Daily Archives: January 24, 2013

Fatty Fatty Two-by-Four

Do not like fat people?  Think they are ruining the health of this country?  Bully them!  So says prominent bioethicist Daniel Callahan.

OK, to be fair, he does not use the word bully, but I see little difference between what he is recommending and bullying.  He calls it “stigmatization.”  He tries to compare it to the successful stigmatization campaign against smokers to reduce smoking in this country.  He justifies his theory thusly:

It will be imperative, first, to persuade them that they ought to want a good diet and exercise for themselves and for their neighbor and, second, that excessive weight and outright obesity are not socially acceptable any longer. 

Really?  Excessive weight and obesity are not socially acceptable any longer?  When, pray tell, was being fat ever acceptable?  I would like to know when he thinks that is.  I have been battling poor self-image all of my life because even when I was thin, everyone told me I was fat.  I have faced social ostracization,  mean comments uttered both aloud and muttered so that just I could hear them, and mockery because of my weight.  I have been held back professionally because of my weight and my weight also affected my dating life.

So, when exactly, does he think it became cool to be fat?

Here are some of his suggestions for bringing social pressure to bear on fat or on their way to being fat people:

I do not know what is scarier, the fact that he is promoting bullying as a useful tactic in the fight against obesity or that he thinks that overweight people do not know what so-called thin people think of us.  Yes, I stand by my term bullying because that is exactly what this kind of social pressure is.

The worst part of all of this?  Mr. Callahan makes many other astute and valid points in his thesis.  He talks about bringing government pressure to bear on the food industry, taxing high caloric, high fat food, changing school lunches, finding ways to address childhood obesity.  All excellent ideas.  But those ideas are completely overshadowed by his promoting negative social pressure.

He spent a lot of time comparing fat shaming to smoking shaming.  He also tried to address what he views as the reasons other people do not think fat shaming will work.

Why is obesity said to be different from smoking? Three reasons are common: it is wrong to stigmatize people because of their health conditions; wrong to think it will work well, or at all, with obesity; and counterproductive with the obese because of evidence that it worsens rather than improves their condition. Ethically speaking, the social pressures on smokers focused on their behavior, not on them as persons. Stigmatizing the obese, by contrast, goes after their character and selfhood, it is said, not just their behavior. Stigmatization in their case also leads demonstrably to outright discrimination, in health care, education, and the job market more generally. The obese are said to be lazy, self-indulgent, lacking in discipline, awkward, unattractive, weak-willed and sloppy, insecure and shapeless, to mention only a few of the negative judgments among doctors and nurses.

These are the wrong reasons.  I am not saying that he does not have a point with some of these reasons, but he is missing the bigger point.

The differences between smoking and eating are this.   One, we need to eat to live.  People need to consume calories, protein, vitamin rich food every day or we starve.  We do not need to smoke to live.  Two, smoking affects the health of the larger community through second-hand smoke.  Obesity generally only affects the health of the obese person unless that person is pregnant or may become pregnant.  Also, there is no evidence that social shaming and ostracization keeps people from gaining weight or makes fat people lose weight.  It only makes them feel bad about themselves and encourages fat discrimination.

Finally, we will never really find a way to combat obesity in this country as long as many people live in poverty, lack access to healthy food, and lack access to health care.  Also, as long as losing weight is seen as part of the “diet industry” and a way for business to make money off of people who want nothing more than to be healthy we will not adequately be able to address the obesity problem.  People need real knowledge on how to become and stay healthy.

I have no problem with some amount of social pressure to encourage people to be healthier.  I just think that the pressure needs to be positive and encouraging not shaming and negative.  I think most people want to be healthy.  Most every woman I have ever met has dieted or tried to change their diet to lose weight and improve their health.

I imagine that on many issues concerning obesity, Mr. Callahan and I are much closer together than we are apart.  I just cannot agree with his fat-bullying campaign.

What we do not want to do is create a world where it is OK to harass fat people and create such stress that it drives many people into eating disorders to live up to negative social pressure to meet seemingly untenable goals set by people who do not have their best interest at heart.


Are You Dating A Fat Chick?

So, I saw this interesting article on Yahoo today about mixed-weight couples.  Obviously, I had to check it out because it is a subject with which I have some experience, but more on that later.

One of the assertions put forth in this study was that when there is a relationship between a thinner male and an overweight female, there are more relationship problems than with people of similar weights or a thin woman/obese male combo.  Then I read this sentence in the Yahoo article and I nearly lost my mind.

“The overweight partner might feel insecure, judged, and angry, which could ultimately contribute to a power battle around food and eating in the relationship,” the researchers wrote. 

So, you’re saying that if there is conflict over dining together or relationship stress, it’s because the overweight woman feels insecure and judged?  I was like, wtf?  It certainly could not be because maybe he’s an ass and makes her feel bad for being overweight to make himself feel superior, could it?  I was ready to hop on here and rail against this study.  Then I decided to actually read the abstract on which the Yahoo article was based.

The reason for relationship stress was actually much more nuanced than the Yahoo article implies.  I am going to sum up here.  Basically, they said that if the healthy weight partner was not supportive, there was stress in the relationship.  Overweight women did one of two things.  They either spoke their mind and there was fighting, or they suppressed their feelings and ate more, thus compounding the problem.  On the other hand, if their partner was supportive of healthy choices and was encouraging, there was less conflict in the relationship.

I highly recommend reading the abstract.  They reached some other interesting conclusions, but I will leave that for you to read.

I think it is interesting that they focused on mixed weight couples, but it has been my experience that many men are overly concerned with their partner’s weight regardless of whether that partner is actually fat and regardless of whether they themselves may be carrying a few extra pounds.

When I was in college, I weighed maybe 130-135 at my heaviest.  Granted, I probably could have lost a good 10-15 pounds, but I was not fat.  I was dating a guy who was 6′ and about 200-210.  I wasn’t a stick, but neither was he.  He often talked about my weight or made derogatory comments about it.  More than once, he placed his hand on my abdomen and said, “Shouldn’t you do something about that?”

Meanwhile, I never said anything to him about his weight.  Would he have looked better at 185-190?  Maybe, but I was not concerned.  He apparently thought about my weight and what other people thought about it a lot and often mentioned it.

This is just one example, but I did a quick search of the internet and found the following:

Men’s Health: How to talk to her about her weight

Huffington Post: Half of men say they would leave a partner who gained weight

Science Nordic: Men say women weigh too much

I know that there are also many examples of women who treated men badly because of their weight, the money they make, or any number of things.  Women are not totally blameless in bad relationships.

I just really think that it is important to remember that if there is something you want to change in your partner, like their weight, being supportive and caring goes a lot further than insults and guilt.

I think also, it is important to learn the difference between a little bit of extra weight and being obese.  We have a distorted view of what is considered overweight.  I hate it when I watch commercials and they show a picture of someone who is at least 75 pounds over weight next to some skinny chick and the skinny chick says, “I followed this diet and I lost 30 pounds.”  No, honey, you didn’t.  Not if that picture is actually you.  No wonder women have such a distorted view of what our bodies look like.

I have often thought of putting out a book with pictures of women’s bodies at different heights and weights and including their measurements.  I know that is probably nearly impossible because women come in all shapes and sizes and weight can be carried in many different places on different people.  But I still think it would be important for both men and women to see real difference between 30 pounds of extra weight and 75 or 100.

Nonetheless, in my opinion, if you feel your partner is putting on too much weight and that weight is causing health problems, obviously you should talk to them.  For instance, if they have gained considerable weight, say 15 pounds a year every year you’ve been together, that might be a problem if you’ve been together for 5 or more years.  That can start causing some health problems.  If they are obese or morbidly obese, obviously something should be done.  If you want your relationship to work, approaching the situation from a place of love and concern is the way to go.

I suggest doing the following:

  • Look in the mirror and evaluate your own health.  Do you need to lose some pounds?  Do you have other health concerns you want to address?
  • Talk to your partner about addressing both or your health problems because you want to have a long, healthy life together.
  • Ask your partner what health goals they want to set instead of making it about what you want for them.
  • Suggest that you both develop a health plan together and come up with ideas.
  • Support and encourage each other’s healthy choices.
  • Allow for mistakes or cheat days for each of you because nobody’s perfect.

However, if your partner is only a few pounds more now than when you first started dating and that extra weight is not actually causing them any health problems and they see no reason to address it, you might just need to learn to live with it.