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.

We Saw The Epidemic, And It Was Us

If you’ve been reading Lesley’s More to Love recaps over at Fatshionista, you already know that the show is allllllll about Fat Pain. (If you haven’t, be assured they’re worth your while. I’m not sure anything could make me glad that this show is on the air, but Lesley’s writeups come close.) Sample paragraph:

Luke wants to hear more about the laydeez’ Fat Pain, though seriously y’all, can we hear something about what they do for a living or what sort of music they like or even their favorite fucking colors? ANYTHING but more Fat Pain. But Luke demands it! Desperation Vampire that Luke is, he wants them to “open up” their Fat Pain to him such that he can gobble it down and taste every sweet drop of their despairing tears and heartache. YESSSSSS.

SO WHAT I’M GETTING HERE IS THERE’S LOTS OF FAT PAIN. Fat Pain about prom. Fat Pain about dating. Fat Pain about, importantly, not dating. Fat Pain about wearing a bathing suit. Fat Pain about wearing other clothes besides a bathing suit. The show hinges on two things: fat, and pain.

Now, I find the show exploitative and awful, like any reality dating show but calibrated to offend me specifically. But insofar as these women are real people — and I think more of them are than on a typical reality show, for the simple reason that their weight curbs the likelihood that they’re rushing to or from a Professional Reality Contestant career — I feel their fat pain, if you will. I generally don’t share it, but when I read in Lesley’s recap that someone cried or expressed worry that nobody would love her or was terrified to appear in a bathing suit or what have you, I believe there’s a grain of sincerity to those revelations.

Imagine my surprise, then, when Dodai at Jezebel devoted an entire post today to ignoring these women’s Fat Pain by confidently declaring them Not Fat. See, one of them’s a fitness instructor and another one’s a plus-size model, one of them’s pretty and another one seems to think she is. Also, they all seem to be mobile, they’re occasionally allowed to be seen on camera without food hanging out of their mouths, and pictures of them would probably be shuffled to the bottom of AP’s headless fatty file. By Dodai’s lights, they’re not fat at all! All of that excruciating air time spent on talking about how they grew up hating their bodies or learned to later, how they feel self-conscious when they should be having fun, how they worry about finding love, how they get more than their measure of shit from the people around them? Don’t worry, you guys, we TOTALLY think you’re pretty!

About one of the contestants, Dodai asks: “In which universe is this woman … fat, unattractive, or someone who finds it tough to meet a man?” Maybe… maybe the universe that put her on a dating reality show with all the other fatties to match them up with a fat man who only likes fatties? Because there’s no way she could a) otherwise get on TV (ha ha!) b) otherwise go on a dating show (ha! ha ha!) c) find a man who wasn’t fat (who’d stoop so low!) d) find a man who wasn’t exclusively into fat women (please, you slay me!) e) find a man if she wasn’t competing largely against people who are even fatter than her (as if!) or possibly f) find a man at all? MAYBE THAT FUCKING UNIVERSE? THE ONE THAT MADE THAT SHOW? (Malissa, by the way, seems by all accounts to be kind of a jackass, but even she has confessionalized about how people judge her for her weight. Ya think?)

It’s certainly the same universe Jezebel is in, or at least the same universe it was in a few posts later when Kate made the incredibly controversial claim that healthy behaviors are de facto valuable even if you unhitch them from population statistics. On that thread, the commentariat was falling over themselves to say how sick they were of the idea that obese people could ever be healthy. (I know, when can we EVER escape THAT concept, amirite?) A few choice quotes:

Obesity is dangerous and bad for your health, this isn’t about “chubby kids” or teenagers going through transition time this is about children who are not getting the proper nutrition and exercise they need which is making them unhealthy and setting them up for life-long health problems and complications. Weight is not purely a matter of looks weight has a HUGE affect on your health and overall well-being and to add that’s for both sides of the coin.

Can we all stop equating obese with “fat” or “overweight.” It’s like squares and rectangles: obese is a type of being fat or overweight, but fat/overweight does not equal obese.

Does everyone just feel there’s an implied angle that has to do with forcing people to be thin? Are we assuming that when they say obese they mean simply overweight? I don’t understand why it’s a problem to try to stop obesity. Why are we turning something into an issue about body image that doesn’t seem to be presented as an issue about body image??

As a medical professional I can state without equivocation that truly obese people are not healthy. Sorry but it’s true. But chubby, or ‘overweight’ people can absolutly be healthy.

Obese–to me–is not an objective and medically based assessment of health or wellness, it is more a subjective assessment of how you look to other people.

That last one really sums it up, huh? “Obese doesn’t really mean a weight — it means whether I think you’re gross.

Taken together, the More to Love post and the comments on Kate’s post (minus, to be fair, a strong showing from the sensible contingent) send a clear message: the obese are unhealthy, obesity is unhealthy, we should fight obesity — but we don’t mean you. We mean, you know, The Obese. The unhealthy, lazy, indulgent, gluttonous, immoderate, sedentary, not at all pretty Obese.

Here’s how the four More to Love contestants mentioned in Dodai’s post would stack up in the BMI Project, according to the stats reported on Wikipedia (yeah, you heard me):

  • In which universe is this woman Malissa fat, unattractive, or someone who finds it tough to meet a man?” is five pounds off from “obese.” If she’s actually five or more pounds above her self-reported weight of 170, she’s part of the Epidemic.
  • “Mandy, who is not fat and is, in fact, a fitness instructor” is overweight. You got us there — guess she’s the maybe-okay “chubby,” not the dreaded “obese.” SHE MUST BE THE PRETTIEST.
  • “Anna, who is not fat, and makes her living as a plus-size model” is one pound from being obese. If she is, at any point, one pound heavier than her self-reported weight of 220, she’s an Epidemic Carrier. An Epidemician, if you will.
  • “Tali, the simply gorgeous Israeli stylis/decorator who is not fat” is obese.

This so-called epidemic is not made up of theoretical fucking people who are just as fat as you can possibly imagine. It’s made up of people you see every day AND WHO YOU PROBABLY THINK ARE “NOT FAT.” That’s the point of the BMI Project. That’s the point of the good work that Jezebel has, for the most part, been doing, making it clear that fear of fat is an injustice visited on all of us, of any shape. Jezzies seem to be okay hearing that from their thin editors — since we all know they’re really talking about thin girls, right, and it’s not okay for thin girls to have to think they’re fat! They might start to eat too little, which when you’re thin is called an eating disorder!

In fact, though, the difference between body shame for thin women and fat women is only one of scale. There’s not a magical cutoff where shame becomes healthy. There’s not a magical cutoff where bodies become unacceptable. There’s not a magical cutoff where weight loss pressure suddenly breaks free of patriarchy and societal scapegoating and becomes pure and beneficent concern for health. There’s only an arbitrary demographic cutoff where someone who was okay one pound ago becomes a statistic to scare children with.

And a lot of the people you think are “not fat“? They’re already past it.


So, you may have noticed that there’s been a bit of a fatsplosion over at Newsweek lately. When Kate Dailey, Newsweek’s still-relatively-new health blogger, reviewed LFTF as one of her first assignments, I wasn’t sure what to make of her — her interview seemed hampered by an unwillingness to give up on toeing the “fat bad!” line. It wasn’t that she seemed hostile, but that she seemed reluctant to give up the obesity crisis security blanket. And why should she? We’ve seen how science writers tend to cover fat; it’s easier to get published if you vilify it, plus you get to use all sorts of fun synonyms. (Here, we usually write “fat.” Anyone penning an OBESITYCRISISBOOGABOOGA article also gets access to “corpulent,” “portly,” “flabby,” “overweight,” and lots of other colorful language. It’s hardly fair.)

As it turns out, I’ve apparently seen the “this is all very interesting, and if you need me I’ll be over here clinging desperately to conventional wisdom” response often enough that I’m getting to be an expert. That’s exactly what Dailey was thinking, she says –and here’s how she dealt with it:

I started to re-examine what I thought I knew about weight and health. I also started to pay more attention to how fatness was discussed and debated in the media: It’s not pretty, and it seems that the venom we have for fat people far exceeds the scorn we lay on smokers, or adulterers, or those who text while driving, and the recent health-care debate is only making things nastier.

I wonder whether part of the change of heart comes from reading her blog comments — I know Miss Conduct came to fat acceptance partly by being stunned at the vitriol she got when she suggested treating fat people like human beings. We’ll need to get Dailey on Sanity Watchers.

Anyway, because Kate Dailey is by all appearances a thoughtful and reasonable person, she didn’t yell and fight and stomp her foot when she encountered ideas she found unnerving. Instead, she investigated not only the ideas but her own resistance to them — and that’s how we got America’s War on the Overweight, Who Says Americans Are Too Fat?, and a guest post from the Fat Nutritionist. (Though it may be officially unrelated, there’s also a terrific deadpan paean to correlation/causation errors and overgeneralization in the blog this week: Redheads Fear the Dentist, and Tall Men Get Cancer: What Your Appearance Says About Your Health.)

Read them! And then, put your face where Dailey’s mouth is. By which I mean you’re going to want to give her a big smackeroo, but also: she’s calling for photos of fatties doing healthy things. “Healthy” here seems to be hovering in the “running a marathon” category, but I don’t see why we shouldn’t explode that — Dailey asks you to gloss your own photo, so if you want to write “I have fibromyalgia and here is a picture of me standing up long enough to cook a whole meal,” by all means submit that puppy. No reason we can’t challenge conventional notions of “health” while we’re challenging conventional notions of what a healthy and fit person looks like. And meanwhile, if you do have photos of yourself running or hiking or dancing and you’re willing to use them to say “in your face, haters,” you can submit them to Newsweek’s Tumblr page.

Elsewhere on the internet

I wrote about anonymous cyberbullying for The Guardian’s Comment Is Free:

Yet all over the web, people operating under the illusion that their identities are thoroughly hidden continue to prove John Gabriel’s famous theory of internet behaviour: Normal person + anonymity + audience = total prat.* And too often, particularly when it comes to misogynistic attacks that not only harm women’s public reputations but drive them away from participating in online communities, citizens of the internet side with the prats. People become obsessed with hypothetical legal arguments about freedom of speech – even the kind of speech that’s never been protected – to the exclusion of looking at a larger, more important question: What kind of internet culture do we want?

And then I wrote about the fake controversy over Michelle Obama wearing shorts over at Broadsheet:

That’s right: Michelle Obama wore shorts. In August. To The Grand Canyon. Which is in Arizona. Which is really, really, really hot. And which is also in the United States, where it’s been common for women to wear shorts in public for decades. Not seeing the news angle? Neither is any other thinking person, but that didn’t stop outlets from the L.A. Times to “The Today Show” from discussing the American people’s ostensibly conflicted reaction (unfortunately, most journalists haven’t been able to locate an American person willing to express an opinion other than, “Seriously?”) or the Huffington Post from asking readers: “Does Michelle Obama have the right to bare legs?” … My favorite part of that poll is that the pro-shorts answer is, “Absolutely! It’s so modern!” Shorts. In August. “Modern.” Did Peggy Olson sneak in and write that copy? Or Laura Ingalls Wilder, maybe?

Talk about those posts, or anything else your heart desires, in the thread below. ‘Cause I am way too lazy to write something new here today as well.

*Gabriel’s phrase is, of course, “total fuckwad,” but the editor cleaned it up in a delightfully British way for me.

Oh, and your book sucks, too

Dear Freakonomics Dudes,


The prevalence of obesity rose 37 percent between 1998 and 2006, and medical costs climbed to about 9.1 percent of all U.S. medical costs, the researchers said.

in addition to being a syntactic nightmare, does not equal this:

9.1 percent of all health-care costs are the result of eating and drinking too much

(Emphasis added.)

Y’all like to play with numbers and statistics and pretend that you are being delightfully subversive when really you don’t know causation from correlation. Here’s the thing: fat is a characteristic. Eating and drinking (any amount) are behaviors.

Also, fat people already pay taxes. They also face widespread discrimination from medical professionals and are routinely denied health insurance based solely on their BMI.

Also, you should really go back and take a class in rhetoric, because your headline, “Who’s Ready for a Fat Tax?” would only be appropriate if your audience consisted only of thin people, or, I suppose, if fat people didn’t know how to read.

Fat tax my inbetweenie ass. Fat people already pay a tax for their bodies: it’s called self-hatred and culture-wide scapegoating. Fuck you and the tiny horse you rode in on.


Sweet Machine

An Urgent Message To Shapely Prose Readers

Your attention, please. From Fox News’ Neil Cavuto (won’t dignify it with a link), by way of Talking Points Memo, by way of Jezebel:

Michael Karolchyk — who started the Denver Anti-Gym for the purpose of “getting clients in shape for sex;” who included in said gym an extra-special super-secret sauna for clients below a certain BMI; who idolizes Holden Caulfield (*snicker*… oops, sorry. (*snicker*…SORRY! I’M SORRY!)); who thought it appropriate to wear a “no chubbies” slogan t-shirt when appearing on national television; whose gym was shut down for not paying its taxes; who thereafter couldn’t quite muster the business savvy not to leave his clients’ documents (including credit card numbers) in a dumpster; and who giggles involuntarily if you walk up to him and say “boobies!”* — does not think Regina Benjamin should be the surgeon general.

I knew you’d want to know, so that you could adjust your opinions on the matter accordingly.

Anna N. at Jezebel reports:

Karolchyk says (based, again, on the scientific method of Watching Video Footage) that Benjamin is “lazy” and makes “poor food choices.” He asks if we’d want “the head of the Fed Reserve to be a guy in a cardboard box” or “Michael Jackson’s doctor” as the head of the DEA.

Folks, the comically un-self-aware man-child who is so desperate to feel young and vital that he appears to have willfully resisted outgrowing his years as a middle school bully is right. The mantle of authority is a privilege. Not everyone can enjoy a visible public platform from which to spout his or her opinions on stuff. That kind of space should be given only to those whose personal circumstances show them to be, not only thoughtful and of unimpeachable judgement… but also prosperous, lucky, and in the fickle general public’s good graces.

Thank you to Fox News, and Michael Karolchyk, for this reminder.

*-Astute readers may wonder how I know this. As a matter of fact, I know this because I have magic boobie-giggler vision: I can look at men and magically discern whether they snicker at the mention of boobies. This is a superpower akin to Karolchyk’s super-power of being able to look at people and magically discern how healthy they are. You call it pulling stuff out of one’s ass; Karolchyk and Fox and I call it penetrating insight. Potato, potahto.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ex-dieters over 40: Call for stories

Shapelings over 40: My fellow VC alum Kristyn Kusek Lewis just posted the following Facebook update:

For an upcoming magazine story that I’m writing, I’m looking for women over 40 who finally learned to love their bodies when they stopped dieting, obsessing over the scale, and/or gave up an “old way” of thinking about diet and exercise. Email me if you have a story to share or know someone who does.

So of course I was like, “Dude, I know some people.” If you have a story to share, Kristyn’s e-mail is here. Also feel free to discuss in comments.

Quick Hit: Fat-o-Sphere in NYT Again

If you didn’t see them on the sidebar here (or Twitter or Facebook) yet, there are two articles by Mandy Katz in the NYT today featuring fat-o-spherians. The first one references Linda Bacon, Fatshionista, Joy Nash, BFB, The Fat Nutritionist, and Deb Burgard. The second one, a sidebar on intuitive eating, features about the best photo ever taken of me — and we all know that’s the important thing. Words, schmurds! (You can go here for an explanation of the giant finger growing out of my arm.) Small quibble about the eating piece: I’m not sure I agree with the assertion there that cave people didn’t binge and starve — I mean, probably not on purpose, but wasn’t that kinda the nature of their diet? In circumstances where food is scarce, intuitive eating isn’t really a viable option. [See comments for why I was wrong.] Other than that, though, two pretty positive articles in the NYT in one day. Damn! Thank you, Mandy Katz!

Also, Lee Randall of the Scotsman wrote a fabulous column about Shapely Prose, including a shout-out to the Shapelings:

The site is also a noisy, companionable community, offering generous space to comments. 

That makes it ideal for anyone who lacks a venue such as this one in which to vent their considerable spleen, bemoan injustice and inconsistency, or celebrate their folds and foibles. It strikes me that this is exactly the kind of safe haven that intelligent women need in life, regardless of how well or poorly things are going. 

Thank you, Lee Randall — and thank you, noisy, companionable internet friends! (Also, I really need to redo the header to get A Sarah up there, because it is totally my fault that Randall only mentioned 3 co-bloggers.)

Open thread. Have at it.

The New Yorker presents: bizarro fat acceptance!

A respected science writer of my acquaintance, who is not part of the fat acceptance movement but has been writing for a long time about the increasing research that complicates our stereotypes about fat and fat people, recently pitched an article to the New Yorker about the burgeoning field of fat studies. A new and contentious scholarly field seems like a pretty natural topic choice for the New Yorker, but they rejected the idea very politely, saying that it wasn’t really for them.

This seems somewhat less surprising now that I’ve read Elizabeth Kolbert’s book review “XXXL.” This is one of those zeitgeisty New Yorker reviews, where they look at a pile of related or semi-related works that have come out recently. In this case, it’s on the subject of why people are fat — or, if you prefer to unhitch fat bodies from gluttony, why people are given to overeat. Hilariously, it opens with Katherine Flegal discovering that the population gained weight in the 1980s — you know, the same Flegal who later added that this wasn’t necessarily a problem. But from the rest of the article, I’m guessing that if anyone told Kolbert about that study, she put her fingers in her ears and went “la la la stop trying to make me gain weight.”

The piece throws around some scary-sounding statistics — in ten years, Americans gained more than a billion pounds, or a gut-busting 3.3 pounds per person per year over the course of ten years! (thanks Meowser for checking my math) — and settles on saying that “Men are now on average seventeen pounds heavier than they were in the late seventies, and for women that figure is even higher: nineteen pounds.” Nineteen pounds is roughly the difference between these women and these women, or between her and her, or between Jen and Ginny. And, of course, a huge cohort of individual people are individually 19 pounds heavier than they were in the 1970s, because they’ve all hit middle age. But, you know, whoooooa, terrifying epidemic.

Still, we have gained some weight as a population, at least at the heavier end, and we do have different eating habits than we used to, though people who think they’re unequivocally better worse (whoops!) are living in a nostalgia-gilded fantasy land. There’s not too much negative judgment in evidence as Kolbert discusses recent books picking apart our modern way of eating, which tends heavily towards the processed, the convenient, and the sweet. The books she looks at discuss the evolutionary, financial, psychological, and industry-driven reasons why the population as a whole might be eating food in larger portions, and might be inclined to eat fatty, salty, and calorie-dense foods. Kolbert gives no nod towards the fact that these foods don’t magically become nutritious once you’re below a certain BMI — throughout, she conflates fat bodies with what have come to be understood as fat behaviors — but the discussion is an interesting one. The books put forth different reads on the modern food landscape, sometimes complementary and sometimes mutually exclusive, but after all it’s a book review; the piece stands as an overview of current popular research, not as a scientific consensus. As an overview, it’s thought-provoking at the very least.

Then she gets to “The Fat Studies Reader,” which was evidently shoehorned into a piece where it doesn’t remotely belong (fat studies, I probably don’t need to tell you, isn’t really about the evolutionary psychology of eating) and clearly isn’t wanted. Suddenly, Kolbert feels qualified to offer dismissive analysis where she’d previously been satisfied to treat the experts as experts — or perhaps I’m using the term “analysis” too loosely. Among the rather jaw-dropping claims: fat scholars advocate “putting on weight [as] a subversive act,” the fat studies field “oppos[es] the sorts of groups that advocate better school-lunch programs and more public parks,” and saying that some people are naturally heavier than others amounts to almost the same thing as saying that some people are meant to be poor. As my writer friend, who has seen pre-publication excerpts of the book, put it: “My guess is that she didn’t read much beyond the foreword.”

I haven’t read even that much, I must admit. But even sight unseen, one thing I feel I can say with confidence about “The Fat Studies Reader” is that IT IS A READER. Readers are anthologies of scholarly work designed to show the scope of a theoretical field. Some pieces probably do take radical positions, ones that would be too radical for most of us to stand behind completely, or that stand in direct contradiction to our ideas about what fat acceptance means; others show more measured viewpoints, and some might be too conservative for many of us (for instance, fat academic Corinna Tomrley has criticized Susie Orbach’s important but early “Fat is a Feminist Issue” as being essentially a diet book). Kolbert’s reaction is akin to flipping through a feminist studies reader and coming away with the idea that feminists think all heterosexual sex is rape.

How disappointing that a mainstream, usually thoughtful publication acknowledges fat acceptance, but then describes a movement that none of us would recognize. How disappointing that the usually scrupulous Kolbert couldn’t justify the minimal amount of effort it would have taken to get a more representative idea of the movement as it stands. Reading the entire book she’s purporting to review would have been a start.

(On the other hand, this Talk of the Town piece in the same issue is pretty much the pinnacle of the medium and will probably be back as a Friday Fluff. Dear NYer publishers: you guys can stop that feature now, except for Hendrik Hertzberg. It’s peaked.)

Edited to fix ambiguous phrasing, thanks withoutscene.