Friday 15 December 2017

Weight-Based Oppression Is Not a Public Health Intervention

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Activist Harry Minot let me know about a terrible program being promoted in the UK that they are calling a “whole systems approach to obesity.” The tagline is “making obesity everybody’s business.” Ugh.

I will not be linking to it but this certainly isn’t the only suggestion that governments should create programs that purport to create health by encouraging literally everyone to shame, stigmatize, harass and oppress fat people. The fact that anyone outside of a 4chan group full of unsettled fatphobes would suggest something like this shows how totally off the rails we are when it comes to fat people and health.

There are two major issues here – the most often discussed is whether or not appearance-based bigotry constitutes an appropriate, evidence-based health intervention. It does not – there is no research to suggest that convincing every person that a fat person comes in contact with to try to make that fat person hate the body they live in 100% of the time leads to people becoming healthier or thinner (which are, of course, two different things.) In fact, Peter Muennig from Columbia found in his research, just living in a society where one is stigmatized is correlated with many of the same health issues that are used to judge “unhealthiness.” So it’s not just that this approach lacks any kind of research basis, but that this approach is contraindicated by the research.

But in the grand scheme of what’s important, that’s not why this is so terrible. The reason that these “everybody get involved in fatphobia” programs are abhorrent is that they suggest that bullying based on healthism is something that is not just ok, but should receive government support. And that’s bullshit. Even if someone believes that they can tell by looking at someone that they are unhealthy (they can’t), and even if they believe that giving them unsolicited advice and treating them poorly will make them healthier (it won’t), it’s still an absolutely unacceptable thing to do.

First because health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, entirely within our control, or guaranteed under any circumstances. Our health (and how it may or may not be tied to how we look) is not anybody else’s business unless we ask them to make it their business. I also want to point out, again, that these so-called interventions aren’t actually about health, they are about appearance. Nobody can tell how healthy someone is by what size they are as there are “healthy” and “unhealthy” people – by whatever definition – of every size (and even if they could, it still wouldn’t be any of their damn business.)

The other major problem is that it increases the weight-based oppression that already affects every area of the lives of fat people who are hired less and paid less than thin people, have extreme difficulty accessing actual evidence-based healthcare (in no small part because doctors are so busy engaging in fatphobia that they forget to give us actual, you know, healthcare,) and are regularly subjected to street harassment.

As I’ve said before, my fat body is not a representation of my failures, sins, or mistakes. My fat body is not an indication of my level of health or fitness, neither of which is anyone else’s business anyway. My fat body is not up for public discussion, debate or judgment. My fat body is not a signal that I need help or input to make decisions about my health or life.  My fat body is the constant companion that helps me do every single thing that I do every second of every day and it deserves respect and admiration.

I will wield my beautiful fat body like a weapon.  I will love it, I will care for it, I will show it in public, and I will viciously defend my body against anyone (including the UK government,) who seeks to classify it as anything but amazing.

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