Mar 21 2013

Spinster aunt reads Kate Harding

Fat acceptance hasn’t been discussed much here at IBTP, probably because, until recently, I pretty much thought I got it. Like: fat people are human beings? Sure. Of course. Now let’s talk about the misogyny of pencil skirts, tiny handbags, and high heels.

So a few weeks ago I was informed by medical doctors that, although I am skinny, I am obese, ostensibly because I have been eating junk and drinking too much for the past year.* Here’s the post about that.

When I used the word “obese” in that post I was gently informed by fat blamers that the term is offensive. “Obese” is used by fat-hatas as a synonym for “fat,” “fat” is not the equivalent of “unhealthy,” and “obese” medicalizes a perfectly natural variant of normal. I was sent to Kate Harding’s blog.

Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle do cause health problems, in people of all sizes. This is why it’s so fucking crucial to separate the concept of “obesity” from “eating crap and not exercising.” The two are simply not synonymous — not even close — and it’s not only incredibly offensive but dangerous for thin people to keep pretending that they are. There are thin people who eat crap and don’t exercise — and are thus putting their health at risk — and there are fat people who treat their bodies very well but remain fat. Really truly.

Harding explains that being fat is not the equivalent of (my words, not hers) being a barnacle on a La-Z-Boy. She has to point out this distinction because the bogus equivalence she describes is overwhelmingly the narrative in modern discourse, and is the root of anti-fat bigotry (see Michelle Obama’s cringe-inducing Skinny2K-Compliance campaign “Let’s Move!”). Tangentially, she also avers that even if a fat person is sick, she’s obviously still entitled to the same respect one would accord a human being. Because she’s a human being.

So, according to Kate, I’m not obese; I merely eat crap and don’t exercise. A dessicated old aunt teetering on the brink of a metabolic cliff. A slothful, self-indulgent sicko.** That I also happen to be thin proves that “fat” illness can happen to anybody, not just fat people.

Fair enough. No argument here.

Having read Harding’s blog further, I have concluded that, although “obese” seems to be the term favored by the medical establishment to describe the state of my fatty guts, my identifying as obese on this blog appears to be somewhat analogous to a dude commenter calling himself a feminist, i.e., it’s insulting.

Anyway, this whole episode has pointed the glaring spotlight of cold hard truth on, not merely my fondness for Funyuns, but also on a gaping sort of hole in my oppression-culture literacy. Namely, that I don’t know jack about the fat acceptance movement. Which is pretty disgraceful, considering that it is such a major issue within the purview of patriarchy blaming.

To be continued.

* Although here is a 2007 article from Junkfood Science, provided by blamer Blue, suggesting that the results of a huge, 8-year health-food clinical trial (the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) Dietary Modification Trial) totally debunked the notion that diet has anything whatsoever to do with health.

After more than eight years, there were no difference in the incidences of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks or strokes among those who ate “healthy” and those who ate whatever they pleased.

The thesis of this essay seems so out-there that I am almost tempted to believe it.

** Actually, I would hesitate to classify my outdoorsy life of shoveling manure, chasing horses around, and hoisting hay bales as “sedentary,” so I can only conclude that either my diet of potato chips, Fresca, and Prosecco was even crappier than I thought, or something more sinister is afoot. Nice.


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  1. ChariD

    “… or something more sinister is afoot. Nice.”

    Most likely genetics – which sucks at times.

  2. gwyllion

    You know,
    i just ADORE this blog!
    just saying.

  3. pregnant pause

    Thinking about your abdominal fat, and why it’s there.

    Illness along with fatness seem to have a really victim-blamey aspect to them, when it seems that genes and luck and things beyond one’s control have a lot to do with what ends up happening to your body. (I totally know that fat doesn’t equal ill, I just mention the 2 in the same breath, bear with me) I think we want to believe we can control our bodies and our appearances and our mortality much more than we really can.

    I am thin and ave a ton of chronic health problems, and people always ask me questions about my lifestyle, looking for the reason I have brought my problems upon myself. Even if I say my heart condition is just a weird fluke, possibly genetic? They give me the side eye. I lead a pretty “healthy lifestyle” but I receive all kinds of unsolicited health advice from already healthy people, and I say thanks, I DO that, but really, sigh.

    I guess its natural to hope that it’s all under our control, otherwise life is more scary and unpredictable than we’d really like.

  4. shopstewardess

    There are lots of problems with the healthy lifestyle lobbyists. The bone I have to pick with them is this: they are never satisfied. Whatever one does, diet and exercise-wise, it will never be good enough. However much one exercises, it is either not enough exercise or the wrong sort of exercise. Whatever one eats, it is too much food or the wrong sort of food. Whatever one weighs, it is too much weight or the wrong sort of weight. It’s not surprising so many of us give up in despair.

  5. Comradde PhysioProffe

    Wise Onion Rings are far superior to Funyuns, as far as reconstituted onion-flavored crunchy starch rings are concerned.

  6. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Plus you get a nifty image of a winking owl on the package.

    Hey, my sister had an Ass Mass too. If she were still alive she would get a bodacious chortle out of hearing that terminology. She nicknamed hers the ButtLump.

    I wish the almighty ever-so-smug-and-precious Dr. Oz would crap on a landmine. Along with every other Joe and Jane who offer us tubbies unsolicited fitness advice.

  7. Fictional Queen

    I really agree with shopstewardess’ comment. It’s so true! It’s like fashion, where no matter what you wear or how you look, it is never good enough!
    Oh and I wish nutrition had nothing to do with health.

  8. blue

    I am crying here because this is so awesome.

    I cannot believe you actually took the step to listen and read more on the subject. I mean, I shouldn’t be surprised because of who you (Twisty) are, but so often even feminists/lefties/liberals call us fat acceptance advocates crackpots, denounce us, and continue on with the fat prejudice.

    All I can say is this is so awesome.

  9. Helen Huntingdon

    Rock on. Clawing the sizeism scales from the eyes is as refreshing as all the other scales that need clawing off.

    And the nieces will thank you in coming years for being up on the subtleties.

  10. ew_nc

    Thank you, Twisty. It means a lot that you took the time to get more information.

  11. noshoes

    Jury’s still out; need more data. But if your labs look good (i.e. low cholesterol, liver enzymes OK, kidneys good, et al) then who gives a crap how you look? Not me. People who say diet has no effect on health are full of Funyuns, however. Quit the meat, sugar, fried fatty stuff for one week and tell me you don’t feel better.

  12. TurboBlamer10000^n

    Gak. Plus fat-hate basically destroys small girls. I would say I lost my youth to brainwashing-induced body policing, both myself and others. Hard to make friends, connections, intelligent analysis of the world when eyes are always casting about squints to gauge the shallowest possible metric of worth.

    For fucks sake patriachy stop crushing my dreams and my self-esteem.

  13. blue

    I really need to shut up on these threads, but :/ …

    “People who say diet has no effect on health are full of Funyuns, however. Quit the meat, sugar, fried fatty stuff for one week and tell me you don’t feel better.”

    That doesn’t really prove your assumption, though. People get a rush or feeling of cleansing at the beginning of a fast or diet, too. Feeling better because you cut out meat, sugar, and/or fried fatty stuff could be psychological: you feel you are being “good” and eating “clean,” and therefore you feel “better.”

  14. buttercup

    Not to mention, who is being told to “quit the meat, sugar, fried fatty stuff”? I don’t eat sugar, eat very little meat, no fried food due to IBS which makes my life extra fun if I eat the wrong stuff. what should I quit eating? The little bit of meat I eat? Ok. Where do I get my protein from then? Soy? No thanks. I don’t need excess estrogen. Beans? No. See IBS. Quinoa? Nope, indigenous people who rely on it as a staple can’t get it anymore because all of a sudden, american foodies have discovered it and the price has skyrocketed.

    Dictating what people should eat is always a bad idea. You don’t have access to everyone’s lives. You don’t know what they actually DO eat. You don’t know about food tolerances, allergies, or triggers. And that’s without even getting into the very dangerous part where that sort of thing is very dangerous to people with eating disorders who may be in a very delicate recovery, or not.

    Shorter blaming-re: food- MYOB.

  15. iiii

    If you look at portraiture through the ages, it’s pretty clear that a) fat people existed before chemical food additives, and b) it is common for people to get fatter as they age. Not universal – some foks always keep that lean and hungry look – but people plumping up as they get older is not some brand-new phenomenon that needs a brand-new explanation. A lot of what passes as science on the subject of weight is the diet industry problematizing ordinary effects of age on human metabolism.

    For me, the gagging point isn’t so much the conflation of thinness with “health,” it’s the conflation of thinness with virtue. The world I live in is certain that fatness must be the result of doing something wrong, or failing to do something right, or a combination thereof. Also, a surprising number of people are convinced that such lack of virtue can only be the result of ignorance. If only I knew that thinness is better, I would forsake my sinful fatness and become virtuously thin! So total strangers and close relatives alike feel free to evangelize me on the subject of diet and exercise. It is considered rude for me to point out that I already know this stuff, that they’re reciting the same crap I’ve been force-fed from every media outlet since I was old enough to process language.

    It’s considered even ruder to point out that there does not exist a way of sustainably reducing fat bodies to the currently fashionable size. People react as though I’ve shat in the punchbowl when I say that out loud.

  16. TwissB

    To call attention to a common verbal mashup:

    “After more than eight years, there were no difference in the incidences of breast cancer, colon cancer, heart attacks or strokes among those who ate “healthy” and those who ate whatever they pleased.” (Leaving the final “s” off difference is probably just a typo.)

    When one is keeping count of examples, the word is “instances.” But when it’s a matter of counting occurrences, the preferred word is incidents. Opinions may vary on this, but one thing is certain -” incidences” is a funny case of tryhing to have it both ways and ending up with a non-word.

  17. TwissB

    Yes the Lofty Arbiter has overlooked her own typo.

  18. blue

    @ TurboBlamer10000^n
    “Plus fat-hate basically destroys small girls.”

    This. This so much it hurts.

    @ iiii
    Love your comment!

    @ TwissB
    It’s a real word: dictionary.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incidence

  19. Twisty

    Re: “incidences” vs “incidents,” I’m with TwissB. “Incidences” just sounds clumsy.

    And yes, I regret to say that the ellipsis ban is still in effect on this blog. I have another blog where I occasionally complain about the weather and post photographs of gross skin lesions on my horses. On that blog, the sky’s the limit with “creative” syntax, grammar, diacritical marks and punctuation. Also, dudes can post over there (although as far as I know, none do). It’s the Wild West!

  20. TwissB

    @blue: It’s a real word: dictionary.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/incidence

    Pah! I huffed, that Merriam Webster – they’ll eat anything. All-knowing Google abundantly confirmed that blue knows her stuff. Incidence” is a real, but highly specialized word. I don’t think that it has a plural, however, but blue may contest that assumption as well. Along the trail, however, I discovered a charming explication of the “instances” conflation at a website new to me : http://public.wsu.edu/~brians/errors/incidences.html.

  21. TwissB

    Sorry about those superfluous “however”s. Someday I will learn to re-read this teensy print before pushing the button. IBme.

  22. M.K. Hajdin

    Proving yet again why you’re our favorite spinster aunt.

    My mother, whose thinness I did not inherit, was 5 feet 9 and spent most of her life trying to gain weight. She was so proud when she finally got to 105 pounds. And yet, later in life, she had a bit of a belly. It happens even to thin people! Who knew?

    My father, whose body type I DID inherit, had breathing and other problems and was told by doctors that losing weight was the solution. So he went on a doctor-approved diet, ate “healthy” food, lost a sensible 2 pounds a week, and ended up losing 100 pounds. His breathing problems did not improve and he died shortly after. So much for “lose weight and magically gain health”. Now I and the rest of the family are wondering if the belly fat actually had some kind of shielding effect.

  23. M.K. Hajdin

    Noshoes, some of us have tried going without meat and have not felt better. Not every body can adapt to a diet without animal products.

  24. Gingerzingi

    Twisty, I appreciate so much that you took the time to find out more about this subject. Kate Harding is a great resource.

    I think if I had read the posts chronologically I would have been angry or disappointed; but reading bass ackwards was better because I started with you basically saying “Oops I messed up.” I hope I react so intelligently and graciously if (unlikely event!) I’m ever wrong about anything.

    Exploring the conflated ideas of health, fitness, and size can give you many many MANY hours of shock, despair, and rage. If you ever feel like you’ve pretty much said everything there is to say about the patriarchy, just cast your eyes over to the truly incredible fat hatred and ignorance in this society, and you’ll have an entire new career ahead of you.

    I’m not giving any advice, because as a fat and healthy woman, I’m really fucking sick of someone else thinking they have the answer for me. “Just” do this and just do that are very patronizing remarks. Instead, I wish you the best in discovering/creating YOUR own definition of health and finding the best path to it, for you. And sorry that sounds so platitudinous!

  25. mandor

    Incidence is not ony a real word, it has a very specific meaning in the land of health statistics!

    Below is a general definition lifted from the internet, but one could pick apart the wording of it for not including a bunch of caveats, if one were so inclined (how one defines people at risk, what your sample population is, etc).

    Incidence = Number of new cases in a fixed time period / (divided by) Number of people at risk.

    “Often the period of study is chosen to be one year, in which case we speak of the annual incidence. This gives a proportion, ranging from 0 to 1, that is useful in communicating the idea of risk: what is the probability that my patient will get this disease within the time-frame?”


    I love that at least a few corners of the world are critiquing the whole obesity epidemic narrative. So much easier to focus on weight as health determinate because, unlike a lot of other things we’d like to measure, weight is super easy to quanitfy and plop in an equation.

  26. Thomas Daulton

    Greetings, Twisty, my sister sent me over here for the first time today. As a 1st-time commenter, I hope and will try to respect your blog’s conventions. I’ve enjoyed this series you’re doing on obesity. What you’re saying makes a lot of sense and is well grounded in the real world, in my opinion. I speak as a somewhat obese person who has done a good deal of research because he often gets into arguments with well meaning friends who are “concerned” about my weight.
    I have one quibble, though, about the 2007 study you cite from Junk Food Science. The article you cite has an extremely misleading headline, and misleading spin throughout, so I don’t believe you are to blame for the misinterpretation. However, I have read other discussions of that 2007 study, so this is my best interpretation of the original source. (not that I’m any expert, just a layman, but I’ve researched quite a bit.)
    The study was carefully crafted to measure only 1 thing: the effects of cutting out dietary fat. The study found absolutely zero justification for reducing one’s dietary fat intake, but that is not remotely the same thing as a license to eat all kinds of junk food. If you define “junk food” as anything believed to make you unhealthy, junk food might contain all kinds of other components besides fat: excessive sugar, excessive salt**, or funny artificial preservatives & chemicals nobody can pronounce, just to name a few. Those things might still be (I believe strongly they are) bad for you. What the study shows is that there’s no point in eating artificially “reduced fat” cookies, potato chips, dressings etc.
    the junk food science article is also correct in its assertion that this evidence is years old, but doctors and health experts are too proud to admit that they have been giving out bad advice for 50 years when they told us there was a link between dietary fat, heart disease, and cancer. Dooming those who don’t research the issue to more and more years of paying extra for terrible-tasting, unsatisying artificial “Reduced Fat” foods. Given that arrogance, it’s possible (I believe it’s true) that those same doctors and health experts could be completely wrong about the causes of and treatments for obesity.
    **The latest research I have also read indicates that salt (sodium) in-and-of itself is not the cause of hypertension — the cause is the _ratio_ between sodium and potassium. The problem is that almost every processed food contains high amount of sodium, it’s cheap and flavorful, but very few foods contain potassium. And our bodies don’t absorb potassium well as an additive or supplement; we only seem to absorb it in its natural food matrix, for example in spinach or bananas.
    Anyway, thanks for your series so far, and I’m looking forward to reading more.

  27. quixote

    I know this is way too late to the discussion, but time, didn’t have it, and all that. I went and read a bunch of articles on the Women’s Health Initiative study, and there’s one important point about the methods.

    The study relied on the women filling out a yearly Food Frequency Questionnaire. (They had to accurately remember and report what they’d eaten over the past year.) Another method is for participants to keep a food diary as they eat, which is then tabulated by lab workers. The second method is much more expensive and generally more accurate. It was used for a small sample of study participants in the WHI.

    Low-Fat Dietary Pattern and Risk of Invasive Breast Cancer: The Women’s Health Initiative Randomized Controlled Dietary Modification Trial “..based on 4-day food record assessments, the percentage of energy from fat was 11.3% lower and intake of fat was 26.3 g lower in the intervention group compared with the comparison group at year 1. At year 3, using 24-hour recall assessments, the percentage of energy from fat was 8.2% (19.4 g) lower in the intervention group compared with the comparison group and at year 6 was 7.5% (24 g) lower, respectively, in the intervention group.”

    Given the rather wide disparity between the FFQ and more reliable methods, it also throws an interesting light on this finding reported early in the article: “inconsistent results [regarding the benefits of lower fat diets] may reflect limitations of the dietary assessment methods used; a recent study reported a significant positive association of fat intake and postmenopausal breast cancer incidence only when diet was measured with food diaries rather than a food frequency questionnaire (FFQ) used in most analytic epidemiological studies.”

    To me the take home message says not to base too much of the argument on the WHI. Their results are not strong. I sent Twisty an email with a boatload more links (so it’ll probably end up in spam) in case they’re useful.

  28. Anonymous

    Dictating what people should eat is always a bad idea. You don’t have access to everyone’s lives. You don’t know what they actually DO eat. You don’t know about food tolerances, allergies, or triggers. And that’s without even getting into the very dangerous part where that sort of thing is very dangerous to people with eating disorders who may be in a very delicate recovery, or not.

    Eggzackly. The whole food-policing thing is just as damaging as any other unwarranted intervention into peoples’ bodily private lives. Don’t like me eating Funyns? TRY AND STOP ME.

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