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!

Posted by Pattie on 3/10/2006 06:03:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 2-- The importance of fat people who are fit.

Let me start by saying that I'm proud to call Jennifer Portnik a friend and I admire her to no end for standing up to Jazzercise and walking away a winner. I admire Kelly Bliss as well and the wonderful ways she's encouraged fat people to enjoy their bodies. I love to read about fat cheerleaders and fat burlesque, fat marches and fat "yay-ins." I love that there are some fat people out there who are just being themselves and who assert the space to be themselves.

I also love the fat people who are visible at the Wal-mart on the electric scooters. I love fat people who use their walking poles and get out for a stroll. I love fat travelers who demand a space on the beach to simply be. I love fat people who fight for a seat on the airplane. I love fat people who demand a comfortable seat at the theatre, the doctor's office or the classroom.

You see, I think that any visible fat person is a good thing because we are told to make ourselves as invisible as possible. Our place is not the limelight. It is the shadows.

But for some reason, which I haven't quite fathomed yet, it seems necessary in every fat acceptance forum of which I've been a member, to spend endless hours pointing out that fat people can be fit too. Then when the inevitable comment that we can't all be fit comes up, we have long discussions that essentially boil down to the desire to create a poster child of the fittest among us so that we can dispell the notions about fat people being lazy and unhealthy.

This desire to assert the fat people can be fit is a waste of time and it basically lets the bigots set the agenda.

First, neither “fat” nor “fit” is a fixed category. I prefer to think of both in terms of a spectrum, but even that might be too linear. Using the word “fit” like it means something definite is misleading and it is a game that those who vilify fatness use. Even the word is bothersome -- I mean, doesn't "fit" imply a sense of acceptability that "unfit" doesn't deserve? The word "unfit" is a quintessential characteristic of stigma, as stigma is the cultural belief that some people are less than human.

Second, being fit is not something that happens once in a life time. Hell, I think I can feel healthy and unhealthy in the same day (wake up feeling good and able to move freely – fatigue and environment lead to feeling bad and overwhelmed by the end of the day).

Third, fat is equally problemmatic. BMI is a false mesaurement that basically offers little information (other than the person can multiply two numbers). Fat is often an epithet rather than a description. Even someone with 3% body fat (another false precision) has fat on their bodies and could possibly be called "fat and fit" by some sense of the phrase. People with no body fat aren't "fit" -- generally, they die.

Finally, concentrating on who is fat and fit is a game that leads us to the central question I've been harping on in this series: Are we going to worry about the behavior of the stigmatized or of the bigot? If we want to change fat stigma, we must confront the bigot not present a better version of the stigmatized for their judgement. It is their behavior that creates the stigma, not ours.

Visible fat people will help confront the stigma. Being "out there" is a way to normalize our bodies in the culture. Consider the difference before and after the passage of the ADA. I am old enough to remember that seeing people in wheelchairs was a rare event before access was available. Now it is so natural that I often don't notice for more than a brief second. Is this because there are a higher percentage of people needing a wheelchair? NO. This is because the removal of structural barriers made it possible for people using wheelchairs to go places that they could not go before. They are more visible now. With that visibility comes acceptance as a norm. Now there are billboards in Phoenix selling housing that shows kids playing. One of the kids is in a wheelchair. Seeing this billboard doesn't make me want to dig into my pocket and contribute to a charity for sick kids. Instead, it makes me feel kind of warm and fuzzy because a diverse set of kids are playing together.

I'm all for visibility, but I don't think it should be a prerequisite that only the fit should be visible. People come in various shapes, sizes, colors and abilities. Fat people come in various shapes, sizes, colors and abilities because fat people are human. If we are fighting for justice, then we should be fighting for the end of stigma, not a new way to measure acceptability.

But even more important, I think that our agenda should be about how to break down barriers for fat people to be visible rather than discussing fitness. We need to be pushing for universal design. We need to be pushing for anti-discrimination laws and inclusion policies in our organizations. We need to be pushing for better representation in advertising and media productions. Endlessly parading examples of how fat people can be fit just ensures that the discussion in popular discourse is always about the fat person.

Fat people and their habits are not the problem we should be solving. Bigotry is the problem.

Posted by Pattie on 3/09/2006 04:55:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 3-- What foods are healthy. (updated*--see comments)

In almost every discussion I participate in about fat liberation, the question of food comes up and more specifically, the question of "healthy or unhealthy" food or "healthy or unhealthy" eating.

Of course, this is because the reigning cultural belief is that fat people eat too much and/or eat too much of the wrong kinds of food. The flip side of this, of course, is that thin people obviously eat "healthy" or they would be fat. Asserting that fat people eat "healthy" and thin people eat "unhealthy" sometimes is an attempt to prove that the stereotypes are wrongheaded. The problem is that by dividing the world up into "good eaters" and "bad eaters" we have simply traded one stereotype and victimization for another.

If foods were clearly in one category or another, this might not be such a problem. But anyone who watches CNN for a month will see that a single kind of food can be moved from the "good" category to the "bad" category and back to the "good category" in record time.

Lewis Black told an audience on his HBO special that the reason that no one knows what is good for us to eat is that each and every one of us is unique in our needs. He said it a lot funnier than I’m saying it now and, of course, he’s a comedian, not an “expert.” But I think his point is a good one. One person's junk is another person's treasure when it comes to food and I'm not sure that is a bad thing.

I’m deathly allergic to seafood. This is something that has developed over the years. I ate seafood when I was younger. Then in my early 20s, I started getting sick from it. By the time I was 30, I was getting deathly ill when I accidentally came in contact with it. About 5 weeks ago I ate in a restaurant where they serve clam sauce and steamed clams and even though I had the meatball and spaghetti special, I ended up with severe hives and severe diarrhea the next morning. My lips swelled up to twice their size and I was covered with a rash from head to toe. I’ve never itched so bad in my life. And this was not the severest reaction I’ve had. No asthma was involved. I’ve had severe asthma attacks from one bite of shrimp in an egg roll that nearly sent me into shock. Its not pretty or fun. I have to be vigilant when I eat out because simply grilling my chicken on the same surface as salmon or shrimp was grilled might cause me to have a severe reaction.

My understanding of why my body does this is that a particular kind of protein can be found in seafood and fish that doesn’t exist in other sources of food. My body regards that protein as poison and my immune systems does everything it can to get rid of the poison when I’m exposed to the protein. My experience, however, would never be construed as a blueprint for anyone not allergic to seafood and, really, for most people who are. I bring it up, however, because it is a great example of how understanding foods can be useful, but turning that knowledge into a catch-all, overarching guide for others is not useful.

Food science is tainted (sorry for the pun) right now by two beliefs – weight is a measure of health and the perfect diet will prevent illness. So much of what passes for nutritional advice is tainted as well. We do know a lot about the chemistry of food. We know how macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and proteins) are processed by the body. We know how a lot of micronutrients are used in the body as well. But how these chemical reactions affect health and well-being is a lot muddier. There are just so many other factors.

For example, some sources have reported positive effects that omega-3 oils from fish have on the digestive and muscular-skeleto systems. However, there are now suggestions that environmental pollutants (specifically mercury levels) are leading some to suggest that eating a lot of fish would be bad, especially from certain parts of the world. (Both of these assertions are controversial. Like most things related to food, the assertions that omega-3 oils in fish are good for us and that high levels of mercury are found in fish are high enough to do us harm have been made by the sources that have funded the "research" that makes these assertions--thus, they have been biased from the start.)

Fish might be bad for pregnant mothers and children because of mercury. Fish might be good for people with arthritis because of the benefits afforded joints and nerves from the oils in most fish. Fish is always bad for me because of allergies. Fish is not be available to some people because of costs and their distance from bodies of water. Fish is a staple for some people because of their proximity to bodies of water. Eating fish is a complex phenomenon that has physical, individual, collective, economic, geographic, social and cultural contexts. So even if you accept assertions about omega-3 oils and mercury, uncritically, reducing these all factors down to a statement that “eating fish is good” or “eating fish is bad’ is ridiculous given these complexities. Yet every sound byte we hear in the media wants to do just that.

For the sake of fat liberation, however, I have to question why we are spending a lot of time discussing food at all. If our contention is that fatness is not a result of bad habits, but rather a result of good genes and is simply a natural variation of human bodies, then defending our eating is the last thing we should be doing.

Of course, I think I know why the topic comes up. Most fat people have been or are chronic dieters who have lost touch with their feelings of hunger, fullness, satisfaction and joy that should come from nourishing our bodies. One of the results of fat oppression is that we are taught and we often internalize the belief that our bodies are out of control and need to be reigned in. When we first come to fat acceptance or fat liberation circles, we are often left with a lifetime of habitually questioning our bodies, our health and our habits. What do we do if we are not in control of these things?

Since food is something that we can control (few of us are force fed and most of us have some measure of choice in what we eat) more than most other things, it is a logical place to work on changes. Since food is something "they" say fat people can't control, why not prove to "them" that we are not the stereotype -- we are in control and look, in spite of that control, we are fat.

Of course, there will be many who will say that they are not trying to control their eating when they adhere to specific regimens or avoid specific foods. They do this because they enjoy some foods and they have negative experiences with other foods. They are celebrating the fact that they can enjoy food without it being connected to weight loss goals. They want to be healthy and now they can pursue that health without having to restrict calories or count anything.

It is logical. It is emotionally satisfying. It provides a way to heal from past restrictive caloric intake. We are practicing a "lifestyle" now, not going on a diet. (I will write more about "lifestyle" in a future installment.)

Please understand, my complaint is not that some people care about particular ways of eating as a means to feel better and be more comfortable in their bodies. My complaint is about how they talk about these changes, because their words, no matter what their intentions, have political and cultural implications.

"I enjoy broccoli" says something quite different from "people should eat broccoli."

"Broccoli has calcium and antioxidents" says something quite different from "broccoli is healthy."

Using the terms "good or bad," "healthy or unhealthy," and "nutritious or junk" sets up false dichotomies surrounding foods and creates prescriptive language that suggests we all know what these dichotomies are supposed to be and should be following. Food is always ingested in context. That context cannot be accounted for when we when try to reduce our judgement of the situation down to dichotomous categories. Even a cold beer or an icy coke on a 115 degree Phoenix summer day might be the best thing a particular body can have at a particular moment in time.

By way of a concrete example of someone who talks about food and fat liberation in the same breath and does so without resorting to false dichotomies, I point to the blog Fatshadow. I love Tish's descriptions of meals she prepares. She concentrates on the sensuality of the meal, not the moral implications of it. She likes what she likes and doesn't apologize for it. She calls herself a "food snob," but in truth, she doesn't seem to judge anyone else's choices. She is aware of many of the political issues around food, but that doesn't get in the way of her enjoying a good meal. I like that about her.

Food is something we should enjoy as human beings. It is irrelevant to fat. It is irrelevant to "cures" or "preventions." It is relevant to well-being, but in a myriad of ways including the emotional and social satisfaction of preparing and/or sharing a meal with others.

Using moral language around food also supports the system that feeds fat stigma and the diet industry. One of the things I find most annoying is the lack of recognition on the part of many that the industries that profit off the hatred of fat and the hatred of our bodies cannot be divided neatly into "Big Food" and "Big Diet." The same food producers and distributors, the same restaurants, the same fast food places produce, distribute and serve pretty much all categories of "good" and "bad" foods, including organic and natural food. Many of the companies that produce "diet foods" also produce "food supplements" designed for weight loss. All of these industries are trying to sell us something and therefore we should be leery of any information they provide regarding food, health or nutrition. Yet most of our information about food, health and nutrition comes from these industries.

I am reminded at this point of the Dragnet movie with Dan Acroyd and Tom Hanks where the villain controlled both the moralists and the pagans. The more the two groups were seen as being at war with each other, the more money the villain made. It serves big industry for us to worry so much about what we eat. We eat "bad" food and then feel guilty so we "make up for it" by eating "good" food and that is called "balanced" eating.

I'd like to hear less about food and more about liberation. I'd like to no longer have to justify what I eat to anyone's standards. I'd like to be able to talk about liberation without listening to others justify what they eat according to someone else's standards. I'd like to be able to talk about liberation without listening to others put themselves down because of what they eat. In other words, as a movement, I'd like to move on from the debate over food and whether fat people eat well or not. It divides us into sheep and goats. It reinforces the very messages that contribute to our oppression, including our internalized oppression. It does little to question stereotypes because it moves the stereotype from "fat is bad" to "fat people who eat bad are bad." It creates the same drain on our time and resources as dieting once did.

Eating and drinking holds body and soul together. -- Mennonite proverb

Posted by Pattie on 3/08/2006 05:10:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 4-- How fatness causes mobility problems.

Mobility problems are not caused by being fat. There are plenty of people with mobility problems who are not fat. Mobility problems are not caused by aging either. Lots of young people have mobility problems. Yet in just about every discussion that I've participated in regarding fat and health among fat activists, it seems important to someone in that discussion to "concede" the point that mobility is compromised by being very fat. It seems to be a "given" that no one really wants to examine out loud or question.

Mobility problems stem from the inability of the system of muscles, connective tissues, joints, bones and nerves not working together well enough to effect movement and carry one’s body. It does not mean moving slower than other people. It means that something in that system is either preventing one from walking and/or standing or making one be in pain when walking and/or standing.

There are a number of reasons why this system gets compromised. There are diseases that attack various parts of the system making for limited mobility. There is also atrophy of the parts through non-use. Disease can sometimes be cured and sometimes not. Atrophy is a matter of practice. The more one moves, the easier it is to move when no disease is present. Of course, there are reasons both physical and social that practice doesn’t happen.

Diseases and conditions not related directly to the skeleto-muscular system might weaken one's ability to move. Pain itself can contribute to atrophy when not moving is less painful than moving.

Lack of energy due to starvation can cause atrophy. Not only do we need energy (calories) to move, but we also need nutrients and calories for muscles to build when we move. Thus calorie restriction (dieting and famine) can create mobility problems.

Surgery is a common barrier to movement that leads to atrophy. It took me several months to recover from pneumonia back in 2003 because I was bedridden for so many weeks. Post surgery in 1996 also caused me to have limited mobility.

Social barriers like the harassment people of size experience at gyms, pools and on the streets may also limit practice and therefore limit mobility. Crime and fear in certain neighborhoods also limit practice. Because of harassment, poverty and stigma, many fat people are not active.

There is no doubt that larger people have more problems with movement. But accepting blindly that these limitations are "caused" by being fat is just one more example of not examining non-causal explanations for correlations. Ninety-pound little old ladies also have trouble carrying their weight if they are frail. In fact, one of the ways frailty is defined by not being able to carry one's weight.

Losing weight won’t necessarily cure mobility problems. The fact that most people practice moving atrophied muscles when they make attempts to lose weight probably accounts for a lot of the connection between weight loss and improved mobility. But Kelly Bliss, for example, has been helping very large people improve mobility without concentrating on weight loss for a long time now. The weight loss part is not the point, the moving of atrophied muscles so that they gains strength is the point of her workouts.

Losing weight to improve mobility is moot because weight loss is rarely successful. One must also keep in mind that reducing energy intake (which most people who try to lose weight do) will also reduce the fuel one needs to practice moving one’s body and improving strength and mobility. So dieting becomes a catch-22.

In fact, it turns out that large people carry their weight quite well. Of course, the authors of the study were concerned more with weight loss than with simply understanding what the large body is like, but the ability of larger people to move efficiently and mechanically different from smaller people suggests that the body takes care of mobility not matter what our size. It suggests that the problems larger people have with mobility can be explained by social and cultural problems rather than physical ones in the absence of disease.

So given all this, why are we conceding anything to fat haters regarding mobility? Why are even discussing mobility questions in the context of fat liberation?

I am tired of hearing about how it is okay for very fat people to try to lose weight in order to deal with mobility problems. I believe that any person who is not disabled by disease can improve their mobility through increasing the strength of that system of muscles, connective tissues, joints, bones and nerves, no matter what their size. Sure it takes more strength to move 800 pounds than it does to move 90 pounds, but I believe that movement (I am avoiding the word “exercise” because it evokes particular kinds of movement and any movement of the system helps improve atrophy) by any “body” at any size will be good for that person.

If you don't think conceding the mobility question has important political implications, let me suggest that you pay attention to what is happening to people who suffer from osteoarthritis in their knees in Great Britian. Despite evidence that knee surgery is an iffy proposition for which physicians have little ability to predict outcome and despite evidence that being fat is not a good predictor of the outcome of surgery, the National Health Service in Great Britian has decided to withhold surgical treatment on the basis of weight, requiring people to lose weight before they can have the surgery.

Similar restrictions have been debating in Canada and several HMOs in the US are refusing to cover knee surgery and knee replacements on larger people.

Knee surgery is not a cure-all, but it happens to be the best we have right now and people who are suffering are often willing to take a 50/50 chance on not suffering.

The question of mobility is a political question, a social question and a cultural question. Conceding that fat causes mobility is not only inaccurate, but it give fuel to the opposition.

Of course, all this has been pointed out on a number of occasions in discussions about fat liberation. It would be nice if we could stop worrying about what is wrong with fat people and start discussing what we can do to change the prejudices that lead to the political, social and cultural barriers that prevent fat people from moving freely and receiving good quality health care.

The mobility question boils down to this: Anybody at any size deserves the space and the dignity to choose to move their bodies free of harassment and fear.

Posted by Pattie on 3/07/2006 05:01:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 5-- Whether fat acceptance is personal or political.

How long has the sentence, “The Personal is Political” been around? The fact that this is still a debate is beyond me. Perhaps the problem is that few people see that both personal and political live within social and cultural contexts. The truth is that neither self-acceptance nor political and legal solutions will rid us of the social stigma placed upon fatness.

Self-acceptance on the part of fat people will lead to a better quality of life, but accomplished alone, it won’t change things like employment discrimination and having seats big enough for us to sit on in airplanes. Anti-discrimination laws will give some recourse to those things, but it still won’t keep people from laughing or walking on the other side of the street when we are there.

The good news is that we do not have to choose between the two. It doesn’t hurt anyone or anything for us to work towards both and, in fact, each feeds the other. Burned out, self-loathing people generally don’t have the energy to fight for freedom (that’s a function of stigma—to keep people in their “place”). Knowing that there is recourse in the political realm can lead to a better quality of life which can lead to and/or support self-acceptance.

But if we want to really change the dynamics of fat stigma, we have to stop worrying about the behavior of the stigmatized and start concentrating on confronting and changing the behavior of those who would practice bigotry.

How do hearts and minds change? In this society through repetition. And most repetition comes from commercials. My theory is that day we become a market segment will be the day that our fate will change because businesses that go after markets, construct that market within a certain light in the advertising.

Right now fat people are seen as “dieters” and that is why we see such fat hatred in advertising. Dieting is a capitalist’s wet dream. We collectively craze a product that never satisfies and we blame ourselves when it doesn’t work so we try more of the product. Only "aging cures" seem to work on the same level as weight loss cures in our society.

Anti-dieting, of course, is a great intersection of personal and political. Anti-dieting is an efficient point around which we can build coalitions and bridges. Anti-dieting, of course, is not the same as fat liberation. There are plenty of people in the world who believe that dieting is hurtful and believe that fat is bad.

But the commonality of positions is helpful nonetheless, because if the majority of us were to stop dieting, new markets could be constructed that see fat people has consumers of a number of goods and services. Right now industries that cater to fat people's needs are stigmatized by the same fat hatred that hurts fat people. But the same was true of industries that catered to the cultural and physical differences of non-whites and homosexuals. At some point, the motivation for tapping into a new market overcame the worry about being stigmatized in these cases and now we regularly have cultural productions that feature diversity in these areas.

Jean Kilborne in her book, Can't Buy Me Love:

Advertising’s influence on media content is exerted in two major ways: via the suppression of information that would harm or ‘offend the sponsor’ and via the inclusion of editorial content that is advertiser-friendly, that creates an environment in which the ads look good. The line between advertising and editorial content is blurred by ‘advertorials’ (advertising disguised as editorial copy), ‘product placement’ in television programs and feature films, and the widespread use of ‘video news releases,’ corporate public-relations pull pieces aired by local television stations as genuine news. Up to 85 percent of the news we get is bought and paid for by corporations eager to gain positive publicity.

These mechanisms shape and reinforce cultural beliefs and stereotypes. The personal and the political live within these mechanisms. We have some power in shaping and influencing these mechanisms because of things like consumer feedback and market research. That is why much activism in the past 15 years have taken on forms like media watchdog groups, media resource groups, media literacy, and culture jamming.

But it is harder to organize around media activism. When the goal is to change a law, one knows when one has reached that goal. The second the executive branch signs it into being, the goal is achieved. When the goal is to change stigma, it is difficult to know when the job is done. Social change is complex and fluid.

It is my hope, however, that fat liberation will begin to see that there is no "either/or" question in social change. We need all of these efforts. Debates about whether or not it is personal or political will not get us where we want to go. Such debates will not end fat hatred.

Posted by Pattie on 3/06/2006 04:50:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 6 -- Who is an ally to the movement.

Coalition building is one of the most difficult things to do in political work. That is because politics is about choosing sides. I prefer to think about building bridges rather than coalitions. Bridges recognize that there is something distinctively different from our point-of-view and the group to whom we are building a bridge. A coalition is usually based upon opposition, having the same enemy. A bridge is based upon commonality, having the same goal. But I recognize that both are necessary sometimes.

The debates I’ve read lately have discussed “purity” versus “practicality” when talking about getting a message out to the public. The so-called “pure” side maintains that using particular words (like “obesity” or “prevention”) dilutes the message too much. The so-called “practical” side exclaims that no one will listen to discussions that don’t evoke popular terminology, especially within certain disciplines. Like all dichotomies, I think this one misses the point.

It is true that considerations of profession and promotion and politics leads to compromise. It is also true that it is possible to pick and choose one’s compromises in ways that do not dilute the message.

We got some grief when we subtitled our book “How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life.” This was a conscientious decision on our part. In fact, the book was laid out with a typical “self-help” format so that the table of contents read like a diet book: 10 myths, 5 steps, 3 building blocks. If someone picks up the book and thinks that they are buying a diet book, I’d be happy. If someone thinks they are simply reading a manual for self-improvement, I’d be happy.

But the subtitle and the format are meant to critique and play with these things as much as they are meant to evoke them. My attempts to “eat well” and “exercise regularly” changed my life for the worse. It wasn’t just the extreme and bulimic behaviors I dabbled in from time to time that hurt me, it was all attempts to control my body. The fact that most readers assume the word “changed” meant “improved” is something that I hope points out part of the problem with the whole diet mentality. The fact few readers will get that the first time out is okay too. I think the book still makes the case for not dieting even if the subtitle doesn’t immediately evoke that.

The point is that the title was both an attempt at promotion that conscientiously connected the book to the very things it was critiquing and yet I never used the words “obese,” “obesity” or “overweight” without pointing out the problems with those words. If we must use terms we don’t like in order to spark a larger debate in public discourse, we must do so with full disclosure. If we do so with fear that we might offend or a belief that we need to keep quiet about our beliefs in order to have more people at the table, then we will fail. We must come to the table as a full member.

A great example of this is The Center for Consumer Freedom, which is a front for the restaurant industry. It is no friend of fat people and has direct, economic reasons for vilifying fatness – most restaurants have “diet” menus as well as their usual fare. This means that dieting brings them more customers. But with that caveat, I have still have enjoyed reading some of their anti-obesity stuff and I’m happy that they have got some notice for their critiques. I don’t consider them a friend, but I build a bridge from time to time with their work because it evokes the kinds of discussions I want to evoke. But I always do so with full disclosure. They have a bias and that bias needs to be recognized.

I regard the challenges of purity, promotion and politics to be a basis for creativity rather than limitations. I think it is possible to build bridges. However, instead of dividing ourselves into camps and make arguments as if the dichotomy of message and delivery can never be bridged, it might be time for us (meaning “the movement” – whatever that is) to have discussions about “how” we can get the message out rather than “what” the message is or “who” is delivering the message. Instead we seem to be go off into our own little corners and protecting our own little kingdoms because venturing into these deep waters is just too scary.

Posted by Pattie on 3/04/2006 10:47:00 PM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 7 -- Which study(ies)is(are) definitive.

One of the biggest misuses of science is the so-called definitive study. If science is worthwhile, then no single study will tell us all we need to know about anything other than the most narrow topic.

I rarely debate the merits of specific scientific studies often because I am not a scientist, I am a sociologist. My reading of scientific studies is usually a deconstruction of the ways in which science is presented in culture and discourse.

I regard presentations and critiques of medical studies with varying degrees of trust. The least trustworthy presentations are press releases and sound bites on television. Yet that is the source of most people’s information regarding scientific and medical data.

Instead of debating a particular study, it makes more sense to me to view an overall picture and question the source of my information. That, of course, takes more time than most people have or are willing to give. That’s okay, too. If you don’t have the time, expertise or knowledge to seriously question and understand the biases, hidden motives and honest scientific differences among studies that’s okay. That’s why we have specializations and variations among humans. Some members of society take the time and they share their information. But if you aren’t one of those people, then don’t repeat things you’ve heard or seen on TV or in a magazine.

If you haven’t skeptically looked at the data and read thoroughly the debates, then don’t tell me or anyone else about it like you know what you are talking about. If you do you are repeating memes, not adding quality to the discourse.

Please understand, I’m not saying that you can’t test a conclusion of a particular study with your own experience and then provide details of that experience with others. But rely upon your experience as you authority, not the science. Then leave open the possibility that other people have different experiences.

It boils down to a simple question that everyone should ask themselves of anything they think they know -- What is my source of information? If you can't answer that question with explicit details or if the answer is something pretty shallow, then there is a good chance you are simply repeating a script that you have been taught. Such a reptition is most likely making someone else rich and is misleading a lot of other people to also make that someone else rich. How to you avoid contributing to the perpetuation of bad information -- if you don't know how you know what you know, shut up! If you do know how you do know you know, then disclose it in detail so others can judge for themselves.

In any case, claiming that a particular study has answered our questions about larger topics is usually a sound byte and not good science. Buyer beware.

Posted by Pattie on 3/04/2006 05:03:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 8 -- Whether it is fair to compare other stigmatized groups to stigma placed on fat people.

African Americans have a history of slavery and oppression that shapes their experiences in a way that no other group in this country can share. Native Americans have a history of cultural and literal genocide that no other group in this country can share. Homosexuals have a history of repression, criminalization and medicalization that few other groups have experienced. Women, poor people, various ethnic groups and so forth all have unique experiences as social groups that shape their lives and limit their life chances. These differences in culture and history create differences in group experience that both enriches and limits members of those groups.

But all these groups have stigmatization in common. The social mechanisms of stigmatization are shared with any group or persons that face a cultural belief that they are not human.

Making comparisons between fat people’s experiences and the more well-known experiences of other stigmatized groups is useful in order to illustrate how stigma works. One of the most insiduous aspects of fat stigma is the assertion that fat people can help being fat and therefore are worthy of scorn. I reject this belief and often use comparisons with other groups to illustrate that the plight we face as fat people has parallels to other groups.

Making that comparison an issue because it somehow is insensitive to the unique experiences of other groups is a quintessential straw man or red herring. If someone wants to debate on that level it is obvious that they really don’t want to address the issue at hand and just want the discussion to end.

Posted by Pattie on 3/03/2006 05:51:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 9 -- Whether fat women have it worse than fat men.

I do talks about feminism and fatness because I understand there are significant overlaps in theory and practice between the experience of women and the experience of fat people. Feminism has something to offer the fat movement and the intersection of fatness and gender have something to offer feminism. But that doesn’t mean that it is important to make a case about who has it worse, fat women or fat men. We should not be letting bigotry set the agenda. We should be working towards a safe and loving world for all human beings, including men of size and women of size. If we are divided, it is not of our own making and we should not support the bigotry by comparing our miseries.

We need to stop wasting time deciding which fat person is "really" being oppressed. Discussions about who has it worse in any forum leads to infighting and people feeling the need to justify who they are. They only justification that is required is from those who practice bigotry.

I’ll probably say this 150 times in this series, but the way to fight stigma is to confront those who practice bigotry, not by justifying or mitigating any characteristics of anyone who is being stigmatized.

Instead of saying "we are not lazy" -- we need to say "stop putting people in groups and declaring that some people are lazy by the way they look."

Instead of saying "we are healthy" -- we need to say "stop deciding who is healthy and who is not healthy by setting up arbitrary criteria and then declaring that some people are unhealthy by the way they look."

Instead of saying "we are beautiful" -- we need to say "stop creating such narrow standards of beauty that most people feel ugly."

Instead of saying "we are good" -- we need to say "stop deciding the morality of others on the basis of how they look."

We have nothing to justify. It is bigotry that must change and trying to prove ourselves to that bigotry is a lost cause. We are human beings. All we are asking is that other human beings understand that to decide on the basis of appearances that somone else is less than human is wrong-headed and destructive.

Posted by Pattie on 3/02/2006 08:29:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 10 -- “That’s just [[fill in the blank]]”.

The blank includes statements like “your experience” or “junk science” or “your bias” and so forth. These are discussion-enders and not very useful tactics. They are the equivalent of evoking “Hitler” in a political debate. They should only be evoked in the most extreme of circumstances. Unfortunately, they are evoked in almost every single debate I read on the net.

Authority and legitimacy are cases to be made. They do not spring forth from words set in stone. Rather they are based upon how convincing the speaker is when presenting a case. So science, theory, reason, policy, charisma, personal experience, group experience, emotional response and so forth can all be persuasive. Deciding to dismiss something someone says on the basis of it being "just" something (implying that something else is more authoritative) is changing the debate from the topic at hand to the question of legitimacy. If you are going to do that, do it right -- make your own case. That is what makes a discussion fruitful.

Otherwise, you are just being the kid who wants to prove he is boss of the playground by telling the other kids what to do.

Posted by Pattie on 3/02/2006 08:17:00 AM

Top 10 Things I am Tired of Discussing: Intro

I’ve been lurking on several lists and forums (both private and public) where discussions about fat acceptance and “the movement” have been formed around one issue or another over the past month. I have not had time or energy to respond to everything that has been said, but even just reading has been both exhilarating and exhausting.

Please understand the original posts (both private and public) raised important questions about coalition building, community building, health and activism, but the ensuing discussions degenerated into age-old debates that just don’t seem to want to go away. I keep wondering when we are going to get past some things and get to the action part of activism.

With this in mind, I have been thinking about which issues are just driving me crazy. Carl and I put together top 10 lists some time when we are sorting out an issue, I created my Top 10 Things I am Tired of Discussing (in order of aggravation from least to most!).

I wrote over 7 pages on these 10 things, so in the interest of sanity and readability, I'll post each separately over the next few days.

Stay tuned!