As a society we are engaged in plenty of wailing and hand-wringing about the “problem” of “obesity” (which is to say that problem of people whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is greater than 30). This creates an environment of shame, stigma, bullying and oppression based on how people look. Also, the truth is that “obesity” is a body size – it’s not an eating disorder, it’s not a diagnosis. it’s not the problem. All of this flailing muppet arm won’tsomebodythinkofthefatpeople drama draws attention away from actual problems that we could be addressing.
There is definitely a problem (several actually), but it’s not obesity.
Stigma is a problem.
According to research from Dr. Peter Muennig, a health professor from Columbia:
“Women who say they feel they are too heavy suffer more mental and physical illness than women who say they feel fine about their size — no matter what they weigh.”
When you say that body size is the problem then you are telling people to have a problem with their bodies – betting that they will somehow hate themselves thin and healthy (which are two different things). Knowing what Dr. Muennig’s research found, and knowing that we live in a world where people spend their time making sure that we get a ceaseless stream of body hatred, it would make more sense if people of size did suffer more mental and physical illness. But if that’s the case then the issue is not obesity, it’s social stigma, and even if there was a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people succeeded at weight – thus giving us some reason to believe that it is successful, weight loss is not the cure for social stigma. Ending social stigma is the cure for social stigma.
Speaking of stigma, Dr. Muennig also tells us:
“Stigma and prejudice are intensely stressful. Over time, such chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure and diabetes.”
Like the stress of being constantly stigmatized by everyone from jerks on the internet to doctors perhaps? How about we give ending social stigma around body size a try? Couldn’t hurt, would probably help.
Making individual health the public’s business is a problem
Someone’s health, their prioritization of their health, and the path they choose to reach any health goals that they may choose are intensely personal and not a matter for public consumption. Health is not entirely within our control. Health is not a barometer for worthiness, it is not a societal obligation, it is not anybody’s business. Public health should be about providing health options to the public, not about making the individual’s health the public’s business.
Access is a problem
We’re spending so much time buying and selling thin, that we’ve forgotten about actual health. Sixty billion dollars went to the diet industry last year. Meanwhile, plenty of people don’t have access to the foods that they want to eat, or to safe (both physically and psychologically safe) movement options. Sixty billion dollars could have created 60,000 100 acre organic farms. It could have created 60,000 community centers with lots of movement options and sliding scale member fees. And that’s just in one year of diet spending. In order to “fight” the “problem” of people living in larger bodies, we gave sixty billion dollars to an industry with a less than 5% success rate that has been sued repeatedly by the US Trade Commission for deceptive trade practices and LOST EVERY TIME.
Studies show us over and over that healthy habits, not weight, are the best predictor of future health. Health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control – it includes genetics, access, stress, past behaviors and current behaviors, and health is never guaranteed. Everybody is going to die and if you don’t get hit by a bus it’s pretty likely that things will go wrong with your body, and there is no magical “healthy weight” that will stop that from happening.
Focusing on body size misleads people about health habits, leading fat people to believe that habits don’t support our health unless they make us thin, and telling thin people that they are healthy because of their size and regardless of their habits which is not what the research shows. It also gets in the way of the proper treatment of actual health issues in people of all sizes. Doctors neglect to do basic diagnostic tests on thin people because they assume that they are healthy, and people of size aren’t properly diagnosed because doctors are too busy giving a diagnosis of fat and a treatment protocol of weight loss. We can do better than this.
There is nothing – NOTHING – that could possibly be achieved by a war on fat people that couldn’t be achieved by an initiative for providing access to healthy foods, enjoyable movement options and affordable evidence-based healthcare to those who want them, and the latter creates an environment where people of all sizes are treated with respect and given the opportunity to appreciate, like, even love their bodies.
Like my blog? Here’s more of my stuff!
My 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 help 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