Thursday, June 15, 2006

Too fat for the comments box

Kevin Beck at Dr. Joan Bushwell's Chimpanzee Refuge is posting a five-part series on the dangers of fat acceptance. My mother is working on an article for the NYT Magazine about potential microbial explanations for obesity, which I've been editing and discussing with her, and of course I've been wondering how much weight I'll turn out to have lost when I next go to the endocrinologist, and whether she'll increase my medication or not. Plus I'd just been discussing this exact issue with Laura. In other words, I've been thinking about this stuff a lot, so my response got too long for the comments, and I'm posting it here instead.

This began as a response to a comment (rather an unnecessarily sarcastic and reactionary response, I thought, but I'm giving Kevin the benefit of the doubt later information shows that impression to be mistaken), in which he stated that "the reason I didn't bother [to discuss the impact of food marketing] is because I'm not addressing the causes of obesity in the first place."

--

Why aren't you addressing the causes? Buddha-belly was right to point out that these are multivalent, not to mention supremely important in considering whether we can treat obesity as a disease with a moral component. Which is really what NAAFA is about in the first place.

I'm constantly struck by people's inability to be moderate on this issue. Fat activists totally ignore evidence that being fat can be very unhealthy, or that some people really are fat because they eat too much and don't exercise enough; people decrying the obesity epidemic tend to ignore socioeconomic and non-habit-based causes, and downplay evidence that being fat doesn't have to be unhealthy. The underlying problem in both cases is the unwillingness to differentiate on the basis of cause.

There are several problems with NAAFA's approach, as you say. For one thing, if you refuse to accept that many people are obese because of bad eating and exercising habits, you blithely allow them to pass these habits on to their kids, and that's not acceptable behavior for a supposedly activist group. It's one thing to fight for people's self-respect, but quite another to endanger children. In general, NAAFA conveniently ignores the fact that just because obesity isn't necessarily unhealthy doesn't mean it can't be unhealthy. The NAAFA activists are so terrified of making fat into a blame issue that they resist the existence of obesity-related health problems, which as you point out is extremely dangerous.

But while they ignore a great deal of pertinent information, a lot of their assertions are not wrong, and that's not coming through here. You admit that yo-yo dieting is unhealthy; eating disorders haven't been mentioned, but I doubt anyone would classify them as salutary. Fat people are ridiculed, and their health problems ignored or sidelined -- I've had heavy friends go to the doctor with acute infections, and have to wait for treatment until after they'd had a diabetes test. (Anecdotal, I know, but I'm sure I could dig up studies on the phenomenon -- it's widespread.) There are serious consequences, psychological and physiological, to the exaggerated societal attitude towards fat -- and it is exaggerated, beyond what is reasonable for something potentially caused by unhealthy habits. We don't see people making nasty jokes about the employability or attractiveness of folks with emphysema, just because they were probably smokers; it's inappropriate to brook nasty jokes about fat people simply because they might be gluttons.

And I say "might," because obesity is not infrequently caused not by habits but by genetics, slowed metabolism, hormonal imbalances such as hypothyroidism, antidepressants or other medication, and potentially gut flora imbalances and adenoviruses. For people who are heavy at an early age, these disorders can actually be the result of the very real psychological consequences of anti-fat sentiment -- eating disorders, for instance, can significantly slow metabolism, and childhood and adolescent misery can require the prescription of weight-boosting antidepressants. NAAFA is wrong to ignore the contribution of bad habits to obesity, and its potential health repercussions; we would also be wrong to ignore the possible irrelevance of bad habits to obesity, and its potential health-related causes.

And neither of these positions acknowledges the socioeconomic underpinnings of the obesity epidemic, which are habit-based and health-endangering but not due to greed or indolence. Although fast-food companies -- in the wake of one of those lawsuits you present as so frivolous -- are offering less detrimental options, the fact remains that healthy food is expensive, and time for exercise is a luxury many can't afford. If you work two sedentary jobs and can't afford not to eat at McDonald's, you'll get fat. NAAFA's position will do you no good in that case -- you should be exercising, and you are at a health risk, and it's dangerous to pretend you aren't -- but neither will an unwillingness to treat obesity as anything but a moral failing. In fact, I'm willing to throw my lot in with NAAFA to this degree: we should never treat obesity as a moral failing. Where NAAFA goes wrong is in imagining that this means we shouldn't treat it as a genuine health risk.

21 Comments:

Lynne said...

you didn't even get into the fact that many of the people (obese and not obese) who eat too much fast food to be healthy arguably do it not just because it's cheap and they're poor, but also because fast food advertisements target and strongly influence children. it's effective brainwashing, and it probably sticks for life. this problem is getting worse as the fast food industry provides more and more of the food in schools, too. i have a hard time holding people morally responsible who may have been at least partly brainwashed into their behavior when they were 10 years old or younger.

6/15/2006 12:25 PM  
jess said...

Yeah, I did leave that out -- that seemed to be the specific thing that the original poster didn't want to discuss. You're right, of course, that marketing is super important. It's not a clear-cut issue, though, because it's difficult to extricate marketing effects from other factors. For instance, parents and caretakers can mitigate the effects of advertising -- I find fast food utterly disgusting, even though I watched the same commercials as everyone else, because I never actually got fast food, so the first time I ate it it made me super sick. But parents aren't going to be able to make much of a difference if it's only economically feasible to feed the family junk.

FYI, you can follow up on Kevin's response and my response to that response here.

6/15/2006 1:14 PM  
JordanBaker said...

Even worse--the fast food companies price their "healthy" options* significantly higher than their usual fare, so they're still a less than viable option for people in the lower economic strata.

*and I have yet to be convinced that a salad the size of a hub cap topped with ground beef and shredded cheese is really that much healthier

6/15/2006 2:04 PM  
kemibe said...

I agree that not eating fast foods and consuming meals that are more and more energy-dense has increasingly come to resemble an obstacle course. Luckily, when I sat down and wrote this little treatise a while back, I didn't leave this out (it's pretty much the entirety of tomorrow's entry, and I'm not half-regretting the point at which I chose to split the monstrosity up).

6/15/2006 2:42 PM  
kemibe said...

"I'm not half-regretting the point.."

Er, that should be "I'm NOW half-regretting the point..." Damn QWERTY keyboard!

6/15/2006 2:43 PM  
jess said...

Oh, I just thought you were being charmingly British. "I'm not half regretting it!" Perhaps I've been reading too much Wodehouse.

Strike that, I know I've been reading too much Wodehouse. I read too much Wodehouse and too much Susanna Clarke and now I keep having dreams about Jeeves trying to cast magic spells.

Anyway, yeah, splitting things up is an iffy proposition. Luckily when I split up my quantum physics post nobody was clamoring for Part II. On the whole, though, I wonder if it isn't better to write all the parts and then post them separately but simultaneously. At least if you're doing something where people might have urgent responses.

6/15/2006 4:00 PM  
Anna said...

There's a significant political component to the epidemic, too. Why should McDonald's fare and its ilk be cheaper? It isn't cheaper to sell a french fry than an un-messed-with potato unless the materials and processes used to turn a potato into a fry are heavily subsidized. There is not economic/governmental support for healthy food yet.

Marion Nestle is super-interesting on the environmental causes of obesity and policy decisions that contribute to them. Here's her website.

6/15/2006 4:12 PM  
jess said...

Even worse--the fast food companies price their "healthy" options* significantly higher than their usual fare, so they're still a less than viable option for people in the lower economic strata.

Oh, are you serious? That's lame as hell. As a person who basically never looks at a fast food menu (we went to a drive-in a few weeks ago because I had a milkshake craving, and I actually chickened out and insisted on leaving, that's how much of a fast food connoisseur I am), I fell for their implication that they were at least trying to provide more options.

I'm iffy on the health value of the salads myself, but I hate lettuce so my opinion is maybe not to be trusted.

6/15/2006 4:15 PM  
Lynne said...

Generally the salads are healthy, if you don't use the really awful salad dressings. But most people use them. And if you want some of those apples McDonald's now sells (I was that desperate in a bus terminal once a few months back) you'll pay like $3 for a cut-up apple plus their weird little sauce I couldn't eat.

I spend way more on food than most people I know, because my diet is almost completely made up of fresh produce and I make almost everything from scratch. It's extremely healthy, but soooo much money. That reminds me to do my FAFSA.

6/15/2006 4:40 PM  
khaulein said...

This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

6/15/2006 9:06 PM  
jess said...

Anyhow, I’m glad someone else reacted as I did, so at least I know I’m not completely oversensitive.

Likewise! And the concerns you expressed are pretty much the exact mirror of mine. Kevin had done a pretty good job clarifying his position with respect to omissions and tone, but I'm glad to have outside confirmation.

Nietzsche's imperiousness makes him great reading for the DMV.

On a wholly unrelated note, my word confirmation is "kilgy," which gives me unpleasant images of Kilgore Trout's childhood.

6/15/2006 9:11 PM  
claire said...

I am so frustrated - I wrote a LONG response to this and then my computer froze. Now I don't have more than fifteen minutes, but I'll try to recreate a little of it. My apologies - I promise that the first comment was much more eloquent and less belligerent!

First of all, I think this is an interesting topic, and I've seen it a lot lately in the blogosphere. Laura pointed me to a post at Feministe a few weeks ago that I objected to for the same reason that I object to the basic premise of what you wrote: namely, the breed of fat activism that you're describing isn't what I'm seeing. Can you show me something written by NAAFA that is as black-and-white and as essentially ignorant as what you describe?

In fact, the assumption that the fat activist movement is so misguided and had such a uniform perspective reminds me a lot of my mom saying, "but I can't be a feminist because I don't hate men!" Is it fair to say that all feminists don't hate men? Well, no. Some feminists do, and are vocal about it. But it's a silly perspective to take now, isn't it? Because we know that's what feminism isn't about, and we recognize that disavowing feminism altogether because of a misperception is not the way to go either.

I'm going to be terribly tacky and cut and paste a part of what I wrote over at Feministe, because I think much of it is relevant and because I'm running out the door soon. Nobody really chose to respond to it over there except to say "What's NAAFA?" and "but the commenters at Big Fat Blog sometimes say stupid things!" (To which I responded, 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.... Any space that invites dialogue invites some participation that makes you cringe, I find.)

Who knows, maybe the cringeworthy participation this time is my own.

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?
What I see there is a politically astute, aware struggle with the issues surrounding fat and the Health At Every Size (HAES) model.

Am I moderate? Am I radical? Am I XXTreme? I'm fat, and I can say that out loud. I've identified as a fat activist for a year or so now: I organize community events, I try to create safe spaces for a marginalized and stigmatized community, I co-started a fat bike gang, I introduce open and shameless dialogue about fat. I comment on blogs! I'm also concerned with healthy eating and exercise, and fully aware -- as EVERY fat person is -- of the impact my weight has on my health. In all of these things, I'm like nearly all of the many, many fat activists I've met, and the ways that I differ from them are mostly in the sorts of events I try to organize.

I guess this is a long, long way to say, can you show me where your perception of NAAFA and the "Fat Acceptance Movement" comes from? And are you sure it's really accurate?

6/15/2006 11:55 PM  
jess said...

Well, my entire point here is that neither side is complete and self-sufficient. When NAAFA says, for instance, that "The claim that obesity can be prevented or weight loss achieved simply by reducing calories consumed and increasing calories burned in exercise" is misinformation (that's just from the first press release I happened to click on), well, that's not completely true. Does that mean it is completely true that burning more calories than you eat will ALWAYS make you lose weight? No, and that's the point. You can't ignore the unacknowledged factors. But that doesn't mean you can ignore the acknowledged factors.

The problem I have with NAAFA is that they elide the fact that sometimes people are fat because they eat more calories than they burn. And it's great that they promote fitness, but they also lump "sensible diet" in with "fad diet" in their policies. Actually, that document is a good example of exactly what I'm talking about -- most of what they're demanding in regards to the diet industry is spot on, but then they go and throw "sensible, well-balanced diet" into their list of dangerous quackeries. I don't understand why we can't combat negative images and still accept the fact that sensible eating does exist, that eating better and exercising more will make many people lose weight, and that losing weight has health benefits. In fact it's crucial to do both if you're trying to promote the overall health, psychological and physical, of the person. To get healthy people, you have to be very much alive to anti-fat sentiment and acknowledge all the potential causes of obesity.

That press release about the dietary guidelines is a good example of what seems to happen instead. The FDA has a full section on weight management, because obesity has increased and presents health risks. NAAFA objects to this focus on weight management, which takes up a full chapter out of ten. The FDA ignores the deleterious effects of severe dieting, the psychological effects of the monitoring procedures it describes, the flaws in its measuring standards, and the sheer implausibility of its suggestions for many Americans. NAAFA ignores the fact that reducing calorie intake can promote weight loss without negative physical or psychological effects, the fact that the increase in obesity in the US is cause for concern, and the fact that a lot of its paraphrases of the FDA are somewhat distorted. The FDA says "the goal for adults is to achieve and maintain a body weight that optimizes their health," but implies a low body weight specifically. NAAFA says "By advising 'just eat less and exercise more,' these Guidelines are nothing more than a diet masquerading as 'healthful' eating," with the implication that reducing overall food intake is universally unnecessary and unhealthful.

The point of the above is that neither side is being comprehensive because neither is actually wrong. NAAFA has some great stuff to say about defamation and discrimination, and I hope they keep it up. The FDA and the health profession are not fabricating their data about the health effects of being overweight. But all of this needs to be taken into account. And the tendency is for half of it to fall by the wayside, because the two positions -- that being fat is unhealthy and is the result of overeating and underexercising, and that being fat can be healthy and is often the result of much more complex circumstances -- seem mutually exclusive, even though they're not. This is why it's so important to acknowledge the multiplicity of causes for being overweight, no matter what position you're arguing.

In a lot of ways this is a matter of individual activists and it isn't fair to treat NAAFA as a group... but the same goes for doctors. Some people will interpret fat activism to mean "I'm fine just the way I am, eating three pies," and some doctors will interpret obesity data to mean "fat people have no self-control." Some activists (like the ones in SF) can separate self-esteem from fat-esteem, and some doctors understand the vast spectrum of what fat can mean. I think it's up to the first group to enlighten the second. Personally, I'm in favor of anti-defamation activism and I'm in favor of health. I just think they need to listen to each other.

6/16/2006 1:39 AM  
jess said...

I should add that saying "I'm in favor of anti-defamation activism" is pretty weak. I'm not just in favor of preventing people from badmouthing fat folks. I mean, I'm a fat chick, for chrissakes (and, until a few months ago, one of the ones who was medically unable to lose weight with just fewer calories and more exercise, unless it was way too few calories). I am very much in favor of a lot of what fat activists do, particularly when they're attacking the notion that happiness or attractiveness or personal worth should have anything to do with size (as opposed to simply promoting a "fat is beautiful" mindset). But I want "pro-fat" to mean "pro-self-esteem" and particularly "pro- unhitching self esteem from body size," not "pro- ignoring the fact that sometimes being fat does come from an unhealthy lifestyle."

6/16/2006 1:45 AM  
JordanBaker said...

Just to revist my economics of salad point--yeah, at most places you spend $4.95 ish for one of the "premium" salads. Now, granted, that buys you a bowl of iceberg lettuce that I could swim in (plus, usually, at least 2 forms of protein, some kind of crouton/chinese noodle, and dressing made entirely of preservatives), but it could also buy you the largest "value meal" most restaurants offer. Most people probably read the meal as the better bargain.

To your main point, just "word." Some people can't lose weight, some people can't gain weight, many people can do either and/or both, and pretending that any of those situations doesn't exist or is less valid/impactful than the others is irresponsible.

6/16/2006 6:16 AM  
Buddha-belly said...

Jess,

Thanks for standing up for me to that bully. He says that we have a history, but isn't that what every wifebeater uses for an excuse? He's a mean person that uses words to hurt.

Back to the original topic though, I'm very glad that some of the discussion has turned to the why's of obesity and obesity acceptance.

Reading KB missives is interesting and entertaining but having read a few, my opinion is that there's a constant theme of misdirection and slight of hand in action. And usually at the bottom of the 9,000 word missives, the impression I'm left with is: "Individual strength, will and choice is the answer to most of our problems. The freedom to choose exists unfettered." As long as he doesn't mind putting words in my mouth: That's why he's here; he'll admit it's a habit of his., I don't mind opining on the overall impressions I get from his writings. (But I still enjoy his writing and writing style -- I just don't necessarily agree with it.)

The problem with that view is that it's overly simplistic, and frankly a disappointment coming from a person that holds himself in regard scientifically and intellectually. I don't mean to assail on a personal level aside from pointing out a near fanatical bias toward individual will, self-determination and self-control that pervades most discussions.

I don't pretend to be a scientist but, observationally if I see a specific obese person I may think, "What is wrong here? Does this person not care about their appearance, their health, the changes to their chemistry,...have they decided that ho-hos are more gratifying than sexual activity? Is it possibly a medical condition or genetic?" and so on. Superficially, I may even be tempted to judge them stupid or ignorant because the negatives are so evident that even most lower order mammals would biologically "get it".

But if I stand at the mall parking lot and look around, I'll see thousands of these people. Maybe it's their natural habitat, but I think that there's more going on here than an individual making a bad choice. I start to think that if I saw a thousand people walk by with a cancerous sore on their forehead, I may ask, why do they have the sore? Am I at risk? Is it the water? Oh, sure, looking and picking at the sore is interesting in a grody way, and treating it is profitable, but if I was prevented to question "why" the sore exists, I'd probably conclude that there are machinations at work. I am reminded of the 50-year tobacco strategy that denied health risks while stressing the marketplace and consumer choice in the face of addiction. It takes a special kind of newspeak and gall to tell you to your face that political and commercial influence are crazed conspiracies in the face of published accounts of the current administration allowing the energy lobby and industry to set policy, write legislation, kill environmental standards, and privatize public lands. It's not that much of a reach to understand the agressive marketplace forces that influence legislation in areas of pharma, advertising, media outlet consolidation (FCC), or foodstuff product consumption. I think KB called that examining those aspects are the threat of "Big Grease, Big Cola and Big Pastry". It may be a new K-street lobbying firm; I'm not sure but it wouldn't be the first time that some lobbyists put a pretty or humorous name to some poison. Gosh but that Joe Camel was a hit among the kiddies.

The difference between me and KB, is that I live and interact in a world full of marketing and social messages and huge amounts of capital directed at me not as a human being with rights, but as a consumer entity in the marketplace. If there are predatory beasties out in the tall weeds, awareness would be helpful to survival.

Dr. Joan is patronizingly dismissive of my views regarding marketing and marketplace influence, but I don't mind because even patronizing and humorous discussions shine forth snippets of clear thought. Maybe we'll have a chance to address marketing, the marketplace and the banal face of evil at some future point. But I am glad that she weighed in on the subject because it adds to the body of published opinion.

6/16/2006 9:46 AM  
kemibe said...

As much as you like making this topic personal, Buddha, and assigning motive to everything I and Joan have written onthe basis of our presumed character traits ("he's bully; he's a mean person" is a pretty lively judgment coming from someone who's never met me), I'm going to ask you to look at the words instead.

"Reading KB missives is interesting and entertaining but having read a few, my opinion is that there's a constant theme of misdirection and slight of hand in action."

What specifically have I written to mislead the reading audience in this case?

"And usually at the bottom of the 9,000 word missives, the impression I'm left with is: 'Individual strength, will and choice is the answer to most of our problems. The freedom to choose exists unfettered.'"

No fat-acceptance installment has exceeded 2,000 words, but this complaint regarding length might explain your apparent tendency to skim. What specifically have I written indictating a belief that all or even fat people could lose weight if they simply tried harder?

"I think KB called that examining those aspects are the threat of "Big Grease, Big Cola and Big Pastry". It may be a new K-street lobbying firm; I'm not sure but it wouldn't be the first time that some lobbyists put a pretty or humorous name to some poison."

So your belief is that I am secretly promoting or supporting the food industry? I think you really are paranoid. Vigilance is good, but I think you've driven a solid three counties past Watchful City.

"The difference between me and KB, is that I live and interact in a world full of marketing and social messages and huge amounts of capital directed at me not as a human being with rights, but as a consumer entity in the marketplace."

What specifically gives you the idea that I don't live in the same world or even succumb to the same messages? Do you have the impression that I am approaching this from the perspective of "I'm not fat so you don't need to be either"? I know al sorts of people who'd be fat eating what I do. I don't morally credit myself with the metabolism I have or the hyperactive need to run every day in order to feel proper. This whole topic can be reduced to "It's becoming easier and easier to get fat around here, and some people are saying that being fat's not so medically bad. Here are the facts."

Ask yourself (and be as honest as possible when answering) if you wouldn't be reacting differently to these installments had they come from someone else. I already know they answer so you don't have to get back to me on that one, but in the interest of betting my writing skills I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't mind listing the specifics I've asked for so that I can filter extreme personal bias out of my stuff in the future.

6/16/2006 1:59 PM  
claire said...

When NAAFA says, for instance, that "The claim that obesity can be prevented or weight loss achieved simply by reducing calories consumed and increasing calories burned in exercise" is misinformation (that's just from the first press release I happened to click on), well, that's not completely true. Does that mean it is completely true that burning more calories than you eat will ALWAYS make you lose weight? No, and that's the point. You can't ignore the unacknowledged factors. But that doesn't mean you can ignore the acknowledged factors.


Thanks for responding so thoroughly to this, Jess! I really want to go through and respond point by point, but I’m still naked and I’m supposed to be on a bus in 15 minutes. I just can’t resist dialogue :).

I read through the press release you quoted here, and right beneath the bullet points, it says ““Dieting” is defined as any attempt to achieve or maintain lower body weight by intentionally limiting or manipulating the amount or type of food intake and increasing physical activity beyond levels for health. NAAFA strongly discourages participation in weight-loss regimens for any reason other than improving health.
” (the italics are mine.)

You wrote:
The problem I have with NAAFA is that they elide the fact that sometimes people are fat because they eat more calories than they burn. And it's great that they promote fitness, but they also lump "sensible diet" in with "fad diet" in their policies. Actually, that document is a good example of exactly what I'm talking about -- most of what they're demanding in regards to the diet industry is spot on, but then they go and throw "sensible, well-balanced diet" into their list of dangerous quackeries.

Yes, but they put it in quotation marks. The document says “sensible, well-balanced diet” in quotation marks; it’s not talking about a sensible, well-balanced diet, it’s talking about what the diet industry calls a sensible, well-balanced diet, i.e. a diet low in fat and intended to increase weight loss. In fact, the next paragraph begins, “"Dieting" does not refer to attempts to lower fat, sugar, salt, or cholesterol intake, increase fiber intake, exercise or pursue a medically mandated nutritional regimen prescribed for specific medical conditions.”

Jeez, they haven’t updated this since 1993? They need to get on it; this is shamefully outdated.

I don't understand why we can't combat negative images and still accept the fact that sensible eating does exist, that eating better and exercising more will make many people lose weight, and that losing weight has health benefits. In fact it's crucial to do both if you're trying to promote the overall health, psychological and physical, of the person. To get healthy people, you have to be very much alive to anti-fat sentiment and acknowledge all the potential causes of obesity.

See, I think that we’re doing that already… I think it’s common sense, and it’s what’s happening. I think you’re absolutely right that we need to be in favor of both health and anti-defamation. I don’t think we really disagree here. But I do think that this is what the majority of fat activists are doing, and I’m concerned and disturbed by the extreme negative backlash against fat activists… dude, how much does “Fundamentalist Fat Activist” sound like “Feminazi”?!?

So, seriously, am I moderate? XXLtreme? I don’t even know anymore, but I do know that I’m really disturbed by how much anti-fat-activist sentiment I’m seeing in the last six months or so, and it makes me more convinced that increasing visibility and creating safe spaces for health is more necessary than ever.

6/16/2006 3:39 PM  
jess said...

NAAFA strongly discourages participation in weight-loss regimens for any reason other than improving health."

You're totally right -- I missed that. You know, I think the problem is that both sides are assuming something from the other. It's easy to assume that if someone talks about a "healthy diet" that they're actually saying "you should drastically restrict your eating you fat slob," and it's easy to assume that if someone says "we're against diets" that they mean "we want to eat nothing but pies." And of course both of those are parodic.

I think SF fat activism is probably way ahead of activism at the national level -- as you pointed out, the NAAFA website is a bit (sometimes a lot) outdated, and I just think you guys are, on a local level, operating at a level that incorporates more of what people are saying NAAFA ignores.

I'd like to see more of the activism you describe on a national level -- things like the Oakland People's Grocery, which is a great idea. And I also think that organizations like NAAFA should be contributing to, not just critiquing, programs like the attempts to reconfigure school lunches. I think fat activist organizations have an obligation to address all causes, and that includes helping people who can't eat healthy for economic reasons, and keeping kids from getting fat due to bad habits in the first place. So when I see an across-the-board objection to something like the FDA report, which is unrealistic in many particulars but also focuses on instilling healthy habits at a young age, I worry. I guess my concern is primarily throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

All activism gets a bad rap at some point, and usually for the same reason -- too monolithic, too blindered, too militant. But it sounds like SF fat activists are on the right track, which is a relief, and probably points to a more comprehensive national program in the future.

6/16/2006 4:01 PM  
Buddha-belly said...

What, even before you're finished with all five installments? In the interest of brevity I won't reproduce your whole post here but put it down to a few simpler statements.

1. You're a bully and a mean person. Well, I was just joking and implied as much with the "wifebeaters excuse", but it appears that I've touched your sensitive side. Sorry my man. It was related to the amusing just for fun unloading you did in the Doc's post -- you responded even though you made a note to the obliqueness to you and button pushing. It was just another pick at the scab to see if there was life there. You know, just for fun. Appears there was, huh?

Personally I took it as a compliment that you compared me to Fletcher and Leary although I would have preferred Lewis Black cause I gesture more. And that reference to a mountain lion fellating you? Priceless -- of course I prefer to read it as the mountain lion grabbing your gonads in it's canines (is it canines if it's a cat?) and emasculating, but it's all in the reading, right? Now lets just remember that it's all just for fun.

I don't know you except for what you want us to know through your professional and self publishing; and in many cases reality is in the way I read it, not the way you thunk it. But lighten up, I'm sure my tirade won't negatively impact your audition to the NYT science section.

2. What specifically had I written to mislead the audience in this case? Well, your use of BFB and NAAFA as linchpins of the fat acceptance argument for one. Come on man, I can respect the links to jama, Harvard, and others and your article is very heavy with requisite scientific arcanum, but trotting out the FFAs en masse (in your current installment five of the eight links is to BFB as supporting). If you debunk Area 51s alien immigration will you be linking to the Globe, the Tattler and The National Inquirer? Using BFB as justification for anything is handwaving dude, and is misdirection because you're pointing to the moonbats while (largely) ignoring the marketing and economics.

3. No fat-acceptance installment has exceeded 2,000 words, but this complaint regarding length might explain your apparent tendency to skim. What specifically have I written indictating[sp] a belief that all or even fat people could lose weight if they simply tried harder?

I believe in your own words you indicated that this is a 7,000 word essay broken up into a suspenseful serialization where we suspend disbelief until the surprise ending. As to the belief element, now I'm wondering if you've read the pieces yourself. Don't you say throughout that fat advocates delude themselves and those around them into dangerous lifestyles? It seems to be a point that you're hammering incessantly. A random selection: With momentum already favoring a slide toward a progressively fatter nation, such attitudes can only help fuel a train bound to deliver to the world a new generation of sedentary, overweight Americans, along with all of their associated infirmities.

Attitudes. Attitudes held by the fat advocates. Bad, illogical attitudes that they hold, not external conditionings that they react to.

This really goes on in a number of areas -- first you lay out a false argument: that fat acceptance hinges largely on (unhinged) FFA groups, then you proceed to tear it down. Well, no shit sherlock. What I'm saying is that fat acceptance is built into the economy, with full marketing collusion because when a woman buys size 4 pants today, they're actually size 8 or 10 from 20 years ago. But boy does it feel good to still be a size 4 after adding 20 lbs of heft to the ass. Do you think there's some subtle, yet effective, fat acceptance going on there?

The average American does not run into the BFBs on a daily basis (as one of your commenters even indicated), but they do encounter flattery sizing, or food boxed, sized, packaged and labeled in misleading ways.

I really can't believe that you're asking for specific examples because if you print out your essay and highlight "fat advocates", you can be pretty sure that we're dealing with a question of misguided perception by the very same fat advocates, not by social and economic enablers such as larger chairs, larger cars, wider car seats, wider booths and so on. I really don't think that the fat advocates attitude has much to do with the distance of the bench seat to the table in most American restaurant franchises. Unbreakable, molded plastic, chairs seem to me economic and marketing artifacts blaring fat acceptance through a megaphone.

4. So your belief is that I am secretly promoting or supporting the food industry?

No, my belief is that you are minimizing the impact of economics and marketing and using BFB and FFAs as a crutch. You consistently marginalize the impact of economic drivers in fat acceptance and relegate discussion of those issues to crazed conspiracies. (Shit, it occurs to me that you're going ask me for examples again? Because I've already typed a bunch, so if I need to do that, just take the point because I'm too lazy to compose more in a 12x40 edit box.)

5. What specifically gives you the idea that I don't live in the same world or even succumb to the same messages?

Well, your predisposition to quote moonbats from the FFA fringe for one. Not to mention your willingness to quote me :-). But on a more serious note, I believe that you don't succumb to the same message because you hold that "fat acceptance advocates" have attitudes that are somehow mainly their own - and that is an implied logic fault that rests with them specifically.

6. Vigilance is good, but I think you've driven a solid three counties past Watchful City.

Yeah, I don't know where the hell I am. I drove into this place, sign said Dark City, and can't seem to get out. I keep running into some guy talking about fat advocates, and I'm thinking, yes, I could use a good Samoan lawyer in situations like this.

7. Ask yourself (and be as honest as possible when answering) if you wouldn't be reacting differently to these installments had they come from someone else.

Quite honestly I read stuff all over the place and I do get unwound about other stuff and write on it, but yes, you are a particular bete noir because usually you have a good sense of humor. Having said that, if I did run into a fat acceptance piece that depended heavily on FFAs, I probably would comment on it, especially if the comment section was light and worth seeding with gibber.

I really regret that this entire thread isn't under your blog, but you did ask to hold off until all five were done, and I have. I posted on the Doc's blog post, not yours after you asked me to withhold comments.

I've got to go to work for a few days, so if I don't respond immediately it's because I'm busy, but I'll check back in when I can.

Jess, sorry about littering up your blog.

6/16/2006 8:00 PM  
jess said...

Jess, sorry about littering up your blog.

Thanks... I was about to make some comment to the effect that Dark City is in fact my blog. (Your Samoan lawyer suggests, as your attorney, that you take a hit off the little brown bottle in his travel bag.) It does make me feel heavily trafficked to have so many comments on this post, which is pleasant for a moment, but ultimately you guys should probably play paintball elsewhere. As amusing as it is to read.

6/17/2006 12:37 AM  

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