I think this broke the record for fastest time to me getting 100 requests to write about something: Bob Harper has suffered a heart attack. If you’re not familiar, Bob is one of the original trainers, and now the host, on the abomination of a show that is The Biggest Loser.
He was working out in a gym when it happened and luckily an MD was nearby to give him CPR and use the defibrillator to keep him alive. He was unconscious for 2 days. (At this point I’d like to point out that you can get CPR certified and learn how to use the Automated External Defibrillators and possibly save a life.)
I want to start here: I’m sorry that Bob had a heart attack, I’m glad that he is recovering (and that he is lucky enough to be able to afford the care he needs – including a 10+ day stay in the hospital.) I take no joy whatsoever in his health issues.
I also understand, and experience, the frustration that the people e-mailing me and asking me to write about this are talking about.
Because every story about Bob’s heart attack mentions his genetics, and the fact that genetics are a huge part of heart attack risk. That’s true, of course. The issue here is that you won’t hear Bob telling that to the contestants he is screaming at on the show, and you will never see the media fall all over themselves to talk about genetics when a fat person has a heart attack.
Bob makes his money telling people to attempt to manipulate their bodies in ways that are dangerous – sometimes very dangerous (and also, by the way, hardly ever work) because, he tells them, it will help them avoid heart attacks. Bob makes his money suggesting that fat people should be blamed for having heart attacks (as if genetics don’t play a part in body size, or risk of heart attacks,) but now suggests that thin people should not – even if those thin people participate in under-eating and/or over-exercising which can also predict heart issues.
For the record, I believe in blame free, shame free, future oriented healthcare, so even if Bob’s habits around food, exercise, sleep and/or stress played a part in his heart attack I don’t think that he should be blamed or shamed for it.
This situation brings the following into sharp relief:
- Thin people have all the same health issues as fat people, so being thin or becoming thin (even if it was possible for more than a tiny fraction of fat people) can neither be a sure preventative nor a sure cure for any health issue.
- Regardless of anything else, health is not an obligation or barometer of worthiness. Though research suggests that behaviors (rather than body size, or body size manipulation) are the best way to support health, there are many other aspects that contribute to health outcomes that are not in our control (including the oppression that comes from being fat in a sizeist world.)
- The Biggest Loser is a horrific show in which fat people are physically and emotionally abused and it needs to go off the air. If the show were done with dogs instead of humans it wouldn’t have lasted even a single season because animal rights activists would have (rightly) gotten it shut down for cruelty. This has nothing to do with Bob’s heart attack, it’s simply a fact I like to point out at every available opportunity.
A big part of fat phobia in our culture revolves around the idea of a “healthy weight” as if there is a weight you can achieve at which you will be immortal unless and until you get hit by a bus. This does a disservice to everyone since it suggests that for fat people the only thing we can do to support our health is try to manipulate our body size (which, again, is not what the research says) and it suggests that thin people are healthy because of their body size, which is also not what the research says.
What we need is a paradigm that is based on health, not body size, where the focus is on creating a world where people have the opportunity to love and appreciate their bodies, and see them as worthy of care, and where everyone has access to types of movement they want to do, types of food they want to eat, and the kind of healthcare that wealthy people like Bob Harper get. That’s what Health at Every Size is about. So let’s have a reality show about that.
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