Dieting/WLS, Fat, Media

Today’s Train of Thought Is a Local

The first stop is Freakonomics, which I read right after it came out. Like the rest of the world, I thought it was tremendously cool, but I was stunned to see the authors refer to a known urban legend — that of Orangejello and Lemonjello — as fact. In her breakdown of similar African-American name myths — think Female, Placenta, Chlamydia, Vagina, Eczema — Barbara Mikkelson of Snopes gets right to the heart of why these stories are so sticky:

Legends of the “kid named Eczema” ilk attempt to reinforce belief in the rightness of racism or regionalism. Just as parables were used in the Bible to communicate in a simple-to-understand form a behavior thought worthy of emulation, racist legends try to drive home the point that the looked-down-upon group is inherently inferior….

The more stories like these are told, the more the message of them is worked into the fabric of the people exposed to them. Hearing the “kid named Eczema” story again and again makes it that much more easy to think of Blacks as less intelligent.

I recall reading (though I can’t find a link right now) that Levitt and Dubner admitted the error, and Orangejello and Lemonjello do not appear in revised versions of Freakonomics. But what I do have a link to is Laura Wattenburg’s quoting of their original justification for including the legend:

Although these names have the whiff of urgan legend about them — they are, in fact, discussed on a variety of websites that dispel (or pass along) urban legends — the authors learned of the existence of OrangeJello and LemonJello from Doug McAdam, a sociologist at Stanford University, who swears he met the twin boys in a grocery store.

Dudes. You went to the trouble of Googling, discovered that these names are indeed “discussed on a variety of websites that dispel (or pass along) urban legends,” and yet, you still believed it was true because you know a guy who swears he met them? For fuck’s sake, THAT’S HOW URBAN LEGENDS WORK. Hey, here’s something for the Freakonomics sequel: my cousin and her boyfriend were making out in a car, when they heard on the radio that an escaped convict was loose in the area…

Wattenburg does an excellent job of questioning Dubner and Levitt’s “analytical rigor” with regard to names. (They predicted, for instance, that Emma and Grace would become mainstream names — “unlikely as it seems” — when both were already in the top 15). In a different entry about the Freakonomics take on traditionally black and white names — the section of the book where Orangejello and Lemonjello appeared — she also blows a big hole the simplistic thesis that giving children “black” names will harm their chances of success.

All “black” names aren’t created equal. Take two examples from Levitt’s “blackest names” list, DeShawn and Terrance. Both may send the same skin-color signals, but they send very different cultural signals. (Just as, say, Beatrix and Shyanne are equally white names that send different cultural signals.) Look at Emily and Lakisha, from the title of the resumé paper. Emily, an old familiar classic, is the #1 name in America; Lakisha, an invention of the 1970s, has never cracked the top 1000. How can you compare such wildly different names and expect a pure reading on the effects of race?

She goes on to talk about other research which suggests that a name’s socioeconomic indicators were, in fact, much more important than the racial indicators:

A name like Dwayne, which was strongly African-American but carried no socioeconomic markers, didn’t affect teachers’ expectations. But a name like Da’Quan, with multiple signals of economic status, did.

The resume study she refers to above involved researchers sending fake resumes with either strongly black names (Lakisha, Jamal) or strongly white names (Emily, Greg) in response to help wanted ads. The white names got a lot more callbacks — and I don’t doubt that racism played no small part in that. However, even in the abstract to the paper (the full version of which I haven’t read), the authors remark, “Applicants living in better neighborhoods receive more callbacks but, interestingly, this effect does not differ by race.”

Much like the “obesity paradox” only being paradoxical if you believe the hype about obesity in the first place, that result is only “interesting” if you’re focused on race to the exclusion of socioeconomic status. The reality is, racism is inextricably intertwined with classism. Prising apart the specific prejudices is tricky, if not impossible, work. And the problem with looking at “black” names without distinguishing between Da’Quan and Dwayne is that the conclusion then becomes, “Don’t give your children black-sounding names if you want them to succeed. Deny your heritage and give them a shot at being mistaken for white at least until they get in the door.”

But would a black woman named Shyanne have any more luck on the job market than one named Lakisha? I’m thinking no. Would Terrance face more discrimination than Kody? Unlikely. Would Shanda Lear have had the same shot at success if she weren’t the daughter of a ridiculously wealthy man? Doubtful. White people name their kids some crazy shit. But if you’re the kind of person who actually believes someone you know met African-American twins named Orangejello and Lemonjello — even after checking it out on the fucking internet — it makes perfect sense that “black” names would be a liability and “white” names a boon, period. You don’t need to think about it any harder than that, because your biases have been confirmed. And so you feel confident telling people that if they want their kids to succeed, they need to give them names that sound “whiter” — not names that sound more middle-class, which might actually help.

Now, for many white people, those biases are probably unconscious. They come from being steeped in the sort of culture in which racist urban legends are passed around just as funny stories; the rules are, you’re not allowed to examine the implications of an African-American woman insisting that “Vagina” is the most beautiful name she’s ever heard, ’cause if you do, you’re a humorless prig. So the story propagates itself, and few people unequivocally call bullshit on it, for fear of being the party pooper. That’s a racist culture at work. And it’s only one small example of the myriad ways in which we’re subtly trained to see certain groups of people as inherently other and lesser, to the point where we start drawing “logical” conclusions about them from false, damaging stereotypes.

Which brings us to our next stop on this train of thought: last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, in which Dubner and Levitt opine about weight loss surgery. Now, before we even get to the part they wrote, I need you to go look at the Magazine’s home page, where the blurb about the article tells us exactly what question the freakeconomists will be answering:

Why do obese people choose a drastic solution for a relatively simple problem?

For real. It says that. Go look. Obesity is a “relatively simple problem,” which is, of course, why the diet industry is flagging, Americans are getting thinner, and the billions that used to be spent on obesity research have been diverted to finding a cure for cancer.

Oh, wait.

And it only gets better from there!

The thrust of the article is that “bariatric surgery seems to fit in nicely with the tenor of our times” — said tenor being illustrated by the difference between Jeopardy and Deal or No Deal. No, really. Contemporary Americans are brainless and lazy, as evidenced by our choice in game shows, so weight loss surgery is right up our alley.

Where to fucking begin?

How about with the fact that they’re presenting bariatric surgery as a “quick fix” for obesity — casually brushing aside the side effects (“The operation often produces complications — physiological ones, to be sure” is the entire nod to what can go wrong physically, apart from the oh-so-trivial mortality rate), and touting the health benefits shown by “one recent analysis” that’s never named. In fact, the only “expert” who is named is Marc Bessler, a bariatric surgeon. And in a CYA move reminiscent of the “Orangejello and Lemonjello may have a whiff of urban legend about them, but we totally buy it anyway,” they have this to say about relying on Bessler’s expertise:

While asking a bariatric surgeon if bariatric surgery is a good idea might seem akin to asking a barber if you need a haircut — in fact, Bessler does consult for companies in the industry — the data seem to back up his claims…

The data in question then comes from the aforementioned “recent analysis,” and also some “research.” That’s exactly how specific they get when talking about sources other than Bessler, even though the whole point of drawing on other sources is to head off criticism that their information came from someone with a vested interest in selling bariatric surgery. Let’s hear it for intellectual rigor!

And now, I just have to quote:

There are at least two ways to think about the rise in bariatric surgery. On the one hand, isn’t it terrific that technology has once again solved a perplexing human problem? Now people can eat all they want for years and years and then, at the hands of a talented surgeon, suddenly bid farewell to all their fat. There are risks and expenses of course, but still, isn’t this what progress is all about?

On the other hand, why is such a drastic measure called for? It’s one thing to spend billions of dollars on a disease for which the cause and cure are a mystery. But that’s not the case here. Even those who argue that obesity has a strong genetic component must acknowledge, as Bessler does, that “the amount of obesity has skyrocketed in the past 30 years, but our genetic makeup certainly hasn’t changed in that time.”

So the cause is, essentially, that people eat too much; and the cure is, essentially, to eat less.

Okay, let’s start with their understanding of how people get fat enough to be candidates for WLS. You sit around stuffing your face for years, until the “talented surgeon” saves the day. IT’S SCIENCE!

Jesus fucking Christ. Guess what? I’ve been eating all I want for years, and I’m not fat enough to be a candidate for WLS anywhere except Tijuana. The thing about eating what you want in the quantities you want is, you eventually get full and stop. This is what’s called “eating in a non-disordered way.” I swear to god, some people must have learned every last thing they know about fatness from the Mr. Creosote sketch. And too goddamned many of those people have publishing contracts.

Furthermore, as Shapelings are well aware, people with different metabolisms will gain different amounts of weight from eating the exact same things. My belief in genetic setpoints has as much to do with the fact that I’m not very fat as with the fact that I am fat. I come from a fat family, and except for when my father’s on one of his occasional starvation diets, I’m the thinnest person in it by a substantial margin. It’s not because I was raised on different food, or developed markedly different eating habits (except as compared to my sister who actually has an eating disorder). It’s because I got the less-fat genes, just like I got the only blonde wavy hair genes in the family, and my sister M. got the only green eyes. I can eat the same as my brother and non-disordered sister, and I won’t get as fat as they will. I routinely eat more than Al, who’s quite a bit fatter than I am, not to mention a foot taller. I eat WAY more than The Rotund, who’s pretty close to my height and weighs over a hundred pounds more. Etc., etc., etc. You’ve all heard this song before, but apparently some people are still not fucking getting it.

Speaking of genetics, I love how they casually insist that even if I believe fatness is basically hereditary, I must acknowledge that obesity rates have “skyrocketed” in the last 30 years. Um, no, I don’t think I will acknowledge that until somebody shows me proof that the average weight gain has been more than, say, 10 lbs. That ain’t skyrocketing, bub. That’s barely hopping, especially when it corresponds to a gain in height and an aging population. But the “skyrocketing” obesity rates have officially become an urban myth now. Everyone knows we are SO MUCH FATTER, there’s no point in doing something so silly as fact-checking that statement anymore.

Not to mention, even if it were true, I love how they — and practically everyone who throws this myth around — just stop thinking altogether after they conclude that this recent skyrocketing of obesity rates can’t possibly be genetic. No, it certainly couldn’t be genetic, if there were really some astonishing increase in the average American’s weight over 30 years. But, setting aside the fact that there hasn’t been — and the fact that the “obesity” classification is based on BMI — do you really believe it could be caused by millions of people suddenly starting to overeat enough to make the obesity rate skyrocket? All at the same time? For no apparent reason? That somehow, in the late 1970s, Americans were gripped by a form of mass hysteria that made us all start eating like goats? What the fuck?

Oddly enough, people don’t generally think that one through. Americans are getting fatter (so they say), and it can’t be genetic, so the “logical” conclusion is that the cause of and cure for obesity are not a medical mystery: “the cause is, essentially, that people eat too much; and the cure is, essentially, to eat less.”

Boy, thank god Levitt and Dubner came along, because I CERTAINLY DON’T KNOW ANY FAT PEOPLE WHO EVER THOUGHT OF THAT. That tip about hanging a bag of something foul-smelling around your neck and opening it every time you want to eat is super helpful, too — ’cause that’s totally not disordered behavior! Got any other “commitment devices” the pro-ana crew can crib there, boys?

Finally (although I could go on for about a million more pages, so rife is this article with ill-considered statements), the idea that people “suddenly bid farewell to all their fat” after WLS is such bullshit, I don’t even know where to begin. Even the people who do lose weight and keep it off after WLS haven’t found a magic pill that makes the fat melt away; they’ve gone through major surgery that makes them unable to eat normally for the rest of their lives. It’s not fucking quick fix; it’s a lifetime of not being able to process food the way human beings are supposed to be able to, and even then, it doesn’t guarantee weight loss. I fucking love how what this article comes down to is, “Bariatric surgery is totally awesome, but you should feel guilty about having it anyway, because it’s the lazy way out!” Not that you should be wary of having it because it might kill you, or leave you permanently malnourished — you should feel like a failure if you have it, because the hardworking person’s “cure” for fatness is to simply eat less.

Never mind that eating less is what weight loss surgery is all about. Never mind that people turn to weight loss surgery because they are so desperate not to be fat, they will commit to letting someone fuck with their healthy organs and spending the rest of their lives eating ridiculously tiny portions of food, making up for the forced malnutrition with vitamin supplements, all because it might mean taking weight off permanently.

Those people just don’t want to do the hard work of eating less. And/or they just never thought of it and were waiting for a New York Times article to tell them the real cure for fatness has been found! EAT LESS! IT’S THAT SIMPLE!

It’s that simple, but fat people are just too dumb or lazy to follow through. You know what that is, my friends? A myth, if not technically an urban one. And just like the Orangejello and Lemonjello legend, it’s designed to “drive home the point that the looked-down-upon group is inherently inferior.” Dubner and Levitt seem to have a real gift for spreading those around.

61 thoughts on “Today’s Train of Thought Is a Local”

  1. Hey, my hairdresser’s name is DeShawn, and he’s whiter than the middle slice of Wonder Bread.

    White people name their kids some crazy shit.

    Like Apple, or Freedom, or Dweezil. But when a white person – especially a rich white person – gives a child an odd name it’s creative or merely pretentious. When a person of color does the same, it’s ignorant and low-rent. Sheesh.

    Although I admit being a bit bemused a few years ago when my tiny school boasted both a Prince and a Vanity in the same grade. What are the odds?

  2. Shit, dude, you’ve got a whole A-Rod’s worth of quadrangles in just one post! But if there’s any such thing as an 8-run homer, this is it:

    I swear to god, some people must have learned every last thing they know about fatness from the Mr. Creosote sketch.

    But you know, when I thought of Lemonjello, I kept thinking of those two brothers with the last name Lemongello who enjoyed a brief period of notoriety in the 1970s– Peter (a singer) and Mark (a pitcher for the Houston Astros). If it could be someone’s last name, surely it could be somebody’s first name. But like you said, show us the proof.

    Oh, I so hope those Freakonomics dudes read this. I think their heads might asplode.

  3. Did you see the article about the study on how people whose names begin with C and D get lower grades at school? And how people choose their occupation based on their initials, etc. etc.? It sounds really similar.

    As for the theory that we all suddenly started to to eat more, that’s a really good point and one I hadn’t given much thought to. Have you read Morgan Spurlock’s “Don’t Eat This Book”? He basically describes how, in all other eras in history, people thought gluttony was bad. But now, with the EVIL FAST FOOD INDUSTRY, and COMMERCIALS, people have decided we should just eat, eat, and eat, and we’re throwing our caution to the wind. So there’s your answer – it’s the big bad corporations that convinced us to overeat. It’s practically brainwash!

  4. My husband really enjoyed Freakonomics so I read it. I hated it. It was lacking in rigour all the way through. I mean, sure, it’s cool to ask new questions and draw new interesting conclusions, but could you at least use some established statistical and scientific concepts in the process? And not make trivial errors?

    WLS as the easy way out indeed. This article has inspired me. I think I will sit on my ass and eat as much as I can for the next couple of decades and then use WLS as the cheap easy way to reverse my inevitable fatness.

  5. Hear, hear. This is an outstanding post. Also, count me among the people who couldn’t stand Freakonomics. I actually had to stop reading it before even halfway through because I was so put off by the smug tone that attempted to disguise a complete lack of insight. Also, I think the authors need to take a few lessons at Sweet Machine’s Mandatory School for Logic, particularly Fallacy 101: Correlation Does Not Equal Causation.

    Anyone want to donate to a scholarship fund? :-D

  6. Interesting that you guys hated it — I wonder if I’d have the same response now. I definitely didn’t read it very critically — bought it in an airport — and I remember absolutely nothing about it except the Orangejello thing and the “abortion caused the drop in crime” theory everyone was talking about when it came out.

    Unfortunately, I’m not inspired to reread it just to find out if I want to throw it across the room. I’ve got ten bucks toward your scholarship fund, though, SM.

  7. I really do know someone (white) who named her kid Aphasia. Does that mean white people are dumb?

    Hell, if you’re an economist it can mean anything you want it to mean!

  8. First I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who contributes to this site and of course especially Kate. You all have really helped me see through all the bullshit that’s out there. I enjoy the posts immensely.

    Before I started my journey on FA and HAES I was one of those people who thought “My God! Americans are getting so huge… and I am one of them!” I was kind of panicked. This message seemed to be EVERYWHERE. The local paper, the nightly news, sitcoms, grocery store line talk, magazines screaming it all over the place. Run! We are going to explode!!! Then after reading Campos and others I started to take a clearer look. It’s just this massive PROPAGANDA campaign. And people love to hate it. My neighbor who is normally a nice person WENT OFF on fat people the other day. She said she didn’t want to see “them” and their fat in HER magazines or walking down the street with their disgusting bodies. I am ashamed to admit I stood there dumbfounded. I was in no way prepared. I had no idea she harbored such vitriolic sentiments. Then I thought, “Does she realize I am fat?” I mean it’s not like I can hide it. But she talked to me like I was somehow immune to her rant, in a “you know what i mean, nod, wink.” way. I didn’t. I wanted to slam her down with some vicious logic and hard data to wipe that smug look off her face but I was blank. BLANK!!!!! Maybe she was trying to impress upon me the gravity of my own precarious weight situation. I don’t know. But it made me all the more aware that many people love to hate fat, even people who seem nice. And they do indeed seem to take leave of both their compassion AND their brains.

    I don’t know much about WLS but it seems to be anything but quick and easy. And those authors are perfect examples of people who make judgements about fat people and like Kate said they have no fucking idea what they are talking about.

    Side note: I just finished Gina Kolata’s book Ultimate Fitness and I enjoyed it very much. Will open your eyes about THAT whole industry as well. Next is Rethinking Thin and the Gospel of Food. Hee hee!

  9. I never heard of that book until a post traumatic lack of discretion led me to get involved with a man who lacked empathy and treated people like resources to be manipulated instead of human beings.

    He told me that he’d always felt that way, but it was supported by this awesome book called Freakonomics. He loaned me his copy so that I would understand him and learn to be a better manager of my human resources.

    I read the first page and threw the book, and him, out of my life. Thank you for confirming that the book is as poorly constructed and manipulative as it seemed.

  10. I both liked and disliked Freakonomics.

    It’s weird in that I think that part of what made the book so popular is exactly what made it bad.

    I really liked that they were able to do some high level analysis and present it in such a way that non quantitative people could relate to it. I think it is really important that people who think they hate math can read stuff like this and see how economics and statistics can be used in interesting and understandable ways. And what made this book great is that it was written by bothe a scientist and a journalist.

    Also, what made the book suck is that it was written in part by a journalist. A lot of times people who write about stuff like this don’t like the scientist’s tendancy to question their own findings and put in caveats. (just read the NYTs science section.)

  11. This is a great post. Your dissection of the article is very clear and logical. It would be interesting to get a response from Levitt and Dubner. Really. I wonder if they are capable of grasping a new concept.

  12. This is not meant as a racial slur at all, but having worked a few decades in NICU, sadly, we did indeed once have a set of twins names Lemonjello and Orangejello. The mother was quite young.

    And you already know what I think of Freakonomics! :(-

    I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

  13. The funny thing is that on the cover of J. Eric Oliver’s Fat Politics, there’s an endorsement/quote/whatever from the Freakonomics guys on how awesome the Fat Politics book was and how it will change your view on fat. Perhaps a refresher read, along with some Gina Kolata, would be in order.

  14. Sandy, my aunt’s best friend, who is an elementary school teacher in Florida, also had an Orangejello and a LIMEjello in one of her classes. Methinks this is something that started out as an urban legend and somebody heard it and thought “hey, that sounds cool!” and used it.

    Personally, I always thought that a lot of those “ethnic” names like DeShawn or whatever were actually beautifully unique names. But then again, maybe I’m just weird.

    As for this whole WLS is the easy way out crap… B.U.L.L.S.H.I.T.

    Anybody who has had to sit and watch a person who has recently had WLS cut their food into tiny, 1-cm big bites – and eat less than a 1-year old baby – would know it’s not the EASY way out at all. I had to watch my cousin at Easter one year, shortly after her WLS (and about a year or two before she died), and it broke my heart. Even though I hated myself for my fat at the time, it struck me as sad that she had to do that to herself to feel like she was going to be okay. But she was okay to begin with. Fat, yes. But she was a wonderful person, and my life (as well as several others – her husband is absolutely lost without her) is significantly poorer without her in it any more.

    I just can’t wrap my head around the fact that ANYONE would have the gall to say that it’s an easy way out.

    So does that mean that all us depressed/anxious/whatever people should go back to getting lobotomies to “cure” OUR problems too?


  15. Anyone who thinks people weren’t eating a lot 40 or 50 years ago needs to take a look at an old McCall’s magazine from that period. I happened on some once from around 1967 and it was an eye-opener. They had these “family menu planners for 30 days” that included these huge breakfasts with homebaked popovers and omelets, and hugely filling and heavy lunches and dinners. Everything with cream, butter, gravy, Crisco, etc. Not a syllable about cutting out fat or carbs or making the meal “heart healthy” or anything else. And not a drop of olive oil nor a fresh veggie to be found, either.

    Comes back to what I’ve always said: Obesity Panic is almost 95% about guilt-tripping women about having lives outside the home.

  16. My grandmother swears that she knew a Black woman who named her daughter Vagina, but my grandmother is a great big racist so I never believed her.

    Kate, this was a really well written and interesting post. Thanks a lot! I really needed a shot of FA logic today.

  17. I know I’ve mentioned before that I knew a girl named Aquanetta, and Kate called bullshit on it. I really did know her, and because I was curious, I googled the name. Lo and behold, there is more than one real person with the name.

    As for the Freakonomics WLS article, what a waste of column space, NY Times. It was condescending and misguided at best.

  18. I ranted about the black name thing a couple of weeks ago in my blog and I agree, it’s all about racism and classicism. However, weird names are not limited to black folk, in fact, creative spelling and apostrophe abuse are taking rampant hold across the nation regardless of race or class. Except for celebrities, where there are no holds barred (Kal El, God ‘Iss Love, Moxie Crimefighter, Jermajesty, seriously, just do a search for stupid celebrity baby names).

    I also think that no matter who you are, you do have to take into consideration the effect of the name you choose for your child. I’d love Traditional Scottish Name, jr, for the kid, but Mr Oro, in addition to hating his name, has already had so much trouble in the US with people trying to pronounce his name (it’s not even in Gaelic, for the gods sake) that he’s nixed it completely. We’ve found our name and it’s already been mispronounced a few times but that’s okay, it’ll be shortened anyway. My point is that if you’re going to name your child Dayzunique Tylettrell Deiondrianiece or Ja’sheem Day’twain Chris or ESPN or Wilderness Sunshine Lynn-Nicole, well, don’t expect them to end up being CEOs of Chase Manhattan Bank. Why load your kid up with a name that may be perfectly fine in the area where they’re living, but is going to stand out as freaky and weird in some area of the country? It’s cruel and financially unnecessary.

    Why yes, I do have some strong opinions on the subject, why do you ask? And yes, I do have an unusual name, one which I adore.

    And, I do have to correct one thing – several girls were names Placenta – at the turn of the 20th Century! The name has been found in actual government papers and seems to show a short lived naming trend in the South. However, no words whether or not they were black.

    As for the rest of the post, right on!

  19. ESPN? Really? The others I have no trouble believing, but that’s weird.

    FWIW, Prince originally wanted the singer Vanity (nee Denise Matthews) to take the stage name Vagina (pronounced Va-GEE-na), but she nixed it.

  20. wow kate as usual i just love the way you write about people’s stupid fake fat panic and put people in their place :) it’s a nice shot of sanity for the rest of us.

  21. … to the point where we start drawing “logical” conclusions about them from false, damaging stereotypes.

    In my experience, it’s precisely when something seems intuitively right, when it seems as if it’s just common sense, when it seems simple and right and easiest to believe, that I’ve turned out to have relied more on my biases than on evidence and reason. Thing is, the reason so much crapola seems right and true and all that jazz is because it’s congruent with what we’ve been taught, not because we’ve been given any really good reasons to accept it.

  22. I grew up a hippie, so I’ve known people named Tarragon, Curry, Calm, Clearwater & Tree. (I have also heard “Areola”, which I think was intended to be “Aureola”, and perhaps was in spelling. But not pronunciation.)
    Then they grow up and become things like Sarah, Rick, Emily, Mike, John. What’s really interesting to me is how VERY “square” some hippie-children’s self-adopted names are.

  23. Cheeky , I don’t doubt you’ve known an Aquanetta in real life – I have, too. I worked with her about 18 years ago. Oddly, I never associated her name with the hairspray until someone else pointed it out to me.

  24. When I was a kid, all the way through high school, I heard the Orangejello and Lemonjello and Chlamydia myth probably a good dozen times each with absolutely NO reference to race. No one person ever told the story “there was this black woman”, they always just said, “One time some crazy parents named their kids…”, generally with a list of other crazy names, some of which were real and others myths (Pilot Inspektor!!! Justin Case!!! BATMAN!) and so when someone told me it was racist I was completely confused. I was like “What? Who said anything about race?” They had to explain to me that while the version I had always heard didn’t include race, the original one had. I was so completely shocked. It was completely disconcerting. I was feeling guilty, but at the same time thinking I had no reason to feel guilty, because how could I possibly have known, and without race there isn’t anything really offensive about the stories, true or not. It still shakes me up a bit when people bring the stories up.

    As for the rest, Spot. On. I can’t believe people get away with writing this complete crap and how it can just play out like it’s Common Sense, People! Even when I had never heard of fat acceptance, this article still would have struck me as being dangerously cavalier with serious issues. The sick part is knowing there are people out there who will believe every word of it. This is why I like blogs. When I get crappy news from blogs, at least it comes with the knowledge that I’m not the only person who finds it atrocious. When I watch T.V. or open a book or read a paper and it sneaks up on me it is so much more depressing, because then it’s being presented in this Totally Legitimate And Acceptable form that terrifies me.

  25. I’ve mostly heard the freaky name story referencing class. In Canada it was “some Newfies” and here it’s the southerner who called their daughter Valvoline.

  26. awesome post kate m’dear, although im going to go very offtopic to bring you this piece of atrocity:

    “Har, now we can prove that you havent got fat genes! and even if you do, you must do everything in your power to keep thin!

    Whats that? youve been fat all your life, but it turns out you dont have fat genes! YOU SCORE 0 FOR LIFESTYLE, have some gastric banding.”


    If i had your elequency, kate, fillyjonk and sweetmachine, i would write myself into the grave about how fucked up this article is to me, especially the bit where the two women side by side look roughly the same size, but one is mildly overweight, while the other is apparently OBESEOBESEOBESE!

    please tear it to shreds for me, someone. so i can raise my hands and shout PREACH IT SISTA!

  27. Oh yes, my copy of Fat Politics contains a ringing endorsement by Levitt — “it is impossible to read this book without having your view of fat forever changed.” Which proves that either Levitt had little to nothing to do with writing this article, or he never actually read Fat Politics. Allow me to quote a passage from Oliver’s book which directly contradicts his “genetics has almost nothing to do with obesity” argument:

    “Although the average rates of obesity have been on the rise, this growth has not been evenly distributed across the population — some people are getting far heavier than others. Over the past twenty years, the rates of people who are ‘morbidly obese’ (with a BMI of greater than 40) has quadrupled from 0.5 percent to 2 percent of all Americans, an increase that was twice as great as that for ordinary obesity. The fact that most of America’s weight gain has occurred among people who were heaviest to begin with suggests that obesity is rising mostly for those who are biologically susceptible to being fat.”

    I could quibble with parts of Oliver’s book — he seems to think we are shoveling food in as never before, whereas I’ve seen plenty of evidence to the contrary — but unlike Levitt he considers people actually eating when tasty food is available to be, y’know, an inevitability instead of a moral weakness.

  28. Nothing says “easy fix” like cutting up your internal organs!

    Yeah, my obesity has been caused by years of shoving donuts in my mouth. Oh wait – there were all these “diets” I’ve been trying since age 10 too. Apparently, “eating less” never worked for me.

    The great majority of doctors and nutritionists agree that “eating less” is not a successful way to lose weight and keep it off. And it’s also naive to assume that only fat people have terrible eating habits. Apparently, these guys have never seen my thin mom wolf down a whole box of chocolate ice cream in one sitting.

  29. I work at a university and have crazy names come across my desk everyday – Liberty Bell. Prince Charles. Precious. Lone Wolffe. And they’re all given, legal names, not nicknames.

    Its tragic what some parents will do to their children. It borders on abuse.

    The other thing about working in a university is seeing young people non-stop. After seeing another Obesity Crisis story, I actually wondered allowed to one of my coworkers just the other day “Where the hell are all these supposed fat people?” Nothing but veritable size 0s walking into my office all day and almost every one of them paired with a friend or on a cell phone talking about how they need to hit the gym because they ate 2 lettuce leaves. I kid you not. I want to grab them by their boney little shoulders and shake them!

  30. I’m going a little off-topic but since you bought up metabolism you’ve given me an opening to let you all know that I’m starting to get wise to the fact that a 40 lbs weight loss on person my size (down from 155 to 115 over about 8 months) can’t be a normal outcome from eating a few less oatmeal cookies a night. I’ve been losing more than weight now – I’m losing hair. I shake like a leaf, sweat heavily, and can’t sleep at night because of constant trips to the bathroom. My heart races. It’s pretty bad and I’m so stressed out. I’m going to the doctor next week but I suspect I have hyperthyroidism. I have almost all the symptoms and it runs in my family. My mother has it and my grandmother had it so bad she dropped to 85 lbs on her 4’11’ frame before she was diagnosed.

    Almost everyone (with the exception of present company, which should go without saying) thought that I was losing weight through dieting and its twisted definition of “discipline.” I think I’ve been dropping a lot of weight because I’m sick. I’m lucky I was nearly obese before I got this sick or I’d have been vulnerable to becoming dangerously underweight like my late grandmother.

    Fat hatred gives people the illusion that weight loss is always desirable and healthy. I’m proof that’s certainly not always the case. I’d recommend to people who have lost a lot of weight without significant changes to your diets to resist the urge to bask in your newfound societal validation and look into it medically. And the next time someone squeals excitedly about how amazing I look , exclaim I’m “half the size” I used to be and asks me how I did it I’m going to be tempted to tell them that it’s because my sitting heartbeat sometimes goes 125 a minute and just hope they don’t take it as a tip to turn to speed. Although, really, it’s none of their business.

    As for that article, I find it particularly disturbing that they would dismiss WLS as a “easy” option. That’s just sick and totally ignorant. Oh, and sorry I haven’t commented in a while. I get a bit reclusive when I’m sick and I also just got over a flu. Happy Thanksgiving!

  31. OK, I’m tired, and it’s late , and that combination releases my snark valve, so let’s just start with the names.

    Dubner and Levitt.

    Dumber and Levity?

    Laugh-a-lot and Dumbass?


    BTW, KateH, if that woman in earlier paragraphs were named, Shyanne, in answer to your question probably not.

    But Shane?

    Or Cheyenne?

    You’d be surprised.

    Actually, maybe not. It’s like wearing the Spanx to get the prestigious fashion editorial job. Or the rhinoplasty to get the photo on the cover of the book jacket.

    Same Shit, Different Day.

  32. Wow, a lot to comment on…

    Rose, while I’m no medical professional, when you described your symptoms my head was going ‘hyperthyroid!’ before you even mentioned it. I hope you get decent treatment and start feeling better soon.

    apricotmuffins – that’s the (LOL) wonderful Daily Mail for you. I want to know exactly why having ‘six fat genes’ gives you ‘very little genetic cause’ for being overweight – luh? Is there now a gene pecking order in which some of them give you an ‘excuse’ and some don’t? Also I’m unclear on how merely keeping your blood sugar steady stops you putting on weight, and I suspect some diabetics would disagree strongly on that point. And…oh, that photo! The other one, not the two girls. I can imagine the scene in the Mail offices….”OK, guys, we want a pic that says – This is what you SHOULD look like, ladies, ultra-thin and languid and bored, and if you look that way you will be rewarded with a physician who may not know tits about science – if he’s anything like the ‘experts’ from our article – but hey, he looks like an underpants model!’!

    nuckingfutz – yup, this attitude to mental health would NOT be helpful – our government is trying to push CBT, the implication being that if it doesn’t ‘cure’ your depression you’re just not trying hard enough. Sound familiar?

    twilightriver – the behavior that guy was exhibiting sounds very like narcissistic personality disorder. I haven’t read Freakonomics, but I find it completely disgusting if there’s a book out there that appears to justify acting that way. But then, people like that will always find justification.

    OK, now to the original posting…The word “idiot” nicely sums up the WLS article. Bets on whether the doc’s poor old dad actually didn’t get diagnosed in time because he knew his doc would hand him, not a consulatation, an endoscopy and the rest, but Yet Another Diet Sheet….so perhaps put off going till it was way too late. Sigh. Too many other obvious logical errors there to go through.

    My favorite name stories are the little boy born to a Mr. and Mrs. Day of London on February 14th….yes, they named him Valentine, and he grew up to be a brickie and get endless jokes from his workmates. And the Victorian woman so grateful for the newly-royal-approved innovation of ether in childbirth that she named her daughter Anesthesia. Both possibly not true, of course.

    Oddly, I’ve seen in a couple of places recently how there’s supposed to be a spate of south-east Asian couples giving their kids weird names. I can’t vouch for the truth or otherwise of this, but it may be another manifestation of the same kind of racism. I’d never heard the Orangejello thing, but I’m British and grew up in an area with very few people of any racial minority. Most of the more unusual baby names I’ve heard were in the pagan community – Taliesin and the like – and in the UK that’s almost overwhelmingly white.

  33. Shit, I had a whole post written, but I lost it…anyway, in summary:

    Rose, you might want to ask your doc to test you for PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome) as well, as scalp hair loss is one of the big symptoms. My hair started falling out last spring, which is what prompted me to find a diagnosis. Now I’m on metformin, and my hair is growing back in.

    kate, thanks for posting about the NY Times article…I was so infuriated when I read it! ARGHHH! WTF is up these people’s arses?

  34. Excellent!

    “…..just stop thinking altogether”

    That is the definition of the ‘obesity crisis’ the terminus of all thought, that’s why it is one of the most tedious things in the history of the planet.

    “That tip about hanging a bag of something foul-smelling around your neck and opening it every time you want to eat…..”

    This is the bit that really upset me, are they talking about urine, faeces or vomit?

    How is it possible for people with an education to sink so low? And for it to be printed in a serious newspaper.

    What upsets me the most is that people love to go on about people that watch American Idol or whatever being the force behind dumbing down, but to me, if you are educated and you can think, write this stuff and get it published, that is the real ‘dumbing down’.

    People look to education to raise standards, when the educated are debasing standards this much, it’s just too bad.

  35. Oh wow, that daily mail article from apricotmuffins is another brilliant illustration on the same lines as the BMI project.

    You look at those two women, and they look pretty similar in shape and size – the one on the left is perhaps more of an apple and the one on the right more pear-shaped, but they both have reasonably slim faces, and similarly proportioned arms and thighs.

    And yet the one on the left is “borderline normal/overweight” at BMI 25.5 and the other is “obese” at 34.3.


  36. Just a couple of things. I mean, I just don’t know about this whole obesity epidemic, especially compared to yesteryear. I was looking at my mom and dad’s wedding photo… and dad and I were laughing at their stodgy grandmas. They had these real sturdy dresses on and the sunday best shoes were some serious clompers. Dad said that was they way they built grandmas back then. Almost to a one they were like that. And when I look at old photos, I see plenty of heavy people. Nice and fat and plump. Men and women. Young girls and boys and wives and husbands, old and olders. Now, on the other hand, I can remember when I was a kid in my LA grade school, everykid except 2, me and the fat boy Milton, had thighs the same size as their calves and the biggest part of their bodies were the knobby knees. And I was even fat. Just I wasn’t skinny. And yet at that time, mid 70’s, I felt enough pressure to go my first diet in the 3rd grade. Anyway, are we fatter now? I think maybe proportionally yes. And at younger ages. Whose at fault? Many industries make a lot of money claiming it is only personal responsibility. But, man, I think our society makes it really hard. I mean, even if you get all food righteous, it can be maddenly hard to discover what’s actually in food. Unless you’re eating carrots all day, you’re getting stuff that we really have no idea what it does to you. Corn sugar? Some of these preservatives? Poly-unsaturated-what the fuc? And it can be ultimately frustrating dealing with body image issues. In college, I noticed that even the prettiest, skinniest girls still hated their bodies. But I thought that was the end all be all? Skinny and pretty equals succes, right? Then why were all those girls dating the total asses? Anyway, I am one of the less than 5% who have lost more than 70lbs for over 7 years and I practically have to make it a second job- getting food, preparing it, and exercising. Plus, I have to recommit daily, to being healthy and strong not “skinny”. So from personal experience, I know that I could do it with massive lifestyle changes. But thing is, with massive lifestyle changes, I could also be … oh let’s say a master pianist, or stockbroker. Or whatever. I think it’s sorta insane to ask and expect every to do this. I works for me, but like I said, I’m in a tiny minority, and it’s not because I’m some saint. PS> Thanks for a beautiful blog and thankyou everyone for your comments and honesty. I think the community on this blog is awesome.

  37. Kate, you outdo yourself as usual. This made my day, and since it’s Thanksgiving day and I’m still sick, it’s probably the only thing that will make it, so thanks!

    Seriously, awesome post.

  38. Thoroughly reasonable argument, AND shoddy fact checking is clear in the Freakonomics chapter in question, but ‘Temptress’ was real and arguably worse.

  39. But thing is, with massive lifestyle changes, I could also be … oh let’s say a master pianist, or stockbroker.

    And that’s just it. If I make getting and staying thin my life’s work — which is what it would require for me — there’s no room in my life for any other work. I wish those people who dropped lots of weight and kept it off or manage to remain thin with relatively little effort (i.e. those who are able to do it and still have a life) could get that through their heads, that just because it was and remains a piece of (rice) cake for them they shouldn’t assume that’s a universal. “Hard work” doesn’t begin to cover what a lot of us would have to do in order to have any shot at a socially acceptable body.

  40. Meowser, I think that’s basically what Debbie was saying, which is why I approved the comment. She’s chosen to make it her life’s work, and more power to her, but it would be absurd to expect that of everyone.

  41. Oh, I know that’s what Debbie is saying. I think I meant to tip my hat to her for not saying, “Oh, it’s easy, if I could do it so could you.” Sorry I forgot to add that.

  42. I’m a pretty avid reader of the freakonomics blog, as well as some other economics/behavioral economics blogs out there. I’d been wondering if someone would pick up on this story, since, yeah, I was pretty incensed by it.

    I do find the idea of looking at everyday incentives as a way of measuring/predicting/influencing behavior somewhat interesting. And often times there is rigorous if somewhat arbitrary statistical analysis behind it. The problem is sometimes these economists go too far.

    The entire issue of looking at obesity is one of them. Every single economic discussion of the concept I have ever seen makes the basic assumption at the outset that obesity is a function of calories taken in minus calories exerted. Basic metabolic rate, underlying conditions, calories excreted without absorbtion, involuntary expenditure of energy, the very idea that maybe weight is not a linear function, is assumed away.

    From an economic perspective, assumptions are necessary even if often imperfect and the aggregation of mass data can get rid of a lot of the issues it causes. From a nutritional/scientific/anatomical standpoint, however, this is way too much. Both anecdotally and statistically, I know that weight is not a function of calories in and calories out. These may have some importance, but they are dwarfed next to things that the individual cannot control in the long run, no matter the incentives.

    Add in to that the fact that there IS no obesity crisis, that average weight has increased seven pounds as heights are going up, as the ethnic makeup of our country is changing, as the population shifts older (and older people generally weigh more than younger ones), and as we changed our definition of what overweight actually is. No wonder any economic breakdown of obesity is utterly useless. The assumptions are useless.

    If you want to be really geeky about it (and I do!) weight regulation looks a lot more like the classical model than the Keynesian. Yes, overarching policy can lead to an intermediate point which is different from the body’s natural equilibrium, but other mechanisms will kick in at some point to push back to equilbrium in the long run. In the classical model, any attempt to change the macroeconomy in the long run is useless. Sounds a little like the set point to me.

    /reaching new heights of nerdiness

    In refreshing statical news, when I voices my absolute horror at the ads from the NFL telling children to exercise so they don’t get fat this Thanksgiving, I found that my boyfriend’s very statistically minded step-brother jumped right into my own “the obesity propaganda is an absolute scam” arguments, reaching for paper to draw a bell curve and show how there is no crisis, just a subtle shifting of the curve concurrent with demographic changes.

  43. If you want to be really geeky about it (and I do!) weight regulation looks a lot more like the classical model than the Keynesian.

    Entangled, I think I love you.

  44. Rose, that sounds absolutely miserable. I hope you and your doctor figure it out quick!

    In other news, my jaw dropped at that “eating whatever we want for years and years” bit. WTF??? I guess the “omg we’ll all DEVOUR THE WORLD” boogeyman is more pervasive than I thought.

    (I’m eating “whatever I want” right now. It’s a banana.)

  45. Dani, that’s a) horrible, and b) bewildering. Because if it’s malnutrition that does it, then anyone eating ridiculously tiny amounts to lose weight, WLS or not, must be at risk. And yet, the usual place you encounter neuropathy is in big scary lists of the possible complications of Type II diabetes. Which they say you can only avoid by….ho hum…losing weight. But hey, when was any of this stuff ever logical?

  46. Rose, you sound exactly like a friend of mind who had Grave’s Disease. She’s a bit of a thin-is-good freak, so at first she was thrilled to be losing weight while eating dessert three times a day. Then she got scared when she started feeling like her internal motor was running out of control. Her cure was pretty easy, as these things go. I hope you have similar luck.

  47. I work at a university and have crazy names come across my desk everyday – Liberty Bell. Prince Charles. Precious. Lone Wolffe. And they’re all given, legal names, not nicknames.

    We have a bust of Lone Wolf in our living room. We also have relatives living in the town named for him.

    Also I’m unclear on how merely keeping your blood sugar steady stops you putting on weight, and I suspect some diabetics would disagree strongly on that point.

    I have diabetes. When I started eating to my meter (to keep my blood sugar steady) my appetite was cut in half. The blood sugar rollercoaster was what was making me so hungry.

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