Two very interesting pieces in the news this past week, which I think paint a picture we all need to step back and behold: our obesity-obsession and rhetoric may actually be making people more obese and, worse (because obesity really isn’t a problem in of itself, it’s a signifier that may or may not correspond with increased risk factors), unhealthy and stigmatized in a socially-sanctioned way.
Once-Obese Women Still Face Stigma, Study Finds via Yahoo! here
“‘Those who had been obese in the past were perceived as less attractive than those who had always been thin, despite having identical height and weight.’
The participants also showed greater bias against obese people after they had read about women who had lost weight, compared to after reading about weight-stable women — regardless of whether the weight-stable women were thin or obese.
The findings, published May 29 in the journal Obesity, suggest that the stigma of obesity is so powerful that it can continue even after an obese person has lost weight.
The researchers said they were particularly troubled by the finding that participants’ negative attitudes towards obese people increased when they were falsely told that body weight is easily controlled.”
There are a few salient issues here: 1) we may need to do further studies to determine how social stigma on people who have lost weight actually contributes to why 95% of people gain weight back (I, of course, know that biological factors (& a gamut of other factors) contribute to this, but if our society is unforgiving of people who have ever struggled with their weight – even when they are thin – what is the motivation to keep the weight off? This is precisely why we need to focus on health!). 2) the more we falsely portray weight-loss as sustainable and desirable, the more we contribute to the stigma placed on people who don’t fit the nebulous and tenuous idea of “healthy weight.” This has definitely made me consider how I might be playing into this with my “before” and “after” photos. Definitely something I’m thinking critically about. 3) Interesting that people who are weight-stable – even if heavier – are viewed with less stigma. This indicates to me that we’ll “forgive” people if we feel that they are fat for “genetic” reasons; if anyone shows even the slightest sign that he or she may be able to lose weight, we will expect them to and be unforgiving if they don’t lose weight or can’t sustain the weight loss. And, we’ll continue to punish them for once being fat even when they’re thin. FUCK!!!!
I don’t know if I have experienced any of this stigma because I can’t occupy other people’s heads. I do know that people are careful of what they say around me because they don’t want to offend me. In other words, people don’t like to do their fat-bashing around me because they know they’ll get an earful from me. I also know that when people find out I haven’t always been in this range of weight, they usually comment with, “oh my god, you can’t even tell that you used to be fat!” [I don't know what that really means, but suppose it's meant to comfort me; as if I may "pass" as one of the privileged not-fat people]. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, to be faced with the same stigma as a recovering alcoholic. It seems to me that people who were “once really fat” are viewed as people always on the verge of a relapse. I have felt that sense of anticipation and calculation from others – they are waiting and wondering – when will she slip up? When will she gain it all back? People are hyper aware of what I eat. I find too many long gazes at my mid-section when discovered that I used to be “one of those…” Not too long ago I got an email from someone asking me how “fat” I was now since, clearly, all my HAES promotion must be because I’m fat again and seeking acceptance. Whether or not anyone would consider me fat at this point in time is beside the point; the fact is I’ll always be viewed as someone who was once something that is considered completely undesirable. Worse, seen by most of the nation as someone who used to be “diseased.” And, many will just wait for my seemingly inevitable reversion.
The greatest freedom I’ve given myself is to not fight against whatever weight my body wants to be at when I’m treating myself well (and even when I’m not). I never realized that with all of my “before” and “after” talk I was placing myself in an incredibly pressure-filled position. When you are an “after” you have no room for development. You have no flexibility to be healthy since you’ve resigned to be an “after weight” no matter what. I’ve since resigned, happily, to be whatever I am.
I’ve also resigned to this:
We’ll Look Back and Laugh That We Went On Diets to Try to Lose Weight via the HuffPo here
“Reflections on Body Image” is a report co-authored by MPs and the Central YMCA and published by the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Body Image after a three-month public inquiry. [read report]
Sue Thomason writes, “[the report] makes some powerful recommendations and the biggest stride forward lies in the report’s acknowledgement that overeating is as much an eating disorder as anorexia and that eating too much and its effects, including obesity, are not a lifestyle choice and overeating can be the result of dieting.
The Body Image report concludes:
- According to experts there is no evidence available that diets work in the long term.
- Girls who diet are 12 times more likely to binge eat (a direct acknowledgement that dieting is a contributor to obesity not a solution to it).
- More than 95% of dieters regain the weight they lost (a result of the binge eating I’d expect).
- Getting rid of dieting could wipe out 70% of eating disorders (including the binge eating mentioned above, a side effect of which is often obesity.)
So here they’re saying getting rid of dieting could largely reduce obesity. If this is the case, then wouldn’t it be rational to conclude also that dieting has been a big contributor towards obesity?”
I agree with Sue that the fact that this report was even published is incredible since it so overtly points to how the weight-loss industry is complicit in the preponderance of eating disorders. I think we have to be careful in looping in “obesity” with eating disorders. Obesity is NOT an eating disorder; obesity is a label assigned to people based on BMI and has little to do with an increase in risk factors, except and only when we’re talking about those in the severely obese category. And Sue falsely conflates “overeating” and “binge eating” which are not the same! Overeating is something we ALL do on occasion; binge eating is typically done in conjunction with consistent compensatory behavior and it can be diagnosed as a disorder since Binge Eating Disorder now has its own entry in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).
My hope is that more and more of us will be careful when we’re talking about obesity. First, everyone who even breathes the word should know what it means (BMI of 30 or more; though most stats include those who are “overweight” – BMI 25 & + to be sensational, though there are NOT increased risk factors for being overweight, in fact the inverse is true!); know the problems inherent in its calculation; and understand that even subtly proffering weight-loss as a “solution” is antithetical to improving health and just plain harmful (if not, hello!, counterproductive).
The Cranky One