Why I’m Not Signing the OAC Petition

Company you keepOver the past few days I’ve received a number of requests to sign and share a petition.  On the surface the petition looks like a good cause – removing fat shaming apps for app stores.  On further inspection there are serious issues with this and, while I have tremendous respect for many of the people promoting it, and I think that they are very well intentioned, I also think what they are doing is a mistake that will have serious negative short and long-term consequences. And so, while I normally choose just not to participate in activism with which I disagree, this is really important to me and so I’ve decided to speak about it in my space.

The petition was started by the Obesity Action Coalition (Note: I’m not linking to the organization, I’m just am not interested in giving them traffic.  You’ll have to Google if you want to check them out for yourself.).  The problem with this group is that they lie, misinform, and make a profit on the backs of fat people by perpetuating the message that fat people are a problem that needs to be eradicated.  While I think there may well be limited situations where we can effectively use the power and privilege the OAC and groups like it receive for being fatphobic in a society that rewards fatphobia, I think that we should be careful to do so only where we can avoid actually promoting them or their message.

Let’s start with the lying.

They say “The OAC is the organization representing more than 93 million Americans impacted by obesity.”

This might give you the idea that they have 93 million fat members.  Not the case, they simply take an estimate of the number of “obese” people and claim to represent all of us. They sure as hell don’t represent me.  I’m know I’m not the only one but even if I was, this is still a lie.

Wondering who they really represent?  Let’s take a look at who funds them:

Companies that give $100,000 or more

  • Allergan – Manufacturers of the lap band
  • American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric [weight loss] Surgery
  • Covidien – “committed to better patient outcomes through bariatric surgery
  • Eisai – manufactures of the weight loss drug Belviq
  • Vivus – manufacturers of the weight loss drug Qsymia

In fact, it appears that every single member of the “Chairman’s Council” (those who give from $1,000 to over $100,000) is a company that profits from selling the promise of weight loss.  Is ending weight stigma so important to these companies that they are pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into the OAC?  Not exactly.  The OAC says that “Chairman’s Council members receive valuable exposure, such as a formal announcement in the OAC’s e-newsletter that reaches more than 30,000 individuals monthly, a listing in each issue of our quarterly magazine [which is called, I’m not even kidding here, “Your Weight Matters”], and a link on the OAC’s Web site which is a benefit only accessible through this level.”  It’s not exactly the 93 million people the OAC claims to represent, but make no mistake these companies pay the OAC to promote their products.

In addition to promoting weight loss methods that have been shown to be ineffectual and dangerous – even deadly – all to the tune of billions of dollars in profit, they also promote BMI as a way to judge health,

This group is for the eradication of fat people and the lip service they pay, in things like this petition, to not stigmatizing fat people is cold comfort.  I do not think that you can reasonably say “I profit from promoting the elimination of you and everyone who looks like you, but, you know, in a non-stigmatizing way.”

About that petition, let’s see what we’re signing onto when we support it.  This language comes directly from the petition:

30 percent of girls with excess weight and 24 percent of boys with excess weight report being teased by peers at school

Along with serious medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea and more, obesity carries the burden of being the last acceptable form of discrimination in today’s society.

Couching fat bodies as wrong with terms like “excess weight” shames the children they are pretending purporting to care so much about.  There is no shame in having a disease and suggesting that simply being fat or having any of the health conditions mentioned is a “burden” is a stigmatizing message.  Body size and health are two different things and by using language that constantly conflates the two, the OAC makes appearance into a disease which diverts funds from the research and treatment of actual diseases, and creates more opportunities for their high paying members to profit from their products that don’t work – leading to fat people being further stigmatized when we’re blamed for the failure of their products.

Also, Obesity is not the last acceptable form of discrimination. Saying this (especially when, like the OAC, you do it for profit) is an affront to the many, many people who experience discrimination in forms including racism, sexism, ableism, classism, homophobia, trans*phobia, and other forms of discrimination.

Let’s be very clear – every time someone promotes this petition they are suggesting that people read those words, and they are lending their support to them, including the idea that fat people are a problem that needs to be solved.  They are also sending people to the OAC’s website where they will be further indoctrinated with anti-fat, pro-diet culture. I think that couching this partnership as coalition building is a misapplication of the concept because, while there may be compromises to be made in building coalitions, I don’t think that promoting extremely well-funded organizations whose stated goal (and main form of profit) is eliminating you, constitutes a reasonable compromise.  Also, creating a coalition between a community that is fighting for the civil rights of a group of people and an organization that is for suppressing those rights (you know, in a non-stigmatizing way) by spreading misinformation for profit is not, to me, a worthy goal.

While I agree that fat shaming apps are a problem (though I don’t think they are nearly as much of a problem as partnering with the OAC) I think that a single point of agreement is not a good enough reason to create a partnership or even the appearance of one – I think we also have to consider downside risk.  If we give the OAC legitimacy as being part of, or friendly with, the Size Acceptance and Eating Disorder communities by helping to promote some of their work (work which is, in and of itself, deeply problematic), then we help to promote all of their work/agenda and give it legitimacy within our communities.

In fact I think that promotion of the OAC’s work can serve to drive more fat people who are exploring Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size to them, because they will believe that if we support them, then the OAC and their message (fat bodies are require treatment to become thin in order to be healthy) are part of Size Acceptance/Fat Activism/Health at Every Size. Those fat people will then be “educated” that, while they should “not be stigmatized”, their bodies are definitely wrong and bad, and need to be changed, preferably by buying the products sold by the members who donate hundreds of thousands of dollars to the OAC so that they will market them.

There are plenty of people and organizations that I agree with about one thing, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to lend my name to their cause and I think that’s exactly what we do when when we promote a petition created by the OAC .

I think that suggesting that all people who look a certain way should be eradicated IS stigmatizing.  So  I do not think that it’s possible to be truly against weight bias and simultaneously support an organization that has, as its platform, the goal of eradicating fat people and preventing the future existence of fat people, in a way that creates billions of dollars in profit for their high paying members.

Civil rights work is difficult, and sometimes it seems like we should take progress where we can get it, but I don’t think that we are so desperate that we must partner with groups that have our eradication as their stated goal.

Activism Opportunity:

You can speak out against the apps without speaking up for the OAC and its oppressive mission and work.  Below is contact information for each organization (with thanks to Lizabeth at BingeBehavior.com for the research)

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13 thoughts on “Why I’m Not Signing the OAC Petition

  1. This is such an important post. It’s easy for people to seduced by the false appearance of the petition. A true wolf in sheep’s clothing. Thank you Ragen for showing us what’s really going on.

  2. Sounds to me like cheap tactics to show all these poor fat people suffering from their illness (sarcasm!) that “we are on your side, we care about you and will help you” to make us buy the crap they promote.
    You know what this reminds me of? A german right wing (well, actually Neo-Nazi) party has this campaign demanding “capital punishment for pedophiles”, and they showed up several times when a known child molester was released from prison, revealing their identities and telling the people in the neighborhood “we care about you and your children”, so people who would have never dreamt of having sympathy for this party might see “hey, they are on our side, maybe they are not so crappy at all!” They use something that’s packed with emotions and fear to draw people to their side. Maybe this is a crass example, but isn’t it the same strategy? To use other people’s fears, shame and anxieties for profit? To use a campaign to tell people “we are the good guys, we are on your side, we understand you” to make them believe their other crap? If you have sympathy for someone/something you are far less critical…

    1. I agree. It’s not intentional, but the dynamic the trolls and cure-seekers have created is almost that of the classic good cop/bad cop routine. The “bad cops,” the trolls, threaten and bully us, and then the “good cops” in the OAC and its ilk sweep in to “defend” us from them… all the while operating on the same premise that creating a world without fat people is a worthy goal.

      And when it comes down to it, whether the person who harms us is just doing it to be mean or sincerely believes they’re really helping us, it doesn’t change the outcome of their actions one bit.

  3. At the risk of going off at a slight tangent, thank you for the link to the information about weight loss surgery. I have very painful arthritis in my knee but have been told a knee replacement operation would be too risky because I’m fat. But they understand that weight loss by dieting is extremely difficult to achieve (implication – fat people are terrible at sticking to a diet, though they didn’t quite say that) so I should be considering weight loss surgery instead, as if somehow that doesn’t carry the same anasthetic-related risks as the knee surgery – plus a whole lot more.

    I’m curious to know if you or others come across pressure to have weight loss surgery backed up with the justification that dieting doesn’t work. (I’m in the UK, in case that’s relevant.)

    1. My wife is facing her second hip replacement surgery in the near future (congenital hip deformity). She recently started experiencing severe knee pain, and went to a different Orthopedist, who strongly suggested weight loss surgery.

      She informed him that weight loss surgery is not an option she is willing to entertain, as she had both an aunt and a half-sister die due to complications during weight loss surgery. Regardless of what some doctors would like to tell us, ANY time we go under anesthesia, whether it’s for a “simple” procedure such as tooth extraction or something major, there is an inherent risk. It’s one thing to accept that risk to correct a serious condition. It’s another to accept that risk for vague promises and uncertain results.

      We figure it’s no wonder she hates seeing doctors. Too many default right away to the, “Oh, just lose weight and you’ll be fine” diagnosis, and never perform a more thorough exam to determine if the weight really is a factor in the problem.

      She’s been working on losing weight, from the standpoint of making her recovery and Physical Therapy after the hip replacement easier. The difficulty is that there is little she can do that does not hurt. She’s been doing water workouts to help strengthen everything, but one of the exercises she was doing in the pool is a strong contributor to her knee pain.

    2. A good friend of mine and Mr. Twistie’s has needed knee replacement for well over twenty years. At first the doctors told him he would be right as rain without any sort of major medical intervention in a matter of a couple months. Yeah, right. His kneecap had completely dislocated to the side of his leg. That wasn’t going to be fixed by a little rest and physical therapy.

      Today his doctors finally admit he ought to have a knee replacement… but tell him he must have bariatric surgery first because they don’t make replacement joints for bodies over 200 pounds!

      Funny, over those years I’ve heard vaguely about several professional football players who needed new knees, and they get them right away without having to slim down.

      So my friend is in constant agony which nobody will relieve. If he ever decides to accept the bariatric surgery, I’ll understand why.

      All the same, I hope he doesn’t do it.

      I wish they would just give him the damn knee he needs.

      1. Twistie, it’s amazing how so many in the medical profession just think we fatties are stupid. They will tell the most blatant lies and dare us to call them on it. Mr. Twistie is fortunate to have you as a strong advocate, and I hope your friend has someone who can help call his doctor on his bullshit. An anecdote: my parents’ parish priest, who weighs well over 400 lbs. is getting a knee replacement this year, and when he recovers, will have a second replacement. As far as we know, no one has recommended bariatric surgery, which is far riskier, but more profitable. (They are in Colorado, by the way, if your friend is considering finding another dr.) It’s scary how these doctors, whom we are supposed to trust with our lives, will just tell bald faced lies if it suits them. Why can’t the doc just say “I don’t feel comfortable doing this, but I can refer you to Dr. So and So.” Too much pride and money at stake.

  4. Autistic advocates face the same problem from Autism Speaks. Sometimes, they may manage to do something that looks fine. Most people seem to think that since they promote awareness, their anti-autistic messaging, attempts to sue autistic advocates into silence, paternalistic stances and pro cure funding can be forgiven.

    In both cases, we must be aware that endorsing an organization that lives on privilege is furthering that which continues to opress us.

  5. Thanks for the important reminder that who we get into bed with is not always best judged by the sweet nothings they whisper in your ear at the bar.

    I saw that petition and was going to sign for about a minute until I started looking at the language and found it problematic.

    That crack about the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ struck me as particularly galling in the face of the recent events in Ferguson, Mo.

    Oh, and I don’t have excess weight. I weigh just the right amount for me, whatever that specific weight is. I don’t know the actual number because I have much more important things to worry about in my life.

  6. One of the things that I’m doing with my newsletter today is offering ways in which people who choose not to sign, but who are still interested in stopping the apps, can make their voices heard as well – in essence side stepping any need to collaborate with OAC, etc. It might be helpful to offer up some addresses that people can write directly to the offending Big Internet/Tech companies if you deem that appropriate. If I can be of help, please let me know – and good job Ragen! Well balanced.

  7. When I received the email asking me to sign the petition, I got excited. Another anti-fat bigotry organization! Yahoo! Then read it and trashed it. They are sneaky, aren’t they?

  8. I had to go look at the website. Although I know you to be truthful, I had to see it with my own eyes. When I saw the phrases “All individuals are treated with respect and without discrimination or bias regardless of their size or weight” right next to “Your Weight Matters” I felt a horror.

    This is what they think is treating individuals with respect and without discrimination? Well, it’s certainly not my definition.

    Thank you for this blog. I doubt I would have paid much attention, and might even have signed this without the study it needed, depending on the person who sent it to me.

    Wow. I gotta quit that!

  9. From said petition:

    “Children are the primary users of these types of apps, and the apps are teaching children that the disease of obesity is a funny cosmetic issue, which we know is not true.”

    And there’s that Royal We the anti-obesity brigade likes to use when talking about fat people. What’s all this “we” stuff, OAC? I’ve been reading everything about weight and health I could get my hands on for the past year, and everything I’ve found points to “obesity” being mostly if not *entirely* cosmetic. The only mystery I see is how you can have the same information I do in front of you and still be pushing fat people to amputate their bowels.

    Bleh. I almost wish I hadn’t read that slimy petition. From the sound of it, their problem with “fat-shaming apps” – which they didn’t define as apps that dehumanize fatness but apps that present fatness as cosmetic- has nothing to do with weight stigma. It has to do with them wanting to monopolize the conversation on “obesity.” They don’t care the apps push an anti-obesity message, they care the apps push an anti-obesity message that isn’t theirs.

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