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Because last night's post seems to have struck a chord, I wanted to talk a bit more about fat, fat shaming, and the old trope of hiding behind so-called "health concerns" to cover up plain old-fashioned looksism.

I started to deconstruct the awfulness that is this poster, but let's talk about it some more:

The poster says "Portions have grown. So has obesity, which can lead to many health problems." First of all, there's the word "can." "[O]besity ... can lead to many health problems." Not that it does, mind you. Just that it can. You know what else can lead to health problems? Being underweight. Or being a so-called "normal" weight, but eating nothing but crap.

Which leads me to the assumptions that this ad makes, with its imagery of fast food french fries and an extra large woman, climbing the stairs. One of my previous commenters categorized her as an "overweight [person] being miserable on a subway staircase." If you can't see her face, how do you know she's miserable? Hint: It's because that ad is seeking to perpetuate exactly that stereotype -- that fat equals unhealthy.

It makes me think about the recent story about the British teenager whose diet consisted solely of McNuggets. To quote from the article I just linked:

... According to the Mail, Irvine has suffered from breathing problems, anemia, and inflamed veins due to her diet., and recently was rushed to the hospital after she collapsed...

It's also inspired timely commentary from health "experts." Last week, a PR agency pitched me a story pegged to Irvine's collapse. A "weight loss specialist" could be made available to "comment on the dangers of Stacey's addiction" and "speak to the dangers of childhood obesity." The doctor in question has "specialized in the study and treatment of Bariatric Medicine" and has "directed the operation of multiple Weight Loss Centers."

Thanks, but according to the gratuitous Daily Mail glamour shots, Irvine is thin. Her health problems are not related to obesity, and they won't be solved by stapling her stomach. Yet we're so culturally hardwired to believe that unhealthy equals fat and vice versa that even photographic evidence (full-body photographs of Irvine were attached to the PR email) isn't enough to break the habit.

Wait ... what?!? Eating nothing but McNuggets did cause health problems, but didn't cause obesity? Why, it's almost as if what mattered was her diet, and not her appearance!

The NYC Health Department has another ad campaign, this one targeting daily caloric intake. It's certainly a much better campaign that the Portion Size campaign, although I still think it falls short of the mark.

Who here remembers the movie Super Size Me? Quick show of hands: Who thinks the culprit to Morgan Spurlock's deteriorating health was probably the incredibly low quality of McDonald's "food"? If it doesn't decompose, it shouldn't be considered food.

So while I'm glad to see a campaign that doesn't resort to fat shaming, I still think that the Caloric Intake campaign misses the mark. Have you heard of The Vermont Prison Study? In a nutshell, participants in the study were fed up to 10,000 calories a day in an attempt to make them gain weight. "Researchers were surprised during the “fattening up” portion of the study when they found that some of the inmates couldn’t gain more than 18% of their body weight, even when eating 10,000 calories a day." Ten thousand calories a day, and they still couldn't make skinny people fat.

Maybe it's because a person's size has to do with not only diet and activity level but also age, and metabolism, and genetics, and probably other factors too. Good luck shaming somebody out of their genetics.


Jill Jackson
Feb. 24th, 2012 10:55 pm (UTC)
Dangit! my comment disappeared. Anyway what I was saying was that the calorie count campaign misses the mark on a lot of levels. First it implies that everyone should eat a set amount of calories based on their age, height, gender and activity levels, when the reality is that every body is different.

I have a thyroid condition. Before treatment, if I ate the suggested number of calories based on the above criteria, I would still gain. Now, with treatment, I have no idea how many calories I'm getting but it appears that I am eating more and I've lost weight.

But it's not just people with diseases that have this issue. The reality is that the body does not function in a logical, linear fashion. A does not lead to B then to C. Sometimes A leads to B then back to A then over to Q then to C and back to B then...

So a logical, linear calories in/calories out equation does not work in real life. People need to relearn how to listen to their hunger cues, eat when they are hungry (no matter how often that is) and stop when they are full (no matter how long that takes).

The other issue with the calorie count campaign is that it implies that too many calories = fat, which perpetuates the myth that all fat people overeat. It's still fat shaming, just more subtle.

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