Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Big Love?

This topic has been a tough one for me to address. I will be the first to agree that the media and the beauty industry promote unrealistic standards to the public. I also agree that many fat people are unfairly treated in our society. As someone who was persecuted for being "fat" as a kid, the last thing I want to do is say anything negative about anyone who is overweight; however, I have some issues with bloggers who appear to be morbidly obese claiming that as long as they love themselves, nothing is wrong. That's like an alcoholic claiming her lifestyle is just fine, and other people are the real problems for not being able to accept who she is. Just like I won't praise Victoria Beckham for her "sexy photo shoot" when she looks about as healthy as a well-dressed cancer patient struggling to survive in a Sub-Saharan African country during a drought, I'm not about to say that being at a weight that could potentially cause severe health issues is a good thing. No matter how much Betty blogger's self-esteem has skyrocketed, her physical body is at risk. I'm all for everyone having confidence, no matter what their outer appearance may be, but there's more to health than simply liking who you are. How you view yourself is only one small aspect of overall health, and if self-image is skewed in an overly good or bad way, it makes it more difficult to find true well-being.

To be clear, I'm not addressing bloggers like Kate Harding, who writes about fat acceptance from the perspective of someone who aims for health and balance in her own life and advocates finding self-acceptance, whatever that means, for an individual; I'm focusing on those who claim obesity is not a health risk. I won't go into the ramblings of Paul Campos, because the guy continually talks out of both sides of his mouth. For example, he claims that the public admires skinny actresses like Kate Moss (who's actually a model) and Calista Flockhart but in the same breath states that they were both harshly criticized for their thinness. He also seems to pull statistics out of his ass. This article does a nice job of addressing the flaws in Paul's statements about obesity.

A problem came up recently with one of the credible sources I was going to cite, but before anyone makes any assumptions and tosses out solid information, I will explain. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) overestimated the death toll of obese people, the following was stated by the CDC's chief scientist:

"I want to make it clear that we really regret this error, and we really regret any confusion it has caused about the importance of obesity," said Dixie E. Snider, the CDC's chief scientist. "But obesity is still going to be a major public health problem and a major contributor to death."

Unfortunately, skeptics of the obesity epidemic have jumped all over the error, claiming all statistics relating to obesity are exaggerated, which isn't the case. One critic cited in The Washington Post had this to say about the error:

"I wouldn't say obesity isn't a problem, but it's nowhere near the numbers they have been throwing around," said Glenn A. Gaesser, a University of Virginia physiologist who wrote "Big Fat Lies," which questions many of the assertions about obesity.
Many of the health problems blamed on being overweight are actually the result of people eating poorly and failing to exercise, Gaesser said. "Most of the health problems associated with body fat are really caused by lifestyle," Gaesser said

That's like saying anorexia doesn't kill people, not eating enough and exercising too much do, or heart attacks from malnutrition kill people, not eating disorders. Obviously, in the case of obesity, death can occur from eating the wrong kinds of foods, sure, but being obese also contributes to many health issues. In other words, losing weight would make it less likely that a person would die from causes related to an unhealthy diet and a lack of exercise, but is it really necessary to make that distinction? And, what about living a healthy life rather than just a long life? Technically, I make the cause of death distinction with anorexia only to point out that eating disorders contribute to many health problems that can lead to death. I mentioned before that in the film America the Beautiful, a mother tries to get bulimia listed as her daughter's cause of death on the death certificate, but doctors are reluctant to list any eating disorder as the actual cause. Her daughter died during a purge session when her electrolytes were drastically thrown off kilter. Instead, her daughter's certificate reads "undetermined" as the cause of death, because the complications related to the illness are what ultimately killed her. We all know what really killed her, though.

In bringing all this up, it's important to make the distinction between health-related issues and emotional or psychological issues. The catalyst for my ramblings here was a blog post by someone who slammed a fat-acceptance blogger for posting her thoughts about wanting to be more vain. I'm not going to post links to either blog, because the latter wasn't as noteworthy as some of the other bloggers in the "fatosphere," and the former lists vicious comments and mean-spirited put-downs that I don't support in any way. It's a fine line for me to back the body acceptance movement without condoning either pro-ana or pro-obesity sentiments. Everyone has to determine for himself what health and a healthy lifestyle are. In terms of addiction, it's like Diane Israel always says, "You know you have crossed that line when life loses its flavor." It's great to have confidence, but, for optimal well-being, it has to be in conjunction with self-awareness.

I keep thinking about this song now:


  1. You did a nice job with a difficult subject. One thing I'll add is that I don't think the bloggers you mention are blinded by genuinely high self-esteem; I think they're enchanted by the prospect of attaining it, and their blogging is part of an effort to create a path toward that inner peace we all want and deserve. I say this because I've written a few "so there!"-style blog posts of my own -- essays in which I discuss behaviors and patterns that I'm not proud of, but see no point in denying -- and in each instance I have been more than eager to see what kind of feedback this generates. (Funny thing: No one is ever as shocked as I expect when I admit to things that happen to affect millions of other people.)

    In the end, it doesn't matter, though -- when someone insists that she's okay with something that is bound to cause her significant harm, it's a problem. And people like Campos, who went Full Fucking Crank a long time ago (and every journalist knows that you *never* go Full Crank) are not merely wrong, but virulent. (It's funny that the fisking of "The Obesity Myth" you found ran in the Washington Times, as that is a moronically right-wing rag owned and run by the Reverend Moon.)

    Also, the complaints about the CDC figures are a classic red herring. It's impossible to pun down just how many deaths are truly caused by excess weight, but it's sufficient to know that it's more than plenty. I mean, I don't need to know whether 50,000 people a year die of cirrhosis of the liver or 100,000 to know that excessive drinking can ruin your liver. Moreover, mortality alone is not the telling statistic, it's morbidity, as pointed out in this excellent deconstruction of Campos' latest bit of sophistry by a medical doctor.

    It's understandable that overweight people (who prefer to be called fat, actually, but the ones who say this don't speak for all of them) conflate the idea that they merit fair and human treatment, which is of course correct, with the idea that it is globally "okay" to be too ponderous, which reams of evidence affirm that it is not.

    1. You're right. I shouldn't have implied anything about self esteem.

  2. Would you not agree that if a person truly had healthy self esteem they would take better care of their body and hence would not be over or under weight? For me, self esteem or self love starts with overcoming our habit of reacting to what people say about us.

    1. Absolutely. In fact, a big part of getting well and overcoming my eating disorder included working on my self esteem.

      In terms of certain bloggers, it's hard to determine where they stand -if they are truly happy with their weight or they are trying to convince themselves that they are.

  3. This is a good perspective...I find that many people forget the opposite of undereating can be overeating and that it can be just as psychologically and physically unhealthy. Sure, we should "embrace our curves" but when those "curves" reach 200-300 pounds then physical health can be at risk. It's often difficult to find that moderate, healthy balance but I feel it is important to try to strike that healthy "in-between" and to keep that in mind when we strive for health.
    Thank you for sharing your views...I think this is important to address.

    1. Thank you so much, Rachel. That's a good point about the tendency to overeat being the result of and resulting in similar psychological issues as under-eating. i agree about trying to find that healthy in-between that can be so difficult for people.


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