More Fat (Politics)

This is a follow-up to my post on fat jokes in the liberal blogosphere, in which I shamelessly ripped off the far more eloquent Chris Clarke. But I only addressed part of Chris’s post; the rest I will discuss here. In the beginning of the post, Chris slammed those in the liberal blogosphere who will attack a conservative opponent’s weight or other physical characteristics as a cheap shot rather than the rather more satisfying target of their politics or shit-stupid ideas. Such focus is counterproductive, Chris argued, not only because it provides them with a legitimate complaint against the tolerance of liberals, but also because it alienates those of us who are also struggling with our weight. Our allies would never dream of making cracks about, say, Jewishness or blackness, but fatness? Fair game.

But here’s where Chris’s post switched gears, and because of that, I wanted to address it in a separate post:

Besides which, the anti-fat bigotry is at least out in the open and obviously vile. It’s some of the well-intended rhetoric of the fat acceptance movement by which I feel the most threatened.

Lemme say that I completely support the goals of the fat acceptance movement, without hesitation. The cruel jokes and insults should stop. Discrimination in the workplace should stop. Looksism is offensive, and not just because it’s a clumsy-ass word. The current skeletal ideal body image kills girls and women, and some men. The Body Mass Index is best suited to guide the fitness plans of some other species with more uniform physiques. Flatworms, maybe. Physicians should be more careful to restrict their recommendations to actual medical issues associated with obesity rather than esthetic value judgments. The diet industry should be made illegal. Women suffer the brunt of prejudice against the fat. Agreed, one hundred percent.

Being fat is rarely a sign of moral defect. I will venture that it is rarely a sign of inherent laziness, of particular gluttony, or of lack of willpower too far from the American median.

Yes, yes, YES. All of this is true. The issue of doctors attributing any and all problems to weight and not even bothering to look for the actual cause was illustrated by some of the comments to my post on my trip to the doctor for my immigration physical; my favorite was the advice Magis got to lose weight when he went in for an ear infection — and then finding out later his insurance denied coverage for the appointment, because they don’t cover weight-loss programs and the doctor had put down the reason for the visit being “weight-related.”

Health issues are a particular minefield when discussing weight and weight discrimination. On the one hand, you have situations like Magis’s, where the medical default is weight, and you also have a lot of anti-fat prejudice cloaked in “concern” for the “health” of fat people and the “obesity crisis.” And then there’s the fact that, for the most part, weight alone is not the cause of various ailments. But on the other hand, you have the fat acceptance stance that any discussion of health and weight is necessarily inherently anti-fat, a stance that tends to shut down discussion of larger issues.

But having made these assertions, some fat acceptance activists go on to claim that being obese is perfectly healthy. That I have problems with. I’m not talking about having a healthy and fleshy body mass whose existence is at odds with our anorexiophilic culture. I’m not talking about weighing twenty pounds more than you did on your wedding day.

I’m talking about obesity, the condition in which I found myself until this spring. Sometimes it’s a result of disability that prevents exercise, or other associated physical ailments. But for many, perhaps most of us obese people in the US, the condition is in large part the result of damage we suffer as the result of the structure of American society. We have been victimized, and to the degree the fat acceptance movement ignores the circumstances of that victimization while framing the damage it causes as “just fine,” that movement itself does further damage to people like me.

Shutting down discussion of obesity and health by insisting that it’s perfectly fine, there is no such thing as a healthy weight, etc., shuts down discussion of the factors that encourage people to be fat in the first place. Factors that tend to conceal societal problems that need to be addressed on a macro level rather than on an individual level, which is how they are now. Sheelzebub wrote about this last week in a terrific post in response to the infamous “pre-pregnant” federal health guidelines:

A friend of mine, a pediatrician who works in the inner-city, shocked a bunch of us when she told us about the morbidly obese kids she treated. Young kids in danger of developing, or already coping with, Type 2 diabetes.

The reaction was fairly typical. How can parents let their kids get like that? How can people make such awful choices? Maybe if they stopped eating McDonald’s all the time and move around more, they’d lose weight.

Then she pointed something out. “There are no grocery stores for my patients to get to,” she said. “Not unless the single mom wants to take her kids on a bus trip with two connections for an hour, get the groceries, and bring them back home on the bus, with her two kids.”

Oh, hey. Do that and buy milk and eggs. And maybe some meat, or frozen foods. Juggle those bags with a couple of restless kids in tow. On a bus, a transfer, and another bus.

Couple this with the lack of open and safe space for kids to play. No safe parks. Nada. Where are these kids going to run around? The hallways of their housing projects? The street?

These are societal problems, not individual ones. Yet the blame is usually placed not on the businesses that refuse to open in “inner-city” neighborhoods, or the governments that don’t provide sufficient public transportation to these neighborhoods, or the banks that redline these neighborhoods so that new businesses have a hard time opening, or the convenience stores that charge several times more for wilted produce in these neighborhoods than Whole Foods does in more affluent areas, but on the families themselves, or the individuals. Resorting to McDonald’s when McDonald’s is about the only business that will come into your area that sells food is seen as a moral failing, not a hard choice that must be made.

And we hear a lot about “sugary soft drinks” at public schools. Well, we didn’t have soda machines or candy machines accessible to students when I was a kid. Why are they there now? Because school funding has been slashed and corporations swooped in offering a cut of the profits from the soda and candy sales. And what cash-strapped school district could really turn that — or advertising for such products during educational TV programming shown in schools — down? Hell, many school districts, even relatively affluent ones, are canceling recess and cutting gym classes out. Kids don’t seem to have unsupervised play time like they did when I was a kid (get offa my lawn!). Not that I spend much time in the suburbs, but the suburban neighborhoods I’ve seen seem strangely devoid of kids, even when I know they’re there.

It doesn’t take much to get fat, just a hundred or so extra calories a day in excess of what you burn over a period of time will do the trick. And there are a hundred or so extra calories in a can of soda. It’s easier to blame the kid for drinking the soda or the school for selling the soda than it is to take a hard look at the underlying problem — the school isn’t getting enough funding.

In the same way, it’s easier for the fat acceptance movement to insist that being fat is just fine than to admit that there are health problems that are related to obesity and diet and that there needs to be honest discussion about the issue so that the moralizing is stripped from the picture and the systemic problems can be addressed rather than the individual ones. Chris again:

Every person is different, so every fat person is different. One man’s forty-pound beergut might be carried sustainably, while another’s might kill him in the medium term. There are no easy generalizations to make about those of us whose bodies tend toward roundness, some of whom are not even fat by any medical standard.

But for many of us, being obese is harmful. If a person might be hemorrhaging as a result of being stabbed in a mugging, the proper response is not to endorse the notion of Internal Bleeding Acceptance. The proper response is to determine whether the victim is in danger, correct that danger if it exists, and apprehend the assailant so that he can do no further damage. What I prefer instead is the notion of fat people’s liberation, addressing the social constructs that induce obesity in people like me, and providing ways to correct or counteract them. And if those methods also liberate some of us from obesity itself, so much the better. For me, accepting the blandishments of some in the Fat Acceptance Movement means accepting the damage that is done to me, and others like me, as inevitable and beyond criticism, and that I cannot do.

I said yesterday in my Fat Jokes post that we cannot exempt our friends and allies from criticism when they give voice to unexamined prejudices about weight or sex or queerness or what have you. The fat acceptance movement is no different. Some of the reaction to the “pre-pregnant” guidelines by people in the fat acceptance movement focused on the granting that all the guidelines in themselves were fine, including maintaining a healthy weight, but the idea of only addressing them because of potential pregnancy was infuriating. The reaction was one of outrage that the notion of a “healthy weight” should be accepted, not one of outrage that any health advice should focus on reproductive potential. But that outrage (and even the outrage over being treated as vessels waiting to be filled by a baby) was somewhat misplaced, and prevented the kind of examination of the root causes of health issues that Chris describes above and that Sheelzebub addressed here:

It’s one of the things that struck me about the now infamous WaPo article on “pre-pregnancy” care (their words) or “pre-conception care” (the CDC’s words). Women of childbearing age were advised to control their diabetes and asthma. Sure, it’s great advice, and more healthcare would certainly help those who have these illnesses. And so would decent living conditions–something no one likes to acknowledge. It’s so very un-American, actually admitting that some things are out of people’s control, that some things can’t be blamed on people, and that the blessed middle- and upper-classes aren’t paragons of virtue and self-discipline.

Anti-fat prejudice is real, and pervasive, but the answer is not to insist that being obese is always perfectly healthy. The answer is to insist on the provision of better health care and to address, honestly, the societal factors that lead to obesity as well as those that make the problem out to be one of individual choice and moral failing rather than a failure of many levels of society to address inequities in housing, health care, school funding and other issues. If we can’t even describe the problem, how can we find the solution?


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88 comments for “More Fat (Politics)

  1. Sarah S
    May 23, 2006 at 11:44 am

    Hear hear… wow this is one of the best posts I have read in a really really long time. I’m fat but I’ve always felt a bit of disconnect with the fat acceptance movement, and this is exactly why. Thank you for so eloquently putting down all the feelings and thoughts that I’ve ben unable to tie together. You’re awesome zuzu.

  2. May 23, 2006 at 12:04 pm

    You do realize that I’m going to have to think of other things to write when I continue the topic at my place.

    Damn you, zuzu!

    *shakes fat fist at nothing in particular in sky*

  3. nolo
    May 23, 2006 at 12:06 pm

    Excellent, excellent post.

  4. tomaig
    May 23, 2006 at 1:54 pm

    “Because school funding has been slashed…”

    I call B.S.

    Find a school budget anywhere that has actually DECREASED by ANY incremental amount, much less been “slashed”…

    “not spending as much as the teachers / educrats would like to spend” does NOT equal “school funding slashed!”.

  5. May 23, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    Find a school budget anywhere that has actually DECREASED by ANY incremental amount, much less been “slashed”…

    You guys have the best idiot trolls.

    Oakland Unified.

  6. Arianna
    May 23, 2006 at 2:11 pm

    tomaig:

    Maybe “slashed” isn’t the right word, but “not increased sufficiently to keep up with inflation, need for outlay on new technology, etc” is pretty much the same deal. That being said, I really don’t know anything about the funding for schools in the US, other than that using the word “educrat” reveals your bias.

  7. Arianna
    May 23, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    Chris,

    I just read that post you linked to, and now I’m in tears. That’s probably pretty bad, since I’m studying to be a teacher right now.

  8. Erin M
    May 23, 2006 at 2:20 pm

    tomaig:

    My school couldn’t afford busses. For anyone. Even the kids who lived 5 miles away across a busy highway.

    Also, the only permanent structure we had was the school office/cafeteria. The rest were trailers. We had no art teacher, no gym teacher, no science teacher, and a library of about 100 books and one aged computer. This was in 1987.

    We only had a playground because someone’s dad could donate the construction equipment for just the cost of fuel. The school’s PTA built it themselves.

    Reply?

  9. Erin M
    May 23, 2006 at 2:23 pm

    I should add I’m talking about my elementary school up there, not a high school. So it wasn’t teenagers with a five-mile walk if their parents couldn’t drive them, it was kindergartners.

  10. May 23, 2006 at 2:28 pm

    fabulous, fabulous post! ;)

  11. May 23, 2006 at 2:33 pm

    *applause*

  12. May 23, 2006 at 2:56 pm

    Hey, thanks for the link, and a great post!

  13. Tam
    May 23, 2006 at 2:57 pm

    These are societal problems, not individual ones. Yet the blame is usually placed not on the businesses that refuse to open in “inner-city” neighborhoods, or the governments that don’t provide sufficient public transportation to these neighborhoods, or the banks that redline these neighborhoods so that new businesses have a hard time opening, or the convenience stores that charge several times more for wilted produce in these neighborhoods than Whole Foods does in more affluent areas, but on the families themselves, or the individuals. Resorting to McDonald’s when McDonald’s is about the only business that will come into your area that sells food is seen as a moral failing, not a hard choice that must be made.

    While I agree that there are certainly societal factors that contribute to obesity, your argument makes it seem as though assigning any level of personal responsibility to obesity is “blaming the victim”. I don’t buy it.

    What societal factors are you going to assign to the middle class family with an obesity problem?

    At some point, people have to accept responsibility for their condition. And, at some point we have provide people with tools to overcome their obesity if they choose to. That means encouraging healthy eating in spite of the poor food choices in your grocery store or community. That means encouraging promoting working out in your home if you can’t walk in your neighborhood.

    It’s about arming people with the tools to make healthy lifestyle choices in light of their circumstances rather than allowing people to wallow in misery because of them.

  14. zuzu
    May 23, 2006 at 3:15 pm

    While I agree that there are certainly societal factors that contribute to obesity, your argument makes it seem as though assigning any level of personal responsibility to obesity is “blaming the victim”. I don’t buy it.

    That’s not my intent at all. But if we’re going to get anywhere with addressing obesity as a health issue, we’re going to have to both stop considering fat a moral failure and reflexively objecting that any discussion of fat and health indicates an attitude of assigning moral failure.

    Obviously, any individual is going to have to address their own needs and make their own choices, but we also have to look at what, systemically, needs to be fixed and not heap all the responsibility on the individual, especially when there are a lot of myths out there.

    For instance, re the point I made about the sodas: there’s a myth that fat people are fat because they’re lazy and stuff their faces all day long. You often see references to grocery carts in the tsking comments that follow a post about obesity (see the comment thread to Chris’s post for an example). Shit, no wonder people get their backs up. But given the differences in metabolism, two people could eat the same diet and one could gain weight. That person isn’t stuffing her face all day long, but people who see her at the grocery store will be scrutinizing her cart and her doctor will think she’s lying when she protests that she eats normally. She does — for someone with a slightly higher metabolism. Her response may be to drastically cut her calories, which often leads to bingeing or yo-yo dieting and a spiral of self-loathing. Without the moral opprobation, she might have simply cut back a little to the point where *her* body was using up the calories she took in instead of embarking on a lifelong cycle of dysfunction.

    Sometimes, people actually come up with brilliant little ideas to address obesity without moralizing. I read recently about how some school districts, instead of having regular boring (and stressful) gym classes, are using Dance Dance Revolution for physical activity. It accomplishes the goal of getting kids moving, but it also gives them something enjoyable to do — and doesn’t involve getting a ball thrown in your face or getting picked last for the team.

  15. Dianne
    May 23, 2006 at 3:39 pm

    That means encouraging healthy eating in spite of the poor food choices in your grocery store or community. That means encouraging promoting working out in your home if you can’t walk in your neighborhood.

    Why doesn’t it mean encouraging grocery stores to open in your neighborhood? Why doesn’t it mean lobbying for safer streets (whether the danger is crime or SUVs)?

    I maintain that one of the reasons that obesity is looked down on so strongly is that being “anti-fat” is a socially acceptable way of being anti-poor people. It’s much more socially acceptable to call a person lazy because they’re obese than because they are poor.

    It’s all very well to say that people should triumph over their circumstances and, in some cases, they do. But wouldn’t it be simpler, more efficient, and better for all concerned just to make things easier for everyone by making the necessary social changes instead of insisting that if you were a **really** strong, motivated person you could maintain a model figure in a neighborhood with no grocery stores and unsafe streets by eating only 1/5 of a Big Mac at each meal and jogging in a 250 square foot studio apartment.

  16. May 23, 2006 at 3:43 pm

    I read recently about how some school districts, instead of having regular boring (and stressful) gym classes, are using Dance Dance Revolution for physical activity. It accomplishes the goal of getting kids moving, but it also gives them something enjoyable to do — and doesn’t involve getting a ball thrown in your face or getting picked last for the team.

    One of the things I plan to address in the next installment of this on my blog is the notion that exercise is something apart from normal life, a chore to which one is sentenced for the crime of being fat, and if your neighborhood isn’t safe, why then one must be exhorted to work out in your home as a mark of taking personal responsibility for your lardass!

    Exercising that way sucks. It’s boring, repetitive, and pointless. And meanwhile, thin people can languish and even die from lack of exercise as well, but who hectors them about “personal responsibility”?

    The Dance Dance Revolution thing sounds like exactly what I’m talking about. For me, it’s just getting outside and going places on foot, sometimes running, mostly walking. It might be something else for someone else: bicycling, gardening, climbing trees, tossing toddlers into the air, whatever.

    My running and hiking is neither punishment or a moral obligation I bear so that others are not unfairly confronted with sharing the planet with fat old me. It’s something I want to do because it feels good — and that quest for things that feel good is part of whay got me fat in the first place, so why not use it to get me healthy, and perhaps unfat?

    Contrariwise, that alienation from what my body does is part of the reason — along with the depression engendered in part by defeatism like that some fat acceptance people espouse — that I grew the gut. Imposing an exercise regimen because some other person thought I bore a personal responsibility to do so only accentuated that alienation.

  17. Neely OHara
    May 23, 2006 at 4:12 pm

    In the same way, it’s easier for the fat acceptance movement to insist that being fat is just fine than to admit that there are health problems that are related to obesity and diet and that there needs to be honest discussion about the issue so that the moralizing is stripped from the picture and the systemic problems can be addressed rather than the individual ones.

    My complaint is not that there should never be any honest discussion about health and weight, but that there is assumed to be a direct one-to-one correspondence between health and weight. Many of the societal public health changes that would address factors correlated with obesity (such as access to healthier food, ways to reduce obstacles to exercise, etc.) are changes that would benefit everyone. And relying on a person’s weight as the sole barometer of health can be so misleading, and even detrimental to the establishment of healthy habits that can be sustained on a lifetime basis.

    My personal experience with this sole focus on weight=health has been lifelong, and I’ve seen how much it can go astray. I was a chubby kid by the time I was five, which is not very surprising seeing that all of my relatives, on both sides, are larger than average, and have been for as many generations as we’ve got pictures. My parents, as well meaning as they were, panicked about having a “fat kid”, for health reasons, so they responded by putting me on restrictive diets and exercise regimens that only I had to conform to, instead of making changes to meals and activities within the whole family. The only point was to make the number on the scale go down, and it was all done for my own good.

    Well, it was a good way to ensure that I would have decades of disordered eating and weight cycling, and I am certain that I weigh much more as an adult than I would have if my family had not been so obsessed with the digits on the scale, and simply made systematic changes that would support better eating and more activity. My parents tried make sure that I would be a size 8 instead of a size 16, and instead, I wound up a size 26 instead of a 16.

    Over the past few years, I have made peace with food and with exercise – I now eat well, don’t binge, and get at least five days a week of physical activity. I have lost a modest amount of weight in that time, from 300 lbs to 270 lbs. Perhaps I’ll lose more, perhaps not. But the increase in my health and wellbeing has been astronomical, far beyond what those numbers might appear to reflect. Let’s say I stablize at 270, and continute to have good blood pressure, good cholesterol, and no diabetes – overall good health. I am sure that most people would still look at that number alone and consider that no, I am not healthy, and need to lose more weight.

    Never mind that the behaviors I would have to adopt to reach a “healthy” weight (severe calorie restriction and obsessive exercise) would be, in and of themselves, unhealthy. Never mind that fat people almost never lose enough weight to become non-fat people.

    My fear regarding public health responses to weight and health is that societal changes will reflect my personal experiences with how good intentions can backfire so badly. That instead of recognizing the near-impossibility of people who are already fat to become non-fat people, and focusing on better health outcomes for everyone, the sole focus will be on weight, independent of health. And in attempting to prevent obesity, interventions with an obession with weight as sole arbiter of health could lead to unhealthy behaviors and weight cycling that would undermine the original intention.

    Of course, I could just shorten this comment and just point you to Amp’s brilliant post again.

  18. Tam
    May 23, 2006 at 4:15 pm

    Zu zu: I think that those who are truly concerned about who do addressing obesity in a healthy way are trying to do so without making people feel like moral failures. It’s just society at large that is taking a while to delink the two and not make judgements or assumptions about who people are based on their size.

    It’s all very well to say that people should triumph over their circumstances and, in some cases, they do. But wouldn’t it be simpler, more efficient, and better for all concerned just to make things easier for everyone by making the necessary social changes instead of insisting that if you were a **really** strong, motivated person you could maintain a model figure in a neighborhood with no grocery stores and unsafe streets by eating only 1/5 of a Big Mac at each meal and jogging in a 250 square foot studio apartment.

    I take issue with the automatic assumption that people overcome their circumstances in “some instances”. Maybe if we start ingraining in people that they can triumph over their circumstances that it will be more frequent than sometimes.

    And yes, we can address both the societal constraints and individuals personal responsibility for their health. But, we both know that societal change is neither simple or efficient… So, rather than telling folks to wait until the Kroger up the street to get their shit together before they start eating well, I’d rather say,, “Hey, how about cooking those greens with turkey instead of pork?” or “Instead of watching Judge Mathis, how about you change to FitTV and do a 30 minute workout.?”

    Given the high rates of diabetes and hypertension in my community it isn’t about maintaining a model figure it’s about life and death. People don’t have to be bound by or die because of their circumstances…

  19. zuzu
    May 23, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    My complaint is not that there should never be any honest discussion about health and weight, but that there is assumed to be a direct one-to-one correspondence between health and weight.

    Well, that’s one of the issues that needs to be discussed and an attitude that needs to be examined, isn’t it? There’s no evidence that there’s a direct one-to-one correspondence in all cases, but insisting that someone who can no longer walk doesn’t have health problems directly attributable to being overweight isn’t allowing for an honest discussion. The situation we have now is one where these issues aren’t being hashed out and studied properly because there’s no real discussion about them; you have culturally-dictated attitudes that fat people’s health problems are always due to being fat on the one hand, and then you have an inisistence that they’re *never* due to that on the other. Surely, there’s some middle ground where real discussion and consideration of the issues can occur.

  20. May 23, 2006 at 5:08 pm

    Zuzu, I am so glad that you and Chris wrote all of this. I’m overweight (slightly obese according to the BMI); I’m pretty healthy; I should try to eat better and get more exercise but I’m not doing too badly. On the other hand–one of my aunts is morbidly obese, with Type 2 diabetes, leg ulcers, shot-out knees, etc. Anyone who claims that “she doesn’t need to change” is ignoring the fact that her body just cannot handle all of her weight. Just because I’m in favor of size acceptance doesn’t mean I’m in favor of someone weighing 85 pounds because of a metabolic disorder.

  21. proud to swim home
    May 23, 2006 at 5:29 pm

    thank you zuzu. the attitude that weight & unhealthiness can never be discussed is what keeps me getting banned from fat acceptance sites. nobody wants to talk about those of us who are disabled due to our weight. sure, i had arthritis before i weighted 400# (i started developing it at 16) but believe me, if i didn’t have to lug 400# around with complete systemic osteo & rhumatoid arthritis, i probably could pack away my wheelchair for good. or at least until i reached old age.

  22. May 23, 2006 at 6:50 pm

    I have messed up again. I guess I should review how the comments system works before posting. Anyway, that was an article about poverty, teens and obesity. I wish that we had gym classes focusing oin fitness that people can do everyday rather than sports which only a few people can do

  23. May 23, 2006 at 7:59 pm

    One side of the fence: I got more praise and envy for my figure when I was well below what was supposed to be the lowest appropriate BMI for a thin-boned woman of my height than I did when I was within the BMI range, but toward the top of it. Even allowing for imperfections in using the BMI as a measure of people’s health, it seems unlikely that my skinniest weight was actually my best weight. In fact, seeing what osteoporosis is now doing to my grandmother, I think I’m better off not being that thin.

    The other side of the fence: My husband has wrestled with being overweight and with health problems which are impacted by weight (Type II diabetes). He’s also on medications which have a side effect of weight gain, but whose importance to his general health far outweighs any negative impact of the weight gain they may cause. So he feels ill-served by blanket statements that weight has nothing to do with health (it’s to his benefit that he moderate the weight gain as best he can by moderate adjustments to diet and exercise, even if he may never be thin again), and at the same time we’re both ill-served by attitudes that thinness is the same thing as moral fiber and self-discipline.

  24. Neely OHara
    May 23, 2006 at 8:01 pm

    There’s no evidence that there’s a direct one-to-one correspondence in all cases, but insisting that someone who can no longer walk doesn’t have health problems directly attributable to being overweight isn’t allowing for an honest discussion.

    But I feel like the current societal discussion around obesity fails to acknowledge that there is even a possibility that once people are fat, they may not ever be able to become not-fat. (Here’s another blog entry from Amp addressing that issue.) What if that turns out to be the case? What if, let’s say, being very large is bad for your health, but that once at a very high weight, there is no healthy way to become “normal”? Do we just continue to try pushing ineffective and/or dangerous weight loss methods in the pursuit of “normal”? Or should we try to minimize health problems and maximize healthy outcomes the best we can?

    And in terms of prevention, what if it turns out that some preventative interventions have the opposite effect and increase obesity and/or contribute to eating disorders instead? Interventions with a one-size-fits-all endpoint – making sure that no one looks fat or offensive to aesthetic standards – seem doomed to me to fail to maximize healthy outcomes for everyone.

    I guess I’ve got kind of a harm reduction mentality about this. It seems to be that holding up a standard of thinness for all is unrealistic and fails to meet people where they are and with the resources they have available to them. It seems like the “perfect” (if you consider thin to be perfect) is the enemy of the good.

    Not that I’m ascribing these attitudes to you, zuzu – it’s just that I think that the disgust that society evidences towards fat people makes it virtually impossible for there to be an honest discussion around these issues at a societal level. And I guess we’re on the same page, then, because I see these aesthetic judgments to be the primary motivation behind all of the moralizing around fat issues.

    And Shannon, I totally agree with you about gym classes. I don’t know anyone who wasn’t a natural athelete that didn’t find gym classes isolating and at times humiliating. I had the fortune to be in a gym class for one year in elementary school that was geared towards unathletic kids and improving personal fitness, without one word about weight loss or comparisons to other people’s performances. It was the first time I’d ever felt comfortable and un-self-conscious exercising, and I often think that if all my gym classes had been like that, I might not have needed decades to learn to enjoy healthy activity.

  25. May 23, 2006 at 8:03 pm

    On gym classes, if the point is to make people more fit, then they need to be structured so that kids of all levels of physical ability can find them at least somewhat enjoyable. I remember gym as awful. Everything I was good at – broad jumping, agility, balance – would turn out not to count, and the thing that mattered most seemed to be throwing a ball, which I couldn’t do to save my life. And we did the choosing up sides things, which meant I was always second to last (probably partly because I had skipped a grade and was less coordinated), and the fattest girl in the class was chosen last (possibly just because she was fat, rather than because she was always worst). That business of choosing sides is a great way to make the last chosen kids hate the class.

  26. May 23, 2006 at 9:03 pm

    But I feel like the current societal discussion around obesity fails to acknowledge that there is even a possibility that once people are fat, they may not ever be able to become not-fat. (Here’s another blog entry from Amp addressing that issue.) What if that turns out to be the case?

    it’s just that I think that the disgust that society evidences towards fat people makes it virtually impossible for there to be an honest discussion around these issues at a societal level.

    I have been writing out comments to this thread, and then deleting them before posting, all day.

    I am losing weight. My health is markedly improving as a result. Am I going to be able to keep the weight off? I don’t know. I am confident, because I’m not denying myself food, and I’m not doing any exercise I don’t enjoy. But who knows?

    I have a strong family history of atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is aggravated by high blood pressure. I have a strong family history of high blood pressure. I have a family history of diabetes. My fat resided on my gut, which is the location most strongly linked with cardiovascular disease.

    My life expectancy is significantly shorter at my peak weight of 230 pounds than at my current weight of 195ish. Given the nature of the diseases in my family, we’re potentially talking decades shorter.

    The “fat people never get unfat” line is not only untrue – and again, my family provides examples of significant long-term weight loss, and I’m talking decades – but given the role depression and its attendant defeatism plays in the habits many people, myself included, it’s a dangeous untruth.

    In my first post I bent over backwards to say that our society’s body image poltics were fucked, and that some people consiered obese can be perfectly healthy, and that weight loss diets don’t work.

    But my obesity afects my health in both short-term and long-term ways, and I am doing something about it, and I am going to write about it. I will do my best not to make judgments about other people in the process, but the fat acceptance movement has done me harm by delaying my action to preserve my health, and I am thus disinclined to shut up so as to fit in with its ideology.

  27. May 23, 2006 at 9:04 pm

    habits of many people. sorry.

  28. May 23, 2006 at 9:17 pm

    Beautifully written, Zuzu. Thanks. I’ve been slowly dipping into the fat-acceptance community online, and while in principle I agree with much of it, I share many of your reservations.

    (Plus, I always feel like a “traitor to the cause” when I think about wanting to lose weight – I was fine with being somewhat fat, but due to a really rough emotional spiral I gained 50 pounds in the past year, or a little less. Now I’m out of shape and much less comfortable with myself, and no amount of rhetoric is going to help there.)

  29. Neely OHara
    May 23, 2006 at 9:35 pm

    I am losing weight. My health is markedly improving as a result. Am I going to be able to keep the weight off? I don’t know. I am confident, because I’m not denying myself food, and I’m not doing any exercise I don’t enjoy. But who knows?

    You know, we are in exactly the same boat. I’m not denying myself food, and I love the exercise I do. But I’m still fat. Maybe I’ll lose more weight, maybe I won’t. What if I do lose more weight, but stop losing at 250 lbs? Or even 200 lbs? I could be 5’8″, 200lbs, in fantastic health, looking great, but I’d still look big. I’d still look visibly fat. And I would still get nothing but condemnation from society for being ugly and unhealthy. Right now, the way things are, there just isn’t acknowledgement that a healthy weight for some people might not be what people consider an attractive weight.

    The “fat people never get unfat” line is not only untrue – and again, my family provides examples of significant long-term weight loss, and I’m talking decades – but given the role depression and its attendant defeatism plays in the habits many people, myself included, it’s a dangeous untruth.

    Well, my family provides examples of significant weight cycling and increasing inability to become unfat. For me, trying to become thin, instead of trying to become healthy, led to depression and defeatism. If I weigh 300 lbs, and keep aiming for the 140 lbs that Weight Watchers suggests is healthy and within my reach, and keep failing to get anywhere near 140, that is extremely depressing and defeating.

    So maybe you and I are different. Maybe our mindsets are different, maybe our genetics are different, maybe our bodies are different. I’m honestly very glad for you that you’re in better health and feeling great. I’ve been feeling wonderful with regular exercise, and I know what a positive impact it can have. I’m not remotely denying that. And I’m not saying that no one can lose weight and keep it off. Maybe 10% of people can. Maybe 50% of people.. But what about the people who can’t?

    I know that I have spent 25 years trying to become thin, to no avail – and I’m only 32. So our life experiences are different, and that’s what I want acknowlegement of. Maybe some people can lose weight and keep it off, but not everyone can. For those of us who have been unable to become thin, we can still be as healthy as possible. What I’m angry about is that I’m expected to achieve an impossible-for-me “ideal” of 140lbs (oh, maybe I’m even allowed to be 150) before I’m allowed to be acceptable or considered healthy in this society.

  30. zuzu
    May 23, 2006 at 9:44 pm

    Um. I just need to say it.

    NEEEEELY O’HAAAAAAAARRRRAAAAAA!

    That is all.

  31. fairweather
    May 23, 2006 at 10:03 pm

    Yeah, and the lats blog I was reading where someone was losing weight without restricting her food choices turned out beautifully – the poor woman in question turned out to have a non-functioning pancreas so she wasn’t able to digest food.

    I’m glad you’re losing weight, Chris. My mother is an aerobics instructor who eats – and I meant this very seriously – probably about 1,200 calories a day. She has done this since I was little. I watch her. She weighs 240 pounds. She isn’t going to lose weight. And every day, she talks to me in wyas that indicate she sees her weight as a personal failing. If only she could be a better person, she could lose that weight.

    Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

    For some people, the idea that fat people can’t get unfat may be dangerous. For some people, it’s just the fucking reverse.

  32. May 23, 2006 at 10:08 pm

    And I’m not saying that no one can lose weight and keep it off. Maybe 10% of people can. Maybe 50% of people.. But what about the people who can’t?

    Really, I think we’re on the same page as far as that goes. I have no problem accepting the idea that some, perhaps many fat people can be healthy. AND that some, perhaps many fat people are injured by their fat to one degree or another, but cannot lose weight for the reasons you lay out so eloquently, and that they shouldn’t be treated as pariahs or weak-willed gluttons as a result of their size despite being unhealthy. And that point, I think, gets lost sometimes in the focus on the issue of health.

    What I’m angry about is that I’m expected to achieve an impossible-for-me “ideal” of 140lbs (oh, maybe I’m even allowed to be 150) before I’m allowed to be acceptable or considered healthy in this society.

    And that really sucks. I am fervently willing to acknowledge that our life experiences are different, but I have felt some of that same offensive expectation directed at me before I — by fluke, in the process of being treated for ADD — found something that seems to be working for me..

    And those expectations are way worse for women. No question.

    I would like it if we all had the feeling that our individual experiences were considered to be valid. It’s obvious that the main issue in this realm is the oppressive treatment you describe, and that the concerns I raise affect a smaller subset of people. And if I gave the impression I don’t think that way, I apologize. But I do think there’s room for pointing out the nuances in the issue. A recognition that not all fat people are alike can only help address both our concerns.

  33. zuzu
    May 23, 2006 at 10:28 pm

    Yeah, and the lats blog I was reading where someone was losing weight without restricting her food choices turned out beautifully – the poor woman in question turned out to have a non-functioning pancreas so she wasn’t able to digest food.

    And that means what? That because this one person had a pancreatic problem that let her lose weight without restricting food choices, nobody else can?

    Note that Chris said that he did not have to restrict his food *choices.* I will presume that he has learned that, for him, learning to eat less of the food he enjoyed meant that losing weight was painless, because it allowed him to feel like a normal person rather than someone under a sentence for the crime of being fat.

    I’m glad you’re losing weight, Chris. My mother is an aerobics instructor who eats – and I meant this very seriously – probably about 1,200 calories a day. She has done this since I was little. I watch her. She weighs 240 pounds. She isn’t going to lose weight.

    He probably also, I further presume, did not embark on a highly-restricted-caloric-intake diet combined with a lot exercise like your mother. In fact, small changes like the ones that I will even further presume Chris made will be more effective in the long run than such severe restrictions as your mother makes, which only serve to send the body into starvation mode, thus being counterproductive. And, yes, leading to a failure to lose weight even in the face of dieting and fueling the idea that some people *can’t* lose weight.

  34. May 24, 2006 at 12:28 am

    I think the point of Kameron’s story (she of the pancreas), is that she thought she was losing weight healthily, and certainly she was receiving much encouragement from people around her about her weight loss. Because of the automatic tendancy to correlate health with weight, it was assumed she was becoming healthier, when in fact her body was destroying itself. Doesn’t mean that other people can’t lose weight healthily, just more evidence of the point I think you’re trying to make, zuzu.

    From a strictly medical viewpoint (not a professional, but well educated in the field), I would say that any significant weight alteration (say >10% of body weight) either up or down, should be followed with a check-up by a competent, non-obesity obsessed physician – blood sugar, thyroid, etc. to make sure a) the weight loss/gain is due to eating/exercise and not some major alteration in body function and b) the body is handling the change well, since a major change in weight, up or down, is a fair strain on the body in and of itself.

  35. May 24, 2006 at 3:03 am

    zuzu- you mind if i include this in the next Big Fat Carnival?
    chris – i ask the same of you (and regarding the original post).

  36. Fairweather
    May 24, 2006 at 6:02 am

    Yeah, right, Zuzu. You expect me to trust your characterization of weight when you say something like this?

    That person isn’t stuffing her face all day long, but people who see her at the grocery store will be scrutinizing her cart and her doctor will think she’s lying when she protests that she eats normally. She does — for someone with a slightly higher metabolism. Her response may be to drastically cut her calories, which often leads to bingeing or yo-yo dieting and a spiral of self-loathing. Without the moral opprobation, she might have simply cut back a little to the point where *her* body was using up the calories she took in instead of embarking on a lifelong cycle of dysfunction.

    I’m sure it’s just that easy. I’m so grateful to you for solving this amazing problem of dieting which has perplexed eveyrone else – except everyone else who’s come up with a simple solution, of course.

    We can all lose weight, apparently. And our failure, poor ducks us, is that we bought into the diet industry in too extreme a fashion. We simply wanted thinness too much.

    All people can lose weight. In this, you are united with the anti-fat people. If we wanted to enough, we would lose weight. If we were really eating what we said we ate, we’d lose weight. If we tried harder or were less lazy, we’d lose weight. If we didn’t try too hard to lose weight, we’d lose weight. If we ate sensibly, we’d lose weight. If we listened to our bodies, we’d lose weight. If we’d had better sense than to be born peasants in Russia, we’d lose weight. If we’d had better sense than to be born poor, we’d lose weight. If we’d had enough sense to eat vegan foods, we’d lose weight. If we’d understood that calories – exercise = weight, we’d have lost weight. If we understood that for some people, calories – exercise/metabolism = weight, we’d have lost weight.

    The weight, the weight, it should be lost. It must be lost. It can be lost. It must be a universal statement. All fat people can lose weight. Your experiences to the contrary are meaningless. Only the examples I choose to honor are meaningful.

    We aren’t judging you for being fat. Only for the fact that the weight should be gone. Why isn’t it gone? Didn’t you try hard enough? Did you try too hard?

    But no, fat people, we love you, it’s only the weight we despise. Love the sinner. Hate the sin.

  37. May 24, 2006 at 6:49 am

    Shutting down discussion of obesity and health by insisting that it’s perfectly fine, there is no such thing as a healthy weight, etc., shuts down discussion of the factors that encourage people to be fat in the first place.

    I really disagree that arguing that ‘healthy weight’ isn’t a useful concept is shutting down any debate (at least partly because it’s participating in the debate), or that it shuts down discussion of the factors that might damage health and longevity.

    I think leaving weight behind can be the starting point for some really useful discussions about food and exercise, what’s changed and what hasn’t when it comes to diet and activty, (what usually annoys me in those discussions is that often people aren’t very specific what time they’re comparing today with and I have a background in history so I want to get specific), what affects these changes have had, and why they’ve happened. I’ve written a post on food that I hope will be the first in a series where I look at how the production of food changes nutrition and diet.

    I don’t think your position on weight as an independent variable for longevity and quality of life is any indiciation of whether you’ll be able to look at structural factors that examine longevity and quality of life.

    Or to use a more specific example

    But that outrage (and even the outrage over being treated as vessels waiting to be filled by a baby) was somewhat misplaced, and prevented the kind of examination of the root causes of health issues that Chris describes above and that Sheelzebub addressed here:

    I don’t think that outrage over one issue prevents us from looking at the root causes of another issue. I don’t even think outrage at the language used to describe an issue prevents an examination of the root causes. I know it doesn’ t prevent me.

    Chris I want to respond to some of your ideas on your own blog, but I did want to respond to this here?

    The “fat people never get unfat” line is not only untrue – and again, my family provides examples of significant long-term weight loss, and I’m talking decades – but given the role depression and its attendant defeatism plays in the habits many people, myself included, it’s a dangeous untruth.

    Chris you put this in quote marks, who are you quoting?

    Maybe there are people who say that. We don’t have a fat acceptance movement here in New Zealand, so I don’t really know what they say. I certainly don’t deny that people lose weight and keep it off. But I think there’s a very important point, which is that we haven’t got any scientifically proven way to lose weight.

    This isn’t to say an individual can’t lose weight and keep it off, but without research individual results are meaningless to someone else in the same situation. I have a friend who has a really serious health condition. Everyone has a friend who completely cured what she had . I’m not denying that some of those people didn’t exist, but it’s not help for my friend.

    The fact that some people lose weight, and keep it off, is no more useful than knowing that some people survive a particular disease and some don’t, unless we figure out how and why we can’t do anything with that information.

  38. Sarah S
    May 24, 2006 at 9:12 am

    Fairweather…. are you high??? Cuz that’s the only explanation I can come up for your response that attacks zuzu for things she didn’t remotely say, you must be hallucinating. This was not a post about having to loose weight, it was a post about having to be healthier. Did you even READ this post? Half the things you attack are what she is refuting in this post.

    It’s called R-E-A-D-I-N-G, left to right, top to bottom, take tylenol for headaches, midol for any cramps.

  39. zuzu
    May 24, 2006 at 9:16 am

    zuzu- you mind if i include this in the next Big Fat Carnival?

    Sure!

    All people can lose weight. In this, you are united with the anti-fat people. If we wanted to enough, we would lose weight. If we were really eating what we said we ate, we’d lose weight. If we tried harder or were less lazy, we’d lose weight. If we didn’t try too hard to lose weight, we’d lose weight. If we ate sensibly, we’d lose weight. If we listened to our bodies, we’d lose weight. If we’d had better sense than to be born peasants in Russia, we’d lose weight. If we’d had better sense than to be born poor, we’d lose weight. If we’d had enough sense to eat vegan foods, we’d lose weight. If we’d understood that calories – exercise = weight, we’d have lost weight. If we understood that for some people, calories – exercise/metabolism = weight, we’d have lost weight.

    Pardon me, but where did I say that?

    Having been fat all my life, I understand the psychological issues involved and I’ve gotten the looks and the stares and the comments. And being told that diets never work, that there’s no way at all to lose weight, might as well just accept that, blah blah, is unhelpful and defeatist and does not serve at all to illuminate the issues.

    The example I gave was of someone who’d gained weight through just a small consumption of excess calories, yet who would be judged by society — because society is obsessed with heaping moral judgment on the fat — as lazy, as gluttonous, what have you. Further messages are that in order to lose weight, she’ll have to make drastic changes, which, frankly, are ultimately self-defeating because they can throw the body into famine mode, mess with the metabolism and create psychological blocks and obsessions. If she really wants to change her weight, neither the messages saying that she has to do it through drastic means right now or the messages that it’s entirely pointless because diets don’t work do anything to shed light on the subject.

    But hey, if you want to consider me anti-fat, so be it. The fat acceptance movement does not speak for me.

    This isn’t to say an individual can’t lose weight and keep it off, but without research individual results are meaningless to someone else in the same situation. I have a friend who has a really serious health condition. Everyone has a friend who completely cured what she had . I’m not denying that some of those people didn’t exist, but it’s not help for my friend.

    The fact that some people lose weight, and keep it off, is no more useful than knowing that some people survive a particular disease and some don’t, unless we figure out how and why we can’t do anything with that information.

    Well, that’s kind of my point with this. There’s a signal-to-noise factor in discussions of obesity that prevents the kind of research that will help determine how people can make changes that will benefit their health. But when you have doctors on one side who see every problem of a fat person as a weight problem, even ear infections, and people who bristle at any suggestion that there’s any correlation between weight and health on the other, there’s no dispassionate examination of the issues.

    Healthy weight, as a concept, is only harmful when it’s tied into BMI charts and one-size-fits-all models. Each body has its own healthy weight, and for some that might be much higher than is considered fashionable or currently medically accepted.

  40. May 24, 2006 at 9:17 am

    Maia, I was quoting what I understood Neely to be saying wih regard to Amp’s post to which she linked. She implied in a subsequent comment that I had misinterpreted her, which I may well have.

    And I agree with your comment. Which is why I am pretty much talking about myself alone when it comes to taking action.

    vegankid, I’d just as soon you didn’t include my post. thanks for asking.

  41. zuzu
    May 24, 2006 at 9:20 am

    Okay, if Chris doesn’t want his post included, I’ll have to decline, too. Since I ripped him off so much.

  42. May 24, 2006 at 9:53 am

    take tylenol for headaches, midol for any cramps.

    Damn. I’ve been getting that backwards. Thanks, Sarah.

  43. May 24, 2006 at 11:57 am

    Comments about someone’s weight/appearance during a verbal argument are akin to someone critiquing another’s grammar or punctuation in “flames” in threads on a BBS/community site.

    Its primary function is to be cruel and disarm someone by appealing to their vanity/sense of self and self worth, rather than add something of value to bolster their argument.

    This is best detailed with the employment of “Godwin’s Law,” wherein someone who senses they are losing an argument refers to their opponent as Hitler.

  44. claire
    May 24, 2006 at 2:26 pm

    You both have a lot of excellent points, but I hesitate to agree with them too closely because I think the original post seriously misrepresented the “Fat Acceptance Movement” as having a particular viewpoint and a uniform belief system. I think there are as many viewpoints on fat activism as there are fat activists, and one major goal of fat activism, as I understand it, is not to say simply, “fat is always healthy,” but to reduce the stigma around image, including exercise, so that fat people can be healthy.

    I live in San Francisco, a city with a fairly large population of fat activists, and one of the things that I’ve noticed is that no fat activists I’ve met or read are willing to look at fat outside of politics or culture. They simply can’t — as you both point out — be dissociated.

    I’ve also noticed that there is no uniform agenda here, except possibly the eradication of shame around fatness. I’ve never heard this expressed as “fat is inherently healthy,” however… can you show me writing by some fat activists who are willing to make such a simplistic blanket statement? Instead, I hear a lot about how to deal with ridicule and keep going anyway when you’re a fat person learning to ride a bicycle and stay healthy (as in this article by Charlotte Cooper, for example. Or work by Pat Lyons, a nurse at Kaiser Permanente, who has studied the way that fat people are so stigmatized that gyms become threatening spaces. Perhaps she’s the sort of spokesperson of the “Fat Acceptance Movement” that you’re speaking about: she’s vocal about her convinction that you can be fat and healthy at the same time, but she never says that fat is therefore healthy no matter what.

    Every fat activist that I know concentrates on discovering and creating safe spaces for health to happen regardless of size, and that’s inherently political: many of us work with programs like Oakland’s People’s Grocery, which gets fresh produce to areas of Oakland with no grocery stores. Many of us teach free or low-cost yoga classes for people of size at community centers. One of the biggest fat organizations here in the city is Big Moves, a dance troupe that creates a community and vision of dance — movement, exercise, expression — as accessible to fat people, and in fact, just as much our space as anywhere else.

    I don’t want to focus too heavily on San Francisco here. NAAFA, which is the most mainstream vanguard of the “Fat Acceptance Movement” has this to say about exercise — maybe that doesn’t relate exactly to what you had to say, but I’d challenge you to find something to support that this statement:

    it’s easier for the fat acceptance movement to insist that being fat is just fine than to admit that there are health problems that are related to obesity and diet and that there needs to be honest discussion about the issue so that the moralizing is stripped from the picture and the systemic problems can be addressed rather than the individual ones

    is actually based in a real understanding of the “fat acceptance movement.” Can you find that insistance, or the lack of willingness to have an honest discussion, at NAAFA or NOLOSE?

    Thanks for bringing this up and making such an interesting discussion happen!

  45. Sarah S
    May 24, 2006 at 3:07 pm

    claire –

    I don’t have any kind of active fat activist movement around me in WI, I just base my impressions on what I read online in various places and in various books. It seems like a very young and fragmented movement, and while I’m sure that not everyone believes that that fat is just fine in every case, that is the general impression I’ve been under and that has kept me from really engaging with a fat activism in the form of any organized group. I think that the best gains will be made in things like yoga for all sizes and increasing the availibility of grocery stores, all on small local levels. I think that the ideologies I have heard coming out of larger groups are problematic, but maybe that is because I don’t know where to find good fat activism/acceptance discussion. What sticks in my mind most vividly are the stories I hear from people on other websites about not being made to feel welcome at confrences after losing some weight (traitor and all) or of people being banned from certain boards for encoraging people who have medical conditions to look into healthier eating and living habits.

    And I have no idea what an NAAFA or a NOLOSE are, sorry, I’ve never heard of them. Also, why do you put “fat acceptance movement” in quotes?

  46. May 24, 2006 at 3:36 pm

    Anti-fat prejudice is real, and pervasive, but the answer is not to insist that being obese is always perfectly healthy.

    I was going to write a lengthy post about how I don’t think this is a fair summing-up of what the fat acceptance or HAES movements say, but happily, Claire has already written such a post. So I guess I’ll just post to say “me too!” to Claire’s sentiments.

    It would be easier to have a discussion if your posts included specific citations of the fat activists you’re criticizing.

  47. May 24, 2006 at 4:24 pm

    I got more praise and envy for my figure when I was well below what was supposed to be the lowest appropriate BMI for a thin-boned woman of my height than I did when I was within the BMI range, but toward the top of it. Even allowing for imperfections in using the BMI as a measure of people’s health, it seems unlikely that my skinniest weight was actually my best weight.

    Oh yeah. When I was 18, I had an ulcer. I dropped 15 lbs. in a 2 week period. I am 5’5″ and weighed 105 lbs. at that time. I was far too thin and looked terrible. And I was definitely unhealthy. So what happens? Women would come up to me and say things like “I hate you; you’re so thin.” I was flabbergasted. I wanted to say to them, “Sure, you get sick, and you can be this thin too! What a trade-off.”

    24 years later, I’m still within the government-defined “healthy weight range”, but towards the upper end. I am far healthier now than I was when I was 18. In fact, I’m in excellent health. I wouldn’t ever want to drop back down to 105 lbs., even though society would have us believe that I would look better. Feh.

  48. May 24, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    Now that I’ve read all the comments,, I find that a lot of what I’d say, has already been said better than I would have said it. (Neely OHara, you are my hero!) And although I don’t doubt anyone’s sincerity, my concern that what’s mainly being criticized here are strawfatactivists has not gone away.

    Chris, I’m happy that you’ve found a way to be healthier and feel better. But keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of fat people trying to lose weight at any moment. If only 1% of them are able to succeed (which I think, from non-anecdotal evidence, is a realistic estimate), that’s still thousands of people wandering around saying “yes, of course fat people can succeed in becoming non-fat people – just look at my experience!” Plus many thousands more whose weight loss will be only temporary, but who don’t know that yet.

    Furthermore, for many fat people attempting to lose weight is actually damaging to their health. Given the low odds of long-term success and the possibility of damage, I think the fat activist skepticism towards weight loss advocacy is justified.

    I acknowledge that your experiences are real, and valid for you. But I think they’re extremely atypical of what most fat people who attempt to become non-fat people will actually experience. For the vast majority of fat people, a HAES approach (Heath At Every Size) is more likely to succeed in bringing about improved physical health, whether or not weight is lost.

    ZuZu wrote:

    And, yes, leading to a failure to lose weight even in the face of dieting and fueling the idea that some people *can’t* lose weight.

    Anyone can lose weight. But some people – including most fat people – can’t lose significant amounts of weight in a healthy and sustainable fashion.

    * * *

    Should some people try to lose weight? Well, certainly, some people who are physically impaired by their weight can benefit from losing weight (of course individual exceptions always pertain).

    Many people with diabetes benefit from weight loss (although how much benefit comes from losing weight, and how much comes from improved diet and exercise regardless of weight, is not clear). (I’ve seen it claimed (by weight loss surgeons) that weight loss surgery can help people with diabetes, but I don’t know if those claims have been independently collaborated.)

    I don’t deny that there are individuals for whom weight loss might be the best choice. But for the majority of fat people, it makes sense to concentrate on health and well-being, rather than on losing weight. I don’t see what’s so wrong about that message.

  49. zuzu
    May 24, 2006 at 4:53 pm

    Amp, I think you’re illustrating my point.

    Both Chris and I have said that focusing on health and fitness and ending fat discrimination is terrific. But I think your comments about that being the only goal, that fat people cannot lose large amounts of weight sustainably, is what we (and some others) find so frustrating.

    I want to be healthy, and I want to accept myself, and I want to be accepted. But I also want to lose weight. Not to become thin, but because I know that I am healthier and feel better at a lighter weight than I am now.

    But giving voice to that, as some in these comments have stated, is to be labeled, how did fairweather put it? “United with the anti-fat people.” I don’t need that crap. I live in this body every day, and I don’t need some other person — fat or no — telling me that my desire to both lose weight and be healthy makes me self-hating.

    Nobody here is saying that all currently fat people MUST lose weight. But how about some support for those of us who want to, instead of “Well, I’m glad you’re losing weight, but good luck keeping it off, because here’s all these statistics showing diets inevitably fail.” ? That’s almost as bad as having someone tell you that you’re worthless because you haven’t lost weight, or enough to suit them.

  50. May 24, 2006 at 5:04 pm

    Hear, hear, zuzu. Couldn’t have said it better.

  51. May 24, 2006 at 6:02 pm

    Zuzu I find it really difficult when you compare the mainstream medical establishment with fat activists as if there was any kind of equality between these two groups.

    You also write as if the only two things people are saying are ‘there are never any connections with weight and longevity’ and ‘you must be within your BMI’. The debate that is already going on is actually more nuanced than that.

    I think if you were more specific about who or what comments you were reacting against, we would be having a more constructive debate.

    This is how you paraphrased Amp:

    But I think your comments about that being the only goal, that fat people cannot lose large amounts of weight sustainably, is what we (and some others) find so frustrating.

    This is what he said:

    I don’t deny that there are individuals for whom weight loss might be the best choice. But for the majority of fat people, it makes sense to concentrate on health and well-being, rather than on losing weight. I don’t see what’s so wrong about that message.

    and

    But some people – including most fat people – can’t lose significant amounts of weight in a healthy and sustainable fashion.

    I think there’s a major difference there.

    Nobody here is saying that all currently fat people MUST lose weight. But how about some support for those of us who want to, instead of “Well, I’m glad you’re losing weight, but good luck keeping it off, because here’s all these statistics showing diets inevitably fail.” ? That’s almost as bad as having someone tell you that you’re worthless because you haven’t lost weight, or enough to suit them.

    I’d never really thought of political blogs as places where there was an obligation to supported individual decisions people happen to make. I have no issue with people wanting to lose weight. I think writing more about wanting to lose weight on feminist blogs would be useful, because I think at the moment there’s a huge disconnect between what we write on our blogs about the politics of our bodies, and what we actually feel. But that doesn’t mean that I feel I need to support feminist bloggers in any or all of their choices. If the only thing people want is support, if they’re not holding up their experience for discussion or debate, then they should make that clear.

  52. May 24, 2006 at 6:10 pm

    Both Chris and I have said that focusing on health and fitness and ending fat discrimination is terrific.

    I know that. I don’t think I said anything that even remotely implied I think otherwise about you, or about Chris.

    But I think your comments about that being the only goal, that fat people cannot lose large amounts of weight sustainably, is what we (and some others) find so frustrating.

    I honestly don’t know what you intended “that” to mean (in “that being the only goal”), so I can’t respond to that part.

    (Sometimes people in debates say “I don’t know what X means” when they actually understood what was intended, and are trying to make a point of some sort. This isn’t one of those times. :-P )

    …that fat people cannot lose large amounts of weight sustainably, is what we (and some others) find so frustrating.

    I never said that fat people can’t lose large amounts of weight sustainably. I said that most fat people can’t lose large amounts of weight sustainably. The difference does matter, especially in argument in which people are falsely claiming that fat activists say weight loss is never possible or desirable.

    Can you explain to me why it frustrates you when I say that most fat people cannot lose substantial amounts of weight in a healthy, sustainable fashion? Because I honestly don’t understand why you object to my saying that.

    I want to be healthy, and I want to accept myself, and I want to be accepted. But I also want to lose weight. Not to become thin, but because I know that I am healthier and feel better at a lighter weight than I am now.

    Look, I don’t comment on stuff like this unless I’m specifically asked to, or unless it’s a close friend. It’s your life, and you should do what’s best for you, and it’s obvious that of the two of us you’re the one who’s in the best position to judge what’s best for you.

    But the post is not about your personal weight goals. It’s about fat politics. When I give my general opinions on fat and weight-loss dieting, it’s not in any way intended as commentary about what you or Chris, as individuals, are doing. I’m sorry if that hasn’t been clear.

    But giving voice to that, as some in these comments have stated, is to be labeled, how did fairweather put it? “United with the anti-fat people.” I don’t need that crap.

    I didn’t label you any such way. So if that’s what you’re talking about, then it’s unfair to claim that I’m an illustration of what you’re objecting to. I don’t think that Fairweather’s “united” comment was fair (or weather), and I don’t think you’re at one with the anti-fat people.

    That said, you’re being unfair to Fairweather, too. Fairweather’s comment, that you quote, wasn’t a response to you “giving voice to that you “want to lose weight.” It was a response to an anecdote you told which gave a universe of choices in which weight loss is always a possibility, without acknowledging that for some people sustainable, healthy weight loss isn’t a possibility.

    You should be able to say “I want to lose weight” without people jumping down your throat. However, fat activists should be able to criticize when people talk about general weight loss in ways that imply that weight loss is always possible and desirable. I don’t think that what Fairweather said was right, but I think that questioning the “weight loss is always possible” bias which seemed to be implicit in your anecdote is reasonable.

    But how about some support for those of us who want to, instead of “Well, I’m glad you’re losing weight, but good luck keeping it off, because here’s all these statistics showing diets inevitably fail.” ?

    I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything like that. Would it be possible to have an exchange without these strawman arguments?

    I did say to Chris that he’s the 1 in 100 people who has lost a lot of weight in the long term. My point was not “good luck keeping it off” (if you sincerely thought that’s what I meant, you must think I’m very stupid) but that Chris’ experience, and the experiences of the thousands of other fat people who have become non-fat people, do not logically disprove anti-weight-loss arguments.

    If you (or Chris) had started a post saying “I’ve lost weight, please support me” I wouldn’t have commented, because I don’t want to spend my life raining on other people’s parades. But what you’re now saying is that if I bring up statistics or opinions that disagree with your viewpoint, then I’m failing to be supportive, even if the context is a discussion of weight politics and the views of the fat acceptance movement.

    That’s almost as bad as having someone tell you that you’re worthless because you haven’t lost weight, or enough to suit them.

    So when Fairweather says you’re one with the anti-fat, that’s wrong. But when you imply that my comments are almost as bad as rank anti-fat bigotry, that’s fine. Here’s one thing we agree on – I don’t need this crap, either.

  53. Christopher
    May 24, 2006 at 6:58 pm

    To me, the idea that one can be obese and be healthy is contradictory; The reason to have a term like “obese” is to have a word that means “unhealthily fat”.

    I think the point should be to distinguish between fat, which is just about a number on the scale, and weight-related health concerns.

    Eh, I dunno, I’m always a little perplexed by the emotion behind these arguments. It’s not like I’m thin or even in good shape, but, eh, it’s just never been a big issue.

    Is it because I’m a man, or where I live, or what?

  54. claire
    May 24, 2006 at 7:37 pm

    Sarah –

    It is a pretty young movement, but not as young as I’d have thought if I hadn’t looked it up just now on wikipedia!NAAFA, the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, was started in 1969, and even Marilyn Wann’s Fat!So? was published in 1993.

    while I’m sure that not everyone believes that that fat is just fine in every case, that is the general impression I’ve been under and that has kept me from really engaging with a fat activism in the form of any organized group.

    Your impression of fat activism sounds a lot like my (wonderful, beloved) mom’s impression of feminism – that she can’t be a feminist because she’s an older, straight, conservatively-dressed housewife… and, most tellingly, that most feminists would not accept her. She’s still shocked by the suggestion that her belief in equal rights and opportunity, and her willingness to act on those beliefs, would identify her as a feminist in most books these days.

    It sounds like you’re hearing, or have heard, some pretty negative things that made fat activist space not safe or welcoming for you. Where?

    NAAFA is the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptanace. ISAA is the International Size Acceptance Organization. The two of them are the largest, most mainstream of the fat acceptance organizations. NOLOSE is the National Organization for Lesbians of SizE (but they just go by NOLOSE now because it’s more inclusive of trans and genderqueer folks in the community).

    I put “Fat Acceptance Movement” in quotes because it reminded me of “Gay Pride Movement” – a phrase that attempts to define a diverse and multifaceted set of agendas and beliefs in a single “movement.” It’s an interesting point to bring up, though, because it sounds like you’ve definitely had some bad impressions from and because of people who were negative, unwelcoming, close-minded, and sometimes just plain wrong… and that reminds me strongly of people who have had negative experiences in the queer community as well. My friend and I were discussing this earlier, and we were saying it’s a little like bisexual-bashing, not including bisexuals as a valid part of the queer community. That’s so old school! Who the heck does that anymore? But of course, people do… and it’s the same sort of ignorance and lack of acceptance that comes up in ANY movement, any diverse community.

    One of the things that I think this discussion most affords is the realization that this is *our* movement, *our* space. It is a young movement, so it’s easy to claim space and visibility here. My partner and I recently decided to overcome years of stigma and fear around bicycles and try to learn to ride bikes for the first time. (In a city with five million hills. What were we thinking!?) We didn’t see many other hefty cyclists on the road, so we started a fat cycling group called the Padded Saddles… and we’re putting the word out about a collective bike ride plus vegan potluck in the park next Sunday. Similarly, we hosted free plus-size clothing swaps for anybody who wanted to clean out or refresh their closets. When we didn’t see what we wanted, we created it. This is (or can be) your movement, too… if you don’t feel that you have a space there now, create one. Creating communities that can talk honestly and shamelessly about weight is the biggest step to take, I think, and that could be anything from a book club to a walking group, as long as it happens without — or in opposition to — fat shame.

    If the organizations I mentioned weren’t ones you were aware of before, you might want to check out
    Big Fat Blog
    or Fatshionista (it’s about fat fashion, but has had some fascinating political discussions and heated debates lately), or the NOLOSE livejournal blog, or The Blog for Fat Athletes. I’m always amazed at how much more there is out there that I don’t know about… I’d love suggestions from you or anybody else about other great blogs to keep on top of.

    Ampersand – Word.
    (And thanks for bringing up HAES!)

  55. May 24, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    I did say to Chris that he’s the 1 in 100 people who has lost a lot of weight in the long term. My point was not “good luck keeping it off” (if you sincerely thought that’s what I meant, you must think I’m very stupid)

    Well, I do not in the slightest think you’re stupid, Amp, but that’s damn well how I heard it.

  56. May 24, 2006 at 8:10 pm

    Oh yeah. When I was 18, I had an ulcer. I dropped 15 lbs. in a 2 week period. I am 5′5″ and weighed 105 lbs. at that time. I was far too thin and looked terrible. And I was definitely unhealthy.

    Same height, different reasons for being skinny when young. And, yeah, I’ve also been as thin as that, and never did get too thin to be envied, even at my very bottom weight (right before I got hospitalized for another matter).

    Chris, I’m happy that you’ve found a way to be healthier and feel better. But keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of fat people trying to lose weight at any moment. If only 1% of them are able to succeed (which I think, from non-anecdotal evidence, is a realistic estimate), that’s still thousands of people wandering around saying “yes, of course fat people can succeed in becoming non-fat people – just look at my experience!”

    Doesn’t that 1% figure depend on what you’re calling “success” and what you’re calling “trying to lose weight”? I mean, it sounds about on target for what I’ve read, if I interpret “trying to lose weight” as “starting a special weight loss diet” and “success” as “reaching a weight within your recommended BMI range in a healthy, sustainable way.”

    But that’s not the kind of weight loss that, for example, the American Diabetes Association recommends for diabetics. It’s not the kind of diet advice that my Type II diabetic husband got in his diet classes, or gets in his regular appointments with his endocrinologist. What they recommend, rather, is that you set an overall calorie intake based on the weight you hope to stay at, look at what you’d need to eat to stay at that weight, and then spread those carbohydrates out throughout the day so you don’t get peaks and falls in blood sugar. Never, ever skip meals to lose weight, if you’re diabetic. And, when I went with Joel to his appointment with his endocrinologist, I saw where she went over his diet and discussed a couple of specific, modest changes that he could make that would be healthier and have a chance to be sustainable.

    Now, even this approach has problems “succeeding” if “succeed” means getting everyone into that BMI range that we’re supposed to all be fitting in. But 1% success rate for a moderate, sustainable weight loss in a diabetic with a doctor who can provide realistic advice for moderate changes in lifestyle? That sounds low to me. I’m not prepared, as the wife of a diabetic, to be that pessimistic.

    Of course, diabetes has a stronger case for being weight-related than most illnesses, and really bad effects if you can’t get good control over it. If he weren’t diabetic, we’d both feel less strongly about the weight loss.

    And screw special weight loss diets for anyone, diabetic or not.

  57. zuzu
    May 24, 2006 at 8:21 pm

    I didn’t say that. I didn’t say anything like that. Would it be possible to have an exchange without these strawman arguments?

    Actually, you did:

    Chris, I’m happy that you’ve found a way to be healthier and feel better. But keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of fat people trying to lose weight at any moment. If only 1% of them are able to succeed (which I think, from non-anecdotal evidence, is a realistic estimate), that’s still thousands of people wandering around saying “yes, of course fat people can succeed in becoming non-fat people – just look at my experience!” Plus many thousands more whose weight loss will be only temporary, but who don’t know that yet.

    Furthermore, for many fat people attempting to lose weight is actually damaging to their health. Given the low odds of long-term success and the possibility of damage, I think the fat activist skepticism towards weight loss advocacy is justified.

    I’m just not sure how to interpret this other than a backhanded compliment along the lines of, “Congratulations for your short-term success, but in the long run, you’re doomed to fail, like everyone else.” And while I can’t speak for Chris, I interpret his “hear, hear” as agreement with my characterization of your statement.

    And you ask me who, specifically, I’m responding to. Have you asked this of Chris, by the way? I saw his post and riffed off it, but I had things in mind like this comment from Maia on Jill’s I am Pre-Pregnant post:

    I’m going to go off on a tangent on my blog. But I was very surprised to read this on a feminist blog:

    Now, I’m all for encouraging these behaviors simply because they’re healthy. It’s better for people not to smoke, to control their diabetes and asthma, to maintain a healthy weight, and to take vitamins.

    One of these things is not like another. Not only do I wonder what ‘maintaining’ a healthy weight means (presumably if there’s such a thing as an ‘unhealthy’ weight, some people are already at an unhealthy weight). But there’s no evidence of causation between weight and health, and therefore to talk about a healthy weight is meaningless. I also think it’s really anti-woman to talk about women ‘maintaining a healthy weight’ in our current eating-disordered society.

    It’s pretty clear to me that she’s saying that there is no such thing as an unhealthy weight, and it’s “unfeminist” to say otherwise. I hadn’t wanted to single out Maia, but there it is. Saying that something is “unfeminist” on a feminist blog is, to me, a good way to shut down debate.

    It’s statements like that, and attitudes like that, that have made me and several of the people who have commented on this post uncomfortable with participating in discussions of fat issues elsewhere in the blogosphere. Proud to swim home in comment #21 has been banned from fat-acceptance sites for wanting to discuss weight-related health issues. Maureen in #20 is discouraged by the people who don’t want to acknowledge that her aunt’s health problems are aggravated by her size. There are others, which you can read. I was a little surprised at how many positive comments I got about this post, frankly. Perhaps that’s because the discussion of fat issues is so dominated by people who advocate telling someone who’s losing weight or trying to lose weight that most fat people fail, or treating them as anti-fat, or traitors.

    And I don’t think that I was unfair at all to Fairweather, who, after all, was not fair to me.

  58. May 24, 2006 at 8:22 pm

    Chris, I’m genuinely sorry that’s what you heard. But it’s not what I said, and it’s not what I intended. Can you take my word for that?

  59. May 24, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    I put “Fat Acceptance Movement” in quotes because it reminded me of “Gay Pride Movement” – a phrase that attempts to define a diverse and multifaceted set of agendas and beliefs in a single “movement.”

    This is a great point, Claire. I think you could have said the same thing about feminism, for that matter.

    (I was going to say more, but my housemate who has a car just asked me to go to the store, and since I don’t even have a driver’s license I better go!)

  60. May 24, 2006 at 8:38 pm

    If he weren’t diabetic, we’d both feel less strongly about the weight loss.

    Although, I should qualify this by saying that he has multiple health issues that relate to the weight, might be trying to lose weight even without the diabetes, and feels more passionately about the matter than I do (so he might make a stronger statement than I’ve made about his desires). But diabetes is really the biggie in our household. I’m actually been on his diabetic diet with him (but of course not trying for weight loss in my case) to make it easier for him to maintain it; I’ve gotten used to looking at how many exchanges everything is.

  61. May 24, 2006 at 8:46 pm

    I believe you, Amp, and no apology necessary. I only brought it up to point out that Zuzu’s wasn’t necessarily an insanely unreasonable interpretation of what you said.

  62. May 24, 2006 at 9:00 pm

    I think it’s interesting that you link to BFB, Claire, because I’ve often encountered a lot of the sentiments Zuzu points out in this post at that blog. Not necessarily in the posts, but often in the comments. I read and feel like any choice other than uncritically accepting my (or anyone’s) fat is traitorous to “the cause.”

  63. claire
    May 24, 2006 at 9:40 pm

    Hey, Nomie –

    Great point, and one that I tried to make earlier… but that may have gotten lost in my long post! There are always going to be people in any diverse or continuously-transforming movement/community who are close-minded, uneducated about the nature of oppression or marginalized communities, rude, or unwelcome. I used the queer movement as an example of that earlier, but it’s equally true for the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, whatever. So I totally agree with you, and it makes a lot of sense to me that more of those sentiments would come up from commenters than in the posts themselves.

    I linked to BFB specifically because Sarah had never heard of NAAFA or NOLOSE, and I’ve always thought of BFB a pretty big size-activist player in the blogosphere. I figured if she was interested in hearing more generally positive or educated info about fat activism than she’d gleaned previously, that might have been one resource that she wouldn’t have been aware of. I certainly didn’t mean to set it — or any organization or blog! — up as an ideal or be-all-and-end-all of fat activism. Any space that invites dialogue invites some participation that makes you cringe, I find :).

  64. claire
    May 24, 2006 at 9:47 pm

    oops, freudian slip… I meant “unwelcoming.” :)

  65. May 24, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Zuzu I actually think it would have been much better if you had responded to what I said specifically (which is different from singling me out), rather than making a generalised paraphrase and then responding to that.

    It’s pretty clear to me that she’s saying that there is no such thing as an unhealthy weight, and it’s “unfeminist” to say otherwise. I hadn’t wanted to single out Maia, but there it is. Saying that something is “unfeminist” on a feminist blog is, to me, a good way to shut down debate.

    That’s not what I was saying and if I’d wanted to say that I would have said that. I didn’t use the term unfeminist, and I didn’t say there’s no such thing as a healthy weight. If you want to know what I was saying, and what I was saying it. I went into a lot more detail in this post.

    You say that I’m shutting down debate by stating my opinion. I believe that I’m participating in debate. I do think to use the term ‘healthy weight’ in our eating disordered society is anti-woman. Me refraining from stating that belief doesn’t open up debate.

    I’ll also point out that I don’t consider myself part of any fat-acceptance movement, so if it was me you were this was an inaccurate characterisation:

    Some of the reaction to the “pre-pregnant” guidelines by people in the fat acceptance movement focused on the granting that all the guidelines in themselves were fine, including maintaining a healthy weight, but the idea of only addressing them because of potential pregnancy was infuriating. The reaction was one of outrage that the notion of a “healthy weight” should be accepted, not one of outrage that any health advice should focus on reproductive potential. But that outrage (and even the outrage over being treated as vessels waiting to be filled by a baby) was somewhat misplaced, and prevented the kind of examination of the root causes of health issues that Chris describes above and that Sheelzebub addressed here:

    If you were talking about my comments and posts I think this shows that you were incorrect in stating that arguing that fat is not an independent variable for health prevents examination of root causes. Just a few days after I wrote those comments I wrote a long post (which I hope to be a series) about the strucutural problems with how food is produced.

  66. May 24, 2006 at 10:18 pm

    Opps

    I’ll also point out that I don’t consider myself part of any fat-acceptance movement, so if it was me you were this was an inaccurate characterisation:

    That should be “if it me you were responding to this was an inaccurate characterisation”.

  67. zuzu
    May 24, 2006 at 10:26 pm

    That’s not what I was saying and if I’d wanted to say that I would have said that. I didn’t use the term unfeminist, and I didn’t say there’s no such thing as a healthy weight.

    But you did use “anti-woman,” and I don’t know how to interpret your surprise that a feminist blog would say such things in any other way than that you were saying that it was “unfeminist” to say so. Moreover, if you say that by saying that there’s such a thing as a healthy weight, that means that some people are now at an unhealthy weight, which you do not find acceptable — what else can that mean other than that you reject the notion that any weight can be unhealthy? There are people who are unable to roll over because they’re too fat, Maia — can you safely agree that they’re at an unhealthy weight?

  68. May 24, 2006 at 11:43 pm

    Zuzu, frankly I’m hurt that you called me almost like a vicious anti-fat bigot. Do you really think that was a fair thing for you to say? If so, why? Because I said something you misunderstood?

  69. May 24, 2006 at 11:44 pm

    chris – i understand.
    zuzu – i wasn’t going to include it if chris didn’t agree as well (for the reason you gave). but your respect for others is not lost on me.

    i still think this is a great conversation. i’ve appreciated reading all this.

  70. May 25, 2006 at 12:05 am

    Chris:

    I only brought it up to point out that Zuzu’s wasn’t necessarily an insanely unreasonable interpretation of what you said.

    If I realized that there would be that misinterpretation, I would have bent over backwards to specify that’s NOT what I meant. But it never even occurred to me anyone would read it that way.

    Since Zuzu doesn’t see any other possible reading but the one I didn’t even imagine, I’m going to explain what I meant. In post 27, you wrote:

    The “fat people never get unfat” line is not only untrue – and again, my family provides examples of significant long-term weight loss, and I’m talking decades – but given the role depression and its attendant defeatism plays in the habits many people, myself included, it’s a dangeous untruth.

    Now, I realize that there’s a difference between the “fat people never get unfat” line, and my line, which is “fat people very rarely get unfat in long-term, healthy ways.” But I still wanted to defend my line from your argument, because I’ve often run into people who tell me that I’m wrong because they or someone they knew lost big weight long-term.

    Therefore, I pointed out that even if weight-loss diets have a very low success rate, given the huge volume of people on weight-loss diets there will still be thousands of people who succeed with them. Therefore, the fact that thousands of fat people successfully become nonfat people does not actually disprove my claim.

    That’s all I was trying to do – defend my claim against your (Chris’) counter-example. I would never, ever gloat at someone else’s diet, or rub my hands gleefully contemplating their alleged eventual failure – I’ve had too pain over body size issues to try and attack anyone else that way, ever.

    By the way, I VERY much disagree with you that Health At Any Size is “defeatism.” Only if you assume that the only possible victory is weight loss – and I know you don’t assume that – can the message that I and other FAs and HAES folks advocate be called “defeatism.”

  71. May 25, 2006 at 12:18 am

    Zuzu and Chris, and other fat advocate critics, can I ask you folks (anyone who cares to answer) to clarify something for me?

    When I say something like this:

    For most fat people, it’s not possible to lose enough weight to stop being a fat person, in a healthy and sustainable manner. Although there are individual exceptions, I think it would be better if most health-conscious fat people took a “Health At Every Size” approach instead. And I think most fat people can be healthy and fat.

    Is that something that people find disagreeable? Is that the sort of thing that folks are complaining about?

    Or, alternatively, is there possible common ground there?

    I’m not being sarcastic; I seriously don’t know if people here agree or disagree with my views as I’ve stated them in this comment.

  72. May 25, 2006 at 12:48 am

    By the way, I VERY much disagree with you that Health At Any Size is “defeatism.” Only if you assume that the only possible victory is weight loss – and I know you don’t assume that – can the message that I and other FAs and HAES folks advocate be called “defeatism.”

    Jesus fucking christ. Are you incapable of representing what I actually said, or is the above misinterpretation a deliberate rhetorical ploy?

    Have you actually read a single word I’ve written without filtering it through your ideology?

    Let me be clear. My point in talking about these issues is not to engage you in dialogue. My point in talking about these issues has been to express my frustration and anger at the most hardline fat acceptance activists who would rather see people like me dead than accept that their ideology might not be approprate for every person who considers him or herself fat.

    You take offense at Zuzu’s comparing you to fatphobes? Take offense at this: much of what you write on fat feels like a loaded gun aimed at my head.

    And in writing what I’ve written, and in zuzu’s writing what she’s written, an interesting thing has happened. A number of radical, progressive fat people have responded with comments along the lines of “thank god. thank you.”

    I won’t speak for zuzu. But it is those people I’m interested in talking to — the people who, like me, are not considered the right kind of fat people. You want to marginalize me, to clap me on the back condescendingly for my sterling effort and then tell me to shut up before I upset your constituency. But there are a lot of people, it would seem, who feel about your ideology the way I do.

    You are hurting us, Amp, with your condescension and your smarm and your dogma and your misrepresentation of our arguments. Stop hurting us and I’ll talk to you. You want an object model of how to do so, how to be a fat acceptance advocate who does not marginalize people based on diversity: look to claire.

    Until then, I’m done with you.

  73. Raging Moderate
    May 25, 2006 at 2:04 am

    “For most fat people, it’s not possible to lose enough weight to stop being a fat person, in a healthy and sustainable manner.”

    My friend the doctor disagrees. She says that losing one pound a week is a perfectly healthy way for an obese (or just fat) person to bring their weight down to a non-health threatening level (even if it takes years).

    I dunno if she’s right. I’m just sayin’.

  74. May 25, 2006 at 4:17 am

    Chris, I really didn’t mean to hurt you. I’m sorry. Nor was I trying, in any way, to shut you up.

    That’s all.

  75. Thomas
    May 25, 2006 at 6:04 am

    Amp, I’ve been reading this throughout and didn’t find time to comment; and I never thought you were telling Chris he would fail. However, you now say that you were not telling him, as he puts it, to

    shut up before I upset your constituency

    But that is precisely what I originally thought you were saying — perhaps not what you meant to say, but what I think you in fact said:

    Chris, I’m happy that you’ve found a way to be healthier and feel better. But keep in mind that there are hundreds of thousands of fat people trying to lose weight at any moment. If only 1% of them are able to succeed (which I think, from non-anecdotal evidence, is a realistic estimate), that’s still thousands of people wandering around saying “yes, of course fat people can succeed in becoming non-fat people – just look at my experience!” Plus many thousands more whose weight loss will be only temporary, but who don’t know that yet.

    I read that as saying, in essence, that if he was lucky enough to improve his health by sustainable weight loss, that he should shut up about it lest his experience be used as a club to beat people like you. If you’re not telling Chris to shut up (albeit more politely), I’m not sure what you’re saying.

  76. May 25, 2006 at 7:26 am

    But you did use “anti-woman,” and I don’t know how to interpret your surprise that a feminist blog would say such things in any other way than that you were saying that it was “unfeminist” to say so.

    The comment didn’t have any meaning besides that I was surprised to read it on a feminist blog. I’m sorry if it sounded loaded, but I just meant to express surprise. I was surprised. Thinking about it my surprise is probably because most of my feminist friends have quite a strong analysis of the way ideas of health are used against women. I have a friend who is writing her masters thesis about it. That’s because we’re in a particular subculture where many women substitute discussions of ‘health’ where other women would talk about weight.

    Moreover, if you say that by saying that there’s such a thing as a healthy weight, that means that some people are now at an unhealthy weight, which you do not find acceptable — what else can that mean other than that you reject the notion that any weight can be unhealthy? There are people who are unable to roll over because they’re too fat, Maia — can you safely agree that they’re at an unhealthy weight?

    OK to try and explain what I’m saying I’m going to meander off into an analogy. I’m intolerant to dairy products. There is a direct relationship between eating dairy products and my well-being. I have friends who talk at great lengths about the general danger of dairy and how we’re all going to die from eating it (generally they won’t because they’re vegans). I generally call bullshit, because these people have ethical problems with dairy, and their scientific knowledge is very selective to back up their ethical beliefs. The fact that I disagree with this generalised ‘dairy is bad for everyone’ doesn’t mean that I don’t acknowledge how dangerous dairy is for me (and maybe dairy is bad for everyone, I just haven’t seen the research that says so, or ever talked to anyone who has).

    My point is that there’s a really important difference to saying that something is unhealthy (a word that I don’t like, for admittedly finickity reasons, I have a habit of disliking words for the randomnest reasons – for instance I decided I hated the way ‘community’ was used and wouldn’t shut up about it for 6 months) for an individual, and to talk about it being unhealthy for the general population. To me discussions of health about the general population have to be backed up by good scientific research (which is often really rare, because all scientific research is bought by someone), but I trust that individuals know their own body, and will believe what they say about it.

    My criticism of talking about a ‘healthy weight’ or an ‘unhealthy weight’ for the general population is not meant to mean that individuals can’t be at a weight that causes problems for their wellbeing and longevity for them.

  77. May 25, 2006 at 7:33 am

    I’m sorry for the quoting problems – it has been a really long day, if you could fix it that’d be cool. Otherwise the last quote box is no-one but me.

  78. zuzu
    May 25, 2006 at 9:10 am

    Jesus, Amp. Dial down the condescension a bit, hm?

    Maia:

    The comment didn’t have any meaning besides that I was surprised to read it on a feminist blog. I’m sorry if it sounded loaded, but I just meant to express surprise.

    I find that a bit disingenous. The blog is called “Feministe.” For you to sling “anti-woman” at one of the bloggers is to use a loaded term. It’s not Daily Kos, after all.

    Frankly, I thought I — and Chris — bent over backwards to say that we were NOT attacking individuals or assigning moral blame, but that we wanted to discuss issues of fat and health without the baggage brought to the discussion by anti-fat people or defensive fat activists.

  79. May 25, 2006 at 9:19 am

    OK, Amp, since to some degree I’m a fat advocate critic (trying to go gently as a critic, since the weight issue I’ve wrestled with is way on the other end of the scale), I’ll say what I agree with and don’t in the paragraph you give.

    For most fat people, it’s not possible to lose enough weight to stop being a fat person, in a healthy and sustainable manner.

    Mostly true, I think. Martin Seligman (formerly head of the American Psychological Association), in his book What You Can Change and What You Can’t, reported weight as actually being a fairly difficult thing to change in a sustainable way. It wasn’t the thing he rated as most difficult (he gave a lower success rate to sexual orientation conversion therapy), but it wasn’t super likely of success.

    Of course, a lot depends on how “fat” is defined here. Many people may be able to lose ten pounds or so in a healthy and sustainable manner; if those ten pounds are all that are making them “fat,” then that’s an entirely different thing from another person’s attempt to lose half his or her body weight in a healthy and sustainable way.

    Although there are individual exceptions, I think it would be better if most health-conscious fat people took a “Health At Every Size” approach instead.

    I’m not convinced. What I believe is that it would be better if most health-conscious fat people avoid the diet industry. Whether they choose a “Health At Every Size” approach or whether they choose moderate adjustments to diet and exercise geared toward sustainable maintenance of a lower weight would, in my mind, depend on individual factors to such a degree that I’m not prepared to generalize in either direction. Does the health-conscious fat person have diabetes? A history of eating disorders and yo-yo dieting? Neither of these things is rare, and they point in opposite directions as to the advisability of making weight loss your goal.

    And I think most fat people can be healthy and fat.

    Depends entirely on how “healthy” is defined and how “fat” is defined. Most people can be healthy at a higher weight than is fashionable, no question. Higher weights may be correlated with greater risks of certain diseases (such as diabetes), while lower but socially more acceptable weights may be correlated with greater risks of other diseases (such as osteoporosis).

  80. May 25, 2006 at 10:28 am

    I find that a bit disingenous. The blog is called “Feministe.” For you to sling “anti-woman” at one of the bloggers is to use a loaded term. It’s not Daily Kos, after all.

    I think that using the phrase “healthy weight” (particularly by the way doctors use it, particularly in a context where it’s only going to be directed at women) is anti-woman.

    That is my analysis. I wasn’t slinging any phrase around, I was stating my beliefs.

    Argue with my analysis if you like (I’ve gone into what I mean and why I think that at great length on my blog). But to say I shouldn’t have said it is to do exactcly what you are accusing me of – shutting down the debate.

  81. May 25, 2006 at 3:47 pm

    I’m way late reading this post and Chris’ post because I’ve been swamped at work and am slowly catching up on blogs, but let me just say THANK YOU for writing it (them), both of you.

    I know the focus toward the end of the comments is different from where the post started out but I’d just like to say, stick me in the Fat Person Who’s Losing 1 Pound A Week, Not Denying Herself Food and Doing Enjoyable Exercise camp. I’m right there with yall.

  82. sparklegirl
    May 25, 2006 at 4:46 pm

    Stick me in there too–I’m also a bit late to the comments, but this post really summed up the way I feel, and the discomfort I’ve felt reading some fat activist blogs. Thanks, Zuzu and Chris!

  83. May 27, 2006 at 1:06 am

    There’s a response to this on my blog.

    I think it is good that you check the abuse allied with the fat prejudice that many liberal commentators employ when criticizing members of the right, but how about the use of stigma against mental illness to the same effect? I have seen this done by writers on this blog, many of its commentators. And when I point it out, the tendency is to deny harm. I, for one, am tired of seeing inane policies and beliefs such as the War in Iraq and the conviction that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq — to cite some examples — as “crazy” or “insane”. I never supported them nor did many of my friends who suffer from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.

    When you realize that these are the products of rational minds, I think you will begin making more progress on changing the mindset. In the meantime, you only alienate those who are not mentally ill (merely misguided and stubborn) and stigmatize those of us who are.

  84. May 28, 2006 at 7:13 am

    Obviously this thread made me think, because I wrote a whole lot on my blog that responds to it. I explained why I’m not part of the Fat Acceptance Movement and wrote about why I think it’s possible to examine root causes while questioning the reltionship between fat and health.

    Finally I tried to explain why I think these issues are so hard to talk about.

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