05 February, 2009

Change4Life. Not.

Dear Government,
Concerning your moralistic judgemental ineffective prejudice-promoting Change4Life campaign that is wasting lots of taxes:

Love from all the fat people you want to get rid of.

12 July, 2008

Media Manipulation Backfires!

There was a very interesting article published recently in the BMJ, all about Changing perceptions of weight in Great Britain. The main finding is that people who are in the weight category labelled "overweight" by the medical profession don't think they are overweight!

The BBC's take on it is, of course, the standard obesity hand-wringing. Oh no! Shock horror! As Britain's people become ever so slightly larger (the BBC do their best to make the change sound as big as possible), they don't realise it! OMG! The world will fall down! People can't estimate measurements properly! If you want to freak out about measurements, why don't you leave people's bodies alone and go study car parking spaces or something. Go do something useful.

My take is somewhat different. I say WELL DONE, GREAT BRITISH PUBLIC! Well done for not being taken in by those scaremongering media messages. You are correct: people in the so-called "overweight" category have a similar life expectancy and health risks to those in the so-called "normal" category.

Even better, women of a so-called "normal" weight, or "healthy weight", are less likely to believe that they are overweight. Well done! Keep taking the anti-body-dysmorphia tablets!

It is hilarious that the BBC are worried about people's lack of awareness about their health, when the media themselves are the ones who are bringing this up on their own heads. The media are the ones who are constantly tying body size to health. If they had been size-neutral, and advocated health for everyone (see HAES) regardless of size, then maybe people would have listened to the messages because they would have been aimed at everyone!

I think that the authors' suggestion that

Photographic illustrations often depict severaly obese people, untypical of the overweight population. This might act as false reassurance for those who are "merely" overweight, implicitly reinforcing a perception that messages about healthy eating and exercise are not aimed at them.
is very likely to be having an impact. I find it hilarious that, in the media's relentless quest for trying to scare fat people into thinking that their health is as bad as possible, and using as stereotypical and extreme images as possible, the use of very fat headless torso images hasn't had the effect that they wanted the images to have.

Or maybe, they didn't use more realistically-sized images, because they knew it would backfire. To depict the average-sized person (the average-sized person is in the "overweight" category) as dangerously unhealthy - surely the British public would have become suspicious, because they know from experience, and the life-expectancy statistics, that we are gradually growing healthier in this country, so there must be a lot of healthy "overweight" people. So what are you going to do now, media? Your scaremongering images haven't worked. Go on, I dare you. Illustrate your articles with average people, and watch the public develop an even more sensitive cynicism-o-meter.

Again, WELL DONE, GREAT BRITISH PUBLIC! Keep taking the grains of salt.

13 April, 2008

Public Anti-fat Prejudice is Contagious

WARNING: this post may be damaging to your self-esteem and/or put you in a really bad mood for the rest of the day. Don't click on any of the links if you can't cope with this stuff. It's a wonder any of us have any self-esteem at all, with the likes of these opinions out there and unchallenged in the mainstream press.

This has not been a good few weeks recently for fat people, in the UK press.

First there was an interview with Anton Du Beke, who is apparently a dancer who appears on TV, and the Daily Mail quoted him as saying (emphasis mine)

Diets are all nonsense: they don't work. Just don't get fat in the first place.

I've no time for fat people, they should all be shot.

What really upsets me is when I see fat kids. They've invariably got fat parents and they're the ones who are to blame. They need a good slap for having forced their bad ways on their kids.

When I was at school, there would be one fat kid in the class. Now there are hordes of them. I don't understand the psychology of fat people, nor the flip side of that, size zero.

I once taught dance to a girl with an eating disorder. I had to send her back to her mum because she had no stamina.

I don't mean to sound like a body fascist. In fact, it can be quite pleasant to have someone with a bit of wobbly flesh dancing with you.

I'm in two minds about whether very overweight people should be refused surgery unless they slim down. They have paid their taxes and they're entitled to treatment. But maybe they should be shoved to the back of the queue if someone comes in with a condition which isn't the result of eating themselves to 400st.

Then we had that hateful little piece by Monica Grenfell, who is one of the health police (wrote a crash dieting book amongst other things). Monica wrote complaining about Chloe Marshall, a beautiful teenager who is now "Miss Surrey".

...Chloe boasts she wants to be an "ambassador for curves".

Who on earth does she think she's kidding? What she's demonstrating isn't bravery but a shocking lack of self-control.

Instead of flaunting her figure, Chloe ought to own up to the truth. She is fat and she got that way by over-eating.

I don't take any pleasure in attacking Chloe - after all she's only 17.

What Monica is actually complaining about is difficult to tell really, since all she is doing is projecting her own prejudices and assumptions and dislikes onto poor Chloe. She assumes without a scrap of evidence that Chloe must be lazy, must be lacking in self-control, and must eat a lot. Why such characteristics, even if they were true of Chloe, should be considered so abominable that they merit a personal attack in a national newspaper, I don't know, but Monica sure is mad enough about fat people to complain as if these were heinous crimes against humanity. These assumptions about fat people are so strongly ingrained in people's prejudices, how on earth do we begin to get rid of them when any protestations to the contrary will result in accusations of denial - one of these convenient "Heads I win, Tails you lose" arguments.

Thirdly, we have another opinion piece from another health nazi who wants to show her hate to the world, in the Guardian of all places (usually the Guardian is above printing hate pieces). From Ruth Fowler:

I'm a fattist. I think fat people are just wrong.


How does anybody increase their body mass to 16 stone [=222lbs] "by accident"? These kinds of weight entail industrious and committed eating. It's eating as a career. It involves the consumption, python-like, of about six whole rotisserie chickens a day washed down with 16 pints of double cream, half a cow and probably the entire produce of Ireland's potato farms, deep-fried and with a coating of beer batter.

Sixteen stone is, by itself, evidence of amazing willpower. To have pushed one's body to the extremes of existence by diligently ignoring the little switch in the mind which triggers the "full" button after a hefty meal, and to have done this so impressively as to have assumed the epic proportions of a killer whale, is a feat one surely must applaud.


What is wrong with a society where so many people feel the need to channel their energy into the consumption of as many bumper packs of Wotsits as possible? Why is it so impossible for many of us to simply cut down on food? Walk around the block a few times? And where do people get the money to feed what equates to a small African village every day? Beth [Ditto]'s monthly food bill would probably pay my mortgage for a year.

Apparently the Guardian usually shut comments down after about 3 days, but this time they couldn't even make it to the end of the working day before closing comments. And unlike the balance of pro/anti-fat comments in the previous two articles, there is a sickeningly huge proportion of the commenters who agree with Ruth.

23 February, 2008

Signs by the side of the road

Some time ago, I used to see these little signs posted on stakes by the side of the road:

The signs were usually positioned near traffic lights, and followed by other little signs containing a phone number. I always thought they had mistakenly got the words in the wrong order, they should have read:

05 February, 2008

Water onto the Fire

There should now be less fuel for the war on obesity, with the publication of this article "Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure" in the Public Library of Science Medicine journal. They found that health-care costs for fat people were lower, over the course of a person's lifetime. Please note that this conclusion isn't quite as clear-cut as it looks, there are some subtleties, like most statements people try and assert about obesity.

So in this research, what happened was that some Dutch researchers used population data from the Netherlands to create a model of estimated health-care costs. They used three different groups in their model: thin (BMI <30) non-smokers, thin smokers, and fat non-smokers. In the model, the yearly health costs were greatest for the fat non-smokers up for younger and middle-aged people, but in old age, the yearly costs were worse for the thin smokers group. Over a whole lifetime, however, the estimated costs were greater for the thin non-smokers group, because of a longer life expectancy of this group.

Now obviously, since it was a model, these are just estimates. They can't know what will/won't happen in the future, although the researchers did try out several different scenarios and got the same relative results that fat people have lower life-time health-care costs than the thin non-smokers group (thin smokers had even lower life-time health-care costs).

This one bit of research won't stop the War on Obesity, but hopefully this will help prevent the use of their "but fat people COST US so much!" weapon. It's not the best reason to stop the war, but I fear that anti-obesity crusaders are more likely to listen to their wallets than complaints from fat people fed up of being treated like second-class citizens.

29 January, 2008

Call for a ceasefire: seconded!

It's well worth checking out Rob Lyons' article Let's call a ceasefire in the 'war on obesity' in the online UK publication spiked, which often takes a polemical view.

He completely dodges the issues of health and aesthetics (good move! they're irrelevant to fat rights!) and focuses on the stupidity of fighting this war that doesn't need to be fought. Some choice quotes:

Like every other measure the government has ever announced on obesity, it promises greater intrusion and regulation of our everyday lives, and to make our society a more fraught and joyless place.

As the American academic Paul Campos neatly put it, maybe the best way to win the war on obesity is to stop fighting it; to stop waging war on actually quite normal people who enjoy eating nice, rich foods.

It is time there was a ceasefire in the war on obesity - and time that the government decommissioned and put beyond use its weapons of fearmongering and fatty-bashing.

24 January, 2008

Dear Government

Dear Government,

Please can you stop being such prats with this "Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives" report you've just published. Specifically, stop focusing on weight. If you want to focus on health, great. Give us tools and information and support to live our lives healthily. Stop selling off playing fields, make it safer to cycle around, make the labelling on our food informative and accurate, by all means do these useful kinds of initiatives that can make a real difference to people's quality of life. But stop focusing on weight! You are so SO misguided. You think you're fighting some big and noble fight, when the best thing for everyone would be for you to focus in another direction. Not sure what I'm talking about? Let me try and explain better why you are being prats.
  1. You are focusing on weight, putting it above health. What kind of stupid morals do you have that you think that someone's appearance is more important than their health? Don't give me this "oh the weight focus is about health really" rubbish. I see your phrase "healthy weight" pushed more prominently in front of the "healthy lives"! If you were really about health and not about appearance, you'd be all health health health, not weight. It is very plain that your drive to slim England's bodies is partly about appearance, not health; your actions speak very strongly.
  2. You are completely barking up the wrong tree. You either haven't read the scientific literature that shows a distinct lack of successful weight loss and/or weight gain prevention methods or you are just hoping that no-one will notice that bit and you will get brownie points for being seen to try and do something. To repeat: all this weight focus is not going to get you weight loss. If the population does become a little thinner in the future, it won't be because you the government did something, it'll be a coincidence. We already know from several large-scale studies that altering dietary and exercise habits has very little effect on weight. Weight loss that is safe, substantial and maintained long-term? Science says you get to pick only two out of three. Now I don't terribly care that you're probably not going to get the weight loss you're after (since I don't bow to the great god of weight loss), but you do still look like prats in the meantime, and as a taxpayer, you're wasting my money every time you focus on weight.
  3. Worse, however, is that this continual focus on fat and obesity is doing real harm. Most of the problems fat people have with their lives? Caused by anti-fat attitudes, not fat itself. It's not fat that causes abuse in the streets, it's anti-fat attitudes. It's not fat itself that causes difficulties at the doctors, it's the anti-fat attitudes we so often experience from doctors. You try getting medical care if the doctor doesn't respect you or believe that you are telling the truth. And government campaigns like this one feed right into it. By focusing on weight you are encouraging people to hate themselves, you are encouraging people to hate others, you are fuelling eating disorders and you are contributing to a whole host of other ways to make fat people miserable. Either you are against fat people or you can't see the harm that you're doing, or you think that the harm is somehow worth it for what health improvements you think will result - whichever it is, you are still prats.
  4. Another shame is that because you are focusing on weight, you are in danger of losing the good stuff you could have been doing with this campaign. Because if you focus on health, you CAN get somewhere. But if you focus on weight, people won't lose the weight, and they'll give up, and they'll not realised just how much they've managed to do for their health! Think: as a fat person, I can go to salsa classes if they are put on in my area. I can experience better fitness, lower blood pressure, I can have better flexibility and coordination and sleep better that night - but I won't lose weight. There are so many things that CAN be done for health - but they won't result in weight loss. So people who don't lose weight will think they've failed (they haven't), and people who aren't thin won't realise that the health improvements are a good idea for everyone, not just thin people. So you miss out on an opportunity to improve everyone's life, because you focused on obesity. Shame on you!
Finally, you haven't read up on HAES. Please do so. Your lack of knowledge in this area is embarrassing.

Yours faithfully,

- HT