CW: in-depth discussion of anti-fatness myths and people’s experiences around body shaming.
If you haven’t heard about Aubrey Gordon, then now’s a very good time to meet her. Gordon is a writer, podcaster and activist. She co-hosts the podcast Maintenance Phase, which we’ve blogged about here. Her newest book, “You just need to lose weight”, and 19 other myths about fat people, has been covered by just about every media outlet, from the Washington Post to Glamour UK to Literary Hub.
I’ll just come out and say it right now: this is a book that a) really needed to be written; b) really needs to be read by everyone (especially everyone who works in health care); and c) is brilliantly done by Aubrey Gordon.
If you decide to read/listen to this book, don’t skip over the introduction. Here are some of my favorite bits:
Many of these myths center around treating fat people as failed thin people, implying that thin people are superior to fat people.
This is one of the best sentences I’ve ever read explaining fat stigma.
Gordon also addresses the question, “why give these anti-fat myths any airtime?” Her answer is:
We may talk about diets differently today, but social mandates to become thin are as strong as ever.
Engaging with these myths, as thin people or as fat people, provides us with opportunities “to interrupt moments of anti-fatness in our daily lives”. Staring down the myths and reducing them to the factually inaccurate and blatantly bigoted views that they are is long overdue.
We’ll be reading and posting on each of the four sections of the book, starting with section one today. We encourage you to read along with us and post comments. We’ll be reading them and responding.
For each section, I’ll list the myths that are covered, and then a few responses by our bloggers. Here are the myths Gordon discusses in section one:
- Being fat is a choice; if fat people don’t like how they’re treated, they should just lose weight.
- Any fat person can become thin if they try hard enough; it’s just a matter of calories in, calories out.
- Parents are responsible for their child’s weight; only bad parents let their children get fat.
- Thin people should help fat people lose weight.
- Weight loss is the result of healthy choices and should be celebrated.
Here’s Amy’s overview:
I really enjoyed reading this book. As a regular listener to Maintenance Phase I could almost hear this entire book in Aubrey’s voice as I was reading it. There was so much that resonated with me, as a person in a bigger body, in this first section. Like Aubrey, I’ve been stopped by thin people who have suggestions on how I can lose weight. I had a co-worker tell me I looked like I had “had a healthful sabbatical” because I returned in a smaller body than when I left, and received countless lectures on “calories in/calories out.”
The excellent writing and easy style of offering facts without judgment is refreshing in the realm of books about bodies and how much they weigh. I was excited to read this book and I’m thrilled to say it did not disappoint.
Here’s Tracy, focusing on myths about parents, children and body weight:
First, to be clear, Aubrey is preaching to the converted — I already am completely on board with the message and love Aubrey Gordon and Michael Hobbes’s blog, The Maintenance Phase, where they debunk diet myths left, right, and centre. Nonetheless, listening to her book I discovered that I can still be shocked and outraged, and I still have a lot to learn. Part 1 presents five myths that fall under the “Being fat is a choice” theme.
There is room to be outraged at every turn, but the chapter on children (Myth: Parents are responsible for their child’s weight. Only bad parents let their children get fat), really made me despair about how far we have to go. I learned that children have literally been removed from homes and put into foster care. I didn’t know this. Also, in some places, including several US States, there is no lower age limit on gastric bypass surgery and as a result it has been performed on children. I think I heard right that the youngest person to have it was two and a half years old.
Besides horrific stories representing these extremes, the whole chapter made me keenly aware (again, as a sad reminder) of how entrenched ant-fat bias is in our culture, such that children are shamed for being fat. Indeed, it brought me back to the beginning of when I was ushered into the world of dieting at the age of 16 after I gained 15 pounds in five weeks on a trip to Europe. After that, my grandfather had one more story to add to the family repertoire, and that was that when he saw me at the airport he didn’t at first recognize me because [here he would blow out both of his cheeks like a balloon to demonstrate how fat I looked, and then everyone would laugh – or at least this is how I remember that story going every time it was hauled out for fun]. I remember not thinking it was particularly funny, and feeling for the first time that I had to “do something” about my body. So the children chapter resonated and took me back to the beginning of my struggle with food, weight, and body image.
And one more thing I noted: she talked about why anti-fat bias is not “fat-phobia” and that referring to it as such doesn’t capture its far-ranging oppressive impact.
Next up is Diane:
What I loved most was the end section with all the notes. So much is said about the need for low body weight without evidence to back up the claims. I’m an evidence nerd, so perusing the sources made me very happy.
Like Tracy, the chapter on children was also shocking for me. It was also the one where I had to think hard about my own anti-fat biases. I have learned to be much more accepting of all body shapes, but a little part of me still falls for this myth if I’m not careful.
The last myth (Anti-fatness is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination) really made me think because Aubrey pointed out that words without actions are meaningless. Anti-fatness often targets women, Black people, people of colour, poor people, queer and 2SLGBTQI people, disabled people, who also face discrimination that is supposed to be illegal. But discrimination against those groups, regardless of body size, it remains socially acceptable as long as we collectively allow it to happen.
I’m wrapping up, again pointing out some of my favorite Gordon smack-down passages:
When someone tells me to just lose weight, it teaches me that I can never expect their advocacy on behalf of fat people. The best I can hope for is their indifference.
As a person who identifies as fat (and whose weight has gone up and down throughout my life), I’m very familiar with the anger and heartache and sadness that comes with knowing that I’m being judged as less professional, smart, attractive or worthy of respect than the thinner people in every environment. I’m also familiar with unsolicited advice about diets or weight loss from others. To paraphrase Gordon, it’s as if we owe thinness to others, that our very fatness is an embarrassment to them, an offense against them.
But, but… what about your health? I’m just concerned about you.
Health-concern trolling is a bad thing. If you want to read a bunch of reasons why, check out this easy-to-scan-if-slightly-salty article.
Honestly, I could go on all day just about section one, but I’ll leave you with a few comments about the idea that weight loss should always be celebrated (part of myth five). Gordon says this:
Ultimately, weight-loss compliments don’t function without a hierarchy of bodies. Thinness is only worth celebrating if it is an accomplishment, and thinness is only an accomplishment if fatness is a failure.
“Healthiness” compliments work very similarly, which Gordon notes, revealing bodily hierarchies that mirror our other power hierarchies, enfolding racism, misogyny, ableism, etc. to exclude and disparage bodies of those who aren’t in favor. If you’re interested in another great read on this topic, check out Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body: the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia. Gordon cites it, I’ve read it and it’s really worth checking out.
We’d love to hear from you. Feel free to comment about experiences or views or suggested reading.