Fat, Fatophobe?

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Is this like being called a self-hating _______ (fill in the ethnicity)?

I spent too much time online yesterday discovering some new blogs that taught me some new words like Fatophile and Fatophobe. The terms seem to be the property of slang in blog land at the current time.

John of the Total Transformations blog has a good summary of the arguments on his entry titled Fatophile vs. Fatophobe

I should also thank McBloggenstein for introducing me to the term fatophobe on his blog entry, Wait… Does that make me a fatophobe?

To get the most acceptable definition of fatophile, or to be more politically correct “Fat Acceptance” I looked up the NAAFA: National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance Here is what they define as the issues:

Discrimination towards fat people in the workplace, education system, and healthcare system has been clearly documented and is growing rapidly. Weight discrimination was reported by 7% of US adults in 1995-96, and almost doubled to 12% by 2006.

To improve working conditions, healthcare, and overall quality of life for millions of Americans, weight must be added to the list of categories covered in anti-discrimination laws. This can be accomplished on a federal, state, or local level.

Size Discrimination Consequences are Real!

  • Creates medical and psychological effects
  • Results in wage disparity
  • Affects hiring and promotion
  • Affects academic options and advancement
  • Why Do People Partcipate in Size Discrimination? They Believe…

  • Stigma and shame motivate dieting and other attempts at weight loss
  • People fail to lose weight because of poor self-discipline and willpower
  • How Does Our Culture Allow Size Discrimination?

  • Sanctions overt expression of bias in social situations and through mass media
  • Says thinness is desirable & perpetuates societal messages that obesity = failure as a person
  • Places blame on the victim ignores contributing environmental factors
  • In response to the “Fat Acceptance” position people and organizations that promote reducing body fat do so almost exclusively from a health and wellness standpoint. A random google search can pull up any number of articles on the side effects of obesity on health.

    The Journal of American Medical Association: Vol 289, no 14, 2003 Effect of Weight Loss and Lifestyle Changes on Vascular Inflammatory Markers in Obese Women

    The Canadian Medical Association Journal: vol 160, issue 4 The cost of obesity in Canada

    World Health Organization Website: Obesity Epidemic

    The articles referenced above are from the most respected medial journals in the United States, Canada and the World Health Organization these are a very small sampling of what is available online.

    It is perhaps understandable that with national governments and international governing bodies lining up with health experts across the world to declare obesity a danger to individuals and society that a fat acceptance movement has emerged.

    Fat Acceptance: The Pro’s

    (Another good youtube video that takes too long to load – unfortunately http://www.youtube.com/watchv=YDakFfLQDF4&feature=related)

    There are some important points made by the fat acceptance movement:

    The flip side to obese is underweight or anorexic. There is a great deal of pressure on young women to be “too thin”. At the same time many women who are in a healthy size range report that they feel “fat” because they do not look as thin as the models, and women who are overweight are often vilified in popular culture.

    Increased images of a variety of body types and sizes in the media, advertising and popular culture could go a long way to building a society that is more accepting of difference.

    Research on size discrimination is not as widely available as research on the health effects of obesity, however there is a good body of credible research detailing the effects of size discrimination. The American Psychological Association agrees that size discrimination does occur and is in fact at its worst amongst children.

    Discrimination clearly does have all of the impacts listed by NAAFA

    Size Discrimination Consequences are Real!

  • Creates medical and psychological effects
  • Results in wage disparity
  • Affects hiring and promotion
  • Affects academic options and advancement
  • When considering wage, hiring, promotion, academic options and advancement, the only factors that should be considered are a persons ability as it pertains to the job, or field of study. Including factors that do not affect job performance or academic ability is unjustified discrimination to which I can see no social benefit.

    We also know that the highest rates of obesity occur in the lower middle classes. Higher education and higher incomes typically lead to healthier lifestyles.

    Finally there are environmental factors that contribute to obesity. The dollars spent on advertising of fast foods, junk foods, oversized restaurant foods and general consumerism of foods in North America is a multi-billion dollar industry that is largely unregulated.

    Fat Fear: Is it all bad?

    What if we were more afraid of fat? Can we be afraid of fat as a society without targeting individuals? If social values really do value thin is that a bad thing? Can we value thin without implying that someone who is fat is a failure?

    I agree that no one should be discriminated against in the job market or academic sphere because of elements that do not impact job or academic performance. I have trouble extending the Charter of Human Rights which in Article 2 is meant to protect people from discrimination based on physical attributes beyond their control or cultural practices which should be preserved to include the protection of fat people.

    As compared with hundreds of years of colonialization, slave trade, refusal of citizenship rights for minorities and women, the holocaust, Rwanda, Bosnia, and now Darfur I can’t see the plight of overweight people in the same category of protected persons.

    Why should fat be a protected status? The difference for me is that a black, hispanic, asian, jewish, woman, can perform work of equal quality to a white man but cannot (should not have to) change the colour of their skin, religion/ethnicity, or gender.

    A fat person can in most cases change their body size. The question becomes should they have to?

    I have already stated that so long as a persons body size does not impact their ability to preform a job or academic appointment it should not be a factor. That being said there is an overwhelming body of research that shows the sever impacts of obesity on health. These effect range from chronic diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular risk and disease and many many more.

    Here in Canada we are constantly debating how to best use our precious health resources without having to further burden our tax base. I strongly believe in universal health care, I do not believe that anyone should be refused health care. I also believe in civic responsibility.

    In this way I do not believe a fat person should have to change their weight to obtain a job they are qualified to do. I do believe a fat person should be socially encouraged to get fit as a social good, just like not smoking is now a social good.

    I do not believe a smoker should be denied medical treatment, however I do believe the government can and should engage in campaigns that limit the accessibility of smoking, that promote smoke-free lifestyle choices, and that stigmatize smoking to the young as a poor lifestyle choice. Likewise I believe these tactics should and can be implemented to reduce societal risk of obesity. When we all pay for each other’s health care we should take care to preserve it and it’s availability.

    I’m sure at this point some people are asking what about the people who can’t help but be fat?

    There are lists of diseases that contribute to or exacerbate obesity, it is however difficult to believe that all of these diseases have increased at the astonishing rate of obesity in North America such that the majority or even a significant minority of the obesity cases could be medically induced.

    Furthermore I would argue that if obesity were to go into decline, and lifestyle choices leading to obesity become less and less common then less research and funding will go into studying obesity epidemic as a cultural phenomena. Then more resources and funding could be diverted to study obesity causing disorders. This would give more attention to those specific diseases as individual cases rather than an assumption that all obesity is caused by poor lifestyle choices.

    The final NAAFA position argues that there are environmental factors that contribute to obesity. Essentially that society is largely responsible for the obesity epidemic and as a result should accept obesity as our own creation and therefore protect it.

    There are billions and billions of dollars spent each year on advertising of food, fast foods, junk foods, fad diets, and fashions that all send very mixed messages about what we should consume and what we should look like. I don’t think that it is easy to be fit in North America in this consumer climate.

    There is however a danger in the environmental factors argument. While they do contribute to obesity, these contributing factors cannot and should not be considered separate from or instead of individual responsibility.

    The advertising makes it look good, the smell engineers make it smell good and the taste engineers make it taste good (uh, sort of)… but it is each of our individual choices to decide what we do or do not put into our bodies.

    Would it not be more productive to create better education for people to make better choices with? To limit and discourage the advertising of fast food and junk food in the same way that cigarette and alcohol advertising has been limited? We as a society made a mistake embracing the fast paced, instant everything, consume at all costs mantra, but that does not mean that we should accept the results of that mistake rather than trying to fix the root causes.

    If fat fear was more common, would we develop a corresponding fear of the choices that make us fat? Would this consumer demand be big enough to create a larger market for healthy organic foods and realistic images of portion sizes? Perhaps a dose of fear would not be an entirely bad thing.

    Fearing fat people as individuals is not helpful, but fearing fat as a society and it’s impacts on our social infrastructure could be socially beneficial.

    Am I A Fat-o-phobe?

    I think I can firmly plant myself on the fence on this issue. Or more accurately I think there is a wide stretch of middle-ground that can be covered.

    We can embrace different body types, sizes and shapes, value a diversity of colours, races, genders, heights and yes… weights without promoting obesity as a valid lifestyle choice or minimizing the risks therein.

    We can fight discrimination in our society while also fighting for the promotion of healthy living over junk food living.

    We can reconfigure our mental environment to value nature, out doors activities, meeting our neighbours and forming viable sustainable communities that make individuals feel included and people not consumers.

    I won’t be placing my own BBW ad anytime soon, but I am not going to dismiss my next job applicants capabilities based on their weight either.

    In short I don’t embrace and never will embrace the “fat acceptance” movement, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t recognize that we are all human and all entitled to dignity and respect.

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    5 Responses to “Fat, Fatophobe?”

    1. totaltransformation Says:

      “When considering wage, hiring, promotion, academic options and advancement, the only factors that should be considered are a persons ability as it pertains to the job, or field of study.”

      It is well documented that people above 6 foot tall receive preference in hiring and other areas. Obviously, there is very little you can do to change your height- aside from ridiculous looking platform shoes. As someone who is 5’9″ I simply accept that and move on. The societal cost of changing that would simply be too great.

      “A fat person can in most cases change their body size. The question becomes should they have to?”

      That would get you in trouble with the fatophiles. Many profess that there is nothing a person can do about their weight. If you read the comments on fatophiles blogs you will often hear about how their weight is almost entirely determined by their genetics.

      “Fearing fat people as individuals is not helpful, but fearing fat as a society and it’s impacts on our social infrastructure could be socially beneficial.”

      Is one possible without incurring the other? For example, we try to discourage teenage pregnancy , but this often leads to people looking down their noses at highschoolers who get pregnant. Then again, maybe we should ask if it is a bad thing that people who engage in these kinds of activities should some sort of stigma attached. Of course for some who don’t deserve it (the few who are fat due to an illness, meds, etc) this will be unfair, but for the overwhelming majority one would think it might provide an impetus for change. I am not suggesting this, I am merely stating that this is a good question to ask.

      “We can embrace different body types, sizes and shapes, value a diversity of colours, races, genders, heights and yes… weights without promoting obesity as a valid lifestyle choice or minimizing the risks therein.”

      I think there is a middle ground as well that focuses on fitness instead of weight. Unfortunately it is hard to get the fat acceptance folks to even agree to the fact that it is harmful to the individual to be obese (or even more than obese). there are many in the fat acceptance movement who insist that all the medical journals and doctors who talk about the unhealthiness of being grossly overweight are in the pocket of the weight loss industry. It is truly sad. People can and will rationalize almost anything to feel better and avoid real and uncomfortable change in their lives.

    2. beaglesmuggler Says:

      Obviously I’m new to the whole extremist side of the debate, in fact I had no idea how wide ranging the extremist points are.

      I do think that it is possible to stigmatize a behaviour or a condition without targeting individuals. Smoking bans seem to be an interesting case, although the critical difference is that it was once acceptable to be a smoker.

      I don’t think the teen pregnancy example could be a good example for other reasons. The United States has double the teen pregnancy rate of all other developing nations combined! This is largely attributed to the focus on abstinence focused sex education when compared with other developed countries that provide sex education on a wide range of birth control and also make birth control available to teenagers without parental consent.

      There is significant evidence that were the United States to adopt a more progressive sex education program the rates of teen pregnancy would significantly degrease. In which case it is likely that if we had food education and nutrition education similar to Europe we may also see declining obesity rates.

    3. totaltransformation Says:

      “Obviously I’m new to the whole extremist side of the debate, in fact I had no idea how wide ranging the extremist points are. ”

      Take some time and cruise through their blogs here on WordPress. 😉

    4. totaltransformation Says:

      “Obviously I’m new to the whole extremist side of the debate, in fact I had no idea how wide ranging the extremist points are. ”

      Take some time and cruise through their blogs here on WordPress. 😉

    5. nostarvingartist Says:

      I know some women who are over weight and look so beautiful, and I know some really ugly looking think people. But I am still judging a book by it’s cover. I feel intimated sometimes around people, and I have experienced all out discrimination, however not in my work place. I do know, however if you feel good about yourself, chances are people will treat you with respect. If you feel self conscious you emit that energy and people wont respect you.

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