The Problem With Calling People Overweight

Actual SizeI got this question from reader Lissa today:

I hear fat activists say that they prefer “fat” to terms like overweight and obese, but I don’t get it.  What’s better about fat than obese or overweight?

Well Lissa, I’m glad that you asked! As always people are allowed to identify themselves using whatever terms they prefer, and I can only speak for myself, but here’s what I’ve got.

My issue with the word “obese” is with how it’s used to pathologize a height/weight ratio.  The idea that our weight in pounds times 703 divided by our height in inches squared gives a health professional tons of information about our health and treatment options is pretty messed up, and that’s before you take into account the fact that the “obese” definition includes Dwayne Johnson (The Rock).  In addition to being an annoyingly useless abuse of mathematics,  it’s dangerous to those of us who fall under its numerical construct,, causing healthcare professionals to focus on height weight ratio instead of their actual patients, even making them believe that they can diagnose mental and physical health issues from a picture of someone they’ve never met.

Overweight, to me, is offensive because it suggests that someone’s body is wrong.  It’s body shaming. Over what weight?  Saying that someone is “overweight” is saying that:

  • There is a weight that they should be.
  • They are more than that weight.
  • It’s somehow our job to decide how much other people should weigh

And that’s  crap. People are lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and it’s not our job to tell them that who they are is somehow too much person.  People come in different sizes and unless they ask us for an assessment of their body against some measure, then it’s not our place to say that they are “over [some arbitrary] weight.”

Finally, I talk about my use of fat in great detail here, but the (relatively) short answer is that I like the term fat basically because it is descriptive of my situation – I’m short, I’m brunette, I’m fat – I’m not over [some arbitrary] weight, I’m not (as The Fat Chick says) medically under-tall. I’m just fat, and there’s nothing wrong with being fat. To me the idea that I need another word suggests that the fact that I’m fat is a bad thing – something that I should be ashamed of and need euphemisms and verbal gymnastics for (like that whole “I’m not fat, I have fat.”  Right, just like I insist “I’m not brunette, I have brown hair.”) It’s also a reclaiming word – it’s a a word that people use against me, and my use of it is one way of telling the bullies that they can’t have my lunch money – and that I won’t stand for people heaping their prejudice onto my adjective.

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FDA: Trade Your Double Chin for Nerve Damage!

The FDA has approved a new injectable that might destroy the fat cells in people’s double chins.  Of course, sometimes it doesn’t work, and if it gets injected in the wrong place it will indiscriminately destroy cells.  Also, it can involve up to 6 treatments, each with up to 50 injections – so you know that’s gonna be happy fun time.

At least this isn’t another thing that can kill us outright. but of course you know that there are going to be side effects. First of all, it was only tested in “two clinical trials which enrolled 1,022 adult participants.” The “common” side effects include swelling, bruising, pain, numbness, redness and areas of hardness in the treatment area. Holy shit, where do I sign up? BUT WAIT!  There’s more…Kybella can cause “nerve injury in the jaw that can cause an uneven smile or facial muscle weakness, and trouble swallowing”. So there’s that. Also, it costs thousands of dollars so, yay, because who doesn’t have an extra few thousand dollars just hanging out waiting to be spent on a painful procedure. (And the study subjects were only given a 12 week follow up, so they’re just assuming the treatment will stick after that.) Also “68.2% of subjects responded to Kybella based on a composite of validated physician and patient measurements” the other 31.8% would have spent thousands of dollars, had hundreds of injections, and risked serious side effects for absolutely nothing.

I don’t blame or judge the people who choose to get this procedure, underpants rule and all. But I’m fed up with a world where we can’t accept and celebrate the diversity of chins, and where some social benefits can be obtained by spending thousands of dollars to get hundreds of injections to make our chins a little smaller, risking a number of unpleasant side effects on the way.

But the most annoying information to come from this is:  “Subjects also reported improvement in the emotional impact of submental fat when asked how happy, bothered, self-conscious, embarrassed, old and overweight they felt following treatment in relation to the amount of their submental fat.” I hope the fact that losing a couple of ounces of chin fat makes people feel somehow “less overweight,” helps people to see what a meaningless construct “overweight” is.

But the larger issue is what’s happening here: they help create a world where we are convinced to feel bothered, self-conscious, and embarrassed about the shape of our [insert body part here], and where being old and/or fat are bad things, and then they create expensive treatments to “solve” these “problems” that they helped create.

As my friend CJ puts it, this amounts to taking our self-esteem, cheapening it, and selling it back at a profit.  We are allowed to buy into this system, but we are not required to buy into it. We have the option to skip the injections and just love and appreciate our chins as they are (and while we’re at it the rest of our bodies if we want) and to fight for a world where people – and especially women – don’t have to spend a huge amount of time, money, and energy – not to mention pain and dangerous side effects – just to feel good about ourselves.

I’m rocking my double chin! If you are too, feel free to leave a picture in the comments!

headshot movie
Photo by Doug Spearman

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I’m Too Sexy For This Prom?

Alexus Miller-Wigfall was given one day of in-school suspension for wearing a prom dress that was “too revealing” based on the school dress code.  Before we get into this, let’s play a quick game of “Which girl got in trouble”

Harrisburg dress is fine3 Harrisburg dress is fine4 Harribburg prom dress
Harrisburg dress is fine5
Harrisburn dress is fine

The girl in the red dress is Alexus, the one who was suspended. The girls in the other pictures when to the same prom with no problems. To be very clear, I think all the dresses are fabulous, and I have absolutely no problem with any of the dresses (and I think it’s super cool that they do this “red carpet” with the community cheering for the kids and taking pictures, but that’s beside the point.) My point is that this seems pretty arbitrary at best.  So what is the difference?  According to Alexus, the assistant principal told her, “You have more boobs than other girls. The other girls have less to show.” (I’m sure that conversation was completely necessary and not awkward at all... careful not to step in all the sarcasm.)

The school eventually dropped the suspension – though they have refused to clarify their position or explain their decision –  but it brings to light (again) a completely messed up idea wherein fat women are told at the same time that our being fat makes it impossible to be sexy, and that our being fat makes us too sexy. Either way, we are told that we have an obligation to cover up our bodies – to hide them from a world that seems to think that we should never leave our homes, stay behind closed blinds. ordering exorbitantly expensive clothes online and paying shipping (and return shipping when we can’t guess based on a size 6 model whether or not we’ll like the way something looks on our size 26 bodies.) This is not ok. If a school is going to have a dress code, then that policy should apply to students across the board, regardless of size (and I recommend checking out this post for a great discussion of the issues with school dress codes.) Our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of, and neither are our clothing choices – there’s nothing wrong with how much skin you choose to show, or not show, any time, at whatever size you are.

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Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

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Colorado Preschool Takes Candy From a Baby

Grading lunchFour year old Natalee Pearson left for school with a ham and cheese sandwich, string cheese, and a 4-pack of Oreo cookies that her mom packed her for lunch. When she came back home the Oreos hadn’t been touched and she explained to her mom that her teacher wouldn’t allow her to eat them.

The teacher had sent home a note to clarify:

Dear Parents, It is very important that all students have a nutritious lunch. This is a public school setting and all children are required to have a fruit, a vegetable, and a healthy snack from home, along with milk. If they have potatoes, the child will also need bread to go along with it. Lunchables, chips, fruit snacks, and peanut butter are not considered to be a healthy snack. This is a very important part of our program and we need everyone’s participation.

This raises a lot of questions, but let’s start with this one:  Who the hell wrote these guidelines? I have no problem with a kid eating potatoes and bread together but it seems like an odd thing to require. They can have bread, cheese, and lunch meat on a sandwich, but they can’t have crackers, cheese, and lunchmeat (aka lunchables.) They are apparently required to drink milk regardless of preference or lactose intolerance. They can have potatoes (fried?) as long as they also have bread, but they can’t have chips. Peanut butter isn’t “considered to be a healthy snack” by whom?  Who gets to decide what is “healthy” for a child – if the teacher is vegan can he insist that kids only bring vegan food?  If a teacher thinks that paleo is the most healthy diet can she insist that kids bring paleo meals? Apparently if a teacher thinks that potatoes are only healthy when accompanied by bread they can enforce that rule on the class.

When Natalee’s mom Leeza called the school they told her that they had given her kid some “healthy alternatives” instead of her cookie.  Leeza replied “They don’t provide lunch for my daughter. I provide lunch. It’s between me and the doctor in terms of what’s healthy for her.”  The thing about “healthy choices” is that health can vary for different people (a vegan kid might find peanut butter to be a great source of protein, another kid might die if he eats it) but the operative word here is “choice” which the school took away from both the parent and the child.

I think that this is a really important thing to notice: Not only did the teacher refuse to allow a child to eat food that her parent chose for her, but they offered her food that her parent did not approve for her to eat. So not only doesn’t the school think that the kid can make the decision about what to eat from her lunchbox, they decided that the child’s legal guardian isn’t allowed to decide what to feed her child, and that it’s their right to offer the child whatever food they decide is healthy.

The school director reportedly refused to speak to Leeza, but once the media got involved the director said “the note should not have been sent out and is being investigated… the school does not have any policies regarding telling students what they can or can’t eat at lunch time.”  All evidence to the contrary.

Other parents have been chiming in online, talking about the difficulties they’ve had when the school food police thwarted their attempts to get their kids through picky eating phases, growth spurts, or *gasp* providing a variety of foods and let their kid make some food decisions.

One mom talked about packing a lot of different stuff in her kid’s lunchbox so that the kid can pick and choose what to eat based on how hungry she feels at lunchtime, but the teacher took her dessert away and told her she couldn’t have it until she ate every single thing in the lunchbox.  Another parent found out that her kid had taken to hiding in the bathroom to eat dessert after her teacher humiliated her by taking away her cookie in front of her class and lecturing her on healthy choices  – that’s definitely setting her up for a healthy relationship with food.

Upsettingly people are justifying this based on the need to “prevent obesity” which suggests that because fat people will likely continue to exist (as we always have) parents should lose their right to choose what to feed their kids.

I am tremendously grateful to teachers for the difficult work they do, and I think that they have enough to contend with, without being asked to serve as the food police. Let’s keep our eye on the ball here and focus on making sure that all kids (and all people while we’re at it) have enough food to eat, and all parents have access to the foods that they would like to feed themselves and their kids instead of trying to have the teacher supplant the parent as the person who chooses what to feed a child, if only on the off chance that the parent doesn’t think that potatoes must be accompanied by bread.

Like this blog?  Here’s more cool stuff:

Like my work?  Want to help me keep doing it? Become a Member! For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you.  Click here for details

Buy the book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Book Me!  I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com

A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development (casting, finding investors etc.).  Follow the progress on Facebook!

If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.