Yeah, but fat is bad.

Hop to it, boys! Some dweeb whose parents shipped him off to school in France because they couldn't stand to be around him says there's an SJW in those hills! Swarm out! If we go even 5 minutes without resenting someone online, who knows what will happen?!? We might accidentally live productive lives with meaning and WE CAN'T HAVE THAT NOW CAN WE?!?

One of the biggest challenges in trying to talk about fat acceptance is that it is so radical of a suggestion that most people just refuse to believe we're making it. They refuse to think we are actually disagreeing them, that we are actually challenging fat stigmatization. Indeed, many backers of fat shaming are so busy flattering their "good intentions", that they just cannot process someone disturbing this moral superiority.

I got this vibe very distinctly from Lindsay Beyerstein's (http://prospect.org/article/preventing-childhood-obesity-not-fat-shaming) article at Tapped responding to Paul Campos speaking out (http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2011/03/helpful-oppressors) on the fat shaming in Michele Obama's anti-fat children campaign. Campos made the analogy to challenge some people to consider a different perspective on fatness, and Beyerstein's response seems to be "Yeah, but fat is bad, so that doesn't make sense".

That's kind of the point, though. Its not supposed to make sense if you think fat is bad. We're suggesting you stop thinking that. The analogy that Beyerstein counters with about short people misses the point Campos was making that you cannot divorce "obesity" shaming from shaming fat people any more than you can divorce "homosexuality" shaming from the shaming of gays and lesbians. Fat stigmatizers, like gay stigmatizers, want to think there is a difference. That they hate the sin, but not the sinner. For the "sinner", the effect is little different. Its still shaming them. That construction doesn't change the outcome for the target of the shame, it just makes the person shaming feel better about themselves and avoid responsibility for what they are doing.

Beyerstein is aggressively unaware of what fat stigmatization does and I feel this is a product of thin privilege. Her counter analogy about short people just reveals a lack of comprehension of how fat people are treated and how fat people are targeted in "anti-obesity" campaigns. Short people are stigmatized in a lot of the pointless ways fat people are, actually, so there could be a good analogy here. The one Beyerstein makes, though, seems to miss entirely how fat stigmatization operates and the standards it sets for success.

I wouldn't have a problem with a program to encourage good nutrition and moderate activity. Fat shaming apologists always like to think that's all they are defending. Its not. That's what we are trying to tell them. The problem with any "anti-obesity" campaign is precisely that it is an ANTI-"obesity" campaign. Even if does encourage good nutrition and moderate activity, those are not its goals and THAT is the problem. Instead, the goal is the elimination of fat people. A goal which OBVIOUSLY stigmatizes and shames fat people. Also a goal I will not support because it will achieve none of the gains supposedly desired and is unattainable anyway. That last bit is actually very crucial since it means an anti-fat people campaign that isn't destructive in its structure can actually be more harmful by creating a disincentive for good nutrition and moderate activity. If it doesn't make you thin, after all, what's the point? If there was an anti-short people campaign, I'd vigorously oppose that as well as it'd be just as wrong in focus and goal as anti-fat people campaigns are.

We need to move past shame and stigmatization if we really want to improve the health and well-being of fat people and fat children. The health needs of fat people aren't going to be met as long as policy is intended to eliminate or prevent fat people. Those are policies which are ineffective and completely ignore our health needs. I get that people want to think being well intentioned absolves them for responsibility for these failures, but the culture of "well intentioned" fat stigmatization has been hugely harmful for the physical and mental well-being of fat people and it needs to end. We have to get over the knee-jerk, "Yeah, but fat is bad". Its just not the case. Fat is. Trying to eliminate fatness and prevent fatness has a record of consistent abject failure. There is no moral high ground there. We need a change.


Samantha C. said...

"If it doesn't make you thin, after all, what's the point?"

This is the number one thing that I wish people would understand that children learn through these campaigns, or even more general suggestions to lose weight. It becomes this herculean, impossible task that just isn't worth torturing yourself for. I remember my doctor telling me that I would have to fight a "life-long battle" against weight gain, and I remember the way I surrendered. I figured I'd live shorter, but I wouldn't be hurting myself so badly.

I think that a lot of higher-ups really, truly don't understand the message they end up sending. I have a story from my post about a NYC-wide poster advocating stair-climbing for weight maintenance. When I tried to be a little bit activist by putting up a post-it saying "exercise is healthy regardless of weight loss", someone wrote underneath it, "unless you're fat." http://horriblefoodogre.blogspot.com/2011/01/sign.html

People are, in fact, NOT being taught that healthful eating and regular exercise are just good things. They're being taught that they're tools for weight loss, and that fat people need them, and thin people don't.

Brian said...

Exactly. Fat shamers don't get what they really communicating when they make the goal weight loss. They can claim to be interested in health, but that's not what they are saying. Because to them, a fat body IS necessarily an unhealthy one. And they can't seem to process that we really are challenging that.

silentbeep said...

It's like...people think that without the threats of being a fat person, or the threat of staying fat, no one would want to exercise or eat whole foods. I don't get this. It's as if, people don't think there are ANY benefits at all to exercise and nutrition besides "getting people thin" (which isn't really true, these things don't get people skinny per se, but that seems to be the operating assumption). I don't understand: addressing things like vitamin deficiency and fitness are not good enough - we've got to bring out the fear mongering about fatness.

I would be o.k. with a program that sought to address the inequities of food access due to poverty, geographic locations etc. I'd even be for a program that helped address movement needs amongst children of all sizes, and the inequities with that ( ex. not everyone has access to after school sports programs, not everyone has access to safe, clean playgrounds). However, NOT without properly addressing fat stigma and NOT on the backs of our fat children.

Bilt4cmfrt said...

It's almost like trying to tare down a wall with a rubber mallet. How many times do people have to make this, exact, point before it sinks in? What language do we need to use to get the point across? Would Linsay Bayerstien start to 'get it' if her initiative against shortness was being labeled a 'War on Diminuativety'?

Probably not. That is, until people started treating her differently for not having the 'courage', 'will power' or 'gumption' to get herself 'fixed' so she could be just like everybody else. Therein lies the problem with dismissing other peoples experiences. A lot of people just aren't going to get it until it's their turn.

Brian said...

She brings up the short people analogy basically to say "if it happened to me, I wouldn't whine about you like YOU". That's enforcement of privilege. She posits a hypothetical she doesn't actually have to react to as demonstration that she'd feel the same way if she were fat. It really just illustrates a lack of comprehension of what is happening to fat children and fat adults as a result of fat stigmatization.

Anonymous said...

Every person who supports anti-obesity campaigns that I talk to, about removing shame and creating an environment for all bodies to have positive relationships with their bodies never are able to go past fat shaming. Even if we agree on the eating and exercise habits, its all about the fat.

Testudo said...

It seems to me there are two ways to look at being fat: from a health perspective and from the body image perspective

From a health perspective, being fat is bad because being fat increases the chance of getting heart disease and diabetes. Therefor, it is ok to enact policies to reduce obesity in order to reduce the burden of these health problems on society

From a body image perspective, being fat is bad because society says its disgusting and ugly. In this case it is not ok to enact policies to reduce obesity, because the motivation is to enforce arbitrary standards of beauty on people.

The problem is, policies motivated by the health perspective also validate the people motivated by the body image perspective. Is it worth increasing persecution of the obese by the body image obsessed in order to alleviate the health costs of obesity on society?

Meowser said...

That last bit is actually very crucial since it means an anti-fat people campaign that isn't destructive in its structure can actually be more harmful by creating a disincentive for good nutrition and moderate activity.

Ayup. In the Paul Campos interview with Megan McArdle, he said, "I know for a fact (because they've told me) that some public health officials engage in what they think of as a noble lie about the effects of physical activity on weight, because they know people won't become more active just to be healthier."

So they KNOW this, and yet they're flogging the antifat line anyway. I know people think I sport Reynolds Wrap millinery just for saying this, but there HAS to be some serious money involved in this for Big Food and Big Pharma (and by extension, for the Obamas) for this shit to continue the way it has. Diet food and diet drugs and weight-loss surgical equipment are big (heh) business, and they've been presented with truckloads of evidence that if people only "eat right and exercise" for the promise of a more socially acceptable body, they will ultimately give up. It's been proven over and over again. They. do. not. care.

Brian said...

From that broad of a perspective, Testudo, being male is bad. It carries considerably increased risks of disease. Often moreso than being fat. We, of course, don't have to worry about policies intended to reduce the burden of male problems on society by reducing males. Because there isn't an easy way to make men into women, and even if a man became a woman, there is no proof this changes any of the health risks. Thing is, both are also true for fat people. There is no safe or reliable means to make a fat person into a not fat person. And even when it happens, there is no evidence that this changes their risks of any of the health concerned blamed on fat people.

Persecution of fat people does nothing to reduce health care costs, but it does damage the mental and physical well-being of fat people.

wriggles said...


False premise, if fatness increases the chance of getting heart disease and diabetes, a statment which makes no sense anyhow.

Then the thing to do would be to increase the health of fat children and people, not to seek to make manifest the idea that they are unhealthier, because they are.....

Irrational to say the least.

Brian said...

Great way to get your comment deleted on a post criticizing "Yeah, but fat is bad" retorts? Making a "Yeah, but fat is bad" retort. Asserting the awfulness of fat is not privileged here. Quite the opposite.

Frances said...

Yep. A thousand times yep.

Recently, the Australian Heart Foundation and Cancer Council released some research into eating and exercise habits of teenagers. Despite finding that adolescents across the board (i.e. across all weights and socio-economic backgrounds) weren't eating nutritiously or getting enough exercise, their recommendations focussed solely on anti-obesity campaigns. I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND.

Anonymous said...

Great blog. It's fascinating to read these articles and responses. Food for thought.

I love that fatness can be discussed so candidly here. I also love that "fat" is not a word used negatively.

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