How to Waste 1.5 Million Dollars

WTFSo let’s say that you are in charge of an agency that has $1.5 million to spend on health research.  Knowing that there are limited research funds, do you spend it on research for:

a:  a cure for any of the thousands of  diseases for which we don’t have a cure

b:  figuring out why lesbians are fat

Readers including Natalie, Darryl, and others let me know that the National Institutes for Health actually chose b.  Seriously.

According to the good folks at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, Mass., (BWH) who will be wasting $1.5M, 75% of lesbians are overweight or obese, 25% higher than straight women.  Gay men are 50% less likely to be fat then heterosexual males.  The BWH researchers, having perhaps too much free time and more money than brains thanks to the generous NIH grant, want to figure out why.

I, as you might imagine, have some questions around how this qualifies as research deserving of funding:

Where in the hell are they getting the data on obesity numbers within these populations? It has been my experience that a lot of the data around how many people are fat in any population are highly suspect at best.

As a bi woman am I counted as 1/2, or not counted at all, or is it a percentage based on my Kinsey scale score? Don’t get me wrong – I’m quite happy for them to ignore me in this particular instance, I’m just curious.

Why not just treat this like almost all the rest of obesity “research” and jump to a pseudo-logical conclusion:  “sex with men is the key to thinness.”  Good, we’ve got sorted, now let’s put that 1.5 million dollars toward research that isn’t patently ridiculous and go on our merry way.

If they find out that it’s because of negative issues within the “thinner communities” – for example, perhaps disordered eating is much more prevalent in straight women and gay men – will this turn into research to help those people or are they committed to just thinning out the fatties?

Are they trying to create more oppression for queer women and fat women and fat queer women or is that just a side effect?

Ok seriously, what the effing crap?  We are spending 1.5M in tax dollars to figure out why more lesbians than straight women are fat and more gay men than straight men are thin? Considering the fact that queer people are estimated to be at most 10% of the population is the idea to spend tons of money for lesbian-specific obesity interventions, or are they just hoping to tell straight women and men what not to do?

And finally, if this doesn’t make us realize that we have gone really far down a bad road with the war on fat people what will?

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65 thoughts on “How to Waste 1.5 Million Dollars

    1. Here’s the thing, though, and why I’m thankful for you, Ragen. If I hadn’t read your post, it would probably not have crossed my mind to be pissed about this. Thanks for opening my eyes.

  1. Maybe they could study whether or not people who experience less pressure to be thin also have better mental health. If they wanted to find out if people who experience less social stigma are healthier, they picked the wrong group, that’s for sure.

    Also, now I want my husband to come home from work. Even if having straight sex makes people thin, it’s a risk I’ll just have to take.

      1. Thanks, Helena, but I can’t be the only one here willing to step up. If we’re doing our own study, we need to have a lot more volunteers. C’mon, y’all, we need fatties willing to have sex five days a week to see if they lose weight, and we need gays and lesbians willing to do the same thing to see if they lose or gain. We’re doing SCIENCE!

        1. Tee-hee!

          I shall do my best to do my “research.” Gotta work out a way to have the hubs at home more often.

          At a minimum we should all be happier, no?

        2. (raises hand)

          I’ve actually done this research before. My husband and I have had horizontal marathons… and you know what? Neither of us got thin. We just looked ridiculously happy and had some difficulty walking a straight line.

          All the same I encourage others to participate in the study if they are so inclined. After all, the plural of anecdote is not data. We need a wider sample including both straight, gay, and bisexual participants.

          Just imagine a world of happy people of all shapes and sizes too blissed out to care who is and isn’t fat.

          1. Now this – Just imagine a world of happy people of all shapes and sizes too blissed out to care who is and isn’t fat. – is my kind of a world. Where can I sign up? 😀

        3. lol..the only thing I got from having lots of sex was pregnant twice..which caused me to gain weight. So, I’m guessing straight sex doesn’t lead to thinness..but I’m pretty sure my boyfriend isn’t gonna mind any extra sex LOL.

    1. OMG, THAT’S my problem! My hubby and I are not having sex as often we should! THAT–not my bum ankle, bad back, age and decision to stop listening to the diet fearmongers– is the real reason I am not an “ideal” weight. I need to tell his superiors that he needs to alter his work schedule so that he is home every night so that I may become thin.

      Um, NO. I think this deserves a Grumpy Cat Meme.

  2. Yeah. I saw that announcement. It made me think of various cancers, Parkinson’s, mental health research, heart disease and various other conditions that could use $1.5 million. Or my wallet that could use those tax dollars back…

    It is true there hasn’t been a lot of health research for queer people. I am just sad that the NIH can now point to this ‘research’ and say they’re doing something for queer people, too.

  3. They probably are rating it on BMI as well. Meaning that female athletes (who are probably more likely to be “out”) are going to tip the scale, so to speak. Where “out” gay men are more likely to be “femme” because they can’t “pass”. EVEN if this wasn’t total BS, it’s proving absolutely nothing.

  4. ……

    I can’t even muster sufficient anger, I’m just genuinely stunned into speechlessness.

  5. Oh my God the opinionated conservative cabbie was *right* about something!

    I’d *love* to know more about the application and selection process by which this happened. What academic said to themselves, “How come lesbos are fat but queers are skinny?” What review panel read this proposal and said amongst themselves, “This is an interesting question whose answer could add to the sum of knowledge”? What approval board decided, “Absolutely, this merits an outlay of government resources”?

    Seriously, this reads like a deleted scene from PCU.

    1. Here’s where my mind when when I read “How come lesbos are fat but queers are skinny?” … gee, maybe if you ‘do’ men, you feel the need to be really thin… maybe both straight women and gay men are under pressure to be super thin like models.. and women are more interested in the character of a person and accepting of plush upholstery (as my uncle used to call the state of being fat)..

  6. Could it possibly be the misconception that men are visual creatures and prefer thinner partners?

    Even if that was a hypothesis they decided to research, it still does not validate wasting that kind of money on psuedo-science.

  7. Sadly, this idea filled Mr. Twistie with hope that the NIH grant the non-profit he works for just filed for will come through because obviously they have WAY too much money to waste on patently ridiculous, inane, fatuous, and just plain douchebaggy programs.

    Alas, I had to burst his bubble. This is where the money goes that could fund the program in elder nursing his company wants help with. See, old people should just hurry up and die and not cost anyone anything more while we poke and prod to shame more fat people and more gay people.

    It’s particularly shameful in light of Em’s comment in re: the dearth of funding for health issues particularly affecting the LGBTQ community. Conveniently, though, it does add yet one more to the pile: extra body-shaming!

    Seriously, this has me royally pissed off six ways to sunday and then some.

    Bulk want smash.

  8. _This_ is the research getting funded to help my LGBTetc community? Daaamn.

    Anyone else reminded of that Nicole Hollander cartoon wherein Sylvia is asked, “Can you imagine a world without men?” and answers, “No crime and lots of fat happy women.”
    I’m sorry I can’t imbed the image!

    1. Lots of geneticists, too- gotta find a way for girl/girl reproduction!

      (Myself, I would like them to do that anyway.)

  9. I think that the study is ridiculous on a lot of levels. However, I’d be interested in reading it to find out what conclusions they draw. I mean, I’ve never thought about it, or cared. But, since it has now been brought to my attention I can’t un-think about it – I blame that on the part of my brain that obsessively needs to solve riddles.

    Anyway, my completely non-scientific, based-solely-on-observation, opinion is that lesbians and straight men generally don’t feel that they HAVE to be thin. The cultural messages we get tell us that looks aren’t as important when attracting women.

    Conversely, with straight women and gay men, society tells us that, in order to attract a man, one must have a certain look be cause men are supposedly more visual (and more superficial).

    In other words, even when gender pairings are changed, the ingrained gender BEHAVIORS remain the same. When attracting men, do A; when attracting women, do B. Blah blah blah.

    None of this, however, has anything to do with (physical) health. And it really doesn’t matter in the long run because people are fat for a variety of reasons.

    But I do believe that we’d probably have more “fat”* people if being fat weren’t so stigmatized, and if weight weren’t so heavily linked with attracting a mate. I think that there are a lot of thin people who are struggling every day, obsessively, to stay within a certain socially acceptable size.

    Without the stigma, those people would be free to “let themselves go” and let their bodyies be whatever size they are going to be naturally — which could be much larger than they think is normal.

      1. Im not sure we’d have more fat people if fat weren’t stigmatized…maybe at first some of those who are forcing their bodies to be thin would relax and plump out… but also, maybe many fat folks would relax enough into being themselves that they’d feel good enough to go out and have fun physically and they’d lean out due to more exercise. I say lean out, becuase when I am able to actively exercise, I notice my body changing shape, though not loosing pounds. I tighten up and build muscle.

        1. As I said, I put “fat” in quotation marks because personal perceptions of fat vary by individual. I guess I have to explain it further: For some, “fat” might mean “I don’t look like a VS model,” while for others it might mean, “I look like Camryn Manheim.”

          So, when I said there would be more “fat” people, I meant that there would be more people who weren’t whatever standard of “ideal” was that they had in their heads. That they would weigh more, or be bigger than, they are now – be it by 10 lbs or 200 lbs – because they won’t feel the need to struggle to maintain their weight/size at a ridiculous ideal.

          1. I agree that people would be healthier and happier.

            I didn’t say that I CARED about whether people were fatter or thinner, I was just pointing out that if people didn’t feel COMPELLED to maintain a size or weight that is unrealistic for many, that people who are currently working very hard to maintain said unrealistic size/weight would probably be bigger than they are now; because they wouldn’t feel the need to engage in behaviors and habits aimed solely at minimizing the size of their bodies.

            That they might find that their bodies settle into whatever their natural weight/size might be, and that weight/size could be bigger (or fatter) than the so-called ideal that we’ve all be indoctrinated to aim for.

            Hell, Linda Bacon has pretty much said the same thing.

            1. Today seems to be my day for saying something the wrong way. 🙂

              I wasn’t criticizing. I was actually trying to piggyback on it, not correct it. I’m sorry it didn’t come out that way!

              1. No worries. My reading comprehension skills probably aren’t at their best today. Plus, I was concerned that what *I* had said was coming out all wrong, and I was trying to clarify.

                1. I wasn’t trying to criticize either… just commenting… guess if I can’t take the reaction, I shouldn’t offer it up

  10. Assuming the “observation” is true, and not BS…

    Answer: STEREOTYPES! I can say from experience as a straight fat woman that people get really pissed off when you’re not a lesbian, and that includes people on all sides/shades/degrees of opinions about homosexuality.

    So, where’s my million+ bucks?

  11. I have one friend dying from colorectal cancer and others suffering from one form of cancer or another, but I guess their lives mean nothing to the NIH. I have family and friends suffering from fibromyalgia, but I guess their comfort and lives mean nothing to the NIH. There are numerous other chronic and terminal diseases that are leaving people housebound and unable to enjoy life, but their quality of life obviously means nothing to the NIH. No, instead the NIH is now focusing on why lesbian women tend to be fatter and why gay men tend to be thinner. *THAT’S* how they are using my tax money?!? I want a refund so I can give my money to research foundations that are trying to make a difference. *shakes head*

    As for the question about bisexual individuals…Ragen, since I’m bi and you’re bi, I say we count as a whole. 🙂

    1. There’s more chance of getting money back, probably in the form of press and notoriety, in a study of “OMFG FAT DYKES LOL!” than in cancer or fibro or cystic fibrosis or any of those ugly diseases. Publicity equals dollars when it comes to research, and I can guarantee that this grant proposal won out simply because it was so outrageous and flashy that it would stir up controversy. Hopefully, the group has a secondary, serious grant proposal that involves, say, epidemiological research in depressed populations in the US, maybe following HIV or HepC in meth-affected rural areas of the country. We can hope.

      (Damn it, why did I have to end up with fibro serious enough to keep me out of med school? Epidemiology is such an interesting field!)

  12. No doubt this is an insane waste of money. On the part of the researchers…. maybe they just had to come up with ‘something’ to do for their work/degree. I know that I didn’t finish my masters becuase I rebelled against the expectation that I perform some research and none of the options I had made me feel that it was a reasonable use of my time, intellect or money, and I refused to comply to the expectation. As for the funding…. I’m floored…. all I can think of is that is a spin intended to make the NIH look like they care about the gay community

  13. Where is Sen. William Proxmire with his Golden Fleece Award when we need him? 🙂

    Is anyone else here old enough to remember him???

  14. this is how our gov’t works — they make the decisions about where the money goes. one might consider that this means we need to change our gov’t. jess sayin’. and while this probably sounds like it’s a political comment, not a social one about size acceptance, … consider for a moment that they might be related … if not the same thing exactly.

  15. The only thing I can come up with other than “what the fu…fu…fu…FLOCK” is a quote from one of my favorite television programs from the 1990’s, “Living Single.” It goes a little bit something like this:
    Synclaire: Did you ever think what the world would be like without men?
    Kadijah: Yeah. A bunch of fat, happy women and no crime.

    Admissibly, I never had any luck in the romance department so maybe I’m a little bitter. But that one resonates with me.

    1. That episode aired just the other day, and I laughed because it had a ring of truth to it. (Don’t get me wrong – I do like my hubby, but I also know he’s a rare duck.)

  16. Maybe the narrow minded buffoons think that obesity causes queerness in women.
    Maybe they are hoping to find a way to avoid the omgfatdeathgayness thing.
    What dolts.

  17. Announcing a bran new WEIGHT LOSS PILL!!! It is SCIENTIFICALLY proven that guzzling cum makes you thinner, so we filled these pills with SEMEN! Enjoy!

  18. may i throw out that if 50-75% of a population is any one thing, then perhaps the definition of what is over that particular thing needs redefining?

    i hope i make sense, i just had dental surgery & am still very sick. but this is such an important point that it must needs be made even if in a less articulate than usual manner.

  19. Only 10% of people are Gay or Lesbian, or is it only the 10% of people who feel safe to come out of the closet?

    1. I read somewhere that only 10% of women have the perfect hourglass shape. May instead of emulating that %10, we should emulate the gay 10%.

  20. I LOVE this cat poster, but the issue it goes with is NOT funny. I cannot believe that Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA is really spending a National Institute of Health grant of $1.5 million dollars, to study why lesbians are fatter than their heterosexual counterparts. OMGosh! What a HUGE waste with little to no proof of that in the first place!! Ragen, you make some excellent points, as you always do! WHAT is the big deal about overweight Lesbians??? NONE, that is what! Makes me nauseous just thinking about it! BAH!

  21. You know, the biggest irony here, to me, is that I’m reading this post while I’m supposed to be packing for a romantic long weekend with my girlfriend.

    (BTW, she loves my body. Last guy I dated was on my ass to lose weight. So was the complete monstrous bastard I married. Hell, I think women are more likely to appreciate the person they’ve got, whereas too many guys go, “Awww! These tits aren’t like the ones I was promised on TV!”)

  22. This is really the dumbest thing fat-related I’ve heard this year. I hope at the end of the year Ragen, you compile a Top 10 Worst list and this is #1.

  23. #1. Queen Victoria had sex with a man, and it didn’t do her any good.

    #2. This is just institutionalized gay bashing, fat bashing, and sexist claptrap. Most people that I know (or see on tv on the news and whatnot) view gays and fats as some type of “other”, some weird deviance from “normal”, something to be studied because it’s so strange.

  24. There are an awful lot of people who don’t seem to understand how science and science funding work here, and frankly this is the kind of sensationalist “what is the NIH wasting your money on now?” article I would expect to see in the Fox News opinion section. (And just found on the fox news opinion section, actually, by googling “Brigham and Women’s lesbians obesity”). First off, it’s pretty irresponsible to judge a grant on a couple snippets from the internet. This is what sensationalist news networks do when they characterize working on a cervical cancer vaccine as “studying Caribbean sex workers” or studying chromosome breakage as “fruit fly research”. It’s technically true, but it leaves out basically all of the information. In fact, a lot of the (I assume rhetorical) questions you ask later in the post are probably answered within the proposal, except that every outlet covering this story only cares about going bananas over two or three sentences from, given NIH grant formats, what is probably a quite lengthy proposal.

    I do understand that you probably don’t think there’s a lot of value in most forms of obesity research, but honestly I don’t understand the leap from “Jesus, the NIH is funding obesity research *again*” to…well, anything greater than that.

    Biology is complicated, and when you’re studying a phenomenon you don’t fully understand the causes of, the main thing you do is target disparities. If you find a sub-population that skews one way from the population average and another sub-population that skews the other way, that’s something worth investigating (if you grant the phenomenon is something worth investigating in the first place). Most discoveries are made by finding an organism or group on either end of the spectrum and comparing them to average and finding out what’s different. The fact that group x is different from group y is different from the whole population is never the full extent of the question. The point is to identify factors involved in causing these differences and use those factors to identify still more. This is a generalizable strategy that’s used in research in all sorts of biomedical fields in all sorts of model organisms.

    Now, if you don’t think there’s value in studying the causes of obesity, well, that I can understand. But then the problem should not be this grant in particular and the strategy should not be a sensational string of rhetorical questions that jump to conclusions for a study that probably hasn’t even started yet; the problem should be the direction in which the NIH is herding most of biomedical research. It’s not the details here that damn this money as wasted, because as far as general strategies in human population research go, studying a disparity as big as this one is really not a bad place to start.

    1. Cass,

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I hear what you are saying and I stand by my post Obesity research is highly problematic on it’s face as it pathologizes a body size in a way that is not evidence based and that is something that we talk about all the time on this blog and so I chose not to restate all of those points today. Many people are surprised by the questions are not required to by answered in obesity research proposals – in fact, one of the hallmarks of obesity research is that the claims upon which the research is based (obesity is bad, eleventy gabillion people are fat, fat causes diseases) are often not required to be proven or even referenced as they would be in other research (Lucy Aphramor did a great job of discussing that here:

      The questions that I posed, while some of them are tongue in cheek, are not rhetorical and are intended to speak, in a humorous and accessible way, to the difficulties of undertaking such research, as well as the danger of further stigmatizing already highly stigmatized group under dubious guise; while also questioning the wisdom of doing such – especially given the paucity of research funding that is available and the number of actual health problems that we could research in any number of ways. (For the record, the study started in 2011 and is currently expected to last for 5 years total)

      It is true that scientific research does not happen in a vacuum and that many good things can come out of undirected and even misdirected research, but since we can’t fund every piece of research decisions have to be made. So yes, I think that this is a waste of money and I think that is a completely reasonable opinion to hold, though of course not the only one.


      1. Thanks for your reply.

        Most of my disagreement with the ideas in the original post is not with the idea that there are serious problems with obesity research (and questions about whether that’s where research funding should be going). I agree with you that there are, and I always find your posts on the matter quite interesting and informative. Rather, my issue is with the treatment of this proposal in particular.

        I think some of my disagreement stemmed from the fact that the format of mocking proposals with small snippets of information that basically only include the population they intend to study (i.e., Caribbean sex workers, etc..) is a popular strategy for discrediting all sorts of really interesting and valid research, and, even when aimed at a less interesting and less valid proposal, is still something I don’t think should be propagated. There are plenty of things wrong with obesity research without using the same strategies to discredit the NIH that Fox News does, you know?

        I agree also that there are problems with choosing as your target group a population that is already doubly stigmatized. However, as far as experimental designs go from a scientific perspective, investigating a pair of groups that experience a phenomenon at much higher and much lower rates than average, respectively, is actually a good approach…assuming, again, that the phenomenon merits research money in the first place. As you say, that is not a given, but when such a strategy is chosen, the point is not to figure out “why lesibians are fat”, or “why the people of this mountain village get a rare form of cancer no one else in the world has ever had”; it’s to find factors, whether social or biological or something else, that affect not just these people but are also generalizable. If the accepted but unaddressed question underlying the whole field of research is completely faulty…well, that’s a whole other kettle of fish, and one you’ve addressed really well in this comment.

        1. Here’s the thing… the best way to get an answer about why lezzies are fat and twinks are thin is by ASKING members of the LGBTQ community, instead of treating us like a science experiment. The reasons for the differences in body type percentages are absolutely 100% cultural. In fact, I can tell you why right now:

          Why are more lesbians fat than straight women? It’s REALLY simple: We’re already othered. It’s similar to why more queers are kinky– we’ve already gone so far as to question our heterosexuality, why not question your vanilla-ness too? In this case, it’s a matter of already being othered because of your sexual orientation, so why are you going to adhere to a beauty standard enforced by the mainstream when you’ve already been ousted by the mainstream? Lesbians and gay men are going to follow a beauty standard that exists within our OWN community. For some gay men, this happens to look fairly simliar to the mainstream beauty ideal held up for women (hence why more are thin; not he case with bears, but that’s another conversation).

          Or, put another way, lesbians are not trying to attract heterosexual men (who, we are at least told, like skinny women). Lesbians are trying to attract other lesbians and thinness is not the key to attracting other lesbians. Queerness is. Sure, some lesbians prefer skinny women, some larger women, but the vast majority of us are looking at personality and interests more than body size, and we’re also already sensitive to what it’s like to move through the world as a woman and what kind of negative body messages we’re bombarded with everyday. We are deliberating trying to separate ourselves from the mainstream– not adhering to an oppressive beauty ideal is a great way to do that.

          1. Your statement reminds me of a quote from a Jewish author sometime in the 1950s who said that all the misunderstandings about Judaism and Jewish law could have been solved by going down the street and asking a Jew. But no one ever did, not the Romans, not the Christians, and not the Muslims. It’s the result of intellectual laziness.

          2. Awesome! That’s what Was going to point out! That’s also why some of us don’t shave our legs, have short hair, etc. Sometimes I hesitate to confirm my queerness because I don’t want others to think i have “let myself go” by getting obese, not shaving, having short hair, skipping makeup, etc.. just BECAUSE I am a Lesbian, but because I have chosen as a woman to shed the time consuming and oppressive rituals in order to have more time to enjoy other areas of my life! Is there a study on how many hours a week women waste because they think they need to look a certain way? That all being said, I DO enjoy lipstick, mascara, glitter eyeliner, floral dresses, etc because *I* want to, not because I have to.

  25. HAHAHA, thank you so much for this, Ragen! I wrote an angry blog post about it a few nights ago, fuming in large part because if they REALLY want to know why lesbians are fatter than straight women, the easiest, cheapest and most efficient way to do it would be by surveying the LGBTQ community instead of, you know, treating us like lab rats. Not to mention the insane waste of money and resources bit.

    But when I read your post on it, I couldn’t help by laugh out loud at the absurdity of it all! Particularly the bit about counting as a “percentage based on [your] Kinsey scale score”! And the idea that eating pussy makes you fat, but gobbling dicks will make you thin. xD Just, thank you for bringing humor to something that is otherwise so deeply offensive!

    1. LOL “eating pussy makes you fat but gobbling dicks will make you thin” Can you imagine how thrilled the men of America would be if that was the study’s conclusion?

  26. I’m insulted and I’m heterosexual. So it’s perfectly fine to do a “POINTLESS” study on an already oppressed group in the name of terminating fat people? Oh the contradiction **smh**

    In a male dominated society there’s beauty standards for women to be thin and and attractive, so in order to impress the male species women feel they have to work harder. Same with gay men who are also trying to attract men. Heterosexual women and gay men feel they have to live up to these physical standards to attract a mate, where as Lesbians do not. Most women can set aside physical attraction because we’re more “emotionally” invested in the opposite or same sex. Lesbians don’t feel that pressure because they can care less about sttracting men, and it’s their right! Where can I go to voice my displeasure about this? I’m angry 😡

  27. Well now that I know this, I definitely won’t become a lesbian since that would make me fat. And I’m going to work on becoming a gay man to get skinny! (Or should I suggest that my husband try to be gay so that he’ll lose weight?)

    I’m interested to know what they’re hoping to find. Because it seems obvious/totally unimportant to me.

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