Fat Discrimination Is Real Discrimination

WTFIn an absolutely ridiculous piece for The Mirror, Fiona Phillips tries to make the point that discrimination against fat people is somehow not “real” discrimination.

Now, obviously, we can’t really take someone seriously as a journalist when she says “overeating costs the NHS alone over £5billion a year and takes up beds that could be used by those who haven’t eaten their way to illness.”  Not only does she make a beginner statistics correlation vs causation error (assuming that body size causes diseases when there is no proof of that), the statistics she’s using are actually about a ratio of weight and height, not how much people eat – but somehow she thinks that “overeating” is actually interchangeably with body size. (Also, any argument that includes the cost of obesity/tax dollars is a ridiculously slippery slope.)   But just in case the obesity epi-panic is so out of control that her complete ignorance in this area isn’t immediately apparent and utterly discrediting, let’s break down her main argument:

Insults aren’t productive but comparing it to other prejudices is also insulting to those who suffer abuse and injury because they have a difference they’re born with.

The title of the article is “Anti-obesity is not the same as other types of discrimination.” I don’t do a lot of comparison of discrimination except in my own experience so, speaking just for myself as a queer woman, this argument sounds damn familiar to me.  I came out in the mid nineties and did a lot of queer activism work (I was the first official liaison between the Queer community and student government at the University of Texas, I was one of the small group who started the Safe Space program at UT etc.)  I remember very well the argument that discrimination against queer people was justified because we could just choose to be straight and then the abuse would stop.   Even if I didn’t remember those days, I wouldn’t need to because it’s still happening.  I’ve written before about the horrifying nature of the argument that if we can “blame” people for something, then we should be “allowed” to discriminate against them for it.

Yes, fat people are discriminated against.  Yes, discrimination based on size is “real” discrimination that’s worth fighting.  No, it’s not ok. Ignoring the fact that there isn’t a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people have successfully lost weight (and success is generally defined as 2 to 5 pounds,) fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, or discrimination and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could become thin.

Just in case all of this wasn’t ridiculous enough, Fiona then blames fat people for our own discrimination – the old chestnut that if you’re being bullied you should ask yourself “Is it possible to change myself in a way that might get my bullies to stop beating me up?”  And if the answer is yes, you’re somehow obligated to do that because, people like Fiona believe, the problem isn’t bullies, it’s that people won’t respond to their bullying with self-loathing and compliance.  The idea that the only type of discrimination that’s wrong is discrimination against people who can’t change themselves to suit their bullies preferences is incredibly problematic on every level.  And we’re back to things that I would hope that everyone, or at least everyone who is not Fiona, understands.

Perhaps the saddest part of this whole thing is that she wrote the article in response to a study that found that fat shaming is correlated with higher weights.  I think this study is problematic on a number of levels, but her understanding of the study means that, at its base, her argument is that even though she thinks being fat is bad, and even though the research shows that weight discrimination and fat shaming are correlated with people being fatter, Fiona is still wasting digital ink to argue that discriminating against fat people isn’t that bad. It sounds to me like a woman desperate to justify her desire to treat a group of people poorly based on how we look, but of course that’s just a guess. It really doesn’t matter why she does it, as long as we’re clear on how very wrong she is.

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Published in: on September 20, 2014 at 8:43 am  Comments (16)  

16 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Fiona needs to take a stat refresher course!

  2. When I was a kid, I took a lot of schoolyard grief because my mother made all my clothes. She actually started doing that when I was a toddler because even then I had extremely firm views on what I liked to wear and it just wasn’t off-the-rack stuff. She quickly realized that if I didn’t like it, I wouldn’t wear it, and the quickest way to make sure I liked something was to consult with me and create it.

    Luckily, my mother was a talented seamstress who enjoyed sewing. It also quickly became a huge bonding thing between us. We would go to the fabric store together, pore over the pattern books, discuss which fabrics would be best for which outfits, where I might wear certain things… I learned so much about cloth that for many years after, I could identify general fiber content by feel. Most of all, every single piece of clothing I owned was something that I loved right down to the bone.

    But my mother could have bought my clothes at dozens of stores. So according to Fiona Phillips, she ought to have done so simply because people expected it. I should not have been allowed to care about my clothes, nor to learn more about what it was I liked and disliked. I should not have been allowed to develop my own style when it mattered most to me. I should have gone without one of the best bonding experiences I have shared with ANYONE in my entire life… all because I might have made me a slightly less attractive target to schoolyard sadists when I was seven.

    Fuck that noise.

    My body is simply my body. It comes in the size and shape it comes in and it doesn’t come in another. But this woman wants me to spend all my time, energy, money, and self-esteem in a desperate (and utterly futile) attempt to change it to fit a more popular size?

    Fuck that noise, too, not to mention the horse it rode in on.

    • What a beautiful experience! Thank you for sharing it with us. You’re absolutely right – fuck that noise and the horse it rode in on – let’s not forget the mangy dog that followed!

    • Twistie, I LOVE reading your responses just about as much as I love reading Ragen’s posts. What an amazing story, and I’m so glad you didn’t give up on your individuality for the sake of others. Keep on rocking!

    • You are so very wonderful! I wouldn’t give up the wonderful experiences you had with your mother with regard to clothing for all the bullies in the world! Fuck that noise, indeed!

  3. You’re making me think of all of the ways that we discriminate without thinking about it. Not having seats that fit is only the tip of the iceberg.

  4. Reblogged this on I bokhörnan, med partitur och manus and commented:
    Läs, läs, läs! Så viktigt om vårt utseendefixerade samhälle!

  5. My school is to blame for the low level activism I engage in, they taught me that when you are bullied you should inform the relevant authorities and that my complaints would be taken seriously and handled properly.

    They never suggested I should change or that I deserved the treatment I got. I wasn’t perfect as a kid or teen but I got options that didn’t include me having to pretend to be someone different. I got given a choice when the bullying got bad to sit in the teachers lounge, sit in the room the role playing group used or continue as I had been and they’d deal with things as they happened. Being offered a safe space to relax but not being forced to hide made a big difference and contributed to my understanding of why safe spaces online and off are so important but so is the ability to just get on with life so we aren’t forced to isolate ourselves.

    Every time someone writes an article about how people who look like me are a drain on the NHS I wanna laugh, she’s part of the reason I avoid doctors until things get to the point I can’t ignore them any longer and I actually found a doctor that looks at my symptoms, not my body size. If I can’t bring myself to visit a doctor I know will take me seriously then how many other people are avoiding doctors ’cause they know they’ll just be told to lose weight.

    People who write articles like this need to get a large ugly boil on their bum which they are too embarrassed to see the doctor about until it gets to be seriously inconvenient and when lanced leave an uncomfortable place on their bum. Maybe then they’ll manage to scrounge up some empathy for the people they are castigating.

    • I think the bum is too generous a place for it. It should be on the other “down there” place, that way it’s really unpleasant.

  6. The lovely Ms Chastain knocks it out of the park again.

    I would hazard to guess that most of us here have more than our fair share of bullying. I was intensely bullied because I was the fat gay kid. My dad would treat me with open disdain because I wouldn’t or couldn’t fight back. My mom was much sweeter and her answer to my grief was baking an entire tube of nestle chocolate cookies and have a crying, hugging, pig out session. Despite “experts” saying it was “bad” these sessions provided me with the coping skills and stress relief to get through elementary and middle school.

    Thank god I learned how to deal with it because in 2014, at 40 years old I am bullied every day. In print, on TV, on the internet and in emails. I am bulled in the doctors office, I am bullied by Al Bundy wanna-bes at work (hellooooo 1990 called, it wants its reference back) and although I don’t live in GB under the NHS, our own government accuses us as being a huge part of rising health care costs.

    Perhaps the government didn’t see the raw sewage dumped in my beloved San Diego bay, or that we spend 40 hours a week stressed at work (the world standard is 30 hours), perhaps they didn’t notice the vast stress from sizeism, albeism and racism encountered every day, for which they are largely responsible. They didn’t see or they chose to look the other way, how about we fix all that stuff before blaming a portion of the population who just want to go on loving and living, as we are, right now.

  7. Hm, yes, we should all change to conform whenever and wherever we can. And learn to take a joke. And to get over it. And not take everything so seriously. And realize the other person had good intentions.

    Oh look it’s all the things that make me not get along with family and also have made it hard to believe people like me just the way I am.

    Being told to change to be accepted is a really shitty thing.

  8. Yeah, I totally wasn’t discriminated against when that person flat-out told me at a job interview that I was not up to the demands of a desk job, because fat.

    Refused testing for non-fatty-disease symptoms because obvs. my problem had to be a fatty disease that I do not have and never even came close to having? Totes not discrimination.

    Ooh, when I had to go without a knee brace after a spectacular fall in the woods because obvs. fat women don’t ever need them, so the provider didn’t even know where I could get one? Nooo, not discriminatory at all.

    And if I would just get with the program and take something that might kill me so that I would be of a socially acceptable shape, then these totally imaginary discriminatory issues would no longer trouble me. Gosh, thanks for the enlightenment.

  9. Daughter has had it confirmed – there IS an M.E. support group that offers various graded-exercise and other programmes, available on the NHS, but she can’t be referred to it because she’s too fat. Her BMI is too high, and she must lose 40 pounds before they can start tackling the M.E. which has resulted in her being overweight in the first place. Treatment for a variety of ailments, syndromes and problems on the NHS is conditional on being the right weight. It’s disgusting.

    • So sorry for your daughter’s issues with the stupid rules the NHS has put in place so that only people of “acceptable” weight get the care they “deserve” That is so terribly awful and mind-numbingly stupid.

    • That is outrageous, Nyree!!! A good friend of mine, who is in her early sixties, has just been told that, despite the fact she urgently needs a knee replacement, she can’t have one until her BMI is down to 35 or less. In other words, she’s too fat in the opinion of her consultant. She told him that whilst she’d love to be able to exercise more, she simply can’t, because it’s too painful, and he told her that it’s nothing to do with exercise, it’s what she eats – he did not ask her anything about what she might or might not eat, just assumed that she eats “badly” and that this has led to her current weight and size. He even said that he’d refer her to one of those two very well known weight loss companies!!!! Her poor knee is nothing to do with how much or little she might weigh. She has an underactive thyroid, into the bargain, and takes a number of different drugs for this and for asthma, along with numerous painkillers. Did it not strike her doctor that the cocktail of drugs might be contributing to her weight (even though it should not matter at all in respect of her knee)? If this is not discrimination, as with your daughter, I don’t know what is. Why should either of them have to suffer longer simply because some alleged healthcare expert considers that they are too fat? Neither ME nor an arthritic knee are caused, as far as I am aware, by being fat. I also know of people wanting to try IVF who have been told to lose weight first – again, as far as I know, your body weight has absolutely nothing to do with the process of conception!!

  10. Thank you for your work, Ragen. Thank you, thank you, thank you.


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