Book Club · weight stigma

FIFI book club: “You just need to lose weight” and 19 other myths about fat people (section three)

CW: in-depth discussion of anti-fatness myths and people’s experiences around body shaming.

Welcome back to installment three of the FIFI book club’s review of You just need to lose weight and 19 other myths about fat people, by Aubrey Gordon. If you missed any previous bookclub posts, you can access them below.

FIFI book club: You just need to lose weight, and 19 other myths about fat people

FIFI book club: You just need to lose weight, and 19 other myths about fat people (section two)

This week, we are commenting on section three, “Fat acceptance glorifies obesity”. The myths of this section are:

  • myth 10: “Accepting fat people glorifies obesity.”
  • myth 11: “Body positivity is feeling better about yourself, as long as you’re happy and healthy.”
  • myth 12: “We’re in the middle of an obesity epidemic.”
  • myth 13: “Fat people don’t experience discrimination.”
  • myth 14: “I don’t like gaining weight, but I don’t treat fat people differently.”

Here are Amy’s comments:

There was so much to unpack in this section, and it really addressed the “myths” that I encounter most in my every day experience. These five also work together in the most insidious ways to make it easy/ier to justify being biased against fat people. If body positivity is about the individual then it doesn’t matter how someone/society views that individual so long as the individual has the ability to tune out all that noise and love themselves even while (gasp) being fat. If accepting fat people promotes and glorifies obesity, especially in the middle of an obesity epidemic(!) we must avoid that acceptance at all costs. Instead we should try to “fix” fat people so they can be “healthy and happy.”

Myth 13 is truly laughable to me. I just spent 3 days running around to malls and stores in 3 different towns trying to buy one outfit for an upcoming trip. Because stores don’t carry or stock a full spectrum of sizes, and each mall only has one “plus size” store. So in addition to paying the “fat tax” of those specialty stores being more expensive I also paid more in gas and time lost driving from place to place. Citing concerns about a fat person’s health is a common tactic used against fat people, but no one ever asks how my mental health is impacted by having to go drive all over the county to find 2 suitable pieces of clothing (or be relegated to online shopping and the often laborious return process that entails).

Myth 14 also made me roll my eyes a little bit. I frequently have colleagues and friends say this to me. The refusal to accept that their feelings about weight gain is not happening in a vacuum but rather in a world where they are constantly told they must not feel good if they have gained weight is noticeable. And when they get into the nitty gritty about whatever diet they are following to lose the weight… the sacrifices and hardships they are making by depriving themselves, I know I am supposed to feel shame for not forcing that on myself and instead “choosing” to be/stay fat. How are fat people supposed to maintain close relationships with people who constantly say/imply/indicate that their biggest worry is having a body like ours?

On to Samantha’s comments:

I don’t have a lot to say about this section. It’s pretty familiar material but once again I have a favorite myth. This time it’s number 14: I don’t like gaining weight but I don’t treat fat people differently.

We all have that friend, the normal sized friend who is trying to lose weight all the while insisting it’s just about them. They don’t mind other people being fat.

Yeah, right.

Gordon has a couple of things to say about this myth and the ways in which anti fat bias hurts everyone. Whatever we say most of us do engage in anti fat bias and we do treat fat people worse than thin people.

Also, I like the opportunities for action at the end. My favorite is asking for consent before engaging in diet talk. I also agree with Gordon that we should ditch all talk of “feeling fat.”

Here are Diane’s comments:

The history nerd in me loved the first part of Myth 11, which explained the roots of the body positivity movement in the US civil and welfare rights movements. The commercialization since? Not so much. Myth 10 immediately had me thinking about the painter Rubens, an all the other Renaissance and Baroque artists who painted glorious portraits of fat women and men. And more recently, Colombian artist and sculptor Fernando Botero.

Though I have heard Myth 12 ripped to shreds on Maintenance Phase, I loved reading this chapter. The “science” behind this one is “garbage” to use one of Aubrey’s favourite words on the podcast. It’s also the myth that has me dreading every visit to the doctor’s office, and feeling relief when no-one asks about my weight.

The last two myths in this section are best addressed in the questions for reflection and action at the end, about learning to identify and address our implicit biases. Anti-fatness is so ingrained in the world view of many that we don’t even notice it. But at least we can try to be aware, and address the more conscious manifestations of it.

On to Tracy’s comments:

On Myth 14: The subtle and not as subtle forms anti-fat bias takes are many and varied. The upshot of this myth is: anyone who doesn’t like gaining weight has anti-fat bias, and people with anti-fat bias treat fat people at best differently and likely worse than they treat thin people. The chapter gives lots of examples of anti-fat bias: using thin actors in fat suits to play fat characters in movies; frequent talk about “feeling fat” or body dissatisfaction, even from thinner people; trying to “reassure” people who self-describe as fat that they’re not; complimenting people on weight loss, assuming it to be a desired and planned weight loss; expressions of “concern” about health; studies showing the majority of women-identifying people feeling unhappy with their bodies regardless of their body size. Thinner women expressing negative body image is identified as causing harm to fat women and reinforcing anti-fat bias.

Her distinction between implicit and explicit anti-fat bias is useful, and the study at the end that showed that participants who were told their anti-fat attitudes were in conflict with their values engaged in less explicit anti-fat bias (at least in the moment soon after being so told). I think this is true for many of (that anti-fat bias is in conflict with our values), so it’s promising that finding ways to remind ourselves of that can potentially help to address explicit bias.

Implicit bias is of course harder to change, and requires collective effort to change widespread attitudes and assumptions. That change does happen through the cumulative actions of individuals though, so she suggests as opportunities for action: taking the Harvard Project Implicit implicit bias test on anti-fat bias, asking friends or family members who are fatter than you for feedback; always checking first before launching into a discussion of diet or weight; not talking about “feeling fat” as a substitute for what you’re really feeling, since that is a clear expression of anti-fat bias.

Now to my (Catherine’s) comments:

I never really took seriously myth 10, that “accepting fat people glorifies obesity”. It always seemed nonsensical on its face. But it’s been around in multiple forms, including academic ones. Ten years ago, prominent bioethicist Daniel Callahan wrote a peer-reviewed article proposing that, in order to “reduce obesity rates [the government should] use strong social pressure—even if it crosses the line into outright discrimination—to teach people that being overweight and obese is ‘not socially acceptable any longer,’ and ‘to make just about everyone strongly want to avoid being overweight and obese.’ (cited from this paper, by Janet Tomiyama and Traci Mann, objecting and responding to Callahan’s claims).

Tomiyama and Mann go on to point out that such stigma is ever-present in every aspect of the lives of fat people; if stigmatizing fatness would have turned fat people into thin people, it most certainly would’ve worked by now. What it does do is make fat people the targets of discrimination in all sectors of society. If what governments care about is a healthier populace (however that gets interpreted), anti-fat bias provably undermines that goal.

I’ll be blogging soon about what “glorifying obesity” could even mean, and what “accepting fat people” really does mean. In the meantime, we’d love to hear from you– what do you think of these myths?

Let us know what you think....