Updated: Dec 31, 2018
We are almost one month out from the new year and I’m sure some folks are already thinking about resolutions. Inevitably, for many people, weight loss will be at the top of their lists. And if that includes you, let me assure you I am not about to shame you for that. Your body is none of my business, just like my body is none of your business. Given the fat-shaming culture we live in, it makes perfect sense to me why this would top so many people’s lists. What I want to do is give you some food for thought as we consider where we want to direct our energies in the new year.
Below is a list of "fat facts," one for every day in December. How about we add to our lists of resolutions (1) more reading and critical thinking; (2) challenging the status quo; and (3) spending more of our energy on fighting oppression?
1. Fatphobia in the U.S. has always been intimately connected to racism, sexism, xenophobia, classism, homophobia, and ableism.
2. “Obese,” “overweight,” “normal weight,” and other weight-related distinctions in our culture are all socially constructed.
3. It is difficult to find any major “obesity” researcher in the U.S. who does not have financial ties to a weight loss or pharmaceutical company.
4. If we were really “just concerned about fat people’s health,” we would stop engaging in behaviors that contribute to a cultural climate that actually undermines their health. We would stop shaming them and treating them like a burden on our very humanity.
5. Studies show that like other historically marginalized groups, fat people experience discrimination in employment, education, politics, interpersonal relationships, the media, and especially healthcare.
6. Fatphobia was well entrenched in the U.S. prior to “the war on obesity.” In other words, the “war on obesity” exists and profits off our fear, loathing, and hatred of fat bodies.
7. Weight diversity, like height diversity, is a fact of human life. Yet, while we accept the reality of height diversity, when it comes to weight we expect that everyone can and should be “thin.”
8. When it comes to research on “obesity” and mortality, and “obesity” and morbidity, correlation is often treated as causation either by the researchers or the media.
9. When changes in the economic structure and systems of food production and distribution in the U.S. made it possible for more people who were not in the upper class to become fat, the positive connotations previously associated with being fat were quickly replaced. Fat was no longer associated with wealth, prosperity, and status, but with being weak-willed, unrestrained, unproductive, and gluttonous.
10. Diets fail 90-95% of the time and tend to have deleterious effects on the body, for example, chronic dieting and weight-cycling have been linked to higher blood pressure, depression, and eating disorders.
11. BMI, an extremely poor measure that was never intended to be used as a proxy for health, continues to be widely utilized as such because it is easier and cheaper to measure height and weight than more complex measures like fitness.
12. If your intersectional feminism doesn’t include body size, you’re missing an important intersection.
13. There are a number of cases in the U.S. where a child has been removed from the custody of their parents because the child was deemed too fat. I know of no cases where the families impacted were not poor or working class and/or families of color.
14. In the U.S. it is legal for employers to discriminate against employees based on weight in 49 states. There is no national law that protects fat people from discrimination.
15. Fatphobia is often used as a way to mask overt racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia in the name of “health.”
16. In 1995, BMI guidelines were lowered in the U.S. so they would be inline with the World Health Organization recommendations. Those recommendations were heavily influenced by a report the International Obesity Taskforce (an organization primarily funded by the makers of the diet drugs Xenical and Meridia) had a major hand in drafting. When BMI guidelines were lowered in the U.S., it made millions of Americans “overweight” overnight.
17. The adoption of employer-sponsored wellness programs in the workplace has been correlated with increased prejudice and discrimination against fat employees.
18. In this age of healthism, “health” has become the new synonym for “thin.” If you claim you care about “health” not “weight” but your concept of “health” only means “thin,” you are contributing to the problem.
19. In 2013, the membership of the American Medical Association overwhelmingly voted to label “obesity” a disease, overriding the recommendation of their own expert panel that argued “obesity” should not be labeled a disease, citing among other factors that “obesity” did not fit the medical definition of a disease.
20. Despite increased attention to body positivity, studies indicate fatphobia is on the rise. Related: “body positive” and “fat positive” are not the same thing.
21. Research suggests that upwards of three-fourths of women in the U.S. engage in some form of disordered eating, yet diet talk and body-shaming remain pervasive strategies for cutting women down to size.
22. Capitalizing on fatphobia is extremely lucrative for its stakeholders, including the $60 billion weight loss industry. If you want to know how we got to the war on “obesity” and why we are continuing to pursue it, follow the money. Related: Today, the average age for girls to start dieting is around 8, and extreme exercise, starvation diets, and the use of diet drugs among teenagers has been correlated with physical and psychological harm.
23. Much like the bodies of children, women’s, and especially mother's, bodies are increasingly surveilled in the war on “obesity.” Today, some pregnant women are even counseled about “fetal overnutrition” in the womb. So to be clear, we are looking for interventions to eliminate fat people now beginning in utero.
24. Unless someone invites you into a conversation with them about their body, their body, including their weight, is none of your business.
25. Fat is a social justice issue.
26. In 2005 and again in a meta-analysis in 2013, researchers at the CDC found that people who were “overweight” lived longer than people who were “normal weight” or “thin.” This research suggested “obesity” and "overweight" combined may only be correlated with 26,000 deaths per year. Previous estimates by “obesity” researchers put that number as high as 365,000 deaths per year, mainly because (1) they didn’t control for gender, age, or smoking; and (2) they didn’t use nationally representative data. Related: people who were “underweight” had the highest rate of mortality.
27. When fat people go to the doctor, they are likely to be counseled first and foremost about their weight, have their presenting symptoms attributed to their weight without further investigation, and/or prescribed weight loss as the method of treatment regardless of condition.
28. People who are “normal weight” or “thin” have heart attacks, get type II diabetes, cancers, and other illnesses, but we don’t pathologize, demonize, or declare wars on “thinness.”
29. Respecting at minimum and loving at best fat bodies in our culture is an act of resistance.
30. Bariatric medicine is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative areas in medicine today, and bariatric surgeries are now performed on increasingly younger patients. Among the reasons offered to “obese” teens for why they should consider bariatric surgery include to avoid being bullied and teased about their weight. So the solution here is not to address fatphobia, but for fat teens to surgically alter (some prefer mutilate) their bodies to avoid experiencing size discrimination and weight bias.
31. Systems of oppression, including fatphobia, always benefit when we focus our attention on endeavors other than dismantling those very systems. Don’t hate your body; hate systems of oppression.