Harvest the Fatties as Horse Meat, and Other Gems of the Moral Panic

Today I saw one of the most inflammatory articles about the ‘obesity epidemic’ that I’ve seen in a while. It is an article that talks about how the ‘overweight and obese’ are more numerous than the hungry, planet-wide.

What’s truly alarming is that the International Federation for the Red Cross, a well-known humanitarian group, is taking this angle in order to — I don’t know what, get more donations for hunger programs by shaming the fatty-countries about our horrible fatness? Secretary Bekele Geleta gives a statement:

“If the free interplay of market forces has produced an outcome where 15 percent of humanity are hungry while 20 percent are overweight, something has gone wrong somewhere,” secretary general Bekele Geleta said in a statement.

What, pray tell, is wrong with that? Yes, it’s horrible that 15 percent of humanity is hungry. But why bring in the arbitrarily-defined overweight-and-obese in there, except in an attempt to indirectly correlate the prevalence of fat(ter) people with hunger? That is, it would seem this article implies that fat people are taking all the food and leaving nothing for the hungry people who need it more than those fat fatties. By the way, it’s not evil ‘market forces’ driving the a portion of the current spike in food prices — the subsidization of food like corn and demand for ethanol has a substantial effect on global food prices, making previously accessible foodstuffs inflate in price:

C. Ford Runge, a University of Minnesota professor of applied economics and law, argues that ethanol from crops has many “hidden costs” that should dissuade the government from subsidies.

Runge, who raised concerns about ethanol policy as early as 2007, says his research suggests some 30 percent of food price increases come from diversion of US corn for ethanol.

Blaming the ‘overweight and obese’ on rising food prices or hunger in the world is inflammatory at bottom. There is no correlation. Fat people are not taking the food out of the mouths of hungry infants. Yet an article which talks about the statistics of both would seem to suggest that very scenario. Shame on IFRC for resorting to such inhumane strategies in order to further their agenda. Guess fat people are okay to hate on, is that right, IFRC?

But they don’t stop there. The Asia-Pacific director of the IFRC goes on to say (without any references):

Asia-Pacific director Jagan Chapagain called [more overweight people than hungry people] a “double-edged scandal” at a press conference in the Indian capital, adding that “excess nutrition now kills more than hunger.” [clarification mine]

While “double-edged scandal” has a nice ring to it, that’s all it has. Could you use more moralized language than “scandal” to describe the prevalence of fat(ter) people? And I would love to see the stats on hordes of people dying because they’re choking on their own fat. Or any article that doesn’t conflate diseases for which fat is a risk factor (and usually a much, much smaller risk factor than, say, family history) as the cause of those diseases, hence counting death due to heart disease, cancers, and diabetes as deaths by fatness (which is usually how the ‘fat deaths’ numbers are generated).

This article was meant to inflame. The words of the individuals at the IFRC (shame on you!) were meant to inflame. And that’s just what they did.

I haven’t seen such blatant hate in comments on an article…well, ever. And I’ve read a lot of comments on public sites shaming fat people. I know this is Yahoo News. I know they have some of the worst reporting and moderation in the biz. Still, I can’t believe some of the stuff I’m reading. I felt the need to record it here, so that fat-hate deniers—and don’t we all know one of those, who says we just need to buck up and there’s no such thing as fat oppression and it’s just all in our fatty fat-filled heads?—can see for themselves just how bad it is. Just how deep it goes. That fat-haters really, really do want us to die. Sometimes they want to kill us themselves.

TRIGGER WARNING. Don’t go any further if you can’t stomach some of the worst fat-hate I’ve ever seen.

Please. Turn back now, if you’re at all sensitive to this stuff.

Okay. Here goes. Quoting from the comments in no particular order, without attribution or linking. I’ll link to the original article at the bottom of the post, if you really, really want to see these things for yourself.

Fat lazy pigs will bring this country to it’s knees. When I’m in the grocery and I see a fat mom with her fat kids with a cart full of soda,chips, frozen chicken ect……… I just want to smack ‘em all right in their fat faces. I am a fataphobe. My girlfriend of 11 years just decided one day to stop exercising with me and started fast food -FAST FOOD people! Who the F eats that crap? She gained weight—quickly. I dumped her ass. If she wants to get fat and lazy she ain’t gonna do it around me.

I’m glad she dodged that bullet.

The next are a collection of comments that suggest we resort to cannibalism:

1. Cut slabs of meat off the fat people, and feed it to the skinny people.

2. When things get really bad, a starving person should be allowed to eat one obese person per year.

3. Ultimate Robin Hood: Liposuction the fat to feed the skinny.

4. So, harvest the fatties; ship them to the Third World; and sell them as “horse” meat.

5. Oh good. The potential food supply (fatties) now outnumbers the hungry.

6. Let the hungry people eat the obese people. Problem solved! [there are about a dozen of these that say basically the same exact thing, not going to mention them all here]

Lovely. Let me observe that the people who make cannibalistic comments aren’t getting a thrill from the idea of eating fat people — I’m sure they think we’re disgusting and riddled with disease. Rather, it’s the murder and torture of fat people that gets their rocks off.

But remember, we’re not just good to eat. We’re also a next-generation fuel source!

In terms of Karma, maybe the obese are the poor’s food supply when collapse happens, or in light vege-oil diesel, maybe a new energy supply? I wonder how far you could drive on one fat person?

By the way, did you notice the moralistic use of “Karma” in the comment above? Fat people are sinners by virtue of existence. We have done wrong, and we’re going to get our comeuppance one of these days, isn’t that right? I suppose that implies the thin are sainted by virtue of existence. Good to know!

Goes hand in hand with a record 48 Million getting food stamps that they don’t need!

Oh yes, let’s add people to the numbers of hungry on this planet. It’s good for them. They committed the sin of fat and hence need to atone, while the sainted thin can eat as their reward for being thin.

Of course, there is the perennial tendency to conflate the stats of ‘overweight and obese’ — which are relatively large — with the prevalence of the kind of very fat people used as strawmen in pictures on these articles, who comprise far less than 10% of the ‘overweight and obese.’

I have 2 words for the morbidly obese: STOP EATING!!

Which translates to: Die, fatty! Clever.

Here are a few comments to illustrate that the inflammatory rhetoric of the IFRC, and indirect implication that fat fatties are taking food out of the mouths of hungry babies, has achieved its intended effect:

1. So if the obese cut back on eating and gave this good to the hungry we would solve two problems.

2. So the obese people are numerous and pressuring the food supplies needed by the truly hungry. food stamps is really working. How come so many so fat with no job? Wonderful.

3. Sounds like the obese need to give some food to the hungry.

And remember, there are no fat people in concentration camps:

Why can’t we do an “exchange” program with countries like Ethiopia and Somalia. We’ll send a bunch of Fat Americans to poor countries with no food so they can go on a “boot camp survivor diet” and the starving Somali’s can come here and eat McDonald’s and get fat.

Also make sure to snark the standard headless fatty on the article, and link fat people to yet another social problem, this time to the failure of the Post Office:

Hey, thats a picture of my mail lady! I can tell because her thighs always rub together as she waddles down the street at a snails pace! I wonder why the Postal system is in the trash can?

Another gem:

Force the obese people to take the positions of the hungry and the hungry the positions of the obese. Switch their jobs, homes, money, everything. The hungry could use a bit lifting up and the obese could use a very large lesson of humility instead of wasting all their money and time on food!

Those goddamn uppity fatties! Their problem is that they’re not humble enough. We need to teach those fatties a lesson. How dare they spend their own money and time on food? How dare they smugly eat while people are starving, people who deserve to have their jobs, home, money, and time more than those horrible fat fatties who are so horrible because they are fat? Skinny hungry people wouldn’t spend their money and time on food! Oh, no. They’d all go jog in the park and each single leaves of lettuce for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and think it was a feast! Goddamn fatties.

Also, did you know thin(ner) people can predict the future? It’s BMI-tastic!

Life expectancy has increased every year since 1900. It’s expected to start going down for the first time in a long time. Why? Obese people. How you can let yourself get to 300 pounds is unfathomable to me.

Everyone over 300 pounds is a broken, horrible person who is killing us all and inflating my healthcare costs. Why? Because I said so, dammit!

For those who just need to be benevolently “nudged” away from their disgusting immoral expensive child-abusing fatness:

Solution – Give doctors incentives to help patients lose weight, give tax breaks to joining a gym. Tax bad food based on sugar content, calories and trans fat. No food stamps for crackers, cookies, candy. Remove all coke machines from all our schools. Require P.E. in all our schools. Charge higher insurance premiums based on obesity level.

Finally, a few sane comments, too-few, in the din of hate:

This is great news. Finally the over fed outnumber the under fed. Maybe we will see an end to those photos of undernourished children and maybe they will be replaced with sad pictures of chunky kids with chocolate on their faces. Success!

A decent comment about how inflationary tactics taken by many governments throughout the world increase the price of basic commodities like foodstuffs:

This article is truly unbelievable. They ignorantly try to blame speculative trading and Global Warning for the rise in prices while ignoring the direct cause and effect realtionship of countries weakening their currencies. Put simply, printing more $’s without production gains is simply inflation and commodities such as fuel and grain are the first hit. I guess it just doesn’t fit their model. The heck with the logical correlation, let’s just blame global warming and speculators…. the Big bad people. Wow!

Someone finally observes that obese people can be malnourished/hungry:

Believe it or not, an obese person can also be malnourished at the same time. I am slightly obese, and prior to having a hysterectomy due to years of monthly hemmhoraging, my hemoglbin level was 10, my vitamin D, B12, folate and chromium levels were low – most likely, I was bleeding out everything but calories while I was having unstoppable carbohydrate cravings and consuming too many empty calories. Now my sweet tooth is gone, and my appetite and energy levels are normal. Now I wonder how many other women are experiencing the same thing and why doctors are not diagnosing and treating it.

The glass is half-full, not half-empty:

“Obese now outnumber hungry, says Red Cross”… Let’s think about this for a moment. We have made history… Now if this means there is less hungry people these days, then great! The glass if half full, huh?

My favorite one:

You know you live in a great counrty when people are complaining that the poor are too fat.

Word.

The original article is here. Shame on you, International Federation of the Red Cross.

EDIT: As of right now, Yahoo has been removing some of the worst comments (including some that I copied here). I’m glad I was able to capture the vitriol early-on, though I’m also glad that Yahoo is doing some moderation. Better late than never, I suppose.

EDIT 2: Nope, the awful comments are actually still up on the Yahoo article…read at your own risk. Yahoo, I take back any love I gave you.

Some S. Florida Gynos Refusing to Take Overweight Patients

…because they’re afraid of getting sued. No, really. Apparently the medical malpractice laws in Florida are so stringent that they are in effect making blanket pronouncements (and proscriptions against) ‘overweight’ women because they are deemed to be generally too ‘high-risk.’ There’s some blather and blah about not having the equipment to handle fat ladies, but that’s bunk because only a tiny percentage of fat ladies are large enough to need special equipment.

Report: Doctors Refusing to Treat Overweight Patients (CNSNews)

“People don’t realize the risk we’re taking by taking care of these patients,” the newspaper quoted Dr. Albert Triana of South Miami as saying. “There’s more risk of something going wrong and more risk of getting sued. Everything is more complicated with an obese patient in GYN surgeries and in [pregnancies],” he told the newspaper.

People don’t realize the RISK we’re taking by taking care of these patients, sobbed Dr. Someone about those horrible fat people. Don’t you realize they’re ticking time bombs? And I don’t have the insurance money to cover cleaning all that adipose tissue off my exam room walls, you dig?

I dig, brother. Thankfully, the article doesn’t go on to shame and blame fat people, and ends on a reasonably reflective note:

It is not illegal for doctors to refuse overweight patients, but it has medical ethicists worried. So far, the weight cutoffs have been enacted only by South Florida ob-gyns, who have long complained about high numbers of lawsuits after difficult births and high rates for medical-malpractice insurance.

And I don’t even have to be a medical ethicist to be concerned about the ethical implications of suggesting that people be turned away from medical care for a characteristic that is 77% hereditary.

Weight- and Looks-Bullied Minnesota Girls Fulfill Suicide Pact

This is so sad. Thanks to my husband for emailing the link as soon as he saw it — we’re the parents of teenage girls and are extraordinarily alarmed by the prevalence and virulence of appearance- and weight-based bullying.

These poor girls were only 14. They hadn’t even begun their mature lives, and they already decided — apparently for a long time — that they wanted nothing of this abusive world.

Settle said that her niece, Haylee, had been the victim of bullying after moving to Minnesota from Indiana with her mother and 8-year-old brother.

“She was made fun of for being overweight, her red hair,” Settle said. “She posted on my [Facebook] wall that she really wanted to come back…that the people were mean and cruel and she didn’t fit in.”

Even though Haylee wasn’t severely overweight, she was so uncomfortable about her size that she rarely ate in public at school, Settle said.

Paige was Haylee’s closest friend.

Haylee’s letter was to her mother and detailed plans for her funeral, Settle said.

“She requested everything pink and princess and butterflies,” Settle said.

“She was actually one of the most giving loving girls you would ever meet… She just loved everyone unconditionally…She couldn’t stand people to be made fun of, tortured, teased. She stood up for the underdogs and she was one herself,” Settle said.

If the Fat Acceptance movement needs to be about anything, it needs to be against a world where 14 year-olds (and 9 year-olds, and 4 year-olds) are made to feel absolutely worthless and broken for their ‘wrong’ weight.

My good wishes go out to the family and friends of these poor girls.

Universally Loathed

So many intelligent people can’t comprehend the genetics of size, which I find both astoundingly disappointing and rather nauseating.

If I hear one more time — just one more time — that the size of my body implies I’ve got some bevy of psychological issues, whoever makes that claim will be told in no uncertain terms why they are wrong. I’m done being silent about this, going along when other people spew misinformation and bigotry because I don’t want to rock whatever boat. I’m not out looking for a fight, but unfortunately you don’t have to go far these days to either get attacked or experience others being attacked for happening to embody the ‘wrong’ shape.

Nearly every group strives to disinclude fat people, to the extent where vociferous, well-reasoned  arguments will be levied against the culture of lookism only to then exclude fat people yet again. For example, a recent comment (which sparked this post), ran along the lines of: “Judging potential partners based on looks is wrong, but hey, sometimes you can tell when someone’s messed up and that’s when they’re OMGFAT!”

(because, the argument ‘from reason’ further stated, fat people must be fat because they overeat and they must overeat because they have some disturbing emotional problems which imply they are broken and hence undesirable partners)

I’ve had conversation with and read articles written by people with multiple degrees in tough disciplines which still cave to the rabid cultural assumptions surrounding size. My hypothesis is this usually stems from the fact that they themselves aren’t fat, nor do they have any experience with people of size. Since they’re perfectly reasonable and intelligent, that must mean fat people are broken! The same goes for average-sized people who rag on very thin people: they can’t seem to understand that many naturally thin people have tried to gain weight and can’t, and are mocked or derided for their size.

It’s all so very unscientific, and so very non-rigorous and logically fallacious that I can’t help to conclude there exists an intellectual double standard concerning size. I’m not quite sure why – perhaps it stems from the infallible authority granted to doctors and other medical researchers, who are of course just fallible people subject to the same bigotries as the rest of us, and who don’t necessarily conduct their research more rigorously nor do they possess some sort of super-reason inaccessible to the rest of us.

All of this leads me to conclude -

If you are a person of size there is one thing you can count on in modern society, and that’s being universally loathed.

So right, I’m pretty pissed off.

…because it’s abuse. It’s a way for one set of people to commit violence against another without having to make the effort to be physically violent. It’s a way for them to feel artificially superior by climbing on the backs of the deviant ranks, though really whatever status system being contrived is based on completely arbitrary values. (Like thinner is better – better for whom? Like more makeup is better than no makeup – better for whom? Like dark hair and blue eyes and fair skin is better – better for whom? Why? How did it come to pass? How is it rigorous or objective in any sense whatsoever?)

I’m going to say it right back – Modern Culture – yeah, look at me when I’m talking to you, damnit – I loathe you, too.

But my loathing is based in reason. Because I loathe any entity, group, or collection of ideas constructed in order to do violence to other people, to keep them from reaching their full potential.

I especially loathe intelligent individuals with willful blind spots. Perhaps that’s because I used to be one of them, I’m not sure. Regardless, while I don’t think intelligent people need to be perfect (honest intelligent people will be the first to claim that they’re not perfect) I do think they have a responsibility to closely examine their own potential biases. Else doff that elitist mantle: you are no enlightened thinker if you willfully latch onto a belief because it conveniently supports your worldview without making sure it is rationally sound.

Most modern intellectuals, along with everyone else, have been socialized to believe fat people are low-status, disgusting, and broken. Hence they are willfully ignorant with respect to any information that might suggest the opposite. They want to keep finding us ugly, and disgusting, and broken. They want to other us. They want their bigotry to be reinforced, because they have a visceral fear of fat people.

And visceral fears are difficult to root out. Flipping through the pages of history they might in fact be one of the stickiest points of human prejudice. Why is that? I have a few theories.

Visceral fears are self-regulating. Teach a populace to loathe something, and they often self-segregate based on that characteristic. In that same sense those fears are passed from generation to generation, since children will be — through horrid, memorable abuse and punishment for deviance, often at the hands of their parents, teachers, and peers — well-taught to toe loathing’s line.

So what do we do? How do we handle being loathed? Well I know what we can’t do — OBEY.

Which suggests that the initial reaction we must cultivate is ANGER.

(I won’t go into constructive/destructive anger at the moment, but obviously I believe the above falls into the constructive category)

So get angry. What makes you angry about the way you were treated in your past, or currently, or the way you fear you might be treated in the future? Why do you think it’s unfair? You have every right to loathe what is being done to you, because it is objectively wrong. You know that, you agree with that, or else you wouldn’t think this whole Fat/Size Acceptance thing holds any water.

Get pissed; you deserve it.

On the 1% increase of obese and overweight in the US

If you haven’t yet seen the article from Reuters: More than 70 million US adults obese, US agency says

And here’s a link to the actual CDC report

Hey look, the obesity level in the US is remaining steady!

Oh wait, the article didn’t say that? The carefully timed flood of press releases on a ‘report’ from the CDC, an agency already over-reporting the levels of ‘overweight and obesity’ as well as stocking their site with all sorts of scare-graphs and claims of an ‘epidemic’ (and not to mention the same folks that claimed 400,000 deaths per/year were ‘attributable’ to obesity when it was found later that the figure was closer to 30,000 deaths/year) seemed to say:

WE’RE IN AN EPIDEMIC FATTIES OMG OMG CHILDREN WILL DIE ETC!

Or, what the CDC actually said:

Over the past decade, obesity has become recognized as a national health threat and a major public health challenge. In 2007–2008, based on measured weights and heights (1), approximately 72.5 million adults in the United States were obese (CDC, unpublished data, 2010). Obese adults are at increased risk for many serious health conditions, including coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, type 2 diabetes, certain types of cancer, and premature death (2,3). Adult obesity also is associated with reduced quality of life, social stigmatization, and discrimination (2,3). From 1987 to 2001, diseases associated with obesity accounted for 27% of the increases in U.S. medical costs (4). For 2006, medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at as much as $147 billion (2008 dollars); among all payers, obese persons had estimated medical costs that were $1,429 higher than persons of normal weight (5). In 2001, the Surgeon General called for strong public health action to prevent and decrease overweight and obesity (3). [EMPHASIS MINE]

A few things:

  1. Correlation doesn’t equal causation. The public health dollars scare tactic was calculated by taking the sum of ALL diseases ‘correlated with’ obesity and adding them together. That means there was a crapload of thin people with heart diseases, diabetes type II, certain cancers, and who suffered strokes that have been lumped in with all the fatties to make that percentage look as high as possible. Misleading.
  2. I don’t see a margin of error stated in the report, except a very narrow confidence interval of 0.7 – 1.4 percent. Really that — that — is what’s getting shouted from the rooftops of every science news agency and crappy local evening news station in the country? Really?
  3. Again, it bears repeating: A 1% increase over two years does not an epidemic make. Nor are we currently in an epidemic by any reasonable definition of the term. The fact that the CDC is bearing down on us with these imprecise scare-words means this is about politics and keeping themselves in the green, NOT about the actual fucking health of Americans. Anyone who hasn’t read Greg Bear’s brilliant Darwin’s Radio, please do.
  4. How is obesity a major public health threat again and, if this is true, how in the world has it just ‘become’ so, given that obesity rates have been leveling off for the last few years (isn’t it something like 5 or 6 years now, since 2004)? I smell a press release.

Methinks the CDC is working to ramp up anti-obesity fervor for something. To garner more support for the “Let’s Move” anti-obese kids program? To garner more support for some kind of new, wider initiative (since my guess is that “Let’s Move” hasn’t been generating any real results, surprise surprise)?

And then there was this lovely gem from the NY Times busting open the current HHS anti-obesity funds and focus: Antismoking Efforts Lose Ground to Obesity Fight

Shortly after the first lady kicked off the “Let’s Move” program, the administration awarded more funds to fight obesity than tobacco through two big new money sources for preventive health. The funds, totaling $1.15 billion, came from economic stimulus and health care reform legislation. They still provided more than $200 million for tobacco-use prevention, but much more to grapple with obesity.

Scary. Nice that part of the economic ‘stimulus’ package was funds to stimulate hate! Oh, dearie. It’s so funny I forgot to laugh.

Scarier still: apparently the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is involved. For extensive analyses of some of their anti-obesity initiatives, check out this link.

What do you think of all of this?

BMI of Every US Citizen to be Tracked

Obesity Rating for Every American Must Be Included in Stimulus-Mandated Electronic Health Records, Says HHS

New federal regulations issued this week stipulate that the electronic health records–that all Americans are supposed to have by 2014 under the terms of the stimulus law that President Barack Obama signed last year–must record not only the traditional measures of height and weight, but also the Body Mass Index: a measure of obesity.

Obviously this is both an affront to freedom in general and the liberty of those with ‘unacceptable’ BMIs (mostly fat people, though some very thin people) more specifically. This isn’t about releasing any more information than would have been released before — heights and weights were already set to be included in the electronic health records — but rather being specifically classified by some health index number that can be used as a justification to grant you different treatment than others.

A couple things are clear to me here:

  1. When others believe they have the power to make health decisions for you (for instance, they control your access to healthcare) then you lose your body autonomy. Full stop.
  2. A government is going to act like any other self-interested body with a lot of power—it will exert its political will on the populace in order to remain in power. Right now it is popular to blame certain groups of people (including fat people) for willfully using more scarce health resources than ‘normal’ people. So classifying people into groups that would allow such a body to ‘punish’ those groups in the name of the ‘normal’ people is politically expedient (in that it will likely do no political harm and might even scrape together a few extra votes).

What do you think of this? Do you think it will happen? Besides refusing to be weighed, how can you personally combat the threat of potential classification based on BMI? What do you think the implications including BMIs on everyone’s electronic health records will be?

The Obesity Epidemic is a Moral Panic, FTW!

A quick hit today, for anyone who’s still wondering whether the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ is really a phenomenon rooted in concern over public health, or has reached the fever-pitch of a moral panic:

(h/t Corpulent)

Negative attitudes towards obese people are based on an emotional response of disgust, a new study suggests.

Previous research had focused on the fact that overweight individuals are blamed for being lazy and not exercising self-control, leading to negative evaluations of those individuals.

The new findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity, suggest that the emotion of disgust can explain that association and may help explain why negative attitudes toward obese individuals are so resistant to change.

“Although the scientific community acknowledges biological, behavioural and social contributors to body weight, a common belief in society at large is that one’s body weight is almost infinitely malleable,” says UNSW psychologist Dr Lenny Vartanian. “The problem with this idea of willpower is that we chalk it up to a moral weakness.”  Dr Vartanian’s findings suggest that this moral judgement is not based on logic but on an emotional response to obesity itself.

And further down the article, to leave no room for misinterpretation…

Disgust is a basic emotion that motivates distancing from a perceived physical or moral contaminant, Dr Vartanian says, yet such responses can change as a result of social influences: attitudes to smoking, for example, have swung from acceptance towards disgust since the 1950s.

“Attractiveness standards have shifted over time, with more curvaceous figures being preferred in the beginning of the 20th century and again in the 1950s, but more slender ideals being prominent in the 1920s and continually since the 1980s. In parallel with this latter trend, attitudes toward obese individuals are worse today than they were 40 years ago.

“It is possible that these body-type preferences over time have also become moral values, and that those who violate this moral value elicit a disgust response. Efforts to change negative attitudes toward obese individuals, therefore, might work toward reversing this moralization process and reducing the moral value placed on leaner body types.” [bold mine]

As an activist this kind of result only highlights the need to attack the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ as a moral panic, rather than some kind of extreme, yet well-intentioned, concern for public health. For instance, this means we need to see childhood obesity interventions for what they are—political capitalizations on the moral panic, not true concern. It means we need to hear our relatives’ weight-related comments not as concern, but as dutifully policing the standards of the moral panic. It means we need to understand that most doctors who shell out diet plans and gastric-banding pamphlets are willfully abandoning the Hippocratic Oath to be good soldiers for the crusade.

In fact, it is important at this point to note that in my opinion we can firmly conclude we are in the midst of a moral crusade, not just a moral panic. Moral panics are often reactions, temporary, lasting only as long as the perceived ‘threat’ exists as such. The study above makes it clear that the moral disgust of fat people isn’t transient and doesn’t have a context. It has become “We have always been at war with Eastasia…” That is, a fact of history and life that is portrayed as immutable though ultimately based in some kind of fundamental choice (usually the choice is whether or not to question it).

While fat-health-mythbusting gets a lot of face time in the movement, I think it’s important to note here that, at bottom, fat disgust is not determined by whether or not fat bodies are perceived as healthy. That’s simply the current popular vehicle for the hate to seem acceptable and reasonable. Rather, fat bodies have been dehumanized as monstrous lumps who exhibit some of the worst personal vices, universally loathed. How can one argue against an emotion? How can one myth-bust disgust?

Truly, it’s time to hunker down and really think about how we, as size activists, can effectively work within the context of this moral panic. Which messages best undermine the moral panic? I’m not quite sure at this point, but clearly the good/bad fatty dichotomy is something to avoid (the latest example of this was the Mia Freedman debacle, where feeders/gainers — and soldiers of the anti-fat moral crusade see all fat people as to some degree a feeder/gainer — were bashed and dehumanized, and a highly predictable moral panic feeding frenzy ensued in the comments).

The Mia Freedman Debacle, or, Why Moral Panics Need Strawmen

Bri King of Fat Lot of Good, fellow Fat Acceptance blogger and general advocate, recently came under fire as she found herself daring to push back against a so-called body image activist allowing virulently anti-fat comments on a recent post about feederism.

Bri has since been asked to comment for articles in several Australian news outlets. (students of sociology, pay close attention to the language used in the titles of each of these articles—five extra brownie points for some analysis, if you wish to provide it!)

1. Herald-Sun: Body blogger Mia Freedman gets heavied

2. Today/Tonight: Heavyweight fury

3. A Current Affair: Mia’s fat fight

The article is the fairest, though uses some cheap fat-mocking ‘colorful’ descriptive language here and there. Both of the other segments I watched briefly without the sound so that I could get a sense for the kind of imagery they put forth, and it’s immediately problematic — headless and legless fatties, thinner people who get attractive straight-on headshots, and so forth. But I think others can go through the segments with a bit more of a detailed analysis, what I want to talk about is what really went down, here, and why this is an example of how the strawman effect is the most powerful foundation block of a moral panic.

For Bri’s explanation and links to Mia’s post and its comments, please see her posts here (ordered by date):

1. This Angry Fatty won’t just shut up and go away…

2. still Angry Fatty

Freedman has since come back to explain that, in fact, she wasn’t talking about fat people in general but was highlighting the feederists, which we can all agree are bad, bad, bad! And why don’t us regular fatties just shut up about it, what, do we think that kind of behavior is good or something? Of course, the arguments being made against Bri are chock full of logical fallacies (extra points for those who list which ones!). And it shows either a great deal of ignorance or intellectual dishonesty on the part of a so-called body image advocate to claim that highlighting feederism in the midst of a moral panic where fat people are the folkdevils isn’t harmful to fat people in general.

Here are a few facts to chew on, in case you’re still not convinced:

  1. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if society wasn’t already panicked and disgusted by fat people in general. The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe there exist people who not only like being fat but want to get fatter?”
  2. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if the common wisdom wasn’t erroneously that people with few exceptions have the ability to control their body weight. The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe these people want to be fat when they could be thin if only they got their priorities straight or were sufficiently shamed, and further, that they want to be so very fat indeed?”
  3. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if the nanny-state wasn’t continually making its version of ‘health’ a public responsibility (thus placing people’s bodies into the black box of common ownership and hence critique). The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe these people are irresponsibly choosing fatness when it’s my wallet on the line?”

Let’s further the analysis, for those who still aren’t clear on the connection between these points — demonizing feederism in the context of a moral panic where fat people play the part of folkdevil — and why such a blog post, made by a so-called body image advocate, furthers general sizism and worsens general hate of all fat people.

Feeders/Gainers, and those who are seen as clearly choosing to get fatter, are the strawmen of the ‘obesity epidemic.’ Because one of the fundamental lines of reasoning behind the moral panic of fat is that the vast majority of fat people choose to be fat. Hence, in the common-wisdom narrative of the ‘obesity epidemic’ all fat people are, to some degree, feeders/gainers.

So demonizing feeders/gainers in the context of the ‘obesity epidemic’ moral panic is the same as demonizing the vast majority of fat people.

And the comments on Freedman’s site prove this point to be true, as do many of the comments on the Herald-Sun article linked above. Those commenters don’t care if Freedman was talking about feeders/gainers in particular — to them regular fatties aren’t really that different from feeders/gainers. So what Freedman has written has the effect of only reinforcing the bigoted notions of fat put forth by the common-wisdom narrative, reinforcing people’s disgust over fat people. What Freedman has written reinforces their horrified sensibilities concerning what and how it is proper to consume food or think about wellness and how they believe ‘proper thought’ to be inextricably tied to a particular ‘proper’ size. What Freedman has written reinforces the idea that it is okay to hate and ‘be against’ this behavior, which to them is only an extreme version of what they believe all fat people do.

Freedman, a so-called body image advocate, is doing nothing more than promoting the ‘proper’ body — one that isn’t too fat — by means of what she surely believes is well-placed concern about feederism.

Still don’t believe me? Take the tenor of the comments on any article which treats this debacle (including comments on Freedman’s blog). The high level of outrage and disgust signify rage and panic over someone daring to be an outspoken member of a deviant class. This is traditionally how moral panics police their deviant classes. If most of these commenters came in with honest curiosity or concern over health, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt the level of emotion would be quite a bit lower.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate a comment I made on Bri’s blog about this whole debacle, in particular the backlash against her take on the situation.

Remember, the ‘obesity epidemic’ is a moral panic, and by being an outspoken member of the deviant class you threaten the status quo and that’s obviously ruffling some feathers.

In fact, congratulations are in order: it seems you’ve advanced your particular message to the third stage of activism. For as Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

They’re definitely fighting you. Cheers, Bri, keep on!

EDIT (5/13/10, 11:30p EST): Please also take a look at Spilt Milk’s current Freedman post. She replies to a comment Mia Freedman made to Spilt Milk’s blog—it’s really fantastic, please read it!

NOTE: If you have come to submit the comment, “But don’t you know that feederism is bad? What, are you promoting feederism or something?” I might actually publish it, just to get laughs. But I request in any case that you re-read this post — and again, if you’re still scratching your head — and if you can’t get it after that, congratulations! You’re a bigoted pawn of the moral panic. Or should I say, I send my deepest regrets to your friends and family.

Eugenics Rears Its Ugly Head, Again

When you deliver your body to the State, expect the State to start:

  1. Making you do things
  2. Preventing you from doing things

In other words, if you hand your body over to someone else, that someone else will claim the right to control it.

Today I was rudely reminded that eugenics, one of the nasty platforms of famous fascist/socialist states like Nazi Germany, is alive and well (h/t Elizebeth). Eugenics posits that one can (must) improve the species by allowing some people to have children, and disallowing others. In our modern time, it has also become more selective: couples can choose to have children with certain genetic makeups and not others. All in the name of having the ‘best’ child, who will become the ‘best’ kind of citizen and human, and that these ‘best’ people are superior in general to naturally-born, unselected people.

In this current example, The European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE)), has recommended practitioners or governments which follow the Society’s recommendations, void the Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights for certain classes of people, namely (bolding mine):

1) In view of the risks for the future child, fertility doctors should refuse treatment to women used to more than moderate drinking and who are not willing or able to minimize their alcohol consumption.

2) Treating women with severe or morbid obesity required special justification. The available data suggested that weight loss would incur in a positive reproductive effect, although more data was needed to establish whether assisted reproduction should be made conditional upon prior life-style changes for obese and smoking females.

3) Assisted reproduction should only be conditional upon life style changes, if there was strong evidence that without behavioural modifications there was a risk of serious harm to the child or that the treatment became disproportional in terms of cost-effectiveness or obstetric risks.

4) When making assisted reproduction conditional upon life style modifications, fertility doctors should help patients to achieve the necessary results.

5) More data on obesity, smoking and alcohol consumption as well as other life style factors were necessary to assess reproductive effects. Fertility doctors should continue research in this area.

Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (bolding mine):

Article 16
  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

It is my firm belief that being fat is intertwined with racial status, since fat is preponderantly genetic. Therefore, discriminating against fat people is discriminating against them based on their racial status. Again, fat is not a behavior. Fat is not a disease. Fat is a body type, which is preponderantly genetic.

To understand how ridiculous this is, just consider this one fact: the fear of diabetes is one of the largest health ‘risks’ that anti-obesity crusaders tout when trying to get you into a panicked enough state to agree to their fascist ultimatums. And having diabetes in your immediate family is by far the largest risk factor for having diabetes yourself. Yet, women who already have diabetes — or heart disease, or a history of cancer, or any of the other major ills thrown at the doorstep of fatness — aren’t disallowed from getting reproductive help in the article being discussed here.

This isn’t about the future health of the child (a concept right out of eugenics, by the way), or whatever malarkey they’re concocting to get you to go along with their crusade. Or else women with diseases shown to be genetic wouldn’t be allowed to get reproductive help. No, this is a direct attempt to make formal the second-class status of unpopular groups of people.

As a final note, not only should it be a basic human right for a woman to reproduce if she so chooses. It should also be a basic human right to contract with another individual for services that do not violate other basic human rights. In other words, if there’s a doctor willing to contract with you for IVF services, then you have the right to proceed.

Send Away the Fat Kids

Shudder-worthy article today: Task force: Screen kids, obesity treatment works

An influential advisory panel says school-aged youngsters and teens should be screened for obesity and sent to intensive behavior treatment if they need to lose weight — a move that could transform how doctors deal with overweight children.

Needless to say, sanity watchers points required when reading the entire article.

Ugh, this kind of thing makes me sick…such blatant ‘othering,’ such a huge expense, for: “…intensive treatment can help children lose several pounds — enough for obese kids to drop into the “overweight” category, making them less prone to diabetes and other health problems.”

Several pounds? Twice a week appointments, group ‘therapy’ meant to brainwash children that feeding themselves and/or not having a cookie-cutter body type is a sign of being broken and bad?

Ugh, ugh, ugh. What are your thoughts?