Over 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.
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)
- Apple – http://store.apple.com/us/help/contact
- Amazon – http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/ref=gw_m_b_he?ie=UTF8&nodeId=508510 This should be the Help & Customer Service page; hover over “Need More Help” the click “Contact Us” to the right; sign in or click skip; Step 1 = “Something Else”; Step 2 = “Non-Order Question”; Step 3 – choose your method of contact.
- Google – https://www.google.com/intl/en/contact/ The upper right hand side of the screen provides phone and address for the headquarters and main office
- Microsoft – 1 (800) 642-7676
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