Friday, 8 November 2019

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

On giving fat shaming stories a pass

The second season of Insatiable is now available on Netflix, and I, for one, will not be watching. I have better things to do than watch a show that promotes fat shaming, crash dieting, and revenge fantasies. I could encourage a goose to cause mischief. Teach my dog a new trick. Listen to yet another white man explain why free speech is a more important value than the heath and safety of  vulnerable people.

As a super fat person, I avoid media that subscribes to one dimensional fat characters that belly into fat stereotypes and tropes. I skip stuff with fat suits. I avoid media that reinforces fat stigma and oppression; as you can imagine, my options are limited. Sometimes it cannot be helped, and I love something that is incredibly problematic (looking at my 20yr old self who LOVED and could not get enough of Friends). Other times, I have no idea the fat hating material is coming my way (see my piece on fat hate in the Avengers from earlier this year). So the second season of Insatiable, like the first season, gets a “NO” from me.

One reason I can easily look away is because I’ve learned that it’s okay for me to say no to media that will be hurtful for me. I can look away from The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover Weight Loss Edition, New Girl and whatever Tyler Perry’s Madea is doing next; I can take a pass on This Is Us, whose fat actor was required to include a weight loss clause in her employment contract. This took a lot of work, and there are still slips. But another reason it has become easier is because the choices of seeing fat people on screen have expanded beyond sad fatty stereotypes. We’ve always had singular fat performers who have often been in roles that allowed them to be more than one dimensional (think Melissa McCarthy as Sookie St. James in Gilmore Girls or Danielle Brooks as Taystee in Orange is the New Black). But for everyone one of those, there were a dozen Dudley’s from Harry Potter and Eddie Murphy-wears-a-fat-suit again. With more providers of content, we are starting to see even more fat positive media representations.

If you are looking for a teenage story for this weekend, why not try Dumplin from Netflix instead? Dumplin’ a delightful film based on the YA story of the same name from Julie Murphy. Spend two hours with Willowdean “Will” Dickson, her mother, her BFF, their friends, a cast of drag queens, and a bunch of girls vying for the Miss Teen Bluebonnet crown. Will’s Mom, a former Miss Teen Bluebonnet herself, now runs the pageant and the only thing she’d rather have than that crown for forever would be a daughter who is not fat. It’s a familiar coming of age story, but with a fat protagonist at the heart. One who is not miserable about her size; who is not desperate to lose weight and be someone else. The film avoids many of the overplayed tropes of teen stories (she doesn’t take off her glasses and becomes hot; there is not a makeover in the film, nor is it all about catty female friendships or pining over boys). The story of Will and her misfit friends is full of heart, and relatable to people who felt they were often on the outside looking in during their adolescent years. In addition, all of the fat characters are played by fat actors (HELLO Kathy Najimy!), and have more than one dimension. Did I mention that Dolly Parton is the soundtrack?  It’s not to be missed.

If YA isn’t quite your bag, why not try Shrill on Hulu? Shrill is a six episode series on Hulu, staring Aidy Bryant as Annie, the protagonist of the story. We meet Annie as a young adult, and see all the ways that her life is shaped and molded by fat shaming and oppression. We are along for the ride as emerging writer Annie begins to shrug off the self-doubt and internalized fatphobia. Like Dumplin’, Shrill is based on a book (this time by author Lindy West) by a fat woman; the book was West’s memoir. West is a young American writer whose sharp observations of sexism, misogyny being a woman writing online, earned her bylines on the weekly The Stranger (Seattle) and magazines such as Jezebel and GQ. In 2011, she published a piece titled, “Hello, I am Fat” in which she came out as fat. And the rest, as they say, is herstory (and can be found in her memoir and the show, Shrill). The show captures some of the book’s best moments, including West’s first experience with a fat positive pool party.

These two stories of fat women living their life with minimal shame are groundbreaking. Fat people rarely get to be included in the story, much less as the center of the story. And even fewer fat people (no matter their positon) get to escape the sad fatty trope. Fat characters are usually presented as cautionary tales; if we’re lucky, we are spunky and hypersexual best friend. It’s important to note that usually the stories of fat people onscreen have been written by non-fat people and often played by non-fat people as well (see the aforementioned fat suits). These stories are different. They are stories about fat people written and performed by fat people. When all you see is the same tropes in the media about fat people, it’s easy to remember that fat people are much more than those representations. And that fat people are a monolith; we may share similar experiences related to stigma, discrimination, and oppression, but we are all individuals living our lives.

Will and Annie are both white fat women, which means they experience their fatness with white privilege. They are also abled bodied, cis, straight; they have a lot of privilege impacting how they experience their fatness and the world. They are also two of the few size affirming fat lead characters; see if you can count the number of size affirming fat people you’ve seen in television and film. I doubt you can get past a single hand. I want more size affirming stories in our media. I want stories of fat people of colour. Fat people with disabilities. Fat people who are neuro-divergent. I want us to get to place where size affirming fat people on screen are completely ordinary; where our stories can be told in mediocre ways and it not be seen as a blow to the fat liberation movement.

Positive stories of fat people are only a drop in the bucket of the fatpocalypse media we are drenched in, but I am glad to see more fat positive stories being a chance to be told. Especially by fat storytellers. Especially to more mainstream audiences. Fat positive stories are revolutionary; watching and enjoying them is an act of rebellion and an act of alliance. And fat people need that alliance; we are too often left on the sidelines in social justice. Individuals who are committed to liberation and justice for people based on gender, sexuality, ability, race, class, and more, are often ignorant or purposively evasive on the fight for fat liberation and justice (see this great piece by Ijeoma Oluo, and this one by D’Shaun Harrison, for more on this). If you believe that none of us are free until we ALL are free, that includes the fat community. Yes, even the fattest of the fat community.


Re-posted from The Spinoff


via Friend of Marilyn

Friday, 1 November 2019


Interesting study about weight loss after age 47 increasing mortality risk.

Fat Friday – Leaving Well Enough Alone

via Fatties United!

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

On (re)producing the fat stigma you claim to be fighting

The British Psychological Society is calling for changes for how we talk about fatness, suggesting we should no longer use the phrase “obese people”, but instead, “people with obesity” or “people living with obesity”.

These changes are being proposed to recognise that fatness is not about personal choice and that fat shaming and fat stigma are harmful.

But this suggested language change is based on the idea obesity is a disease to be cured and fat people are not a natural part of the world. This serves to reinforce stigma, rather than prevent it.

How does stigma and shame affect fat people?

Fat stigma can harm people’s physical health, mental health, and relationships.

Independent of body mass index (BMI), fat stigma increases blood pressureinflammation, and levels of cortisol in the body, due to the activation of the fight or flight response.

Fat stigma reduces self-esteem and increases depression. It isolates fat people, making them less likely to engage with the world. It also impacts on fat people’s relationships with familycolleagues, and friends.

Fat stigma erodes self-esteem and isolates people.

People around the world, and of all ages, hold negative attitudes about fatness and fat people. In a study in the United States, for example, more than one-third of the participants reported, “one of the worst things that could happen to a person would be for [them] to become obese”.

How terminology reinforces stigma

While many people are uncomfortable with the term fat, fat activists prefer the term. They see it as both as an act of rebellion – to adopt a word that has been wielded against them – but also because they argue it’s the most appropriate word to describe their bodies.

To be overweight implies there is a natural weight to be; that within human diversity, we should all be the same proportion of height and weight.

Obesity is a medical term that has pathologised the fat body. The British Psychological Society’s acknowledgement that rather than saying “obese people”, we should call them “people with obesity” reinforces that obesity is a disease; a chronic illness people suffer from.

The British Psychological Society’s desire to shift to person-first language is understandable. Person-first, or people-first, language is an attempt to not define people primarily by their disease, or disability, or other deviating factor.

Person-first language recognises people as individuals with rights to dignity and care, and puts the person, rather than their “condition”, first.

But others have argued person-first language attempts to erase, deny, or ignore the aspect of the person that isn’t “normal”, and reinforces that there is something shameful or dehumanising about their disability or disease.

They promote identity-first language, which allows people to take pride in who they are, rather than separating a person from that aspect of themself.

The problem with person-first language, they argue, is that those identities are stigmatised. But without the stigma, there would be no concern with calling someone a disabled person, for instance, rather than a person with disabilities.

So what should we do?

Ask people what they want to be called.

The best approach, especially for health-care professionals, is to ask people what they prefer their designation to be.

And for the rest of us, to acknowledge that what an individual wants to be called or how they want to talk about their experiences is up to them, not us. If a fat person wants to call themselves fat, it is not up to non-fat people to correct them.

Shifting the language we use to talk about fatness and fat people can reduce fat stigma. But continuing to frame fatness as a disease is not a helpful contribution.


Re-posted from The Conversation

via Friend of Marilyn

Friday, 25 October 2019


If you want to be it – you can be it!

This Fat Old Lady’s Fat Friday – Fat Halloween

via Fatties United!

Friday, 18 October 2019

Thursday, 17 October 2019

The Tricky Argument That Dieting Makes People Fatter

Dieting and SuccessAs the whole Kurbo disaster has unfolded (in case you missed it, Weight Watchers – aka WW [insert eye roll here] decided that their best move was to harm children with a diet app which may or may not have anything to do with the fact that their shareholders filed a class-action lawsuit based in large part around their decrease in adult subscribers.)

Of the many, many (OMG so many) arguments that were made against the catastrophic atrocity, one that I saw a lot was that dieting is likely to make kids fatter than they would be otherwise. This is a tricky argument and I want to get into that today.

Now, when I talk about “dieting” I mean any intentional attempt to alter food intake and/or movement in order to decrease body size. Yes it counts as a diet even if someone calls it a “lifestyle change” (sure it is  – you change to a lifestyle where you diet all the time.)

First of all, based on the research it’s absolutely true. It turns out that one of the many negative effects of giving a body less food than it needs to survive in the hopes that it will eat itself and become smaller, is that the body’s famine defenses kick in and alter it to become a weight gaining, weight-maintaining machine.

Would the victims of diet culture have been smaller without their history of dieting? Maybe. What’s important is that a smaller body is not a better body – bodies come in lots of sizes for lots of reasons, and people of all sizes are fully worthy of respect.

And that’s the issue with this argument. Though it’s true that dieting is likely to leave people fatter than they were when they started, using that as an argument against dieting is inherently fatphobic since its core premise is still that we want to avoid people becoming fat/fatter.

That said, we live in a fatphobic society and dieting and the diet culture it creates have real negative consequences to physical and mental health, and so this argument can also be considered a harm reduction strategy. It can be seen as a drop of fatphbobia in the fatphobia bucket, but if it keeps a parent from putting their child on a diet for example, it may be worth it in a cost-benefit analysis.

There are things that we can do to improve this argument by the way that we frame it.

After I explain statistics around dieting and weight gain I’ll often say something like “so even if you believe that fat people would be healthier if we were thinner – and I don’t agree – dieting is still the worst possible advice you could give us.”

The truth is that there are actual health risks to dieting which I think are important to point out, saying something like “It’s not that weight gain is, in and of itself, the problem. The problem is that dieting changes a person’s physical and mental response to food and movement and can lead to health issues including everything from weight cycling to prompting an eating disorder,”

I most often use this argument when I’m speaking to healthcare providers about whether or not dieting meets the requirements of ethical, evidence-based medicine (spoiler alert – it doesn’t.) When I make this point, I try to always counter any fatphobia inherent in the argument by saying something like – “there’s nothing wrong with people being fat, but there is something wrong with giving a supposed medical intervention that has the opposite of the intended effect the majority of the time.” Or “I don’t think the evidence suggests that a larger body is a medical problem to be solved, but as long as HCPs are trying to treat weight loss as if it’s a medical intervention, then we have to talk about whether or not it meets the basic requirements of ethical, evidence-based medicine.” 

If we are using the argument as a harm-reduction strategy, we can try to remove some of the fatphboia by saying something like “The Kurbo app creates physical and mental health risks and, even if you believe that kids would be healthier if they were thinner, there’s no evidence that this app will any kid thinner or healthier. In fact, experts from multiple fields agree that this app will do great harm.

The fact that diets don’t work is an important thing to talk about – especially since they are sold to us a healthcare intervention (of course, being thinner and being healthier are two different things  and dieting almost never results in either.) Still, there are plenty of reasons to eschew dieting besides the fact that the most common outcome is weight gain, and the fact that this argument can add to fatphobia is something we can try to mitigate when we make it.

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