Concerned about Health, My Ass

The first words of Debra Dickerson’s latest article at Salon are, “Poor MeMe Roth.” Even though that’s ostensibly tongue in cheek, it kinda tells you all you need to know.

The problem, says Dickerson, is that black women like their bigger bodies too damned much. If they’d just have the good sense to be more ashamed of themselves, they’d lose weight and be healthier. ‘Cause that’s worked so well for the white community.

Dickerson disagrees with MeMe Roth on one crucial point, at least:

Jordin Sparks isn’t the poster girl for this issue. Buffie the Body is.

I had never heard of Buffie the Body before, but after a cursory glance at her (NSFW) website, I’m not seeing a woman who’s bound for weight-related health problems any faster than Sparks is. I’m seeing a toned, relatively thin woman with a really big ass. Dickerson reports that Buffie claims to maintain her physique by eating junk food and protein supplements and not working out, which are indeed questionable habits to promote — but I believe Buffie when she says that about exactly as much as I believe any given underweight white starlet who claims she eats cheeseburgers all the time and has never seen the inside of a gym. Lying through your teeth about your eating and exercise habits is a time-honored celebrity tradition. But in the reality-based community, we all know that just as you can’t “spot reduce,” you can’t “spot gain.” And Buffie is only fat in one region. She did not get that way eating junk food.

Okay, well Buffie’s not the point. The point is, black women are killing themselves!

Recent press reports show why black women should be alarmed: More than half of us are obese — 78 percent are considered overweight. And, according to the American Obesity Association, the pounds are not coming off easily, due to “cultural factors related to diet, exercise and weight among African-Americans.” The Centers for Disease Control finds that rates of diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, cancer and premature death are higher among black women, and when we get these diseases, we’re sicker than white women.

If you follow the link there, you’ll find that the obesity and overweight statistics, as well as the assertion about “cultural factors,” come from the American Obesity Association. If you’re not familiar with them, you might be interested in knowing this:

According to the Wall Street Journal, this organization, formed in April 1995, is “a lay advocacy group representing the interest of the 70 to 80 million obese American women and children and adults afflicted with the disease of obesity.” It has one member. “Dr. Atkinson says the group receives most of its funding — several hundred thousand dollars in all — from the pharmaceuticals industry, including Interneuron, American Home Products, Roche Laboratories, Knoll Pharmaceuticals Ltd., and Servier — all of which market or develop diet pills.” (Wall Street Journal, 2/9/98, B1)

Hmmm. But, well, we can trust the Centers for Disease Control, right? And they’re saying… nothing about obesity and overweight. They’re saying that when it comes to a bunch of largely genetic diseases, black women suffer more than white women. My guess is, that’s because black women are less able to afford health care and are not treated as carefully and thoroughly as white people. Just a hunch. And that is an awful, shameful, outrageous thing. But it doesn’t have a goddamned thing to do with fat.

Still, you know, I think I’ve heard of this argument before, that black women and girls should be more ashamed of their bodies for their own good. Where was that? Oh, right. It was in The Obesity Myth. Here’s my beloved Paul Campos:

I said above that the single most noxious assertion in the obesity literature is that fat people should try to become thin as a response to fat prejudice. Actually, this isn’t true. The single most noxious line of argument in the literature is that black and Hispanic girls and women need to be “sensitized” to the “fact” that they have inappropriately positive feelings about their bodies.

Readers may suspect that the previous sentence is a bad joke, or at least an exaggeration. I only wish this were so. Several studies have suggested that African-American and Hispanic girls tend to have much more positive body images than white girls. One University of Arizona study found that, while only 10% of the white teenage girls surveyed were happy with their bodies, 70% of the black teenage girls were happy with theirs (the black girls weighed more, on average, than the white girls). When asked to define “beauty,” the white girls described their feminine ideal as a woman 5’7″ tall, weighing between 100 and 110 pounds (i.e., someone thinner than the average model). By contrast, the black girls described a woman whose body included such features as visible hips and functional thighs. Furthermore, the black girls tended to insist that looking good was more about having “the right attitude” than “the right body.” (Is it a coincidence that black women are both far less obsessed with weight than white women, and seem to suffer no significant ill health effects from even extreme levels of fatness? Researchers have been unable to find a relationship between increased mortality and body mass among African-American women who are classified as “morbidly obese.”)

Emphasis mine.

Campos also adds that black girls, not surprisingly, have lower rates of eating disorders than white girls. But instead of asking what we can learn from them about body image and non-disordered eating, we’re asking how we can get them to obsess about food and weight more like white girls. For their health.

Debra Dickerson is a self-professed former “hardcore gym rat [who harangued] co-workers over the contents of their lunch sacks,” and who favors “(non-steroidal) body builders’ physiques,” yet we’re supposed to accept that she’s just concerned about black women’s health. Clearly, there’s no reason to wonder if an aesthetic aversion to fat might underlie what she’s saying here. IT’S THE HEART DISEASE AND DIABEEEEETUS!

My ass.

(Tip of the plus-sized hat to Big Fat Blog.)

30 thoughts on “Concerned about Health, My Ass

  1. Debra Dickerson is a fucking tool. Salon keeps her around because she has a Coulteresque ability to tweak people and get page hits. She once said OJ Simpson was typical of the “remnants” single women of a certain age could expect to date!! Oh, and Obaman isn’t Black Enough either, according to her. I won’t even read this article, you’ve pretty much told me all I need to know and I value my low blood pressure.

  2. Melissa: yep. Thanks for linking to that piece. (And for writing the article in the first place.) I’m going to keep that one tucked away for future linkage. :)

    Meowzer, I knew Dickerson had a tendency to be outrageous, but in the past I’ve always tried to give her the benefit of the doubt, because I felt like so many people who were going apeshit over things she said were driven more by racism and misogyny than a sincere critical response to her writing. And, well, that’s still true. But it doesn’t mean she’s not a tool.

  3. I posted part of this over on BFB, but now I am just running off at the mouth. *grin*

    Female beauty has, in mainstream culture, always been defined by what men want to see. It’s another way in which our society gives men the power to control women. And then you throw race into the mix? Debra Dickerson is advocating that black women work to conform to the white, heteronormative ideal of beauty and it really kills me. White, heteronormative women can’t even achieve it! It’s completely ridiculous.

    I also love the seeming insistence that the doctor is always right – because doctors never have their own biases or agendas and they are never misinformed. Given that the data does not suggest a direct connection between weight and health, I’m going to side with the women who have healthy body images no matter what their doctor tells them.

    And to suggest that people really ought to feel WORSE about their bodies just smacks of social irresponsibility to me – because that means she WANTS to see the number of women of color with eating disorders rise, she WANTS to see women of color further separated from any sense of personal identity and power, she WANTS to see white ideals of beauty remain the ONLY ideals of beauty.

    This seriously angers me.

  4. If they’d just have the good sense to be more ashamed of themselves, they’d lose weight and be healthier. ‘Cause that’s worked so well for the white community.

    Seriously, why does this not stop these idiotic arguments in their tracks? I mean, EVEN IF you are brainwashed enough to think that everyone should be skinny and that you’re really concerned about “health” and all that, shame has never worked for anyone. Ever.

    I think people should be required to take Logic 101 before they are allowed to write for publication.

    For some reason I’m reminded of a scene in Notting Hill (an otherwise craptacular movie), where everyone is oohing and aahing over the Julia Roberts movie star character, and she says something about how she’s had to stay a certain weight since she was 16 for her career. Then she says something like “So I’ve been hungry for the last 19 years.” Is that the kind of “success” at fighting obesity that Dickerson wants?

  5. Laura, I don’t really believe it is about what works and what doesn’t work, though. That’s why people don’t see the misfiring in the logic. It’s about controlling people – we’re back to control! – and keeping women occupied with the pursuit of the unattainable.

    And I DO think that is the kind of success that people like Dickerson want. There is this idea that denial of desires is a virtue. Which is just bullshit.

    But what do I know? I’m rather a hedonistic fat woman.

  6. Yet another person fretting over the glamorizing of fatness? That’s like the fourth time I’ve seen that arguement this weak, and it ain’t getting any stronger. I should write a post on what a bizarre concern it is: that fat people have it too easy in our society.

  7. Indeed, healthcare is a class issue, as is access to things like grocery stores, safe areas to exercise (or even exercise clubs), etc., etc. Don’t even get me started.

  8. TR: You’re right, it definitely is about control, and it’s very clear that most players involved know that and try to hide it as “health” concerns. But it still shocks me that, you know, some editor didn’t go, “Debra, this makes no sense at all.”

  9. But it still shocks me that, you know, some editor didn’t go, “Debra, this makes no sense at all.”

    Sing it.

  10. I’m beginning to suspect that Salon authors nowadays get no editing whatsoever, that they just post like it’s a blog. I’ve seen some pretty major factual goofs over there the last couple of years, as well as some jaw-dropping tone-deafness about what their authors might say to crucially alienate their readership. e.g. Ayelet Waldman’s violating her children’s privacy by talking about kissing her 7-year-old son on the lips and actually giving his real name. That particular article received such a furious reader response that Waldman no longer publishes there. And yet Joan Walsh seems completely shocked when a story gets a reaction that amounts to a giant NO! from the readership, the kind that made me think she never vets these stories to begin with. It’s a big reason why I no longer subscribe there.

  11. Amendment to above: Waldman’s piece was less about kissing her son than about getting off on kissing her son, she talked about it in a way that was creepily erotic. I am aware that many people write about their kids and I don’t think they should be prohibited from doing so, just that they should be aware that other kids could potentiall read this stuff and use it as ammunition.

  12. Meowzer, IIRC, there was also an article about Barack Obama a few months ago that actually called him “uppity” (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!). I like some of the stuff on Salon, but yeah, it seems like editing there is after-the-fact.

  13. My biggest issue with both Dickerson and Waldman is that they come off as so profoundly lacking in self awareness. They both have a tendency to write about their own neuroses as if they’re universals — which is a whole different thing from writing about your own neuroses as if they’re more common than people realize, but still neuroses. Does that make sense?

    The funny thing is, I bought The Obesity Myth after reading about it on Salon, and that was really what made me embrace fat acceptance. So Salon is indirectly responsible for the existence of this blog. Sometimes, I absolutely adore them.

    Other times… bleh. I did renew my subscription recently, after having let it lapse for a year, because I love a lot of the things they take shit for: Broadsheet, Joan Walsh as editor, Cary Tennis, lots of personal essays about (ewwww!) feelings in addition to hard journalism. So much of the criticism they get makes me furious, because there’s an undeniable misogynistic streak in it. So I felt like I wanted to make my teeny little show of support by putting my money where my daily clicks were anyway.

    But man, sometimes I don’t know what the hell they’re thinking.

  14. Oh, Kate, DGMS about the woman-hating trolls who are allowed to run rampant there, the ones who are outraged that there’s a Broadsheet at all. You’d think it was Little Green Fartballs or something.

  15. I have to agree with the “fucking tool” diagnosis. She’s just plain disingenuous, and I imagine it would be lots of fun to drink beer and argue with her, it’s just not a lot of fun when sober.

  16. “Debra Dickerson is a self-professed former “hardcore gym rat [who harangued] co-workers over the contents of their lunch sacks,” ‘

    This description of her already predisposes me to not trust her intentions or believe she’s interested in people’s health. I loathe the “food police” busybody mentality.

  17. I just read your editor’s choice letter over at Salon, and wanted to say I agree, and very well said.

  18. I imagine it would be lots of fun to drink beer and argue with her, it’s just not a lot of fun when sober.

    Sara, good point!

    Geezer, no kidding.

    Dan, thanks.

  19. Holy crap!! I don’t watch American Idol so I just saw a pic of Jordan Sparks last night and I’m compeled to ask in what frickin universe is that chick fat? Lord save me from sanctimonious psychos.

  20. Yet another person fretting over the glamorizing of fatness? That’s like the fourth time I’ve seen that arguement this weak

    BStu, do share the others. I love it when my head explodes.

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  22. “My biggest issue with both Dickerson and Waldman is that they come off as so profoundly lacking in self awareness. They both have a tendency to write about their own neuroses as if they’re universals — which is a whole different thing from writing about your own neuroses as if they’re more common than people realize, but still neuroses.”

    Me!Me! Roth in a nutshell.

    Most of you know my position on these issues (and they are multiple and legion — something these patriarchy-loyalist single-issue pseudo-journalists seem unwilling to grasp).
    Between them, Kate and the Rotund have covered it well, and I’m too angry to say anything else coherent right now.

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  27. I am not sure if my blood pressure has lowered yet but TELLING GIRLS THEY SHOULD DEVELOP EATING DISORDERS IS INSANE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I am recovered from one and I will preach again and again there is nothing healthy about what I did to myself. What is healthy is these so called overweight black women who love their bodies. WTF? I want to give this Debra lady a piece of my mind. Except I also have a large ass like the woman Buffie she hates so she’ll probably just run away screaming OMG TEH FATS before I even get a word out.

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