Anti-fat Surgeon General?

Well, okay, ANY Surgeon General likely to be nominated in the current political climate from either party is going to be anti-fat acceptance. Still, I hardly see that as a reason to not draw attention to some of the attitudes presented by rumored leading candidate to be the next Surgeon General, Dr. Sanjay Gupta of CNN.

Back in 2007, he participated in the "Big Fat Blame Game", making a pitch to blame working mothers for fat children. Feministe rightly noted that his approach seems to absolve fathers of any blame, but there is another problem here. There was no good reason for the theory to begin with. Its just another, "gosh, there are more fat people than in 1970/1980/1960/etc. What has changed in our culture that we can glibly blame?" FatFu listed some of the many supposed vilains subjecting the world to fat people.

Though he has spoken out agains the "Thin Ideal" in Time Magazine, his approach is typical of the mainstream medical establishment. Its trying to thread a needle, as it were, in treating "thin ideal" eating disorders without addressing the fat panic that contributes to them. I regard it as the "Oh, but you're not fat" approach to self-esteem. Its not really about addressing the fears, but rather its about trying to contradict them in specific instances. I should stress that I think a lot of the examples he cites in the article aren't doing that, but I definitely feel that this is the approach Gupta is taking. Barbie is bad, sure, but he doesn't want to actually encourage everyone to feel that their bodies are okay. "Body Acceptance for Acceptable Bodies" is not okay, and it usually just works to subvert Size Acceptance in the same way Weight Watchers does with their "Diets Don't Work" ad campaigns.

This point is driven home in a different article: "Sizing Up Your Body", which puts on equal footing a problem of people thinking they are fat when they aren't, with people who aren't fat when they are. He makes the silly case that the problem with fat people is that they don't know they are fat or that they think this okay. This drives me crazy. Its so divorced from the real world. I'm sorry, but fat people KNOW they are fat. They are reminded constantly. The idea that the problem in our culture is that we're too easy on fat people is simply not credible, so it concerns me that Gupta is explicitly endorsing such a position. He revisits it in an even more absurd article taking doctors to task for not pressuing fat people to lose weight. He doesn't even base this criticism on any study showing that doctors aren't pressuring fat people to lose weight. Just that they don't always note it in their medical charts. He's assuming from this that it wasn't brought up. Again, from the shared experiences of countless fat people, I simply don't find it to be a credible position to suggest that doctors are going easy on fat patients.

Most frightening is Gupta advocacy for a "Fat Tax" proposal in San Francisco. Though most proposals that have gotten a serious airing to date (include the SF proposal) have focused on taxing products presumed to be at fault for the existance of fat people, many in the anti-fat movement have been agitating for even worse suggestions that would institute a direct financial penalty on people because of their weight. Note that Gupta essentially buries the fact that there is no proof that products with corn syrup cause fatness in his report. Isn't that a pretty important point to the matter? He still concludes that the idea is fine and that we should avoid corn syrup without offering any evidence of its faults. He just asserts it. The increasing talk of "Fat Taxes" scare the hell out of me, and I don't want someone who approves of them in any fashion as Surgeon General.

Nobel laureate economist Paul Krugman has expressed his dissatisfaction with Gupta on different grounds, but ones which I think have some relevance to a fat acceptance appraisal of Gupta. His complaint is with Gupta's criticism of Michael Moore's film Sicko. Specifically that Gupta accused Moore of getting his facts wrong, but Gupta repeatedly fudged his own facts in doing so. Krugman notes that Gupta seemed to be dismissing Moore simply because he was an outsider. How could his facts be right? He's just a shock-doc director? That strikes me as much of the way the medical establishment treats fat acceptance and especially those scientist who question fat stigmatization. Its usually refutation through assertion. We aren't right because we aren't right. We can't be right, so we aren't right.

Fat Acceptance is not likely to get what they want, though. Even if Gupta is not picked, any likely alternative will surely tow the medical establishments line on fatness. Like I said, though, that's not a reason not to call them out for it.

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