Now, obviously, we can’t really take someone seriously as a journalist when she says “overeating costs the NHS alone over £5billion a year and takes up beds that could be used by those who haven’t eaten their way to illness.” Not only does she make a beginner statistics correlation vs causation error (assuming that body size causes diseases when there is no proof of that), the statistics she’s using are actually about a ratio of weight and height, not how much people eat – but somehow she thinks that “overeating” is actually interchangeably with body size. (Also, any argument that includes the cost of obesity/tax dollars is a ridiculously slippery slope.) But just in case the obesity epi-panic is so out of control that her complete ignorance in this area isn’t immediately apparent and utterly discrediting, let’s break down her main argument:
Insults aren’t productive but comparing it to other prejudices is also insulting to those who suffer abuse and injury because they have a difference they’re born with.
The title of the article is “Anti-obesity is not the same as other types of discrimination.” I don’t do a lot of comparison of discrimination except in my own experience so, speaking just for myself as a queer woman, this argument sounds damn familiar to me. I came out in the mid nineties and did a lot of queer activism work (I was the first official liaison between the Queer community and student government at the University of Texas, I was one of the small group who started the Safe Space program at UT etc.) I remember very well the argument that discrimination against queer people was justified because we could just choose to be straight and then the abuse would stop. Even if I didn’t remember those days, I wouldn’t need to because it’s still happening. I’ve written before about the horrifying nature of the argument that if we can “blame” people for something, then we should be “allowed” to discriminate against them for it.
Yes, fat people are discriminated against. Yes, discrimination based on size is “real” discrimination that’s worth fighting. No, it’s not ok. Ignoring the fact that there isn’t a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people have successfully lost weight (and success is generally defined as 2 to 5 pounds,) fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, or discrimination and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could become thin.
Just in case all of this wasn’t ridiculous enough, Fiona then blames fat people for our own discrimination – the old chestnut that if you’re being bullied you should ask yourself “Is it possible to change myself in a way that might get my bullies to stop beating me up?” And if the answer is yes, you’re somehow obligated to do that because, people like Fiona believe, the problem isn’t bullies, it’s that people won’t respond to their bullying with self-loathing and compliance. The idea that the only type of discrimination that’s wrong is discrimination against people who can’t change themselves to suit their bullies preferences is incredibly problematic on every level. And we’re back to things that I would hope that everyone, or at least everyone who is not Fiona, understands.
Perhaps the saddest part of this whole thing is that she wrote the article in response to a study that found that fat shaming is correlated with higher weights. I think this study is problematic on a number of levels, but her understanding of the study means that, at its base, her argument is that even though she thinks being fat is bad, and even though the research shows that weight discrimination and fat shaming are correlated with people being fatter, Fiona is still wasting digital ink to argue that discriminating against fat people isn’t that bad. It sounds to me like a woman desperate to justify her desire to treat a group of people poorly based on how we look, but of course that’s just a guess. It really doesn’t matter why she does it, as long as we’re clear on how very wrong she is.
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