Our Bodies Our Selves

Wrong RoadOne of the many issues with the idea of the “War on Obesity” or “Preventing Obesity” or talking about “the Obese” is that it defines people entirely by their body size.  The government is waging war against a body size.  Society talks about people with the same body size as if they can be defined and understood completely by the mathematical equation that defines us as “obese” – a definition that has been changed by the very people who profit from it.

Billions of dollars are being spent fighting a war against bodies whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is greater than 30, based on the incredibly shoddy research that suggests that the things would be cheaper if there are no more bodies that meet that height/weight ratio.

This idea of “The Obese”  ignores the fact that the only thing obese people have in common is our height and weight ratio. Fat people are as varied in behavior as any group of people who share only a single physical characteristic (and the shame and stigma that currently comes along with it.)  Not to mention that this group includes people who are very muscular, as well as skewing with height.  Kate Harding’s BMI Project gives us a visual representation of how arbitrary these categories are.  The arbitrary categories of “overweight” and “obese” are separated by a few pounds, but we are supposed to believe that those four pounds create a major different in disease outcome and life expectancy regardless of behaviors, genetics, or body composition?

The CDC table says that in adults a BMI of “30 and over” is considered obese.  So, based on health risks that are attributed to “the obese” at my height I would be at the same risk if I weighed 174 pounds, or if I weighed 1,074 pounds.  Even the charts that include “classes” of obesity have a category of “x weight and up” (which is my current category – “Class 3 – Super Obese” which, it turns out, does not come with a cape and a secret identity as it sounds like it should,)  which means that if I believe this whole BMI/body size = health thing, I have same risk at my current weight of around 300 pounds, or if I doubled or even tripled my weight.

When the US Surgeon General announced that “Obesity is the terror within. It is eroding our society. It will bring a disease burden we can’t afford,”  he starting a campaign encouraging people (friends, family, bosses, doctors, and employers of fat people) to fear, blame, and stigmatize a group of citizens based on nothing more than how we look. To reduce fat people to our bodies, suggest that those bodies are failings (though I vehemently disagree with this), and that being fat is such a massive failing that it should overshadow anything else that we do or are – it doesn’t matter what we accomplish or who we are, you can tell by looking at us that we are domestic terrorists eroding society.


When medicine substitutes body size for health, they are being lazy and cheap – trying to use an easy and inexpensive method to determine health instead of  the complicated work of treating the actual patient in front of them.  We can treat each individual as such, use basic testing to get information, listen to them when they talk about their bodies and what they are experiencing, and only discuss weight when it becomes medically necessary (for example, large unexplained weight fluctuations.)

Rather than assuming that fat people’s health issues are all caused by their fatness but the exact same health issues in thin people are caused by something else, rather than studying body size and making guesses about what would happen if we could eliminate certain body sizes (which we have no idea how to do),  we could study health issues, and interventions that can help people of all sizes.

Rather than pouring money into a War against the result of a mathematical calculation, rather than wasting billions of dollars in anti body size campaigns that have absolutely no evidence to suggest that they will succeed at changing body size or health long term, research and medical science could stop being so ridiculously lazy and start actually looking at health.

This society tells people that, if someone is fat, our bodies define us – that they knows everything they need to know about us with just a cursory glance, and that the news is not good.  This is why size acceptance activism is necessary – because people and societal institutions define, stigmatize, bully and oppress us based on our size – all sanctioned, even encouraged, by the government – based on stereotypes, assumptions and bigotry.  Our bodies are amazing, but they are not all that there is to us, and my activism is working toward a world where, though I will always be willing and happy to advocate for my fat body, there will be no need to do so.

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10 thoughts on “Our Bodies Our Selves

  1. I don’t know if you’ve run this one before (because parts of it look familiar to me) or if this is something new, but it always hits hard, particularly the part about “BMI 30 and over” having the same risk factors. How is that science??

  2. I think it’s true to say that the Western world is experiencing a health crisis, with rising rates of diabetes, hypertension, cancer etc etc. The “lifestyle” diseases. Problem is, calling it an ‘obesity’ problem actually confounds the issue. For a start, how much of this spike in disease is as a result of an ageing population? In other words, because we’re all living longer, healthier, more productive lives so can get to an age where the wear and tear starts to show? You could argue we could bring down the rates of lots of health problems by making life better for people at all ages, like encouraging community contact, particularly for older people. Alienation and loneliness are killers that brings disease in their wake. But I notice the scaremongering finger waggers are silent on this – in favour of piling on more alienation.

    1. or we could all just die earlier. or perhaps it is society itself that is causing the spike in those diseasess or it could be living in a more crowded world or who knows what? Apparently, it is so much more profitable to say it is our size.

    2. I think there’s a decent number of people who’d debate whether we’re in a health crisis.

      Both diabetes and hypertension (among other conditions) have had their definitions expanded, so that more people are now diabetic and hypertensive. Categories of “pre-diabetic” and “pre-hypertensive” have been added as well. Expanding the categories naturally makes it so more people than ever have the disease. We’ve also gotten better at treating these diseases, so that people with them have a higher quality of life and live longer after diagnosis.

      Also note that rising cholesterol, blood pressure, and insulin resistance appear to be a normal part of aging, and our population has more old people than before.

      Cancer detection has gotten a lot better–I’ve seen several doctors argue that the cancer ‘epidemic’ should more probably be recast as an ‘epidemic’ of diagnosis. Cancer too can be a disease of age; one doctor said that by age 80 (iirc) *all* men had some form of prostate cancer. The trick is figuring out why some men get it so much earlier than others.

      Another question to ask is what *aren’t* people dying of? People now surviving long enough to get diseases of aging can be a good sign, depending on how you interpret it. Maria didn’t die of childbirth complications at 26, so she lived to die of diabetes complications at 75. John didn’t die of measles at 12, so he lived to die of heart disease at 68.

      And as always: people have to die of something. If a woman dies at 82 of a heart attack, is it fair to say heart disease killed her, or that natural causes did?

      (Sorry for long post. I’m incapable of brevity.)

      1. If a woman dies at 82 of a heart attack, is it fair to say heart disease killed her, or that natural causes did?

        Also, just a random piggybacking off this idea… If Tori tells her doctor, when she is thin, that her grandfather had bypass surgery at age 85, the doctor thinks this is pretty darn good. If she tells a new doctor the same — years later, when she is no longer eating triple digit calories per day — when she is fat, the doctor goes, “Oh, so you have a family history of heart complications, eh?”

      2. “Categories of “pre-diabetic” and “pre-hypertensive” have been added as well.”

        As my dad likes to call them, empty categories. Anyone who doesn’t have diabetes is pre-diabetic. Anyone who doesn’t have hypertension is pre-hypertensive. You either have it, or you don’t (thus are in a constant state of “pre-” until you get it).

  3. I wonder whether increased inactivity contributes to both the actual health issues and the fat panic. I weigh within 20 pounds of what I did when I “didn’t look fat.” I was two even sizes smaller then, I got about three times as much exercise, and my face was not perceptibly “fat.” Exercise is much more difficult now. My weight, as I said, has altered by about 20 pounds, or less than 10 percent, but now I am definitely visually fat, not just “big.” I used to have a waistline and I don’t anymore.

    I am also creakier and I feel like crud in the morning a lot more often than I used to. I know that if I can get back into exercising, I will feel better, because I used to get a nice high at the end even if all I wanted to do at the beginning was crawl back into bed. So my health will improve and I may also go back to being “big” instead of round. I wonder how many other people had to give up on the idea of an exercise club because money was too tight for child care much less club dues, had to quit going on hikes because they needed to work extra hours instead, etc. The Recession hasn’t been good for people. How many other fat people now feel worse and look visually stereotypically fatter? OH NOOOOO FATTIES EVERYWHERE SUUURGING TIIIDE OF FAAAAAT

    All of this gets turned around by my doctor into “eat less so you look skinner or you will get the dreaded diabeetus and explodeanddie.” No.

    I also recall Fat Heffalump’s experience with the disaster simulation, where the rest of the team voted to abandon the 300-pound man with the broken limb on the basis that he was obviously too weak to help rescue himself, when, as she pointed out, Yeo weighed that much at the top of his game.

  4. Oh you say it so well. I am so tired of going to a doctor, any doctor, same doctor, new doctor, and being sent home with an pat on the head (I won’t take their stinking drugs if I can help it) and being told oh, you’re just fat. Thank you as always for your obvious logic that you say so clearly.

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