If you read my blog regularly (and you should!) you may already know that I’m quite critical of the modern feminist movement. This does NOT mean I don’t appreciate and I don’t support 1st, 2nd and 3rd wave feminists (to me 3rd wave feminists were in the ’90’s and is encapsulated by shows like Buffy, Xena, Dark Angel etc), nor does it mean I have some archaic view of women belonging in the home as baby making machines with tiny brains and men controlling everything. I just believe that feminism as it exists today has been derailed onto petty issues, bad arguments, and dodgy politics and in its current state it isn’t something I want to be associated with. If you’re interested in reading my thoughts on feminism in more detail go here.
For this post I’m not going to be talking about feminism per se but I will be critiquing a feminist publication: the infamous Every Day Feminism. This website is a pretty good example of everything that I believe is wrong with modern day feminism and oppression politics. It is often really badly written and either unedited or very, very badly edited, it makes erroneous claims which it then backs up with other articles from the same damn website, and it assumes moral superiority to the point that if you disagree with the argument, not even the principle but the argument, then you are an evil bigot who needs to be educated and/or shut out for your toxic views.
The article I’m going to be critiquing is “11 Reasons Your ‘Concern’ for Fat People’s Health isn’t Helping Anyone.” Before we begin I would like to clarify that I do not support bullying, harassment or general nastiness on an individual basis. I am not writing this to support or condone people who physically or verbally harass fat people. It is also true that there are underlying medical conditions which can affect someone’s weight and fatness is not necessarily a result of over eating or poor lifestyle. This article is also about obesity, not people who are just overweight.
1. Because Stereotyped Assumptions About Someone’s Weight Are Oppressive
“To hear assumptions from dietitians and other healthcare practitioners that because of a physical characteristic, their weight, they must be unhealthy and engaging in poor self-care.
To then have people on the Internet dedicating entire comment threads to berating them.
Everyone – fat or thin – is severely harmed by this message. And as social justice activists, it’s first and foremost your job to show empathy to marginalized folks – and then look inward to examine your unchallenged assumptions.”
This is true to some extent. You cannot know a strangers health just by looking at them. There are healthy fat people and there are unhealthy thin people and you can’t know someone’s health status unless a: they tell you or b: you medically examine them yourself. It isn’t okay to go up to strangers and go “OMG you’re so fat. You must be sooooo unhealthy. Do you have diabetes?”. Obviously that’s not okay and I for one don’t support accosting individuals on their life choices in any case.
But what this article seems to be saying is that the medical health practitioners who examine someone and suggest they lose weight for their health are assuming based on stereotypes rather than the medical facts for that individual person. It basically assumes that there aren’t any health problems associated with being obese and anyone, even if they are a medically trained professional, is being a bigot if they express concern. And that’s just nuts.
It is an excepted medical fact that obesity can lead to many health problems ranging from breathlessness, back pain, fatigue, excessive sweating and general unfitness to heart disease, stroke, diabetes and certain types of cancers. Naturally, if someone has medical training and these are medical facts if they see someone who is excessively overweight they will inform them of the risks and suggest they make some changes in their lives. As this medical professional would presumably have access to their medical records they would not be making the assumption that this person being overweight was due to their lifestyle when it was actually caused by something else. It is not oppressive for a doctor to tell you the truth and suggest you make some changes to improve your life.
2. Because Fat Doesn’t Kill
Again this is partly true. No one dies from ‘fatness’ in itself and there are overweight people who lead very healthy lifestyles, eat fairly healthily and have regular life expectancies. Being overly thin as well as overly fat can also be an indication of severe health problems and health problems could happen to anyone regardless of their body type. Being thin or being an average weight doesn’t make you immortal and won’t necessarily protect you against the health conditions mentioned above.
But what fat does do is put excess pressure on your organs, raise the risk (not the certainty, the risk) of certain health problems including life threatening illnesses, and can reduce the quality of your life. Being extremely obese, becoming immobile, not being able to take care of yourself and not being able to lift your own body weight are real concerns for some people. Sure scare mongering doesn’t work, but telling people as long as they feel beautiful everything will be fine isn’t helping anyone either.
3. Because Fat Doesn’t Cause Disease Either
This point basically goes on about correlation, not causation and uses the ice cream and drowning example as a way to show that obesity does not cause health problems but is correlated with them.
And it’s not exactly wrong. Being fat does have a positive correlation to health problems and it can make them more likely, but it does not guarantee them. You could be obese and live a long and happy life. That does happen. That could happen to you.
But you know what? I could say the exact same thing about smoking. Because smoking has a strong positive correlation with health problems but we all know a story or know someone personally who smoked all their lives and lived a long and relatively healthy life. If you’re a young smoker (16-35 say) you’re fairly unlikely to die from your habit. Your quality of life may be affected and there’s never any guarantees but realistically speaking we all know smokers who seem pretty healthy. Correlation does not guarantee causation but the increased risk is real. If you want to take that risk it’s up to you.
4. Because, If Anything, Fatphobia Causes Adverse Health Effects
It is true that depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation are listed as possible symptoms of obesity. I don’t think you should be promoting an unhealthy lifestyle or saying that lying around and eating junk all day is a lifestyle choice that should be celebrated, but you shouldn’t abuse or harass people based on their appearance either. It is also true that we have extremes in our fashion industry which normally only depict thin women or fat women and completely ignore everyone in the middle which creates this idea that if you’re not 5’8 and skinny you’re automatically fat which may make people less likely to try because being 5’8 and a size 8 (English sizes) just isn’t realistic for a lot of people. We should have more diversity in fashion and in the media.
But you can’t blame everything on other people. A lot of people, including a lot of fat people, don’t see obesity as an attractive body type and if you are uncomfortable with your body shape it is likely to lead to feelings of low self-esteem. These body ideals are probably influenced by the media but they are not solely created by the media.
If I put on a lot of excess weight and I don’t like what I see it’s not because I’m thinking about fashion models or even about how other people will see me, it is because /I/ do not like what I see. When I then lose weight it is because /I/ want to be comfortable with myself. I have a huge problems with people pushing this idea that all of our insecurities and ideals are solely shaped by the patriarchal media. Can’t people try to lose weight because it makes them feel better inside and out? Maybe it doesn’t do that for you, but it certaintly does it for me.
If you are uncomfortable with your body shape and there is no underlying cause for it surely the way to make yourself feel better is to try and work towards something you find more attractive in a healthy, realistic way, not simply be told that ‘if people don’t like how you look it’s their problem’. Because it’s not always about other people. If you are happy with how you look and you’re not worried about health then by all means do whatever you want, but if you’re not happy with being obese that doesn’t mean you’ve just been ‘brain washed’ by the media. You are not incapable of knowing what you want for your own body. Can people please stop being so patronising?
This point is also only addressing a few areas of a much larger problem. Depression and anxiety are not the only health problems associated with obesity. Does fat phobia create heart disease, diabetes, breathlessness, sweatiness, cancer, and stroke?
5. Because Mental Health Is Also Health
Because when you ridicule someone, or a group of people, based on their social disadvantages, especially wherein you hold power, what we call that is bullying.
Of course it is. I’m not sure why these people always assume that if you mention anything in opposition to what you say you’re automatically bullying them. My approach to talking about obesity is simply this: You never, ever, ever attack someone personally. You do not chase strangers down the street, you do not send people on the internet hate abuse, and you do not bully people you know by making fun of them. When you talk about obesity it is either objectively as a health problem without talking about any one individual or, and this is up to your own discretion, to a close friend if you’re worried about them and they have expressed an interest in losing weight.
Pointing out the risks objectively isn’t the same as bullying someone. As a semi/ex-smoker if someone were to come up to me in the street, flick my cigarette/e-cigarette out of my hand and shout at me about cancer then I would feel personally abused. But if I see an article on the internet talking about the real medical health problems associated with smoking… that’s not personally targeting me. That’s letting me know the risks so I can choose what to do with my own body. Why should obesity be different?
6. Because ‘Glorifying Obesity’ Isn’t a Bad Thing
Isn’t it? Overeating/Binge eating is an eating disorder which is mentioned on eating disorder websites alongside bulimia and anorexia nervosa. Now it’s true that not everyone who is overweight is overweight due to their lifestyle choices, there are underlying medical issues which can have a huge effect and everyone should keep this in mind, but for a lot of fat advocates this really isn’t the case. They do say that it’s fine to eat whatever you want whenever you want in whatever quantities because as long as you feel good about yourself nothing else matters.
If that’s what you want to do with your life I’m not going to stop you. I do believe we should focus more on health rather than appearance and we need to acknowledge that different shapes and sizes are natural and not everyone has the same body shape, but without an existing condition I just cannot believe that being obese is natural. Yes the BMI is a bit dodgy and yes some people get higher results because of bone density, muscle and/or other physical attributes but it really just comes down to common sense. Just because the BMI /can/ be faulty doesn’t mean it is /always/ faulty. You are welcome to do what you want to your own life but when you start saying it is not only a personal choice but something that should be emulated, promoted and glorified … then expect criticism.
7. Because One-Size-Fits-All Definitions of ‘Health’ Are Ableist and Perpetuate Heathism
There are still a million questions that we have for you.
Like how the fuck do you define “health” in the first place? And who gets to decide what that is? And how is there any possible way to judge health based on a person’s size?
And is it even really appropriate to value health?
I would say that medical tests for your blood pressure, BMI and general fitness level would be a pretty good place to start. I actually agree with the whole ‘no one size fits all’ thing because it is very clearly true. People have different body shapes and some people have naturally different proportions. We cannot and should not all try and have the same body because we aren’t meant to have the same body. What we should be focusing on is how to make the most out of the body we do have, not the body we think we should have or wish we had.
It is also true that skinny people and regular sized people can experience health problems. I know skinny people with health problems. And rapid weightloss can be a sign of a huge variety of medical conditions.
But I feel that this is kind of avoiding the point. Saying that other people experience health problems as well doesn’t mean there isn’t a link between health problems and obesity. Just because you might experience them regardless of your weight doesn’t mean you should increase the risk by eating loads and loads of food. If you see someone who is immobile, or someone who cannot walk up stairs or has trouble moving, or someone who is constantly out of breath and sweating, or someone who has loads of digestive problems, or someone who is just miserable with how they look … that’s a pretty good indication that they aren’t healthy. This doesn’t mean everyone who is obese is necessarily going to suffer these problems but it doesn’t change the fact that it makes it more likely.
In the U.K there is also the NHS argument for the last point. I don’t particularly like this argument because if we want universal health care it must be universal and ultimately people have autonimy over their own bodies, but for the sake of debate if you are obese due to lifestyle choices and you have avoidable health problems which you are treated for on the NHS then it is kinda everyone’s problem because you are taking up money, resources and beds which could be used for non preventable conditions.
Also what is heathism? I’m going to assume that’s an example of Every Day Feminisms fabulous editing and it actually means ‘healthism’. What is healthism? Is it really a bad thing to promote health? Granted not everyone has the same level of health but if you don’t surely it’s even more important to be as healthy as possible? I really don’t get that one to be honest.
8. Because Weight Loss Doesn’t Actually Improve Health Anyway
What they do in this point is try to argue that weight loss alone doesn’t improve health. And yknow what? They’re right. Starving yourself, going on fad diets or yo yo diets or getting surgery probably won’t improve your health and weight loss surgery should really only be done in an emergency. But saying that fad diets, starvation and medical surgery won’t improve your health is kind of a given because … they won’t. Weight loss can’t be a quick one step process. It is a gradual thing that happens naturally as a result of fairly small lifestyle changes. Exercise and not living a sedentary lifestyle are also really, really important.
Everyday Feminism says that they promote a healthy diet and exercise. If they do then that’s great, but do they?
It depends on what you mean by a healthy diet as portion control, calories and what you are eating are obviously going to play a part. It also depends on what you mean by exercise because going to the gym and doing some light cardio once a week is unlikely to improve your fitness levels that much or help you lose weight. But if you do follow a healthy diet with potion sizes that still make you full but not to the point of over eating AND you follow a exercise regime which incorporates cardio, weights and generally moving around … unless you have a pre-existing reason for being obese … I just don’t think you would stay obese if you did those things.
9. Because No, Being Fat Is Not At All Like Being a Smoker
First, being fat is a physical characteristic, not a behavior.
Second, smoking has been proven to cause death and disease. Being fat, on the other hand, has not.
Unless the fat is a result of a pre existing condition then it is a pretty strong indicator of a behaviour. And obviously you can’t ‘catch fatness’ from standing next to someone eating a cheeseburger. Obviously not. There are however links between obese parents and obese children and children who have obese parents are likely to become obese themselves so in that way you can kind of ‘catch it’, but through eating behaviour and lifestyle rather than actually catching it just because you stood near a fat person.
In reality, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, an epidemiologist named Richard Doll published research suggesting first that smoking could cause serious health damage and second that there was a close link between smoking and lung cancer, which was repeatedly confirmed.
Surely this ‘close link’ is a positive correlation much like the one that links obesity with numerous health disorders?
No one is saying that smoking is exactly like being obese. But the way it is handled and the way you should talk about it are quite similar in my view. In the same way that it is unnacceptable to approach a fat person eating in the street and lecture them on the importance of a healthy diet it is also unacceptable to accost an unknown smoker and talk to them about lung cancer. But both parties need to know the risks, they should know that there are options availible is they want to make healthier choices and we should not glorify or understate the potential problems associated with either thing.
Ultimately people have the control over their bodies and no one else has the power or the authority to change that, but that does not mean we have to pretend it’s all fine.
10. Because You’re Subscribing to a Harmful Bootstraps Myth Mentality
So when we perpetuate the narrative that we all have a choice in whether our bodies are fat or thin, we push the idea that everyone should be striving toward thinness all the time – and that is something that actually harms us all.
Can we just get off the thin thing for a moment? It’s not a question of being extremely fat or extremely thin. Those are not the only two options. It is not a question of trying to force everyone to be thin, it’s about encouraging extremely obese people to make changes in their lives so that they lose some weight and have a better quality of life.
This is why I think we are desperately in need of ‘average’ sized models who are not plus size but are not super skinny either. We need to show that there aren’t just two options and that you don’t just leap from skinny straight to plus size.
11. Because, Straight Up, Fat-Shaming Just Makes You a Jerk
Concern trolling does not make you a hero. You’re not saving anyone’s life.
You’re not motivating anyone toward health. You’re not helping someone cope with oppression. You’re hurting people. All concern trolling does is hurt people – both individually and socially.
And if that isn’t a good enough reason to reevaluate your actions, then what is?
I’m really not sure how pointing out medical truths is hurting people, nor how ignoring medical truths is helping people. There are people out there who can be really mean on an individual basis and that’s not cool, but if talking about a medical issue which is already all over the media as a nation if not western world wide problem isn’t allowed because it might hurt someones feelings then surely nothing will ever get done and our government will continue to try and push sugar taxes and healthy eating down our noses whilst people like you sit back and say the only problem is mean people.
If you have been hurt, upset or felt victimised by the contents of this post then please let me know how and why. Any comments, queries or criticisms are encouraged but flames, trolls or anything which just goes “OMG YOU’RE SO MEAN!” without saying how and why will be ignored and deleted.