When Good Intentions Go Bad

As I was reading articles about the Disney Fat Shame Ride and why it should be taken down, I noticed something that I’ve seen a lot before that bugs me.  Articles would quote scholars – experts in the field of childhood development – and somebody, let’s call them “bully99” (since these folks so rarely put their actual names on their work) will say “This is a huge problem and we need to stop worrying about kids feeling good about themselves and start caring about them dying before their parents”.

Now, I’m not saying that we should never questions experts in articles about health – I do it all the time- but if you are going to say that the National Institutes for Health are wrong, then maybe you should come up with some research of your own.

An article in the Calgary Herald mentioned that the Disney ride was opposed by the Binge Eating Disorder Association, National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Canadian Obesity Network and then went on to quote a Medical Doctor, Professor and Two Dietitians, an expert and author on food, and the doctor who chairs the obesity research and management at the University of Alberta who called the exhibit “appalling on so many levels.”

One response in the comments said “Disney did a superb job creating awareness to this disease. Is a shame not well intended people with attention seeking victim syndrome personalities are trying to slander Disney’s efforts.”

I’m sorry but is this person a moron?  Did they not read the article?  Do they really think that the University of Alberta chair of obesity research and management has attention seeking victim syndrome?

I’m a little bit tired of hearing that these type of people are well-intentioned because I think that having good intentions means that you do a little research and that if this many experts disagree with you, you consider that you might be wrong and if you continue to espouse your opinion you back it up with some research. “Good intentions” do not excuse actively being an uninformed bully.  If they weren’t so (choose all that apply):

  • Lacking in intellectual humility
  • Eager for the thrill of being mean to someone
  • Excited about putting someone down so that they feel better
  • In love with the sound of their own unsupported-by-research voice (or typed words)
  • Likely to profit from fat shame and hate
  • Ignorant of the benefits of their thin privilege

then they might take the time to see if there is a shred of evidence that supports their claims. If the commenters actually engaged in critical thinking they would realize that most of the experts in the Calgary Herald article are actively involved in anti-obesity efforts, so they are not Health at Every Size/ Size Acceptance people at all, and most of them are thin.

In fact, in other forums I would be pointing out that these experts have no evidence that any of their interventions are likely to lead to long-term body size changes.  The truth is that we’re really not sure of anything, so we have to make our best choice based on the evidence, also weighing what will happen if we are wrong.

The evidence suggests that shaming kids about their weight leads to disordered eating (both under and over eating), low self-esteem, and bullying. The evidence suggests that promoting weight loss behaviors in kids predicts eating disorders and weight gain but not weight loss.

So if we follow the evidence we would choose to focus on health, and promote programs that encourage kids of all sizes to develop health habits. If we are wrong about that intervention then kids health is the same as it would have been without the intervention.

Or, we could ignore the evidence, focus on kid’s weight and promote shame-based weight-loss interventions (it should be noted that there is no evidence to support that this would work, but many people are currently promoting it anyway.)  If we’re wrong, we end up with a generation of kids who are weight obsessed, have much higher incidence of eating disorders and are heavier and less healthy than they would have been had there been no intervention at all (which would seem antithetical if you buy into the idea that thinner bodies are more healthy bodies.  I don’t, but the people who promote this particular intervention typically do.)

So, we’ve been employing this shame-based weight-focused paradigm for a while now and hospitalizations for eating disorders are up 119% for kids under 12.  Eating disorders among boys are up. Girls are starting to be concerned about their body weight in kindergarten and the average age of dieting is 8.  I hate to go all doctor Phil, but hey – how’s that working out for ya?

Sigrún Daníelsdóttir, Cand.Psych., Deb Burgard, Ph.D., & Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, M.D. from The Academy for Eating Disorders wrote fantastic evidence-based guidelines for Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs.  Toronto Public Health already has a health-based program in place – it includes self-esteem as a component of heath, and suggests things like eating a variety of foods without guilt and making movement fun.

Hey look, over there, it’s a BIG FLAMING SACK OF DUH!

So there’s this contingent of people who think that shaming fat people, including kids, is a good idea, despite the fact that there is no evidence to support that and a mountain of evidence that suggests that it will do more harm than good. I suggest that it doesn’t matter if they have the best of intentions or if they are part of an evil plot to destroy the world because:

They are hurting us.

They are hurting our kids.

I’m all for providing people with information in a respectful way, and I’m all for letting people make their own choices for themselves.  But when they’ve clearly been provided  information (like, for example, having just read an article that contains a [group noun] of experts saying that shaming is harmful to health), and they are still arguing for shaming other people, who are not them, based on their own personal “tough talking” style and a complete lack of evidence, then I think it’s time to say that their good intentions have gone bad, stand up for ourselves, and start pointing out the deeply flawed logic.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen





16 thoughts on “When Good Intentions Go Bad

  1. First off, beautifully said, as always, Ragen. Thank you for championing intelligent truth.

    Second, a collective noun for a group of experts? How about a constellation? Or a parliament (like wise owls)? Let’s have a contest! 😀

  2. It seems many people did think that the Disney Habit Heroes was a good thing. And while I do think that Disney’s intentions were good…..that is just NOT the way to go about it! I am thankful that Disney did concede to the majority of their fans and take it down.

  3. I was having the hardest time trying to explain why this was a bad idea to someone on twitter. Multiple 140 character messages just weren’t getting there. So I wrote a blog post and send everyone here for the scientific explanations, because that’s what you do so well!

    Once again, I have to point out, that you rock…

  4. Whoa…seems this Disney thing has a lot of feathers ruffled in all different directions. Even if the attraction is no longer open to visitors, Disney is still at the center of a lot of attention. The conspiracy theorist in me wonders if that was their intention all along. So many objected to this exhibit, yet so few object how much of Disney’s legal dealings are shady and underhanded. It really doesn’t surprise me they put together something like this; disgust, yes, but not surprise.

    The people in the anti-obesity camp seem to embody the definition of insanity–doing the same thing over and over again and thinking it will yield a different result. How on earth will we make this kids thin unless we shame them? How else is this going to work?

    I love that you have science behind all this…and the raw data from the studies, not just the conclusions that the media draws. I once asked my Gyne in Germany about scientific studies, and how they decided which drugs were safe and should be endorsed and which weren’t. She leaned in and said, “You honestly don’t want to know. Companies are under pressure all the time to produce marketable results, long before the studies for safety are concluded. Preliminary and incomplete data has become the same thing as conclusive data because people want to make money faster. It’s truly, truly frightening.”

  5. I’m going to come off as a snob, but I’m alright with that since I am to an extent. That person’s grammar and word order was atrocious; they were using words and concepts they didn’t fully comprehend to make themselves sound more intelligent (which is something I actually find even in academic writing.) so, naturally they’re not going to make much sense, quite aside from their initial idea being off the wall anyway.

  6. You not only “can’t hate yourself healthy” (good way to put it!), but hate and shame and being bulled leads to kids hating, shaming, and bullying others!
    Hate, shame, and bullying begins at home. Shit rolls downhill: ie: dad yells at mom, mom yells at child, child yells at others.
    It amazes me that people don’t get that “Children Live as The Learn”.
    Bullying starts at home.

  7. I saw a vlog not too long ago by another HAES blogger, and he pointed out something about fat-shaming I had not ever considered before, despite the fact that it’s the category I fall into. True, that fat-shaming will lead to eating disorders for many and this is terrible, but we forget that there may be another reaction to fat-shaming: apathy. And, more to the point, apathy about one’s health.

    When you’re being told day in and day out that you’re fat and unhealthy and even doctors won’t take your medical problems seriously, is it any wonder that many people of size choose to just stop seeing a doctor and become apathetic about their weight? Especially for those not familiar with HAES, they may think health is impossible (or doesn’t count without the weight loss) and give up on healthier life choices.

    And, in this context, it’s not surprising to me that the incidence of health problems is high among people of size. I’m sure many are like me, who gave up on doctors because of repeated fat-shaming. Sure, I do still keep movement in my life (biking, dancing, etc.), and I try to make healthy food choices, but refusing to see a doctor may mean that I have unchecked health problems. At least, unchecked until you wind up in the emergency room for them. In this way, I would argue that thin people have the most opportunities for health, since they’re less likely to be discouraged by doctors and the medical field the way people of size are.

    All in all, fat-shaming is a terrible idea. I saw this quote on facebook the other day, which made me think of you, Ragen: “The only thing that anyone can diagnose, with any certainty, by looking at a fat person, is their own level of stereotype and prejudice toward fat people.” -Marilyn Wann

  8. Body weight is neither a behavior or a disease. It is a measurement of a person’s mass in Earth’s gravity. That is all it is.

    Yes, it can sometimes be affected by behaviors and by diseases, but weight is not itself a diagnosis or a diagnostic.

  9. I’m thrilled to hear the Disney project has been shut down. I’m tired of others peoples “tough love” approaches. Here’s a thought – go love someone else!

  10. I am so glad I found this blog.

    I had no idea about the Disney ride until this morning. How disappointing, I’m glad they closed it.

    What you’ve said about kids and dieting at younger and younger ages is something that terrifies me. I have one kid who looks like someone stretched him on the rack, but my other one has a rounder, curvier body type (even at age 6). I don’t want her to grow up thinking there is even one thing wrong with her body, or that her brother is better because he’s skinnier. I’ve never understood why she shouldn’t feel good about herself. I believe they are just right exactly as they are, both of them. Trust me, it was not a recipe for positive self-concept growing up in a household with two eating-disordered parents. One of them is now dead, and the other continues to shame my sisters and me about our bodies–and wants to shame our children, too. So, no, all you “bully99s” out there, it’s not about health vs. not shaming. It’s about not shaming. Period.

  11. the sad thing is that the Disney project is only shut down temporarily – for “maintenance”, as they say. So everyone needs to sign the petition to Disney to keep it closed/revamp it into something HAES-friendly and/or write letters to Disney letting them know how you feel about the exhibit, etc.

  12. Well put!
    One place to start is with educating MDs. So in honor of NEDA week, and in support of HAES I have put together a post to increase MD and healthcare providers’ awareness of such issues of weighing, commenting, and making stupid assumptions! If you like it, please spread it!

  13. As a born Canadian, Albertian and Calgarian, I can say where they are right on with the bullying and the need to shut it down, I am not suprised what was said in the comment, I have lived with that thinking most of my life and it has been bad for my health.

    But on the upside of all of this, I found this blog and have realized there is nothing wrong with me. I dance, swim, work out at the gym and all of my test have always come back normal, for my weight, I am healthy, and thanks to you Ragen, I am now able to in a sense bite back at the body shaming, the food shaming, ect that my friends and I have had to just live with. You go girl and you have one more person to carry the message of body/fat acceptance and health at every size.

  14. I was a chubby kid and shamed by my family. My sister especially loved to play enforcer. All it did was make me feel terrible about myself and make me not do things (sports, dancing in public) that would have helped slim me down. As an adult, the most annoying thing is having doctors ignore my health concerns and tell me everything will be okay if I just lose weight (eat less – exercise more, of course), even when they noticed that my muscle tone indicated that I was not a couch potato. I actually had a doctor tell me my aches and pains were because I was getting old — I was 25.

    It turns out that I have some extensive food allergies that were finally diagnosed 4 years ago (at age 42) by a doctor who didn’t automatically categorize me as fat and lazy. All those years of being shamed, and being put on diets, and then finding out all those foods they had me eat were the ones I was allergic to and were causing me harm (all grains and legumes). I still have issues caused by eating allergens for most of my life (loss of gallbladder, 60% of thyroid removed, troubles with vitamin deficiencies), but at least now I’m fairly healthy and I’m working on ways to improve it even more.

    I guess the point of this is that shaming not only doesn’t work, but the bias that the shamers have blinds them. If any one of my doctors had asked if someone in the family had a food allergy (my uncle), or had run tests, or had me try an elimination diet, I would have been dianosed years earlier, which would have stopped most of the damage. It will be difficult to change the minds of the bullies, but doctors and other medical professionals need to wake the hell up.

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