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62 Responses

  1. Shameful behaviour « This Wicked Day
    Shameful behaviour « This Wicked Day September 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm |

    […] AGAIN: Also this has been reposted at Feministe! I’d like to thank my parents, the Academy, […]

  2. University Challenge: Newcastle vs. Sheffield « This Wicked Day

    […] by Feministe asking if they could republish “Shameful behaviour” over there. I said yes (with a certain amount of trepidation, but also a certain amount of OMFGYEAH!) and am now waiting […]

  3. L
    L September 6, 2010 at 4:43 pm |

    “No, seriously, why are you concerned? What’s it to you? Why the hell does it matter to you so much? You don’t know me. You have no personal emotional stake in my wellbeing. My health is, in fact, of no possible consequence to you. My body: not your business.”

    I’m not concerned about overweight individuals in of themselves, I AM concerned about the health of the population, something which is in fact extremely important to the health of our overall society and how we spend our resources and time. As a public health professional I know that vilifying individuals accomplishes nothing, especially given that the determinants of obesity are almost entirely structural, but at the same time you can’t ask public health professionals to close their eyes to the rise of chronic disease associated with increased caloric intake and decreased physical activity. There is a problem here. And while individuals absolutely shouldn’t be judged by their size anymore than by their number of sexual partners, at the population level obesity is as much a problem as say the spread of STIs from multiple sexual partners and unprotected sex. I just wish that these posts would try to address legitimate concerns about sizeism while acknowledge that there is a broader health problem in our society.

  4. Emily O
    Emily O September 6, 2010 at 4:45 pm |

    Wow. I just wanted to say that this post was absolutely eye-opening for me. I agreed 100% with everything you said about slut-shaming, so when you switched over to fat-shaming your points made perfect sense and really made me think about my own preconceptions and ways of thinking about weight. This post is just as revolutionary to me as the first thing I ever read about slut-shaming, way back in the day. Thank you so much for writing this. I think I really needed to read it.

  5. JustDucky
    JustDucky September 6, 2010 at 4:49 pm |

    Thank you thank you thank you a million times thank you for this. I stewed on that post, and tried to dissect it a million times, spewed some thinkings out on to my own blog, and still wasn’t happy. This pretty much took everything out of my brain about the issues with the post and wrapped it up with a shiny bow and Venn Diagram.

  6. Austin Nedved
    Austin Nedved September 6, 2010 at 5:30 pm |

    But to engage the concern-trolling approach (“It’s for your own good!”) with real facts is still conceding ground – it accepts a certain amount of their framing. It accepts before you even start that they have a case to answer; it accepts that their opinions on your sex life are something you have to listen to.

    They are not.

    Speaking of accepting someone else’s framing, the popular argument against promiscuity accepts the libertarian/individualist way of framing the discussion. “It’s in your own best interests” is an individualist argument. Remember Dawn Eden’s book in which she defended and advocated chastity? Her acceptance of your way of discussing sexuality is in the book’s title – “The Thrill of the Chaste.”

  7. Paraxeni
    Paraxeni September 6, 2010 at 6:12 pm |

    Funny you should mention fat-shaming as related to the NHS. I’ve just watched tonight’s Panorama, an expose of GSK’s hiding of critical trial data in order to get the diabetes drug Avandia to market.

    Did it start with a rant about Big Pharma, paid ‘experts’ with conflicts of interest helping promote dangerous drugs that end up costing 20x more than safer alternatives and costs the NHS a fortune in cardiac interventions? Hell no. It started on Brighton beach, with the word OBESITY written through the middle of a stick of candy-rock, and a diatribe about “Blah blah fat bastards eating fish and chips – don’t they KNOW that’s bad and gives you DEATHFATZ and is killing the NHS?”


    As someone who (despite last week’s guest-blogger’s claim that it just doesn’t happen) almost died due to a neurological disorder that was framed as “Hypochondria and deserved self-hatred of [my] ‘disgusting body'” for four years, I don’t know why I’m surprised it’s all still happening. I don’t know why I’m still shocked to tears every time someone is denied health care because of their weight, because it’s all so sadly inevitable.

    Fat-shaming won’t make society thinner overall, but it will make quite a lot of people avoid medical care for fear of the shaming, and will continue to reinforce the myths that a) fat people are too stupid to know that they’re fat, and why they’re fat and b) reinforce the message broadcast to many fat people that they’re shameful and worthless, and stealing chemo drugs from cancer patients and food from starving orphans.

    In the same vein, slut-shaming actively prevents people from seeking sexual health care and is worsening the STI crisis here in the UK. Thank God Cameron is getting rid of their only anonymous healthcare resource eh? That’ll make them shape up and change their slothful/wanton ways quick sharp!

  8. Marlene
    Marlene September 6, 2010 at 6:24 pm |

    HOORAY! Thank you!

  9. karak
    karak September 6, 2010 at 7:38 pm |

    “Because it is agonising to look at someone ignoring the rules that you punish yourself with, and still being happy.”

    I love this.

    Honestly, there are myriads of human behavior that I find objectionable, immoral, disgusting, or pathetic. And I will choose my friends and partners based on what behaviors I find acceptable and which I do not. But I will fully support someone else’s right to engage in behaviors I think are fucking horrible, because it is exactly *none of my business*.

    What do I think about X? I think the only the people who need to know what I think about it are me, myself, and I. Enjoy yourself with X, I prefer Y, and I’m happy this world is big enough for the both of us.

  10. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 6, 2010 at 8:02 pm | *

    As a public health professional I know that vilifying individuals accomplishes nothing, especially given that the determinants of obesity are almost entirely structural, but at the same time you can’t ask public health professionals to close their eyes to the rise of chronic disease associated with increased caloric intake and decreased physical activity. There is a problem here. And while individuals absolutely shouldn’t be judged by their size anymore than by their number of sexual partners, at the population level obesity is as much a problem as say the spread of STIs from multiple sexual partners and unprotected sex. I just wish that these posts would try to address legitimate concerns about sizeism while acknowledge that there is a broader health problem in our society.

    Okay, but you can’t assume that increased caloric intake and a sedentary life style are synonymous with being overweight. It’s awfully reductionist to assume that there’s a 100% overlap between these things and that they’re both susceptible to the same kinds of intervention.

    Things that I think we can all agree on which are problems and require systemic action: food deserts, agricultural subsidies, car culture. None of them require shaming people for the food they do consume or their weight and to address them through weight alone is a red herring. I am all about public health initiatives which are intended to increase the availability of quality food and encourage people to exercise, but that’s not what the proverbial obesity crisis is about. The obesity crisis is motivated by hand-wringing moralizing and shaming rather than constructive approaches to broader social change.

  11. Mo
    Mo September 6, 2010 at 8:50 pm |

    *seconding Evilfizz’s comment in reply to L*
    Also, you can generalize to a larger group all you want, but that group is made up of individuals, and if you shame the group, you by default are shaming the individuals that make up the group. If you’re saying that all obesity is because of overeating and being sedentary, all most people will then hear is that THAT FAT PERSON THERE must be fat because of that reason. Whether it’s true or not.

    I’m fat. Regardless of what people think, I do know I’m fat. And I don’t care if you pay taxes or not, have health insurance or not, it’s not anyone’s damned place to comment on it or try to do something about it. I also don’t have to justify mysef to anyone or point out how I don’t fit the stereotype. Yet time after time when someone comments about obesity or fat anything, I do find myself doing so. I try to correct their perception by telling them about how I see the doctor maybe once a year when I have to, about having blood pressure right on the normal end of low every time I get it checked, of all my normal physical bloodwork coming back perfectly damned normal… I even tell them that even though I suck at running, I can walk for miles at a time. I tell them that I’ve never owned a car and have been a pedestrian my whole life. I tell them that even when I was a vegetarian for two straight years, I was never below a size 16. If they really press, I don’t mind going to the level of telling them that I’ve never had a problem having friends or getting a date or *gasp* having lots of really fun sex.

    And you know what? They still don’t care. They still think that I’m an exception, that all other fat people are fat because they sit on the couch and stuff pizza in their faces. So I give up. To hell with them. I pay taxes, I pay for the health insurance I very rarely use, I pay local taxes for the public transportation I use, and I am damned well going to smirk at the people who don’t know me yet feel they’re entitled to frown when I’m making happy little noises over that trip to the Cheesecake Factory. Which by the way, happens twice a year on my budget. Not that my income is anyone’s business either.

  12. zuzu
    zuzu September 6, 2010 at 9:34 pm |

    As a public health professional I know that vilifying individuals accomplishes nothing, especially given that the determinants of obesity are almost entirely structural, but at the same time you can’t ask public health professionals to close their eyes to the rise of chronic disease associated with increased caloric intake and decreased physical activity.

    Is anyone asking this of public health professionals, versus the population at large?

  13. Jadey
    Jadey September 6, 2010 at 9:50 pm |

    Thank you for bringing up fat-shaming and slut-shaming together as forms of body policing. This is what kills me every time. Everything I have to say on this ended up in a comment on one of the Alas threads, which I then put on tumblr because it kind of said it all. So much of the shaming and concern trolling purports to be about health, but never addresses and often exacerbates the actual reasons (stigma and poverty) for the associated health risks.

    I will disagree though with the description of the Feministe post’s comments. I don’t think they got ugly (angry, yes) and I think people should read them, because there is a lot of good stuff there (and, no, I’m not talking about my comments exclusively, although I do wish everyone would read everything I linked – seriously). (I also didn’t see much discussion in the Pandagon thread about the Feministe post either, so I’m not sure where that impression came from.)

  14. alynn
    alynn September 6, 2010 at 10:52 pm |

    @Mo…You are speaking my reality. I’m fat yet a really active HEALTHY person by every measure that counts (blood pressure, cholesterol, to name a few.) Upon meeting me people seem astonished that I eat veggies and do kickboxing and yoga. And they don’t seem astonished that I love sweets…I bet upon meeting me they are much more likely to remember the latter fact about me than the former. People like the parts that fit neatly within their predetermined idea of fat people.

    As for the original post…SO WONDERFUL. Truly appreciated. There’s actually interesting overlap between slut shaming and fat shaming in many ways; like for example the general shock and surprise that fat people are sexual beings. (Aren’t they too embarrassed to get naked?!?!)

  15. Bushfire
    Bushfire September 6, 2010 at 10:54 pm |

    That is the most fabulous Venn diagram I’ve ever seen!

  16. Alara Rogers
    Alara Rogers September 7, 2010 at 12:00 am |

    The usual response to the hard-to-argue-with point that my body != your business this is the argument from government, as it were. The argument that, because we live under the same healthcare system, this somehow makes it your business – your tax money is being spent repairing my fragile arteries, or whatever, and this is apparently grossly unjust and I’m depriving cancer patients of their drugs or something.

    This argument is even more grotesquely stupid and unfair when made in America, where almost no one is covered by any kind of taxpayer-subsidized health plan, and generally speaking, the ones who are who actually get good care are elderly… and let’s face it, if there are any health concerns associated with being overweight, they are miniscule in comparison to the health concerns of being *old*. I strongly suspect, in fact, that obese elderly people have better health outcomes than underweight elderly people.

    The fact that US citizens make this argument, in a country where our tax dollars do not do a damn thing to subsidize decent health care for any people whose primary health concern would *ever* be their weight (we subsidize crappy health care for poor people and good health care for the elderly, and sometimes good health care for military vets, though I hear that’s been crappy lately too), proves your point: it’s really got nothing to do whatsoever with “but I’m concerned about my taxes!” and is all about “you don’t conform to the ideals of our society!”

    I think this is a stupid and unfair argument when made in the context of a nation with decent socialized medicine, also, for the reasons you state above; I just wanted to point out that the fact that it’s made at *all* in the United States, where it’s completely invalid, proves your point.

  17. redcow
    redcow September 7, 2010 at 12:24 am |

    This was really spot on and well-written. I especially love that you linked slut-shaming to fat concern-trolling because my current project is putting FA principles into practice. It`s a great way to frame the very simple concept of “it`s my body and it`s none of your damn business” particularly when we have been conditioned to question “but what about your heeeeaaalllth??”

  18. Ros
    Ros September 7, 2010 at 12:35 am |

    On a flight back from a business trip last Friday, I was seated next to an absolute asshole. He gets the descriptive “asshole”, by the way, due to (while not previously conversing in any way other than the usual “could you close the shade on that window” kind of way) turning around and saying (and I quote): “So when are you planning on losing the weight?”

    The response, in case you’re curious, was “I’m not, and since when is that any of your damn business.”

    Which got me accused of being “a very rude young lady”. (Dude in question was probably in his 50s or 60s).

    There was initially a rant brewing about the initial comment, ’cause dude, unless you’re me, my boyfriend (kinda, and even then), or my doctor (in a general and very non-invasive way, and, again, even then), the size of my ass has absolutely nothing to do with you… but now I’m just kinda curious. WTF is it about the assumption that a polite response is always required?

    Am I the only person who thinks that “no, fuck right off, right now pls” is, at times, entirely acceptable?

  19. Heather Aurelia
    Heather Aurelia September 7, 2010 at 4:49 am |

    This is a great post and it touches upon a lot of things. I like.

  20. catfood
    catfood September 7, 2010 at 6:04 am |

    No Ros, you are not.

  21. Atheling
    Atheling September 7, 2010 at 7:37 am |

    Morning, all! Thanks, again, to Feministe for having me.

    @L: The extrapolation of what I’m saying (X’s health does not affect Y) from an individual level to a population one is tricky, yeah, because a population with more health problems – which is not necessarily a fatter population – will take up (as you say) more state resources and time than a healthier population, leading to shortfalls and a lack of provision in some other vital area.

    But I find that the question of how much interest a state has in its citizens’ health is an extremely vexed one. Because yes, widespread ill-health is a strain on collective resources – but any attempt to address the problem directly leads, pretty much instantly, to the blame being laid on the people needing those resources rather than on the reasons they need them, which leads to hatred and discrimination (and more ill-health.)

    Nobody is asking healthcare providers to shrug their shoulders at people in pain, or the state to ignore things that makes its citizens unhappy – just to recognise that the problem (widespread ill-health) is systemic, not individual, and is caused by things like people not being able to eat well on our crappy minimum wage or even crappier welfare payments, healthy food not being available in certain places full stop or really expensive when it is, our cities being more and more car-heavy, and bad air and harassment and fear of strangers making people unwilling to walk or take public transport, and so on. It’s those problems that need to be addressed. Arrange things so a moderately healthy lifestyle is easy and default for everyone, regardless of location or sex or social class, and people will be healthy.

    @EmilyO: That’s a hell of a compliment, and I think that alone means this post was worthwhile – I’m not sure there’s any greater thing for a writer than to know they changed someone’s mind. Thank you.

    @JustDucky: I’m glad that you found it helpful and useful! I hope you’re happier now :D The credit for the Venn diagram goes entirely to genderbitch, and do read the post it came from – it’s very good.

    @Austin: And I think it’s a victory for the left that the concern trolls are now trying to fit their concerns into a basically liberal framework. The number of people saying that “You shouldn’t do X because my God/personal inclination is against it, even though it does no harm” is, I think, lower than it used to be, and that can only be a good thing.

    @Paraxeni: There’s definitely a peculiarly British species of concern troll whose fallback is always “but the strain on the NHS!”. As far as I can tell, they mostly read the Mail. Anyway.

    Your point about fat-/slut-shaming itself making people unhealthy is an excellent one, too. I have to wonder – how much of the dismissal of the consequences of shaming basically comes down to our collective contempt for mental illness? Shame brings on or exacerbates depression, anxiety, eating disorders, who knows what – but apparently those aren’t real, because they’re All In Your Head. And so people get shamed for being mentally ill, which makes them less likely to get treated for that, and on and on and on . . .

    @Marlene: Thank you!

    @karak: You know, I’d never thought to frame it that way – but now you put it like that, it is a wonderful thing that there are people in the world able to get genuine enjoyment out of the things I can’t stand. (Like celery. Also sea travel.) Thank you – that’s a much more productive way of framing the whole question of why celery and boats exist. Because the world does not revolve around me, duh.

    @evilfizz: Thank you for engaging with L, and I agree with everything you said.

    @Mo: Yes. Exactly. And where exactly is this Cheesecake Factory? Do we have them in Britain? I wish to know . . .

    Your point about the way people misunderstand generalisations is a good one – particularly as there’s two levels of misunderstanding going on here. People tend to take as axiomatic firstly that ‘fat = not healthy’ and secondly that ‘healthy = automatically better’. Since neither is true, when people read statements about fat or health through those lenses they tend to come out very distorted indeed.

    @zuzu: Good point.

    @Jadey: IIRC it was literally just one or two people on the Pandagon thread warning that it was getting hot over here. I have to say, I pretty much assumed the worst. I think I will go read the comments now, though.

    I did see the Alas post after I’d written the piece (it’s this one, if people want to read it, and it makes an important point about how much better things are now than a while back. There’s also the companion open thread) and thankyou for linking your tumblr post – it’s really good, and your point about the ‘societal obligation to be healthy’ is way clearer and more pithy than my vague flailings in that direction. Thank you.

    I’m surprised that the link between slut-shaming and fat-shaming as very similar forms of body-policing isn’t made more often, really. Because they are so, so alike, and the actual health concerns that the concern trolls hide behind are rooted in most of the same systemic problems – lack of information, lack of access, and (as one of the posters above noted) the way that shame makes fat/sexual people who are having health problems much less likely to seek treatment, or be treated properly if they do.

    Btw, there’s another good take at Tiny Cat Pants, here.

    @alynn: It’s similar to the way people treat disabled people as sexless, isn’t it? The idea that people in non-kyriarchy-approved bodies are not only unfuckable, but don’t even feel desire. And the only people who have sex with them must be weird fetishists and/or doing so strictly out of pity.

    @Bushfire: All credit to genderbitch. I do encourage everyone to read the post it came from!

    @Alara Rogers: Thanks for making the comparison to the US system – you’re right, it makes even less sense when most healthcare doesn’t come out of tax. And that’s a very good point about the health risks of simply being old. I think there are interesting comparisons to be drawn there, actually – the current vanishingly narrow beauty standards demand not only thinness, but youth, and people who go round daring to be visibly old get a lot of the same reactions as do the visibly fat. Not so much overt abuse, perhaps, but the same revulsion to the idea of old people being sexual, the same bizarre fear that the old are smelly or their skin feels weird, and the same demands that they do something about it (with makeup or whatever) so that the pretty people don’t have to look at them.

    @redcow: Thank you! All the best with FA, and I hope that nobody gives you crap about it. Or if they do, that you give them what for.

    @Ros: That’s awful. Though sadly not all that surprising.

    The expectation of a polite response is just another indicator of how wildly taboos vary by who’s saying what, and their level of privilege. There’s nothing technically taboo about giving a rude answer to a rude comment (a lot of cultures encourage Not Taking Things Lying Down) but intrusive, uninvited, obnoxious comments on the state of particular bodies are mostly seen as okay. Worse, people expect you to be somehow grateful for this kind of harassment, because doesn’t everyone want to know the opinion of the kyriarchy at all times? They expect you to react with grovelling thanks to sexual harassment of the “You’re fuckable! Approved!” variety, and with grovelling thanks to the “Ew!” varieties for letting you know how GROSS YOU ARE, so you can do something about it.

    Framed like that, it’s no wonder people asking offensive questions act so surprised when they get an offended (and/or offensive) answer – they were just trying to heeeeelp!

    @Heather Aurelia: Thank you!

    @catfood: It’s always good to know that we’re not alone in treating offensive questions the way they deserve :)

  22. PrettyAmiable
    PrettyAmiable September 7, 2010 at 10:15 am |

    @Ros, I’m seconding Atheling. I think it’s a function of privilege that one would expect a polite response. I can’t get over the irony of that guy calling you rude, though.

  23. NamesnotAnnie
    NamesnotAnnie September 7, 2010 at 10:22 am |

    *claps* I think I need to read that again. And again. And have my friends read it too. Such a great post and a fantastic way to link slut- and fat-shaming. Thank you Atheling.

  24. Gina Marie
    Gina Marie September 7, 2010 at 10:59 am |

    This post SCREAMS madonna / whore dichotomy to me. Which I am all too exhausted of. It’s really tragic that women who are already objectified by men so much, feel the need to objectify other women.
    I really appreciate the emphasis placed on focusing on changing the system over individuals. ((((the ven diagram had me laughing out loud!))))

  25. Comrade Kevin
    Comrade Kevin September 7, 2010 at 12:05 pm |

    I think some people feel a compulsion to shame or critique other people based on their own internalized feelings of shame or guilt. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, but perhaps it puts their behavior in a sense of context.

    Some people get mad at other people for not acting in their own best interest. I frequently get exasperated at some of my relatives. They chain smoke, maintain a very unhealthy diet, are overweight, and due to genetic predisposition on top of bad habits, will probably be unlikely to live beyond their 60s.

    I think it’s easy for some to become the nagging parent in situations like these.

  26. AlexTheOdd
    AlexTheOdd September 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm |

    @Mo The funny thing is, at the moment I read your post I actually was sitting on the couch and stuffing pizza in my face.

    And the thing that strikes me as so unfair is none of the concern trolls would actually care about that – because I pass for ThinEnough so apparently my health is of nobody’s concern. Never mind the fact that my job is stressful, I shout my voice hoarse every day, do no exercise and have a diet which usually consists of takeout most weekday evenings and buckets of hummus and cheese for lunch. Ignore the fact that I have a family history of high blood pressure and will probably keel over of a heart attack long before any of my OMGDEATHFATTY friends. None of that matters to these “concerned individuals” because I still fit into straight size clothes.

    Thank you so much for this post, it has long been a frustration of mine that people who actively fight for the right of a woman to do anything she likes with her body (from reproductive rights to who she chooses to allow access to it and how she chooses for that to happen) still feel no qualms about policing what she puts in her mouth.

    Three cheers and an emailed link to everyone I know.

  27. Jadey
    Jadey September 7, 2010 at 12:24 pm |

    @ Atheling

    Thanks. Amandaw’s critique of the social obligations of health (linked in my other post) is part of what got my head from Health At Every Size to *Respect* At Every Size, unfortunately only after I made some really ableist fuck-ups. (I don’t think that HAES has to be ableist, but it was a pitfall for me and I imagine for others.) It’s an underlying current in all of these body policing discussions – that we are always the site of some “ought”, though the specifics of the ought can very depending on the policing going on.

    But, yeah, really – that sex-positive and body-positive go together should really be a lot more obvious. On that Aunt B’s post there’s also a thread that references “Trust women” and reproductive justice/freedom.

    After reading the Pandagon post and its comments, I continue to feel like a lot of people don’t actually know what the FA and body-positive commentariat have been saying, re: weight, BMI, etc. Misunderstandings and preconceptions seem to abound. Meowser breaks it down really well at fat fu: All We Are Saying…Is Not What You’re Saying We Said. She also made excellent use of the phrase “food slut”.

  28. Azalea
    Azalea September 7, 2010 at 1:21 pm |

    I never understood the reasoning behind “fat shaming” or “slut shaming”, it doesn’t matter how big a person is or how many people they do or don’t have sex with, those are personal things that aren’t your business and have no concern of yours. Why would anyone even want to know about another person’s sex life and who cares about the size of a person you don’t even know? Who does that?

  29. L
    L September 7, 2010 at 1:27 pm |

    Is anyone asking this of public health professionals, versus the population at large?

    Maybe not, but I’ve seen a lot of critiques against the public concern at all about health issues stemming from food and exercise (and then especially any studies that link obesity specifically to health issues, and there are a growing number of these).

    I totally understand that fear that individuals will be on the receiving of negative and hurtful practices as a result of how obesity is being treated, but at the same time you’re in a situation where the most direct physical manifestation of our current caloric issue IS obesity (even if with a sample size of one a person can eat fine and be fit and still be fat). When you’re trying to think of an issue for the public to focus on as a goal towards health it’s unfortunately much easier to focus on obesity rather than the factors that lead to chronic diseases generally associated with obesity. There’s clearly an underlying issue here that needs to be addressed about how Americans live and how impacts the health the population. I’d love to hear feminists come up with a rallying cry that recognizes these issues and promoting health without resulting in shaming, but instead all I usually hear is a defense of treating out bodies like shit because it’s our own business and not the government’s. I cringe every time that this debate pushes otherwise liberal socially minded people into sounding like Republicans.

  30. L
    L September 7, 2010 at 1:29 pm |

    gah, sorry for the many typos. One of the hazards of replying to comments between classes…

  31. groggette
    groggette September 7, 2010 at 2:18 pm |

    L, you should really consider reading Meowser’s post that Jadey linked to.

  32. Jadey
    Jadey September 7, 2010 at 2:27 pm |

    One of these days I’d love to see someone engage with all the research that challenges the much-touted causal relationship between obesity and health outcomes (and dammit, I’ve linked to a lot of it over the past few days), rather than just relying on, “But we know that obesity makes people sick” and “Everyone knows that the FA movement is just in denial/individualists who don’t care/get off my lawn!” Not to mention the research showing how stigmatization exacerbates health issues. Fat people’s bodies are not an analogy for “everything that’s wrong with society today!” Clearly many people feel that way, but that doesn’t make it less wrong.

    There is nothing systemically wrong with being fat (whether being fat is an issue for specific individuals I will leave up to those specific individuals). There is something systemically wrong with not having reasonable access to social support systems for personal well-being. There is something systemically wrong with the denial of bodily integrity and autonomy on an institutional level. Fat is not the problem here. Making it the problem is not an unfortunate reality – it is part of the real problem.

  33. Fat and Health: A Response at Kindly Póg Mo Thóin

    […] swear on a stack of pancakes that I didn’t read Atheling’s piece before I wrote this. First Things First:  What’s It To […]

  34. Morgan
    Morgan September 7, 2010 at 2:33 pm |


    I don’t know where you’re hearing this “defense of treating out bodies like shit because it’s our own business and not the government’s”, because in my lurking in the feminist blogosphere, what I’m hearing is not a justification for treating our bodies like shit. What I’m hearing is the wish for people not to assume we’re treating our bodies like shit (or not) based solely on our weight.

    What I’m hearing is people’s personal experience of being told they’re treating their bodies like shit when they aren’t, or when there are extenuating circumstances. and of thin people pointing out that they often treat their bodies a lot shittierly than their fatter counterparts.

    Yes, it is our own business and not the government’s, but that’s not the point. The point is that people aren’t being attacked because they’re unhealthy, they’re being attacked because their weight makes people assume they’re unhealthy, whether they are or aren’t.

  35. zuzu
    zuzu September 7, 2010 at 2:38 pm |

    L, there are a lot of feminists who address this — as Atheling did in the post. But they talk about stuff like food deserts, the grocery gap, housing costs, working hours, infrastructure, agricultural subsidies that distort food prices, food assistance programs that won’t let you get healthy food, disparities in medical care and obesity rates among populations, the beverage lobby, etc.

    Not, you know, fat asses.

    Focusing on fat individuals rather than the multitude of factors that can contribute to individuals becoming fat is just shaming. And the fact is, all of these things hurt everyone, fat and thin alike. We need to stop acting as if it’s okay that, say, school lunches are heavy on the cheese and low-grade fatty meats as long as nobody gets fat. That crap’s not good for anyone. But if we keep telling the person who eats it and gets fat that it’s their problem, there’s no reason to fix it.

  36. Atheling
    Atheling September 7, 2010 at 2:59 pm |

    @NamesnotAnnie: Thank you!

    @Gina Marie: There’s definitely something analogous to the madonna/whore binary going on in the way people look at other people’s weight, especially women’s. Thinness is associated with youth, beauty, virtue, self-control, passivity, taking up less space figuratively as well as literally, while fatness is code for pretty much every kind of moral failing.

    The Venn diagram was made by genderbitch. All credit should go to her.

    @Comrade Kevin: I’m sure some people do take out their own internalised problems on other people, consciously or not. Likely some of it is resentment-fuelled (just not wanting other people to enjoy themselves if you can’t); some of it is a panicked reaction to the prospect of having their hope taken away, as it were, and who knows what else.

    As for people who seemingly refuse to act in their own best interests – I think we’ve all had this reaction to someone at some point in their life. I try to keep in mind that it’s impossible for me, an outside observer, to actually understand what someone else is experiencing, and to remember that what they see as their top priorities may well not be what I see as top priorities. I tend to work on the principle that people who want advice/help will make that clear, and before that point it’s none of my business. (It reminds me of the old joke – How many psychiatrists does it take to change a lightbulb? Only one, but the lightbulb has to want to change.)

    @AlexTheOdd: I hope you enjoyed your pizza! And that you stay well – it sounds like you’re having a pretty hard time of it work-wise.

    Someone (Paraxeni?) mentioned upthread about how it’s that much harder for fat people to get decently diagnosed, because every symptom is met with “Lose weight.” I wonder if there’s a flipside to this, where thin(ner) people with certain conditions get misdiagnosed because they’re seen as diseases of the fat? I bet that there’s a lot of false-sense-of-security going around on that front, and probably a lot of cluelessness from medical practitioners as well.

    @Jadey: The point about ‘us’ always being “the site of some ‘ought'” cuts right to the heart of things, I think. Pretty much every marginalised population is being constantly presented with a list of what they Ought To Do in order to be treated like actual human beings (with the underlying directive being “lose whatever quality makes you marginalised, or erase it as much as possible”.)

    Thanks for the Fat Fu link – I’ve linked it from the original of this post at TWD as well. Excellent, and funny, and clearly setting out a lot of things that really needed to be set out clearly.

    @Azalea: Lots of people, apparently! Jaclyn Friedman’s sex life got picked apart extensively by Susan Walsh (link goes to a takedown), for a recent example. There’s also Shapely Prose’s Helpful Comments spin-off, which catalogues a bunch of the worst shit people have said to the bloggers there. (Trigger warning on that link.) So decent people don’t care, and people with half a sense of propriety may care but don’t say anything, but there are clearly still a lot of prying, entitled bastards out there.

    @L: Well, not to sound like a Republican, but the state of my body is in fact none of the government’s business. (Also, not too familiar with the US political system, but I thought the Republicans were generally the ones in favour of getting government up in people’s bodies? What with the uterus-policing and all?) The state of an individual body, what I do to it, what I put in it, what I take out of it, is absolutely nothing to do with the government at all, insofar as I’m harming nobody else.

    The health of the population may be a legitimate government issue (like I said above) – but I’m not even sure of that. It seems like it has the potential to play into the sort of health-fetishisation that Jadey mentioned in her tumblr post (the article she linked is this one, at FWD/Forward) – the idea that each of us somehow has an obligation to be healthy not because it’s good for us individually, but so we can better serve others (or the state).

    All that government can do is provide the resources for people to be healthy: good, accessible food, good, accessible means of exercise, good, accessible healthcare and an environment supportive of actual health. I don’t think that raising public awareness of those issues is as hard as you seem to imply: I think most people would be on board with being able to get better food and healthcare more easily, especially w/ regard to things I mentioned earlier like the difficulty of eating well on minimum wage – very few people are against being given more money. (Though I guess you’ll always get the haters who insist that [insert marginalised group here] are undeserving of nice things and have to be punished with living miserably and dying young.)

    Even if all that were in place, you’d still get people who wouldn’t take advantage, and at that point the government just has to accept that it’s there to serve its citizens, not control them. Once again – health isn’t the only good thing in people’s lives, and if someone wants to sacrifice their physical wellbeing on the altar of a job, or a sport, or a sex life, or a child, or whatever, that’s their right. Trying to save people from themselves is sort of a laudable ambition, but too often leads to gratuitous disrespect for the rights of the individual in question.

  37. Raavequeen
    Raavequeen September 7, 2010 at 3:01 pm |

    evil fizz: Okay, but you can’t assume that increased caloric intake and a sedentary life style are synonymous with being overweight.It’s awfully reductionist to assume that there’s a 100% overlap between these things and that they’re both susceptible to the same kinds of intervention.

    For what it’s worth, for the most part, uh, yes, increased caloric intake and a sedentary lifestyle ARE the cause of obesity. No, not always, but most of the time? Yes.

    I don’t think it’s anyone’s business what I eat or how fat I get, either, but I also think it’s disgusting that children in this country are being raised on meat and milk and salt and processed everything. Not even mentioning the exploitative industry that is funded by America’s eating habits (which are spreading), an industry which is the epitome of profit-focused, worker-abusing, customer-disregard in the country. This is a problem. We can’t just act like people who have these concerns are all- or even mostly- doing it because they view being fat as something inherently evil in and of itself.

    A lot of people do, and for what it’s worth, screw them. But I can say that I -am- one of those people that cares what American’s are eating. Not individually, no, but as a population of people?

    And I know that someone is going to say that this argument parallels the anti-smoking arguments and others- but here’s the thing. You don’t have to smoke to live. You don’t start smoking before you’re old enough to make your own decisions about your day-to-day life. You -have- to eat, though. And especially for those who can’t afford to shop far from home or at more pricey places like Whole Foods, who have to get their sustenance from Wal-Mart, it’s almost impossible to have a healthy diet, and even harder to provide a balanced meal for your kids (not even mentioning all those things listed- like living in a society where it’s hard to find time to cook.)

    What america eats is what america demands- and america demands things like meat. So, to support their hunger for meat, something that is perceived as ‘necessary’ to live, the government subsidizes the industry, and meat is cheaper.

    When my pound of broccoli costs more than a burger at McDonald’s, don’t tell me I don’t have a right to be freaking concerned.

    1. Lauren
      Lauren September 7, 2010 at 5:40 pm | *


      And especially for those who can’t afford to shop far from home or at more pricey places like Whole Foods, who have to get their sustenance from Wal-Mart, it’s almost impossible to have a healthy diet, and even harder to provide a balanced meal for your kids

      Wal-Marts tend to have excellent produce sections. Do not fall into the trap of thinking that if it’s rural or big-box that it’s low-class and inferior. That’s lazy thinking.

  38. craftydabbler
    craftydabbler September 7, 2010 at 4:03 pm |

    This is a wonderful post. Thank you.

  39. Mo
    Mo September 7, 2010 at 4:34 pm |

    @atheling: just a restaurant named for its infamously huge selection of desserts. the regular food is okay, but the cheesecake… The Chocolate Raspberry Truffle is my favorite.

    @alextheodd: Hell, I wrote that after dinner, which was Little Ceasars pizza and water. (I don’t like cola) nom nom nom. LOL

    I also love the example of a couple friends of mine who are larger than myself in many ways. Yet they do something I can’t: They can go on 30-50 MILE bicycle rides. Holy crud. wow.

    I personally recommend this photo slideshow at called the BMI project. Women of all shapes and sizes sent in their photos to show how the BMI is NOT an accurate descriptor of “fat”. Please note the triathelete, with heavy muscles, who falls in the “obese” BMI category just because of her weight/height ratio. The BMI was designed by a mathematician and doesn’t distinguish between fat and muscle. Sigh.

  40. kloncke
    kloncke September 7, 2010 at 5:31 pm |

    Loving this post, and wondering if anyone else is interested in bringing the analysis toward the realm of political economy? I’m trying to figure out plausible, material reasons *why* the hegemonic discourse is so concerned with fat-shaming and slut-shaming.

    Because on one hand, from an ethical perspective, “my body” (in terms of its size and sexual activity) is none of “your business.”

    But from a point of view of class struggle in a capitalist context, “my body” as a vehicle for the commodity of labor-power (and/or the reproduction of labor-power; i.e. childbearing and domestic work) is *precisely* “your business” (“you,” the capitalist class) — in the sense that it is the source of the surplus value that capitalists (who are almost entirely men) extract as profit. No wonder the state (largely synonymous with the capitalist class) monitors the bodies of its labor force a.k.a. profit machine.

    From a Marxist-feminist perspective, the ruling class under capitalism has a vested interest in regulating the reproduction of labor-power (in other words, the babymaking of future workers of all genders) by controlling the bodies of childbearers (historically, women). Capitalism itself requires this subjugation in order to maintain a wage-based system propped up by unwaged, naturalized domestic work (“the second shift”).

    So, that might be one angle on a materialist explanation for slut-shaming under capitalism: as one of many tools for regulating the production of labor-power.

    And again, on a bigger-picture scale, we can notice the discursive and legal differences between interpersonal slut-shaming in the white middle- and upper-classes of dominant capitalist states (more individualized, personal, or classist), versus the whole-cloth patriarchal bigotry against women of color, queer people, and immigrant women as immoral, hedonistic, irresponsible, sex-obsessed, devious, and culpable for global overpopulation and the dissolution of “The Traditional Family”— as a group.

    Now, one question is: if the capitalists want more labor-power (which starts out in the form of baby workers-to-be), then why would they disproportionately slut-shame people of color, who reproduce the majority of the super-exploited labor-power in the world?

    During colonial expansion, capitalists and aspiring capitalists forcibly bred people of color in order to expand commodity production capacities.

    But maybe under today’s neo-colonialism, since the dominant world commodities are no longer material products but fictive capital (i.e. debt, investments, and other financial stuff), slut-shaming is evolving out of the racist patriarchal discourse that justified white-supremacist rape. Whereas before, painting non-white women as lustful justified raping and breeding them, now in many contexts it justifies deporting, sterilizing, and de-funding them (through stereotypes like the welfare queen that rationalize cutting away at the social safety net).

    So if we take this type of materialist (and class-struggle-based), feminist perspective on slut-shaming, how do we see fat-shaming as similar and/or different?

    To offer one idea, I don’t think it has to do with regulating labor-power or its reproduction in any meaningful way. First of all, being fat doesn’t necessarily mean being less productive as a worker. Also, with outsourcing and globalization, the dominant capitalist nations increasingly rely on commodity production from Global South/ThirdWorld countries, where, as far as I understand, fat-shaming is less of an issue, especially compared to malnutrition. (Please correct me if I’m wrong on that.)

    In the countries where fat-shaming is rampant, I suspect it might have more to do with justifying the internal contradictions of capitalism itself: i.e., making it about why are people fat or thin, versus why do some people have access to healthy foods and environments, while others are deprived of them through structural violence.

    Silvia Federici has a good quote on this general idea in her Introduction to Caliban and the Witch: Women, the Body and Primitive Accumulation:

    For capitalism must justify and mystify the contradictions built into its social relations — the promise of freedom vs. the reality of widespread coercion, and the promise of prosperity vs. the reality of widespread penury — by denigrating the ‘nature’ of those it exploits: women, colonial subjects, the descendants of African slaves, the immigrants displaced by globalization.

    And fat people!

    Denigrating people through their fatness — painting fatness as primarily a personal choice or failing (in classic neoliberal fashion) — helps to obscure, as others have said in the thread, the classist structural violence of of food deserts, a for-profit medical industry, environmental degradation, dangerous working conditions, and most of all the basic reality that the ruling classes profit from the exploitation of labor, while all other classes must either work or starve.

    So, in longwinded conclusion (sorry! :), I totally empathize with the desire to reclaim body size and sexuality as private issues — as spaces for personal expression, taste, and fulfillment, that are none of anyone else’s business. But at the same time, I feel like there are historical and material reasons, not just arbitrary aesthetic/ideological ones, why that’s not the current cultural reality. So the more we understand those material reasons, the better we can contend with them and transform some shit! Yay. :)

    Thanks again to Atheling for the bad-ass and hilarious post, and to everyone for all the wonderful insights and food for thought! This has really helped me out in a major way with the HAES feminism.

  41. kloncke
    kloncke September 7, 2010 at 6:11 pm |

    And by “HAES feminism,” I don’t mean to imply that people have a moral obligation to be healthy. :)

    Maybe “Human At Every Size” would be better…

  42. drst
    drst September 7, 2010 at 10:06 pm |

    For what it’s worth, for the most part, uh, yes, increased caloric intake and a sedentary lifestyle ARE the cause of obesity. No, not always, but most of the time? Yes.

    Except weight is 70% genetic – it’s influenced by genes exactly as much as height, yet we don’t hear about the epidemic of people getting taller. So the 30% of environmental is entirely due to caloric intake and lifestyle causing… an epidemic?

    There are a multitude of studies suggesting the caloric intake is not the main problem (particularly here in the US where NHANES indicated average caloric intake has actually gone down since the early 2000s – I cannot find the JunkFoodScience blog post at the moment, sorry) nearly as much as sedentary lifestyle is, and that relates to many things that have nothing to do with food or bodies, but to car culture, lack of safe pedestrian spaces, our work hours and our entertainment choices most of which encourage passivity.

    Also there’s the matter of life expectancy growing and disease rates going down over the last several decades which belies the idea that obesity is dragging Western society into the grave prematurely.

    What america eats is what america demands- and america demands things like meat. So, to support their hunger for meat, something that is perceived as ‘necessary’ to live, the government subsidizes the industry, and meat is cheaper.

    That’s a serious conclusion you’ve jumped to there. People buy food because they like it, yes, but one of the reasons why so much processed food is sold is because it’s cheaper. The almighty “food pyramid” was drawn with input from the agriculture lobby, which includes the meat industries in the U.S. The food pyramid has been telling Americans what to eat my entire life, so to say it’s because Americans inherently “demand” certain things, that’s why they’re sold and cheap is a bit backwards. This is a complex relationship between government, business and consumer.

    Also, to L., there is a lot of debate over whether the obesity epidemic actually exists. If you judge by BMI stats, it does, but the defined categories on the BMI that determine normal/overweight/obese were REDEFINED in 1998 downward, which moved over 30 million US citizens from normal to overweight without anyone gaining a pound. A researcher in NYC is on record saying the actual average weight gain since about 1980 is somewhere between 7-10 pounds – not unusual for a US population that had the baby boomers all hitting middle age in that 30 year period (during which time, btw, we got an inch taller). [Sorry I cannot find a handy link to this just now.}

    Also obesity rates have been flat in the US for a while now.

  43. evil fizz
    evil fizz September 7, 2010 at 11:24 pm | *

    For what it’s worth, for the most part, uh, yes, increased caloric intake and a sedentary lifestyle ARE the cause of obesity. No, not always, but most of the time? Yes.

    Genetics, anyone?

    Look, I don’t dispute that there is a upward trend in the average weight of Americans and Westerners more generally. Said trend tracks with increased portion size, suburban sprawl, and a a highly individualistic obsession with cars. What I do take issue with is the idea that there’s a 1:1 correlation between these things. Also, the weight = health connection gets flogged to death and there’s minimal discussion about how empty calories, limited incidental exercise, food deserts and food subsidies are making people less healthy even if they’re not obese.

    Then there’s the fact that you’d need to move beyond a rubric which assumes that a heavier population is per se a bad thing. If the research which indicates a BMI in the overweight category is associated with decreased measures of morbidity and mortality is true, doesn’t it follow that a population with more overweight individuals is preferable? Maybe.

  44. Starwoman
    Starwoman September 7, 2010 at 11:56 pm |

    Great essay, thank you!

    In thinking about what fat bodies might symbolize to evoke such intense policing behavior from some others, I was reminded of Mary Douglas’ idea in _Purity and Danger_ that the body symbolizes the community, and the boundaries of the body symbolize the boundaries of the community.

    So how interesting is it that, at the same time that we’re in a state of anti-immigrant fever the like of which I’ve never seen in my lifetime, with calls to build walls at the borders and militarize the borders and even eliminate birthright citizenship… at the very same time, there is a wave of anti-obesity in public discourse reaching broad and deep, whose focus is on policing people’s bodies?

    Coincidence? or two symbolic expressions of the same taboo?

  45. Xodion
    Xodion September 8, 2010 at 5:03 am |

    Before I start, I will mention that this is my first time posting on here after some lurking, I’m very nervous of getting things wrong as I’m still learning, and have a lot of privilege to get around (white, male, straight… everything except being poor). If I get something wrong, it will no doubt be lack of understanding rather than malice, and I will happily be corrected if this is the case.

    And the thing that strikes me as so unfair is none of the concern trolls would actually care about that – because I pass for ThinEnough so apparently my health is of nobody’s concern.

    I feel terrible about this whole thing for the same reason – that, and it just doesn’t happen as much to men, which invalidates the “it’s for the good of the populace” excuses. I’ve heard such awful stories of shaming happening to people I know who eat better than I do, it’s so unfair. When I was younger I was bullied for being too thin – my lack of muscles clearly means I fail as a “real man” – and one of the jokes went along the lines of tying me down and feeding me a proper meal or something like that. Nobody has ever stopped to ask me how healthy my lifestyle is, they assume that I’m thin so I must be healthy, and since I eat lots of sugary rubbish, get little exercise and spend most of my waking hours sat in front of a computer, this is clearly not the right assumption.

    I’ve also been spotting more big flaws in the UK government’s healthy lifestyle campaign – there’s a poster in the supermarket near my work with a cartoon kid saying “I don’t like what my big middle is doing to my insides.” Not only is this government poster quite explicitly saying that being fat = being unhealthy, they’re using a kid to shame the parents. It’s a horrible trick, but it’s probably more effective than just shaming the individuals…

  46. Confronting Capitalism through Feminist Fat Acceptance « Kloncke

    […] more curious about bigger-picture causes.  The macro-relationships.  Because, as I say in my comment (copied below), as much as we might argue that our bodies are none of their business, as long as we […]

  47. Atheling
    Atheling September 8, 2010 at 7:26 am |

    @Jadey: Don’t have much to add to that other than that I agree with you.

    @Morgan: Exactly.

    @zuzu: The point that systemic problems hurt everybody can’t be made often enough. Thank you.

    @Raavequeen: There’s not nearly as much evidence of that as people seem to think. I’d refer you to Jadey’s links, here and in the other thread, in the first instance, and also point out (as evil fizz does below, as well) that genetics has kind of a major role in one’s body proportions.

    That said, I think a lot of people – in this thread! – agree with you about things like processed foods and rubbish availability and the difficulties of feeding a family on a minimum wage. The point that I’m taking issue with is the persistent tendency to focus NOT on those issues, but on the people themselves. To draw an analogy with another modern health problem – we all know that air pollution can make you seriously ill. But it’s as if people were responding to this with “Well move out of the city! And don’t breathe so much!” rather than “We should do something about the air being unfit to breathe.

    Your point about meat is an excellent one, too – the emergence of an expectation that normal people eat meat at least two meals a day is contributing to a whole bunch of problems, including over-farming and animal cruelty as well as incipient health issues. That meat-eating is tied up so strongly with masculinity (and, in the US, it would seem patriotism? Never understood that) and veg are seen as the province of – well – hippies, just adds another layer of problem . . .

    @craftydabbler: thanks! :D

    @Mo: Damn, we don’t have Cheesecake Factories in Britain. Ah well.

    The BMI project is excellent – thanks for linking it. I’ve found it’s also a really good corrective to weird ideas people have about what particular weights actually look like – I suspect that a combination of people lying about their weight, absurd weight recommendations in the media, and simple ignorance has left a lot of people not knowing what 150 or 200lb actually looks like on a person, leading to further ridiculousness.

    @kloncke: I’m not so well up on political economy, but surely a contributing factor is that our current system is very, very good at monetising kyriarchy. Oppressive structures have always been in place, but whereas in the past the attitude has tended to be “everyone in their place”, now we have the wonder (/snark) that is aspirational marketing – you too can join the privileged classes, if you only give us a lot of cash! The capitalist machine makes a lot of money from fat people trying desperately not to be fat, just as it does from women trying to fit an impossible beauty standard (and there’s a whole sub-industry of that aimed at women of colour trying to fit a doubly-impossible, because white, standard). For-profit healthcare does the same thing with the societal demand that we be healthy.

    So fat-shaming, at least, is actually profitable, on top of being yet another tool to keep already-marginalised people in line (the hugely classist nature of a lot of fat-shaming is probably the biggest example, though the sexist aspect is pretty major too.)

    And in line with what zuzu said – as long as fat/ill-health is seen as solely the fat/ill person’s problem, the state doesn’t have to be seen to be doing anything about it, saving money and effort. You could probably extend that to almost all oppressions, actually – as long as poverty, racism, sexism, etc. are seen as the fault of the person experiencing them, the government can just quietly get on with perpetuating them.

    @evil fizz: Most people seem to know that a) height is mostly inherited and b) the average is getting taller with the advent of better nutrition. You’d think it’d be obvious that a similar mechanism accounts for at least some (likely not all) of the modern upward trend in weight.

    And I’d forgotten the stats showing that overweight-by-BMI people cope better with certain health problems – I dug out the Shapely Prose post about it, which links to some more stuff.

    @Starwoman: That’s a very interesting (if very worrying) link to make. Certainly there does seem to be a lot of generalised concern about the population ‘letting itself go’ at the same time that the country is seen to be ‘letting itself go’.

    It also reminds me of a really common line here in Europe that gets thrown at Americans (especially American tourists abroad) where ‘fat’ is lumped in with a bunch of other nasty things seen as your national characteristics – loudness, tactlessness, cultural imperialism, and a sort of overbearing certainty that nowhere can possibly be as wonderful as America. It’s as if people are seeing physical largeness as an expression of the nastiest facets of American imperialism and consumerism – the USA as a big, obnoxious country full of big, obnoxious people.

    @Xodion: No need to be scared, we don’t bite. (Er, mostly.) Welcome!

    That’s a really good point about gendered responses to the thinness/fatness binary – that assumption that proper masculinity requires a certain amount of bulk and that thinness is/should be a feminine trait. (Wonder how that relates to the association of masculinity with meat-eating I mentioned above?)

    Shaming parents via their children is a classic manipulative tactic, and massively unethical. And, once again, shoves the responsibility for fixing a systemic problem off onto the people suffering from it – I wonder how much money this ad campaign is costing? Enough for a lot of ante- and postnatal resources and school meals, I’d bet.

  48. Maia
    Maia September 8, 2010 at 8:17 am |

    This is such a great post. I think that’s an amazing way of making feminism and fat clear and simple.

    kloncke: Loving this post, and wondering if anyone else is interested in bringing the analysis toward the realm of political economy?I’m trying to figure out plausible, material reasons *why* the hegemonic discourse is so concerned with fat-shaming and slut-shaming.

    Yes, yes I am.

    I think this is a vital question – and one which while I have many thoughts on they’re so big and sprawling I don’t write about it as much as I’d like.

    I largely agree with this:

    In the countries where fat-shaming is rampant, I suspect it might have more to do with justifying the internal contradictions of capitalism itself: i.e., making it about why are people fat or thin, versus why do some people have access to healthy foods and environments, while others are deprived of them through structural violence.

    It is grotesque, that in a place as rich in resource as the US (or New Zealand) that more of them aren’t dedicated towards people’ well-being and longevity. Just like it is grotesque that anyone’s basic needs aren’t met. There are strong ideological needs to suggest that our bodies, like our finances, are a meritocracy, in order to justify the extreme inequality of outcome.

    I am often struck, when reading popular magazines, in the similarities between the ‘healthy lifestyles’ page and the ‘finances’ page. They both offer similarly inane advice (have you thought about not getting that take-out coffee and putting the money towards paying off your debt? What about swapping a pack of chips for some air popped popcorn?) that everyone has heard before. They’re about promoting the illusion that individuals have control over the health and wealth.

    We are told that we have control of our own health, in order to hide that we don’t. In order to mask all the ways that our bodies are degraded and run down in this society. If you can blame poor people’s fatness for their health problems, you can ignore the effects of the stress of poverty, the dangers of work, the implications of poor quality housing, the effects of racism on people’s bodies, and so on and so on and so on.

    Because we know that this does not need to happen – that we have the resources to organise society in a way where each of us has our basic needs met. We also have the resources to organise a society that respects the integrity of any sort of body – that gives us each meaningful safe work, that is not based on uncertainty and stress, and provides all the resources we need to nuture ourselves and each other.

    In order to justify the grotesqueness of a world where the resources we have are not put to this end, fat hatred is vital. Fat hatred pretends that an unjust world is just, and a meaningless world is meaningful. That rather than our bodies being degraded by the way society is organised, we are degrading our bodies and deserve what we get.

  49. ToniT
    ToniT September 8, 2010 at 9:23 am |

    I love this post. I would like to print out this Venn Diagram and put it on my wall. Perhaps a t-shirt?

    Anyway, I also liked how you exposed the various ways our bodies are deemed “public spaces” – from slut-shaming to touching a pregnant woman to the hair (oh! how I hate people touching my hair).


  50. Atheling
    Atheling September 8, 2010 at 1:46 pm |

    @Maia: You’ve put your finger on it, I think – the kyriarchy has to act as if people’s bodies were 100% under their own control, or every flimsy justification for its existence falls apart. Admitting that yeah, most people don’t have much of a say in their weight or class, or any say at all in their skin colour, sex, sexuality, cis/transness and so on, would make it rather too clear that the people claiming the moral high ground are in their positions of power not because they’re right, but because they were lucky.

  51. Donald
    Donald September 8, 2010 at 7:56 pm |

    For what it’s worth, for the most part, uh, yes, increased caloric intake and a sedentary lifestyle ARE the cause of obesity. No, not always, but most of the time? Yes.

    This assumption is why it took so long for me to fix the problem with my diet. I started putting on weight in my late 20s so I started cutting down on the calories I ate. It had no effect. Twenty years on I got the “obese, high blood pressure, low cholesterol” diagnosis and tablets to manage it. Along with recommendations to reduce calorie intake. It was only when the question of diabeties came up and I investigated diabetic diets that that I realised the mistake I had made. It was cutting down on the boring calories (i.e. carbohydrates) and I’d gone to far. The best way I can descibe it is that my body had gone into hunger mode and demanded sugars which it converted into fat to store against famine. I am now eating an additional 200-500 calories a day and gradually losing weight – a few pounds a year. My craving for chocolate and similar sugars has significantly reduced.

    My conclusion is that useful recommendations can only be made if the individual’s diet has been studied. Given that only a tiny number of cases are reviewed that way even the general statement that obesity is generally due to overconsumption of calories is unproven.

  52. closetpuritan
    closetpuritan September 9, 2010 at 10:02 pm |

    Raavequeen: I think it’s a little too simplistic to say that “caloric intake and sedentary lifestyle are the cause of obesity,” even if you add a caveat for people with known medical conditions that cause obesity. I don’t have much doubt that changes in diet and activity levels are the main reason why the population as a whole has gotten fatter. However, I don’t think that it’s ONLY fat people who have increased their caloric intake and decreased their activity levels; lifestyles have changed for all, fat and thin alike. That 70-80% genetic thing? It only applies WITHIN a given environment, and first-world environments have definitely changed. But actual sciency scientists doing twin studies and everything were the ones who came up with that figure; it’s not some figment of Fat Acceptance’s imagination, and neither of those links are to FA websites.

    Note that genetic factors can affect things like how hungry you are, how much you fidget, and even how much you enjoy exercise, not just what you do with the food you consume. But it is also possible for fat people with nothing “wrong” with them to simply get fat on less calories than they “should” need to maintain their weight.

  53. viajera
    viajera September 10, 2010 at 7:37 pm |

    For those of you (L, Raavequeen, et al.) concern-trolling about health and calories in/calories out as the primary – if not sole – mechanism of weight gain and obesity:

    Please go here: and look at the long list of *peer-reviewed* studies that Michelle has put together. Study after study after study are showing that:
    – diets do NOT work (97+% of dieters regain all lost weight, usually plus some, within 5 years)
    – diets, especially yo-yo dieting, plays a greater role in individual weight gain and obesity on the societal/public health level than do changes in eating habits (specifically, increased consumption of sugary drinks)
    – The human metabolism is a homeostatic system that is balanced towards weight gain and conservation of calories
    – As others have already shown above, weight, BMI, and measures of body shape/size are all 70-80% heritable – equally or more heritable than traits such as height
    – Last, but certainly not least: Overweight and – yes – even obese folks actually have LOWER mortality and morbidity, and LOWER susceptibility to many diseases, than do “normal”-weight folks, and underweight people actually have the HIGHEST mortality.

    Not only are you concern-trolling, but you’re concern-trolling based upon assumptions that “everyone knows” but, in fact, are not supported by actual facts and research.

  54. Jessie
    Jessie September 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm |

    Something to add to the “but we have to pay for your lifestyle” argument…I hate it when people complain about having to pay for the care & education of illegal immigrants, as if immigrants don’t contribute to society or the economy. Illegal immigrants are so drastically underpaid that most of their labor is essentially free to people in the US. They have already paid a huge tax to society and their labor is an integral part of the current US economy–it’s perfectly reasonable that they should get something back, especially in the form of basic support programs and education for their kids.

    The same goes for “slutty” people and fat people. Who is disproportionally likely to be fat and (labeled as) slutty? The (female) poor. Who ruins their health doing all the low-prestige, grueling shit work? The fat and slutty poor. Who bears the burden of being the uncool gamma in the social hierarchy (the position that has been shown to have significant negative effects on health, and yet someone’s got to be on the bottom of the pyramid)? The fat and slutty poor. Who eats the grotty fatty parts of the animal that the rich “health-conscious” won’t touch? The fat and slutty poor. Who do rich men sexually exploit most? The (sometimes) fat and slutty poor. Whose work is vastly undercompensated, meaning lots of it is given for free? The fat and slutty poor.

    The thin and married middle class have directly profited from the exploitation of the fat and “slutty”–they have no right to deny us taxpayer-supported health care, much less criticize our “lifestyle choices.” If you want to turn people into cows, you’d better feed and house them.

  55. Aaron
    Aaron September 12, 2010 at 3:48 pm |

    There’s obviously been a disturbing tendency to make womens’ bodies a means of social control over them. But I think we should step back from saying thing “what people do with their bodies should never be anyone else’s business.” The substance of your criticism is well-taken, and obviously things like slut-shaming are ridiculous double standards and fall disproportionately on non-white-cis-het-males.
    But as a matter of social policy, sometimes we advocate for things that will concretely improve (or prevent the degradation of) peoples’ quality of life. Things like social norms about safe sex, or even social norms about excessive consumption of mind-altering substances. These are expectations we have about how people use their bodies because we want them to be safe about it. We just don’t want to to do these things coercively, or by putting massive social stigma on one category of people to the exclusion of others.

    I think there are healthy, non-destructive ways we can create minimum expectations about behavior that it would be better if everyone conformed to.

  56. Aaron
    Aaron September 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm |

    Also, this weight discussion is getting really confused. It’s important to point out that “fat != unhealthy,” but let’s not arbitrarily decide that all arguments our opponents throw out are automatically incorrect. For example: “For those of you (L, Raavequeen, et al.) concern-trolling about health and calories in/calories out as the primary – if not sole – mechanism of weight gain and obesity”

    Calories in/calories out IS IN FACT, with the medical conditions caveat, the sole mechanism of weight gain and obesity. The questions of whether fat = unhealthy, whether people tend to have inherited risk factors, etc, are all SEPARATE QUESTIONS, about “how ‘responsible’ can fat people be said to have about the fact that they are fat” or “is fat ‘bad.'” But the fact remains that people gain wait because they use fewer calories than they consume. It’s the proximate cause of weight gain. The other causes – ultimate causes, contributing factors, necessary conditions – need to be discussed in their appropriate contexts. But let’s at least be rigorous about the discussion.

  57. closetpuritan
    closetpuritan September 12, 2010 at 5:38 pm |

    “Calories in/calories out IS IN FACT, with the medical conditions caveat, the sole mechanism of weight gain and obesity.”

    Oh, there’s no medical conditions caveat needed. Medical conditions don’t break thermodynamics. They just change the way that energy resources are allocated and used (as well as influencing intake by affecting appetite).

    But “calories in-calories out” doesn’t really give you much useful information. (That’s why I said it was “simplistic”, rather than “wrong”.) It’s a bit like saying, “Saving money is simple. If you spend less money than you earn, you’ll save money.” And yet, different people have different amounts of power to earn money or to cut expenses than others. It doesn’t mean that individuals are completely powerless to affect their savings account, but it also doesn’t mean that people can make their earnings and expenses be whatever they want, or that everyone’s earning power and expenses are basically the same. And, as practical advice (the context where “calories in/calories out” is usually offered), it’s not very useful at all.

  58. Aaron
    Aaron September 12, 2010 at 6:06 pm |

    That’s a fair point. I think we can say that as a descriptive fact, it’s true, but insufficient, since many people lack information about what their actual calorie-out number is, or may have a very hard time reducing intake or increasing output to the level where they might lose weight. Where we get into real trouble is where people take the “simple fact” of how weightloss works and make a prescriptive claim about peoples’ behavior – “therefore, it’s easy to lose weight, and therefore you are to blame.”

  59. closetpuritan
    closetpuritan September 13, 2010 at 9:32 am |

    Yes, that’s a good summary.

  60. Donald
    Donald September 14, 2010 at 5:13 am |

    Aaron: I think there are healthy, non-destructive ways we can create minimum expectations about behavior that it would be better if everyone conformed to.  

    That is one of the most oppressive statements I’ve read on this blog. Who are the “we” who can create these expectations? The government? A church? A newspaper? Some bunch of academics who have written a paper?

    There is a long history of societies expecting conformity and even legislating for it. Little of it good. I’m all for education about the consequences of various behaviours but then let people make their own decisions without pressure to conform. That applies to sex, diet, dress, in fact everything that doesn’t directly impact other people.

  61. Do I get angry when my atheism is challenged? Yes, sometimes. « Zie, Libertine

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