The despair of “obesity battlers”

A few tweets I made this morning after seeing this lamentation on Radio NZ’s website:

This is an idea I’ve had rattling around in my head for a while – the constant messages and stigma focused on fat people (right from the get-go, depersonalizing us by talking about “obesity” as an amorphous, scary phenomenon) aren’t science any more. They’re religion.

Perhaps I’m too cynical, but making a headline by quitting and parrotting the usual demonizing lines – the Obesity Monster will destroy us all, the Obesity Monster is ruining our health system – and then mentioning “oh, by the way I have a book out soon” rings far too hollow to me.

For more information about Health at Every Size, I cannot recommend enough checking out Dr Linda Bacon’s website. Also:

I know this runs counter to so many ideas which are so deeply embedded in our society and media. We’re constantly reminded to associate physical size with health, and health with moral virtue. We’re meant to believe that weightloss is just this easy and that the only reason 95% of diets don’t work is because of personal failure and weakness.

But when we step away from the framing of “obesity” as a modern-day Nothing and remember we’re talking about people who happen to be fat, the whole facade starts to crumble. We can see that there’s a difference between having a certain body shape and having an actual defined health issue (like diabetes – which doesn’t only affect fat people – or high blood pressure – which doesn’t affect all fat people – or PCOS – which can cause weight gain but isn’t caused by being fat).

That’s crucial to being able to do something about those conditions instead of ignoring all the evidence that diets don’t work and fat stigma harms people far more than being fat does. That’s evidently something Dr Robyn Toomath wasn’t able to do. So, frankly, good riddance to her.

8 Replies to “The despair of “obesity battlers””

  1. I reckon you’ve misrepresented Robyn’s message. She is AGAINST the personal responsibility message, against ANY stigmatising of people who are fat. She says weight is partly due to genetics and partly due to the obesogenic environment we live in. Her campaign is not about getting people to diet – the exact opposite. She says diets don’t work. She wants food industry targetted.

    True she is not supporting a healthy at any size message – but it is wrong to claim she has spent 14 years pushing people onto diets (it is clear she hasn’t), also wrong (I think) to suggest she is just throwing a tanty to get publicity for her book. I doubt someone who works in the frontline with diabetes patients and campaigns against government food policies in her spare time just does this to get book sales! That a bit like claiming Nicky Hagar write his last book to make himself rich…

    1. I disagree. The fact she has quit her job and has a book coming out is the “hook” of the story. The article reinforces all the usual tropes about fat people (check out the really tasteful “gross fat person’s stomach” photo at the top). And I seriously object to language like “obesogenic environment” – it only contributes further to the idea that fat people are useless/helpless/not in control/too stupid to ~put down the donuts~ or whatever.

      After 14 years, her best ideas, as presented in the article, are surgery and food taxes: two of the most basic, dehumanizing, fat-people-are-fat-because-they-can’t-control-themselves “tactics” we have in the “fight against obesity”.

  2. She has quit her job? Where does it say that? She is a clinician at ADHB…. And the book isn’t out for some time so this is hardly good timing for book promotion.

    1. The article clearly states she’s “quitting the fight” and that the book will be “her swansong”. It’s possible this refers to shutting down the charmingly-named “FOE” campaign, not leaving her actual job, but whatever the case, her “quitting” is the basis of the article.

  3. I reckon you’re shooting from the lip, again. A close family member who is an endocrinologist focusing particularly on diabetic disorders tells me often that the problems of obesity are structural within the community; and btw, to try to limit obesity is not the same at all as trying to limit ‘fatness’. YOU used the fat word, for what it’s worth. Too many women’s mags, maybe.

    1. You must be joking to suggest that talking about “obesity” is different from talking about “fatness” – a word which, unlike you, I don’t see as a pejorative.

      Like many people, you’re talking about “the problems of obesity” as though being fat – because that’s what “obesity” means – is in of itself a health problem. It isn’t. Fat people can be athletic. Thin people can be sedentary. Fat people can have zero health problems. Thin people can have many health problems. But time and again, we assume that a person’s body size (or a population’s distribution of body sizes) is enough to make judgements about their health and wellbeing.

      The radical notion I suggest is we stop demonizing individual fat people as a class and focus on actual health issues we can actually fix! It’s so out there it might just work.

      Maybe also try not to make bizarre sexist comments about the magazines you assume I read.

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