Health Concern vs Fatphobia …

So, I read this article by Olivia on Skepchick, which claims that people who strongly encourage people to lose weight and bug them about their weight loss aren’t really interested in their health as many of them claim, but instead are mostly interested in criticizing or looking down on people who are overweight, as she says in the article:

So why do people continue to make unwanted comments under the guise of “it’s about health!”? Well probably because saying “I don’t like fat people” is really socially unacceptable at this point, and that’s a good thing

She sets out to prove this. I think that her proofs are, well, not really proofs. And I’m speaking as someone who definitely gets more pressure to lose weight than pressures others.

There are lots of pieces of evidence to suggest that the majority of people who promote weight loss for health aren’t actually interested in the health of the fat person. One of the first and most obvious pieces is that many of the tactics promoted for weight loss are actually incredibly unhealthy. Bariatric surgery comes with serious complications, including vomiting, inability to eat solid foods, and oh yeah, death. No worries though, it’s for your health.

Seriously, how many people who complain that being overweight is unhealthy actually advocate surgery as the answer? Heck, how many people who are called “fatphobic” actually advocate for surgery? The most stereotypical claim of those called “fatphobic” is that they hold a very simple — and possibly overly simplistic — idea that all that overweight people have to do is eat less and exercise more and they won’t be overweight anymore, despite the fact that it’s often more complicated than that. People advocating the surgical options, it seems to me, are likely people who care more about appearance than health — ie they’re likely to argue that being overweight makes the person unattractive, not unhealthy — or alternatively as a last resort when the person they’re badgering insists that that simply won’t work for them. So the tactics promoted by the people that Olivia is purportedly aiming at don’t seem to be the at least obviously unhealthy ones … and for people who are concerned about health those ones would be last resorts. And you also have to consider that even those who do recommend them, even as last resorts probably don’t know what the side effects actually are. They see it as an easy way to lose weight and so be healthier. If they knew the side effects, the ones that are actually advocating it for health reasons might well stop advocating it.

There are many, many diets that are also incredibly unhealthy. Juice cleanses do nothing to actually cleanse and put the body into a starvation state because they give too few calories.

Again, most people who are telling someone to lose weight don’t advocate for “cleanses”. They do advocate sometimes for odd and unhealthy diets, but usually that’s because they think they work and aren’t unhealthy. So far, this doesn’t seem like much of a proof.

People still use the BMI scale, despite the wide knowledge that it’s based on a statistician’s attempts to understand large populations, not individual health.

I personally think the BMI scale is odd. That being said, that would seem to apply to professionals, and not to your average person, because in my experience the average person doesn’t know what BMI is. But because BMI is professionally certified and talked up like it’s real medicine and individually applicable, people trust that it gives good medical advice. Again, if they are advocating something unhealthy they clearly don’t realize that that’s what they’re doing … and they do it in a way that applies to any medical condition, from the common cold to allergies to a host of other things.

I’ll skip the discussions of professional attitudes, because I want to focus on what people do in general, not what, say, doctors do. So moving on:

Basically every restrictive diet ever rests on the principle of putting the body into a starvation state so that it will start to eat away at its own fat. In the long term this doesn’t generally lead to weight loss (it changes the metabolism such that the body tends to gain back the weight plus some), and it’s simply not very healthy.

I think the jury is still out on this, but there really is no other way to lose weight than to take in less calories than you use. So I do think that the recommendation is not to go for a very fast weight loss — by professionals — but instead to lose a small amount of weight weekly over a long period of time (which is what I’m trying to do at the moment). People do think that it’s easy to lose weight and can be done quickly, which isn’t helped by diet programs claiming just that. But that again doesn’t prove that people advocating for people to lose weight faster don’t care about health. Again, they’re just not aware of what a faster weight loss regime actually does in the long run.

But perhaps most obvious is the fact that nobody seems to give a crap what thin people do with their bodies. I can confidently say this as a thin person: I have openly admitted to people that I eat almost nothing but sugar, that I never get enough protein, that I sometimes feel out of breath walking up a flight of stairs, and the only response I get is slight laughter and jealousy that I can eat so many sweets and stay thin.

This is because the typical idea is that, in general, the worst impact on your health that junk food has is that it makes you gain weight. So, if someone is thin then there’s no reason, the theory goes, to worry about their health. We are, I think, gradually coming around to the idea that eating unhealthy food can in and of itself cause issues. But, then again, if someone is not overweight, does not have high cholesterol or high blood pressure or diabetes or any other eating-related problem, and is not malnourished … then, really, what point is there in criticizing their eating habits? Yes, we should be jealous that they can eat all the foods that we wish we could eat without suffering any health problems because of it.

Additionally, by attaching this to “fatphobia”, she ends up implying here that we shouldn’t bug overweight people for doing the things that we don’t bug thin people for doing. Except the more reasonable response is that we should bug thin people too. And in the case of her being winded walking up — presumably — one flight of stairs, we should actually bug her more, as since she has presumably less weight to move around, her being winded walking up a flight of stairs means she’s less fit than a heavier person who gets equally winded, assuming equal muscle mass. So, if that’s really the case, she really needs to work on getting fitter!

I know many people who engage in potentially unhealthy or dangerous behaviors, everything from drinking a little too regularly to rock climbing, and the number of times I see anyone express concern for their health is zero (I am sure that somewhere out there there are thin people who have been harassed about not being healthy enough, but on a regular, societal basis it does not happen in the same way).

Drinking a little too regularly isn’t particularly unhealthy … or, at least, not as unhealthy as being greatly overweight is. And rock climbing is a bit more dangerous than, say, walking down the street, but presumably they’re taking relevant safety precautions, and will get called out if they aren’t. These aren’t directly comparable at all; dangerous activities are done within safety parameters, and drinking a little too regularly doesn’t have a direct impact on your health. For comparison, what she probably should do is compare being overweight to smoking … oh, right, forget that one.

Anyway, putting aside some semi-valid points, she ends with this:

But where the rubber really hits the road is the question of whether we owe our health to other people, and if so how much? We all probably agree that in a society we have responsibilities to not put ourselves at completely undue risks. When other people get sick, we as a society bear some of the literal cost as well as the metaphorical costs of caring for them and trying to fill the roles that they took on when they were healthy. This is why we have requirements about seatbelts and age limitations for drinking or smoking. But how far do the expectations of “behave in as healthy a manner as possible” extend? Does it mean that you can’t play sports like football because it has a high likelihood of causing injuries? Does it mean you can never eat dessert? Life probably isn’t worth it if we curtail people’s freedoms that far, but is the promotion of healthy eating (and fining or otherwise punishing people who don’t) too far?

I’m … uh … really not certain what this is referring to. Maybe pushes to add luxury taxes on junk food to improve health? But even then, we can compare it to smoking and see that they have far more limitations and taxes and far more active promotion that a healthy lifestyle ought not include them than healthy eating does. And we are seeing a lot more issues around injuries and the safety of sports as well. So I’m really not sure what this is supposed to prove.

At the end of the day, she hasn’t proven that people who even very aggressively urge people to lose weight and insist that they are doing that because they care about their health actually are more trying to justify an irrational bias than trying to improve their health. She starts from a presumption of “fatphobia” and all of her proofs seem to follow only if you buy that presumption. And, again, this is coming from someone who gets both the purported “fat shaming” as well as the “commiserating over how we’re all fat and need to lose weight” forms. So I don’t think she’s demonstrated her point, and so will continue to give people the benefit of the doubt.

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One Response to “Health Concern vs Fatphobia …”

  1. The Unscientific Science of Losing Weight … | The Verbose Stoic Says:

    […] Freelance Philosopher « Health Concern vs Fatphobia … […]

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