9.29.2011

ALL fat bodies are made into a public concern

Like most fat people, Chris Christie is apologetic for his body. Most fat people have internalized the fat shaming that gets directed at them every day of their lives. Most never even think to question it. Of course they shouldn't be fat. Its not a topic they ever give any consideration. Indeed, they often have more hostility towards fat activists because of this. Its important to remember, though, that internalizing fat shame doesn't immunize you from it.

There has been lot of concern trolling of Chris Christie lately along those very lines. People are gravely concerned about the prospects of him running for President. Not for his politics, mind you, but for his health. He obviously is much too unhealthy to consider higher office. This concern trolling has now reached the editorial pages of the Washington Post thanks to a supremely self-righteous bit of concern trolling from Eugene Robinson. He acknowledges that Christie feels ashamed of his size, but this merely justifies his paternalistic lecture about how Christie needs to lose weight if he plans to run for President. It is a shameful hit-piece and has no place in our political discussion. It builds on all sorts of tired and clich├ęd attacks on fat people.

Perhaps the most fundamental being the notion that this needs to be said. It is always preposterous when you see people so proud of themselves for stepping up and telling a fat person to stop being so fat. Already, we're seeing other pundits contribute to this by congratulating Robinson for saying the things that needed to be said. Why does everyone person who tries to put fatties in their place think they are the first person to do so? Heck, Robinson even quotes Christie saying he knows all of this. Christie AGREES, but that's still not enough to prevent the smug satisfaction over "telling it like it is".

Robinson also asserts that Christie is obviously too unhealthy to run for President. His proof? Well, just look at him being all fat and stuff. It takes him a while to offer anything more than his obvious fatness to justify his obvious lack of health, and even then the evidence is weaker than he'd like us to believe. Christie has had problems with asthma and was hospitalized for it briefly over the summer. When this happened, Christie obviously takes responsibility for his fatness, but also noted that he's relatively healthy by objective indicators. That doesn't slow Robinson down who proceeds to threaten Christie with the usual litany of fat diseases he's obviously going to fat himself with any day now.

Robinson continues by trotting out some dubious statistics about how fat people are causing the national health crisis. He tries to be clear that he's not blaming Christie for the National Debt crisis, shortly after blaming all fat people for the National Debt crisis. Easier to blame us collectively than individually, but don't forget that you can't do one without the other. We can't all be responsible for something without being responsible as individuals. Fat people having higher health care costs is something oft asserted, but with little discussion of what goes into that. Reading through Robinson's evidence, at least part of the increase is just based on costs associated with trying to make fat patients into not-fat patients. We'll never know much of the increase is due to fat people not receiving adequate preventive care due to stigmas involving seeking medical treatment while fat nor how much may be attributable to the life-time of weight cycling seen in virtually all fat patients who have made countless attempts to lose weight.

Robinson concludes by giving false lip-service to the notion that Christie isn't at fault for his weight. Sadly, this kind of tone is used by a lot of liberals eager to shame fat people collectively but rightfully squeamish about doing it individually. They like to talk about how they understand genetic factors, or they may try to blame evil corporations. Anything to comfort themselves with the notion that they aren't bullying fat people even while they are talking about how we need to eliminate fat people. Its an extremely hollow bit of pandering that I'm getting quite sick of. You can't write a whole column about how Christie needs to stop being so fat already and just assert that you aren't blaming him so you are somehow so terribly mature. Its a charade and one fat people aren't falling for. When you fixated on shaming and stigmatizing fatness, you are shaming and stigmatizing fat people. I don't care if you want to think you're better than that, but you aren't. You aren't saying anything different than all of the other people who tell us every day that our bodies are unacceptable. Your message is substantively NO different, no matter how you want to excuse it to yourselves.

Again, though, the tragedy of all of this is like with most fat shaming, its directed at someone who agrees with it. Maybe Christie will object to the the tone or venue, but he's repeatedly endorsed the substance. Yet people will still make a point to shame him over and over and over again. Christie will win himself no reprieve for his own acceptance of shame for his weight. It simply doesn't matter to the people doing the shaming. To them, if he didn't want to be shamed for his body, he should just stop being so fat at them.

What bothers me the most with Robinson's article, though, is his self-justification where he explains why this is his business. Christie's weight isn't a private matter, you see, because he has chosen to enter the public arena. Much like the "hasn't anyone told you to stop being fat" sentiment, this is the sort of wildly divorced from reality assertion that any fat person should just laugh at it. Really, his body is a public concern just because he's a public figure? Funny, because to most fat people, it seems like people are always making our bodies their business. No special justification needed, this is just another day in the life for a fat person. Our bodies are always treated like public property and we are subjected to repeated shaming and belittling for our transgressive size. Robinson may want to act like he's just making a special allowance for himself, but this is no special risk Christie faces for being in the public eye. Going out in public while fat is enough to make it a public issue for most people. What is happening to Christie is happening to fat people every day. Don't think for a second that he's some kind of special victim for being a fat politician, nor that he faces some sort of special responsibility for it, either. This is positively mundane.

I'm no fan of Christie politically. I think he'd make an awful President. There are lots of ways to make that case without concern trolling him for being fat. That is unequivocally wrong and I demand better. There is nothing mature about fixating on his weight instead of his policies. Christie gives people ample reason to oppose him based on his ideology. That has far more to do with how he'll govern than his pants size.

13 comments:

silentbeep said...

Also, his assertions that a fat person shouldn't ever be president because of "obvious" health reasons, makes no sense historically. There have been fat presidents, and they served their terms fully - their fat did not prevent them from doing their elected jobs (ex. Grover Cleveland, Howard Taft and Teddy Roosevelt).

O.C. said...

But Dick Cheney, his health statistics were AWESOME.

wriggles said...

Yeah, Churchill was a fat boozy depressive. The erm, "German Chancellor" at the time was much slimmer.

O.C. said...

My previous comment was flippant. Sorry about that.

But really, this is a job where people decide fairly regularly to shoot at you. Nobody's physical condition is going to stop that.

I don't much care for Christie's politics. But I hate that it would be sizism that will keep him from being elected. In the same way that sexism will keep Bachman from being elected. Couldn't we make our choices based on their offensive beliefs instead?

And if I remember correctly, Christie's gubernatorial challenger was a thinner guy, who did play up how healthy he was in comparison, but who had a habit of driving very fast without a seatbelt, and got in some serious accidents because of it. Yeah, it's ALL about personal choices and responsibility, isn't it?

bellacoker said...

Dick Cheney has a new, special, (very expensive) magical heart device, O.C.

Tori said...

I don't agree with Christie's politics, either -- and I think that's a valid reason for me not wanting him running the country where I live.

But I'm not okay with a public discourse that says fat people aren't fit for higher office. What if I want to be president one day?

JennyRose said...

Oh my poor, poor right wing fat hating friends. What a problem if he gets the nomination. What to do? They could never vote for a democrat much less the likes of Obama. They will likely go into denial saying he is not that fat or unhealthy etc. He will be basically one of the good ones. If they like his policies, any rationale or excuse will do.

O.C. said...

Bellacoker, I really want to make a Grinch joke, but I'm going to resist. :-)

Of all the "Christie's too fat" editorials, I'm most disappointed by Michael Kinsley's. His point is pretty much that fat people are morally corrupt, full stop. No subtlety, no evidence, just pure unabashed stereotyping that puts him, as a thin person, over all of us. It's so disappointing every time this happens, when someone I'd respected before shows themselves to be full of sh*t in a way that directly targets me. But then, I guess I'd rather see these people for who they are, and so often it's fat hate that gets them to reveal their seedy underbelly.

Arkveveen said...

Yeah, we live in a culture that really enjoys making obesity/fatness the number one scapegoat. It is truly a sad day when the already hated government is only concerned with making ludicrous accusations that fat people are causing the debt crisis when it is THEIR fault. My faith in humanity is staying strong, but I have lost faith in my government; if they want to participating in fat hate charades, they can go ahead and drive the United States into the ground with their constant bickering or division.

Politicians, doctors, and scientists tend to do this concern trolling to dodge finding real solutions for our problems or real cures for our health problems. They are self righteous and self serving fools who are blind to the real solutions to our problems.

It's just depressing... I especially get mad at these supposed 'costs' of obesity. This is nonsense. Everyone costs someone something, no matter what their weight is; it's a fact of LIFE and of capitalism.

Keep writing awesome blog entries Red No. 3, this made my day!

Jen said...

This is so so important. With all of the fat shaming going on with Christie and justification of it, it's important to remember that this shit happens to us "normal" fat people too and it's wrong on any level. Thank you for writing this.

footballisheartbreak said...

Where do I get the t-shirt for this? It's like you went inside my head and took out the exact thoughts I've had about this whole thing. As a politician, I cannot stand Christie, but people need to STHU about his weight because it has ZILCH to do with his potential as president AND (more importantly) his body is no one's business but his own!

PJ said...

The last several years of research have really changed the perspective of fat.

Previously it was thought of as mostly useless, inert baggage one just carried around.

Now it is seen as literally a "distributed organ" -- like skin. It 'expands' just like other organs do, in response to stress.

It is now being seen as a critical part of the immune system. Its expansion is directly related to, in layman terms, "absorbing" the problems internally and allowing liver, heart, kidney, brain, pancreas, etc. to benefit.

Fat cells are alive. The entire adipose system works as one. They put out their own hormones, pre-hormones and enzymes. They redistribute themselves. There is a larger 'systemic' intelligence at work.

So, it's not just inert luggage we're storing.

How fat a person gets is likely set by DNA although gene expression can be altered by environmental factors. See notes below about genetics.

So looking at fat as part of the immune system serving as a cushioning factor against disease, what you see is:

If the genetics let X gain 10# and no more, then X may have cancer or diabetes but they'll still be thin. If the genetics let X gain 80# and no more, then X is going to just be fat until they hit that point where the body-map says no more or slows it down so it can't keep up with the need, after which they might then develop that disease that up to that point, fat helped protect them from. This can go from 'no' extra weight to a relatively unlimited amount.

Most bodies have some allowance for adipose cell protection. That means that for the genetic subset of people whose bodies won't allow obesity, they just get disease while thin. For everyone else, which is the majority our stats show getting fatter, they get fat to the degree their body can protect them, and when they hit the end of that allowance, if they have not changed their food intake (or environment in rare cases), then they're going to end up finally manifesting disease.

Note: the great increase in obesity is not really distributed so much. As of ~ 2006 it was only 7-10#. But it's a bell curve so of course, you move it even slightly and overall number in the top range goes up hugely. Also, not everyone increased; the main and most increase is seen in certain genetic subgroups, where the increase is very large.

So if the gov't is going to take your kids, or not allow you to adopt, or if people are going to deny you a job or charge you more for healthcare, it might on the surface be because you are obese, but in reality it's more because you are, for example, Native American instead of Sudanese, so your genetics are wired for fat much moreso. Fattism is racism in disguise.

What the immune system element means is that when officials are saying "being fat causes or contributes to disease-X," this is not accurate. Fat doesn't cause disease; early stage disease (very mild initially) causes fat, as immune system protection. That's why nearly every disease is so highly correlated with fat; because fat is the last line of defense of the body, no matter what the stress it's having.

Dr. Sharma recently blogged on a paper in the NEJM that made very clear that weight regain is pretty much inevitable eventually. When you add this to the fact that yo-yo dieting is harmful to your health, and to reports such as from the RU genetics lab that even after gastric bypass they could feed people 700 calories a day and after a certain amount of weight lost, they didn't lose more. Mutilation and lifetime nutrient absorption (=doom) all for a loss you could get just eating primal for a couple years, followed by a nearly-all % of regain. Expecting people to "diet" vs. strive for health (regardless of weight) is like asking people to intentionally injure themselves repeatedly just to make someone feel better about looking at them.

PJ said...

You might find this interesting. Dr. Jeffrey Friedman, head of the laboratory of molecular genetics at Rockefeller U, who leads the team that discovered the hormone Leptin and one of the world's leading obesity researchers, had this to say in an interview several years ago:

"Based on estimates that can be done by analyzing twins, 80 percent of the variability in weight can be accounted for by genetic factors. It turns out if you look for obesity it is probably the second most heritable trait, second only to height, with which it is quite close."

"JF> ...those measures are rather limited in their efficacy and that to make the leap therefore that people who are not successful at keeping their weight off are at fault is just wrong headed. And there are all kinds of attributes about each of us that might draw the next person to draw a conclusion about them. But to draw conclusions about obese people, I think, is unenlightened to say the least about what their personal characteristics are.
Q> So to stigmatize them is sort of making fun of the situation that they don’t have much control over.
JF> I think that’s right and the ironic thing is that I think the more of an outlier one is for weight, the more obese, the more difficult it would be to actually normalize weight. And so if anyone should be stigmatized it would be someone like me who could easily lose 10 lbs. and doesn’t. I think for the people who are really significantly overweight, it’s just who they are -- to a very, very large extent.

"It’d be much better to forget about the stigma and assume people weigh what they weigh and then encourage people to do what they can to improve their health."

"I would ask everybody, listen to what I have to say and then think about the things you’ll read in the press about obese people and then substitute any other human characteristic in there in place of obesity. You’d never get away with it; you’d get arrested or something. I mean, the things that get said ... (let me give you a few examples. I was listening to Imus in the political campaign and they were talking about Bill Richardson as a possible vice-presidential candidate and a Newsweek reporter says Bill Richardson is being dismissed as a vice-presidential candidate because he’s too obese. What else could you have said and gotten away with? William Sensenbrenner, a congressman, is quoted in the New York Times as saying to the obese, “Look in the mirror because you’re the one to blame.” I could go on and on. You have an opera singer fired because they’re too obese. And she correctly pointed out that this is the last bastion of stigmatization in the country."

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