Fat, Health at Every Size, Media


That was my head.

Because of this Reuters article, a new regurgitation of the “Fat people don’t know they’re fat!” theme, based on… wait for it….

Here’s researcher Lori Neighbors:

“Most surprising was that many of those classified as overweight didn’t idealize the weight that would be considered normal or healthy weight by objective body mass index standards.”

Objective. Body. Mass. Index. Standards.

And that’s not even the most galling part. That would be these facts, which are mentioned only casually alongside the horror of “overweight” people not being aware of exactly where the BMI cut off for “normal” is.

  • “They found nearly 90 percent of normal-weight women wanted to weigh less…”
  • “Among the underweight women, half of them wanted to remain at the same weight or lose weight.”

But the noteworthy health crisis here is that overweight people don’t want to lose enough weight to put them in the normal category.

And you gotta love this — Neighbors again:

“There seems to be social movements that are really pushing inclusion and a health-at-any-size viewpoint … People are becoming more accepting of heavier body weights and body sizes.”

Yeah, it’s not “health-at-any-size,” it’s Health at Every Size, which includes underweight women and “normal” weight women who think they need to lose weight, as well as all us deluded fatties. I’m not anti-dieting just for fat people over here.

By the way, did you hear that yet another fashion model has died of anorexia? Yeah, I didn’t either, until Rachel covered it. It’s not getting much media attention. Huh.

Ready for another quote from the Reuters article?

The current shape of the underweight women was on average close to their desired body shape, which would keep them in the underweight category.

“Once they’re there, they don’t really want to change,” said Neighbors in an interview.

And again, there is no mention that this is a health problem, no discussion of how underweight women don’t know what a “healthy” weight is. No discussion of how unbelievably fucked up it is that nearly 90% of “normal” weight women want to lose weight. It’s only the “overweightpeople whose health is at risk because of their terrible ignorance.

Of course.

(Thanks to reader Patricia for the tip.)

42 thoughts on “Kaboom!”

  1. That is what totally killed me — women want to lose weight no matter what they weigh, and the story is that fatties just don’t want to lose enough weight?! Unbelievable.

  2. I’m still waiting for the ultimate headline: “You are sick and wrong and you will die horribly!”

    Really, that’s what they’re trying to tell us, isn’t it?

  3. facts, which are mentioned only casually alongside the horror of “overweight” people not being aware of exactly where the BMI cut off for “normal” is.

    I’d be willing to bet my right arm that the reason for that is that a lot of women simply don’t know that the BMI standards have changed in the last ten years.

    Hell, I had absolutely no idea until I found it on one of the posts here. Can you imagine the shock I felt at realizing that even though I weigh the same as I did when I graduated high school, I’m suddenly even fatter than I was then? (Okay, maybe some of you Shapelings can, but most people? Not a fucking clue.)

  4. re: the photo

    Are there photographers out there who make a living snapping unflattering shots of unsuspecting tourists, headless so they don’t have to obtain permission to use/sell the photo? I imagine some creepy guy with a stick-on mustache skulking around Central Park, Disneyland, and/or the US Open Tennis Tournament hiding behind poles and stalking fat people to try and get the least flattering angle, lighting, etc.

    re: the article

    The article states that the current shape of the underweight women was on average close to their desired body shape (as determined by their selection of underweight line drawings of their ideal shape), but half of them wanted to either lose weight or stay steady at their current weight. Yet the writer only referred to “unhealthy body weight” for the men whose reported ideal weights were in the overweight category.

    No judgment for the 90% of with “normal” BMI who wanted to lose weight, which presumably shows a 90% rate of body dysmorphia. No judgment for the underweight who mostly wanted to remain at or below their “underweight” BMIs, which presumably shows a 100% rate of body dysmorphia. The judgment is reserved only for those in the overweight and obese BMI categories, who are charged with body dysmorphia because 50% want to remain overweight or obese in their weight loss efforts.

    The stats provided are a little fuzzy, but that’s what we’re supposed to glean from the article, right? It’s just silly. The most disturbing thing is that many people would just take this without a grain of salt (or an ounce of credulity) and voila – it’s suddenly another “fact” about the overweight to take for granted.

  5. I’d like to know more about the history of these weight issues. I vaguely remember that once (a long, long, long, long, time ago) it was good to be curvy because that meant you were wealthy and could afford food-now it has completely changed. When and why? I’d like to know when the “pick on the curves” campaign became acceptable.

  6. I read the article about the model who died of malnutrition. I am so frustrated it’s hard to find words. Clothes are to keep us warm and protected from the elements. Clothes are to make us feel good when we go out into the world. Fashion should be based on the needs of people but today people base their very lives on the needs of fashion. When did it go so wrong? And why? I just don’t understand how intelligent human beings have come to this place and think this is normal, this is the way it should be.

  7. the abc website has an article about her death, but then at the bottom of the page their is an advertisement with the heading loose 25lbs this month…


  8. It’s interesting, if you read this in conjunction with the research that shows the “overweight” category is ideal for survival, you see overweight and obese people aiming for a good long-term health outcome and smaller women aiming for a good cosmetic outcome at the expense of health. (Not that you can safely make assumptions about the motivations of broad groups of dieters without data.)

  9. Most surprising was that many of those classified as overweight didn’t idealize the weight that would be considered normal or healthy weight by objective body mass index standards.

    I think this part is fascinating. Apparently, there are a fair number of fatties out there who, even when they want to lose weight, don’t want to meet the current cultural “norm”. Who have, in fact, the unmitigated gall to develop their own sense of what’s normal, healthy, and attractive.

    It’s bad enough to fail to conform. To fail to want to conform is even worse. People who don’t conform but really wish they could keep their mouths shut. People who don’t even see the point of conforming are nothing but troublemakers.

  10. Because, um, when you are “overweight” or even, gasp, “obese”, no one ever tells you that you are and you need to lose teh weight. On another note regarding the body dysmorphia, I had a girlfriend who was underweight and drank nutrition drinks to keep her weight up and people would always question that, even her frikkin dr! “You look so good, why are you worried?”

    “Um, because I am cold all the time, my joints hurt when I am this skinny, and I can’t find clothes that fit that don’t make me look I am a 17 year old” (she is in her 40’s).

    I never realized that being too skinny could be hard on the joints- my doctors are always telling me to loose weight for my joints. But she swears, when she could keep that “extra” 20 lbs on, she felt better.

  11. Beth, I can give you my view on the fashion industry by my observations of those who are a part of it:

    Fashion is about “art” and “aesthetics.” Clothes only “hang” right on tall and thin models. Fashion is an “ideal” that normal-sized women can’t be a part of – we’re too “average.”

    But yet, fashion designers who worship these factors have NO problem making money off selling clothes to sizes larger than four. Funny, eh?

  12. C., as you know if you saw his picture with mine in the BMI Project Flickr stream, is “normal” weight (BMI slightly < 21). He and I were just talking at breakfast about how, once you hit your 50s or 60s, weight which crept up over the years starts going down, and how a lot of 70ish and older people (my XH’s dad and uncle among them) wind up being disabled by wasting illnesses that cost them a lot of weight. And C. is concerned that when he gets to be that age he will be too skinny, that he won’t have enough fat on him to survive if he gets sick. He was talking about actually trying to gain a few pounds once he hits his 50s to try to ward off that possibility! When was the last time you heard a woman voice thoughts like that?

    If “overweight” women aren’t all that hot to try to slim down to “normal,” maybe they’ve got the right idea. Maybe they know you won’t be young forever and that all that “extra” weight you artificially starve and sweat off when you’re younger could actually come in handy when you get old, having seen involuntary wasting occur in elderly members of their families.

    But I think it’s more to the point that if you’re a fatass over a certain age (like, maybe 25) you probably suffer from a certain amount of Diet Fatigue, and you know frigging well that no matter how much you sigh over pictures of Keira Knightley and Jennifer Aniston, a) you’re probably not biologically capable of being that thin if you haven’t gotten there by your mid-20s, and b) you’re certainly not about to bust your ass 24/7 like they do to stay that size, because unlike them, nobody’s paying you to do it.

    But just remember: Women Are Always Wrong About Their Bodies (TM). If we like them as they are, we’re wrong, and if we don’t like them, we’re wrong there too. Always keep moving the target to keep the wallets open!

  13. “There seems to be social movements that are really pushing inclusion and a health-at-any-size viewpoint … People are becoming more accepting of heavier body weights and body sizes.”

    THE HORROR!!!! OMGWTFBBQ!!!11!!! Next thing you know, people will want inclusion of different sexual orientations, genders, and races. OH NOES!!!

    Seriously. I can’t take these people’s shit anymore.

    Also, the whole “headless fatty” photo thing is really starting to disturb me, even more than it did before. Every reporter I’ve ever known has talked about wanting to “put a human face” on the issue they are writing about. That’s what they do, that’s what they’re all about, apparently. Human beings respond to human faces. So the whole “headless fatty” thing, in light of this knowledge, really and truly seems like a deliberate and determined effort to utterly DE-humanize fat people, to make it easier to think of us a different species, like cattle going to slaughter, who must never be thought of with anything remotely resembling compassion or respect. I think we as a movement should start calling them on it more. To their faces, if possible.

  14. In the late 90s there was a big push in popular-media weight-loss articles to convey the message that “even a loss of 5% to 10% body weight can significantly improve your health” That was based on 90s findings of small drops in various cardiovascular risk parameters at the 5% and 10% loss marks. The major drugmakers (e.g. Xenical) and weight-loss programs quoted these findings extensively in their professional and consumer advertising. You were SUPPOSED to aim at a modest loss. “Pick a realistic goal, it will help you not get discouraged,” etc. etc. I cannot overstate the volume at which that message was disseminated. (I work in healthcare communications and my job at the time was in that field. Bleah.)

    So, we have:

    Pick a “realistic” weight loss goal of 5% to 10% of your body weight. You’ll see awesome changes in your blood pressure, lipids and insulin sensitivity — and you won’t get discouraged.

    You have chosen a target weight that is higher than the normal BMI range. You are a bad, deluded person. You fail.

    (Meanwhile, almost nobody keeps even the fucking 5%-10% off at the 5-year mark, and most of the few who do are still obsessive exerciser/self-starvers.)

  15. When I was 12 I had a fabulous body! I however, did not know it at the time. I wore size 10! As I got older I did karate, judo, and gymnastics! I was a healthy size 13/14. I was muscular! When I attended college I took up lap swim. I found that to be the best activity! I was somewhere in the 13/14 range. The trouble began with my weight when I got MARRIED! My husband would go lap swimming with me. I got a lot of compliments….he was offended! He was the one receiving the compliments from the other men he met in the locker room. The men would say, ” Hey, that’s your Wife?!!! He stopped me, or rather I allowed him to stop me from going to lap swim. I put on weight, I stopped writing my daily logs, short stories, prose, etc., problems ensued, issues arouse, he became castrophically sick and left me nine years ago and now I am one of those OBESE people who does not know that I am obese! Trust me honey….I know I am obese…. I am a size 22! I have been in the hospital for chest pains due to weight, so I definitely know I am obese! So what to do? What to do?! I walk. I was walking alot all summer. Now the winter is here….un ah….I hate the cold….but I walk alot at work. I am trying to keep myself on a routine of exercise. It is hard for an x-athletic person to rebuild. I will, I must …my family depends on me. —-Thanks for the blog. It was a nice wake up call!

  16. And on top of everything else? The data for this study was derived from surveys. Of college students. All 310 of them, according to Reuters.

    In other words, this was a quick, cheap little study, the sort that gets churned out as term projects to give students some experience in research and the department some minor publication credit. Not something I’d expect to be taken very seriously by anyone.

    Except, of course, when we’re in the midst of an Obesity! Crisis!11! In which case there seems to be no study too small, too insignificant, or for that matter too shoddy — so long as it comes to the Correct Conclusions.

    Bah. Humbug.

  17. Except, of course, when we’re in the midst of an Obesity! Crisis!11! In which case there seems to be no study too small, too insignificant, or for that matter too shoddy — so long as it comes to the Correct Conclusions.

    Hmmmm. Maybe, just maybe, Shapelings could create their own crappy little study. I know we have some brilliant statistical minds here. I know a bit about news releases and whatnot, as do many others. How about it? A survey of, say, 50 Shaplengs that shows that people who give up dieting are 30% saner than dieters. It doesn’t matter if we come up with the conclusion in advance – everybody else does the same.

  18. Good lord! The distain with which she comments that there is a movement pushing for acceptance of any size. God forbid we not all be self-loathing and hating each other.

    Next thing you know (though they probably already are), they’ll be saying there’s a body-image acceptance movement out there started by the fatties just because we’re too “lazy” to lose weight instead.

    *bangs head against the wall*

  19. The “headless fat person” thing is really creepy and dehumanizing, I agree with Dorianne. It is making people “fat” first and people second. It is kind of like looking at women as breasts and vaginas, but in the opposite way. I mean, don’t get me wrong women are beautiful, but NO ONE deserves to be treated like a collection of cells, regardless of the motivation!

  20. I’m not underweight, but my joints SUCK. I never had any problems with them when I was heavier. I need some more muscle :p

    Thanks for the heads up Kate, and thanks for the heads up on the “study” Eucritta. It’s just like the Australian one posted a few months ago, that said women are ZOMG losing the battle on t3h bulge, and again: Twas just a survey. *Rolls Eyes*

  21. Re.: the headless photographs.

    In Europe, and I am pretty sure it isn’t much different in the USA, you are not allowed to take pictures of single people in public places in which they are recognisable unless you have a signed release. So either you get a signed release of each photograph (yeah, that’s fun if you like to take “street” photos”) or you make sure that people aren’t identifyable (face, tattoos, any other special identifying trades).

    A normal clause in a (studio) model contract is the clause that the produced photos may not be used in pornographic, demeaning etc. context. So you cannot use those either next to an article that tells us how lazy and stupid overweight people are.

    So while I agree that *in this context* of bloody stupid articles how we are all going to drop dead next month because of teh fat, these photos are objectifying and demeaning, headless photos are pretty much what you get if you photograph non-models on the street, and that is what you mostly have to do to get pictures for such articles.

  22. In Europe, and I am pretty sure it isn’t much different in the USA, you are not allowed to take pictures of single people in public places in which they are recognisable unless you have a signed release.

    I’m not familiar with the laws in Europe, but in the US this is actually not the case. I took a very intensive class on media law, and I thought I remembered my professor saying that it was not in fact illegal to photograph someone in a public place (unless photography has been specifically prohibited there) and to use those photographs in any way you like, so long as you do not misrepresent what the person is doing in the picture. What this means is that while I could take a picture of a man and a woman standing on a street corner talking, I could not publish it with a byline stating that they were having an affair unless there was some evidence to indicate that. This is how the paparazzi is able to photograph celebrities every movement in public without ever getting a release, and why they are allowed to sell those photographs.

    If anyone is interested in a quick guide to the laws surrounding public photography (and the exceptions of the general rules) this is where I confirmed my undergrad recollections: http://www.krages.com/phoright.htm

    Believe it or not, I think the reason that fat people appear headless i photos is actually twofold. The first is the obvious social reasons, many of which are so ingrained that people publishing these photographs probably don’t even think of them. Publishing photos of a person, any person, without their head dehumanizes them; it strips them of their identity making them a body instead of a whole person. In the case of photographs of headless fat people being used to illustrate these types of stories they are using these people as models of something we should fear and hate, and it is a lot harder to inspire fear and hatred of something, if you make that something real. It would be a lot harder to get people to worry about the “epidemic” of childhood obesity and convince them to wage war against it, if you had to present that story with a photo of a child whose eyes we could look into.

    The second reason the photos are headless is probably a little more practical. Even if they have the right to publish those pictures, there are a bunch of reasons they could end up in legal trouble. Though pictures can be published without permission for news purposes, they must have signed releases to use those images to sell something. Arguments could be made, though not being a lawyer I can not say how well such an argument would work, that in certain contexts these images are used to sell the story. There is also a possibility that they could be used in defamation suits. Also, they would probably get a lot of angry people coming after them.

    Anyway, I didn’t intend for that to get so long and I apologize. This article and the practice of including photos of headless fat people in every news story about obesity makes my blood boil. It broke my heart to see how many people hate themselves, and it stung even worse to see that there people being scorned for not hating themselves more.

  23. In the U.S., news organizations are actually exempt from having to procure model releases as long as the images are used for editorial use purposes – defined as a presumably unbiased mass media who reaches a large audience. This is why the paparazzi are allowed to continue photographing (and harassing) celebrities and public figures.

    So, news organizations are under no obligation to photograph and use headless fatty photos. They continue to do it because showing a morbidly obese fat person is effective in illustrating stories on the so-called obesity epidemic. And because media organizations know such photos are going to be used in an unflattering manner, they think cropping off the heads of fat people is a show of respect.

  24. Most surprising was that many of those classified as overweight didn’t idealize the weight that would be considered normal or healthy weight

    I really doubt it’s not that most women wouldn’t like to look that way. I think it’s more likely that they’d tried it before, and realised that it would never happen and there’s no point in wishing for something completely unattainable.

    And how on earth does this:
    They found nearly 90 percent of normal-weight women wanted to weigh less
    show this:
    “This study suggests there may be a shift toward accepting, for normal-weight women, normal healthy body weight, as well as potentially larger body sizes

  25. Re headless fatties.

    There would be an outcry if the media used headless disabled people in articles about disability, or headless black people in articles about race. Why are fat people any different to this?

    I hate this practise SO much, even more by the fact that the objectification of fat stops the people in the photos being seen as human. And because the photos are always of very fat people, it means that you have a whole group of readers of these articles sitting at home going “well at least I’m not that fat”, when actually the stupid BMI includes huge swathes of the population as being obese. This sort of attitude will prevent solidarity – sort of divide and rule if you will.

  26. Meowser – as I think I said in another posting, my mother is at exactly that place now – in her 70s and convinced, when she became dangerously thin, that she was OK and it was all the fat people (e.g. me) who had a problem. I once saw the comment “Big women die young, that’s why we’re left with little old ladies” – but I’ve seen so many people lose a fair amount after the age of 60 that I’m convinced the ‘big’ women don’t die so much as shrink! As in other stages of life, fat acts as a protective measure, I’m sure.

    The ‘headless fatty’ photos remind me of something I’ve come across in another context. Older medical textbooks, to illustrate particular diseases and deformities, would photograph the sufferer from the neck down, or sometimes with a black overlay just hiding the eyes. Ostensibly to protect their privacy, I suppose, but the result did exactly what the fat photos do – dehumanize the subject, make them more ‘not like us’.

    My husband, a semi-pro photographer, tells me that the ‘headless fatty’ phenomenon does also have to do (at least in the UK) with not making statements which couldn’t be proven true of identifiable people. So they just make the unprovable statements of an anonymous headless person instead (or occasionally, a back-and-big-butt shot). Not that that makes it any less dehumanizing, of course.

    What I find weird about this article is how they’re panicking about the ‘ideal size’ for some people actually becoming more realistic. What kind of person would actually prefer people having ideals that they can never attain? Oh yeah…the kind of person who’s trying to sell you something to feed the idea that maybe, just maybe, this time, the glittering prize will be within your reach. Who paid for this study?

  27. I always thought the headless phatty photos where because we were supposed to be humiliated about being fat, so they were *saving our feelings* by not putting our faces with our shameful bodies. Cough.

    I really think it’s because if they actually took pictures of fat people who were also looking happy and *human* and lovely, it would pretty much start blowing peoples minds that “Hey, that person looks just like me, hey I SEE MYSELF reflected in our media as a happy, healthy person” and OMG – revolution.

    Like the BMI project.

  28. “I never realized that being too skinny could be hard on the joints- my doctors are always telling me to loose weight for my joints. But she swears, when she could keep that “extra” 20 lbs on, she felt better.”

    Absolutely. And don’t let anyone tell you different. 30 lbs ago, at around size 4, wearing heavy denim jeans, while helping a friend move, I sat down accidentally on a packing case.

    I screamed obscenities and wept. It hurt my sacroiliac so bad (because it was STICKING OUT NOW, you understand) that I had residual pain for a week. It hurt so bad that I remember it these ten years later.

    And don’t underestimate kicking yourself in the ankles because your gait has changed. Or waking up in the middle of the night because you were sleeping on your side and while attempting to change positions in your sleep, have accidentally banged your knees together. Hard.

    They NEVER tell you that part. Because skinny is all, and beauty is supposed to be painful, right? Because you are a girl, so it doesn’t matter if you hurt.

    They can go pound sand.

  29. Oh, and yeah, fashion.

    The whole “trying to make the body fit the clothes, instead of choosing clothes to fit your body” is the bullsh*t brainwashing that the entire fashion industry is based on. And they start the marketing when you are a little, bitty tyke because they are terrified that if you start thiking critically, you will wake up to the fact that that philosophy — no matter how many people buy into it because of the elitist underpinning that you are a special person by virtue of possessing one of the special bodies that fit the clothes — is ASS. BACKWARDS.

    Just as there is no crying in baseball, there is no critical thinking permitted in an adolescent society. So run along now.


  30. Meowser said: “And C. is concerned that when he gets to be that age he will be too skinny, that he won’t have enough fat on him to survive if he gets sick.”

    Well, he’s right to be concerned:
    My sister’s father-in-law just died because he didn’t have the reserves. He’s always been skinny, having trouble keeping weight on even when he was healthy and ate like a horse. He got cancer at around age 70, couldn’t cope with a round of chemo, and died within about three days because he had nothing to call on.

    My grandma just turned 85; she’s always been fat, and has outlived most of her relatives by up to 40 years. She is now losing weight, and I fear she won’t be around much longer. It’s sad.

  31. On the headless fatty phenomenon, kate wrote: “Ina, yes, it is the same here, but I think the larger point is, why can’t they get a little more creative with illustrating these articles?”

    That’s kind of how I feel. If it has to be “anonymous” because of lack of signed releases…does anyone remember that beautiful photo (I think it was posted here) of the fat woman in the coral swimsuit and green bathing cap, sillouetted against a blue sky? I saved it to my HD, I thought it was so gorgeous. (I am thinking of doing a painting of it.)

    But I’m not sure the media doesn’t have a fair amount of freedom to use whatever photos their photogs take….I never signed a release when I did news interviews and had my pic taken (I’m in Canada)…and they not infrequently picked the side view ones that showed my double chin/belly to their full advantage (no doubt to highlight that feminists are all fat women)….despite me asking them specifically NOT to use side views (back when I was more uptight about such things, of course). News photos are treated differently from model or advertising photos.

  32. i’m not as original or good with the wordsies as the rest of you all, so let me just say how much i agree with this post and the responses, and how great it is – once again – to see SOMEone being sane and pointing out the fucking obvious that everyone else is just IGNORING.

    and now for a little idea, in the spirit of the awesome BMI project: maybe the shapelings could create some artwork that’s about bosy positivity and just everything HAES is about? what do ya say? it could be fun! I’m already working on a project on this theme and it seems a lot of the other shapelings are also creative and artistic so…

    or if nobody else here is that into creating something like this, do u guys know where i might find something along these lines and contribute there?

  33. Even if people disagree that models and the media play a role in the development of anorexia, the climate of thin-worship they’ve created makes it all but impossible to recover. I’m anorexic, and it’s incredibly difficult to believe/accept that I need to gain weight when I’m constantly being told that I look “terrific” and my weight is “perfect, shouldn’t change a thing.” I’m an adult and I can take a step back and logically see what is going on, even though that doesn’t necessarily help…but how do you convince the increasingly younger population of girls (and boys) who suffer from eating disorders that it’s NOT okay to starve yourselves, when society keeps giving positive reinforcement for doing so?

  34. Dee that’s fantastic!

    I love your drawing style; I particularly enjoyed your sketches for the dancing fat ladies, and also your fashion sketches – which by the way are SO much more useful and relevant than those weird stick thin things people draw.

    I’m totally bookmarking your blog :)

    Well if you ever want to do some kind of collaboration let me know :)

    My website is: http://www.shmonster.com

    And I don’t have much work there that’s relevant to this topic. I’ve only just now started my first project that’s really ABOUT this. Maybe I will post a rough cut of it somewhere soon…

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