Book Club · weight stigma

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

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

Welcome back to installment four 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)

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

This week, we are commenting on section four, “Fat people should…”

The last six myths that Gordon discusses are:

  • myth 15: “Fat people shouldn’t call themselves fat.”
  • myth 16: “People who have never been fat have ‘internalized fat phobia’.”
  • myth 17: “No one is attracted to fat people. Anyone who is has a fat fetish.”
  • myth 18: “Fat people should pay for a second airplane seat.”
  • myth 19: “Skinny shaming is just as bad a fat shaming.”
  • myth 20: “Anti-fatness is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination.”

First up is Diane:

My biggest issue was the argument around the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. I get her point about intersectionality and the fact that people still discriminate despite the laws (which may themselves not address all issues). However, there is a real difference between legally protecting people from discrimination (which has some consequences) vs no grounds at all.

That struck home again today as I read about fat people being told they have to buy two airline seats (reported on CNN). People with disabilities no longer have to pay for a seat for someone who accompanies them (at least for domestic travel in Canada). It did take a legal fight, but I don’t get the sense that anyone is willing to take up that battle on behalf of fat people.

On to Amy:

I thought these last few myths were a really great way to close out the book. Again, I think those Maintenance Phase fans will hear them all in Gordon’s voice, and some of the discussion will feel familiar. I was really pleased that Gordon chose to close the book with Myth 20 “Anti-fatness is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination.” It can sometimes feel like that when you are in a bigger body, or at least that has been true to me. But that’s because I hold a lot of other privileges, so when I run into instances where people are treating me differently (negatively) around my body size it can feel shocking. And when no one else notices or defends it does feel like people are “allowing” that discrimination.

But I realized a few years ago when I heard an older person say that ageism was the “last acceptable form of discrimination” that there are so many forms of discrimination that people overlook, don’t notice, or actively engage in. Declaring one or another as “the last acceptable” further marginalizes people/communities that have been minoritized and doesn’t work to address systemic issues.

Here are my (Catherine’s) comments:

Gordon applies her verbal scalpel decisively to myth 15: “Fat people shouldn’t call themselves fat.” What is revealed are some harsh truths.

She says, “The logic of fat shaming… reveals itself… [saying that] It’s wrong to publicly humiliate someone for being fat only if they aren’t actually fat.” Gordon offers examples of celebrities who’ve been fat-shamed for being larger versions of previous selves (she doesn’t mention Oprah here, who is the poster-person for this odious treatment). When such targets (almost always female-presenting) are defended, it’s to say that so-and-so isn’t really fat. They don’t say that fat-shaming is wrong, but rather that the particular claim of fatness is inaccurate.

Gordon says the word “fat” really strikes fear in thin people.

The fear of being fat is the fear of joining an underclass that you have so readily dismissed, looked down upon, looked past, or been so grateful not to have been a part of…. thin people are terrified of being treated the way they have so often seen fat people treated or even the way they have treated fat people themselves.

I think there’s a lot more to this myth. Thin people call themselves fat all the time. All of my female relatives do and have done so all their lives. Visiting my family while reading this book and writing these posts has made me more aware of how pervasive and acceptable the use of the word “fat” is when self-applied by thin people, but never with actual fat people. I was talking to a relative, saying “I may be old and fat, but I can (insert some physical feat or other)”. Immediately, I was shushed, saying “you’re not fat! You’re not old!”

But I am old. I’m 61. That’s old. Not super-old, but it’s undeniably in the “old” category. It’s okay. I’m also fat. I’m a small fat, which means I have some privilege that larger fat people don’t have. But I am indeed fat. It’s not a disaster. It’s just me, as I am right now. Which Gordon says is important– that is, it’s important that I be able to name my own body. “Thin people’s discomfort with a word that has hurt them shouldn’t stand in the way of the liberation of actual fat people.”

Yeah. Huzzah to that!

Dear readers– what do you think about these myths? Did any strike a strong note with you? We’d love to hear from you.

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?

body image · Book Club · fat · weight stigma

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

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

Welcome back to installment two 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 last week’s post, you can access it below.

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

This week, we are talking about section two, which is about health-related myths foisted upon fat people. Here they are:

  • myth 6: obesity is the leading cause of death in the US
  • myth 7: BMI is an objective measure of size and health
  • myth 8: doctors are unbiased judges of fat people’s health. Fat people don’t like going to the doctor’s office because they don’t like hearing the truth.
  • myth 9: fat people are emotionally damaged and cope by “eating their feelings”.

Sam’s comments

The second part of Gordon’s book is about health myths related to fatness. She does a good job with the issues which will be familiar to readers of this blog. The one I’d like to chime in on is the one that drives me wild because it’s one I encounter among otherwise progressive, body accepting people. It’s Myth 9, “Fat people are emotionally damaged and cope by ‘eating their feelings.’”

Gordon takes on the concept of ‘emotional eating’ which came into vogue in the 70s and was the way Weight Watchers’ founder Jean Nidetch framed her own journey to weighing too much. On this view of overweight and obesity, fatness comes to be as a response to trauma. Fat people have endured horrible experiences and turn to food for emotional comfort. Deal with the trauma, cease the emotional eating, and a normal body size will emerge.

Of course, while this matches the experience of some fat people it’s too simple in a few different ways. First, it ignores the genetic aspects of our body size and in families, you’ll see people who have different experiences, not everyone has a traumatic childhood, but many or all of the family members share a body size. Second, lots of people engage in emotional eating and don’t get fat. Emotional eating may not always be a healthy response to the bad stuff in our lives but it doesn’t necessarily lead to weight gain.

To this I’d add the thing I’ve blogged about, not all emotional eating is unhealthy

See also Four worries Sam has about intuitive eating. Here I raise the worry that the emotional eating framework becomes yet another way to judge and blame fat people, especially fat women.

“You’re supposed to only eat because you’re hungry. Intuitive eating, done right, is supposed to land you at the right weight for your size (see above). Therefore, larger people must be eating for reasons besides hunger. You’re supposed to be vigilant about emotional eating. So often there’s judgments about mental and emotional health of fat people, as if we can read your emotional well-being off the number on the scale. It assumes that if you take care of your mental and emotional health your weight will fix itself. And that you can tell that people–and here pretty much we mean women–are emotionally unstable, because they’re fat. Just no.”

See also Catherine’s Comfort eating– it’s not gonna kill you, and may even be beneficial (says science)

To sum up, I liked this section on health but I think you almost need a whole other section on myths about emotional health and larger bodies.

Diane’s comments

This section didn’t hold a lot of surprises. I really liked the attempt to asses the causality of obesity related to various diseases. As I now deal with arthritis-related joint pain and high blood pressure, I get anxious about whether I could be doing something more to help myself. I would happily have read a lot more about this topic as I’m still not confident I understand all the nuances around where there are legitimate causal links (while fully supporting the well-argued case that fat does not necessarily cause disease and that many other factors including poverty and genetics are at play).

The one surprise was in Myth 8. I have heard from friends abut their experiences with doctors demonstrating anti-fat bias by dismissing health concerns and focusing instead on their weight, but I didn’t know that getting this short shrift was a literal thing – fat people actually have shorter appointments.

Amy’s comments

The second section was just as informative as the first, and Gordon tackles some great myths here. One of the ones that struck me was Myth 8 “Doctors are Unbiased Judges of Fat People’s Health.” As we know is true almost universally, humans are biased. We are all produced in particular systems and structures that often lead us to bias, both conscious and unconscious. Doctors are no different. Here Gordon goes on to provide data taken from medical training environments regarding people with higher weights and larger bodies. She offers studies in which some of those bias were reduced with small tweaks to the environment or educational information.

I’m often stymied by friends, many of whom are academic researchers themselves, who take information from their medical doctors at face value. Even when they are told by others that the info may be biased or out of date, they insist that the physician must be correct simply because they are a doctor.

One friend in particular was told by an “ob*s*ty specialist” that they would die if they didn’t reduce their body weight. They embarked on a lengthy “treatment” process of what was essentially a (reduced) calories in/(elevated) calories out model. When confronted with the notion that a) this doc was making a (lucrative) living off convincing higher weight folks that they need to lose weight and b) the dangers and stats on weight cycling, the friend doubled down by insisting that they “just didn’t want to die.”

The fear mongering that can happen in the medical community around weight and body size is truly astounding to me, and Gordon captures quite a lot of the foundation for these tactics in this chapter.

The chapter on emotional eating also stuck out for me, not so much because of the negative valence attached to emotional eating (though there is that too) but for the identifying of the assumption that anyone who is fat must be engaging in it. This chapter does a great job of really pulling the curtain back on the way no one questions “naturally thin” people but the default assumption about someone fat is that they must be doing something “wrong” (in this case engaging in “emotional eating” in response to trauma).

Tracy’s comments

The chapter on emotional eating also stuck out for me, not so much because of the negative valence attached to emotional eating (though there is that too) but for the identifying of the assumption that anyone who is fat must be engaging in it. This chapter does a great job of really pulling the curtain back on the way no one questions “naturally thin” people but the default assumption about someone fat is that they must be doing something “wrong” (in this case engaging in “emotional eating” in response to trauma).

In general this book has so far been a been a very uncomfortable read for me as someone who has relative thin privilege and who has been a proponent of intuitive eating.

And here are my (Catherine’s) comments

These days, I spend a good bit of my professional research and speaking time on myths 6 and 7, giving talks and writing about 6) how higher body weights are not (I repeat, not!) correlated with all-cause mortality; and, 7) how BMI is not (I repeat, not!) an indicator of health. Gordon’s chapters on these myths are superbly done and precisely documented with studies to back up her rejoinders to these entrenched myths. Her citations are but a small sample of the comprehensive literature showing that the relationships between body weight and mortality risk, and between body weight and disease are not simple and are not linear. They are complex, nuanced, and modulated by genetic, genomic, environmental, and other factors.

Yes, science is complicated. And the science of human metabolism is especially complicated. But anti-fat bias plus the desire for simplicity drives medical beliefs and practices that have been oversimplified to the point of falsehood.

Take BMI as an example. It’s easy to calculate someone’s BMI. All you need are a tape measure (for height), a scale (for weight), and a BMI table. Anyone in any primary care practice can measure and weigh people reasonably accurately and very cheaply. So BMI is a cheap and easy metric to use. The problem is, it doesn’t actually measure what medicine and public health are looking for, which is something like “risk of disease/death due to degree of fatness or thinness or body shape, relative to height”.

I am here to tell you today that IF there were some biometric(s) that predicted disease or mortality risk in virtue of one’s size or amount of fatness or type of fatness or distribution of bodily fatness, they wouldn’t be simple or easy or cheap to measure. We know this already: there are loads of studies that use metrics like fat-free mass and others to investigate their possible correlations with e.g. mortality risk. Based on initial research, those possible correlations are complicated, change during the life course, and they require very expensive equipment not found in doctors’ offices.

As of right now, medical science doesn’t have any easily accessible, clearly interpretable, agreed-upon metrics that predict disease or mortality risk due to fatness. When I’ve given talks to physicians’ groups about how bogus BMI is, they (sometimes grudgingly) accept the data, but during the Q&A a few will inevitably fall back on the assumption that increased body weight is always a negative medical indicator. I get that healthcare providers are constrained by time, insurance billing codes and regulations, and the need to address complex and urgent health problems with limited tools. But BMI is just not one of those tools. It’s a blunt object, and every single fat person (myself included) is done with being bludgeoned by it.

Readers, are you reading this book? Do you have any thoughts about this week’s myths? Let us know.

Book Club · fitness · weight stigma

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

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:

  1. Being fat is a choice; if fat people don’t like how they’re treated, they should just lose weight.
  2. Any fat person can become thin if they try hard enough; it’s just a matter of calories in, calories out.
  3. Parents are responsible for their child’s weight; only bad parents let their children get fat.
  4. Thin people should help fat people lose weight.
  5. 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.

Yeah, no. I”m not falling for that again.

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.

body image · boxing · fitness · weight stigma

The world is changing its perception of larger active bodies but not Garmin

So it turns out, according to Garmin, that my fitness age is 74. My fitness is poor and I’m in the bottom 5 percent for my age bracket.

Colour me shocked.

I thought it was because of inactivity due to knee replacement surgery. Garmin doesn’t track my weightlifting or my physio so all it knows are my steps per day, heart rate, rest, and numbers of kilometers ridden. And yes, it’s true I’m just riding 50 km a week on the trainer right now. That’s down from my usual 100 or 150. My step goal is in the 5000-6000 range and I meet it most days but that’s down since I had knees that worked.

Still it seemed wrong. I wouldn’t think that someone who rode their bike 50 km each week and walked more than 5000 steps each day would be in the bottom 5%. My resting heart rate is in the low 60s and that’s pretty good too.

It’s true I’m not my usual fitness self but bottom 5%?

So I googled how Garmin calculates fitness age and I remembered one more piece of information Garmin has, my weight.

Argh. Argh. I should have guessed. I should remembered Nicole’s blog post about this. And in her case there was only a two year gap. The gap between my actual and Garmin’s fitness age for me is 16 years.

Good gravy.

Bundling weight into the definition of fitness doesn’t even make sense to me. You can no longer ask about the relationship between fatness and fitness because on this way of measuring fitness, the weigh scale is built in.

I was embarrassed at first to blog about this. I shut off the Garmin app and stormed around the house a bit. I did some chores in a loud grumpy fashion. But the more I thought about it the more I realized it’s their problem, not mine. I’m going to write and ask them about. I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.

Not me but a woman with pink boxing gloves who kind of looks like I feel.
fitness · weight stigma

For the nth time, fitness doesn’t equal weight: Lizelle Lee and the meanness of fat phobia in women’s sports

CW: Discussion of judgments about body weight, negative self image talk, and weight discrimination in women’s sports.

South African Lizelle Lee is the world’s leading women’s cricketer this year. She was also awarded best women’s one-day international cricketer in 2021. If you know about cricket and want to see her stats, they’re right here.

Lee announced her retirement from international cricket before the start of a series with England that she was scheduled to play in. Why? Because some officials deemed her too fat to play.

What?! Yes, it’s true. Here is a list of the main facts:

  • Lizelle Lee is one of the world’s top women competitors in cricket.
  • Lee trains and attends gym sessions. She recently passed the run fitness test.
  • Her team has weight requirements, which they claim are part of the “fitness” requirement. Lee did not meet their weight preference thresholds.
  • In order for Lee to be able to continue to earn money as a professional athlete, playing cricket domestically, she would have to resign from the international team. For the details, check out this article and this article.
  • So, Lizelle Lee retired (at age 30) from international cricket.

By the way, three days after she was forced into resigning, her team “lost three ODIs and three T20 matches against England, suffering an overall 14-2 defeat on points in the multi-format series.”

This story makes me really angry, because it is one of so many examples of how mean and destructive and irrational fat phobia is in women’s sports.

It’s mean because Lizelle Lee, who is a titan in her field, one of the world’s top athletes, is barred from play and made to feel like her body is to blame. This is the same body that plays cricket the way almost no one else can. Here’s Lizelle Lee below:

Here’s another content warning: Lee speaks about her negative body image, which is certainly in no small part due to team officials preferences that her body be smaller.

“I know I don’t look like an athlete but that doesn’t mean I can’t do my job,” Lee told the BBC World Service’s Stumped podcast. “I looked like this last year and I had a brilliant year.

“I don’t feel good about myself. I don’t even look at myself in the mirror any more because I don’t like the way I look. But that comes along because every time I’m in (South Africa) camp, it’s always about my weight. Emotionally, it breaks a person down.”

This breaks my heart. And then I get livid. I don’t play cricket, but she looks like the very model of an elite athlete- powerful, confident, graceful and focused.

Let’s be clear: Lizelle Lee is more than fit to play cricket internationally. She’s proved this through her record. So this isn’t about her ability to play. It’s about what her body looks like. Lee explains more about this in a BBC interview excerpted below:

“The big thing that got me is that I made the fitness physically. I did the running that I had to do. Basically, I’m fit to play,” she said in the interview. “I had this conversation with them in Ireland – because I got dropped in Ireland because of my weight as well – and I told them ‘you’re dropping me because of the way I look and how much I weigh’ and they said ‘no, we’re dropping you because you failed the fitness battery’.”

“I said: ‘Yes, okay, but if you break the fitness battery down, what did I not make? I made the fitness, the running, but I didn’t make my weight. So, you’re dropping me because of weight’.”

Yes, that’s exactly what they are doing.

Forcing Lee to retire is also destructive. First, she had to retire in order to continue to have a job playing cricket, which is what she does to pay the bills.

Had Lee not retired and potentially not received an NOC (no-objection certificate, saying it’s fine for her to play), she would not have been able to play in domestic leagues around the world and subsequently not have received a large chunk of her annual income.

“Probably one of the reasons I had to decide to retire is to make sure we don’t have that [debt] anymore. The salary from The Hundred is a little bit more than my yearly salary at CSA, not counting match fees and World Cup prize money,” she said.

Also, Lee’s team suffered from her absence. They lost their first match without her. Surely forcing Lee out will hurt team morale.

Now to irrationality: team officials’ claims that Lee failed her fitness test because of her weight are completely irrational. Lee has shown that her weight is not a detriment to her fitness. Far from it– she passed all the fitness tests. When asked about what role weight played in calculating fitness parameters for athletes, team doctor Shuaib Manjra said this:

“The fitness test is not based purely on weight; it’s based on a number of parameters. You need to meet a very low threshold of 60% to pass the test. You have a composite score of different parameters, weight is one of them.”

The one test you must pass is the 2km time trial, not the weight. If you pass the 2km time trial and the other tests then you’re fine, but weight is not the sole criteria. It’s a composite score set at a low level of 60% which you need to pass in order to be eligible for selection,” he said.

This makes no sense at all. Lee passed the 2km time trial and other tests. She simply didn’t meet their weight preferences. Furthermore, Lee points out that another player failed the fitness test (but presumably not the weight preference test) the following week, but was not threatened with withdrawal of her NOC (the no-objection certificated required for play).

Fat phobia is mean, it’s destructive, and it’s irrational. And it’s rife in women’s sports. Just ask Serena Williams. Or Michelle Carter, Olympic gold-medalist shot putter. Or me. Or many of you. Let’s keep calling it out. Maybe some day, with all our efforts, we’ll hit it out of the park.

Woman about to hit a softball. It's teed up and ready to go sailing out of the park.
Oh yeah– tee it up and we’ll knock it into oblivion.
fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

When bias guides research

Content warning: discussion of weight loss, weight loss methods

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand announced on June 28 they had developed a new world first: a magnetic lock that effectively wires a jaw shut leaving users to rely on a liquid diet so they can kickstart weightloss.

You can read all about it here on this Twitter thread, the university’s website, and the journal which published their results. The researchers say their goal to provide a tool to address the global obesity epidemic.

Rapid weight loss causes physical harm. There’s a reason wiring jaws shut fell out of practice, the outcomes weren’t great, and included long term dental and mental health issues. While there has also been an uptick in surgical interventions (gastric bands, sleeves etc), there have also been post operative issues to manage as well.

The Twitterati have been vocal, with multiple comparisons to chastity belts, racks, and other medieval implements of torture. Others have highlighted the ethical, social and medical issues such research seems to have overlooked.

The researchers recruited seven healthy (oh the irony) obese females. Six completed the study (one left for reasons unrelated to the study). All of the participants regained some weight (about .73 kg average) in the first two weeks after the device was removed. Information about their weight status six months or a year after the study was completed was not included in the journal article.

The study met the university’s requirements for ethics approval. Despite the limited number of participants and the short time frame of the study (two weeks), the researchers felt comfortable enough with the results to propose expanding their research to include a gender balance. As well, they proceeded to modify their device (make it smaller, less obvious etc) to improve acceptability and tolerance.

The study raises significant red flags. Other studies with low numbers of research subjects (can I remind you of the infamous Lancet study on vaccines and autism?) have contributed to significant negative impacts on public health. The study does not disclose any conflicts of interest, but we do not learn who owns the patent on the device or how much they plan to sell it for.

The supports provided the six participants are also not usually those provided routinely to other obese individuals who are told to lose weight. The authors said participants had access to a dietitian, were supplied with liquid meal replacements, and had access to dental care and medical supervision. Obese individuals often have to pay for similar services/options.

I suppose I should be cheered by the fact that so many people have come out against this news. However, the fact that someone thought this was a good idea in the first place and it received ethical approval is quite disturbing. The authors recommend repeated cycles to aid momentum. I think this suggests a devolution into disordered eating with frequent gain/loss cycles.

I sincerely hope this device is investigated not as a welcome medical intervention but as a dangerous tool. There has been ample work looking at the roots of obesity and the kinds of supports needed to support individuals in nourishing their bodies appropriately, beginning with the social determinants of health. There is nothing new or innovative about this technique as it is merely a less permanent form of jaw wiring. It is, however, an excellent way to promote weight stigma, eating disorders and increased physical, mental and oral health issues in otherwise healthy people.

fitness · weight stigma

What some twenty-somethings think about the “headless fatty”

CW: Talk about the “headless fatty”, discussion of fat stigma and weight discrimination.

Like all reasonable decent people, we at Fit is a Feminist Issue despise those “headless fatty” photos. Samantha and I have blogged about them, and others of us have noted and criticized those discriminatory images as well.

No more headless fatties…

Why the headless fatty photo has got to go…

Fat babies deserve heads

Wow, not even chubby babies get heads these days…

Like a bad penny, these awful images keep turning up.

I’m teaching a course on Philosophy of Food in summer school right now, and we are starting it by talking about food memories, preferences, traditions, rules, violations of rules, and ideals. One of the questions I asked them in a short response paper was about the notion of the “headless fatty” and what they thought about it. Here’s some of what they said:

… the “headless fatty” is problematic because in these pictures the bodies become symbolic. These people are in the photos, but they have no voice, not even a mouth, brain, head, no thoughts or opinions. They are reduced and dehumanized as symbols of cultural fear. The beheaded people in these photographs also symbolize that they are being punished for existing, or they no longer have the right to speak, and that without these people the world would be a better place. 

Yeah. I definitely couldn’t have said it better myself.

Here’s another comment:

[the headless fatty] perpetuates the idea that fat people are not people; that they do not have a brain, a voice, or opinions.

One more, which I really like:

This term is problematic because when you remove someone’s head, they no longer have thoughts or opinions.

YES! It’s so clear to my students that the image of a fat person with no head conveys the idea that they have no agency, no humanity, no intelligence, no voice.

I’m writing this to you because these students are giving me hope that fat shaming and weight stigmatization will dissipate; it’s obvious to them that these images are fat shaming, and also obvious how horrible and harmful that is. Yay students!

Let’s all look forward to a time in the not-distant future where people of all sizes and shapes can hold their heads up high, in part because they have heads. Is this too much to hope for?

Readers, how long has it been since you saw one of these headless fat-shaming images? Yesterday? Last month? Last year? Let us know. I’m really hoping they’re on the wane.

fitness · weight stigma

Anti-fat-shaming videos: don’t do more harm than good, folks!

CW: Inclusion of an video that depicts a scene of fat shaming and purports to be anti-fat-shaming, but in fact is fat-shaming. Discussion of body weight, eating, fat-shaming. Mention of the “Karen” phenomenon. Mention of an ableist term and its use.

There’s a new anti-fat-shaming video out there, and it’s very sincere in its attempts to alert people to fat-shaming and to explain why fat-shaming is wrong. Here it is (again, note content warnings above):

The initial scene plays out roughly as follows: A fat woman walks up to the counter of a coffeeshop, orders a kale salad and a small chai tea latte. The cashier– a thin woman– calls her “Fatty” instead of her name, Patty. She also interrogates her about the order in ways designed to fat-shame her. When Patty receives her latte, the name written on the cup is “Fatty”. She runs out of the shop.

Customers in the shop look silently on the scene, no one speaking out, until one man comes up to the cashier. He gives a sincere soliloquy about how the cashier– called, yes, Karen– shouldn’t have bullied Patty.

Here’s where things go wrong:

  1. He defends Patty’s right not to be bullied, saying she deserves respect and is trying to change. Change what? Her body size, one assumes. Argh.

2. Then he cites her food choice of a kale salad and small almond milk chai latte as evidence of her desire to change. No, dude. You shouldn’t have gone there.

3. He compares Patty’s state of self to being sick in a hospital, indicating that none of those groups deserve shaming. This is getting really bad really fast.

4. He does go on to connect fat-shaming to stress-eating and point out that studies show that weight discrimination doesn’t “motivate change”. Sigh. This is a more subtle error, but error nonetheless. He’s fully on board with the idea that fat people suffer from fatness and need to be motivated or helped to change. This belief is at the heart of fat-shaming.

5. He uses a ableist word, “lame”, to criticize some views about body image. Gotta be more careful, dude. You don’t want to do more harm here.

6. Here’s my least favorite part: he wraps up his heartfelt speech by entreating the cashier to “accept them for who they are, and lovingly encourage them to be who they could be”.

NO. NO. NO. That is flat-out health concern trolling about body weight. Patty doesn’t need loving encouragement to become something else. Not from her family, not from her doctor, not from her friends, and not from the cashier. What Patty needs is for the cashier to take her order and give her what she asked for in a professional and courteous way. That’s it.

And honestly, I would’ve watched that video and shared it with others.

There are many other flaws in this video, but alas, my blogging time is up. Readers, what did you like or not like about this video? I’d love to hear from you.

fitness · link round up · weight loss · weight stigma

Fit is a Feminist issue, Friday Link Round Up #97

This week’s link round up focuses on weight loss. If you want to know why a fitness blog cares so much about body image and weight loss, you can read this.

Tl;dr: “Body image is connected to fitness in a variety of ways. It’s both the motivation for lots of women to pursue physical activity. I’ll solve my body image issues by improving my body! Body image anxiety is also the reason lots of women don’t exercise. I can’t go to the gym. I’m too fat! Both of these sets of motivations are problematic.”

Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight Loss May Be Wrong

“At any given time, about half of all Americans are trying to lose weight — and we can assume it will be even more than that once everyone emerges from our collective bread-and-cookie-insulated quarantine cocoon. That means millions of people are doing keto, paleo, intermittent fasting, Optavia, Atkins, and all the other diets (many of which we’ve explained and reviewed on GH) that limit what, when and how you eat. And as you can tell from all those “before and after” Instagram shots, some dieters do lose weight — at least at first. But for the majority it inevitably comes back, potentially leading to guilt, disappointment, and the biggest question of all: What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I keep off the weight?

Here’s the truth: It’s not you. It’s biology.

The dirty little secret of the dieting industry is that many diets will fail. But we are still bombarded with the message that if we only find the right diet we will be thin — which has been conflated with “beautiful” in our culture — and all our troubles will melt away along with our love handles. “The diet industry is a $72 billion dollar business, so there’s an extraordinary amount of money that’s hooked into selling the idea that there is something wrong with us, and if only we buy their product, we can find salvation,” says Lindo Bacon, Ph.D., associate nutritionist at UC-Davis and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your WeightBut according to one well known study at UCLA, not only do most people eventually gain back the weight they lost on diets, but as many as two-thirds may wind up gaining back more.”

Rethinking Fatness: Why Everything You’ve Been Told About Weight May Be Wrong

“Low-fat, low-carb, Paleo, keto, South Beach, intermittent fasting—the list goes on. Given that our culture idealizes thinness and shuns larger bodies, it’s not surprising that nearly one in five midlife women has dieted in the past few years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And many have regained the weight and see themselves as having failed. Less than 1% of very large people got to a “normal” weight at all in a study that included almost 100,000 women, and most who did regained the pounds they had lost within five years.

Some medical experts are now saying what many of us have been desperate to hear: It’s extremely tough to drop weight long-term, for reasons that have nothing to do with willpower—and it may not even be necessary.”

The Last Thing Fat Kids Need

“The message that “good parents” can and should control the number on the scale is literally tearing families apart. Should your child’s weight determine your fitness to be a parent? According to a family court judge in Sussex, England, the answer seems to be yes. In a decision filed last October, which recently made international headlines, District Judge Gillian Ellis ordered that then–16-year-old “Child C” and 13-year-old “Child D” be placed in foster care after their parents failed to help them lose weight. “I know that you love your mother and father very much and I know they love you too,” Ellis wrote. “But I am concerned about your health and the way in which your weight impacts on this.”

What If Everything You Know About Weight Loss Is Wrong?

“Why is it so hard to lose weight? Here’s one reason: A lot of what we all take for granted about weight loss is unproven or flat-out wrong. That’s the bottom line from a special article published in 2013 in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article laid out what works and what doesn’t, and detailed the commonly held weight loss beliefs that are not supported by research. The review also unveiled some of the theories that have not been proven or disproven. Here are some of the most surprising theories, plus what science really says about them”

I lost 100 pounds and didn’t learn a damned thing…

from 2019 by Meagan McGovern

“Man, I really wanted to write a long post about how much better and smarter and amazing I am now that I’ve lost 100 pounds. How much thinner I am. Maybe some clever words about my poor boobs, and about my clothes, and then I could post some before-and-afters, and then the congratulations could pour in.
But the truth is so much more complicated. Losing 100 pounds doesn’t make you smarter, more organized, or able to find your car keys. It doesn’t make me a better wife, a better mother, or a better writer.
Really, it just makes me smaller. And squishier. And more confused than ever about the role of women and weight and hunger and exercise and our culture.
So instead I wrote to Roxane Gay, who seems to write about weight and women with raw truth and clarity. And I’m grateful for it.”

A woman on a treadmill wearing a blue and grey shirt and khaki pants. Photo by Julia Larson on