Stef (firecat) wrote,

Anti-omgbeeesity rhetoric take-down

Writer Barbara Kay is known for her controversial and conservative editorials. I found myself writing a take-down of her editorial saying that it's beneficial and right to negatively judge fat people, and commenting on the editorial is now closed, so I decided to post it here. I'm going to break the url to her post because I don't want a linkback.

http :// fullcomment nationalpost com/2013/09/11/barbara-kay-fat-acceptance-is-not-the-answer-to-obesity/

In a perfect world, body size wouldn’t matter. We’d be attracted to people for their character alone.

That's not my perfect world. My perfect world is where people are attracted to other people for all sorts of reasons, including their bodies, but people's attractions would be much more varied than they are in this world, and not everyone would focus only on the body and only on a particular body type.

Alack and alas, our world is far from perfect. Ours is not a cover-up world either. Flesh-baring, form-hugging clothes are the fashion norm. Great for thinnies, not so much for fatties.

This is a strange use of the word "world." Is it really true that all 8 billion people on the planet prefer flesh-baring and form-hugging clothes? Or is "world" being used to mean "middle-class Americans" or "what I see in fashion magazines" as too often occurs?

It also assumes that all thin people derive benefit from baring themselves and no fat people do.

People with a tendency to put on weight are doubly unlucky in our era. They’re pariahs in, on the one hand, a youth and fitness-obsessed culture that prizes bodily perfection, with unrealistic standards of slenderness, and at the same time are constantly tortured by a society fixated on food, much of it cheap, fattening, seductively marketed and readily available 24 hours a day.

This isn't really about "luck," it's about prejudice and oppression. And I'm kind of puzzled by the fantasy that people with a tendency to put on weight (I guess what is really meant is "adults who gain weight as they age"; if no one put on weight, we'd all weigh the same as a zygote) are "tortured" by society's advertising of food. Furthermore, I'm puzzled by the notion that only people who "put on weight" are tortured. It seems to me that in this culture, plenty of thin people are also tortured by the way food is marketed and fear of gaining weight.

We pay lip service to the notion that we shouldn’t be biased against people because of their size. But most of us are. Even some professionals tasked with helping them.

Many people are biased against people because of their size, including professionals. I find very little lip service to the contrary.

A study by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity, published online in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, suggests that professionals who deal with the obese are often themselves biased. Researchers surveyed 329 mental health specialists, seeking their views on causes of obesity, as well as attitudes and compliance amongst their patients. They found that respondents felt many practitioners in the field hold negative stereotypes of fat people or feel uncomfortable treating them or lack confidence in obese patients’ ability to lose weight or comply with treatment.

This is true.

In addition, the study found that 16% of those surveyed think the obese have no willpower; 15% that they are self-indulgent; 24% that they are unattractive; and 50% that they are insecure.


The researchers seem gloomy about these figures, but unless they were hoping for zero bias – which would be totally unrealistic – these figures are reassuringly low. Professionals are not immune from our culture’s near-religious worship of minimalist beauty.

Well. I disagree that the figures are "reassuringly low." It's true that professionals aren't immune to cultural bias. That's a good reason to try to reduce cultural bias.

Obesity is a class issue, like tobacco. People in every class used to smoke, rich and poor, educated and non-educated alike. But when tobacco was conclusively linked to disease, more and more educated people stopped, until the image of smokers reached a tipping point, and went from “cool” to “loser.”

Tobacco was not "linked to" disease, the way obesity is "linked to" disease. Smoking tobacco has been proven conclusively to cause disease. This is not true of obesity. Also, quitting smoking has been shown to reduce disease. Losing weight has not been proven to reduce disease permanently. Also most people can't permanently lose weight.

That said, the linkage between smoking and disease probably wasn't the reason that fewer middle-class people smoke than before. Most people don't really care whether an activity is linked to disease or not. The reason was that smoking was banned from most buildings, and that smoking smells bad to people who are not smoking.

Today, smokers are openly disdained amongst white-collar people; the relatively few smokers in that demographic meekly endure public contempt for their moral weakness.

True, and it's wrong to condemn smokers, although it's OK to ban the behavior of smoking from areas where other people might be exposed to second-hand smoke.

Only blue-collar smokers enjoy their vice without shame. Nobody blames health professionals for their negative attitudes to smokers.

[I hope someone will provide a class-based critique of that first sentence.]

If health professionals have a negative attitude toward smokers, I absolutely blame them for it. There's a difference between thinking that smoking causes disease and thinking that smokers suck. Health professionals are responsible for letting people know that smoking increases their health risks, and for helping people connect with ways of quitting smoking, since it is possible for many people to quit smoking. End of story.

Smokers are a burden to the health system, and doctors rightly resent spending time and expertise helping people whose health problems are self-inflicted and amenable to improvement with applied self-discipline.

Um, wow. So doctors only want to treat people who are deemed to have "self-discipline" and whose health problems have nothing to do with their behavior? And this is actually OK with you? I hope you never get a disease that has anything to do with your behavior, like knee problems for example. After all, if you just lay in bed 24 hours a day you wouldn't develop knee problems. You were probably out walking and using those knees. We have every right to resent treating you.

What does being "a burden to the health system" mean, anyway? Is the health system supposed to be reserved only for a particular subset of people? Today it's fat people who are a burden, and if you think fat people are icky and you're not fat, maybe you don't care about that. But if we go on believing that health care is only for the deserving, who's to say that tomorrow "the deserving" won't be deemed as "those under the age of 30" or "people with blue eyes"?

How about entertaining the notion that health care is for everyone?

So why should we expect health professionals who oversee obese people to be non-judgmental at heart?

Because we aren't paying health professionals to judge our characters, and we aren't paying health professionals to be resentful of people they are treating. If they resent it, they should go into a different profession.

Because obesity has not been proven to cause disease.

Because if obesity causes disease, it only causes disease in the person who is fat, not in people around that person.

Because obesity is not a behavior, and smoking is.

There is no such thing as Smokers Studies in the universities, but there is a “discipline” called Fat Studies, a spin-off from Women’s Studies. In Fat Studies, participants speak of “thin privilege” and “sizeism” and “fatism” as though the prejudice against fat people were a form of oppression tantamount to racism. They play down obesity as a health issue.

That's because smoking is a behavior and being fat is a trait, and Fat Studies / Women's Studies are about traits that are subject to prejudice, because those studying these things think such prejudice is wrong and want to figure out how to stop it.

If the best you can do against this notion is to put mockery quotes around some of the terms used, your argument that there's something wrong with it is weak.

As for playing down obesity as a health issue, you quoted a Rudd Center study, which is about how obesity makes it difficult to obtain nonprejudiced health care. That's in the field of Fat Studies. Guess they're tackling obesity as a health issue after all.

Our culture is obsessed with beauty, and shouldn’t be. It’s very tough to be genetically unlucky, desperate to meet the standards of elites that are impossible for certain body types. But fat acceptance is not the answer. Not everyone can be thin, but just about everybody can avoid being obese.

It's not true that just about everybody can avoid being obese. But given that a lot of people believe it's true, Fat Studies is helpful to trying to figure out how to disabuse people of this notion. Here's a start: Given that fatness is so reviled, and given that people generally want to be liked, if it were possible for everybody to avoid being obese, wouldn't a lot fewer people be obese? Sure, maybe a few misanthropes would stay fat, but most people would put out whatever minimal effort you imagine it is to maintain a lower weight, for the same reasons that they put out the minimal effort of getting their hair styled and bathing frequently.

Yet the majority of people in the US are labeled overweight or obese. If most people have no trouble bathing and getting their hair styled, but the majority of people are fat, perhaps it's not so easy to get thin if you aren't that way naturally.

Therefore, health professionals who judge their patients are doing them a favour.

This assumes that a health professional's judging a fat patient causes that person to lose weight. Health professionals have been judging fat patients since at least the turn of the 20th century, but there are more people labeled fat than there used to be. Compare this to other results in health care. There are fewer people dying of infectious diseases. People with conditions such as cancer and heart disease are living longer. Seems like the judging is not working as well as most health interventions. (In fact there are studies that show people who feel judged are more likely to gain weight, not lose it.)

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