Unhelpful Advice

Unhelpful would be a gentle description of unsolicited advice about simple solutions for young girls with excess weight. Carol Weston, an advice columnist for Girls’ Life, sparked some strong reactions on the subject in the New York Times this week. She took exception to the notion that girls might benefit from a break in exposure to our culture’s preoccupation with body image. “We need to stay body-conscious in smart, not superficial, ways,” she said.

A range of reactions followed:

  • Writing for the Obesity Action Coalition, Joe Nadglowski and Ted Kyle pointed out that unsolicited advice is often really a hash, biased judgment.
  • Stacy Martin suggested that shaming people with obesity does nothing for health, while causing great harm.
  • Sixteen-year-old Honor Murphy said we need to put all this energy into the economics that drive obesity, not lecturing the kids who have it.
  • Anne Bernays spoke up against euphemisms for obesity.
  • Surgeon Eileen Natuzzi wrote that obesity is a serious problem parents and doctors must discuss honestly.
  • Obesity medicine physician Barbara Berkeley called for a more rational, realistic, and science-based obesity dialogue.
  • Lynne Schmelter-Davis said that fathers who criticize their daughters’ weight do them great harm.
  • Annie Wu described being bombarded by propaganda for food and body image, all while avoiding the real subject of obesity.

Clearly the public understanding of obesity is confused. Conflicting ideas about what’s needed consequently grow out of that confusion. And thus people with obesity, sometimes from a very early age, face unsolicited, unhelpful advice from strangers, family, and frenemies suggesting their lives would be so much better if they would choose a smaller body.

It’s unhelpful advice.

Click here and here to read more in the New York Times.

Manners, photograph © David Goehring / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.


2 Responses to “Unhelpful Advice”

  1. June 29, 2014 at 9:51 am, Lizabeth said:

    Well done! I’m glad you got your published. The BingeBehavior.com response did not, however, it is being circulated on the the website and social media. You can find it here: http://bingebehavior.com/nyt-rebuttal-obesity-ok

    This is a subject we MUST continue to write about and stress at every opportunity – that shame and ‘advice giving’ are not conducive to affecting better health outcomes.

    Again, congratulations Ted! Thanks for keeping the focus where it needs to be – away from shame and bias.

    Best, Lizabeth

    • June 29, 2014 at 3:40 pm, Ted said:

      Lizabeth, thanks for the good work you do and for the encouragement!