The Conflation of Poor and Fat

You’ve heard it around. It makes it onto the various fat feeds from time-to-time. It even regularly pops up on Progressive blogs that are otherwise less judgmental of people of size. That is, some version of:

“Poor people are fatter on average because they have less access to the ‘right’ foods and less ability/time to do the ‘right’ exercise.”

I won’t go into the much-pitched and varied solutions to the statement above; rather, I want to talk about the statement above as a statement of fact. Because I’ve rarely been in a space, even a fat-positive space, where the statement above isn’t taken as a statement of fact.

But really, isn’t this just another example of correlation = causation?

That is, where is the proof that if the average poor fat family eats the same foods and does the same exercise as the average middle-class, average-weight family, they will become average-weight?

Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?

That’s what I fucking thought.

I’m tired of the “Poor fats are fat because of their bad habits!” whether or not their habits are apologized for afterwards as being not their fault (the case in Progressive blogs, not so much in conservative spaces). It’s condescending, elitist, and makes me fucking furious. Unless you can back up your claims please cut that shit out. The vast majority of people are fat because they’re programmed to be fat, with some variation in a narrow range (like 30 lbs). (see my Truth About Fat: References)

Also, the perpetuation of the “Poor fats are fat because of diet/exercise” trope silences actual useful research as to why poorer people in “First World Countries” (I hate that fucking phrase) are fatter on average than their richer counterparts. That is, I believe discrimination, racism, and expectations play a much larger role than we think, and that understanding those factors as they contribute to the “poor fat problem” would be enlightening,  interesting, and possibly useful, unlike the tired, recycled, useless “The poor need to be educated to move more and eat better!” bullshit.

What do you think?

What’s Your Anti-Diet Commercial?

Ah, the season of diets is upon us! There have been some particularly horrendous early contenders — like the one from Nutrisystem about how much better life is for those who’ve dieted away X lbs on Nutrisystem’s diet junk food.

The common theme uniting all these commercials is to promulgate the belief that going on X diet is temporary. You just need to sign up for Y months of Hip Watchers and you’ll lose “the” weight. “The” meaning the extra stuff, above some arbitrary Thin Fantasy boundary which can be anywhere from 5% – 30% less than your current weight. After losing “the” weight you can stop the diet, resume  normal life like eating how your thin husband/wife/friends eat, and exercising how they exercise.

When you actually do that? You gain it back. Plus 10%. Just in time for the new diet season. Shock!

So another round of Hip Watchers or DietJunkFoodSystem is in order. And it happens again. And again. And again.

Because there’s no such thing as losing “the” weight unless your weight gain was caused by something outside yourself. And then losing “the” weight usually just means recovering from an illness, having the baby, and so on.

Still, the idea of diets being temporary and weight loss being permanent is the most prevalent — and profitable — myth of the December 26 – February 15 diet season.

We’re told by the suggestive after-photos and testimonials that life is so much better after the diet is over. We’re aren’t told that the diet is never over. The pain, severe restriction, part-time job sweating at the gym, calorie account books, obsession over ‘bad’ and ‘good’ foods, fake diet junk food or refusal to eat whole food groups without a good medical or ethical reason, brain-fogginess of constant low-grade hunger, metabolic state of starvation even though you don’t look like you’re starving — it doesn’t end. Not after “the” weight is lost. And when we finally capitulate to a state of well-being that would be considered torture by any natural thin? — it means we’re broken .

Fuck that.

It’s time to push back against these insidious messages, the ignorant assumption by friends and family and coworkers that losing weight is always good and definitely permanent if you “do it right.” It’s time to expose the reality of the tortuous condition of the dieting life, and that other diet called maintenance.

How? By creating an anti-diet commercial.

Ideally, it would be a foil to Nutrisystem’s most recent commercial (can’t find a link), but ultimately to any commercial that tries to sell you on how much better life is after dieting, the typical — “more energy, cute clothes, bikini body, can now climb mountains, so happy, play with kids all the time, have constant sex with spouse, etc.”

I put together a short anti-diet commercial for your listening pleasure. Enjoy!

Here’s my diet success story. What’s yours?


Include your anti-diet commericals in the comments, or send them to me at big dot liberty at yahoo dot com.

Photoshop Used to Make People Skinnier

This should be required watching for all size activists. This is what we’re up against — it’s so, so easy to do this, it’s considered as standard in photo editing as removing blemishes or an unwanted seagull from the picture. Blargh.

TRIGGER WARNING: It’s not as extremely fat-hating as I’ve heard, but it’s not fat-friendly. A lot of ‘hurr-hurr-ing’ about making her butt look smaller and so on. I suggest those who are sensitive to that kind of thing mute the volume. It’s visually self-explanatory, anyway.

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.

Magically Thin!

There is an oft-repeated anti-fat trope which runs along the lines of:

“Well, if there was some magical way for you [fatty] to get thin that didn’t require diet/exercise/surgical mutilation/etc, you’d do it.”

Frankly, if there were such magical powers in our great ‘Verse, I wouldn’t waste them on becoming thin. If one could say, wake up the next morning and have some kind of new magical body part or body alteration, think of the possibilities! It’s magic. One could wish for:

  1. The ability to breathe fire / ice at will
  2. A dragon tail
  3. A unicorn horn
  4. Wings (working, of course)
  5. Knuckle knives a la Wolverine / Edward Scissorhands
  6. Laserbeams out of eyes
  7. Lightning bolts out of fingers
  8. Perfect pitch
  9. Horse-body (centaur)
  10. And so on….

What about you? What kind of magical body parts/abilities would you take over being magically thin?