Breaking news: Fat people are not permanently attached to couches

Remember Kate Dailey’s extensive coverage of fat issues last week (aka the Newsweek fatsplosion), and her call for photos of fat people engaged in healthful activities? Well, the first round of pics are up in the Newsweek gallery, aptly titled Happy, Healthy, and Heavy. The introduction says, among other things:

Are all fat people athletic? No. But neither are all skinny people. The point is, weight doesn’t preclude the ability to put one’s body to work in fun and challenging ways.

The photos are terrific (I especially love the underwater one), and the people quoted are fat-positive (there’s even an acknowledgment of disability issues). There is a bit of thin-shaming and good fatty/bad fatty talk that mars an otherwise fabulously body-positive presentation.

Dailey tells us that the photos are still pouring in and that the gallery will be updated to include more in the future. Meanwhile, check it out — and thanks for helping to bust stereotypes, Kate Dailey.

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.

Quick hits: The physical cost of beauty

Two more reminders of the cost of the ideal of the perfectly toned, perfectly thin body:

1. A Daily Mail reporter (I know, I know — they’re a thin-loving nightmare, but that also means that they publish a lot of articles that unintentionally reveal the cultural pressures behind that) works with Madonna’s and Gwyneth Paltrow’s trainer for five weeks and her life becomes a living hell. She nearly passes out, almost vomits on the treadmill, loses the ability to walk up stairs, and — most crucially — loses all desire for any semblance of a social life, because she is so damn tired.

Unexpectedly, this is turning into a booze-free few weeks as well. Working out at this intensity means I cannot drink at all; I simply wouldn’t be able to train properly.

As for dating, it’s completely hopeless. I’ve definitely seen the last of Finance Guy, the man I’d been seeing on and off for a few weeks. Our relationship was already stretched, and my refusal to drink seemed to push him over the edge. Could this be what drove Guy Ritchie away?

At the weekend, I take a much-needed mini-break to Dublin. I am looking forward to three days away, out of town and away from the gym.

I am lazing around in my suite at one of Dublin’s poshest hotels, when I get a text from Jonathan reminding me to do my cardio workout.

I bet Madonna and Gwyneth get text messages like this, too.

Two hours a day, six days a week, with your personal trainer sending you intrusive text messages while you’re on vacation: just the cost of being thin and female, right? As Margaret at Jezebel puts it,

Though you might expect that Pearson would realize after going through this “nightmare” that such a gym routine wasn’t worth it or condemn the society that demands our celebrities obsess about their weight, all Pearson takes from this experience is that we should have more respect for Gwyneth and Madonna. “Their tightly honed bodies were not achieved by swallowing a pill, from cigarettes, or cocaine. These ladies didn’t take the easy way. They are in the gym every day sweating their guts out,” writes Pearson. Apparently having a lower quality of life is worth it, as long as you’re 10 pounds skinnier.

Remember, y’all, things are only worth doing if they improve your life. You don’t have to do this.

(SW warning on comments at both the Daily Mail and Jezebel.)

2. Remember that Campari ad that photoshopped away Jessica Alba’s already astonishing figure? Apparently she got that post-baby figure by torturous workouts and the help of a girdle. (I can’t access the original Elle article on this, so I’m relying on a summary here.) Not really surprising, but it makes it all the more ridiculous that the ads are so incredibly photoshopped.

I know you know this, but it’s always worth a reminder: these images are lying to you. Ads are lying to you. Magazines are lying to you. Posters are lying to you. They will never stop. Nobody looks like Jessica Alba — not even Jessica Alba.

Quick Self-Promotion/Good Article

My sister-in-law just sent me this article that she first saw in the print version of The Toronto Star. She sent it because it mentions the blog, the book, and my Dear Oprah post (woo!), but I’m actually posting it because, holy cow, it’s really good.

Well, mostly. I think the “vanity sizing” detour is crap, since the underlying belief there is once again that fat people don’t know they’re fat. The numbers on the tags stay the same, so they’ll never realize their asses are getting bigger! Which totally makes sense, if you think about it. I mean, I know that once petite clothes became more widely available, and I could just put on a new pair of pants without having to hem them, I started looking in the mirror and thinking I must be about 5’8″. 

That aside, check this out:

A U.S. survey tracking substantial weight loss found that individuals had to do the equivalent of 40 kilometres of walking every week just to maintain any weight loss.

“That’s a pretty big commitment,” says [University of Guelph obesity researcher Paula] Brauer. “We really underestimated how much it takes to lose substantial weight and keep it off.

“The big thing, really, is not the food,” she says.

“It’s the degree of physical activity that people have to do to keep the weight off. Most obese people are not overeating,” Brauer stresses.

And then the article ends with quotes from the Dear Oprah post — instead of with the usual quote from an obesity researcher saying, “Well, that’s all well and good, but fat people still need to lose weight for their health.” Awesome. Thank you, Diana Zlomislic!

ETA: Do I really still need to tell you people not to read comments on newspaper articles about fat? Sanity Watchers warnings always apply!

The Candidates on Obesity

Paul covered it so I don’t have to. Yay!

Here’s the McCain quote from last night’s debate that sparked his post and this one:

The rise of obesity amongst young Americans is one of the most alarming statistics that there is. We should have physical fitness programs and nutrition programs in schools. Every parent should know what’s going on there.

As Paul notes, “the rise of obesity amongst young Americans” has already leveled off. There’s that. As for the other stuff, well, I covered what I thought of that back in July:

Free fruits and veggies for everyone! Local, organic produce for all my friends! While you’re at it, bring back gym class and train future phys ed instructors to focus on encouraging the joy of movement instead of forcing everyone to move their bodies in exactly the same way, regardless of any pain (physical and/or emotional) it causes! Subsidize exercise facilities until they’re affordable for everyone! Create more bike paths! Clean up local bodies of water so everyone can swim for free! Build cities on the scale of human bodies instead of cars, and keep the streets safe enough for everyone to walk around! Ban high fructose corn syrup! Keep fast food and soda and junk food corporations out of the schools! Raise the minimum wage and shorten working hours so people have more time to cook and be active! KNOCK YOURSELVES RIGHT THE FUCK OUT creating an environment that makes it easier for everyone to eat a variety of fresh foods and get plenty of exercise!

But don’t tell me that’s going to make everyone thin — and really, really don’t tell me that making people thinner should be the main point of such a plan.

Also, it’s worth remembering that 90% of nine-year-olds get “a couple of hours of exercise a day,” making the panic over the millions of supposedly sedentary children glued to their computers and Wiis a mite puzzling.

Paul also calls out Obama, as well he should, for featuring THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA in his health care plan. The fact is, there is no politician on the national stage who’s clued in to Health at Every Size at this point, and I imagine it’ll be some time before there is one. That’s why I’ve long said I don’t even factor fat policy into my voting decisions, because everyone’s fucking policy is still that fatties are destroying America. Having said that, Obama’s plan offers one thing that stands to benefit us, even if the focus on “prevention” (which experience tells me to read as “weight loss” — just like “wellness program,” as Paul points out) makes me queasy: Under his plan, insurance companies won’t be able to deny coverage for pre-existing conditions. That could make a big difference — although it would depend on whether they’re still allowed to charge people with pre-existing conditions exorbitant prices.

Anyway, to sum up: McCain and Obama both suck on fat. McCain sucks more.

This thread is open for discussion of that and anything else that struck you about last night’s debate. I actually didn’t watch this time, so I’ve got some catching up to do.

From the Mailbag: Good News, Bad News

A Shapeling writes:

I am a biologist attending a large, well respected conference on insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease.

All the experiments were well designed, good solid data, and a lot of it correlates EXACTLY with the message of your blog, like the factoid I gleaned that fully 25% of Coronary Artery Disease cases diagnosed have no known risk factors- not high cholesterol, not obesity, not smoking, not type II diabetes. The fact that exercise and activity level is a better predictor of long term health than fat. That pear-shape fat (subcutaneous fat) releases adipocytokines that protect against metabolic disease, improve lipid and glucose metabolism, and positively correlate with increased longevity and quality of life.

The problem is the huge disconnect. It made me want to curl up into a ball and cry- which is what I did as soon as my husband joined me at the conference.

  • The slide that had a picture of an obese man with the caption “homo stupidus.”
  • The news that the AHA reclassified anyone over 27* (me!! me!!) on the BMI scale obese with the attendant scare-the-crap-out-of-you warnings.
  • The obese diabetic (ob/ob db/db) mouse model- google for images if you’re curious- which is considered a great way to model the metabolisms of healthy fat people like you and me and then tell us we’re all going to die and its ALL OUR OWN DAMN FAULT.


Sigh, indeed. Also, as I said to the Shapeling, HOLY CRAP, are they seriously moving the cut-off for obesity down to 27?!? Ten years ago, that was the cut-off for overweight! If this is true, people with a BMI of 26 have now gone from being a healthy weight to overweight to just shy of obese, without ever gaining an ounce.

You’d think things like that would make people wake the fuck up. You’d think.

And seriously, “Homo Stupidus”? Charming.

Anyway, Shapelings, have at it. And thanks to the sender-inner, as they say over at CO.

*Update: The Shapeling who says this in now says she thinks she must have misheard or misinterpreted this — or the presenter might have been from a different country. The Wikipedia page on BMI notes international variations in keeping with what she heard, but as far as we know, the AHA hasn’t changed anything recently. So if you’re American, you can exhale. A little.

Three to Four Hours a Day

Did y’all see this?

Maybe you CAN blame being fat on your genes. But there’s a way to overcome that family history — just get three to four hours of moderate activity a day.

Seriously. Just exercise moderately for three to four hours a day, and you won’t be fat! LIKE MAGIC. 

The best part is where they tell us that that’s really not as much as it seems, and offer the same old list of ideas that’s offered in every article exhorting us to just get twenty minutes of exercise a day, or half an hour, three times a week, or one hour, five days a week — whatever the hell the recommendation du jour is. 

Instead of watching TV for a few hours at night, take a brisk walk, he suggested. Or use stairs instead of elevators, walk instead of driving, or take up a structured exercise such as swimming.

Or, you know, just park your car farther away from the mall! Like, 15 miles away!

Seriously, we’re supposed to walk briskly or take the stairs for three to four hours? I have walked briskly for three to four hours on occasion, but only on occasion, because it’s a fucking huge time investment. People are supposed to work at least eight or ten hours a day, then go home and say, “Hi, family, lovely to see you, off for my brisk walk now! You’ll be in bed when I get back, so see you in the morning!” And that’s without getting into the fact that a whole hell of a lot of people in the U.S. don’t live somewhere where they could take that long a walk if they wanted to — unless they just did hundreds of laps around their backyards or living rooms. Today, theoretically, I could walk over to the lakeshore path and take it downtown, then turn around and come home, and that would be just about four hours of brisk walking. But when I was growing up in the suburbs, my only path from home to anywhere involved highways and no sidewalks. Also, fuck if I’m going to take that walk every night of my life, throughout the Chicago winter and the Chicago summer, instead of actually spending time with Al and friends, unwinding from writing all day. And I love walking!

Fortunately, though, the article also offers another way to get your three to four hours a day: become Amish. The study of this particular genetic variant — thought to affect 30 percent of people of European descent (so I’m not sure if people of color are off the hook or expected to exercise even more) — focused on an Amish community in Pennsylvania, where the lack of cars and modern technology means folks are pretty active in their daily lives. In that context, people with the genetic variant in question often were getting three to four hours of moderate exercise every day, and they were no more likely to get fat than people without it.

Which… bully for them. There’s a lot to be said for that lifestyle. But most of us aren’t fucking living it. 

Study co-author Dr. Soren Snitker of the University of Maryland acknowledged that it’s unrealistic to expect most people to shun modern conveniences and return to a 19th century lifestyle for the sake of staying trim.

Ya think? 

Look, I’m a fan of movement. I don’t own a car and live in a pedestrian-friendly city. I have a flexible schedule and am not working multiple jobs. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to devote three to four hours of my day to exercise unless somebody starts paying me for it. The idea that I should be doing that — that 30 percent of white people should be doing that — solely to avoid being fat pisses me off like nothing has pissed me off in… I don’t know, at least 45 minutes or so. I cannot fucking believe that instead of writing the obvious story — i.e., “people who have this genetic variant would have to do a tremendous, totally unrealistic amount of daily exercise to be thin” — they went with “people who have this genetic variant can be thin if they just work in three to four hours of daily exercise — easy peasy!” Seriously, you guys! It’s not as bad as it sounds! Just break it down to 48 five-minute sessions throughout the day! 

There was one thing that amused me about this article, right at the end:

Dr. Joel Hirschhorn, a genetics and obesity researcher at Children’s Hospital Boston, said people should not interpret the study to mean, “I don’t have this gene variant so I don’t need to be physically active.”

I love it. It’s the flipside of the inevitable, “People shouldn’t take this as a license to eat whatever they want!” that ends every fucking article suggesting that fatness is not a death sentence. What the hell is up with this assumption that everyone, fat or thin, reading articles about THE OBESITY CRISIS BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA is really just looking for permission to lie in bed all day or eat “forbidden” foods? Is that really the American dream? No movement at all and a steady diet of (baby-flavored) Krispy Kremes?

The thing that really pisses me off about this particular motif in TOCBBB articles is that it just reinforces the idea that exercise is onerous and eating veggies is gross, so the only reason any sane person would do either is to be thin. Which may have been how I felt when I was about 6 (not counting running around the backyard, tree-climbing, dance class, or swimming as exercise, of course, because those things were fun and even then I knew that Exercise Is Not Fun), but I eventually grew out of that mindset. I kinda think most people eventually do. And if they don’t, it’s probably because of the kabillion fucking articles propagating the notion that exercise and veggie-eating are miserable burdens one must undertake to avoid the dreaded sin of fatness. Way to promote “health” there, media.