As a culture we are inundated with messages about health and weight that are based on fear. It seems that the weight loss industry discovered that “you know you want to look your best” (where “best” means “as close as possible to the current stereotypical photoshop beauty ideal“) was a much less powerful message that “NOBODY WILL EVER LOVE YOU!” Then they found that an even more effective message was “YOU’RE GONNA DIE FROM FAT.” ..so buy our products.
Then the media found that “Fat People Will End the World” made a much better story than “Other People’s Bodies Aren’t Our Business” or “Habits are a Much Better Determinant of Future Health than Body Size.”
Healthcare professionals bought in and, often at the urging of the government, started trying to terrify their fat patients into attempting to lose weight. Then sad, pathetic people with too much time on their hands started to become obsessed with blaming fat people for everything and/or trying to make sure that we don’t get a moment’s peace with tactics ranging from rants in every comment section on the internet to sending hatemail to those of us who refuse to live the way they think we should.
There are obvious problems with this – the first being that it’s not based on evidence. First the entire “lose weight to be healthy” idea is based upon an untested hypothesis. So few people have achieved significant long term weight loss that there simply aren’t enough to commission a statistically significant study.
Which leads us to the second problem – those who purport weight loss as a health intervention cannot produce a study wherein more than a tiny fraction of participants lost weight long term, and even the “successes” lost a tiny amount of weight. Weight Watchers claims success because their average study participant maintained a 5 pound loss over 2 years.
But there are more problems created by the combination of fear of fat, and misleading people about the likelihood and benefits of becoming thin:
When you make people terrified of being fat then it becomes easier for them to believe that thin by any means necessary must be better than being fat. That works in the diet company’s favor when they suggest that while everyone else is being told to eat whole foods, farm to table with the least processing possible etc., fat people should pay to drink thin chocolate beverages with a laxative effect, reconstituted soy protein shakes five times a day from doctors who join multi-level marketing diet schemes., eat food that is delivered to us frozen in a plastic bag for microwaving, or get our stomachs amputated, and other questionable practices.
It also causes problems within families. Fat people are pressured to make more and more weight loss attempts by partners who are terrified of losing their loved ones. Fat parents are accused of being bad parents who aren’t going to be around for their kids. Parents of fat kids are labeled as abusers and have their kids taken away.
Other people are encouraged to look at fat people and make ridiculous assumptions and comments.
Those who aren’t fat are also affected by the fear of being fat, which can lead to everything from horrible self-esteem to disordered eating. Women body-shame each other in a desperate attempt to feel better about themselves. People spend massive amounts of their time, money, and energy trying to claw their way an inch closer to the cultural stereotype of beauty and away from the dreaded OMGDeathFat.
And all for nothing. Nothing. And to add insult to massive societal injury, the evidence we do have shows that if people are interested in being healthier (and let’s remember that health is not an obligation, barometer of worthiness, entirely within our contorl, or guaranteed under any circumstance) the best path is simply to practice healthy habits and let their weight settle where it will.
We can opt out. We can say no. We can refuse to be terrorized into hating and fearing the bodies we live in every day, whether it’s by the companies who, as my friend CJ says, try to take our self-esteem, cheapen it and sell it back to us at a profit. We can refuse to bow to the pressure from those who have bought into the lies that form the profit base for those companies whether they are well-intentioned family and friends or horribly misguided internet trolls.
We can make sure that public health is about making options and information accessible to the public, not about making individual’s bodies the public’s business.
We can insist on our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – which are not size, or health, or healthy habit dependent – and which should include living without constant stigma, shame, and oppression, or fear of being or becoming fat.
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