Stop letting the side down with your fat hate

This post has been knocking around in my head for a while but it’s timely after another round of The Great Liberal Fat-Hating Sugar Tax “Debate” has played out on the leftwing blogosphere.

There’s always an outcry when the phrase “fat hatred” gets used. “How dare you imply I hate fat people!” they say. “I’m just talking about the public health issues caused by obesity.”

You don’t hate fat people. And homophobic cake bakers in the US don’t hate gay people, they just want them to stop being gay in public (or anywhere else). And the boss who won’t hire women doesn’t hate women, he’s just making a rational financial choice because women just go off to have babies. The Tories don’t hate people on benefits, they’re just cynically appealing to their base by putting vulnerable people through a meatgrinder.

If you are a liberal, a left winger, or anyone who claims to oppose social injustice, you know damn well that oppression isn’t as black-and-white as someone literally nailing a “No Fatties” sign on the wall. If you’ve read so much as a Wikipedia summary of any historic human rights struggle, you know damn well “it’s science” is a well-trodden path to justifying systemic abuse and violence.

So stop clutching your pearls when people point out – in far more reasonable language than I will manage – that the demeaning, arrogant way you talk about fat people and your smarmy, paternalistic “solutions” to the problem of fat people existing is 100% hateful, oppressive, and contemptible.

Not because what you’re doing literally harms people by contributing to stigma which denies them access to jobs, homes, food or freedom. Not because you should recognise that fat people, including Those Awful Fat People Who Deliberately Make Bad Choices, are human beings with minds and autonomy.

Do it because when you hate on fat people, and when you pontificate about the virtue of denying them access to “bad” food, you are harming the movement. Put perfectly by Anna Mollow at Food, Fatness and Fitness:

The key to success, we are told, is to make “healthy choices.” Eat more kale! Cut back on carbs! These imperatives uphold two closely related ideologies: neoliberalism and fatphobia. Most of us on the Left know that rhetoric about individual choice is frequently used to support neoliberalism; by claiming that individuals have the power to shape their own destinies, defenders of the current social and economic order foreclose critiques of systemic injustice. Since false claims about the power of individual choice animate both neoliberal and anti-fat ideologies, one might expect the Left to have mounted a strenuous critique of fatphobia. But unfortunately, this has not been the case.

These are facts. A person’s weight is significantly controlled by genetics. Having a fat body is linked to but does not cause some health conditions the exact way sex, height and ethnicity are “linked” to different health conditions and risk factors. Diet and exercise do not explain why people get fat, and do not make naturally fat people thin. The diet industry is worth billions, and the companies who make money selling weight-loss plans and drugs which don’t work are doing exactly the kind of dodgy studies we get up in arms about when Coke commissions them.

There are serious health problems in our country. Actual diseases caused by substandard housing, actual illnesses made worse by a lack of varied food (where added sugar is a concern, but here’s the amazing irony: that’s because we decided too much fat made people fat so we got rid of all the fat in foods which made them taste awful!) We have actual epidemics of preventable diseases and we have too many families in our community who cannot afford a full load of groceries, or even the time to Just Grow Their Own Vegetables in the garden they don’t have because they’re living in their goddamned car.

Imposing a sugar tax fixes none of these. I hear your objection – “we want to do other stuff too!” – but you need to understand that none of that other stuff is happening. And it will never happen as long as you, the well-meaning liberals who just want to help the stupid poor people make better choices, continue to buy, believe, repeat and promote a fundamentally neoliberal ideology about fat people, food, and health.

Stop using rightwing memes to justify hatred. Stop saying “we must punish the fat people in order to save them”. Do something to actually make a difference in people’s lives: challenging the judgemental status quo, promoting real progressive ideas, building true solidarity against our capitalist oppressors and changing the damn world.

The enduring myths of fat and weight loss

A great summary of our society’s myths about fatness, weight loss and health from Big Fat Science, just as we hit the peak “starting a diet for the New Year” season.

“Obesity is one of the biggest killers in the Western World” 

False. Not even close. That would be poverty and lack of access to adequate nutrition and health care. Weight is actually a very weak and inconsistent predictor of mortality.

“there is no better way to curtail its effects on health than a healthy diet and exercise”

False. There is actually no known permanent and safe method for making fat people thin, and even if there was, losing weight does not improve health. Good nutrition (e.g., eating lots of fruits and vegetables) and exercise actually benefit everyone’s health, fat and thin, but do not change body size.

“ If you’re overweight or obese the best solution is to make incremental, lifelong changes to how you eat and exercise.

False.  There is actually no known permanent and safe method for making fat people thin. Moreover, dieting is unhealthy, and this is especially true for young people.

“Even this will have limited use in reversing the damage caused by years of unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle (certainly in those who have been obese from a young age)”

False. Body size is largely determined by genetics, not controllable behaviors like eating habits and activity level. Also, fat kids (and adults) actually eat less than thin kids and fat kids are just as active as thin kids.

The initial comment BFS was responding to spouts all the usual religious dogma of fat hatred. Don’t we all know that obesity is the Biggest Killer Of People and Healthy Diet And Exercise fixes everything and it’s Just That Easy?

But none of these things are true, and while we continue to accept them as gospel, all we do is continue to harm fat people and fail to address real causes of poor health and nutrition.

A final point of interest for me is the assertion “no doctor would ever promote yo-yo dieting”. It goes back to the post I wrote about Dr Robyn Toomath’s “giving up” on her holy quest to make fat people thin. A number of people asserted at me that I was misrepresenting her, that she would never stigmatize fat people or push dangerous messages about crash diets.

The problem is, any diet, meaning a specific change to the way someone eats or exercises with the goal of inducing weight loss, is a crash diet. Any plan designed to make people lose weight is 95% likely to be step one (or three, or five) of a yo-yo diet. Because diets do not work. They cannot work, because they all rely on the assumption that being thinner is healthier than being fatter, and thus that doing whatever it takes to become thinner must be a healthy activity.

And the horrible irony of it all is that through dieting, stigma, prejudice and outright medical malpractice, we as a society are actively damaging the health of fat people, and thin people too.

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.

Women of #nzpol Twitter: on weight, food and pregnancy

The “Women of #nzpol Twitter roundup” is brought to you in the interests of amplifying women’s voices in the political debate and also because:

sansa misandry

I got the inside running on this one by catching five minutes of Breakfast on One’s interview with John Key:

The rest of the media weren’t far behind.

I just want to note the first sentence of the article Andrea Vance linked to:

More than 60 per cent of pregnant women gain more weight than is recommended, which has implications for a child’s weight later in life.

Not implications for health; implications for weight. We’re so wedded to the notion that being fat automatically means you’re unhealthy that we don’t even need to establish whether or not weight gain in pregnancy leads to health issues. It just must because ew, fatties.

Take it away, Twitter:

https://twitter.com/Dovil/status/655982421607755776

And back to me:

https://twitter.com/MorganHopes/status/655970896092377088

For many, many informed perspectives on what happens when you force fat people to go to the doctor, check out First Do No Harm.

This is a common tune for me, but I’m just going to repeat it: fatness does not equal poor health. Thinness does not equal good health. Correlating certain diseases with fatness does not mean fatness causes those diseases. Considering the incredibly fatphobic society we live in, it’s ludicrous not to consider the effects of stress, deprivation, and societally-applauded yo-yo dieting on the overall health of fat people, even IF fat people were inherently less healthy than thin people, which they’re not.

And when it comes to policing the every waking thought and action of pregnant people – including how much weight they gain during pregnancy – there really aren’t good grounds to be talking about “evidence-based approaches”.

Stop talking about weight. Stop judging people based on their weight. Stop buying into the weightloss industry’s propaganda. Because if you want to know the #1 reason why we’re not having national conversations about food access, living wages, family time, and health awareness? Maybe it’s something to do with the fact we keep saying it’s all fat people’s fault for not being able to put down the doughnuts.

And for god’s sake stop making pregnant people responsible for the welfare of our entire society.

The personal impact of fat-hatred

I woke up yesterday looking forward to a relaxing fourth-day-of-a-long-weekend.

And one of the first things I saw on Twitter was an article which panickedly declared that

 

And I could go through all the same arguments which rapidly lose me Twitter followers: about the fact that classifications about what constitutes “overweight or obese” are almost entirely unscientific, about the fact this research was done by a “global management consulting firm”, about the incredibly influence and resources of the weightloss industry, about the fact that being overweight, obese, or even deathfat does not put you at higher risk of dying, about the fact that fat is incurable.

But that information’s already out there and if people are refusing to look at it, they’re not going to change their minds. So, I present a personal Twitter whinge-fest about how this kind of unscientific scaremongering affects me, personally.

And in the context of all that, some facts: it has been proven that doctors and nurses are biased against fat people. It’s proven that fat people fear medical discrimination so much they’ll avoid getting important checkups. And inflating healthcare costs actually aren’t the fault of fat people.

Maybe, if we’re really worried about the ~costs of obesity~, instead of promoting more diets (and medications, and surgical procedures) that don’t work and more bullying disguised as “get active” programmes, we could get the medical profession to treat fat people with basic dignity, respect, and proper practice. Might cut those costs a little, you think?