February 25th, 2008

butting heads elephant seals

Utne Reader sticks toe onto the HAES bandwagon

Wrongly or rightly, I think of the Utne Reader as one of the voices of the upper-middle-class self-righteous "progressiver-than-thou" movement, which has so far been more of an enemy of fat activism than an ally. So when I found out that they published two articles that are critical of current rhetoric around fat and obesity, I felt like maybe the message was getting through to some people who are usually anti-fat.

"The Food Police: Why Michael Pollan makes me want to eat Cheetos by Julie Guthman, from Gastronomica has this important comment:
In a course I taught, Politics of Obesity, I was not surprised by the number of students who wrote in their journals of their hidden “fatness” or eating disorders. The number of entries that stated how the course itself had produced body anxiety and intensified concern over diet and exercise, however, was shocking, given that much of the material was critical of obesity talk. The philosopher Michel Foucault might have called this the “productive” power of obesity talk—naming a behavior as a problem intensifies anxiety about that behavior.
This is really true for me and it's why I limit how much I read about fat and obesity—even the positive fat-activist stuff makes me feel uncomfortable sometimes. Every once in a while I'd like to just get through a day without thinking about how my body is at the center of a huge cultural debate about Good and Eeevul.

The article also does a good job getting at the moral angle behind "obesity rhetoric", how fatness has come to stand in for sin and thinness for moral superiority, without reference to how anyone actually behaves. So does this one: Shame on US: How an obsession with obesity turned fat into a moral failing by Hannah Lobel. Excerpt: "We continue to treat obesity as if it’s either an original sin we’re born with and must repent or a cardinal sin we choose to commit."

I did not read the comments on either article. Articles like this tend to attract some fat-hating comments, so approach at your own risk.