With advocates like this, who needs hate radio?

It will surprise few people who pay attention to American politics that Sarah Palin is a world-class hypocrite. But her recent foray into the politics of language and disability have proved that her hypocrisy is dyed in the wool, an amazing contradiction of terms: openly disingenuous, profoundly committed to shallowness. She’s taken one of the easiest to understand (if not to implement) tactics of social justice activism — avoid using slurs — and turned it into an operatic denial of her last ounce of intellectual integrity.

Here’s the background: according to the WSJ, last August, White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel called a group of liberal activists “fucking retarded” to their faces. He has since apologized to the head of the Special Olympics and disability activists (who, not incidentally, have rarely been even named in the articles about the apology — but that’s another post altogether). Sarah Palin comes into this because she publicly called out Emanuel on Facebook:

Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking.

A patriot in North Andover, Massachusetts, notified me of Rahm’s “retarded” slam. I join this gentleman, who is the father of a beautiful child born with Down Syndrome, in asking why the Special Olympics, National Down Syndrome Society and other groups condemning Rahm’s degrading scolding have been completely ignored by the White House. No comment from his boss, the president?

As my friend in North Andover says, “This isn’t about politics; it’s about decency. I am not speaking as a political figure but as a parent and as an everyday American wanting my child to grow up in a country free from mindless prejudice and discrimination, free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better… Have you no sense of decency, sir?”

Mr. President, you can do better, and our country deserves better.

Notice, however, that Palin is not actually mad at Emanuel; she’s mad at President Obama. Why? Because he has said nothing about an incident that occurred without him, half a year ago, for which a public apology has been issued. Don’t get me wrong — it would be amazing if the Obama White House takes this opportunity to make a serious, public effort to commit further to the needs of PWD. But Palin’s immediate redirect from Emanuel to Obama smacks of… well, something other than a desire to “stop the r-word,” as a recent campaign enjoins us.

Sady at Tiger Beatdown brilliantly analyzed Palin’s political performance a few days ago, in a post I cannot recommend enough. Here’s Sady’s conclusion, which comes after examining her own reasons for eliminating certain slurs from her diction [ed. note: I snipped some of this quote after posting because I didn’t realize how long it was till I hit “publish”]:

Because here is the thing: it is the ability to communicate concepts and define the reality of a situation from which the power of words is derived. When they become pure noise – divorced from reality, divorced from concepts, used at odds to the concepts and realities they should be defining – that’s when this all gets hairy. I can’t say “that’s so gay” because it makes me sick, because I know what it means. I started working to eliminate “retarded” from my vocabulary a while back, because I thought about it and now I know what it means. But it’s when someone like Sarah Palin can score points by saying that the word “retarded” is wrong, although her career is based on a politics that is measurably bad for a lot of disabled people (and, you know, everyone else) that I start to get worried.


There is no purpose, behind her Facebook post and her call-out of Emanuel, beyond continuing a program of obstructing a Democratic agenda and the current President. It’s precisely as duplicitous as the cries of “sexism” in the right during the primaries. Is there sexism in the Democratic Party, and in the treatment of Sarah Palin? Fuck yes, there is. Was Rahm’s use of the term ableist? Is there ableism in the left?  Was the response to the ableism handled poorly? Fuck yes, to every single one of those questions. But pointing that out when you know that your own party and/or political agenda isn’t going to prioritize social welfare programs which would help the disabled, when they’re trying to make universal access to healthcare impossible, when you don’t have a compassionate stance on the issues of unemployment and poverty to which disability is inexorably linked, when you are opposing abortion rights and charging victims for their rape kits, is just about the most disgusting corruption of these legitimate issues – these issues about which I care immensely – that I can imagine. Palin’s response isn’t about ableism, or about Rahm Emanuel; if it were, she would be talking about Rahm Emanuel and ableism, rather than sneakily using both subjects to get in a jab at Obama. Palin’s response is about Barack Obama and Sarah Palin.

But – again – if she knows how to use the language, she wins. Because she is able to sound, for a moment, like the people who are genuinely engaged in talking about disability, and the structure that punishes and hurts people with disabilities. Which is where language debate gets scary. Because if we put forward, for one second, a language debate that isn’t irrevocably tied to structure – if we focus on language apart from the actual change that needs to happen – everything we care about gets stolen and re-purposed in the service of something else. Words have power. For example, they can be used to tell a pretty enormous lie.

Bra-fucking-va, Sady. Sarah Palin has a personal stake in fighting ableist language. So do I. If Emanuel hadn’t apologized for calling people “fucking retarded,” you can bet I would be writing an angry post about it. But Sady is right: oppressive language is irrevocably tied to oppressive social structures. That’s why the language is oppressive in the first place. It’s awful to say something is “retarded” because the punch of the word is based on the equation of “disability” and “bad.” If people with disabilities weren’t systematically devalued in our culture, told that they’re less than human, that their bodies are grotesque and their minds pathetic, that they are a burden to able-bodied people and that having access to basic rights is an outrageous affront to hard-working small-business owners — to pick just a few of the abelist messages that are commonplace — then no one would say “retarded” anyway. Because it wouldn’t have any impact as an insult. Which is why Sarah Palin’s call for President Obama to fire Emanuel rather than, say, hold a summit with disability advocates, is clearly about political one-up-man-ship: it lets Palin look like she cares about PWD, in a broad sense (just like voting for Palin allowed certain right-winger to look like they cared about women in politics), without doing a goddamn thing with her political power and her cultural capital to make our culture less oppressive of them.

So clearly, Palin was already showing her ass and joining the race for Miss Hypocrite USA 2010. But it took a little help from professional evil man Rush Limbaugh to expose how miraculously mercenary she is. Rush Limbaugh, as I’m sure you all know, makes a living by being hateful. So when he got the chance, he upped the “retard” ante:

Our political correct society is acting like some giant insult’s taken place by calling a bunch of people who are retards, retards. I mean these people, these liberal activists are kooks. They are looney tunes. And I’m not going to apologize for it, I’m just quoting Emanuel. It’s in the news. I think their big news is he’s out there calling Obama’s number one supporters f’ing retards. So now there’s going to be a meeting. There’s going to be a retard summit at the White House. Much like the beer summit between Obama and Gates and that cop in Cambridge.

So. No surprises here, just the usual hate. Limbaugh defends Emanuel because he’s bashing liberals via ableist language, and he goes the extra mile, calling an upcoming meeting with PWD a “retard summit.” If Rahm Emanuel should be personally fired by the President, Limbaugh should at least retract what he said, right? Or apologize to Palin herself, since she’s been a guest on his show? Surely if something is hurtful when it was reported in the WSJ six months after Rahm Emanuel said it, something more vicious is hurtful when Rush Limbaugh broadcasts it instantly to millions of listeners, right?

Sarah Palin, this morning on Fox News Sunday:

“They are kooks, so I agree with Rush Limbaugh,” she said, when read a quote of Limbaugh calling liberal groups “retards.” “Rush Limbaugh was using satire … . I didn’t hear Rush Limbaugh calling a group of people whom he did not agree with ‘f-ing retards,’ and we did know that Rahm Emanuel, as has been reported, did say that. There is a big difference there.”

I’ll give you a moment.

Sarah Palin, who posted this on her Facebook page: Just as we’d be appalled if any public figure of Rahm’s stature ever used the “N-word” or other such inappropriate language, Rahm’s slur on all God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities – and the people who love them – is unacceptable, and it’s heartbreaking, thinks it’s fine when Rush Limbaugh did it because he was talking about “kooks” and did not say “fuck.” Sarah Palin, who claims to want her son Trig to grow up free from gratuitous insults of people who are ostensibly smart enough to know better, thinks it’s somehow not unacceptable or heartbreaking to call someone a “retard” if you don’t actually do it to their face.

Sarah Palin is the worst kind of “ally,” the kind who uses her own status as Super Special Ally to Oppressed Peoples to make herself look good and her enemies look bad without even pretending to care about the actual effect on the people who are actually oppressed. Sarah Palin, like the proverbial white person who has some friends who are black, is the able-bodied person who has some son with a cognitive disability. She’s not advocating for PWD; she’s not advocating for anyone but her own damn self and her right to be on TV every goddamn second.

Sarah Palin, basically, has become Michael Scott, except even more self-congratulatory and less kind.

And less fictional, god help us all.

Point blank: On insults and logic

Think Progress has a couple of posts up today about Republican politicians, when directly asked if they think President Obama is a socialist, admitting that he’s, you know, not. House Minority Leader John Boehner’s interview is especially telling:

GREGORY: Do you really think the President is a socialist?

BOEHNER: Listen, when you begin to look at how much they want to grow government, you can call it whatever you want, but the fact is —

GREGORY: What do you call it though?

BOEHNER: This is unsustainable. We’re broke.

GREGORY: That’s fine. Do you think the President is a socialist?


The tone with which Boehner says “no” is, to my ear, exasperation: of course we all know that the President of the United States is not actually a socialist. But it serves the Republican party to spread the lie that he is, because they count on two things: 1) People not knowing what “socialist” means, and 2) Never being asked point blank if they think it’s true. These factors are intertwined: the idea is, anyone informed enough to know that Obama isn’t a socialist won’t bother asking point blank, because we (where “we” includes the lying politicians) all know it’s not true. The people who don’t know that won’t ask, either, because they assume they are not being taken for a ride by the people who give them their news. When asked, point blank, by someone who’d normally fall in the “us” category, Boehner has no choice: he has to answer no.

This connection might be tenuous, but stay with me. Fatshionista’s Lesley (who, let’s face it, is a total rock star when it comes to being both pithy and right) wrote an awesomely spot-on post today about health care and personal responsibility, in which she, too, suggests we quit the bullshit and ask, point blank, what people really mean:

In fact, I have a better idea, one that would likewise save the industry quite a bit of money in healthcare costs.

Let’s just punish all sick people.

Should healthcare only be made available to the virtuous and conventionally-attractive among us? Or to people who aren’t poor and who can therefore afford such things as quality food and gym memberships? Would you argue that only people who are well-educated, or people who are Christian, or people who are able-bodied should get full insurance coverage? Should healthcare only be offered to people who have never failed to report a symptom that resulted in a late diagnosis of a treatable disease? Is healthcare only for people who get themselves screened for breast cancer or colon cancer or prostate cancer at the appropriate ages and as often as recommended?

Is healthcare only for the physically perfect and morally pure?

These questions are a natural extension of the suggestion to restrict the coverage and punish the millions of Americans who qualify as being under that questionable umbrella of “obesity”, for having no self control or discipline, because this argument’s proponents also tend to accept the fallacy that fatness is easily enough managed with a little motivation. And what the “charge fat people more!” comments really come down to, in plain English, is people expressing that they don’t want to pay for certain people’s healthcare because they just don’t like those people.

I know some people get angry when we talk here about debunking stereotypes about fat people, because it tends (especially for the fatphobic people who toss around those stereotypes easily) to spawn discussions about good fatties and bad fatties, or regular fatties and “really fat” fatties — and if we’re fighting for the civil rights of all fat people, then why do we need to say “Most fat people aren’t like X,” when we believe it would be okay if they were? The fact is, we’re very sympathetic to that line of thinking; we are achingly aware of the fact that every time we say “Most fat people don’t eat five pizzas a day,” there is probably someone out there thinking, “Well, how many pizzas do I get to eat before I count as a bad fatty, Miss Most Fatties Aren’t So Bad?”

But what today’s various posts about socialism and health care and fat have reminded me is that it is next to useless to debate with someone who doesn’t share your terms, who doesn’t mean the same thing by “socialism” or “obese” that you do. Why do Republican politicians work so hard to spread the idea that Obama is a socialist? Because to a lot of people, “socialist” is a slur, even though to a lot of other people, it’s a legitimate political philosophy that, in fact, still influences geopolitics. To some people, “fat” is a horrible insult, and they’ll do anything to convince you (and themselves) that they don’t really mean you, or you’re chubby but you’re not obese, or what have you. Here is a list of some things that some people would categorize as offensive slurs, but which I don’t mind being used to describe me from a friendly party:

  • feminist
  • radical
  • queer
  • dyke
  • fat
  • bitch
  • freak

Here’s a list of some words that I still can’t believe are used as insults, because the conditions they describe are not self-evidently negative to me:

  • socialist
  • retarded
  • fat
  • cripple
  • gay
  • black
  • poor

As in, I can’t imagine that everyone who uses those words as insults has actually thought through what they’re saying. Don’t get me wrong; there are people out there who trade in absolute hatred, and who get off on the power they have to demean others. I’m not talking about those people here. I’m talking, instead, about people who may not realize their own privilege or how soaked their language is with it. I’m talking about the people who say “That’s so retarded” and when I say “You know, my brother is retarded,” they apologize because they never thought about who they mean when they say that. I’m talking about people who say “Fat people are going to drop dead any second,” and when you say “Even this fat person? And this one?” they realize they were picturing the archetypal Headless Fatty*. The people who claim that the obesity epidemic (booga x 2) is ruining all our lives, and you say “This obesity epidemic?” they say “Shut up, those people aren’t even fat.” There are people out there who are open to the idea that Words Mean Things, and that they might not know everything already.

I don’t think being a socialist is a bad thing. But I also don’t think that President Obama is a socialist. Those are two things that both need debunking, and I don’t think their debunkings have to be mutually exclusive. Disingenuous people are taking advantage of widespread misconceptions and prejudices and using them to argue something they wouldn’t dare say out loud** if asked point blank: (socialism is un-American) + (Obama is a secret socialist) = “Obama is not a real American.” When they are asked, point blank, about their premises, by someone who knows what they’re trying to do, their logic unravels.

People who argue that fatties are all sick*** and deserving of the death they brought on themselves by eating so many baby donuts are relying on the undercurrents of fatphobia and ableism that aren’t always visible to people who have certain privileges. But when you ask, as Lesley does, “So do you think we should punish sick people?” — well, god help us, but I’d like to think that some of them would answer “No.”

*Who, of course, is still not guaranteed to drop dead from being fat.

**Well, some of them.

***That’s why it’s “morbidly” obese, after all!

On death panels

You might have heard that people like everyone’s favorite anti-feminist, Sarah Palin, are spreading lies about the proposed US health care reform including mandatory “death panels” that encourage elderly people to just up and off themselves already to save all us youngsters some cash. You might have also heard that Sarah Palin is a lying sack of shit. Hopefully those of you who are following what passes for “grassroots activism” about health care know what’s what and do not appreciate that people who openly advocate killing elected leaders would rather have children die from a neglected toothache than bother to look up the word “socialism.”

According to national godsend Factcheck.org, here’s what these “death panels” are actually about:

In truth, that section of the bill would require Medicare to pay for voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care, including designating a health care proxy, choosing a hospice and making decisions about life-sustaining treatment. It would not require doctors to counsel that their patients refuse medical intervention.

Voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care. Voluntary counseling sessions. There’s your death panel! Heaven forfend!

Let me tell you a little something about end-of-life medical care. I’ve mentioned here before that my mother has Parkinson’s disease. What I have not mentioned here before is that she is dying. For the last several months, she has been receiving at-home hospice care. She spends most of her time sleeping in a hospital bed in the bedroom she shares with my stepfather. She can no longer sit up on her own or speak more than a word at a time. She can look at magazines but she can’t read or sign her name. She likes to listen to oldies on the radio station, and she likes to get visits from people, but she can’t really stay awake and attentive for more than half an hour or so. In the last five years or so, she has gone from having some bouts of confusion to being profoundly incapacitated. For many people, end-of-life neurological diseases operate more slowly, giving them time to adjust their lives to their progressive disabilities. For my family, by the time we had a diagnosis, things were already changing, almost too fast to keep up. This is complicated by the fact that my mother probably also has other neurological conditions which compound her dementia.

We did not get a lot of non-medical guidance throughout this process. My mom was in denial at first about how serious things were; she refused to see doctors, refused to face what was coming. By the time the rest of us realized how seriously her body and mind were changing, her dementia was pronounced enough that it became very difficult to communicate with her about long-term care decisions. You know what my family could have used, way back when we first realized that my mother had a progressive neurological disease, even before we had a specific diagnosis? A fucking death panel. Voluntary counseling sessions helping seniors to plan for end-of-life medical care. If someone had sat us down, as a family, including my mother while she could still communicate clearly and thus advocate for herself, and told us tactfully but directly that there would come a time when she would not be able to express her wishes, and that we should figure out now what she wanted then, our lives would have been, if not easier, less painful now. Because, the way it is, my stepfather and I are really just guessing. We don’t know if she would like a DNR directive, for instance. We don’t know if she would want to be buried or cremated. We don’t know what state she would want to be buried in, for god’s sake. We decided to enroll her in a neurological study (which involves an autopsy after her death) because she used to be a scientist and we think she would appreciate contributing to science even in her death. But that’s actually just an assumption we have made. We don’t know. We’re guessing.

Some of this, surely, is about family communication. Maybe we could have been more open with each other about death in general, or about our personal beliefs. But I don’t share a religion with my parents; my mom and stepfather don’t share a political ideology; we don’t necessarily have common ground to start with in our beliefs about death and care. My mom could have written a living will before she got so sick; she probably should have. Except, like the rest of us, she was scared out of her mind at what was happening to her, and she wasn’t thinking clearly about the future, because the future seemed impossibly distant compared to the terrifying immediacy of now. It took my stepfather and me almost a year to convince her to go to a neurologist in the first place; I can’t imagine that we could have, on our own, convinced her to imagine herself dying so that she could write down what we should do with her corpse.

That’s why we need counselors, professionals who know what it means to face end-of-life care and who know, pragmatically, what decisions have to be faced while you still have time to think. My family has been struggling on our own for years to coordinate my mother’s medical care while helping her have some semblance of a social life. Engaging hospice care was emotionally brutal, because it meant acknowledging that she was dying. I guess Sarah Palin and her cronies would call that giving up. But what it really meant was that we finally could get the resources we needed — medical, social, and personal — to give my mom some dignity. We are not just collections of organs that sometimes go bad. We are whole people, and counseling should be a part of medical care. When my mom was just profoundly ill, it was a family problem. Now that my mom is “officially” at the end of her life, it is a community effort: both publicly run (hospice care) and privately volunteered (help from her church community).

We are so terrified of death in this country — so sure that if we just do everything right, we will never face it, so sure that death is something that only happens to the very bad or the very old — that the idea of a counselor sitting you down to discuss your ideas about death petrifies people. We refuse to look at the reality of death, the fact that our minds are actually part of these bodies we live in, and that means they will one day cease. Death, in and of itself, is not a tragedy: it is part of our humanity. The tragedy here is that there are politicians trying to convince you that Obama wants to kill your grandma, when what he really wants is to protect my mom.

What’s the point of judicial power if you don’t have Girl Power?

Here’s the thing about Robin Givhan, the WaPo‘s fashion journalist. She frequently writes about fashion in contexts that should make for fascinating readings: the images portrayed by women in power, and how their stylistic choices reflect (or, often, deflect) our expectations of femininity. Sounds right up our alley, no? But here’s the other thing about Givhan: she’s bad at it. To be more precise (and more fair), she’s not bad at writing, and she’s not bad at fashion; she’s just bad at feminism. Sure, I don’t need all reporters in the world to be feminist (but, oh, what a world that would be!), but if your beat consists of analyzing fashion and gender, and you’re not doing it through a feminist lens, you may as well work for Cosmo.

Givhan made herself infamous in the feminist blogosphere by dedicating an entire article to Hillary Clinton’s cleavage and how “unnerving” it supposedly was, during campaign season, natch. (Choice quote: The cleavage, however, is an exceptional kind of flourish. After all, it’s not a matter of what she’s wearing but rather what’s being revealed. It’s tempting to say that the cleavage stirs the same kind of discomfort that might be churned up after spotting Rudy Giuliani with his shirt unbuttoned just a smidge too far. No one wants to see that. But really, it was more like catching a man with his fly unzipped. Just look away!) Now she’s weighing in on Sonia Sotomayor, claiming that for her hearings, Sotomayor chose to eschew femininity altogether. In maddening but typical fashion, she fails to even remotely discuss why Sotomayor might make such a choice, instead dissing her for being stuck in the ’80s — which is so hot right now, unless you’re a lady judge, of course. (See Jezebel for a great comparison of Sotomayor’s look to the “1980s lady power broker” that Givhan claims she’s channeling. Maybe Givhan isn’t that good at fashion after all.)

Whether or not you agree with Givhan’s premise that Sotomayor “embraced that period in fashion when femininity had no place in the executive suite” (for the record, I don’t), you’d think Givhan might at least mention the fact that Sotomayor’s status as a Vagina American has actually been a point of contention and debate in the past few weeks. Givhan sidles up to a gender-based analysis, but then she gets distracted by shiny things or something and doesn’t follow through:

In recent years, it’s been men in Sotomayor’s position, with their hands raised as they promise to tell the truth. In matters of aesthetics they’ve had it easy. They needed only to wear a tidy dark suit with an unstained tie and a crisp dress shirt. A fresh haircut was always a wise move. Meeting these meager requirements has sometimes been a struggle. Still, both Samuel Alito and John Roberts were mostly unremarkable when they appeared before the Judiciary Committee.

Sonia Sotomayor didn’t try to imitate the boys by assembling androgynous ensembles. That would not have gone over at all. Too dark a palette or too sleek a silhouette would have looked too urbane. Too unapproachable. Too minimal. Too suspiciously New York liberal.

Sotomayor avoided wearing clothes so bland that they faded into the background and left her looking dowdy and retiring and like she was trying to remake herself into something she is not. Based on her résumé and her life story, “flat” and “dull” are not adjectives that could accurately be applied to the “wise Latina.” So she was not a blur in beige.

Gosh, why do you think men wouldn’t bother doing more than getting a haircut and a dry cleaning before appearing before the Senate (and the nation)? It’s almost like they are evaluated on their accomplishments and qualifications instead of on their color palettes. I guess they’re just lucky!

I can’t believe that Givhan has the nerve to refer to the “wise Latina” comment — which has been widely mocked by white men (who, of course, are Neutral Humans) as a sign of being uppity — in the context of how neutral Sotomayor decided to dress, without even a hint of irony. It’s as though she has no idea that Sotomayor might have a vested interest in appearing nonthreatening to the white men who have been trying to get her to admit she’s some kind of pity nominee. Givhan writes that Sotomayor’s fashion projects the following statement: “I am palatable. I am familiar. And in addition to my ethnicity, I also know how to leave my gender at the door.” AND THEN THE ARTICLE ENDS. Because, I guess, there’s nothing interesting to say about being required to “leave” your ethnicity and gender at the door to the Supreme Court.

For a journalist who writes about fashion in politics, Givhan seems to miss the main point of her own work: fashion is political. Can you imagine the uproar if Sotomayor, a fat (or at least not thin)*, middle-aged Latina, actually showed up at the confirmation hearings in the sheath dresses and bare legs** that Givhan recommends? The powers that be in fashion may have announced that “Strength, femininity and fashion can coexist in the boardroom as well as on Capitol Hill,” but I’m pretty sure that these guys didn’t get the fucking memo.

*ETA: I am actually not sure at all if Sotomayor is fat or “Hollywood fat,” but her body shape is still not one we would see in a lot of the fashion magazines that apparently should dictate her every move.

**IIRC, the Bush White House required women to wear pantyhose to work (though I can’t find a link for that at the moment).

Now that’s what I call a surgeon general

It appears that Obama and his administration, while educating themselves admirably on health care issues as they’ve been doing for the past several months, have also clued in to the fact that there are doctors who aren’t on TV. Even before the inauguration, there were reports that  Obama had asked Sanjay Gupta, a fatphobic blowhard of a TV doctor, to be his surgeon general (as Kate said at the time, “what, the Australian dude from ‘House’ wasn’t available?”). Six months later, Gupta having taken himself out of the running, they have suddenly hit what looks to me like a hole in one.

Meet Regina Benjamin. She runs a rural family health clinic serving the poor and underserved. It’s been destroyed twice by hurricanes George and Katrina, and she’s rebuilt it from the ground up. She believes in education and public health care. She’s won a MacArthur and several humanitarian awards. Bonus: she’s kind of fat.

Now, it’s not like having a fat surgeon general automatically means that she’ll be sensitive to fat issues. Some of the ugliest attacks we hear come from fellow fatties who find it terrifying when we tell them they don’t have to suffer. And Dr. Benjamin’s father died of diabetes-related complications, though I don’t know what type, so she probably feels very strongly about at least some of the diseases that are associated with fat — if she thinks they’re also unequivocally caused by fat, she may go ahead with the calls for public anti-obesity measures. They just won’t be as offensive to me as Gupta’s would have been because she seems like a real nice lady.

But this does mean that there’s a chance, however small, that Dr. Benjamin understands that fat is not automatically inimical to health. And her position as a doctor in a poor rural area probably means that she is more sensitive to the effects of poverty on health and food access, and might understand that lack of access to good nutrition or unbiased health care or leisure for activity — not fat bodies themselves — are problems to be solved. That’s a chance I didn’t expect us to get.

The surgeon general is often mocked as being a symbolic role, but it is possible to effect some change in the position, even if many people don’t — especially now, when the health system is potentially in overhaul. What would you want Dr. Benjamin to be aware of? What kinds of changes would you want her to instigate?

(P.S. go here for a much thinkier and generally better analysis of reactions to Benjamin’s body type.)

The Obamas: Just like us!

Jezebel points us to a maddeningly obtuse series of recent articles about the Obamas’ eating habits. (There’s even an [unofficial] Obama food blog, for the truly obsessive.) Apparently the Obamas are baffling the pundit class by sometimes eating vegetables, and sometimes eating burgers. It’s true! Apparently this magical family is able to eat French freedom French fries in moderation! Can you believe it?

First up is professional fake feminist Maureen Dowd,* who claims Obama is “sending mixed signals on food” by eating different things at different times. Dowd seems to think that the true Obama is some kind of dieting, Whole Foods-loving nancy boy:

It was easy to imagine a scenario where the president and his body man, Reggie Love, would have their own early-morning TV show called “Downward Facing Dawn,” coaxing a reluctant nation into a regimen of yoga and yogurt.

But then he goes to Five Guys and eats a delicious burger! I think I can speak for all Americans when I say: WHAT THE FUCK OH DEAR GOD SOMEONE PLEASE TELL ME WHAT I’M ALLOWED TO EAT

Dowd concludes that this is all some sort of PR move to correct from Obama’s apparently still tragic arugula moment.

Also baffled is the wonderfully named Erika Lovley of Politico. Apparently, the Obamas’ meal plans are a direly needed piece of our national health care plan.

Nutrition experts, too, say Americans need a much better glimpse of what’s being dished up behind the gates of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. “We have no idea what their regular breakfasts, lunches and dinners are like,” said American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and D.C. nutritionist Katherine Tallmadge. “Burgers, that’s all I ever hear about. They go to burger joints because it shows they’re just like everybody else, but everybody else is overweight.”

Dude! It’s like, when I go to Chili’s, everyone is totally fat, but then the Obamas are there too! What does it all mean?

Well, apparently at least one person in the White House is on board with not obsessing about the specious good food/bad food dichotomy: the White House Chef, Sam Kass, who is quoted as saying, “We try not to do diets, as opposed to just change our lifestyle […] A diet means you’re inherently going to fall off of it.” Hey, where have we heard that before? Of course, for many people “lifestyle change” is a code word for “diet,” but in the context of complete media obsession over the fact that the Obamas, you know, eat, Kass’ statement stands out as a beacon of sanity.

And then, god help us all, Lovley quotes everyone’s favorite “obesity expert,” our old friend MeMe Roth, who notes that President Obama already smokes so he’d better put down that damn burger or everyone in America is going to die of a heart attack. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing just a wee bit.) Now, we’ve said this before, but I’m gonna say it again for good measure:

Dear Journalists of America,

MeMe Roth is not an expert on anything. She is a deeply troubled woman who wants everyone in America to hate themselves as much as she does. Even the New York Times is running articles about what a nutjob she is. Please, for your own integrity, stop quoting her. On anything.


Sweet Machine

Now, back to the Obamas and their completely incomprehensible eating: it seems to me that they might just be following the Kate Harding Lifetime Diet Plan. They eat what they want, which is sometimes arugula and sometimes a big old burger. They exercise and they go to the doctor when necessary, and they go on living their fabulous lives. Maybe the very reason that Obama can sometimes just pick at his fries instead of shoving them into the presidential gullet is that he knows he can have fries another day if he likes. The man is the president of the United States, after all. Do we really want him to obsess over whether he should order his salad dressing on the side?

I know that this isn’t the first time that a President’s gustatory preferences have been drummed up into a national incident, but this idea that people will eat themselves fat because the Obamas ate fish and chips—while in London!—is only possible in a culture where we are so deeply alienated from our own bodies that we cannot be trusted to use food. Are you insulted? I sure as hell am. I voted for Obama because I wanted a grownup in charge of the country for once.

I was hoping this wouldn’t be necessary, but I think this is clearly the best way out of a bad situation. President Obama, if you’re reading this,** maybe this will help:

It'll look nice on the wall of the Oval Office

It'll look nice on the wall of the Oval Office

*Seriously, why does ANYBODY mistake MoDo for a feminist, ever? Is it because she is a woman with a job?

**I assume you’re a lurker.

Read ‘Em

-Lauredhel: Fat acceptance and Oppression Olympics fail on The Gruen Transfer 

An excellent elaboration of Rule 11, among other things.

The critique of the panellists completely fails to connect this one simple fact: That arguing “you wouldn’t tell racist or homophobic jokes, so why tell fat jokes?” misses the point that people do tell racist and homophobic jokes. Bram Williams alludes to this near the end of the segment, but the dots are not connected. These jokes are everywhere. The jokes in the this advertisement all have resonance because we’ve all heard them all before.

So how is the ad supposed to work? “We’ve conquered racism, now let’s work on fatphobia?” “We’ve conquered homophobia, now let’s work on fatphobia”? “Fatphobia is the last acceptable prejudice”? We haven’t, and it’s not. And it’s downright offensive for a bunch of white sexist blokes working on their personal growth to try to create traction by stomping all over other oppressed groups.

-NYT: Striking a pose for girth

-So much wrong with that headline, but it’s a pretty good article on Yoga for Fatties. (My only real gripe is the line about the use of props in a plus-size class, which implies that said props are unique to those classes — fatties can’t hack it! — as opposed to being a staple of beginning Iyengar yoga that about a zillion different schools have adopted.)

Anyway. I’ve heard this “we shouldn’t be shunting fat folks into separate classes” argument before, and while I do think it’s true that ALL yoga teachers should be trained in modifications for fat bodies, the reality is that even if they are, they won’t necessarily have the time to devote to helping fat students in a big class. And a lot of them aren’t trained, and have never thought about how fat might interfere with the typical expression of some poses. And a lot of them are teaching at gyms where body shame is the norm. And probably most importantly, plus-size yoga classes provide a safer space for fat people who want to try yoga but are intimidated by the thought of walking into a room full of thin people in spandex. So I’m a big fan of the concept, but I would absolutely like to see more awareness of fat people’s needs among general yoga teachers. (Thanks to a Damsel writer for the tip.)

-If you missed it, Obama thinks workplace “wellness” programs are a swell idea and has a team studying the “best” ones and “explor[ing] the feasibility of developing such a plan for federal employees and their workplaces.” FANFUCKINGTASTIC. That totally won’t fan the flames of employment discrimination against fat people or bring yet more fat-shaming into yet more offices. It’ll just make us all HEALTHEEEEEE!

As Zuzu, the first person who sent this to me, said in an e-mail:

If we had single-payer, these things wouldn’t be tied to keeping your job, and if doctors didn’t have to deal with bill collecting instead of providing care in the first place, maybe there would be enough resources for prevention of the kinds of diseases that doctors are always associating with being fat and overlooking in thinner people. Which would mean lower costs, since things would be caught early, what with people not having to do things like walk out of the ER with head injuries or refuse necessary treatment because it’s too expensive.  Or wait until a condition becomes life-threatening and expensive to treat before seeking help.  

I can’t really top that.

-This has been up on the sidebar via Twitter for a couple of days, but Marjorie Ingall wrote a terrific essay on dealing with kids’ curiosity about fat people — how do you teach them not to scream, “Hey, look at the fat lady!” without reinforcing the message that fat is bad? We discussed this topic a bit on the thread about Joy Nash’s “Staircase Wit” video, but I’m still not sure I know what the answer is.

All right, that’s all I’ve got right now. Reminder to Chicago Shapelings: I’ll be selling/signing books and hanging out at Vive la Femme, 2048 N. Damen, tomorrow evening (5/15) from 6-8 p.m. There will be awesome fat people, awesome plus-size clothes for sale, and refreshments! And if you’re interested in hanging out afterwards, let us know over at the Ning site.

1,000 calories a day: Officially not torture

Via Rachel at The-F-Word, the HuffPo is reporting that calorie restriction was a Bush-administration-approved torture technique, and the justification for its legality was that people do it voluntarily. We just call it “dieting” instead of “torture.”

In a footnote to a May 10, 2005, memorandum from the Office of Legal Council, the Bush attorney general’s office argued that restricting the caloric intake of terrorist suspects to 1000 calories a day was medically safe because people in the United States were dieting along those lines voluntarily.

“While detainees subject to dietary manipulation are obviously situated differently from individuals who voluntarily engage in commercial weight-loss programs, we note that widely available commercial weight-loss programs in the United States employ diets of 1000 kcal/day for sustain periods of weeks or longer without requiring medical supervision,” read the footnote. “While we do not equate commercial weight loss programs and this interrogation technique, the fact that these calorie levels are used in the weight-loss programs, in our view, is instructive in evaluating the medical safety of the interrogation technique.”

This is like saying that because people voluntarily engage in e-stim, it’s totally safe to zap detainees’ genitals. I’m going to set aside for a moment my extreme revulsion at the bureaucratic justification of torture — because I really cannot string together words strong enough to express how horrified I am by my own government in this matter — and focus on the whole, you know, dieting is torture thing.

This is what people who say “just put down the baby donuts, fatty” want you to undergo: something so mind-destroying that the Bush administration thought it would make you confess to terrorist acts. “Without requiring medical supervision,” my ass. The first thing I thought of when I read that was zombie z’s comment from this post:

zombie z: You want to know what makes me fucking CRAZY?!

As a thin anorexic, I was told over and over again that 500, 800, 1000, sometimes even 1200, calories a day wasn’t enough to even keep someone alive. I was told I should be eating 1800-2500 calories a day.

As a normal-sized anorexic, I was told (by a doctor) that I could “eat 800 calories a day and exercise and still lose some weight.”

Doctors are not immune from fat prejudice, as zombie z’s comment so distressingly demonstrates. The reason people don’t have medical supervision while doing Jenny Craig or WW is not because those diets are so clearly safe; it’s because they’re so clearly normalized as part of the (female) American experience. Feeling fat? Go on Weight Watchers! Everybody does it! If it doesn’t work it’s because you cheated and had some cough drops or carrots or something, not because it’s designed to fail so that you’ll have to pony up your money again next year.

We are firmly through the looking glass on this one. Diets feel torturous,* but doctors say fatties should go on them because duh, you’re fat — but if you’re thin, watch out! That’s not enough to live on, you’ll starve! The professional torture apologists say that diets are perfect because they feel like torture, but they must not be because look at all those fatties on them — they’re not being tortured, right? It’s voluntary and no one would volunteer for torture, which is why we only approve things that feel like torture but aren’t torture. If you object that there is no moral or physical difference between something that feels like torture and something that is torture — that the definition of torture is about how it feels — well, you’re just a liberal pantywaist. And you could probably stand to drop a few pounds.

*Now would be a good time to refresh your memory on the Minnesota Starvation Experiment, in which subjects went mad on 1600 calories a day.