Objects in Relation

The Odd Codependence of Fat Shaming and Fat Acceptance

“I refuse to let my daugher be taught by a fat teacher.” So says an opinion writer for the Daily Mail in a recent opinion article that she’s milking for all the attention she can get. In an odd expression of codependence, she tries to justify her heinous views by saying that fat activists have pushed her too far.

She has now written a follow-on to complain about the harsh words coming her way in response to her harsh words. Fat shaming does not go down well on the internet.

Her screed, and some of the responses to it, serve as a reminder. The extremes in a polarized debate feed on each others’ anger.

Using an Enemy to Rationalize Intolerance

The writer sees a threat. Body positivity has gone too far, “celebrating obesity,” she says. What sort of unhealthy habits would someone with obesity teach her child, she wonders.

Of course she is promoting fat shaming. In her own words, she admits that she is boycotting a teacher simply because of her weight. “The nursery assistant was clearly a lovely woman: kind and great with children,” she writes.

This writer is completely offensive

At the Other Extreme

At the other extreme, we also find a few intolerant people promoting unrealistic ideas about obesity. The Health at Every Size Fact Sheet tells us that “obesity is not the health risk it has been reported to be.” It also says that bariatric surgery “intentionally damages healthy organs.” Such false dogma undermines the credibility of an otherwise helpful framework.

For sure, plenty of bad information about obesity circulates routinely. Bogus weight loss schemes are more plentiful than respectful, evidence-based obesity care. But adding further misinformation doesn’t help.

Equally destructive are the hateful people issuing harsh, false judgments about people they don’t even know. And, like the Daily Mail’s editorialist, they call it tough love.

Anger and ignorance are fueling this destructive codependence. It’s unhelpful.

Click here and here for the offending articles from the Daily Mail. For further perspective, click here.

Objects in Relation, painting by Paul Nash / WikiArt

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September 20, 2017

4 Responses to “The Odd Codependence of Fat Shaming and Fat Acceptance”

  1. September 20, 2017 at 6:38 am, Angela Meadows said:

    Hi Ted, A couple of points about your characterisation of the HAES(r) information.

    As with most of the rest of the world, these guidelines are using the BMI definition of “obesity”. You yourself admit that high BMI alone is not an indicator of ill health, so there would appear to be little disagreement there. Although I grant you that the fact sheet could make its point more clearly.

    In terms of bariatric surgery, this does indeed involve reorganisation, removal, or interference with part or parts of the GI tract, which are in fact not diseased. It is being done as a means to an end. We disagree on the suitability and ethics of this end, but to say that WLS is the surgical interference with a healthy organ is a statement of fact.

    Having said that, there is some information on the current HAES facts page that is incorrect, and I will speak to somebody about addressing that. For example, it states that weight is not correlated with health, which is clearly inaccurate. Weight is definitely correlated with health – where our position differs from yours is about (a) why, and (b) what to do about it.

    But as always, thank you for your zero tolerance to fat shaming and for always calling it out when you see it.

    • September 20, 2017 at 10:12 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Angela. I admire your advocacy for respecting diversity and human dignity.

      Yes, BMI is just a crude screening tool. It doesn’t define obesity. So, using the “BMI definition of obesity” and then saying that it’s flawed is simply a straw man argument. Some foolish people would say that obesity and your health are defined solely by BMI. But that doesn’t make it true. And epidemiology studies that use BMI to estimate obesity prevalence are not diagnosing individuals with obesity. They’re simply using a pragmatic measure to make an estimate.

      Regarding the description of bariatric surgery on the HAES(r) Fact Sheet, it’s not factual. Bariatric surgery can improve a person’s health and extend a person’s life. The scientific literature is extensive. From many sources, you can find an objective discussion of risks and benefits. But describing bariatric surgery as something that “intentionally damages healthy organs” is not a statement of fact. It is a statement of opinion, and a rather skewed one at that. To me, it sounds like fear mongering.

      Overall, I think HAES can be a very helpful framework. But misinformation has the potential to tarnish its reputation.

  2. September 20, 2017 at 10:50 am, Angela Meadows said:

    Re BMI, as we have discussed previously, the vast majority of people, doctors, institutions define obesity as a BMI greater than or equal to 30 (I know you cite some who don’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that the majority do, and this is what is being used in the first sentences of almost every scientific paper on the subject that I read, in newspaper articles, pretty much any information targeted at the public, and much information targeted at health professionals and taught during their training.

    To define “obesity” as a level of adiposity that is harmful to health, and then to state that “obesity” is associated with ill health, seems extremely circular to me.

    Whatever you think of the merits of WLS, surely you agree that the GI tract is not diseased? Do you think the stomach/intestine is itself diseased? If not, it is a healthy organ. That is, the surgery addressed what it considers a related problem by operating on a healthy organ. I don’t see how that can be an opinion. A discussion about the merits or otherwise of the surgery will have to await another day.

    I certainly agree that misinformation harms the other, less contentious arguments proposed in the HAES approach. I do sometimes see these when non-scientist misinterpret things they have read, eitehr first hand or indirectly, and I try to address them where possible. I have brought the errors on the fact sheet to the attention of the relevant people.

    • September 20, 2017 at 1:35 pm, Ted said:

      Thanks, Angela. Epi definitions of obesity use BMI. Clinical definitions do not. See: WHO or The Obesity Society.

      Regarding the misleading description of weight loss surgery, “diseased” is an ambiguous word, seemingly chosen for emotional impact. In obesity, is the stomach or small intestine infected, necrotic, or malignant? Of course not. Are they functioning properly to regulate endocrine function, appetite, and energy balance? Probably not. Extensive research shows that bariatric surgery works to correct that dysfunction, quite distinctly from any effect on body weight. For instance, in type 2 diabetes and obesity, measures of glucose metabolism can return to normal within hours or days.

      So, bottom line, it’s quite clear that the description of bariatric surgery on the HAES Fact Sheet does not serve to enlighten people. It serves to make a point and in the process, misinform people. That’s unfortunate.