Our Health, Body, and Morals – Followup

I just want to thank everyone for the overwhleming response to my last post, The Connection Between Health, Our Bodies, and Our Morals. I’m really pleased by the well thought-out, careful, and rational posts by my readers, and I think my followup to the post deserves its own space.

You will be relieved, I’m sure, to discover that Juliet and family are entirely fictional in the technical sense. However, in the cultural sense, Juliet is very much alive in the minds of many women (and men), most of the time symbolized as a goal, and not a cautionary tale.

That’s what makes Juliet fascinating. What we know to be unbalanced and mentally unhealthy behavior is, for many, the “right” way to be. That’s why I put the most reprehensible bit — concerning Juliet’s behavior towards her daughter Alexis — in the context that Juliet and Alexis were requested by their pediatrician to get Alexis’s weight down. A request, I might add, that’s not at all unusual these days, the illogic of which extends all the way up to recommendations put out by major health organizations.

In effect, Juliet was complying with what the majority of pediatricians would consider Alexis’s prescription for good health. She used no inflammatory methods towards encouraging Alexis to lose weight — she didn’t say Alexis was ugly, or tut-tut at her in other ways. She did precisely what she thought a good mother should do — and what millions of other mothers would consider the right thing to do. Follow the doctor’s prescription in an encouraging, yet firm, manner.

Let’s further analyze Juliet’s behavior. Her entire day, from start to finish, was a measure of “successes” and “failures” with respect to how she perceived she should be monitoring herself. We never know if Juliet is fat, inbetweenie, or thin, or if she is trying to lose weight or maintain, or if she’s structuring her day around her perceived health or her body (or both). There are some intimations about Juliet’s body size in that she doesn’t have the “extra” weight her sister has, and that her husband thinks her butt jiggles less than some nameless starlet, but all of that’s rather meaningless without context.

The reason I didn’t bring Juliet’s body size into focus is to illustrate that the morality of her behavior doesn’t change if she’s fat, thin, inbetweenie, doing it for her perceived health, or to look like some ideal, and so forth.

Ultimately, and what has been noticed by the group of very sharp commenters on my previous post, what Juliet’s story illustrates is the danger zone encounters when one separates his/her sense of right and wrong from what is real, whether through ignorance, or willingly.

There are a couple of ways we can think about this:

1. Juliet may have only her doctor’s words to go on and may not have thought any more deeply about size, health, shape, psychology, women, and morality.

2. Juliet may have done research, or have lived life mindfully enough to realize that there are healthy and happy people of all sizes, but either doesn’t think that applies to her specifically, or perhaps even believes that there is a connection between the pursuit of thinness and and goodness. That belief could be encoded in some kind of modified Puritanical ideal of work and sacrifice, or in some other fashion.

Either one is easy to shoot down, if one employs a bit of reason. If Juliet is ignorant as in 1, then it is still her fault if her behavior hurts herself and others. Her behavior might be more understandable but should be no less morally reprehensible. If Juliet is informed as in 2, and still makes the decision to behave as described in the story, then that illustrates that she is irrational. Irrational behavior, that behavior disconnected from reality, can have dire consequences, as shown in the story. Sure, for the moment everything seems to be in sort of a metastable “goodish” phase, but what happens when Alexis really starts internalizing a bigger body size as bad, and is meant to be a bigger girl, or carries that bias through life as a thinner person? What happens when Juliet’s son learns from her husband that wives and women have to look and eat a certain way, but men and husbands can do whatever they please? And so forth.

And that brings me to a bit of an aside — there was a question in the comments whether or not we should judge Juliet’s character at all. Of course we should. And here’s why: even though we don’t have the right to tell Juliet how to live her life, it’s of vital importance that we understand why what she is doing is right or wrong, as we each (rational, informed people), understand it. More important than holding beliefs is knowing why you hold them, and knowing how to parse your world with respect to those beliefs, and how to understand the fallacies of logic which lead people to hold beliefs that are irrational, misinformed, and possibly hurtful.

Since many reading this blog also write and speak about size acceptance, it’s vitally important to be able to understand how someone like Juliet (and many people who have been taught that Juliet is the ideal) believes quite firmly that his/her behavior is good, upright, and moral, and, ultimately, the best way of living. Is it so surprising, then, when the idea of accepting one’s size is so foreign to these people? But the chinks in their armor, so to speak, are the logical fallacies on which their moral value systems (regarding body size) are built.

Calling out people people like Juliet as bad mothers (or fathers), or wacked-out obsessives, won’t get you anywhere actually dealing with someone like Juliet. They have every (fallacious, yet widely-accepted) reason to believe that they are being good parents, and are only being mindful about what goes in (and out) of their bodies. To them, their behavior is, while structured, admirable, simple, and reasonable. They are merely “watching what they eat” and “moving more,” and encouraging their kids to do the same. They believe they have a right to enjoy all the societal privileges of their body. They “earned” it be being “good.”

I know I’m going into a lot of detail here. But the Juliets are our fiercest opposition. They believe they are being morally upstanding (for reasons of health, or aesthetics, or religion, or whatever rationalization du jour) by spending the bulk of every day on their bodies and, most specifically, the attainment of some kind of thin(ner) ideal. It’s likely rooted in very early exposure to the idea that thin-is-better, but that’s another post for another day.

We need to know how to speak to the Juliets in a meaningful way. I’ll pose the following situation.

Suppose you were an old friend of Juliet. You know the family well enough to talk about its intimacies. You meet Juliet for coffee on a Saturday afternoon, and Juliet speaks with you about her week, mentioning her food/exercise successes and pitfalls, and most notably, that the pediatrician suggested Alexis lose weight. Juliet seems very relaxed and happy and in control of her life. How do you bring up size acceptance to her in any meaningful kind of way?

(Disclaimer: that’s not to say you should bring up size acceptance to your non-accepting friends, I’m just postulating a specific scenario)

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23 comments on “Our Health, Body, and Morals – Followup

  1. rottweiler2 says:

    Note that my reference to her being “wacked-out” was an analysis of what she really IS, IMHO, not that telling it to her to her (self-absorbed) face would do any good. As you point out:

    “Calling out people people like Juliet as bad mothers (or fathers), or wacked-out obsessives, won’t get you anywhere … They have every (fallacious, yet widely-accepted) reason to believe that they are being good parents, and are only being mindful about what goes in (and out) of their bodies. To them, their behavior is, while structured, admirable, simple, and reasonable…”

    Nobody can tell a “child” they are being stubborn and/or unreasonable and expect them to truly believe it. People such as the fictional Juliet, by falling for one of current (mostly) Western society’s most pervasive definitions of being a “good person” and “good parent”–show “perfect” health habits and enforce them on everyone you can if you can do it without risking getting your face smashed in–is acting like a little kid trying to get a “nasty” parent to NOT beat them up (physically or mentally).

    Or, more simply, Juliet is appeasing whomever might criticize her to avoid the pain of “being called out” as a “bad person” if she does not go along.

    Another possibility? You also point to it:

    “[T]he Juliets are our fiercest opposition. They believe they are being morally upstanding (for reasons of health, or aesthetics, or religion, or whatever rationalization du jour) by spending the bulk of every day on their bodies and, most specifically, the attainment of some kind of thin(ner) ideal.”

    Health really is not what they are seeking, for anyone. Getting themselves and others to conform to a (pseudo-)”religious” ritual is. Religion can be a lot of things, but logical and reasonable in the scientific sense isn’t among them. Psychological comfort, predictability, and absolutism normally mark both the extreme “health-nut” and the “observant” (meaning fundamentalist-grade) religious person. All that is used are different reasons for being the way they are.

    There is also no way that anyone can “gently” (as a friend) stop a “Juliet” from this disguised “self-harm” (too little food and too much exercise, done by compulsion, has the opposite effect from “health”). All they will do is take it as confirmation that the person making the attempt is evil and “interfering” and may well intensify their efforts to 1.) “Convert” them to their way of life; or, 2.) Cut them out of the picture completely.

    The law certainly won’t help unless they go completely off their rocker and start attacking people in ways that society does NOT approve of, and maybe not even then.
    Neither will the medical profession. Only “Juliet” can stop herself…and guess what she (and her real-life counterparts), absent being physically forced to change by others, will likely not do until it’s too late, if at all?

  2. trabbsboy says:

    This is such an interesting exercise, and everyone has made great points. I’m afraid I still have to go with “none of my business” though.

    What Juliet is doing feels very wrong to me. It feels cold and miserable and utterly missing what is fun and lovely and caring in life. I think it is very unlikely that she and I could ever become friends and mostly wouldn’t say anything to her because she kind of scares me. :)

    But she is entitled to decide for herself what is important to her, and if she thinks that this constant control over her diet and exercise and that of her children is valuable, then she really should be allowed to engage in it without other people calling her immoral just because it might, possibly, result in harm to her child or to society in general.

    I guess I’m not a Fat Acceptance advocate as much as I am a Don’t Judge Others About their Diet advocate. The educational stuff is something that is very valuable, but it’s got to be a matter of demonstrating real concerns on a general level. Fight the diet and beauty industries, fight the government when key government positions get filled from people from those industries. Write beautiful articles as often as possible about the awesomeness of different body types and self-acceptance. Write heartbreaking stories about the wounds of a diet-focused upbringing. But let Juliets be themselves. They’re not the enemy.

  3. living400lbs says:

    I have often found that in conversation with someone like Juliet, I end up getting frustrated that her life is so focused on her body. She can’t meet for coffee, she can’t meet for dinner, she can’t go hear a new band. Or there’s a dig that while I’m off dancing she’s Busy Taking Care Of Her Family. Partly it’s that I’m childless, and partly it’s that yeah, I go to the gym, but not every day.

    (It’s funny that when I watched The Big Chill I totally identified with Sarah saying that “I could always be counted on to do the right thing. It’s a disgusting curse.” And now I’m the one who doesn’t.)

    I don’t actually have Juliets as friends. I have a few as coworkers; they make digs that there’s a Chocolate! Bowl! Near! My! Desk! and have time to read and volunteer, and I smile and ignore their complaints that they need to run more and get into “bikini shape”. I am polite; I don’t tell them they look the same now that they’ve been working out more; but I don’t join the conversation, either.

  4. deeleigh says:

    Okay. Julia’s an old friend from university, and we meet for coffee. She tells me all the stuff in the previous post. I suggest we go to a bar instead, get her buzzed, and ask her if she’s really all right.

    “Sounds like you’re burning the candle at both ends”
    “That sounds absolutely exhausting. How do you manage?”
    “How long has it been since you just relaxed and had some fun?”
    “How are you really feeling? Are you happy?”

    Maybe even:
    “Running every day, for an hour and a half? That’s a lot. You know, they recommend that you rest your body at least a couple of days a week to avoid injury.”

    “Why does your husband get a free pass on the health kick? It seems like that might send a message to the kids that women have to restrict what they eat, and men can eat whatever they want.

    “Do you really feel like you’re getting enough to eat? It sounds like you’re eating a healthy diet, but maybe not enough food. Have you asked your doctor or a nutritionist what your daily requirements are for calories? I’m pretty sure that for someone as active as you, it’s well over 2000 a day.”

  5. deeleigh says:

    Oops. Juliet, not Julia. And, it occurs to me that she’d be very likely to comment negatively on my weight or try to give me weight loss advice. I recently wrote a blog post on just that sort of thing.

  6. Lindsay says:

    How do you bring up size acceptance to her in any meaningful kind of way?

    I don’t have any experience with being in Juliet’s shoes, and i think my trying to walk a mile in them wouldn’t get through to her what was intended. My experience runs more along the lines of Alexis’, and as such, i would approach the issue from that angle. I might bring up the various diets and suggestions that were given to me from a very young age (if Juliet and i were close enough to share coffee, i’d probably have some idea how old her daughter was, and would bring up a story from my own life in that age range), for the point of emphasizing the negative effects they had – not just on me, but on the relationship i had with my own mother.

    Juliet may want what she thinks is best for her daughter, and i can’t fault her for the underlying motivations of that desire; every parent should want what’s best for their children. The problems come in two parts: the ideas of what’s “best”, and the ways in which parents guide/nudge/push/steamroll their children in that direction.

    She thinks it’s best for her children to be more active? (Notice i didn’t say more thin.) Then i’d ask her if she’d considered asking her daughter to join her for those morning or evening jogs – not because i agree with the idea that Alexis needs to lose weight, but because i think it’s important to have shared experiences within the family. When i was in my teens, you couldn’t pay me enough to go to a gym and work out on my own accord, but i would gladly join my stepmum to dance/exercise classes – because i wanted to spend time with her. I can look back on those experiences with fondness, because doing it together made it fun. Spoonful of sugar and all that jazz.

    I’d try to figure out what Alexis’ reaction was to the school sports idea, and if she seemed reluctant about it, i’d encourage Juliet to discuss with Alexis what sort of other activities Alexis might enjoy (because communication is awesome). School sports are, IME, miserable and hellish, especially if you’re “the fat kid”. Maybe Alexis would go nuts with Dance Dance Revolution, or would get inspired by jump rope competitions (look ‘em up on YouTube, they’re astonishingly awesome; but i’m biased because i loved jumping rope as a kid). In other words, i’d encourage the “moving joyously” bits of HAES. Move around because you WANT to, because you LIKE it – not because you feel obligated. And if it’s something mother and child can happily do together? Even better.

    But the Juliets are our fiercest opposition.

    I’m with Machiavelli on this: friends close, enemies closer. If the Juliets of the world are our opposition, progress won’t be made by logical debates. I’ve spent enough time in Atheist vs. Christian chat rooms over the years to know that both sides have already made up their minds, and no one’s going to convert anyone else. It can be an interesting lesson in debate tactics (the main reason i hang out in such places), but trying to convert someone (especially when that someone intends to convert YOU) is like pushing a rope. Each side has its own logic, and faults and fallacies exist on both sides.

    So IME, debates just don’t work; if anything, they tend to have the opposite effect: each side comes away more convinced of their own right(eous)ness. Again, IME, the best approach to take is a friendly one. I’ll grant that it doesn’t do much for popularity on your own side of the fence… but if that’s an overwhelmingly strong factor/consideration for someone, i’d be inclined to question their purposes and motivations. I figure that if i hang out with Juliet, and if she and i are friends, her ability to view me as a good person (and my ability to positively reinforce that idea) puts at least one chink in her “fat is morally wrong” armor.

    Yes, it IS more complex than that, and there are problems that arise in those situations, but in order to get in depth about them, i’d have to start my blog up again, and i just don’t see that happening. ;)

  7. deeleigh says:

    Actually, the best way to get her to lay of her daughter is probably to say “You know, my mom was a lot like you, and I think that her trying to restrict what I ate really backfired…”

  8. ndlesdream says:

    I can tell you exactly what you say to someone like Juliet if she is your parent because she is my own mother. I have struggled with this subject for years now and I can say if this person is a relative, you can make headway. With a friend, there’s a much greater chance you will just lose the friendship.

    It’s taken more than 3 years of intensive effort to make my mother understand why this behavior is not only irrational it’s also dangerous. She’s finally seeing at least some of the light. She no longer makes me sit on the phone with her for 45 min. while she tells me every single thing she’s eaten and every second of exercise she’s done. She also no longer berates herself about whatever she has or has not eaten or whatever workout she hasn’t done. It’s true that she could just be internalizing all of this now instead of saying it out loud to me, but I honestly doubt it. She and I are extremely close and always have been which is why I was able to make so much difference with her. Had we never been close, this probably would have driven us further apart. The fact that she’s also an RN was a help in some ways but a big hindrance in others, nurses and doctors make the worst patients after all.

    Every time she’d start telling me about her latest diet or her newest exercise plan or her new list of forbidden foods or what she denied herself that day or what she didn’t deny herself and therefore had to “work off”, basically ANY time she brought up the subject of dieting in it’s many forms, that was when I’d start up with why dieting is bad, why weight loss surgery is bad, why diets don’t work, why all the big weight loss companies are under investigation and most have been openly warned by the FDA for false advertising, any of the number of topics relating to why this mindset and “lifestyle” are bull. I didn’t just pick on her specific diet or whatever, but I’d keep hitting the weight loss industry every time she started in until she began to realize there was intelligence and truth to what I was telling her.

    Jumping down someone’s throat is never going to get you anywhere. I did that in the beginning and quickly realized I would never make her listen using this tactic. For one thing, we are all “attacking” (actually we’re just telling the truth, but whatever) extremely widely held beliefs which are almost stamped on everyone’s DNA at this point. Also if you are talking to one or both of your parents, going on the offense with a parent makes it seem as though you are calling into question their parenting skills. Never a good idea. Maybe they were crappy to you in some way, maybe they were awful in every way. If it doesn’t relate to this subject, don’t bring it up while trying to get through to them. If it does relate to this subject, approach it calmly and rationally using it as an example of past behavior not as an accusation of their failings or shortcomings.

    After all this, does it mean I can just sit back and relax, sure in the knowledge that I changed someone’s mind? No. The mindset of dieting absolutely will creep back in if you let it. Unless the relative you’re talking to becomes an FA spokesperson, they can easily be swayed back to their old ways. Our society is only too happy to prey on everyone’s insecurities and if you have none, our society will also happily create some for you.

    Are there still days where I catch my mother trying to belittle herself for what she’s eaten? Of course, and as a caring and concerned daughter, that’s when I stop her and remind her that food is not her enemy and her body should be trusted (feed it when it’s hungry; what it wants, it wants for a reason; calories in calories out is a myth; etc.). Does it always work? Actually it usually does. My words stay with her after we’re done talking, she internalizes the good things I tell her instead of internalizing the bad things she was led to believe.

  9. deeleigh says:

    I hear you, ndlesdream. To be honest, my mom was a more laid back Juliet. The guilt trip over the snack is exactly the kind of thing she would have done when I was growing up, and she was always “cutting out” foods and encouraging me to eat like she did: small, insubstantial meals (like half a cup of cottage cheese and half a grapefruit for breakfast, or a can of vegetable soup for dinner). However, she was a single mom and didn’t have the option of being so “perfect.” For example, she was never a compulsive exerciser – just a few calisthenics here, a hiking trip there. Also, she’s somewhat rebellious by nature, she loves food and is an outstanding cook, and she’s always gone through non-restrictive phases. However, she was brutally critical of her own body when I was growing up, and I think that she’s never really made peace with it. She’s not even fat; just pear-shaped.

    My mom is openly HAES-positive now. She hasn’t said anything to me, but I’ve heard from other people that she advocates HAES to friends and family. I don’t remember how I won her over to it. I think it was partly by introducing her to some books and on-line resources, and by modeling it in my life. We really love and respect each other. I never confronted her directly on her attitude about weight, but I did discuss my views with her and mentioned other people’s weight obsessions and media coverage of “obesity” in a critical way. Also, I tell her she’s beautiful, because she is.

  10. ciocia says:

    For an entry that is all about demolishing the moralizing of anti-fatness, there seems to be a lot of moralizing on this thread. Not all of it–some people said that everybody should mind their own business, and I can agree with that. But lots of people have moralistic things to say about Juliette in this thread and the first one–she’s “narcissistic,” she’s “self-absorbed,” etc. What’s funny is that that’s the same thing people say about fat people, and many would paint the average life of a theoretical fat person in exactly such exaggerated terms. Including eating a dozen baby-flavored donuts at a sitting.

    Whatever you think of her life, she is doing the best she can to get through. She isn’t beating anybody, or killing anybody, and unless she is getting in your face, you should in fact MYOB. How many people have gotten in your face, because they figured that you were killing yourself, and that their interference was doing you a favor? It wasn’t, it doesn’t, and it won’t here.

    In point of full disclosure, I guess I’m a bad person who deliberately lost weight, and is maintaining a loss–no doubt, narcissistic and self-absorbed. I leave other people alone, because everybody has to walk their walk in this life, and it doesn’t necessarily include weight loss. We are all living our lives about as well as we can.

  11. ndlesdream says:

    CIOCIA, if you read the first post BigLiberty put up, she asked all of us what we thought about Juliet MORALLY. That’s why people are putting their opinions (that’s what moral judgments really are) in their comments. If you are someone who believes very strongly in weight loss and dieting as is obvious from your comment, why are you reading this blog? You don’t seem like someone who believes in FA so it’s unclear to me why you bothered reading or commenting at all.

  12. bigliberty says:

    Ciocia, it never surprises me how creative some people can be at getting their weight-loss story in their comment. You may not have noticed, but Juliet isn’t you, and the post isn’t about you. I think it’s a bit funny that you’re getting angry at the comments of others who are determining that the Juliet they read is narcissistic and self-absorbed, when your comment was all about how the determination of others that concentrating on one’s body to the extent Juliet is isn’t something they would personally choose for themselves (which is what it means to *have morals*), and why, was ultimately all about you.

    The other comments have a lot of wisdom, and I want to comb through them more carefully later. I just want to reiterate that in moralizing here, it isn’t about saying what Juliet should or should not do, or actually sitting down with real-life Juliets and “converting” them to the “cause.” It’s about determining why what she’s doing is or is not to your liking, and understanding, as writers and voices for size acceptance, how to overcome in your own mind and your own arguments (written, real-life, or just plain pretend!) the kind of difficulties a person like Juliet can present.

    I’m actually very pleased, because Juliet has generated a lot of vigorous debate. She was/is a thought experiment, and I think studying her case (given that it does represent some of the fiercest, most hard-line opposition to SA — even within SA — as evidenced by Ciocia’s comment) is very illustrative to those who grew up with Juliet as the ideal, as I did (and many of us did).

    Many of us now do not hold her as an ideal, because we’ve come to realize that some of which she holds to be morally good is in fact morally neutral (in the case of policing her own body), and morally reprehensible (in the case of policing her daughter’s body).

    Oh, and Ciocia — I can only really take the weight-loss whining for so long. You got it real hard, the FA bullies are at is again, getting all acceptancy with size and fat, it must suck to be you. I get it, I’ve been there. But I’m over it, and I’m over you. (And yes, I am getting in your face, because I’m really, really hoping it will bring out the pouty troll we all know is waiting on the other side of that computer. And I like to play with trolls. Tee-hee)

  13. bigliberty says:

    I just wanted to add (though it might be obvious from my last comment), but I personally think that Juliet’s behavior with regard to her own body is, while irrational, morally neutral (though one could argue that irrational behaviors *are* immoral, but that’s a whole other post for a whole other blog). Her behavior towards others, however, is not, and ranges from neutral (coworker’s dessert), to questionable (the impression she’s giving her son and husband about women), to reprehensible (the policing of her daughter’s body).

    The original post was conceived to bring up the question of not why we think why what Juliet’s doing is *bad*, but why we could think that what’s she’s doing is *good* (not morally neutral, that is, rather charged in the positive direction).

    And indeed, many people think the way Juliet lives is admirable and “good” in the moral sense. Why should that be? How can we address the sort of attitude that what Juliet is doing is living a positive life, “as best as she can,” and so forth (notice that “best” has moral weight)?

  14. ndlesdream says:

    I promise I wasn’t trying to give advice on how convert the Juliets of this world, I really was just trying to explain my own experiences with my mom and ended up going off on a tangent and going on for a lot longer than I meant to, sorry!!

  15. ciocia says:

    What I “believe in” is that you have to do what you have to do. For some people, that might be losing weight, and for other people, it isn’t. Nobody should do it because someone or something else told them they had to. Why do I read things I don’t agree with? Because I do. I read Free Republic, and the Huffington Post, but only agree with one of them. The internet allows me to do all that for free.

  16. bigliberty says:

    coicia – “you have to do what you have to do” isn’t a set of morals. It’s equating all behaviors to all other behaviors, and is in fact an anti-morals system. I’m positive you don’t personally not have a moral value system: that’s what we’re talking about.

    Like I said before, there’s a big difference between understanding Juliet and agreeing with her. Understanding her is important, understanding why or why not you would do what she is doing in her situation. Trying to understand her and parsing her behaviors in the context to what we each think is rational is important, and isn’t negating her experience.

    ndlesdream, no need to apologize! I understood what you were talking about, and I think most of the other readers did as well. I was just using it as a jumping off point, not saying that you were talking about actually converting people on a regular basis. ;)

  17. ciocia says:

    I should have made myself clearer. I don’t believe in moral relativism, but I believe that morals are not an issue in whether or not you try to influence the size and shape of your body. As to how she treats her child, she is truly doing the best she can, as are people who raise their kids to be fundamentalist Christians, which I don’t agree with, either. She is probably raising a kid who can’t wait to go out into the world and mainline Twinkies, Big Macs and other forbidden fruit, but that’s another issue. She is not abusive, and is loving herself and her people as best she can.

  18. ndlesdream says:

    Phew! Thanks BigLiberty :) You actually just took a big load off my mind!

  19. en0mis says:

    Great post, BL!

    I have to disagree with you on one point: I believe that policing your body is morally reprehensible, since you are causing yourself physical and psychological harm. In the case of Juliet, if it is harmful to her daughter, why would it not be considered harmful to her own self? Why apply a double standard to this behaviour?

    We can’t tell Juliet what to do with her own body, but we can find ways to make her question it. I routinely offer people different perspectives on what is “healthy” and “unhealthy” than what they get from the mainstream media. It doesn’t change their minds, but it opens them, and that’s where you have to start.

    If I was in the scenario and was friends with Juliet, I would flat out tell her that I don’t think she’s getting enough calories. I do this regularly with people at work, who seem to think eating lo-cal is “healthy.” But I don’t frame it in terms of health. I say things like, “Wow, how do you make it through the afternoon eating so few calories for lunch? I would be hungry by 3, and I hate that because it makes me cranky and it’s hard to concentrate when you’re hungry.” And they invariably confess that they get hungry by 2:30 and it sucks. I tell them I like to eat a big lunch so I’m not hungry until dinner, because I don’t like how it feels to be hungry. And usually, they’re like, hey, that’s a new concept!

    Depressing but true. I don’t talk in terms of health unless people argue with me, in which case I pull out some handy science. [Did I mention that I work in public health? There are some hardcore believers, who never fail to add a little comment about healthy eating whenever a conversation turns to food in any context.] I’ve decided to start spreading the meme that you should adequately fuel your body so you can feel and perform better, which is a fairly logical argument and hard to argue with.

    My goal isn’t to stop people from hurting themselves, because I can’t get them to change their behaviour. I try more or less to make them stop hating themselves and start hating their need to police their bodies and the behaviour that goes along with that. Calling into question the idea that we should undernourish our bodies is an effective way of doing this, in my experience. I plant a seed and let them figure it out for themselves, if they want to.

    Anyway, thanks for making me think, BL! I love your writing.

  20. ciocia says:

    Nobody likes anybody else telling them what’s good for them. And why should anybody play cop? It’s indeed your own body. Having people make comments like that to me would make me really defensive, even if it’s “for your own good,” which fat people get all the time.

  21. Tiana says:

    I was going to make nearly the same suggestions as deeleigh. If Juliet is actually a good friend of yours, those are perfectly acceptable questions to ask – except for the last one, perhaps, I’m not sure if bringing up a doctor/nutritionist all out of the blue would be such a good idea. I might replace that with a personal story about being able to concentrate better when I’m not hungry or something of the sort.

  22. ndlesdream says:

    I have just one more thing (I promise) to add to my comments. It’s something that’s been on my mind since I first read Juliet’s story and so I feel like I should just say it. I just kinda wish that instead of the pediatrician saying something regarding Alexis’ weight it had been the school and I say this for a few reasons.

    For one thing most pediatricians are not really going to make disparaging comments about a child’s weight (especially a child who is just starting to gain extra weight like in Juliet’s story) or advise any sort of diet for children. Those who would are more likely not the ones who really have a practice where they see patients, instead it’s more likely those doctors would be working for pharmaceutical companies or other private industries because in that sector, a doctor can be nothing but a mouthpiece for the agenda the company is trying to advance. I’m not saying there has never been a pediatrician who would be so stupid as to tell a parent their child should be put on a diet or to say that a child’s developmental weight gain is somehow inappropriate, but it’s honestly rare. Pediatricians, for the most part, know how detrimental dieting is to a child’s developmental processes and know that it’s normal for kids to gain weight throughout their childhood as their bodies grow. Yes I am aware that more and more pediatricians are being given the message of a childhood obesity epidemic, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they believe it or are using it in their practice.

    Now as far as the school is concerned, they will (and in some places are told it is their duty to) tell a parent that their child should be put on a diet or that their kid is gaining weight. I’m not just attacking the school to attack it. Schools face enormous pressure to fit into health guidelines set by the state and the federal government and because the school system we have now is based to a large extent on our popular health fallacies (P.E., health class, school lunches) it exacerbates the problem. For example, if you have too many students who can’t pass the President’s Fitness Challenge, your school is going to be scrutinized to see why that is, possibly putting your federal or state funding at risk. It’s the same type of problem schools face with those standardized tests all the kids have to take.

    So I just wish the story had included the school and not the doctor. Doctors will tell their adult patients that they are too fat or that they should diet, but mostly no with pediatricians. Schools are much more likely, for many reasons, to tell parents that their kids are fat. And since those kids have to go to that school everyday, it can be way more harmful to their self-esteem and body image, especially when they get the message that fat is bad in class, at lunch, at recess, in phys ed class, etc.

  23. doomgloom says:

    Well said, en0mis. People on a DIE-t need to be challenged. I like to get in a jab at the environmentalists, by likening low calorie diets to energy conservation, low fat diets to fear of nuclear power, and low-carb diets to fear of CO2. Energy conservation makes us miserable and unproductive; fat is long-lasting high-density fuel for the body, like nuclear power, so why not use it; and carbohydrates are no more poisonous or pollutant than CO2, so why restrict it?

    That environmentalism and the panic about obesity are connected can be seen clearly when we look at the impact of biofuels (fear of CO2), and fear of nuclear power on the food supply in the poorer parts of the world. Accepting environmentalism (and rejecting technological progress) means starvation, so get used to it, buddy! You’re too fat anyway!

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