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The Media

Chewing the Fat in the UK

So spring is in the air and our old friend Jamie Oliver is back to his usual rabble-rousing with demands that academy schools must be subject to the same draconian school meals standards as LEA-controlled ones and the launch of a campaign, backed by an alliance of celebrities, footballers and obesity campaigners for compulsory healthy cookery lessons in schools. The second may be a laudible objective in its own right but of course he justifies it in the context of fighting what he describes in typically potty-mouthed fashion as the ‘biggest f**king obesity epidemic ever’. Ironically, the School Food Trust, a taxpayer-funded organisation set up to implement improvements’ to school dinners in the wake of Oliver’s first campaign in 2005, is now warning that many children are at risk of malnutrition as a result of inadequate portion sizes driven by requirements to reduce calorie contents, lack of cafeteria time and fear of weight gain.

Whilst a survey of British doctors and the claims that a majority support restricting healthcare to smokers, drinkers and fat people has been receiving a lot of attention from Fatosphere bloggers, another story involving doctors passed largely un-noticed. The Academy of Royal Medical Colleges, which claims to represent every doctor in the UK, has united in a ‘crusade’ against obesity, which it claims in predictably Chicken Little-esque fashion to be the biggest single issue facing Britain. According to its spokesman Prof Terence Stephenson the project will spend three months reviewing the evidence for different types of obesity interventions and strategies but the striking thing about this is how much has already been taken for granted; that obesity is a problem requiring intervention is never questioned and the familiar alarmist urgency of language abounds. Whilst it is pointed out that the recommendations are not final, the proposed inquiry seems to be something of a window-dressing exercise and I’ll bet my house there’s no mention of HAES or the counterproductivity of some of the more extreme proposals being mooted anywhere in the final report.

Meanwhile the latest salvo in Peta’s anti-obesity crusade has not been well received. A billboard depicting a coffin-shaped meat pie with the tagline ‘fight obesity, go vegan’ has invoked the ire of local people (the location was apparently chosen due to the opening of new crematoria capable of dealing with 50st cadavers) and, interestingly, Tam Fry of the National Obesity Forum. The hoarding was later defaced by vandals who tore away the ‘obesity’ section revealing a previous advertisement for McCain home fries. With food advertising next on the list of fat police ban targets, it seems that irony is rarely without a sense of humour.

Once again the language of the crisis has made the news. In an apparent rejection of a 2009 suggestion by the then opposition party that the word ‘fat’ should be used to shock and shame patients in preference to the more clinical ‘obese’ , a new NICE paper on fighting obesity in deprived communities advises against the use of the stigmatising O-word in favour of the (equally problematic from a FA perspective) phrase ‘healthier weight’. Woe betide any who suggest that fat people should be entitled to the use of respectful language, with the usual ‘antis’ dominating what passed for a debate in the mainstream media. British fat activist Kathryn Szrodecki pointed out on the BBC’s notoriously fat-phobic Breakfast show that whilst language is important in influencing attitudes, fighting the fat stigma that keeps fat people in their houses and avoiding the doctor should be even more of a priority, but was quickly drowned out with a rant from the obligatory ‘expert’. The Guardian’s take was typically puerile, with the implication that it was an instance of ‘PC gone mad’ more fitting of the Daily Mail, but even my city’s local newspaper covered the story, and with an uncharacteristically balanced piece.

Also in the Guardian ‘body image’ campaigner Suzie Orbach discusses the(really quite horrifying) findings of a British study into levels of weight-based discrimination in the workplace, Kevin Smith talks about his vilification and ridicule at the hands of the media following the Southworst sizism incident of 2010, and there’s a truly frightening demonstration of how fat hatred and rising levels of disability prejudice intersect over the issue of mobility scooters (or ‘obesicles’ as several commenters refer to them) and whether fat people without a specific diagnosis of a disability should now be prohibited from using them.

Elsewhere, rising rates of premature births and arthritis are the latest health crises to be blamed on weight, whilst a BBC report on a course for ‘fat food workers’ aimed at teaching them to cook healthier meals is also framed in terms of fighting obesity. There’s criticism of the sponsorship of the London Olympics by Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, renewed demands to replace the GDA method of labelling foods with a traffic-light system of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ items, another propaganda piece promoting WLS for kids and a study linking reduced testosterone levels to male obesity.

Oh, and yet another Channel 4 series, starts this week, this time claiming to tackle ‘Britain’s big fat problem’ with ‘secret eaters’ by subjecting ‘obese’ families to 24-hour surveillance in a chilling echo of the tactics employed by Social Services in the recent Dundee child protection case.

Whew. Now enjoy what’s left of the weekend...

Study: the Biggest Loser increases weight bias

In January's issue of the Journal Obesity, a Bowling Green Department of Psychology study: The Effects of Reality Television on Weight Bias: An Examination of The Biggest Loser.

From the abstract:

Weight-loss reality shows, a popular form of television programming, portray obese individuals and their struggles to lose weight. While the media is believed to reinforce obesity stereotypes and contribute to weight stigma, it is not yet known whether weight-loss reality shows have any effect on weight bias. The goal of this investigation was to examine how exposure to 40-min of The Biggest Loser impacted participants' levels of weight bias. Fifty-nine participants (majority of whom were white females) were randomly assigned to either an experimental (one episode of The Biggest Loser) or control (one episode of a nature reality show) condition... Participants in The Biggest Loser condition had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals and more strongly believed that weight is controllable after the exposure... Exploratory analyses examining moderation of the condition effect by BMI and intention to lose weight indicated that participants who had lower BMIs and were not trying to lose weight had significantly higher levels of dislike of overweight individuals following exposure to The Biggest Loser compared to similar participants in the control condition. These results indicate that anti-fat attitudes increase after brief exposure to weight-loss reality television.

The Biggest Loser increases weight bias, especially among thin people. No big surprise.

And Michelle Obama is appearing on the show! I really want to think that Mrs. Obama means well. I want to think that she's a decent person, if a bit misguided. But the study above has been available for months, and even without it, isn't it obvious that The Biggest Loser is horrible? That the contestants are bullied? That the methods used to make them lose weight are unsustainable?

In the Huff Post, back in 2010: Michelle Obama On Bullying: Adults Need To Set Example. I guess she's changed her mind. If fat people are the targets, she thinks bullying is a-okay. What a disappointment.

Academia, Obesity Epi-Panic, and the Emperor’s New Clothes

A quick hit today with apologies to everyone since I have been completely overcome by work lately and unable to dedicate time to writing. I hope to have everything sorted soon so that I can continue the series on food and food processing. In the meantime, I want to talk about articles in the press, and commenters who bring joy by pointing out the naked emperors in our midst.

It is both wonderful and terrible to have the Newspaper of Record for these United States as one’s hometown paper. On the one hand, there is some VERY fine reporting in the paper. On the other hand, one has to contend with the Fat-Bash Olympics on a daily basis. I have been really fed up lately with the patronizing tone of some of the writers who address topics of health. It really has been worse than usual. And yet, a new crop of commenters seem less and less willing to remain silent, so they are pointing out the birthday-suited emperors running around in academic head-dress justifying their studies by bashing fat and fat people.

Most of the time, unfortunately, I have to say that the worst of the fat bashing contenders play on the Commenters team, not the Journalists team, in the contests. What I have been seeing more of, however is, a commenter such as the one (whose comment I will talk about today) who will distinguish him or herself by calling shenanigans on one or more aspects of an article, and showing very clearly and with few words the bias which underlies it.

One such article appeared last Tuesday in the Times. You can see the article here. It was written by Jane Brody, and it references primarily the work of Dr. Richard J. Jackson, professor and chairman of environmental health sciences at the UCLA. He works in the field of analyzing how the built environment (our cities, suburbs… our living environment in short) affect health. Well, so far so good. In these pages we have often commented upon this. What is unfortunate, however, is that this Dr. Jackson seems compelled to repeat the same shibboleths of the fat-hating academic tribes to justify his pursuits. Here is an example (emphasis supplied):

unless changes are made soon in the way many of our neighborhoods are constructed, people in the current generation (born since 1980) will be the first in America to live shorter lives than their parents do.

“People who walk more weigh less and live longer,” Dr. Jackson said. “People who are fit live longer. People who have friends and remain socially active live longer. We don’t need to prove all of this,” despite the plethora of research reports demonstrating the ill effects of current community structures.”

If one were to remove the highlighted bits (please read the full article for the context), the good work that public health professionals concerned with our built environment would still be emphasized appropriately. The justification of creating environments where movement is possible, encouraged and supported would be maintained.

Why, oh why, does weight have to play a part? Are these academics concerned that their work will be invalidated if obesity is not highlighted as “the problem”? SHOULD they be concerned that their funding will be reduced if it is NOT thus highlighted? I really want to know. Perhaps if one of you academics is reading this you can enlighten us in the comments to this post.

The Comments Section for these articles is where we can feel the zeitgeist most clearly. These were actually (on balance) not bad in the case of this article. That is actually a welcome change. One comment, stood out for aiming a strong beam of light right at the implicit fallacies. The link I provided shows the comment and the responses to it (a fine recent refinement to the commenting process). A gentleman (to judge by the picture provided) writing as Kip Hansen (who I hope keeps commenting on these topics in the future) said:

“…Compare his dreadful predictions with the fact the average lifespan in the US continues to rise, year after year. Americans are healthier and live longer than ever before.

There is always someone who can drag out some 'purpose-chosen' statistics (doesn't that sound nicer than 'cherry-picked' ?) showing how this and that disease is on the rise (usually because we're living longer, and moire [sic] of us suffer the usual diseases and discomforts of older-age)...”

Some people who responded dog-piled on his comments saying that – of course – the increase in diabetes will not show up in death stats for years, and (I am paraphrasing here) that we are all just fat pigs. Yet the gentleman’s comment stands as a very clear counterbalance of common sense to the Obesity Panic-mongering that is de rigeur amongst academics working in public health. Perhaps it is my imagination, but I seem to see a larger number of comments such as Mr. Hansen’s showing up and being recommended by readers several times.

I know a number of regular readers of this blog comment on articles in their papers or on websites. If you do… What have your observations been in terms of the number of pro-HAES comments Have you encountered any great comments that pointed out some fundamental prejudice in an article? Do you have commenters that you consider favorites? What makes you decide to comment or to withhold your thoughts on any given article?

Looking forward to reading your thoughts…

A note to those who have been following the efforts to put up billboards in solidarity with the children of Atlanta who have been subjected to odious and shaming signs depicting fat children: You can follow the progress of the donations on Ragen Chastain’s page. There you will also find links to donate a dollar (or more) in solidarity. The effort exceeded original expectations, and is extremely close to meeting the requirement for a challenge grant from the More of Me to Love folks. Thank you if you have donated, and please donate if you possibly can. Every donation counts!

News Coverage on the Manitoba Report

Yesterday, we discussed the content of a new report that the University of Manitoba has produced for the provincial government: ADULT OBESITY IN MANITOBA: Prevalence, Associations, & Outcomes.

The report reveals that fat people are not using significantly more health care than anyone else, and are not dying earlier either. This challenges pretty much all of the common wisdom about weight, health, and life expectancy and disproves the idea thin people's taxes and insurance premiums are disproportionately being used to treat fat people's health problems.

Now, I'm going to post some of the media coverage. It all starts here, with the original University of Manitoba Press Release: 25% of Manitobans are Obese.

The headline's interesting, eh?

...and here's some of the news coverage.

It's interesting to note that the emphasis on the percentage of fat people in Manitoba started with the University's press release. It's also interesting that many of the articles either don't focus on what I would consider to be the most important aspects of the report, and if they do, they feel the need to add in bad puns and/or weight loss advice.

A rare moment of sense from the BBC

Today's Magazine carries an interesting article focusing on the role of statistics and projections in the media presentation of 'obesity' as a health and social problem. The basic thrust of the piece is that whilst recent headlines have shrieked about how the levels of 'obesity' have been on a relentlessly upward trajectory for many years and assume that this will continue indefinitely, the actual figures point to a flattening out of the rate of increase in some categories and statistically significant falls in others. In particular, it highlights that previous predictions of an obesity rate of 33% for men, 28% for women by 2010 have been way off the mark. Compare the projections on the third graph with the trends to date for an idea of the degree to which scaremongering plays a part in the latest set of predictions of a 40-50% rate by 2030.

There are a few issues with the piece. It doesn't really make the connection between the exaggeration of the figures and trends and the resultant fundamental problems with the whole concept of an 'obesity crisis', or mention the harm that the current panic is causing. It also skims over changes in the way obesity is defined, including the 1998 recalibration which mainfests itself as a noticeable jump on the graphs. And I just want to tell the shirtless fat guy in the stock photo which tops the article to buy some bigger jeans already. That said, the BBC have not only avoided the temptation to seek input from Tam Fry et al but sensibly denied the usual armchair obesity experts their opportunity to leave ignorant and off-topic comments below the piece, making it a good one to bookmark and link back to next time (and it won't be long coming) they run an open thread on a fat-related story.

Is 'Big Sexy' a winner?

TLC is airing a new reality show called "Big Sexy," featuring five fat women who are involved in the fashion industry in New York City.

The Onion AV club has a good (and size positive) review of it here.

Today Show has interviewed the stars, and you can find the video in a post on Today's blog, 'Big Sexy' stars hope for large changes in attitudes.

Other than the truly awful tagline "Once you go big, you'll never go twig," it looks like it could be all right. Has anyone been watching?

Do you want to live forever?

There's an interesting article in the New York Time's online "Opinionator," Trying to Live Forever.

The editorial talks about first, the weak evidence for cause and effect in most observational studies and second, the unspoken assumption in so much popular reporting of medical and nutrition science that we should all strive to live for as long as possible.

On the general uselessness of most observational studies:

One answer, implicit in most media reports, is that acting on the results of the unreliable observational studies “couldn’t hurt and might help.” This makes sense if I have a medical problem for which there is no reliable remedy. If nothing else has helped my arthritis, insomnia or back pain, it would make perfect sense to try a remedy that will not do serious harm and has some probability of working.

But most observational studies concern not remedies for present ills but protection against future ones, and for these cases it is hard to tell if even relatively small costs or risks of harm outweigh the probability of partial protection. More important, there is a reasonable chance that further observational studies will call into question the one I’m acting on or even, as in the case of “good cholesterol,” that rigorous randomized clinical studies may refute it.

As an example, having a high BMI puts us at higher risk for some health problems. Dieting has long been considered a “couldn’t hurt and might help" proposition. However, it may actually be more harmful over the long term than simply maintaining a high, stable weight. In fact, it likely causes long-term weight gain.

Taking a broader view, it would seem preferable to keep healthy by a method that is simple, reliable and doesn’t require constant revision and fine-tuning. We do, after all, have such a method available: simply follow the humdrum standard advice we’ve heard all our lives about eating sensibly, exercising regularly, and having recommended medical tests and exams...

Sure. That advice applies to everyone who is interested in keeping their body running smoothly and in avoiding/controlling medical problems. This is the closest thing we have to a real formula for 'couldn't hurt and might help.' But let's face it...

We are all going to die sometime, from something. Even if I find just the right blend of exercise, diet and herbs that saves me from a heart attack at 60, I may have merely ensured that I will die of cancer at 70. Saving myself from cancer at 70 may mean I end with 10 agonizing years of dementia. When all is said and done, how we die is a crap-shoot, and, short of avoiding obvious risks such as smoking and poor diet, there’s little we can do to load the dice.

And isn't at the root of healthism? Our primitive fear of losing control over our bodies and finally, dying? But it happens to everyone eventually - fat and thin, healthy and unhealthy - and if it didn't, there'd be no room for children and no jobs for young people. So why are we supposed to want to live forever?

UK parents 'do not recognise their children are obese' - BBC

Recently published on the BBC News website: Parents 'do not recognise obesity in their children'

Did you know that a healthy 10-year-old's ribs should be clearly visible? Many parents would consider that such a child was quite underweight....
Another reason for the lack of knowledge may be that the media often portrays and highlights extreme cases of child obesity. Most children identified by the National Child Measurement Programme do not look obviously overweight. By comparison to the images shown of very obese children in the media, they look slim.

I think the fact that our Government's top advisor on obesity policy believes a healthy ten year-old should be skeletally thin to the point you can play a tune on their ribcage is frankly terrifying and explains much about the British obsession with fat kids, not to mention the exponential rise in body anxieties and EDs. If a concave stomach is now the criteria for avoiding being labelled 'overweight' then no wonder the rates seem so exaggerated. It doesn't give me much hope for the contents of the forthcoming Obesity White Paper, that's for sure.
There's a good point in here (which has been raised on BFB headless fatty discussions in the past) about the distorted perceptions resulting from the over-use of extreme examples to illustrate media obesity articles. However the suggestion that children who appear thin or 'normal weight' are actually obese under the criteria of the classroom weigh-in regime (and the fact that the UK uses a much stricter definition of 'obesity' than the EU, which it also applies to much younger age groups including infants) demonstrates how the criteria have been manipulated to essentially manufacture a 'problem' out of thin air.
Of course anyone who tries to counter the extremism of the obesity panic merchants with these observations is inevitably derided as a denialist and accused of disregarding the health of The Children. Any flickerings of debate about the validity of weighing children in school or the implications of labelling those who don't 'measure up' are swiftly closed down by an immensely powerful lobby whose assertions are accepted without question at the highest levels of government.
It can surely only be prejudice which prevents some of these increasingly outlandish claims being subjected to the same level of critique as (say) those of climate change, alcohol or passive smoking researchers.

Some "Debate"

Check out this clip from the BBC. The "debate" is laughable. Fatima Parker tries to insert some common sense, but in the end there are two thin guys arguing about whether or not it's fat people's fault that we eat too much and eat the wrong way. They're both making the same bullshit assumption.

In reality, not all fat people overeat, and some thin people overeat. "Fat" does not equal "glutton". I've never heard of a scientific study that indicates that fat people eat more on average than thin people - and even if we did, that says nothing about a given individual's habits.

If the guests were referring to actual binge eating (the 20,000 calories a day that "Briton's fattest man" says he used to eat, for example) when they were talking about gluttony... well, calling an eating disorder "gluttony" is pretty ignorant. But, the vast majority of fat people are not binge eaters.

Fat people don't necessarily eat a lot of junk food. That's more about social class than size. Healthy food is always what middle and upper class people eat, isn't it?

Let's face it. Vast quantities of junk food? Mostly eaten by thin young men.

Reporting like this is just so frustrating.

Shame, shame, shame

...or, whilst the experts continually insist that their concern over the alleged numbers of fat people is motivated by health, the language used in commenting on the latest obesity scare statistic stories suggests otherwise. There's our old friend Tam Fry, claiming that to be 'ashamed' by recent claims that one in five British 11-year olds are defined as obese. And there's that word again, in a report about the West Midlands supposedly being the fattest region of the most obese nation in Europe - a professor this time, bemoaning how he feels personally 'ashamed' of the data. As if we weren't expected to feel guilty enough over our size, now we also have 'experts' doing so on our behalf. I wonder if those working in other health-related fields use such emotive language in response to data regarding conditions which for whatever reason aren't viewed as personal moral failings?

BFB's Virtual Kiss-In!!!

Last updated November 3, 2010.

Kiss this, Marie Claire!!! 

Mmmm, Maura Kelly, fat kisses and love and existence!!!!

I present to you BFB's Virtual Kiss-In!!!!!!!!!  Thanks to everyone who has submitted photos!
Keep on sending them to withoutscene at gmail dot com, and I will keep on updating them! XOXO

Stef and Sarah

Awww, fat love!


Nichole and Roy

"Here's a picture of my husband and I kissing. That lady at M.C. would cringe to see us in person! I wish we could be in NYC - we'd be front and center!!"


SurferKM with her wife and son

"(fat! *gasp* lesbian! *faint*). We kissed before and after the shots, so I figure it counts."



Virtual kiss-it!

Gif Created on Make A Gif

withoutscene and Chris

Fat lovin!


Shannon Campos and Anthony M.

"I want it to be known that I am fat and I have no regrets and it should be shown that fat people live... and live happily."

ShannonCampos_Anthony H.




Michele and Chris






Jenna from AxisofFat with her little brother

"Am I too fat to kiss or be kissed in public? My bro didnt think so!"


Claudia and Shelley in San Francisco

Livin and public kissin!


G and J

"Two fatties, deeply in love, and sharing a chocolate shake! Not
kissing in this scene, but it happened right afterwards ;)"


nettaP and seanP

At NYC Big Fat Kiss-In! nettaP has a video on her blog which includes some footage of the kiss-in.

Beth and Luke

"We're newlyweds and we'll kiss and hug wherever we like, thank you very much."


Marilyn and her squeeze

Photo credit: Kathy Barron.


Regina and her partner

"I wanted to submit my own rolls and rolls of fat kissing picture for your blog!"


Jamie and Josh

"This was taken after we had spent the day snorkeling, hiking, and kayaking around the island. (Yes, Marie Claire- my fat ass did all these a swimsuit no less! You would have been super offended by my rolls that day!)"


Katie with Jordan and River

"This is me and my sister and her two foster daughters."


Tami and River

Look at that smile!


SunflowerP and JFPBookworm

So sweet!


Buttercup and her husband

"Here's my husband and I at our wedding, kissing and being fat, with cake, no less!"


"How could I resist a kiss for that cute face?"


Jeanette and her husband



Substantia Jones documented the NYC Big Fat Kiss In with her madd photo skills.

Lesley Kinzel is also turning the Museum of Fat Love into a Tumblr, so check it out and submit your love there too!

Traveling While Fat

Check out this article in the New York Times.

This brave soul wrote about his experience and how he manages his air travel. As could be predicted, he got SLAMMED. To be fair, there are some good comments. One woman praised the man for his travels, and she told the story of her large friend who, while traveling through Thailand, would sit in the square of the villages where he arrived and would allow children to touch him for good luck (apparently touching the Buddha is considered lucky and children tend to touch fat people because of it). She said it made him happy to make so many people happy. Talk about making lemonade!!!

A plurality of the negative comments fall into the predictable categories:

  • Category 1 -- Largest -- Fatties don't know/don't want to know/don't care what is their impact on the rest of the non-fat world around them. I bought my seat, don't take over half.
  • Category 2 -- Fatties as the new "Ugly American" ( these comments are particularly odious)
  • Category 3 -- Next Largest -- The concern trolling "for your health" and its corollary "you are raising my health care costs"
  • Category 4 -- Mixed bag of awful:
    • Subcategory 4A -- "Fat people are Ugly/smelly/_____" (fill in desired adjective)
    • Subcategory 4B -- Just plain, astonishingly, unbelievably offensive and low. My PERSONAL favorite douchebag of the day wrote that he/she would come up with a business to get fatties to pay her to live in a third world country, live in huts, be exposed to diseases, and grow local food which would be the only thing they would have to eat. They would absolutely lose weight that way. Let's not forget infectious diseases as a weight loss strategy.
    • Subcategory 4C -- Just plain huh? One commenter referenced her chemotherapy in a way that was most confusing. Chemo as a weight-loss plan? I hope not. A couple of others pointed out that, no, the Buddha was not fat -- the Chinese just depict him that way.

Check it out folks. Help balance out the fat hate in my hometown paper. I continue my comment campaign against the trolls who hang out at Tara Parker Pope's blog in the Times, but here are a few more who got their fresh meat.

WARNING -- Some of the comments could be triggering to some.

Do parents discriminate against their fat kids?

This seems like such an obvious concept to me. After all, parents are people who grew up in our fat-hating society, so of course that will have some effect on how they treat their fat children. This video from the Today show touches on these issues but despite my gut feeling that discrimination is obviously happening with parents and fat kids, the study they're discussing seems a little problematic. I'm not entirely convinced that you can determine special treatment based on one factor, like how much money the parents gave their kids to buy a car. It makes me wonder if the study took into account money the parents had spent (as my parents did) on therapists, nutritionists, diet plans and fat camp to correct their child's fatness. Maybe they already spent the car fund on the very important cause of shrinking little Susie's fat ass. Or maybe they don't want her skinny siblings to think that they care about Susie more because they keep spending wads of cash on her. So Susie gets to go to ridiculously expensive fat camp and her sister gets to buy a nicer car.

Anyway, it would have been nice if they allowed more time at the end of the segment for the experts to talk (Dear Today show, here's a tip: don't book two experts if you don't have time for an actual discussion), because some solid points were being made about parenting fat kids. Take a look...what do you think?

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Et Tu, BBC?

Yesterday, the BBC woke me up with this news: Only a tiny fraction of the people who could "benefit" from lapbands are having them installed by Britain's National Health Service (NHS). Apparently, it would save the government billions of pounds if everyone in a particular BMI range (not specified) would do their patriotic duty and get their digestive systems butchered in order to look more acceptable put themselves into a lower risk category for some diseases of old age. Did I mention that this was reported on the BBC with no critical analysis whatsoever?

I heard this on the radio and I thought "does anyone take this shit seriously?" Then I read the related article on the BBC website (thanks Charlotte) and noticed that this study was funded by "two firms involved in making equipment used in obesity surgery" and performed by the Office of Health Economics (?!). A privately funded study performed by a government agency? I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but this appears to be it.

There's precious little information in the article about the study itself; its methodology, its assumptions... However, the article does hint at some things:

  • First, it seems very likely that the study assumed obesity is always the cause of (not a side effect of) disability. In reality, that is not necessarily the case.
  • Secondly, it hints that obese people are automatically unable to work. We all know that most obese people are able and willing to work, and that most work full time and pay taxes. Most people who are eligible for the surgery are already fully productive citizens.
  • Third, it assumes that obese people always cost the health system extra money. In reality, we do not necessarily cost the health service more than other people do. In fact, we're probably less likely to overuse healthcare, since we tend to have unpleasant experiences with it.
  • Finally, and most strikingly, it appears to neglect the costs associated with weight loss surgery, other than the cost of the surgery itself. This is an elective surgery with a considerable risk of death that often has chronic, serious side effects that are expensive to treat. Even the "successful" surgeries almost always result in nutritional deficiencies that require regular doctor's visits to treat with injections; frankly, a similar level of care to insulin dependent diabetes. In more extreme cases, this surgery can take a healthy, productive person and give them health problems that make them unable to work. The study evidently assumes that the opposite is always the case.

If the NHS encouraged everyone who is eligible for this surgery to have it, then I suspect that it would cost them millions of pounds in treating side effects, redoing and undoing failed surgeries, and treating nutritional deficiencies. I suspect that, on average, people who have had weight loss surgery cost more to treat than BMI-matched people who haven't and that doing more of these surgeries would increase demands on the NHS. I suspect if you looked at every recipient of the surgery ten years later, then for every person who became more productive because of the surgery, there'd by one who became less productive.

The article notes "the government says the treatment should always be a 'last resort'," implying that the government is mistaken. In fact, the government is right. Suggesting that productive people with high BMIs undertake risky surgery with dangerous side effects because it may lower their risk of diseases that are unlikely to affect their productivity before retirement age is absurd. It would injure and kill people needlessly, it would not save the NHS any money, and who would it benefit? Manufacturers of lap bands. Oh, and bariatric surgeons, who are probably nodding in agreement with the article as I type.

The fat people who would "benefit?" Unfortunately, they'd benefit mostly from an improvement in social standing. They'd suffer less weight-based discrimination, at least while the effects of the surgery lasted (assuming it resulted in weight loss in the first place). Even though they might not be able to eat normally and they might suffer from inconvenient, painful and even life-threatening side effects, they might be happy with the results. It makes me incredibly sad that we think it's okay to hurt people so that others will stop mistreating them. It's adding injury to insult.

I plan to read the study within the few days to see if any of the issues I raised above were adequately addressed. I'd invite other BFBers to do the same.

Exploiting Fat Kids -or- Style Network is Despicable.

In the wake of my hopeful optimism about Huge comes a link in my e-mail that counters all of that joy.

But it wasn't some let down about Huge. Instead, it was a link to the site for the new show on the Style Network called Too Fat for Fifteen: Fighting Back, a reality show about teenagers trying to lose weight at a fat camp called Wellspring Academy (a giant, international weight loss school chain, apparently). The video posted in the blog doesn't seem to be working, but I can imagine how it's going to go based on the tagline, "Being fifteen is hard enough. It shouldn't be life and death," which is placed over the shoulder of a faceless fat girl viewed from the back. It's next to a picture put in for flare, good measure, or simplistic illustration, since there's no link or text attached, of fat kids' legs. Naturally, they have centered the darker-skinned kid who is seemingly bustin out his/her crapily made shoes. Y'all didn't know it was a shoe-bustin epidemic, did you? Fear, my friends, the busting of the shoes. Too fat for footwear????  Or maybe it's supposed to illustrate the unbearable, ankle-busting weight of obesity.  Anyway, we get the point.

The website resources include a "Teen BMI Calculator," an article entitled "Effects of Childhood Obesity," and another called, "Think YOU are ready to get fit?" The show debuts August 9th.

From a minor Google search, this seems to be based on a New Zealand documentary about a fat girl at a similar Wellspring Academy.

I am pretty sure I remember a few people being confused and thinking Huge was a reality show; and I was relieved to think/say, "No, no, no it's not that"--in the back of my mind thinking, "Who would do that?!?" Style network, my friends, and Wellspring Academy, would exploit kids in such a know, for fun and profit!

Just what we need, a Biggest Loser for kids. My optimism for this week is officially blown.

PS--What are they "fighting back"? Love how they make it sound empowering.

HUGE Misrepresentation

I'm going to start with a quote from Ginia Bellafante's New York Times review of the new ABC show "Huge," starring Nikki Blonsky. First, she describes a "gainer" who writes a blog, and then she says:

...Gainer blogs are an offshoot of a fat-pride movement that has bubbled up in response to what its proponents consider to be a pointless and hysterical national fuss over obesity. In this view fat is a form of social protest, an outcry against the manipulations of a diet-industrial complex. Fringe movements don’t often find an arm in the form of hourlong dramatic television, but “Huge,” beginning Monday on ABC Family, stands in some sympathy with a rebellion mounted against so many hours of “The Biggest Loser.”

I don't know who she thinks represents the "fat-pride" movement. Since she's talking about blogs, maybe she means the fatosphere. There are many fine, fine blogs on the fatosphere. They represent a range of opinions and experiences. But one opinion I've never seen expressed on the fatosphere - on Shapely Prose, on Big Fat Blog, or on any other blog - is that feederism and deliberate weight gain are a good idea or are acceptable in the context of fat acceptance. NEVER.

Fat acceptance is not about trying to change your body. It's about taking joy in the body you already have. Fat acceptance isn't a rebellion against "The Biggest Loser." The movement has been around for forty years, and it's about social justice and about valuing human diversity. Fat acceptance is not about trying to be fat. It's about not hating our already fat bodies, and about fighting anti-fat stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.

Of course our bodies change when we age, when our lives and our habits change, and for other reasons, and that's fine. It's fine when we get smaller and it's fine when we get bigger. But, we don't try to get smaller or bigger. If there's only one thing that everyone in the fat acceptance movement agrees on, it's social justice. If there are two things, the second is that deliberately trying to lose or gain weight is contrary to size acceptance principles. Gainer blogs are not an offshoot of this movement; in fact, most of us would agree that they're in direct opposition.

I've been involved in the fat acceptance movement since the early nineties. If someone said to me that there is a "pointless and hysterical national fuss over obesity," then I would nod my head in agreement.

However, it's my understanding that most deliberate weight gain takes place within the context of feederism, I am not down with feederism. Feederism is a sexual fetish. Normally, my feeling about sexual fetishes is "live and let live; do it if it works for you." However, feeders apparently get off at least partly on the helplessness of the feedees. Given that many people gain weight easily and find it next to impossible to keep weight off once they've gained it, this can amount to trapping someone in a dependent situation, which is typical of abusive relationships.

But what about the guy that Ms. Bellafante describes in her first paragraph? I looked at his blog, and it appears that the idea of becoming fat turns him on primarily, although his partner is fine with it. He’s gone from 180 to 250 pounds in three years, and it appears that he’s not going to gain much more weight. In addition, he’s staying reasonably fit. He’s hardly helpless, and for him, being strong is an important part of being big. In his case, the weight gain attempt does not appear to be abusive, but it still has nothing to do with fat acceptance, as the blogger himself points out. It's still primarily a sexual kink.

So, Ms. Bellafante, gainer blogs have nothing to do with fat pride. The New York Times has misrepresented our views, and they should print a retraction.


Brian of Red No. 3 has really nailed this issue here and here.

(please send us other good links on this topic, and we'll add them)

HUGE Mistake

So, I kept hearing about Huge. A friend told me about it, and I saw it mentioned around the internets. But I ignored it or shrugged it off.

Why? Because I totally had it CONFUSED with that other fat comedy coming out, Mike & Molly, which I won't even bother linking. I had seen a preview for Mike & Molly, and it made roll my eyes so far back in my head that I could see my brain explode. It also made me want to cry, especially since Melissa McCarthy is involved. But I forgot the name, thought that was the show people were talking about (you gotta admit two shows about fat people is rare), and therefore I never actually read anything about Huge.

Then I was reading Lesley's shift in attitude about it over at Fatshionista, along with bits of an interview with Nicci Blonsky, and I was all, "Wait, this can't be the same show. Nicci Blonski? Fat camp? What happened to Melissa McCarthy?"

And that's when I decided I HADN'T seen previews for it and that what my friend said about the mention of fat-acceptance in a preview for HUGE could be, like, not a joke. Then off I went to see what all this was about.

Fat-related shows go in one of two three four boxes for me---1) You've got to be kidding me, so much fat hate...headxplosion (think Biggest Loser). 2) Errr, fatpos fail (think More to Love). 3) Mmmhmm, okay, there's something to this but it's also problematic and will probably irritate the piss out of me (think Drop Dead Diva). Or 4) Wow, this is kind of impressive, possibly radical enough for my tastes. I'm very fucking interested.

Let's be real, a TV show has never fallen in the 4th category. Not ever. Until now. Nicci Blonsky had me with her bad attitude, her purple blue-striped-hair and her generally rebelious temperment. The deal was sealed when they said it comes from the creators of My So-Called Life. A fat show in the vein of MSCL? I am THERE. I am also intrigued the an almost-all-fat cast.

Go here or here to watch the previews/videos, read the interview with Nicci Blonsky, and then tell me what you think.

PS--"I feel like inside me there's an even fatter person just trying to get out," may be one of my favorite lines ever. It also makes me think someone up in there might have a clue. I'm also interested in the gender/sexual orientation issues they are going to address, but admit I'm a little cynical about how that will turn out.

I wish I was joking...

I saw an ad for this show Mike & Molly during How I Met Your Mother last night. At first I was excited...look! Actual fat people on TV! Then I read the premise:

"Police officer Mike Biggs knows his way around the Streets—and the donut shop. As a cop, Mike’s not scared of anything—except dating, so he’s joined Overeaters Anonymous® to lose those extra pounds and gain some Much-needed confidence. When he meets Molly at a meeting, the attraction is immediate, and suddenly Mike is excited about the prospect of a new life. But now he must find the willpower to give up his beloved junk food for the apple of his eye."

Oh BARF. Anyone seen any more of this tripe? Comments?

Trailer for "The Big C"--A Glimpse of Gabby's Character

The trailer is out for the new series, The Big C, on which Gabourey Sidibe will apparently be a 'recurring guest star.' While the story doesn't center on her, she does appear in the trailer. I'm also a big fan of Laura Linney...too bad Showtime doesn't put it's shows on Hulu.

What do y'all think?

I kind of rolled my eyes when I realized she is in the "student" role again. On the other hand I've never seen a fat person sit down at a desk quite so gracefully. I'm not sure if it's better that they don't focus on her squishing into a desk or if leaving that out obscures the fact that desks suck for us. Forever a double-edged sword.

Gabby gets to play a very confident character. While Linney's character doesn't seem to be fond of Gabby's character, I'm interested in how that might play out in the series. They kind of hint at a bond developing. Will it reiterate stereotypes or is it going to be more complex than that? It's intriguing enough to keep our eye on, I think.

Finally, I find these "I'm dying and now I'm liberated from social norms and refuse to hold back any longer" stories really intriguing. However, I must admit I had no interest in The Bucket List, which I feel is very different from where The Big C might be going. I'm the kinda gal who loves to break social norms and even live outside of some of them, so a show about that is on my map. However, I hope that this series goes beyond the typical cliches and that it gives creedance to the experiences of those who have had cancer. While turning a bad thing into a good thing is a great story, downplaying the struggle can encourage us to ignore or gloss over the complexity of experience. Struggles, I think, are the most empowering parts of stories.

Why Gabby VS Hollywood debates annoy me.

I can't stop thinking about this damn clip (below) about Gabby from the Joy Behar Show...and every other show which seems to be covering her story. What annoys me most, perhaps, is the poor framing. They ask "Is Gabby too fat for Hollywood?" The question centers judgment on Gabby and not on Hollywood. But everyone already knows the answer to the question, "Is Hollywood too closed minded and bigoted for Gabourney Sidibe?" The answer is, generally, yes. Hollywood is a place where fat dark-skinned Black women are invisible. First of all, more men are cast in movies than women. More white women are cast than Black women, by far (in my estimation), and when Black women are cast they tend to be light-skinned. And certainly more thin women are cast than fat women.

The question when turned on Hollywood may seem pointless, but the question turned on Gabby is unproductive. I don't see anyone thinking critically about WHY it is that there are no roles for fat women, Black women, dark-skinned women and/or someone who exists in all three of those categories.

When I think of why, I think of Norbert. Fat women are jokes in movies. This is even truer when they're not played by fat women, and often they're not--particularly if they are especially fat*. The women cast in movies (and on TV) are so narrowly chosen that anyone outside of those parameters is rendered unintelligible as anything other than fodder for jokes, scum of the earth, sob stories, and weight-related storylines. We don't make sense any other way. The idea of casting Gabby in a serious role where her confidence might shine through is probably unimaginable to most people in Hollywood. Instead, elite Hollywood women are "made ugly" in movies where a feel-good transformation is needed. And since Gabby is, according to Joy Behar, more than "full-figured" she cannot be transformed from ugly duckling to swan...without losing weight, that is.

By focusing on Gabby the media are subtly (or not-so-subtly) invoking a weight loss narrative because it's the only narrative they know for a fat woman, the only way they see her having a possibility, they only way they see her existing. It's why they are confounded by Gabby herself.

And that is not only indicative of Hollywood's closed-mindedness and bigotry, but of the rampant lack of creativity that befalls them. Why aren't people taking up the challenge? Brainstorming possibilities? Debates about whether Gabby "fits" in Hollywood are unproductive. But in a profit-driven industry people would rather have the same-unproductive debates over and over again.

So, gimme a pitch. What kind of role would you like to see Gabby in? How do we make Gabby intelligible in a movie without resorting to cliche?

*I have become very fond of calling myself "especially fat" after hearing the phrase used by Paul Campos in his UCLA talk. He said it plainly, but to me it reeks of pridefulness. Especially Fat is Deathfat's sassy sister.

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