A Culture of Shame

What are all these military people going to do when they lose their jobs? And then I thought, well, hang on: we’ve got all these service industries now, things like psychotherapy, and the military approach to psychotherapy would really be kind of perfect. Really efficient and fast! You know, “Listen, you are nothing. You are a worm. And if you don’t get that mother complex solved by 0400 hours, you are dead meat!”

~~ Laurie Anderson, The Mysterious “J”

Gunnery seargent hartmannWhen I was writing about Fat Acceptance/HAES a couple nights ago and had to stop midstream, as it were, I was very aware that I hadn’t really said everything about fat shaming that I would want to. I mentioned the ways that fat shaming carries negative health effects for the target of such stigma, but I didn’t really unpack the general insanity of fat shaming. Or, to be more precise, the bananas nature of how fat shaming is usually justified as a means of informing/inspiring some poor fattie into losing weight and getting healthier.

Of course, those two concepts don’t even really go together, because weight /= health, but I’m using that phrasing to indicate the double level of bananas that’s going on here. First is the delusion that weight and health are equated, but even if that particular myth were true, I still trip over the insanity of the expectation that shaming and stigmatizing someone will inspire them to make positive change in their life.

Now, just in case you’re silly enough to think that engaging in fat-shaming will inspire some one to get on the healthy-eating-and-exercise train, let me give you a quick hit to a study from back in 2007:

We have seen over the years that it does not work to make people feel worse about their bodies. The data are striking — talking about weight, worrying too much about diet, focusing on it increases risk not only of eating disorders, but also of being overweight.

So, no: shaming not effective. (As Kate Harding once said: Special Delivery from the Duh Truck.)

One more thing: considering how steeped our culture is in anti-fat rhetoric, does a fat-shamer really think that his or her observation of my fatness is something that’s going to be news to me — or to any fat person?

So I’ll admit: considering that these two notions — 1)  fat people already know they’re fat; 2)  shaming doesn’t do anything to build positive choices, but instead just beats someone down — are so very common sense indeed, I’ve pretty much assumed that anyone who does indulge in fat shaming (no matter how prettily it’s couched in concern trolling language), is just kinda being an asshole.

Fat Heffalump pretty fully eviscerated that particular behavior pattern a few months ago when she pointed out that You’re not the First to Tell a Fat Person…  Taking direct aim at concern trolling and claims that “I’m just worried for your health!” she has this to say:

No you’re not.  If you were, you would be standing beside me fighting fat stigma and advocating for equitable health treatment for all.  You don’t give a damn about the health and wellbeing of fat people.  You don’t care that fat people can’t get treatment for everything from the common cold through to cancer because they are all blamed on their fatness and they’re just given a diet, not actual treatment.  You don’t care that the public vilification of fat people causes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You don’t care that fat people are dying because they are so shamed by the medical profession that they can’t bring themselves to go back to the doctor when they are ill.  Claiming you care about our wellbeing is a lie.

And the inimitable Regan at Dances with Fat more recently pointed out that Being a Jerk is Not Actually Brave:

We are aware that you think “Fat bad, thin good, shame the fatties grunt grunt grunt”. We can hear this message  386,170 times every year.  I’ve been fat for 17 years, which means I’ve heard it around 6,564,890 times.  How can you possibly think that hearing it 6,564,891 times is going to improve my life?   Being 6,564,891 does not make you special or brave, it makes you one more doody in a big ole pile of poo.  It is an act of hubris that is almost beyond understanding to not only be a bully, but to ask for credit by claiming that your bullying is an act of bravery. […]

Or you could swim against the stream and treat fat people like the intelligent human beings we are- not like confused misguided sheep who need your strong guidance – and encourage others to do the same.  Let there be a fat person who only hears 386,169 messages about their body because you refused to pile on the shame and body hate.  That’s brave.

But, if I can come down off my own high horse for a moment, it’s worth mentioning that — however common sense it may feel to me that shaming has no positive effect on a person or situation — the fact remains that we do a lot of shaming in this culture.

And not just about fatness. Almost any aspect of life that comes up for judgement and it deemed to “need changing” comes up for that Nike drill sergeant (“Just do it!”) so beautifully satirized by Laurie Anderson, above. And maybe I’m right, sitting in my own little superiority-tower: maybe we’re all just assholes.

Or maybe there’s some deeper delusion we’re all trapped in, to honestly halfway think that the way to change a life’s path is to try and block off the “undesirable” option with a pile of shit and shame.

Something worth further examination.

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Image credit: http://rcoll-rorscharch.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-worst-kinds-of-fathers.html

Some Fat Acceptance/HAES Basics

(Apologies to anyone who’s a Facebook friend — some of this will be a re-hash of the links I’ve been posting there today.)

It’s occurred to me today that because I’ve been thinking about fat acceptance & health at every size concepts for a few years now, I sometimes talk about these concepts in a very “I hold these truths to be self-evident” way. And maybe, instead, it’s worth unpacking just a little bit about my perspective on questions of fatness and health.

Now to be sure, plenty of bloggers have already dropped the mic on this again and again and again, which may be part of my reticence tonight. After all, why cover ground that has really truly been covered with great insight before?

ANGRY!
ANGRY!

Maybe because the things things these writers have said are worth saying again. And again and again and again, until people finally stop all the fat-shaming and masking their superiority in concern trolling and their obesity panic and bleeping get it.

So here’s my own little piece of the mythbusting puzzle.

Most of what “everyone knows” about fat is pretty much wrong.

To start off, being fat is not automatically unhealthy. Fat people actually tend to live a bit longer, and are more likely to survive cardiac events. There’s also a fair bit of evidence that a lot of health problems supposedly “caused” by fatness might instead be a result of dieting and weight cycling. There is some evidence that certain health risks are tied to having a very specific type of adipose tissue in your body (visceral fat), but guess what? Thin people AND fat people can have too much visceral fat hurting their organs, and unless you’re Superman, I defy you to tell me you have the kind of x-ray vision to know who’s packing VF and who isn’t.

Warning: that last article I linked may give you stabby pains behind the eyes because after reporting on a study that pretty clearly states that the important factors are metabolic health and visceral fat, the author still ends with the concluding thought that these results should not be taken as “an excuse to remain overweight or obese.” Because even though the study shows obesity as a non-factor in measuring health, it’s still somehow a health risk. (Just because?) Ah, rumor-mongering science journalism at its finest.

And while the illustrious staff writers at Time have left such tempting fruit, let’s take on this whole balderdash that implies one’s body shape and size are completely under one’s Ayn Rand-ian will. Because, statistically speaking, diets don’t work. Sorry Not-sorry to burst your bubble on this one: they don’t. And they do incredible harm along the way. The weight loss industry, has a catastrophic “success rate” and an evil jiu jitsu way of transfering its own failings out onto the customer so they feel guilty about it all. Well, to quote Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness: “It’s bullshit and it’s bad for ya.”

As for healthy diet and exercise choices, yes they do indeed matter and they can make a big difference in reducing the effect of various “fat-related” conditions like cholesterol levels or blood pressure. But here’s the funny thing: those conditions get reversed independent of any actual weight loss being caused by diet and exercise choices. And considering the negative health effects of being fat-shamed and stigmatized, and considering the fact that fat people have a dramatically lower chance of even getting decent health care on account of the prejudicial attitudes of medical professionals, it’s probably best to steer clear of claiming that a fat person’s health challenges are being caused by weight. ‘Cos I’m seeing a lot of confounding causality here.

I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, so I’m pulling the cart to a stop here. With one final thought.

Even if fat were unhealthy and if being fat were entirely under an individual’s control, every fat person on this planet would be deserving of fundamental human respect, acceptance and compassion. Just because of their humanity.

The heart-breaking thing is how little respect, acceptance, or compassion fat people get in this culture today —  even though fat isn’t unhealthy and it can’t reliably be controlled.