The Butt Might Be Smaller, but the Disappointment is Still Pretty Big*

MSN Health is running a story about folks who have shed weight, but not the fantasy of being thin. The article – saddled with a terribly clown hornian title “Skinny Dream Bubble Burst” – had all the greatest hits of TFOBT.

That said, it was incredibly heart breaking to read this early in the morning with snow falling gently over Vermont.

Here’s how the article’s main subject Jen Larsen is described:

Despite being a self-described “accomplished fat girl,” with a master’s degree in creative writing from the University of San Francisco, a great job working in the school’s academic library, a slew of friends and a loving boyfriend, Larsen thought her life had hit a plateau. By age 32, she believed she’d be writing a book, “doing something important,” she says. The only thing holding her back, she thought, was weight. [...] Larsen thought skinny came with a mega-boost of self confidence. And a huge dollop of happiness. She thought she’d be dynamic and brave and ready to take on the world, just because she was thin.

Larsen states:

“I think fat people are sold a fantasy, and then get no support in the reality, because we’re simply supposed to be grateful that we’re no longer fat,”

The article stops short of suggesting anything approaching FA or HAES. In fact, it suggests the way to dealing with the disco fame hangover is to tamp down expectations once weight goals are achieved. I don’t know about you, but I’m just not sure people work that way.

There’s a lot of chow chow about naughty media preying on folks and we’ve all heard that before. But nothing approaching a serious analysis. (fortunately, that’s what SP does!) The article seems unaware of the extent to which culturally sanctioned messages telling us getting thinner impact fatties, regardless of whether or not they diet. It’s clown horn journalism at its finest.

Or as Kate put it:

The question is, who do you really want to be, and what are you going to do about it? (Okay, two questions.) The Fantasy of Being Thin is a really convenient excuse for not asking yourself those questions sincerely — and that’s exactly why it’s dangerous. It keeps you from being not only who you are, but who you actually could be, if you worked with what you’ve got. And that person trapped inside you really might be cooler than you are right now.

She’s just not thin.

Just another reminder of why I love FA so fucking much.

___________________________________________________
*opted to change the title after reflecting on the term and not wanting to upset folks or hurt feelings.

Wednesday One-Liners

• Remember how Starling gave a rough number of 1 in 60 when guessing how many men commit rape? And Dude Nation went ballistic about how it wasn’t a robust figure? They’re right. At least in some populations (in this case, college students of all ages) it should have been four times higher.

• The calorie recommendations have been telling you to eat too little, but this is NOT a license to eat more!

• Breaking: Some obese people don’t want to lose weight! They actually had the delusion they were healthy, even though they had incidences of high blood pressure and high cholesterol that were similar to or lower than the population as a whole!

Genetic link found among shortness, fatness, and early puberty

I just wrote for Broadsheet about a new study that found specific genes associated with determining when puberty begins for girls (and in one case, boys), which throws at least a small monkey wrench into the theory that the Evils of Modern Society (hormones in our food, pesticides, childhood obesity) are messing up little girls, so soon we’re gonna have hordes of menstruating toddlers on our hands. That post is pretty much me ranting about how our culture’s attitude toward female sexuality is a MUCH bigger problem than a relatively modest decline in the age of menarche over the last 30 years. But over here, I want to discuss the part I didn’t have space for.

The Nature Genetics study also provides a clue for why girls who are shorter and fatter tend to get their periods months earlier than classmates.

The genes sit right next to DNA controlling height and weight.

I’m sorry, did they just acknowledge the existence of “DNA controlling height and weight“? Somebody pinch me. Moving right along…

Researcher Dr Anna Murray said: “This study provides the first evidence that common genetic variants influence the time at which women reach sexual maturation.

“Our findings also indicate a genetic basis for the associations between early menstruation and both height and BMI.”

*fans self*

Now, of course they’ve also got the expected caveat in there, way before the quote from Dr. Murray.

However, [the researchers] also accept that the onset of puberty is influenced by factors such as nutrition and exercise, and the effect of a single gene is likely to be relatively small.

In the Broadsheet piece, I also talk about a recent post by Tara Parker-Pope over at Well, in which she points out that there was a much more dramatic drop in the average age of menarche between the mid-19th and 20th centuries, which is widely attributed to improved nutrition and medical care. So yeah, genes are not the only factor at play here. But of course, somewhere around the ’70s, “Improved nutrition, yay!” gave way to “We’re all eating too goddamned much and too many of the wrong foods,” and then that led to panic about fat little girls sprouting pubic hair before they’re out of diapers. And everybody sorta forgot about genes, since their existence might mean that living A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE does not give one absolute control over one’s body. Perish the thought!

Now, after all these years of hearing that early menarche is associated with both shortness and fatness — ergo, we must put chubby little girls on diets! And, you know, will them to get taller! — someone comes along and shows a genetic link among all three characteristics. You don’t say.

From the anecdata files, as I’ve mentioned before, I was a skinny kid who hit puberty early (noticeable boobs by age 9, first period at age 10), and only then began to put on weight. I didn’t have “excess” body fat prior to menarche, but I sure as hell had fat genes and short genes. (At the time, I was pretty tall for my age, but then everyone else kept growing.) So for the very little that my personal experience is worth, this makes a lot more sense to me than the thought that shortness and fatness cause early puberty.

Also, the aforementioned Well post is primarily about a recent Danish study that showed the average age of beginning breast development dropped by a full year over the course of fifteen years — though the average age of menarche didn’t drop nearly as quickly. My first thought, naturally, was, “Fuck, it’s all gonna be about how Europe is catching up to the U.S. in terms of fatness.” But wait, what’s this?

Alterations in reproductive hormones and BMI did not explain these marked changes, which suggests that other factors yet to be identified may be involved.

They controlled for BMI and got the same result! Fatness did not cause early breast development! Yippee!

I’m not optimistic that we’ll stop hearing about how THE OBESITY CRISIS BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA is pushing younger and younger girls headlong into adulthood any time soon. But at least we’ve got some evidence that other factors are at play.  And since in the U.S., children (not to mention adults) are apparently no longer getting fatter, I will be really curious to see what happens in the next few years. If that plateau holds, and the average age of menarche keeps declining at the same rate (which is not nearly as fast as the hand-wringers would have us believe, mind you), they’ll have to find another culprit. I mean, they’ve already got hormones and pesticides lined up for that — and for all I know, there might even be a noteworthy connection there — but CHILDHOOD! OBESITY! has long been the favorite scapegoat. It would be delightful to see the attention shift to something else. (Of course, that would involve anyone outside the fatosphere actually noticing that childhood obesity is no longer on the rise.)

Anyway, read the Broadsheet post for the rest of what I think about the panic over precocious puberty. Which is not much, generally speaking. Then tell us what you think about all this.

Bachelorettes, bathing suits, etc.

Hi! Remember me? A long time ago, I used to blog here.

So, last time I wrote, I was off to my first destination bachelorette party. The destination, it can now be told (OK, it was already told repeatedly on Twitter last weekend), was Vegas. The bride, one of my oldest and dearest, works for a big, giant corporation that owns several casino resorts. Said big, giant corporation is not in the habit of comping its employees, on accounta they’ve got a bazillion employees and that would get spendy, but the bride and some of her local friends were able to call in a few favors and get us some ridiculous free shit, including rooms, a cabana by the pool for Saturday afternoon, and numerous free bottles of booze — including some at two different clubs of the sort I didn’t even frequent when I was 21, which is really the only time you’d want to.

So we all had a total blast, duh. But it was one of those total blast events I spent so fucking much time stressing about beforehand, it’s kind of a wonder I did manage to enjoy it. First of all, I didn’t realize there would be quite so much free shit, and with a book tour coming up, I was worried about spending too much money on comparatively frivolous travel. But that was really the only practical, reasonable stress. All the rest of it — and it was a lot – was self-image shit.

Not just body image shit — though gearing up to wear a bathing suit in public can still throw me for a bit of a loop. (As I said in comments on the bathing suit shopping post, it’s not even really fat shame anymore, just general prudishness; I’m simply not comfortable with anyone but Al and my doctor seeing that much of my naked flesh. And really, I’m not that comfortable with my doctor seeing it.) No, I was just all-around obsessed with how I’d present myself — i.e., making the fatal mistake, not for the first time, of assuming that anyone else really gives a rat’s ass how I present myself. Especially when I’m standing next to a woman wearing 4-inch heels, a white feather boa, and rhinestones spelling out “bride” across her shoulder. 

The problem was this: I didn’t know most of the other women who would be there. And even though I knew the bride would never be friends with assholes, I just couldn’t tamp down the following fears:

  1. They’d all be girlier, cuter, better dressed, more at home in bathing suits and fancy clubs, etc., than I am. (Actually true, overall — it just didn’t ultimately matter a bit.)
  2. There was a strong likelihood of running into diet talk, given that it was a group of 10 women. (Also true, but it was minimal.)
  3. Some of them might look at me like I had 3 heads, all of which were about to be diagnosed separately with diabetes and heart disease, when I told them what I write about. (Not true!)

Now, about 85% of this stress manifested as me going, “WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO WEAR NO REALLY WHAT THE FUCK?” — I wasn’t having panic attacks or anything. But it was a good lesson in how much the stability of my self-image can depend on context. Still. After two years of blogging and writing half a book purporting to share the secrets of my awesome self-image.

Don’t get me wrong — I DO have an awesome self-image, both generally speaking and especially compared to what it used to be.  Overall, I’m plenty confident and often enough arrogant. It’s just, there’s still that “what it used to be” part lurking underneath, and certain situations can bring it shooting up to the surface. I can stand on a stage and read to an audience, write opinionated blog posts, get loud and stupid with my friends, wear skintight yoga pants in a class full of hardbodies, moderate the fuck out of comments, and talk easily to reporters, all without worrying too much about what anyone thinks. But put me in a group that’s mostly people I don’t know and ask me to socialize OR ask me to spend an entire afternoon wearing a bathing suit in public, and I am suddenly self-conscious as all hell. Ask me to do both at once, and I’m suddenly a useless pile of WHAT THE FUCK AM I GOING TO WEAR NO REALLY WHAT THE FUCK OMG OMG OMG THIS MIGHT ACTUALLY KILL ME.

But here’s the difference between me now and me when my self-image was like 90% suck: I went anyway. I didn’t talk myself out of it because I was so afraid the potential for being judged negatively outweighed the potential for fun. When I asked myself “What’s the worst that could happen?” the answer was, “Some of [bride's] friends don’t like me.” Bride would continue to like me anyway, as would another one of our oldest and dearest who would also be in attendance. It seemed highly implausible that all 7 of the other women would find me repulsive, so it was unlikely that I’d get stuck with no one at all to talk to, or that a bunch of grown-ass women, including two of my oldest friends, would gang up on me like a pack of hostile 7th-graders. At the absolute worst, I’d get a polite brush-off from a couple of people I would only have to see one more time in my life. WAIT, THAT’S ALL I’VE BEEN FUCKING FREAKING OUT ABOUT?

So I went. I went, and I had a blast. What’s more, my very favorite part of the weekend was the part that involved wearing a bathing suit in public. (As it turned out, the day was cooler than expected, so I ended up wearing sweats over my suit most of the time I wasn’t in the pool or hot tub — so much for all the anxiety about finding a sufficiently adorable suit and cover-up combo.) I lovelovelove to be in the water, and I have now learned that I REALLY love to sit in a private cabana and have people come and refill my drink while I’m not in the water. (This is a bittersweet bit of new knowledge, since the likelihood of my ever having access to a free cabana again is about equal to the likelihood that I’ll ever have enough disposable income to just pay for one, i.e., nil.) And of course, I loved all of the bride’s friends I got to talk to for longer than 5 minutes, and I’m sure I would equally love the ones I didn’t. Most of my fears did not come true, and those that did turned out to be irrelevant anyway. (Oh noes! 90 seconds of throwaway diet talk!)  

All this should surprise exactly no one, least of all me. But when you’re an anxiety-prone person who’s still overcoming decades of self-hatred — even if you’ve written half a book about how not to hate yourself so damn much — it’s still so easy to get wrapped up in the fear of not being charming enough and smart enough and funny enough and bikini-ready enough to survive an unfamiliar social situation. Not so many years ago, I probably would have decided to skip the whole thing, purely because I knew I was likely to be the fattest person there by a considerable margin (which I was). I would have convinced myself that all of them — including the two I’ve been friends with for plus or minus 20 years — would be humiliated to be seen with me, disgusted by having to look at me in a bathing suit, and thus either terribly awkward (my friends) or downright cruel (all the rest). And the thing is, none of that would have been true then, either. But I never would have found out the fears were bullshit. I never would have found out that flitting between a cabana and an enormous pool all afternoon is pretty much my idea of heaven (though again, it might have been better if I never did find that out). Not to mention, I would have missed a celebration in honor of one of my oldest and dearest — all because of my own fucking insecurity.

I still get alternately angry and weepy when I think about how much I used to hold myself back, how much I chose to miss out on, because I was so worried that people would think I was too fat/ugly/dull/irritating/etc. — mostly fat and ugly — to deserve to take part in whatever fun activity was on the table. It wasn’t even that I didn’t think I deserved it, necessarily — but that I believed everyone else would be looking at me and thinking, “Who the hell does she think she is?” (I mean, wearing a bathing suit at a pool! Can you imagine THE NERVE?)

The first mistake, of course, was believing that everyone — or anyone, really — would be looking at me at all, much less long enough to form a strong opinion about my body and/or character. It is kind of amazing how closely related insecurity is to egotism. But the other mistake was believing that the risk of being judged was always greater than the potential fun of putting myself out there. I mean, how could I possibly enjoy swimming, or lying by the pool, or drinking fruity drinks, or dancing,  if there might be someone nearby thinking, “Damn, she needs to put those thighs away.” Oh, wait — I would still be swimming, lying by the pool, drinking fruity drinks, dancing. These are INTRINSICALLY ENJOYABLE ACTIVITIES in my book. It would take a lot more than a dirty look from a stranger to make those things not fun

Of course, sometimes you get a lot more than a dirty look. (And people fatter than me get a lot more a lot more often.) But as Lesley said in a brilliant post (which happens to be reprinted in the book) a while back:

Given the choice between restricting my movements and being assured of never being catcalled again, versus going out shamelessly and risking (or demanding!) attention – I will gladly take the latter. I like being visible. Even when I become a bull’s-eye upon which the insecurities and savagery of others are exorcised. Even when I lose time processing and remembering the emotional risks I take just by being myself, time I would have otherwise spent relaxing in the sunshine. When I first began my self-acceptance process, I decided first off that I never wanted to feel afraid of what those people – those who would mercilessly catcall me from a moving car, for example – might think or say about my body again. I never wanted to avoid life out of fear. And I’m still there, still fighting to be fearless.

So I say fuck those people. I’ll be on that beach tomorrow, and this weekend, and for months to come, and if they don’t like it, good, I’m glad to displease them.

And as my lovely co-author said just today:

I would rather be seen than be invisible. I would rather exist as a vocal and visual body than as a silent and hiding one, occupied mostly with minimizing myself.

Right on. I may never be completely rid of all those old fears, but these days, I feel strong enough to fight them, instead of rolling over and letting them win. That’s the big difference between having a mostly positive self-image and a mostly crap one. And I can tell you this much with absolute confidence: The next time someone invites me to spend an afternoon in a free cabana by a ridiculously gorgeous pool (oh please, let there be a next time), I will immediately say yes. 

Tell me again about how it’s fat that’ll kill you?

Back up the Duh Truck: Researchers at the University of Alabama have discovered that if you treat the patient you have, instead of the one you think might be prettier, you end up with better outcomes. In other news, fat asses can’t fit in a size 4 pant, that and 25 cents will no longer get you a cup of coffee, square pegs are unsuited to round holes, and ten pounds of shit doesn’t go in a five-pound bag.

Yeah, folks, apparently giving women with ovarian cancer chemotherapy dosages based on their actual weight, rather than their ideal weight, leads to increased survival rates, effectively eliminating any significant difference between the survival rates of fat and non-fat women. Of course, fat women are still going to be more likely to die of cervical, breast, and colorectal cancer, because for some WHOLLY MYSTERIOUS reason they’re less likely to get screened. But if they can manage to get diagnosed with ovarian cancer, thank god for these great strides in medical science that have shown we should give them the amount of treatment they actually need. And when we do that, I’ll be blowed — that survival difference we’d been putting down to “fat killz” somehow just goes away. (But remember, “research also shows obese women are more likely to have other health problems, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease that may affect cancer treatment”! That research is surely completely valid and not affected by any confounding factors whatsoever! Also, this is no license to go around stealing other people’s cancer and surgically inserting it into your body!)

Did you have any idea that chemo dosing is “often” calculated based on ideal body weight? I guess that semi-mandatory weigh-in every visit really is just so they can decide whether to give you adequate medical treatment or not. Here I was thinking that it was because MEDICATION WORKS PROPERLY WHEN IT’S PRESCRIBED FOR THE BODY YOU HAVE, NOT THE ONE YOUR DOCTOR WISHES YOU HAD. For sure, chemo is the kind of shit you don’t want to overdose on. But it is also the kind of thing that you DO NOT WANT TO UNDERDOSE ON OMFG. And prescribing based on ideal weight is the medical equivalent of “there’s a thin person in you trying to get out” — it’s predicated on the idea that you have a real body that’s the same size and composition, give or take 20 pounds, as the body of anyone else your height, and then a bunch of extra non-functional tissue that doesn’t count. Those of us who’ve dieted and puked our way through adolescence and never hit “normal” already know that that’s absurd, as do those of us who are still considered overweight when thin. In the tradition of being grateful for the few crumbs medical science throws our way, I’m glad they’re catching on that there’s a difference between a fat person and Tyra Banks in a latex suit.

Kate covered this at Broadsheet too (I don’t have to tell y’all never to read Broadsheet comments, right? They have ironically some of the most antifeminist readers on the web, but unlike here, they pay), but we thought this one was sputter-worthy enough to merit a two-pronged attack.

Postscript: Since this is my second post about scientific studies in a row, I want to preemptively direct you back in the archives to this post on cherry-picking. You’re damn right we at SP give credit to the studies we find reasonable and question the ones we don’t — it’s called “educated analysis of available data.” You can’t build your scientific paradigm on any single study — you have to look at the full scope of evidence with an understanding that all will be to some degree biased or incomplete, and make your best educated guesses based on what you see. That’s what we do, and we do it a damn sight better than the media most of the time. Are the studies that support our hypothesis perfect? Like hell; the perfect experiment is a mythical beast. But they don’t suck any worse than the ones that support the opposing hypothesis, and often they suck a whole lot less. Studies like this one don’t prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that fat is health-neutral, but they — or at least the sheer number of them — sure as shit prove that we haven’t proved that it isn’t. No matter what the internet says.

Dear Oprah

Dear Oprah,

Please just stop. Please. And I don’t mean that in a nasty way (though some of my commenters will). I mean please, stop doing this to yourself.

I know saying that is pointless, because I’ve been there, and I know it’s hardly a matter of just telling yourself to get over it and accept that this is what your body always does, what your body always will do if you keep dieting. But gosh, it would be so nice if you stopped. 

A few months ago, I was on your show via Skype — as an average viewer, not a guest or an expert in anything — and we exchanged a little preliminary banter that was eventually cut from what aired. You said, “Kate, I understand you have a blog — tell us a little bit about it.” And I said, “I write about body image and self-acceptance.” That’s my stock answer for anyone who might not be prepared to hear the words “fat” and “acceptance” right next to each other. It’s a bit of a cop-out, frankly, but the fact is, no matter how proud I am of what I do here, I’m not always in a mood to explain or defend it. I don’t feel perfectly strong and righteous and ready for battle every day. That doesn’t mean I back down from my principles, it just means that sometimes — like when I’m freaking out because I’m on national TV, and Oprah just asked me a question, and the topic of the day is not anything fat-related — taking the path of least resistance is the best way to protect my own sanity. So that’s what I said to you. 

Unfortunately, the sound was still buggy on the Skype connection at that point, so I could barely hear what you said back. It took me a moment to process your reply, during which time I was all, “Holy crap, Oprah just said something, and I don’t know what it was, and now I have to attempt to respond without sounding like an idiot.” But then, your words finally arranged themselves properly in my mind. 

What you said was, “I’m still working on that.” 

And what I said — because I was still panicky and felt like you’d been waiting a day and a half for a response from me already — was, “Well… uh… um… good luck!”

I beat myself up for that answer for days, until the show aired and I learned that that part was gone anyway. As soon as you turned away from the screen with my head on it and started the show, I started running through all the better answers I could have given you. “Well, have me back in May 2009, when my book comes out!” was one obvious response, but really, here’s what I would say if I had that moment to do over: “We all are.” 

We are all still working on it. Even me, even people who have been waving the fat acceptance banner for decades longer than I have. We’re all still working on it, because the messages are relentless – the messages that tell us we should hate ourselves, starve ourselves, make dieting at least a part-time job (for our health!), the messages that tell us we will never be loved if we “let ourselves go,” the messages that tell us there is only one acceptable female body type, and you and I are both too fat for it, and you’re too black for it, and millions of women — the majority of us, actually — are too something (even too skinny) for it. Those messages never, ever let up, and rejecting them involves a conscious choice, every dingdang day. And some days, like I said, you don’t feel perfectly strong and righteous and ready for battle.

Some days, you feel like it would be so much easier to take on that old part-time job again — especially when you’ve done it so many times, for so many years, you could do it in your sleep. All you have to do is carve out three or four hours a day to exercise more vigorously, obsess about what you’re going to eat next, and prepare it; stop listening to your body and only pay attention to your food plan and workout schedule; cut out some hobbies and social time to make room for the job; recall all the tips and tricks for not eating at holiday gatherings, at restaurants, at your dear friends’ houses, at your own birthday party; retrain yourself to believe that salad dressing — let alone artisanal bacon, creme brulee, whatever — doesn’t taste good enough to warrant its negative effects on your job performance; talk constantly about what you’re not eating and how great it makes you feel, in hopes that some of your friends will join you at this lonely little workplace; and — most importantly — continue to believe with a religious fervor that your body is an ugly, hateful thing that must be punished and diminished. As long as you really believe that, the rest isn’t so hard to keep up, once you get used to it (again). 

Some days, all that sounds a hell of a lot easier than resisting the messages — especially when you think of all the praise you’ll get once you’ve lost a noticeable amount of weight, or how good it will feel when you get to put on a smaller dress (though that feeling goes away quickly, as it must, or else you might lose your motivation to keep going). How proud and in control you’ll feel — again, for a few minutes at a time, for as long as it’s working. How much better people will treat you, as long as there’s less and less of you. I totally get that. 

But I stopped giving in to it. And boy, I wish you would, too — because you’re way too smart to take that sucker bet yet again. 

It kills me to hear you say things like, “”I can’t believe that after all these years, all the things I know how to do, I’m still talking about my weight. I look at my thinner self and think, `How did I let this happen again?’” Honey, you didn’t “let it” happen again. Your body made it happen again, because your body does not freakin’ want to be thin. And every time you quit the part-time job of dieting — or even just cut back your hours — your body goes, “Thank god!” and starts storing fat hand over fist. It happens to nearly all of us. I know you’re a woman who’s used to defying odds by quite a lot, but there is no shame in having a body that responds to dieting in exactly the same way as pretty much everyone else’s. 

You say you’ve been eating too much and not exercising enough. Maybe that’s even true. But defining “too much” and “enough” is tricky business, and when you’re trying to do that in the context of shame and self-loathing, chances are, you’re going to come up with values that represent punishment, not healthy moderation. When I see you say things like, “I was so frustrated I started eating whatever I wanted — and that’s never good,” I just… Gah. Oprah, we’ve been over this. Grown women are allowed to eat whatever we want. More to the point, we are allowed to want, period. The fact that so many of us have come to believe “whatever we want” equals “never good” is heartbreaking and infuriating in equal measure. 

You also say, apologetically, “I definitely wasn’t setting an example.” Well, you were, actually — just not the example you wanted to set. You’re not an ideal role model for either dieting or self-acceptance, but in terms of the latter, you are — forgive me if this comes off as harsh — an ideal object lesson. One of the Shapelings (hi, Rebecca!) who sent me a link to the Yahoo article this morning also offered her response to it:

I guess the main thought I had was, “Thank you, Oprah, for showing me that my struggle to give up dieting is the right struggle.”  I have been fighting the diet demons this week, but reading this article was a nice shake-up.  I don’t want to look back at my life at her age and see the same story and body hatred.  It’s nice to see confirmation that I am doing the right thing for myself, despite the cacophany of voices telling me I’m not!

In that respect, to my mind, you’re setting a terrific example — you’re showing the world that no amount of money, or hard work, or discipline (whatever guilt you feel over easing out of that part-time job, come on, don’t even try to tell me that Oprah Winfrey lacks self-discipline and determination!) can make a stubbornly fat body remain thin for long. I just wish, for your sake as well as for the millions of women who look up to you, you could find a way to reframe your struggles with your weight, to practice and promote Health at Every Size, to believe that you are a beautiful woman — you so are! — who does not need to keep apologizing for what she eats or what dress size she wears. I wish you would choose to be the role model you’re perfectly suited to be, instead of trying to be one you’re not — and instead being an object lesson. 

I’ll tell you a secret, Oprah — I also hit what you call “the dreaded 2-0-0″ this year. At least, I think I did. The last time I weighed myself was on a dog scale at the vet’s office, and I was about 185 lbs. I’m pretty sure I’ve gained about 15 since then. Why? Well, there are a zillion possible explanations and contributing factors, but the simplest one is this: My last diet ended in 2003, which you’ll note was 5 years ago. When I started that diet, I weighed about 190. The vast majority of people who deliberately lose weight gain it all back within 5 years, and a huge chunk of those gain an extra 10 lbs. or so, to boot.  And I do seem to have plateaued at this weight after gaining steadily for quite a while, so… I could sit here and tell you how I went on Lexapro, and I started eating out more and resumed putting the dressing directly on my salads and slacked somewhat on exercise — in a nutshell, how I gave up dieting as a part-time job and relegated food and exercise back to the category of  “things I think about, just not to the exclusion of having a life” — but the real reason for the weight gain is, I’m just not that special. I do not have magic powers that allow me to transcend my genetic predisposition to fatness, and I was not so much more committed or determined or desirous of thinness than everyone else who diets that I could somehow, through sheer will, overcome the massive odds against keeping it off for more than five years. I’m just not that special.

Neither are you, in that regard. We’re both plenty special in other ways — I mean, love you or hate you, I don’t think there’s anyone who would argue that you’re not an extraordinary woman — but just not that way. In that way, we’re both just normal fat women who dieted and gained it back and dieted and gained it back and dieted and gained it back, as normal fat women do. But here’s the difference between you and me, when it comes to that. You hit 200 and sent out a press release detailing your shame, embarrassment, and anger at yourself. I hit 200 and shrugged. Because it’s not any different than being 199, and not really any different from being 185, and when it comes down to it, not all that much different than being 115. I can’t shop at as many stores, I don’t get hit on quite as often (though I still do, as recently as Sunday night), some people aren’t as friendly to me, and some people are downright hateful in ways they wouldn’t have been when I was thin. But as trite as it may sound, this is the damned truth: I’m still the same person I was when I was thin — and when I was in-between, and the day before I cracked 200, and the day after. Cracking 300 or 400 or any other arbitrary number would not change who I am, either.

The weight regain did not make me bad or lazy or ugly or sick or stupid or broken. It just made me fatter. 

That’s all that happened here. You got fatter. You’re still one of the most accomplished women on the planet. You’ve still got more money than god. You still give away a lot of that money and do real things that help real people. I know there are people around here who can’t stand you precisely because your refusal to stop believing you can and should be a thin person too often manifests as yet more heartbreaking, infuriating, wounding messages about how fat people are bad and thin people are good. But I can’t help admiring you anyway. And I can’t help feeling for you when I read about your shame, embarrassment, and anger at yourself. I know exactly how that goes — hence my last diet. I still get twinges of all those feelings and have to work my butt off to resist them. As I should have told you during that brief moment when we talked, we are all still working on it.

I admit I’m tempted to get angry at you for wasting your phenomenally powerful bullhorn on promoting body shame instead of telling other fat women that they’re not bad, undisciplined people. But I can’t, because I know just how loud and demanding those voices in your head are, the ones that say, “It doesn’t matter that you’re one of the most accomplished women on the planet, because you let yourself get fat again!” I know the pure, unfettered irrationality of that train of thought isn’t obvious when you’re in the grip of hating your body. The voices are too insistent.

So I guess all I have left to say to you is what I already told you in person: Good luck. I so hope that one of these days, you manage to make peace with your body. And man, when that day comes, I sure hope you go on the air and tell your millions of viewers you’ve discovered that not hating yourself is about a bazillion times more rewarding than mortifying yourself, literally and figuratively. That right there is what I know for sure.

All best,

Kate

You Don’t Say

Overweight women find health care access and attitudes a constant struggle.

“The participants in our study described the experience of seeking healthcare as a constant battle and struggle and were upset by the reactions of healthcare staff” says lead author Professor Emily Merrill from Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.

“They told us that they felt even more uncomfortable with specialists than with their own family doctors and nurse practitioners.”

Four themes emerged: struggling to fit in, feeling not quite human, being dismissed and refusing to give up.

Women talked about feeling shame and embarrassment because they did not fit into the normal healthcare environment because of their size and needed larger gowns, blood pressure cuffs, scales and chairs.

Quick Hit: Turns out People Aren’t Rats

Check it out:

Calorie restriction, a diet that is low in calories and high in nutrition, may not be as effective at extending life in people as it is in rodents, according to scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

You don’t say.

Go read the whole article. Some interesting stuff there. I’ve got lots of thoughts, but I have to go write for people who pay me.

The Duh Truck Rides Again

Okay, every Shapeling and their grandma has sent me a version of this news, so I’d better get on it. (Thanks, everybody, and sorry I’m slow!) 

A new study suggests that a surprising number of overweight people — about half — have normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels, while an equally startling number of trim people suffer from some of the ills associated with obesity.

The first national estimate of its kind bolsters the argument that you can be hefty but still healthy, or at least healthier than has been believed.

The results also show that stereotypes about body size can be misleading, and that even “less voluptuous” people can have risk factors commonly associated with obesity, said study author MaryFran Sowers, a University of Michigan obesity researcher.

GEE, YOU DON’T SAY.

Of course, as others have noted, it’s only fucking “surprising” if you’ve ignored all the previous research saying the same thing, and continued to buy into those misleading stereotypes. Also, I left out the first line of the AP article there, which is: “You can look great in a swimsuit and still be a heart attack waiting to happen. And you can also be overweight and otherwise healthy.” Hey, thanks for leading with a reminder that even if fat people can be healthy, we still can’t look great in swimsuits*, Lindsay Tanner! 

The L.A. Times is even better. Not only does Shari Roan focus on the “visceral fat is what will kill you” angle instead of the “Fat does not equal unhealthy” one, she phrases it thusly: “You can be normal weight** and be just as bad off as old tubby next door.”

Charming. Do they seriously not teach journalists today that phrases like “old tubby” (see also “ballooning,” “packing on the pounds,” “X pounds of blubber/lard,” etc.) and commentary on folks’ bikini-readiness have no fucking place in science reporting? Or that “colorful” language like that might just suggest you have a deeply ingrained bias against fat people, and therefore are probably not the person to report objectively on studies about our health?  

Anyway. Roan’s phrasing also leaves out the pertinent point that “old tubby next door” has a greater than 50% chance of not being badly off at all, according to this research. What it actually shows is that you can be normal weight and far less healthy than old tubby. You can be normal weight and just as badly off as your normal weight neighbor. You can be old tubby herself and be better — or worse — off than another old tubby across the street. You can be any weight and healthy, or any weight and sick. You can’t tell how healthy someone is just by looking. That’s the fucking point.

Here are the actual studies being discussed, and here’s a rundown of the findings that contains somewhat less editorialization. 

From the latter link, in one study, 

Dr. Wildman and colleagues looked at a cross-sectional sample of 5,440 participants in NHANES, and stratified them according to BMI and cardiometabolic abnormalities, including elevated blood pressure; triglycerides, fasting plasma glucose, C-reactive protein, and homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance value, as well as low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.

“Metabolically normal” = one or none of the things on that list, and “metabolically abnormal” equals anything above that. Here’s who was metabolically abnormal: 23.5% of normal weight adults, just under 50% of overweight adults, and just under 70% of obese adults.

The other study looked at “the pathophysiological mechanisms of type 2 diabetes” and found that 24% of obese patients were not insulin resistant and — contrary to researchers’ expectations — “the insulin sensitivity and the intima-media thickness [of the common carotid artery] of the insulin-sensitive obese group were similar [to] those of the normal BMI participants”. Or, as study leader Dr. Nobert Stefan says, “a metabolically benign obesity that is not accompanied by insulin resistance and early atherosclerosis exists in humans.” 

GEE, YOU DON’T SAY.

So yes, there is still a correlation between higher weights and metabolic abnormality. But as we’ve been saying all along, this does not apply to all fat people or let thin people off the hook — which is why there’s so much pants-shitting going on in the media over this. 

Also — brace yourself — you’re more likely to be “metabolically abnormal” if you’re older and sedentary. NO WAY!

They also did find a correlation, yet again, between waist circumference and metabolic iffiness — presumably because a higher waist circumference can be an indication of higher levels of visceral fat, which appears to be the baddie. (Thin people can have high levels of visceral fat, too.)

Now, every time I talk about waist circumference/visceral fat, I hear from apple-shaped folks who are quite understandably pissed off that the OBESITY CRISIS BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA heat is just shifting over to them. So let me make two points I’ve made many times before, because they’re well worth repeating.

1) My favorite fun fact ever: Sumo wrestlers tend to have low levels of visceral fat. And it’s usually sedentary thin people who have high levels of it. The evidence suggests that exercise is protective against visceral fat, even if it doesn’t make you thin — so if you’re able to exercise, there is something you “can do about it,” which doesn’t involve starving yourself or getting a tummy tuck. 

2) Risk factors are just that — risk factors, not death sentences — and we’re all stuck with risk factors for diseases that we can’t do anything about. Family history is the most obvious example — you have no control over whether your parents and grandparents had diabetes, cancer, heart disease, whatever, which is why nobody suggests you have an obligation to “do something” about those risk factors. If you’re lucky enough to get old, you’ll be at increased risk for practically everything — but nobody suggests killing yourself on your fiftieth birthday to avoid that risk factor. Likewise, if you are predisposed to be fat and/or carry weight around your middle, that’s just another risk factor you’re stuck with. For many of us, making a substantial, permanent change to our weights is just as impossible as going back in time and choosing different parents. 

And for many of us, as this research shows, being fat will not lead to poor health anyway. And as always, you can’t tell who’s most at risk by looking. Hell, I’m more hourglass-shaped than apple-shaped (though I am officially obese and my waist circumference exceeds the recommendation for women), but given my pesky family history of diabetes, I’m still probably more likely to end up in the insulin-resistant category than the “metabolically benign” one someday. It sucks, but it is what it is. 

Fat does not equal unhealthy. Thin does not equal healthy. Exercise is beneficial if you can do it and are so inclined, regardless of whether you lose weight. Getting old makes you more likely to get sick, but it’s better than the alternative. Risk factors are not death sentences. Being sick is not a personal failure.

That’s the big fucking news here. But we already knew all that, didn’t we?

*For those who missed it, that’s Fillyjonk rockin’ the swimsuit.

**I have not put “normal weight” in irony quotes throughout, because it would seriously clutter up this post, but please imagine they’re there.

Newsflash: Bigotry not based on fact

This should make me happy, I guess:

EAST LANSING, Mich. — New research led by a Michigan State University scholar refutes commonly held stereotypes that overweight workers are lazier, more emotionally unstable and harder to get along with than their “normal weight” colleagues.

With the findings, employers are urged to guard against the use of weight-based stereotypes when it comes to hiring, promoting or firing.

Mark Roehling, associate professor of human resource management, and two colleagues studied the relationship between body weight and personality traits for nearly 3,500 adults. Contrary to widely held stereotypes, overweight and obese adults were not found to be significantly less conscientious, less agreeable, less extraverted or less emotionally stable.

Instead, possibly because I am really stressed lately and have been particularly tense today, it just pisses me off that this study was even done (and funded) in the first place. It’s like doing a fucking study on whether Jews are obsessed with money. What the fuck is the point of this? Proving that negative stereotypes aren’t based in fact? Are you kidding? Why would you legitimize them enough to consider them a valid object of study?

I know I’m being a little unreasonable, because after all I welcome studies that show that fat people don’t eat more than thin people on average, or aren’t sicker than thin people on average, or don’t cost more to the health system. But these are situations in which people are basing their misconceptions on existing flawed science; the addition of new science is valuable for refuting that. Actually bothering to do the social science research to refute nasty stereotypes backed only by bigotry and anecdata… well, it’s as appalling to me as an extensive study on stereotypes surrounding any other group. Fat people aren’t mean? That’s your study? Are you fucking KIDDING me?

And get this part:

Roehling, who’s also a lawyer, said the practical implication of the research is that employers should take steps to prevent managers from using weight as a predicator of personality traits when it comes to hiring, promoting or firing.

Oh wow, thank goodness this study was done, then. Because if negative assumptions do turn out to be true on average, that means you should totally judge people’s personalities based on their looks, since there’s no such thing as common cause and things that are true of a group on average are true of every member of that group. If black men are imprisoned at a higher rate than white men, that can only be because black men are criminals and you should never hire one! If there are fewer women than men in the sciences, that can only be because women are dumb at thinking and you shouldn’t give them high-level jobs! WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BULLSHIT, I EXPECT THIS FROM EVERYONE ELSE, BUT ACADEMIA, YOU ARE MOTHERFUCKING DISAPPOINTING ME