paying for fat people’s healthcare, they may  actually paying for the results of their fat shaming and bigotry. (We’ll never know the effects that shaming has on fat people until we stop shaming fat people.)

Fat people are targeted because we are easily identifiable by sight, and it’s never a good idea to take a group of people who can be identified by sight and suggest that they should be eradicated to make things cheaper for everyone else.  Not to mention that nobody making this argument can show a single method of weight loss that has been shown to work for more than a tiny fraction of people over the long term.

But let’s pretend that the assumption is true.  In that case:  I’m fat, so I’m unhealthy and may cost more money. But…

Fat people pay taxes too, and our taxes go to pay for the war on obesity – we are actually funding a war waged against us by our government for the purpose of our eradication.

I’ve never even smoked a cigarette.  And yet my tax dollars go to all the people who get health problems related to smoking.

I don’t drink.  I’ve never even been drunk. And yet my tax dollars pay for cirrhosis, drunk driving accidents and alcohol poisoning.

I’ve never done drugs.  And yet my tax dollars pay for people whose lives and bodies fall apart due to drug addiction.

I look both ways before I cross the street.  And yet I have to pay for people who get run over after failing to do so.

I don’t mountain climb, but my tax dollars pay for the healthcare costs of people whose attempts to do so are dramatically unsuccessful.

And well they should, because that’s how civilized societies behave. I would rather my tax dollars pay for antibiotics to cure bronchitis than pay for an ER visit and hospitalization for pneumonia.  And I’d rather my tax dollars pay for an ER visit and hospitalization for pneumonia than pay for a public funeral because someone didn’t have access to healthcare.  I think that a society where everyone has access to healthcare is better from every possible angle and so I’m interested in removing barriers to healthcare, not justifying them with an argument about my tax dollars.

Even if health was entirely within our control, I’d  rather my tax dollars go to the healthcare of people who make different choices than I do than live in a world where there is someone who gets to tell us all how we should live and I think that the people making the “fat people and my tax dollars” argument would agree.  I’ve also noticed that people who want to police my “health” (and by health I actually mean body size which is not the same thing) are never that excited to have other people police their health.  Should vegans only have to pay for the healthcare of other vegans if they believe that’s the healthiest lifestyle?  Should Christian Scientists taxes not have to pay for any healthcare at all?  Should people without cars not have to pay taxes for the road, should people without kids not have to pay taxes for schools?  Since I think that people who make this argument are bullies should I not have to pay for their healthcare since I don’t like bullies?

Marathoners drop dead of heart attacks.  People who do everything “right” (“right” here having the meaning of “what health concern trolls say we should do”) die of diseases to which they were genetically predisposed. Other people live their lives in ways with which we disagree, we live our lives in ways with which other people disagree, and all this “won’t somebody think of my tax dollars” hand wringing is nothing but thinly veiled fat bigotry.

If someone starts talking about their tax dollars, I tell them that I need to see the list of things their tax dollars pay for, broken down into things they do and don’t agree with, and the interventions they are involved in for everything they think makes their taxes too high. Otherwise, I’m going to assume that this is a bullshit excuse for engaging in weight bullying and this conversation is over.

Bottom line:

Even if they could prove that being fat makes me unhealthy (which they can’t). And even if they had a method that was scientifically proven to lead to successful long term weight loss  (which they don’t). And even if there was proof that losing weight would make me healthier (which there isn’t). And even if they were going to go around yelling at smokers, drinkers, jay walkers, and thin people who climb mountains (which they aren’t) this slope is still too slippery.  And that doesn’t take into account the reality that their premise is completely flawed, their assumptions are faulty, and their method of shaming people is utterly ineffective since they can’t make us hate ourselves healthy or thin.

So I think it would be dandy if they would just shut up.

Like my blog?  Here’s more of my stuff!

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Interviews with Amazing Activists!!  Help Activists tell our movement’s history in their own words.  Support In Our Own Words:  A Fat Activist History Project!

If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on January 15, 2014 at 1:57 pm  Comments (34)