Save Me From What “Everybody Knows”

I get so very, very tired of hearing all kinds of things about my fat body and my health from people who think the phrase “everybody knows”  is actually the same as “it’s been scientifically proven beyond a doubt.” To be clear, I’m talking today about statements regarding weight and health, which is a separate discussion from the fact that people deserve to live free from oppression, stigma, and bullying and that is not size, health, or habit dependent.

I often talk about how Health at Every Size (the assertion that people of all sizes can pursue health through healthy habits and without pursuing weigh loss)  is a “Galileo issue” because “everybody knows” that fat=unhealthy and thin=healthy and that weight loss is just a matter of “eating less and exercising more” and is possible for almost everyone.  Except that’s not what the evidence says at all.  But try to have an intelligent, evidence-based conversation and you’ll soon find yourself buried under a mountain of “everybody knows” arguments.  I thought I’d take this opportunity to point out some of the things that “everybody knew” at one time or another:

  • The sun revolves around the Earth
  • Heroin is non addictive substitute for morphine and a fantastic cough suppressant
  • Plowing the land will cause it to rain
  • Lysol is a great douche for that “not so fresh feeling”
  • Germs don’t cause disease so there is no reason for doctors to wash their hands
  • Heavy objects fall faster than light ones
  • Thalidomide is a good choice to deal with morning sickness

Remember that in their time “everybody” – including medical professionals and world leaders- defended these ideas as absolutely true, completely obvious, and beyond reproach.  And they were dead wrong.  That’s what I think is happening right now with the rampant anti-fat sentiment.  People want to shout “Fat is bad” with the same zeal that they would have shouted “The sun revolves around the Earth” just a few years ago  and pretend that it’s not possible that they’ve got it completely wrong.  But history and the evidence points in another direction:

Habits, not weight, are the best determinant of health.

Fat people are not the cause for the rise in healthcare costs.

Intentional weight loss almost never works in the long term.

You can absolutely be fit and fat.

Those who espouse Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size are just the new Galileo on the block.  It wasn’t easy for him either but the fact that he was put under house arrest and told to sit down and shut up didn’t change the fact that what he was saying was true.  It’s up to us to keep reminding people that “Everybody” very rarely knows anything and that if your arguments are based on what “everybody knows” then it’s time to check your sources.  In the meantime, we can employ strategies to deal with this emotionally and decide that if they want a war on obesity, we’ll give them one!

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So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, I would ask that you consider  becoming a member or supporting my work with a  one-time contribution.

The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen



21 thoughts on “Save Me From What “Everybody Knows”

  1. And as much as the Inquisition roughed him up, Galileo still said determinedly, “il mondo si muove.” (It still moves [around the sun].) Fortunately we don’t have an Inquisition in back of us, but we must continue to say the equivalent to all: “Fat/weight and health are not related.”

  2. I know this isn’t really the point, but thalidomide was never FDA approved for use as a morning sickness drug. It was used internationally for morning sickness, it was only used for morning sickness in the US by doctors who gave to their patients DESPITE the fact it had not yet been FDA approved. The drug’s approval was stalled by Dr. Frances Kelsey a true American hero; she is one of my feminist heroines and I hate that her name is getting lost to history.

    1. That sort of thing is happening today. Guess where doctors get the idea to use things for off label use? Its another ‘everybody knows’ idea that doctors pass around to each other about specific drugs. Cytotec for labor induction is an ongoing problem for the same reason.

    1. Wow!!! 😦 I’m so disappointed and saddened by what that scientist had to say. That goes against everything that science is supposed to be. I didn’t realize that the misinformation was due to something so insidious. I hope it’s not real, but a large part of me thinks it is…

  3. Galileo was a victim of politics and his own unknowing poor choices. In Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, he put the words of Pope Urban, Galileo’s friend who had helped him with several other publications, into the mouth of a fool. Galileo likely meant no malice in this, but his timing was poor. Pope Urban’s authority and right to the papacy were being undermined and the Pope was in fear of his own life. This publication also lost Galileo the support of the Jesuits, who had hitherto supported him. Technically, his heresy was about heliocentrism, but really it was about offending the wrong people at the wrong time in a very public way.

  4. My mom recently stopped talking to me because she thinks I’m too fat. She sent me an email saying that after seeing recent pics of me on facebook, she’s “very concerned about my health”. I feel very hurt and angry.

    1. Amy, I’m so sorry that this happened to you. I’m very concerned about your mom’s boundary issues. If I can support you in any way at all just let me know (you can also e-mail me privately at ragen at danceswithfat dot org) In the meantime I’m offering big fat hugs to you.


    2. I’m sorry you’re going through this with your mom, that is so not okay of her.

      I had to deal with some boundary issues with my mom regarding my weight because that’s been her main focus since I was a child, before I could even remember really, and I finally had to lay down the law that my weight was no longer a topic of discussion.

      I’m not saying you can or should do that with your mom, but I am saying it’s a possibility, if that’s a route you want to go.

      You deserve to be loved simply because you are her daughter.

      Sorry, I got kind of side tracked there, again, I’m sorry you’re going through this and I wish you the best of luck.

  5. Great post, Ragen! I fear that we are losing sight of the main point here when we get caught up in the details of Galileo’s story. it’s a great analogy, but clearly not meant to be taken so literally. The point is: we’re right, the science is on our side, and we’re going to stand by it. This position is deeply offensive to the world view of many; they are eventually going to have to get over it. The question for me is: how long is that going to take? I hope to live to be a very fat, very old woman; here’s hoping it’s within my lifetime!

  6. OK get this. My friend has a 85 yr old mother-in-law. She was given new meds for something (?). She started to put on a lot of weight. She asked her doctor what could be done so she doesnt keep gaining weight. You can guess what he said. Need I type it. “Just eat less and exercise more.” 85 yrs old. Holy Hell, doctor.

    1. The idea that 85 year old women can’t or shouldnt exercise is frankly offensive. I do charity work at nursing homes to bring activity to older people. Healthy at every size, and healthy at every size!!

      1. Let me make it clear, this is in referrence to Ragens blog which is that doctors “know” that all you have to do to LOOSE WEIGHT is to exercise MORE and eat LESS! I didnt say dont move. How does that offend you. I sure didnt mean to offend. But you missed the point. So I hope this clears it up.

  7. There are a heck of a lot of instances in medical history where ‘everyone’ has believed certain facts to be true, or believed certain treatments of procedures to be effective, only to be proven disastrously wrong later. Diethylstilbestrol is another one – given to prevent miscarriage, useless for that purpose, but we’re still seeing the fallout in terms of cervical cancer and other diseases in not just the babies exposed in utero, but also their children.

    The one I find particularly striking is the use of surgery on women’s genitalia in the 19th through to the mid-20th centuries in Europe and America, as a ‘cure’ for ‘hysteria’ – quite often just referring to any manifestation of sexual behaviour that wasn’t oriented towards vaginal sex within marriage for childbearing purposes. I find this a direct parallel to the use of WLS today – a procedure carried out on normal, healthy organs, with little evidence of effectiveness, a lot of evidence that it causes lasting damage, directed at a socially disempowered group of people ‘for their own good’, and aimed at ‘curing’ an ‘appetite’ which is seen as more than deemed socially appropriate. I’d like to think that in future, society will view WLS as similarly misguided.

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