Posted by Pattie on 11/27/2002 10:46:00 PM

What if you are wrong?
An Open Letter to All the Obesity Reformers of the World

Dear "Well-Meaning People":

You quote many scientific studies in your desire to save fat people from the disease called "obesity." But do you really read these studies with a critical mind? Do you really think about how the study is designed, what assumptions are being made, other ways to interpret the results? Numbers are quoted and requoted with little understanding of what they mean. When one thinks critically about such studies, they are laughed out the door and told that it is dangerous to contemplate fat without understanding obesity. They are told that people could die if the research indicates that fat is not a disease. You are probably dismissing what I am saying right now because you know that I am a fat person. But I ask you to keep an open mind. Examine the fear you are feeling right now. Why does it scare you to listen to a fat woman talk about bodies and health? If you really believe you know what is healthy, there is nothing to fear from questioning and critiquing the science. That is how science works. So be a skeptic and read on.

No one really knows much about the human body and fat. Not really. How a study is set up often determines the results. Obesity is a medical term and it was invented before anyone really studied fat. The assumption in medical research has almost always been to treat body fat as a disease and then to research for the effects of the disease and for the cure. Go ahead, I dare you. Find a scientific study of fat as fat without assuming that fat is a medical condition. A study that asks the question what is a fat body like. I don't think you will find much at all.

I'd like for you to consider for one minute that you might be wrong. Maybe obesity isn't a disease at all. Maybe you are trying to cure something that is just natural, just a part of human experience. What if obesity is a myth? People are taking drugs that damage their bodies. People are opting for radical surgeries that at best ruin their social lives and at worst kill them. People are starving themselves because they fear fatness. What if you are wrong? What if you are quoting junk science and espousing life-threatening cures in the name of a prejudice?

This is science, you say? It could never happen that way? Women's health and African American's health have long been damaged by mythical diseases and their very real cures. Medicine and science live in culture. Lots of things have been taken for granted in one generation only to be regarded as junk in a later generation.

Doesn't it seem like an important thing to do before we come up with yet another cure? Where is the money to study fat bodies as something other than a medical object? A whole bunch of people are experiencing life differently than these so-called medical studies suggest they should. They live long, full lives with little of the illnesses and problems that obesity is supposed to cause. A whole bunch of other people would be healthy if they hadn't tried all the damaging diets, pills and surgeries that were supposed to give them better health. Science is supposed to be neutral. It is supposed to change as the empirical observations support or undermine the model. If you are right and obesity is some medical condition that needs a cure, then what are you afraid of? A study that begins with fat bodies as an object instead of the medicalized obesity would yield confirmation of your beliefs. But you cling to a model that was developed by people with something to sell and then you rebuff the empirical data because it just doesn't fit the data.

So the next time you want to be well-meaning and help a fat friend by laying claim to cures in one form or another, I ask you to consider what you are doing. What is the source of your information? How do you know what you know? How much science have you read thoroughly, critiqued rigourously and assessed in light of other data? You could be just repeating junk and junk can kill. I beg you to be sure before you decide to pass along such unexamined information. If you don't have the time to study it in depth, then shut up and don't repeat advice you hear on television or read in an ad. Otherwise you could be remembered as part of a generation that decided that fat people were unworthy of membership in the human race.

Be grateful for your fat friends this Thanksgiving and leave them alone about their health. We know you mean well, but it really does a lot of damage.

Happy Thanksgiving,
Fatty Pattie