Pretty Price Check: Enough With the Fat Hate (05.13.11)

The Pretty Price Check: Your Friday round-up of how much we paid for beauty this week.

Ragen Chastein Dances With Fat Photo by Richard Sabel

It seems like everywhere I turn this week, the news is about how much our culture hates fat people. So this a special theme edition of the Price Check. Because people, this has got to stop.

  • My beautiful friend (and amazing blogger and dancer — that’s her above!) Ragen Chastain received over 260 hate-filled comments on her blog this week from evil Internet Trolls who think she should die in appalling and violent ways. (And if you think she must be some strange, isolated example, check out #thingsfatpeoplearetoldon Twitter — and prepare to lose your mind.)
  • Kirstie Alley, the formerly Fat Actress, won “Dancing With the Stars” this week despite admitting she was eating just 150 calories while dancing for hours per day. Naturally, the world is celebrating her dancing-fueled weight loss instead of worrying about her health. (Via ABOUT-FACE)
  • Psychologists found that 72 percent of overweight and obese individuals depicted in the media are stigmatized, often appearing shirtless or headless, according to a study (PDF) published in the Journal of Health Communication. (Via Good)
  • As I reported yesterday on Never Say Diet, when new research showed that only 69 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight (down from 77 percent last year), nutritionists threw up their hands in a state of panic that we might just be accepting our fat selves and preparing to die. (Note that 69 percent means that more than half the population is on a diet.)

This is on top of a major, multi-country study published in the journal Current Anthropology in March, which found that fat stigma is increasing around the world, even in countries where larger bodies have previously been celebrated. (See Tara Parker-Pope’s column and Michelle Segar’s blog post for great analysis on why increasing fat stigma will do nothing to actually “fight obesity.”)

And the Seattle Times is reporting that Georgia just launched a new “Stop Childhood Obesity” campaign featuring fat kids saying things like “Chubby kids may not outlive their parents,” and “Big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did” and generally ensuring that they’ll be teased on the playground for the rest of their days.

So. What the f*ck is going on?

Yes, there is lots of research linking obesity to serious health issues. Although it’s worth noting that most of that research is based on correlations, not causations. And there is also plenty of evidence to show that it’s not the fat itself, sitting on your body, that makes you sick — it’s unhealthy lifestyle habits like eating junk food and never exercising, which can be practiced by people at any size, as Ragen regularly and patiently explains.

But even if science steps up and finds a rock solid connection between pounds of body fat and deadly diseases — why has the “war on obesity” become a war on obese people, even children?

Bodies — healthy ones and sick ones — come in all different shapes and sizes. A person’s weight doesn’t give you any more information about their lifestyle habits or moral character than you’d get from their race or sexual orientation. In other words: Mostly none — unless you rely solely on cultural stereotypes, broad generalizations and bad stand-up comedy routines for your information on other people.

Of course the big difference between fat people and other marginalized groups is the role of personal choice. You can’t choose to be born black or a woman or gay (though hi, that last one is still hotly debated by many bigots) — but our culture believes that everyone can choose the size of their body. Therefore anyone fat has made the choice to be that way and they deserve what they get, or so the twisted logic goes.

In fact, as anyone who has ever gone on a diet knows, it’s not that easy to choose the size of your body. A person’s fatness is determined by a million different factors available in a million unique combinations and ratios. Genetics, emotions, incessant food marketing, urban food deserts, poverty, and even (irony alert!) the level of weight bias a person experiences can all play a role — and that’s just the beginning of the list.

Plus, personal choice is just that: Personal. Health, well-being, exercise and eating are personal choices and should be regarded as private. Deciding for someone else what they should be doing or eating in the name of their health is an invasion of their privacy.

And yet. Every day, I encounter smart, rational, and otherwise open-minded people who stop short at the idea of weight bias and think, somehow, it’s okay to use a person’s size to make judgments about their attractiveness, intelligence, ability to be loved or value as a human being.

Fat shaming won’t make anyone thinner, healthier or happier. It won’t do anything to lessen the impact of Type 2 Diabetes or heart disease. It won’t lower our public healthcare costs. It won’t make the world a better place.

So once more, for the folks in the cheap seats: This is not okay. This is hate. And it needs to stop.

For ideas on what you can do to end weight bias from the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, click here and here (PDF).

Have you ever experienced weight bias? Perpetuated it? Let’s talk it out.

[Photo: Ragen Chastain: 5’4, 284 pounds. Photo by Richard Sabel via Dances With Fat.]

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “Pretty Price Check: Enough With the Fat Hate (05.13.11)

  1. Well said!
    The only way that weight bias can change is a grassroots movement to change the way that people think about what it means to be fat. Your blog and Ragen’s blog are really helping to open minds and change negative perceptions.

    I would like to point out though that I don’t believe that making decisions about what people should and shouldn’t be eating is an invasion of privacy. It really has nothing to do with fat stigma and everything to do with health. Laws and taxes can be beneficial in inhibiting unhealthy behaviours in individuals if they are coupled with a change in the social perception of that behaviour. Take smoking. The taxes on cigarettes and the laws to prevent smoking in public places coupled with the now predominant social view that smoking is unhealthy has helped tremendously in cutting back on the number of people who smoke.

  2. Well said!

    The only way that weight bias can change is a grassroots movement to change the way that people think about what it means to be fat. Your blog and Ragen’s blog are really helping to open minds and change negative perceptions.

    I would like to point out though that I don’t believe that making decisions about what people should and shouldn’t be eating is an invasion of privacy. It really has nothing to do with fat stigma and everything to do with health. Laws and taxes can be beneficial in inhibiting unhealthy behaviours in individuals if they are coupled with a change in the social perception of that behaviour. Take smoking. The taxes on cigarettes and the laws to prevent smoking in public places coupled with the now predominant social view that smoking is unhealthy has helped tremendously in cutting back on the number of people who smoke.

    • Good point, Samantha — I do support taxes on cigarettes, laws to prevent smoking in public places and other public health initiatives that promote wellness. Our government should be doing more to regulate industries that threaten public health in the name of profit (tobacco, fast food, diet and beauty) and make healthy food more affordable and accessible.

      When I say “Deciding for someone else what they should be doing or eating in the name of their health is an invasion of their privacy,” I’m referring to judgmental instances of fat-shaming, where people think they have the right to tell a fat person to order a salad in a restaurant, for example, or question the contents of a fat person’s grocery cart at the supermarket. We use this smug veneer of “concern for your health” to justify those acts of prejudice. It’s not our place as individuals to question another individual’s health or choices — unless those choices would somehow endanger our own health (i.e. a smoker exhaling into a pregnant woman’s face, a drunk person making you ride in the car they’re driving, etc). Otherwise, it’s patronizing, judgmental and just plain rude.

  3. Anna Geletka

    That’s interesting to compare anti-fat measures to anti-smoking measures. There’s a huge difference, of course, in that smoking is clearly and obviously bad for you, and it can be a public health concern if non-smokers are forced to share space with a smoker. But if I am smoking away from everyone else, and I am aware of the risks I am taking with my body, then I feel that my smoking is no more of anyone else’s concern than what I choose to eat.

    For me, it’s two halves of the same coin. I am an adult, and I will choose what to put into my body. It may be harmful, or it may be healthful, but it is my choice to make. Judging my decision to have a cigarette is like judging my decision to eat a cheeseburger. You may think that I’m making a stupid decision. That’s ok with me. I’ve weighed the risks and decided to make it anyway.

    • The trouble though, is that it is never the individual solely absorbing the consequences. Whether it is smoking or obesity, if health issues arise (and they often do), it is family and friends, as well as the health care system, that bear much of the burden. So though it is an individual’s choice on the lifestyle they want to lead, unfortunately the consequences are much farther-reaching.

  4. Health should never be promoted through hate. That goes for both cruel comments about larger women AND simplistic backlashes we sometimes see in the tabloid press about naturally slender women (usually mis-use of the phrase ‘real women’).
    Large women are REAL WOMEN
    Middle-of-their-BMI women are REAL WOMEN
    Slender women are REAL WOMEN

    ….and we all have feelings. A lot of the hate has nothing to do with size and a lot to do with the press needed a crude lowest-denominator ‘victim’ or ‘villain’ in any story. So it’s always the bigger (or smaller) girl- tap into the schoolyard mentality, it’s an easy sell.

    Disgusting behaviour. Let health be the focus, mental and physical- if information clear and impersonal without blame, it’s there to help. Sensationalism isn’t.

  5. I agree with everything said. Shame and ridicule is never appropriate. People have the right to eat what they choose. But their choices do effect the people who love and care for them. It can be terribly upsetting to watch someone you love slowly kill themselves with food. As someone who has struggled with food on both ends of the spectrum, I know that people supporting me at any size is what has helped me choose something different for myself. Now I have to sit back and watch as someone I love chooses an unhealthy relationship with food over good health.

    • jane

      I would add to the points made about comparing smoking and eating: we do not require cigarette smoke to live, we require food to live. And, in fact, the way that the anti-smoking movement *finally* really had an impact was through moralizing smoking. The increase in price, the lying of the tobacco companies, all of that helped, but what did it was the campaign–from a lot of directions–to make smokers out to be people making bad choices. See, the difference: if I smoke, it does seem clear that it is bad for me, but if I eat a cheesesteak? Really? One cheesesteak? No. Just not true. So, while there are foods which if they form the basis of our diet would contribute to ill health, we should perhaps refrain from not only moralizing bodies, how they look, where they fit, etc. but also we should not moralize (narratives that say “good” food and “bad” food) food. Period. And, hey, look at the last 30 years: it DOES NOT work…

  6. jane

    another great food/body/feminist blog: http://www.fatnutritionist.com/

  7. Pingback: Size Bias at Work: Overweight Women Earn Less | Health

  8. Marsha Calhoun

    When you speak of people who think “it’s okay to use a person’s size to make judgments about their attractiveness, intelligence, ability to be loved or value as a human being” you sort of nail the entire situation – but I don’t imagine that many people would say that their own idea of physical attractiveness says anything about the intelligence, ability to be loved or value as a human being of those they find attractive or unattractive. (I am limiting the idea of attractiveness to the physical, because one is often attracted or otherwise based on a first impression, and first impressions are so often physical – you haven’t got to know the person yet, you’ve just seen and possibly heard him or her.) Like it or not, people differ in what they find attractive, in their initial response to what they see (I’m not talking about how this is mediated by trends or social fashions; I’m saying that there is an initial response that isn’t necessarily dominated by these things). I guess I’m worried that, rather than allowing people to be free to be themselves and accept their own spontaneous attractions/repulsions, we might be tempted to brand these responses as correct or incorrect, instead of accepting them as we want others to accept us. This puts us in danger of implying that only “bad,” “superficial,” “society-whipped” people are attracted to thinner (0r fatter) folk, while “good,” “caring,” “independent minded” people are attracted to the people who are unhappy about all those other people who are attracted to thinner (or fatter) folk. Our initial responses need to be respected, and perhaps it’s a good idea to think about why they are what they are, but I’m leery of any implication that some responses are good and some are bad, and if we aren’t attracted to certain types, there is something wrong with us.

  9. Pingback: Lovely Links: 6/3/11

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