I have such a love-hate relationship with this article about thin people who have a lot of internal fat wrapped around their vital organs and thus are at risk for numerous “obesity-related” illnesses.
First, the love:
- The overall point of the article is that being thin doesn’t necessarily make you healthy! Yay!
- It quotes Steven Blair, who’s an entirely sensible “obesity expert!” (Ahem, an entirely sensible obesity expert who’s been SAYING ALL THIS FOR YEARS. Not that I’m bitter.) Hooray!
- It says in so many words, “Experts have long known that fat, active people can be healthier than their skinny, inactive counterparts.” Yippee!
- It says that some fat people up to and including sumo wrestlers might very well be healthier than some thin people, because exercise burns visceral fat, and fat stored under the skin — you know, the disgusting, awful, “unhealthy” kind everyone complains about? — doesn’t mean shit! Whee!
- Also… no, wait, that’s the end of the love.
Now on to the hate.
Why, oh why, do they have to frame this news as, “”Being thin doesn’t automatically mean you’re not fat” (a direct quote from one of the experts)? I mean, I realize it’s a clever hook, but it also completely misses the point and further reinforces the general belief that fat = unhealthy, when that’s exactly what findings like this partially disprove. The truth is, “Being thin doesn’t mean you’re healthy” — and the corollary is, “Being fat doesn’t mean you’re unhealthy.” Those truths are big fucking news to everyone who hasn’t obsessively followed all the obesity myth-debunking that’s been going on in recent years — i.e., practically everyone. But of course, you can’t just say them plainly. You must find a way to keep the whole concept of fat positioned as Public Enemy #1. I’m pretty sure they revoke both medical licenses and journalism degrees if you don’t.
And why do you suppose it takes finding out that some thin people are “fat on the inside” before a mainstream media article includes something like the following?
“Obesity is a risk factor, but it’s lower down on the totem pole of risk factors,” [Dr. Louis Teichholz] said, explaining that whether or not people smoke, their family histories and blood pressure and cholesterol rates are more important determinants than both external and internal fat.
And why the fuck, in an article about how thin people might very well be at risk for illnesses traditionally associated with fat people, do they need to include a line like, “Still, most experts believe that being of normal weight is an indicator of good health, and that BMI is a reliable measurement”? Do you see how much is going on in that one little sentence? Check it out:
- You probably shouldn’t listen to these experts saying thin isn’t always healthy, because “most experts” still believe something else.
- There is such a thing as a “normal” weight, and it’s one that makes you look thin.
- “BMI is a reliable measurement.” Do “most experts” really believe that anymore? The article quotes one. And I’m sure most doctors still believe that. But man, even in articles about research concluding that fat is dangerous and unhealthy and will send you straight to hell, I’m still seeing plenty of experts admitting that BMI is horseshit. It says nothing about the fat-to-muscle ratio, nothing about where you carry your fat (on the outside, let alone the inside). It qualifies most professional athletes as “overweight” or “obese.” It claims you are at greater risk for disease if you are in the group (“overweight”) that study after study shows has a lower mortality rate than the “normal,” “healthy” range. When are we going to let BMI go, already?
Ready for another one?
According to Bell, people who are fat on the inside are essentially on the threshold of being obese. They eat too many fatty, sugary foods — and exercise too little to work it off — but they are not eating enough to actually be fat. Scientists believe we naturally accumulate fat around the belly first, but at some point, the body may start storing it elsewhere.
- Thin people with visceral fat are “on the threshold of being obese.” Um, no. They’re still thin. They’re just thin people with health risks.
- But oh, now I get it. They’re on the threshold of obesity, because we all know obesity = eating too much crap and never exercising.
- “But they are not eating enough to actually be fat.” No big surprise, if you consider the study that showed naturally thin people could eat 10,000 fucking calories a day and still have trouble gaining weight. But we’re not considering that study, are we? We’re still operating on the assumption that eating too much will make anyone fat, and eating less will make anyone thin. Which means the next logical step from “not eating enough to actually be fat” is, “So obviously — since we know thin people don’t overeat — even eating tiny quantities of junk food must carry grave health risks! Processed food is evil!* We all need to be eating nuts and berries! ESPECIALLY FATTIES!”
- “Scientists believe we naturally accumulate fat around the belly first.” Really? Which scientists? And did those scientists factor in that women are human beings? ‘Cause I know a LOT of fat women, including the one in the mirror, who naturally accumulate fat around the thighs, ass, hips, and breasts way before the belly. (I also know fat women who do accumulate it primarily around the belly, but I would still say that anecdotally, I see way more men than women carrying most of their fat on the belly.) People accumulate fat in all different places, including — did you know this? — on the inside when they’re still thin. I read an article about that I could forward you, if I can remember where I found it… oh, wait, IT’S THE ONE YOU’RE WRITING.
Really, all ranting aside, I’m pretty happy about this article. It’s one more positive step toward dismantling the thin=healthy, fat=unhealthy paradigm. But even as we’re seeing more studies moving in that direction, the reporting on them still drives me batshit. The belief that visible fat must mean poor health is so fucking pervasive, most journalists cannot seem to write an article that straightforwardly says, “Researchers are questioning whether fat always indicates poor health and thinness always indicates better health.” They always have to include an unmistakable coda: “And I’ll believe it when I fucking see it.”
Fat people have been seeing it for years. Obesity experts like Steven Blair have been seeing it for years. Journalists like Paul Campos and Eric Oliver have been seeing it for years. We just don’t hear about it, because nobody wants to believe it.
Because, if fat isn’t necessarily unhealthy — not to mention if it’s primarily genetic and essentially unalterable — then we’ve all lost our one good, morally upright reason for hating fat people. And that means we have to confront all our negative feelings about fat people — the deep fear and disgust they engender — and ask where those feelings really come from.
And the only answer is: we don’t like how it looks.
Hey, ouch! That would make me shallow! No, no, no! I’m not shallow! I don’t hate people because of how they look! IT’S UNHEALTHY! UNHEEEEAAAALLLTHEEEEEEE!
So, yeah. I’m not expecting to see the reporting on this shit change any time soon. Bleh.
*Please note that I’m not at all convinced processed food is not evil. I’m just saying, if you start with the assumption that all thin people are eating smaller than average portions, you’re gonna end up barking up the wrong tree.