Danger Storm

Obesity and Other Diseases Too Dangerous to Normalize

No doubt, the intentions behind this headline were good. “Obesity is too dangerous to normalize,” said a letter to the editor on Sunday in the Washington Post. That letter came in response to a commentary about plus-size fashion that pleaded for clothes that will let bigger women simply be themselves. And feel good about it, too.

Apparently that was too much for the letter writer – Mack Bonner, MD, MPH. “I was dismayed by the apparent normalizing, if not glorification, of obesity,” he wrote. Wrapping up his brief missive, he said:

Obesity is not about choice or diversity or “prejudices”; it is very directly about health and mortality. While there is no place for “fat-shaming,” there is no place, either, for obesity-normalizing.

Why Must We Choose?

We keep bumping into this forced choice and we don’t like it one bit. That’s because we should not have to choose between two extreme views. We shouldn’t have to choose between treating obesity as a catastrophe or as a glorious existence. Unfortunately, though, way too many people confuse the largely metabolic disease of obesity with a person’s identity.

When we produced pictures of adolescents with severe obesity, a professor of pediatrics told us they looked too happy. Seriously. Scan the internet for pictures of adults with obesity and in mainstream media, you’ll find mostly butts and bellies. Or disgusting images of people stuffing themselves with ridiculously unhealthy food. The UConn Rudd Center and the Obesity Action Coalition have image galleries of people living normal lives with obesity. Though some outlets (thankfully) have started using these images, the images most others use are terrible..

It seems that Bonner isn’t the only one who’s afraid of people with obesity living normal lives. Mustn’t picture people in large bodies as if they are normal human beings.

Maximizing Health While Dealing with Chronic Disease

Bottom line, we believe that people can lead normal lives while dealing with a chronic disease. Sometimes it’s harder than others. But catastrophic decrees that obesity is too “dangerous” and must not be “normalized” are offensive.

Attaching stigma to a chronic disease is an ancient and relentless problem. Think leper colonies. At one time, friends and family would shun a person with cancer. In the early days of AIDS, patients found themselves homeless and unable to obtain medical care.

So please, if you’ve ever worried about “normalizing” obesity, let go of that worry. You’re not helping anyone.

Click here for Bonner’s letter and here for the column that prompted it. Click here for a first person account of fat phobia.

Danger Storm, photograph © Alan Levine / flickr

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December 4, 2018