Posted by Pattie on 3/10/2006 10:16:00 PM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 1-- Health as an indicator of social status.

Health has become the new reward for righteous living. It is Calvinism in a different box. The “healthy” are God’s chosen people. The rest of us are heading on the highway to hell. Of course, "health" is closely related to "looks" in this society, so what we are really saying is that "beauty" is a sign of being chosen.

That understanding alone should lead us to reject supporting rhetoric about “good” verus “bad” food, or “fit” versus “unfit” bodies, or “healthy” versus “unhealthy” behaviors. But the dichotomies are marbled into the language and it requires vigilance to even realize you are evoking this thinking.

Is health and weight an important topic to address? Yes, because stigma against fatness has led to a number of problems that affects the well-being of fat people including access to treatments, misdiagnoses, treatments being withheld until weight loss occurs, unfriendly spaces in hospitals and clinics for fat people, inaccurate measurements because medical equipment is designed for smaller people, withholding of benefits on the basis of weight (and so-called lifestyle factors), harassment by medical professionals and treatments for weight loss that lead to death, disability and disfigurement. These are very important issues for fat activists to address when it comes to health. These issues are concrete enough to build communities, bridges and coalitions around. These issues are culturally based and confronting these issues requires confrontations of bigotry.

But most of the time discussions about health and weight in the fat forums in which I participate concentrate more on the health habits of individuals than the systemic problems with health care that plague fat people's lives. We especially seem to want to spend a lot of time demonstrating that our lifestyles are "healthy."

The focus on how our "lifestyles" affect our health has become a national obsession that reaches beyond the "War on Obesity." It has become the supposed altruistic reason to allow government and corporations to pry into our private lives and control our well-being. HMOs and employers are now requiring members/employees to provide information about what they eat and how often they exercise to centralized databases or they will either be denied coverage or have to pay more than those who comply. Public Health units in major cities have moved beyond collecting information in aggregate to requiring monitoring programs for specific physical characteristics and/or diseases.

On the surface, these programs may seem benign and well-meaning. But there are serious implications for this kind of monitoring. Who exactly decides what is a healthy lifestyle? How far can a company, employer or government agency go in double-checking your lifestyle reports? What guarantee does a person have that this information won't be shared with others? For example, what if your HMO also partners with pharmaceuticals. Will a report to you HMO end up in the hands of a pharmaceutical company that sends you ads or contacts your doctor to suggest you be put on their drugs? What if you are sued or you want to sue? Will these kinds of lifestyle reports be available to attorneys or prosecutors who can then use this information against you in court?

Wellness programs are motivated by the desire to cut costs for the company, employer or government agency. They are NOT motivated by any desire to make their customers', employees' or constintuents' lives better per se. So if you participate in these programs and feel better, but their costs do not go down, you will be blamed and you will be required to pick up the tab by more limited access or higher prices. The only way that everyone could win is if lifestyle really does determine health. That is a very iffy proposition with little postive scientific evidence to support a strong correlation.

In the end, what happens is that the sick among us are blamed for our illnesses because it becomes "obvious" that we must not have lived good lives if we are sick (Calvanistic convoluted thinking). And we have opened the door to incredible invasions of privacy. Anyone who is old enough to remember all the arguments made against routine drug testing knows that once the door is opened, it is very difficult to turn back. In fact, a case could be made that the allowance of routine drug testing has led to this further invasion of privacy.

So in what way does this lifestyle survelliance connect with all the discussions of healthy lifestyles among fat liberation groups? Well, the acceptance of lifestyle as an "obvious" contributer to future health is the basis upon which this invasion of privacy occurs. Do you really think that given the current beliefs about fatness and health, that fat people are going to benefit from programs that require them to report their weights on a regular basis to their employers? This is a huge can of worms and every conversation we have about how healthy we are keeps this can open.

The personal is political. There are real and present dangers to fat people (and really to all people) in the politics of lifestyle health. Promoting or discussing health as a matter of lifestyle is not just personal experience. It is political and cultural fodder for those who hate fat people. Dividing fat people into those with good lifestyles and those with bad lifestyles will not create a just world for fat people. It will simply provide new categories for stigma.

I could write a long treatise on the dangers for the fat movement of falling into this trap, but I don’t have to because Karen Stimson already did in 1983. This is an important read for fat activists:

Fat people have been collectively victimized by healthism. We must be careful to not use it against ourselves. Just as we must assert our right to eat whatever and how much we please, to take up as much space as we need, to dress in whatever fashion we like, we must assert our right to decide for ourselves whether, how, and how much we should exercise...without guilt, fear of censure or ostracism, or pressure from society or OUR OWN MOVEMENT.

We must remember that to a size bigot ALL fat people, no matter how hard we try to not conform to stereotypes, are "fat slobs", just as to a racist all African Americans are the n-word. Let's not Uncle Tom (or Aunt Jane) our movement into adopting the value judgements of our oppressors.

Someone said at some point in this series something to the effect of "I wonder what Pattie wants to discuss."

I want to discuss how we are going to confront this bigotry and end fat stigma.

I want fat to be just another discriptor, as emotionally charged as eye color.

I want the word "obesity" to be as antiquated as "dropsy" or "phrenology" in the medical archives.

I want the word "overweight" to only apply to trucks and ships that are carrying more cargo than they declare.

I want to be able to live my life without harassment. I want this for other fat people as well.

I want fat people to become good and mad and not be so nice anymore, because being nice hasn't got us very far.

I want fat people and people who are tired of fat oppression to put their money where their mouth is and show support in real, sustainable terms for those who work for their liberation.

I want a Fat Liberation Institute to be formed similar to The Gay and Lesbian National Task Force, which has worked since 1973 to end medicalization, descrimination and cultural stigmatization of gays and lesbians.

I want that Fat Liberation Institute to make being fat chic and being a fat-hater just as culturally unviable as supporting the KKK. And I don't want that Fat Liberation Institute to be something people do in their spare time. I want it fully staffed and fully operational with hundreds of thousands of dollars available to confront fat bigotry wherever it rears its head.

I want laws and policies to protect fat people's rights.

I want Hollywood and Madison Avenue to recognize for the formidable and beautiful market that we are.

I want health care workers to treat us with respect and for it be against the law for them not to do so.

I want equal access to employement, entrepreneurship, health care, education and public places.

I want universal design in the buildings, structures and city streets, so that there is room for everyone.

I want fat hatred to end. And if it cannot end fully, then I want it to be really unpopular so that no broadcaster would ever air an ad or a sitcom or a stand-up comedian who made jokes at my expense. It just wouldn't be funn anymore.

I've seen a lot of people talk about inclusion at this point. "You don't want me to be a part of this movement," they seem to be saying, "if I can't talk about my {diet} {health} {fitness} {weight loss} {eating disorder} {etc.}."

I don't care if you are skinny or fat, want to be skinny or not, workout 50 times a week and only eat tofu on odd days and carrots on even days. The way to be a part of this movement is simple. Work like hell to end fat-hatred. Don't wait for acceptance by others or an invitation. Put your money and your actions where you mouth is. Stop talking about it and do something!

I am willing to give my time and money to something that I think will work. But I cannot do it alone. It is going to require a lot of us. And it is going to have to be sustainable. That means it needs to employ some people and have some resources and move out of cyberspace into meatspace.

If we can start planning a campaign that makes sense, then I am ready to talk. If it is going to be the same old infighting, then I'm done. Call me when you are ready and I will see if I have time. If I seem on the edge, well I am. I'm tired of charging up the hill, looking back and only seeing three other people running with me while the hoard stays at the foot of the hill grumbling.

Let's get mad and let's get going! There are plenty of blueprints available to us. Others have affected social and cultural change. We can too.

The bottomline is that those who practice bigotry need to change, not us. We are here. We are fat. We are human. It is fat hatred that must end, not us.

Join me.

Convince me it is worth staying for this fight.

Come on. I dare you!