Everyone’s an expert, and nobody’s right

In this week’s column, Dan Savage revealed that his infamous recent advice to a man who was turned off by his wife’s fat was totally not his fault, dude. It turns out he was throwing a passive-aggressive little hissy about readers criticizing his advice to a gay man in the same situation:

Readers—mostly female readers—were outraged: Before breaking up, before cheating, before drinking heavily, couldn’t SAS try being honest? Why didn’t I tell SAS to tell his boyfriend that the weight was a turnoff and that SAS was seriously thinking about ending the relationship if the boyfriend didn’t lose those extra pounds?… The advice you read in this space for HARD—all about being honest and open (including those now-infamous conversation starters like, “You have gotten fat and unattractive and my sex drive is nil, so can we do something about it before I bail on you?”)—was written by my female readers. All I did was change the pronouns from male to female.

Oh gosh, how fiendishly clever! You really showed us, Dan! You proved that sometimes people have opinions that contradict with other people’s opinions! For his next act, by the way, Dan goes on to quote various responses to his ghostwritten column, which — good lord! — also contradict one another. Wow, I’m really convinced: from now on I’ll read columns written by people who get paid to give advice, not columns collaged together from the opinions of a thousand amateurs. It turns out that a thousand amateurs don’t always agree.

Needless to say, I’m rolling my eyes so hard that I can see my dinner. But this column, smug as it is, is on balance a boon. Dan Savage gets a break from the intolerable drudgery of writing one freakin’ column a week by conscripting a bunch of schmos without their knowledge or consent. And I get to write about something I’ve been meaning to mention: the “everyone’s an expert” phenomenon of fat.

Foolish as it may be, I tend to read every blog that links here, at least every one that WordPress tells me about. Many posts are touching personal stories about discovering and coming to terms with fat acceptance. Some are sharp feminists directing other sharp feminists our way. Several are critical, either from an understandable “I’m not ready to let go of the FoBT” perspective or from a nonsensical “I can’t read sentences” one. But almost all of them have this in common: If they have any comments at all, they will have at least one comment saying “I just don’t think it’s okay to be fat, and here’s why.” These commenters go on to talk about their weight loss experience, or the surefire diet they know will work this time, or some dude they knew who lost 200 pounds eating Subway, or the terror of carbs or the horror of fats or the menace of corn syrup or the, I don’t know, delicate ennui of riboflavin. They cite ignorant parents, sedentary children, irresponsible school officials, some lady they saw buying chips at Giant Eagle, the generation gap, the degradation of society. They expound, from their presumably flawlessly skinny pulpits, on how simple the whole thing really is.

And of course, the same thing happens incessantly on this blog, though we usually spare you. Here’s a brand-new douchehound, straight out of the box, still with that new-douchehound smell:

There’s a backlash against being thin, but the reality is more people are overweight than underweight. Being overweight in the US is a much wider spread problem (no pun intended). Instead of finding ways to justify it, people should be taking better care of themselves. Everywhere I go in public I am shocked at how many overweight people there are, especially children, who seem to be getting fatter & fatter. It IS a REAL problem.

Seriously, could this be a lot snottier? Here’s what YOU SHOULD DO. Here’s what EVERYONE’S CHILDREN are like. Here’s what THE REALITY is. Here’s how YOU SHOULD take care of yourself. Here’s MY FEELINGS on the subject. It IS a REAL problem. I KNOW WHAT IS BEST FOR EVERYBODY.

Of course, it’s easy to be an expert when you don’t know shit about dick. It helps enormously if NOBODY knows shit about dick — if you’re talking about what some guy you’ve never met should say to his boyfriend you’ve never met, just for example, or when you’re spewing facts and figures about something as complex and individual as human metabolism. I mean, who’s going to contradict you? Unless a fellow reader can conclusively prove that they’re the One True Nutrition Scientist and have been hiding out on top of a pillar until everyone comes off it about the calories in-calories out thing, then it’s pretty much just your word against everyone else’s. And everyone else totally knew someone, or totally tried this one thing, or totally read about it in Reader’s Digest. Everyone is pretty damn sure they know something you don’t.

What is it about, this conviction that eating food and occasionally reading nutritional information qualifies you to lecture about human physiology? I use gravity, and I could even tell you some figures and formulas about it, but I don’t pretend to be an expert on physics. I can do basic numerical calculations, but that doesn’t mean I have a valid position on Fermat’s Last Theorem. So why would participating in nutrition and exercise, or even reading a Cosmo article about them, possibly justify me in spouting off my views on such multivalent issues as food, fat, and fitness — issues on which even real experts don’t agree? It puts a whole new spin on “I’m entitled to my opinion” — people truly do feel that expertise on size, health, and nutritional and exercise habits is a veritable birthright.

I do think that some of it is the misogyny that’s so closely wrapped up with fat hatred. (Even fat hatred against men. That’s why fat men are often feminized when they’re attacked — you’re soft, you’ve got breasts, you can’t see your penis.) Women’s bodies are public property, subject to consensus views, so why wouldn’t fat bodies be the same? There’s a dehumanization aspect to both — it’s not a person, it’s a REAL PROBLEM. A public problem. Which, of course, it’s everybody’s right and moral duty to penetrate (symbolically, natch) and solve.

I can come up with other explanations based on the usual components of bigotry, mostly fear. It makes sense that people might collect information and opinions as talismans against the fear of fat or the fear of mortality. Talk loud enough at death, after all, and it’ll leave you alone — that’s what the folklore says. But as Dan Savage’s column demonstrates, it’s not just nutrition and exercise and health — people also have opinions on how you should talk to fat people, how you should behave in relationships with fat people, how you should broach the subject of fat with fat people. Maybe each of those people is right about some fat person, somewhere. But we’re actually not a monolithic group, united by our waistlines. Believe it or not, honesty might be the right approach for Dan’s first correspondent’s boyfriend, but exactly the wrong one for the second writer’s wife. Not every fat person should eat the same thing — we have different metabolisms, different bodies with different abilities and different needs for exercise and different food tolerances and different nutritional requirements. We don’t all wear the same size or shape of clothes; we don’t all look good in black, or bad in horizontal stripes. And not every fat person needs the same thing from his or her friends, family, and loved ones. We don’t even all need the same things from strangers.

I don’t know exactly what people find so intoxicating about the smug superciliousness that comes from having an opinion on What We Should Do About Fat. But I know what really bothers me about it: the essentialism. I can look with pity on false bravado, people playing at being experts because they need to cultivate a sense of superiority. But when people tell you that they know how you should eat or how you should act or how you should discipline your children, or what you can wear and how much space you deserve, it’s genuinely ignorant and simplistic, just as much as when they serve up unbidden platitudes how you should talk to your wife. And it’s just as likely to be self-contradictory, stupid, and wrong — because people are intensely complicated, both psychologically and physiologically. They’ve got traumas and allergies and fetishes and hot buttons and genetic predispositions and gut microflora and defense mechanisms and antibodies all their own. Even House can’t figure out a medical mystery in under an hour, and you think you can tell me how to eat, work out, dress, and live, sight un-fucking-seen?

That’s the problem with snap judgments of an entire group of people: Chances are good that you’ll never ever be right, at least not for very long, no matter how much authority you speak with. It doesn’t matter how smugly you announce that fat people just need to ____, or being fat is bad because ____. You’ll be wrong as often as you’ll be right, if not much, much more — because there are no essential qualities that go along with fatness.

Maybe it’s comforting for people to have a simple answer for complicated problems, but in my opinion it’s a recipe for looking like an idiot. Does a glib answer have any value when it’s basically guaranteed to be wrong? If people were willing to educate themselves (or even just keep in mind that tricky principle about fat people being people first and foremost, merely a subset of an unutterably complex group), they might even achieve a kind of expertise. You’ll notice that the more someone really knows about a subject, the less likely she is to be able to give an “elevator pitch” — ask a scientist about the principle she’s studying, or a literary scholar about her favorite book, and you’re likely to encounter an awkward moment where she explains that it’s a bit complicated. Shit, ask a physicist about gravity and you’ll get the same. The people who can tell you what to eat, do, say, or wear in a single unequivocal livejournal comment are betraying their own ignorance. But what’s more admirable, really — a nuanced sense of the genuine complexity of human psychology and physiology and the wealth of research thereon, combined with a sense of discernment and perspective? Or the ability to reduce the world to a simplistic caricature where you look like the winner?

99 thoughts on “Everyone’s an expert, and nobody’s right

  1. Ah, yes. I love the smell of fresh douchehound in the morning. Smells like….jackassery. ;-)

    But a definite amen on this post. I try to live by the ideal that “wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing.”

  2. You’ll notice that the more someone really knows about a subject, the less likely she is to be able to give an “elevator pitch” — ask a scientist about the principle she’s studying, or a literary scholar about her favorite book, and you’re likely to encounter an awkward moment where she explains that it’s a bit complicated.

    This is brilliant, a principle I learn over again and again.

  3. Wonderful post. I especially dug the “ennui of riboflavin line.”

    But your observation is absolutely right on. Even on its most basic, face level, nutrition and metabolism is NOT understood completely. Not at all. The human body has not been figured out completely. No scientist would claim such a thing.

    However, that doesn’t change the fact that we’re impacted by our own body and brains on a day to day basis. That’s the main problem, isn’t it? We have to deal with these problems, but because we’re human, it’s so much easier to default to a position of defensiveness, of anger and jealousy and hatred. No one lives a perfect life, with perfect happiness, but it’s always comforting to know that someone somewhere is worse off. So, pick something that has traditionally been seen as a choice so that you aren’t a traditional bigot (i.e. fat) and blame it for all problems and all unhappiness, and don’t step back and consider it. Make all problems easy to solve by answering them all the same way. Don’t actually stop to think if your answer is logical or proven, just parrot what others say, and what your silly cultural training has told you.

    Our culture is simultaneously the most cynical and self aware and yet completely DELUDED culture that I could possibly imagine. We question so many external things but never actually think to question our own behavior or thought processes.

    Yeah, I’m sorta rambling, but it just gets tiring listening to so much hate and so much ignorance day in and day out. I really wish there was an express ticket outta the human race.

  4. Pingback: Dan Savage: Pot, kettle, black » The-F-Word.org

  5. This was a beautifully written post, and it also makes me wonder *what*, exactly, leads to d-hounds such as our new favorite commenter to have such an entitlement complex that somehow allows them to tell other people how to live because those people are NOT EXACTLY LIKE THEM, OMGFREAKOUT.

  6. Eileen, I’ve found that living with a physicist kinda helps. I know a fair amount about physics for a non-scientist, but I am certainly a non-scientist. And there have been several times when someone asks a question about physics or about his experiment and I say “Yes.” or “No.” and he says “Well…”

    And Karen, I was rambling too so no worries. :)

  7. What is it about, this conviction that eating food and occasionally reading nutritional information qualifies you to lecture about human physiology? I use gravity, and I could even tell you some figures and formulas about it, but I don’t pretend to be an expert on physics.

    And there’s a sentence damn near every frigging paid columnist on earth should be forced to grok (yes, Dan, you too). Actually, they should be forced to read this whole damn thing and come up with an answer that’s not just more supercilious smugness. I’d much rather see them all make like Woody Allen’s dad in Hannah and Her Sisters: “How the hell do I know why there were Nazis? I don’t know how the can opener works!”

  8. Good Jesus, that was breathtakingly beautiful. I actually just spent a half hour of my life presenting a series of articles about the “obesity epidemic” to a graduate medical anthropology class. The articles were assigned by the professor and tended toward this vein: we eat too much, we move too little, and it is all costing us way too much. Oh, and poor people don’t have access to nutritious food. The end. Seriously, it just about killed me. And I have a sarcastic streak in that class that has gotten me in trouble.

    Filyjonk, you should write the curriculum for a NEW FUCKING WAY to look at fatness in the social sciences. Then we could spread it out amongst ourselves to spread the power. Academia has GOT to get better about recognizing difference and diversity of opinion in the fat debate.

    And also, “smug superciliousness” is the best phrase I’ve heard all day. Thank you for this post!

  9. I can’t add anything but another “Bravo!” Excellent post.

    Oh, and that I fully intend to complain about “the delicate ennui of riboflavin” every time someone starts with the food talk. Every. Time. Thank you.

  10. This post was so fan-fucking-tastic and spot-on that I can hardly stand to look at it.

    It’s hard to pick a high point, although “delicate ennui of riboflavin” and “I can’t read sentences” are in a deathmatch at the moment.

  11. You so rule – if not for the brilliant post, then at least for mentioning (and, presumably also watching) House MD ;o)

  12. “Does a glib answer have any value when it’s basically guaranteed to be wrong?”

    This beats the hell out of the tree falling in the forest.

    “I use gravity”

    Sweet.

    If riboflavin is bored, it should come read this post and bring all the rest of the Bs. Shoot, ALL vitamins should read this post.

  13. But a definite amen on this post. I try to live by the ideal that “wisdom is knowing that one knows nothing.”

    Fashionable nerd, indeed, this is the one thing that I know for certain!

  14. Thank you for tackling the Savage Love column. I get all “AAAAAAAAAAAA!!!!” when I see a fat little pink hippo or blue bear in the illustrations they use on top of his columns in our local paper, because I know that he is going to be talking about fat, and I KNOW, as sure as a double-square knot in a bondage scene, that I am not going to like what he says. His persona is, a-hem, tied up in being cocksure and rarely apologetic, and he’d rather bluster about than be thoughtful. Being thoughtful don’t sell.

    Oh, and if you go to the extras on his page at The Stranger, you’ll see the actual advice that he sent HARD _and_ you’ll see that HARD went and had that heartfelt honest talk with his fat, turn-off wife, and she responded well and agreed to lose weight and then they had fantastic, post-weight-loss-talk sex! WOW! That sells me on it, right there. Apparently you don’t have to even lose the weight to get hotter, though, you just have to talk about it. Self-loathing as the key to your man’s dick. To me–not because I’m an expert, though–that sounds like some seriously messed up relationship…

    But hey, if it’s in Dan’s column, it must be real. And if it works for one person, that means that it could work for everyone!

    Oh, man. I wish I wasn’t such a kneejerk pacifist. In my heart of hearts I am imagining a wave of guys with black eyes appearing on the streets, and a corresponding rise in the numbers of fatties going out and buying something sexy in their size and hitting the town. Dump the mofos already, find the hotness for yourself, and then do something with it.

    Grrr.

    Marina

  15. It really illustrates the “opinions are like assholes” principle :-) Of course, as a blogger that may or may not be hypocritical of me. On the other hand, I’ve never in my life claimed to not be a hypocrite!

  16. Great post.
    There are more overweight people than underweight in the USA, but who is getting killed more? They fail to realize that numbers of people are not equal to mortality. 10% of one percent of the population is not cool, no matter how you slice it. :(
    You just can’t go either way it.

    “OMG I SEE FAT/SKINNY PEOPLE! ”
    OMG you’re making things worse by being a dick. *Rolls Eyes*

  17. :( I got my yearly gyn checkup results in the mail yesterday. Happily, everything came back fine. The only thing that was at all off was my cholesterol, which came back a bit high. A note was scribbled on the results: “Get weight down to 115 – 140. WW or Jenny Craig.”

    I would have burst into tears but my boyfriend and I were on our way out to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. Oh, the irony.

    I’m still pretty sad about it though. I mean, I do want to get my cholesterol down. But fuck them. *They* should try eating Jenny Craig for a week and then get back to me. I dare them. Ugh :(. Everyone knows best. Or think they do.

  18. BUT ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS QUIT EATING BABY DONUTS I KNOW FOR SURE

    This is a great post. I think some of the psychology of this is definitely part of the grasping-for-talismans-against-death thing that we talked about in the other post (and that you mention, duh). People desperately want to believe that their opinion is right because if it isn’t, they could get fat (or fatter) too! and if that’s true, then they could also get hurt or die or suffer in some other way. Convincing yourself that it’s really all the bacon that you’re not eating that keeps you thin, instead of the genetic and environmental lottery your life takes place in, is one way of believing that you’re exempt from the random unfairness of life.

  19. Great post once again, Kate! It just goes to show how self-absorbed people can be – they view the world from the prism of their own experience. By golly, if they (like my ex-bf) can lose 20 pounds in a month by eating fast food once a day instead of twice, and maybe eating one vegetable a week, then all us fat people must just be pigging out! It’s all our fault!

    I think so many of the world’s problems would be solved if people could look beyond themselves and their own limited experiences. If we could just look at people as just that – people! – whether fat, thin, brown, pink, Muslim, Mormon, rich, poor, whatever, we wouldn’t have the wars and tensions we do today…sigh…

  20. This is such a pleasure to read. I mean I was thinking just the other day of how to put down in words some of the common stereotypes about people and size and the feeling of others that they have a right; no worse, a DUTY to spew their opinion as fact; and this blog is just right on. This especially:

    “That’s the problem with snap judgments of an entire group of people: Chances are good that you’ll never ever be right, at least not for very long, no matter how much authority you speak with.”

    Thank you! I for one am sick of the assumptions that a.) All fat people are unaware of their fat therefore b.) I MUST tell them how I managed to lose all my weight (THIS time) with this newest diet/exercize/bla bla plan! because c.) They NEED my help.

    Its like people not only think they are ENTITLED to force their botched and ill formulated opinions upon fatties, but also that they are heros in doing so; saving us from a fat far worse than death…gasp…death from FAT! *rolls eyes*

  21. I got my yearly gyn checkup results in the mail yesterday. Happily, everything came back fine. The only thing that was at all off was my cholesterol, which came back a bit high. A note was scribbled on the results: “Get weight down to 115 – 140. WW or Jenny Craig.”

    I would have burst into tears but my boyfriend and I were on our way out to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. Oh, the irony.

    I’m glad you didn’t burst into tears and instead chose to still eat dinner :) But I’m sorry that you had to experience that. I say you should def. work on your cholesterol if you want to get it down, but definitely don’t starve yourself to do it. Find the foods that work for your body and exercises that make you feel energized and happy, and try it that way. And remember, even if nothing changes, that there are a lot of genetic and biological reasons people have high cholesterol, and those things you could not control or change just by the force of your own will.

  22. Terrific post, though on this one especially, I need to shout from the rooftops, THAT WAS FILLYJONK, NOT ME, ’cause I already internet-feuded with Dan Savage, and I have no interest in doing it again. (I am really bitter about shakesville.com still being down, though, so I can’t link back to that and his delightful, “Fat is not some kind of social justice issue! Nyah!” retort.)

    You’ll notice that the more someone really knows about a subject, the less likely she is to be able to give an “elevator pitch”

    One of the most important issues we tackled at the Think Tank was coming up with an elevator pitch about fat rights. Naturally, it involved a really long, complicated discussion, among people who have lived as fat people, dieted multiple times, and read TONS more than the average bear about the obesity crisis booga booga booga. And ultimately, all we could come up with that didn’t require more complicated explanation was, “Fat people are human beings.”

  23. Y’know I generally like Dan Savage except when he talks about weight, because it is obviously something he has little experience with.

    If my SO told me that I needed to lose weight so that he could be attracted to me again I would tell him where his suitcase is an exactly how long he had to get the fuck out of my life. And frankly I think the only reason MORE women DON”T do that is because they are socialized to believe that their body exists for other people and is up for public commentary.

  24. Just wanting to add, the wife of H.A.R.D might have some pretty awful food intolerance going on, i wish we could tell her that she should get checked up to find out if she’s allergic to anything. Thats the thing i have a real problem with , his wife is supposedly depressed and overweight, lethargic and has some digestive problems. and its all pinned on her weight and ‘bad’ lifestyle habits, not on the fact her body might be reacting badly to certain foods. not that finding out the food allergies would make her lose weight, but it might explain the reason she gained weight and felt awful in the first place, and not figuring it out would mean she would continue to feel like crap AND have to starve herself and tax her already low energy levels under the pretense that she’s ‘lazy and undisciplined and must try harder to please her husband’.

    I dunno, im no expert and Im only saying this because i just stopped eating wheat in bread/pasta and SUDDENLY i feel on top of the world, energised and have no discomfort in the stomach and bowels like i did pretty constantly just 30 hours before now.

    Its amazing how the body can tell you not to eat something, but you just KEEP ON DOING IT.

  25. It must be advice columinists telling advising people to lose weight month!

    Dear Margo (http://news.yahoo.com/s/dear_margo/20071206/en_dm/margo_howard20071206) has a letter today from a person concerned about a coworker/friend. Said coworker/friend dreams of getting married, but doesn’t wear make-up, style her hair, wear nice clothes (the letter writer says that they appear not to have been washed, which, if it’s true, I’ll say could be a problem), and, of course, she is also very fat. The letter writer wants to know if they should approach their friend and let them know that they are never going to find anyone looking like they do, and…well…you can guess where this is going.

    It isn’t as mean-spirited as Savage’s, but it’s still the same old advice.

  26. Look, I got my degree at U of RT (University of Reality Teevee) where I memorized quotes! I have scientific data that was given to me by people who clearly know a whole lot or else they wouldn’t be on teevee in the first place! Moreover, I am positive that this aforementioned scientific data came from scientific research and I do not need references to prove this because I trust my accredited university and experts whose agenda is definitely to inform and enlighten rather than to gain ratings and sell advertising!

  27. Just wanted to say that I’m SO glad there are people in the world who think rationally, and speak to and about other people with respect and dignity. I LOVE Shapely Prose because no matter what the issue at hand, your posts are always so well thought out, logically argued and respectful of everyone (except the people who have first shown themselves to be ass clowns). Thanks so much for all your work!

  28. Have you ever hung out with one of those vegetarians who must tell you constantly about the harm you are causing your body, the environment, and THEM by eating cheese? Or (as often happened to me when I was vegan) the non-veggies who constantly berate your food choices because THEY eat meat and no one should NOT eat meat because that is just so contrary to evolution and somehow offensive to them?

    This post reminds me of the veggie thing. My response always when these things come up is “I don’t care what you do, so please don’t tell me what is best for me”.

    As I have been learning so much more about FA, I get into discussions with people that become really heated, and I always just have to end with that same sentence. And I’ve learned that people who think they know what they are talking about are not going to change their minds just because I am telling them to, or vice versa. Just like the meat eaters vs. veggies.

  29. Fillyjonk, brilliant post.

    The simple reaction I have is: “Wow, this is why my gut reaction to fat haters is to think they are stoopid!” Then, the nuance comes in and recognizes that we’re suffering culturally from chronic oversimplification: red states v. blue states, God v. Allah, men v. women, homos v. breeders. Fat v. skinny is just another easy conflict to exploit for money and power and status.

    All the complexity of a vast and diverse and barely explored multiverse reduced to the level soundbyte-driven sitcom plotlines? Yeah, it’s easier, I guess….but didn’t Mencken have something to say about easy answers?

  30. That “Dear Margo” was ridiculous, Jae. Hmmm, I propose we stop thinking about serious issues and discuss whether “unattractive people know they are unattractive”. That is sure to solve many of the problems in the world.

  31. Fantastic post, Fillyjonk, well-written and spot-on.

    I can’t help thinking that this is all about social control. Everyone’s an expert because everyone who fits within the narrow little field that society decrees is normal is somehow entitled to try to remind the rest of us that we’re outside the bounds of acceptability.

    This is especially true where women are concerned. Wear the wrong clothes, smile too much or too little, have a child without a man around, dare to be fat and happy and suddenly you’re fair game for any opinionated idiot who needs to remind themselves of their own hallowed position within the socio-cultural pecking order.

  32. More and more I wonder why the hell people (especially in the US) seem to have so fucking much time on their hands that they can spend it poking around in other people’s business. Because, as Kate pointed out, it’s not JUST about the fat, people, it’s about everything. The New York Times had an article earlier this week about women adopting their husband’s names when they get married. The hostility and anger about whether a total stranger did or did not start using her husband’s name was staggering.

    Do people really have so little to do that they can spend time complaining about things that other people, even total strangers, do? The problem with fat is, of course, the whole “fatties are going to bankrupt us all with all of their medical expenses from all of the illnesses they all have” crap seems to make people think that whether I am fat is their business, because they “pay” for it (of course, when I start listing all the things I pay for and don’t have/use, they generally shut up). But seriously, writing a 1000 word long dissertation on how anti-feminist it is for a woman to use her husband’s last name?

    I’m beginning to think that the world needs fewer “feedback” blogs/message boards on news sites.

  33. Ooops, sorry, I meant “as FJ pointed out — it’s not just about fat” and what I’m talking about is where she said:

    But when people tell you that they know how you should eat or how you should act or how you should discipline your children, or what you can wear and how much space you deserve, it’s genuinely ignorant and simplistic, just as much as when they serve up unbidden platitudes how you should talk to your wife.

    which, on re-reading, probably was about fat after all/

    But I think the basic issue is still: people need to start spending more time looking after their own damn business and less looking after everyone else’s

  34. You’ll notice that the more someone really knows about a subject, the less likely she is to be able to give an “elevator pitch” — ask a scientist about the principle she’s studying, or a literary scholar about her favorite book, and you’re likely to encounter an awkward moment where she explains that it’s a bit complicated.

    That’s the one that really grates my nerves. The fact that “everybody” thinks that “fighting obesity” is just “sooooo simple”!!!! Calories in/calories out! Problem solved!

    Only… not so much. I, and I know many of the rest of you, can attest to the fallacy of many of the “cures” for obesity. (Shit, if it was just a matter of calories in/calories out, I should have wasted away to nothing several times over by now!!) But people actually BELIEVE this shit! And they think it’s their duty, as one of the Elite of Thin People to educate us fat people.

    You know, if I actually read/saw/heard one of these “experts” say that it’s truly a COMPLICATED issue?

    I’d probably faint.

  35. “the delicate ennui of riboflavin”
    Somehow, I’m going to find a way to work that into my conversations. :)

    I think one of the problems here is not just that there are all these people willing to give advice when they know nothing about the subject – not only willing, but eager to shove their advice down other people’s throats, actually – but that there’s people who SEEK their advice. Dan Savage and others like him are only half the problem – the other half is the people who write to him. I know Dan Savage is a relationship columnist, but what I don’t know is why someone would write to him asking how to deal with a fat partner or spouse. Does Dan know your spouse better than you do? Has Dan spent years with this person, knowing how they respond to honesty or criticism or how they feel about their appearance? No. You have. So why does Dan know better?

    It’s like all of those gift lists that come out this time of year, like “What to get your man for Christmas!” Well, I can read your generic list of ideas… or I can actually listen to my husband, pay attention when he says he wants or needs something, and get him something specific to his needs and personality.

  36. It’s like all of those gift lists that come out this time of year, like “What to get your man for Christmas!” Well, I can read your generic list of ideas… or I can actually listen to my husband, pay attention when he says he wants or needs something, and get him something specific to his needs and personality.

    NO KIDDING. I read those lists, and I’m just like, “Are there really men who would like this shit?” Ditto women’s lists, actually.

    And yeah, even though I have both sought advice from friends and given plenty of it to strangers, I kinda think that if you don’t know how to talk to your own partner, you’ve got a problem the best advice in the world can’t solve.

  37. Here’s another thing: the “calories in/calories out” crowd tends to have an ahistorical delusion that no one was ever fat in all of human history until 1980. As someone with a degree in art history, I can tell you that they don’t call it “Rubenesque” for nothing. Art history survey courses are full of what today would be called “fatties.” In fact, I gotta blog about this. Right now. (I made an anonymous post with exactly this point on a CRON blog a while back, and got no reply.)

    So frustrating. In the western world, we have NEVER in history looked like our current standard of beauty. We have a totally unrealistic image of how people are supposed to look. And we cannot seem to get that through our heads. Argh.

    Okay. Size Acceptance Through Art History 101, Thumbnail Version comin’ up.

  38. That’s one of Dan Savage’s favorite tricks and I imagine he thinks himself very clever for it. I find it obnoxious. But then that’s why I don’t read him. One reason, anyway.

    Dear Margot… you know, I get the feeling that advice columnists in general have a very specific type of readership, like Reader’s Digest has a very specific type of readership. One in which women are only acceptable when they’ve erased any traces of natural womanhood. Margot’s advice has an internal kind of logic, because in her world it is inconceivable that someone would not consider it attractive to plaster their hair with a thin plastic flim, or cover their face with paint, or freshen up their vaginas with pretty artificial scents or what-have-you. Or not try to be thin. And if confronted with someone like my husband — who finds his non-styled fat wife quite hot — they’d write it off as a rare perversity.

    Jmars, I have no problem ranting about issues of the patriarchy (of which misogyny via fat-phobia is one, and symbolically devaluing the matriarchal line by women giving up their names is another.) I have no problem telling people, for instance, that if it’s not okay for them to hit their spouses, it’s not okay for them to hit their children. People in this very blog do it just as well when they say that dieting is not a good thing — for anyone. You see a problem and its cause and you speak out about it, and in so doing imply that those who will not acknowledge it are wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. The problem arises when people make assertions based not in fact but in bigotry and pseudo-scientific hysteria. The really honest reason that there is such fat-phobia in our culture — and this has been addressed many times here — is that so many people feel a sense of entitlement by which they should not have to have their aesthetic sensibilities offended with visions of teh fatties. It’s not PC to admit that though — and perhaps on some level even they feel a bit of shame over it — so it’s covered up with the pretense of the “obesity epidemic”.

  39. This is a beautifully written post with the added benefit of hilarity. And I totally agree that the scaly finger of misogny is all over fat hatred. Women taking up space in the world and any “softness” on the part of men is bane to the patriarchs.

  40. I’d like to mention that on one blog that mentioned you folks (with granted a small readership), the main comment about Shapely Prose was “I want to wear that website outside as a hat”.
    Yup.

  41. Off-topic but… hey, baconsmom! I emailed you. Don’t know if you received or not.

    Also, Dan Savage has become the smug jerk he once decried.

  42. Savannah,
    I know what you’re saying. Whilst entertaining the idea of opening a plus size dress shop I was considering using prints of older paintings, especially Ruben’s to decorate. Yay for affirmation from history!

  43. I got my yearly gyn checkup results in the mail yesterday. Happily, everything came back fine. The only thing that was at all off was my cholesterol, which came back a bit high. A note was scribbled on the results: “Get weight down to 115 – 140. WW or Jenny Craig.”

    I would have burst into tears but my boyfriend and I were on our way out to dinner at a Brazilian steakhouse. Oh, the irony.

    Good for you, Hilary! I mean, other than the idea that WW and Jenny Craig have ever been the saviors of anyone’s vascular system (har), the idea that thin people never have elevated cholesterol is, like, beyond ridiculous. My boyfriend used to have elevated cholesterol and he’s never been remotely fat for a second of his life. He limits fat in his diet, sure, but he eats plenty of carbs to make up for it and hasn’t lost an ounce, while subsequently dropping his cholesterol level substantially. My mother, no bigger than a minute, has high cholesterol. As did her mother, same thing. Know what else? She also has really high HDL cholesterol. Like, over 100.

    I, unfortunately, didn’t inherit those lipids any more than I inherited her body shape; I got the less fortunate draw from my dad’s side, which includes substantial insulin resistance. Which can also impact cholesterol (my cholesterol levels are way lower on metformin). But so can cortisol. And you know what a huge-ass source of cortisol is? STRESS. So good on you for going to get the steak. I hope it was nummy.

  44. I’m sure this has been said somewhere here before, but I haven’t yet made it through the many many entries of Shapely Prose (Oh that I’d found you in the beginning!)…

    But anytime someone starts in on how terrible fat is and unattractive and OMG!YOUNEEDTOCHANGE….I can’t help but look at that person and wonder how much they must hate themselves and how fat they probably think they are and they have to convince the whole world that change is so easy…because they need it to be easy. Very similar to the FoBT.

  45. Ok – I watched “Fight Club” last night on HBO and this was a rare occasion where a movie nearly lived up to the book. Anyhow, watching this for the third or fourth time in my life, something really just got me about it this time. Ed Norton is talking about the God of furniture IKEA (We are absent one in Denver, CO). Anyhow, he’s describing how furnishing your apartment or dressing in the latest brand label clothing is suppose to be an expression of who you are.

    People seem ill equipped to deal with the amount of advertising they’re bombarded with on a daily basis. The tatics that advertisers use to sell their products are insidious. How could anyone who doesn’t look beyond the surface come to terms with what it is to be THEM and what it is to be told what you should be?

    I always have and always will believe in the best of people. Granted, not all people are inherently good, but I have to believe that most are completely LOST when it comes to even really knowing who they are and liking that scary unknown person. You’re never rich enough, you’re never muscular enough, your car isn’t nice enough, your clothes aren’t expensive enough…and on and on and on. There are a few people who can break out of this vicious cycle, but most never will.

    As many others have said, it’s easy to blame and it’s easy to discriminate. It’s easy to tell someone else to change rather than look at the reasons you’re asking them to change for you. Anyone who doesn’t take the time to question why everyone must conform to one particular shape, hair color or economic level to be accepted at large is more than likely discontent with their own lives.

    I think a huge chunk of people sitting around insulting others and directing other people on how to live their lives are just afraid to deviate from the status quo. They more than likely couldn’t distinguish the difference of what they’ve been told pleases them and what TRULY pleases them.

  46. Kate, I was all excited about it but skinny people kept saying “do you think there is really a market for that?”

  47. Kate, on the elevator pitch: And ultimately, all we could come up with that didn’t require more complicated explanation was, “Fat people are human beings.”

    But I think that really is what it boils down to. The stereotype of the fat person stuffing donuts or twinkies or whatever into their mouth is not a real person. This is not to say that we fatties don’t enjoy stuffing a donut or two into their mouths on occasion (I prefer Pringles, but each to their own), but by choosing to play that ‘donut eating fatty’ card, the real, human person with thoughts and feelings and passions is removed from the equation.

  48. there are a lot of genetic and biological reasons people have high cholesterol, and those things you could not control or change just by the force of your own will.

    Hell, yeah! My brother, who was always the skinny one of us sibs (he had to put on weight for high school football), is the one with the highest cholesterol level (over 220). My sister’s is just about normal (mid-100s), but I’ve got the lowest (115), even though I’m 400 pounds. My mom, a nurse, was shocked when I told her what my level was after my checkup, even though she’s fully aware of the fact that cholesterol is frequently genetically determined (my dad’s level has never been over 150 in his life, even though he eats mostly beef).

  49. Yeah. I caught that right after I posted it. The funny thing is, for a second, I thought he had actually, y’know reflected and such. But Bigots don’t do that, do they? They grasp their bigotry in their clammy hands even when there is a mountain of evidence that they are absolutely frickin’ wrong.

    He’s sort of a local hero around here. Everyone my age growing up, learned so much about sex from his columns when they first started running in The Stranger. Its like discovering a beloved grandpa is a member of the Klan. It breaks my heart, it really does.

  50. Seriously, there’s a reason why that little column is titled “big lies”. Dan has not changed his mind in regards to fat, believe me.

    I love how his column was all about how Women Can’t Handle The Truth About Our Fat Asses, and yet in the actual case that wrote in the Truth is exactly the tactic the husband used to good results. Except, of course, that he was not truthful about not being able to get it up for a fat girl, which he obviously can. But hey, I guess that’s hard to admit to.

    I used to really love Dan’s column. These days, I just want to beat him about the head with his own arrogance.

  51. Woah, SW points for not reading the comments on the SLOG btw. I was thinking of responding and then realized it would do not one bit of good except upset me and I’m already pretty fragile today.

  52. The stereotype of the fat person stuffing donuts or twinkies or whatever into their mouth is not a real person.

    Absolutely, Cherie. The problem is, when it comes to the elevator pitch — i.e., trying to tell one person or a small group face-to-face what we’re all about — I can so see the response being, “Well, duh! Nobody treats fat people as if they’re not human!” The subtle and constant dehumanization is yet one more thing that’s too complicated to work into an elevator pitch. Sigh.

  53. the main comment about Shapely Prose was “I want to wear that website outside as a hat”.

    BEST PRAISE EVER

  54. Yeah. I caught that right after I posted it. The funny thing is, for a second, I thought he had actually, y’know reflected and such. But Bigots don’t do that, do they?

    It took me a second, too, and I should definitely know better, where he’s concerned.

    Also, given his m.o., I’m sure he was deliberately trying to get people to say, “A-ha! You’ve seen the light!” so he can turn around and say, “No, I haven’t — the post was called ‘Big Fat Lies,’ dumbass.” And then we’re probably going to hear about how he was fat, once upon a time, and people in his family are fat, but shame turned him around, so it can totally fix you, too!

    I really have no idea why he’s so hell-bent on A) reserving his right to hate fat people, and B) insisting that shame is an effective treatment for fat. But he is, without a doubt.

    He seems especially affronted by the comparison between dieting and the ex-gay movement, because, of course, being gay is a REAL social justice issue, and being fat is not. (Please note, though it should go without saying, yes, of course, being gay IS a real social justice issue. But fat is, too.) Problem is, the ex-gay folks use exactly the same fucking rhetoric and claim the same success rate (5-10%) as weight loss programs.

    “You are and should be ashamed of the way you are, but if you come to us, we’ll fix it for you. Well, technically, we’ll only fix it for a tiny percentage of you, who were probably not actually genetically that way in the first place — or else are so unbelievably shame-motivated, you’re willing to torture yourself for the rest of your life — but don’t think about that; we can totally fix YOU! Come on!” It’s the same fucking thing, whether he likes it or not.

    Yet only one of those things is utterly appalling to most progressives, while the other is not only normal and acceptable, but the obvious solution to THE REAL, TERRIBLE PROBLEM OF FAT PEOPLE EXISTING!

  55. You know, I just deleted a new douchehound out of habit, but I’m going to copy the comment from my e-mail, b/c it occurred to me afterwards that it’s such a perfect illustration of FJ’s point.

    The commenter went by “alexdouglas” and said:

    I completely, completely disagree with you and I’m going to be as nice as possible about my disagreement since this is pretty much the first blog I’ve read on here.

    Look. We live in a rich country and yes, you are justifying fat. For every one person with a metabolism disorder, there’s about 1000 people eating three cheeseburgers a day or using comfort food to heal depression. That’s not only not healthy, but it says a lot about our country. It says we have food and therefore practice no self control with it. It says we’re spoiled and rich and will eat until we’re sick and bloated and dying of heart disease from it. It also says people like you will try and justify that gluttony by spewing out insults to anyone who points out the growing waistlines in this country.

    Sigh.

    Do you fucking love it? “For every one person with a metabolism disorder, there’s about 1000 people eating three cheeseburgers a day or using comfort food to heal depression.” You got this statistic from where? Oh, right, YOUR ASS.

    But hey, you’re the expert.

  56. Oh, and if you go to the extras on his page at The Stranger, you’ll see the actual advice that he sent HARD _and_ you’ll see that HARD went and had that heartfelt honest talk with his fat, turn-off wife, and she responded well and agreed to lose weight and then they had fantastic, post-weight-loss-talk sex! WOW! That sells me on it, right there. Apparently you don’t have to even lose the weight to get hotter, though, you just have to talk about it. Self-loathing as the key to your man’s dick. To me–not because I’m an expert, though–that sounds like some seriously messed up relationship…

    Yech. I just looked.

    I used to be married to a guy who’d wanted me thinner right from the moment he met me but held out for years hoping I’d lose weight (and, apparently, as he told me post-divorce, go blonde, which is even more unlikely.). His attempts to ‘subtly’ goad me into it were, let’s say, less than erotic. Now, it takes all sorts, but this kind of humiliation doesn’t float my boat, and I dare say it probably doesn’t even for the whips-and-chains crowd.

    I like the Stranger (coming, as it does, from my favorite place on the planet), but this guy, pun intended, sucks. I could describe an appropriate response, but it would be material for one of his own columns, and I doubt Uwajimaya actually sells live geoducks for that purpose.

    Oh, and FJ, you rock, and the mention of riboflavin got me wanting Marmite. Oodles of the stuff in Marmite. Yum.

  57. I like the Stranger (coming, as it does, from my favorite place on the planet), but this guy, pun intended, sucks.

    Hey, Emerald, puns are encouraged around here, but implying there’s anything wrong with cocksucking isn’t. There are much better reasons to talk shit about Dan Savage.

  58. For every one person with a metabolism disorder, there’s about 1000 people eating three cheeseburgers a day or using comfort food to heal depression.”

    Uh-huh….

    Now, putting aside the fact that it wouldn’t really matter if you were, how many people seriously are eating three cheeseburgers on a daily basis?

    Guy sounds like someone I’d see on the subway wearing a long coat, half a chicken costume, and a tinfoil hat, ranting and raving about omg the horrorz of teh world.

  59. how many people seriously are eating three cheeseburgers on a daily basis?

    The only people I’ve ever seen eat “three cheeseburgers” or “four big macs” or whichever fat stereotype you’d like are teenage boys. Skinny teenage boys. Who needed the calories because they were growing.

  60. Please note why the cheeseburgers are allegedly being consumed — “to heal depression.” Shit, I wish I’d known it was that easy. I wish my doctors had, too — all they had to do was give me the three cheeseburger cure, and it would have put a lot less weight on me than 7 years of Zoloft did! Now whether I could actually gag down three cheeseburgers in a single day, I don’t know. Never tried it, even when I was in a good mood.

  61. Hey, Emerald, puns are encouraged around here, but implying there’s anything wrong with cocksucking isn’t. There are much better reasons to talk shit about Dan Savage.

    Agreed, and I absolutely didn’t mean it to come across that way!

  62. I wonder how “alexdouglas” justifies the OMG OBESITY rates in poor countries?

    Maybe if we all JUST STOPPED EATING, America would be beautiful again! Damn capitalism, with its many food choices! A POX ON THEM!

    And cheeseburgers (I can have?) will cure my anxiety! Well, damn, why am I spending $90 a month on Lexapro? TO MCDONALD’S I GO!

  63. Pingback: What Do You Want? « Hopefully So

  64. Agreed, and I absolutely didn’t mean it to come across that way!

    I figured you didn’t (rest assured, you have a good track record around here), but I just wanted to make that clear. Last time I tangled with Savage, he of course accused me of having a problem with teh gayz. *headdesk*

  65. Shit, I wish I’d known it was that easy. I wish my doctors had, too — all they had to do was give me the three cheeseburger cure, and it would have put a lot less weight on me than 7 years of Zoloft did!

    Meowser, you crack me up.

  66. Pingback: Quote of the Day « The Long and Winding Road

  67. Last time I tangled with Savage, he of course accused me of having a problem with teh gayz. *headdesk*

    Oooo I see. If he has a problem with you, it’s legit, not based on prejudice. But if you have a problem with him it’s because you’re a bigot.

    My head. It spins.

  68. If I may make a statement of humor at the expense of something said seriously, check out what I saw in an e-mail health newsletter :
    {
    I began studying exercise physiology and the mechanics of how a fat cell really deals with burning. I found that a fat cell is really just a storage center for potential energy in a solid form. That’s right, you really don’t have fat, you have POTENTIAL ENERGY. Now doesn’t that sound better?
    }
    So no longer am I “fat” — I just have a lot of potential energy. Or so they say… although it would seem that common sense would say that being fat makes me have less energy… but, then again, who am I to argue with nutritionists? What do I know? I just like to eat… :)

  69. I couldn’t participate in all the conversation because I was in Philadelphia for lunch, eating raw tuna and getting extremely drunk. But you guys are awesome (I’d say I wanted to wear you ALL as a hat, but that sounds a bit naughty), and I especially love Tari’s comment:

    The simple reaction I have is: “Wow, this is why my gut reaction to fat haters is to think they are stoopid!” Then, the nuance comes in and recognizes that we’re suffering culturally from chronic oversimplification: red states v. blue states, God v. Allah, men v. women, homos v. breeders. Fat v. skinny is just another easy conflict to exploit for money and power and status.

    SO FUCKING RIGHT. I wish I’d written this instead of all my rambling in the post!

  70. The frustrating thing is, there would have been a way to give decent advice without changing the message that much, if Dan didn’t take his own personal terror of developing his family fat and turn it against everyone who looks like his family. A lot of people — not all, but a lot — would, in fact, want to know about it if their spouses lost their sense of attraction for them. I would. My husband couldn’t make himself feel an attraction to anyone, any more than I could, and if he simply could not get turned on by me anymore for some reason, I would absolutely want to know that, pronto. I’d even want to know why. Then I could either do something about it, if possible, or recognize that I couldn’t control [whatever] or didn’t care to, and we could regretfully go our separate ways.

    It’s the same suggestion of being honest with the person who trusts you most (although, of course, not everyone would want honesty there, and that’s where a random advice-giving stranger has some limitations), just without all the hatred and fear and viciousness and contempt.

  71. shinobi, on December 6th, 2007 at 7:00 pm Said:

    Kate, I was all excited about it but skinny people kept saying “do you think there is really a market for that?”

    ***

    You know, if you were going to open up another fancy boutique with very expensive clothes that fit only very tiny people, I’d wonder if there was a market for that. Or rather, if the market isn’t a bit over saturated. There are places in Chicago where you can’t swing a cat without hitting one of those shops.

    But a plus size boutique? Hell yes there’s a market! Other than the usual suspects (LB, Avenue, Ashley Stewart) there’s like one boutique in all of Chicago for plus sizes. I think the plus size market is tragically underserved.

    I think you were asking the wrong people. If all you had in your toolbox was a hammer, you’d look at screws and go, “Is there a market for those?”. If you’re thin, you’d have no clue as to the true usefulness of a plus size boutique. You know, I can’t think of a single fat woman I know who has ever said the words, “you know, there are just too many places where I can buy clothes.”

    As to Dan Savage, I gave up on him (and in consequence, The Reader) during the last round of his fat hating ass hattery.

  72. RoseCampion, I’m glad you picked up on Shinobi’s comment, ’cause I missed that one.

    OMG YES there’s a market for it! Hell, Colleen and I alone could probably keep you in business. Beyond that, what RoseCampion said. All you’d have to do is distinguish yourself slightly from Vive la Femme, which could be done in about a billion different ways, and you’d be set.

    I have plenty of ideas about my fantasy plus-size boutique, if you want to e-mail me. :)

  73. “Is there a market?”

    Man, I was bitching about this to one of my friends the other day. The plus-size market is so very untapped. I’m surprised that more stores aren’t targeting us, given all the talk about the obesity crisis. We’d do wonders for their bottom line!

    (I would rather talk about this than Savage, obviously.)

  74. I can so see the response being, “Well, duh! Nobody treats fat people as if they’re not human!”

    Well, if you haven’t already thought of it (because you did quote it), I really like this as the 20-second elevator direct rebuttal to the response:

    “The stereotype of the fat person stuffing donuts or twinkies or whatever into their mouth is not a real person.”

  75. I’ve eaten three cheeseburgers in a day, when I was on a DIET. The infamous Atkins diet, so of course I left off the terribly unhealthy buns.

    I want to wring your hand in thanks for this blog. My consciousness has been raised by ten times since I started reading it. There’s always been something about the obesity “epidemic” rhetoric that bothered me — a lot — but I couldn’t articulate it.

    Thanks to you, now I can. Thank you so much.

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