Guest Blogger Occhiblu: More Problems with Racism and the Fatosphere

Shapeling Occhiblu sent a version of this as an e-mail to us yesterday, hoping we could post about it. But she’d basically said it all, so we asked her to guest post. Thanks, Occhiblu!

Note to commenters: This thread will be moderated with a heavier hand than usual. –Kate

By Occhiblu

Sandy at Junkfood Science linked yesterday to a syndicated column published in the Indiana paper The Star Press. Sandy’s comment on the article was, “This is a profound article on where we’re being led in the name of perfect health and bodies, and in the war on obesity.”

The linked column, “Perfect expression of the communist machine,” was written by rightwing columnist Kathleen Parker; it is a pile of racist drivel about how the Chinese value collectivism because of Communist dictators and how “free” people value humanity while Communist people do not. [Note from Kate: If you want to read it, go via Sandy’s blog or Google it.]

Speaking about the substitution of Lin Miaoke for Yang Peiyi in the Olympic Opening Ceremonies because, she claims, Peiyi had imperfect teeth, Parker writes:

Sentimentality doesn’t enter into the totalitarian equation. In such a world, innocence is irrelevant, and deceit is a lesson best learned young. Who cares that a little girl was told she wasn’t pretty enough to be seen by the world and that her voice — though lovely — belonged not to her, but to the homeland?

That single gesture, relatively small amid the extravaganza, said more about China than all the fireworks, human kites and dangling dancers. It said: The human being — the individual — is of no importance. The objectification of that child, her voice commodified for the purposes of the state, was the real ode to the motherland.

As I commented at the Star Press site, while one could certainly make an argument that dictatorial countries prize perfection over humanity, this article is not that argument. Ms. Parker does an excellent job, however, of ignoring the United States’ mass-produced and internationally distributed form of aesthetic perfectionism — our Hollywood actors and actresses are not exactly known for their “normal” and “human” appearances, and the entire industry is pretty open about discarding the imperfect, the old, and the odd — and she quite glibly ignores the cultural importance of collectivism as a Chinese value, not just a Communist one.

Putting others first, working in harmony with the whole, and striving for the good of the family and the community rather than the glory of the individual were not invented by Lenin. Anyone with even a cursory knowledge of Eastern history and thought can trace these values back through Confucianism, through Buddhism, and through Taoism. Anyone with even a modicum of humanity can see the beauty, power, and wisdom of these ideals. While these values may have been co-opted to support a corrupt political system in China, presenting China as if it were the only country in which religious ideals were exploited in order to prop up a power-hungry leader and deny the humanity of large segments of the population ignores what’s going on in our own country.

Parker does not stop at ignorantly categorizing collectivism as some sort of totalitarian mind-trick, however, she also goes straight for the Godwin gold:

Inevitably, comparisons have been drawn to the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. Just as China’s selection as host country signaled its emergence as a global power, Germany’s marked that nation’s return to the international community following its defeat in World War I.

Although Adolf Hitler was already busy rounding up Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and others for detention and/or sterilization, the Games allowed him to pull a propaganda coup of peaceful tolerance. The Holocaust and World War II soon followed.

By implying that only totalitarian countries oppress their citizens, Parker ignores the United States’ wretched history of human rights abuses, including internment camps for Japanese- and other Asian-Americans during World War II, and sweeps away any bad that the West has committed (and there’s been a lot of bad). She’s also arguing that collectivist world views, which are strongly held by many non-Western cultures, lead to holocausts.

Sandy calling this article “profound” and explicitly linking it to weight-based discrimination in the U.S. is problematic, to say the least. Saying that this is where “we’re being led in the name of perfect health and bodies, and in the war on obesity” endorses this view that somehow the Chinese are more oppressively perfectionist than the West and uses the racism of the original column to erase the reality of Chinese culture in order to make a point about fat discrimination. She tosses Chinese culture and values under the bus in her effort to talk about why fat discrimination is bad.

I think it’s instructive to look at how the popular feminist site, Hoyden About Town, dealt with the same event. Writing about the substitution of one girl for the other, tigtog reinforces ways in which Chinese culture and Western culture are creating the same pressures on women. She writes, “Here’s just one high-profile example of how women are trained from a very young age to believe that their looks matter more than anything else about them, not just when it comes to finding a sexual partner, but also in terms of recognition and reward in other aspects of life.”

I am not Chinese or Chinese-American, so it may be possible that I’m missing ways in which tigtog’s piece glosses over or misses Asian cultural pressures that are different from the West’s, but I was really struck by how the feminist site took this event and used as a way of finding similarities in oppressions and of reaffirming the humanity of the two girls, while the site on the fatosphere linked to an article that erased the humanity of the Chinese and reaffirmed the primacy of weight-based discrimination.

And given that the linked article included the Holocaust and Tiananmen Square Massacre as the natural outcome of the Chinese worldview, that’s a very large claim that Sandy is making.

Sandy’s site does not allow comments, so the fatosphere feed now has an entry linking to a nasty racist screed, calling it “profound,” and aligning its argument with the struggle for FA, with no way of publicly questioning the blogger on this statement.

I find that really disappointing, especially since there has been so much discussion lately about racism in the FA movement. So this is my public statement.

I despair

This is just too fucking much. Via Shakesville: the piece of elitist trash commonly known as the Wall Street Journal runs an article suggesting that Americans won’t vote for Obama because we’re so fat and he’s so skinny. No, really. The level of fatuousness must be read to be believed. Is this really what passes for political analysis in the WSJ?

Food faux pas have plagued presidential candidates in the past. On a 1976 visit to Texas, Gerald Ford bit into a tamale with the corn husk still on. He lost the election to Jimmy Carter. In 2003, Mass. Sen. John Kerry was labeled effete when he ordered a Philly cheesesteak with Swiss instead of the usual Cheez Whiz topping.

Yes, John Kerry totally lost the 2004 election because he was too much of a pussy to eat Cheez Whiz.

I don’t really have anything to add to the posts at Shakesville and Sadly, No besides ears-steaming, head-exploding sputtering, but I do want to point out one little factual error in the article:

The last overweight president to be elected was 335-pound William Howard Taft in 1908.

Actually, you lazy never-heard-of-fact-checking assholes, according to your own disgustingly objectifying graphic, that’s not true at all.

At 5’11” and 190 pounds — i.e., a BMI of 26.5 — the last overweight president to be elected is none other than George W. Bush.

ETA: Check out No More Mister Nice Blog for even more evidence of the astounding incompetence of the reporting here:

And now we get to see what separates the rest of us from Real Professional Journalists. Chozick writes:

“I won’t vote for any beanpole guy,” [a] Clinton supporter wrote last week on a Yahoo politics message board.

What Chozick doesn’t tell you is that this wasn’t a spontaneous online expression of anti-thinness contempt — a couple of weeks ago, Chozick herself started the thread in which that message appeared.

The rest of the article? McCain campaign talking points.

Guest Blogger Tari: Want to Save the U.S. Economy? Go on a Diet!

So this morning, Australian Shapeling Marg sent us an article with the headline, “Americans must diet to save their economy.” Yeah, really. The basic idea is, since producing food uses so much energy, we could halve our energy demands and hold off fuel price increases if we all just stopped eating so much. Yeah, really.

Our friend Tari is not only a fat rights activist but a goddamned hippy an ecologically conscious badass who pays serious attention to where and how her food is produced, in hopes of having the smallest possible impact on the planet. I figured she could rant about this one far better than any of us could, and I was right. (She’s also dang speedy with a rant!) Tari, thank you so much. Shapelings, please enjoy. –Kate

By Tari Follett

Want to save the US economy? Go on a diet.

So says New Scientist environmental reporter Catherine Brahic (big time Sanity Watchers on the comments, of course). I have to admit, although I was skeptical at first, by the end of her writeup, I totally saw her point and was on the verge of calling Jenny! Or, you know, NOT.

So, why is it that we must diet to save the economy? Because the economy is tanking due to the energy crisis:

That’s the message ecologists are trying to get across this week. They say the apparently looming energy crisis could be averted if US residents cut their calorie intake.

David Pimentel of Cornell University and colleagues have drawn on an extensive body of existing studies to highlight the wastage in the US food production chain. To bring their point home, they have estimated how much energy could be saved by making a few relatively simple changes to the way corn is produced.

Wait…where’s the part in there about going on a diet? I mean, anyone who’s read their Michael Pollan has heard about how horrible the industrial food system is, putting corn into every fucking thing in the grocery store, supporting inhumane CAFOs and environmental devastation, oppressing farm and factory workers around the world, yada yada yada. Telling Americans to go on a diet is NOT the same thing as changing the way corn is produced, and considering how much “diet food” is chemically-flavored corn byproduct, I don’t think it would have quite the effect Brahic seems to think it would.

‘Cause, see, the big problem with corn production is not that people eat too much. It’s that corn farmers grow too much. (Hint: it’s the system, not the people.) Moving swiftly on…

Their conclusion is that energy demands could easily be halved. That could stave off the prospect of further rises in the costs of fuel, they say.

To do that, however, would require a considerable change in the average US diet. The average American consumes about 3747 kcal per day compared to the 2000 to 2500 kcal per day recommended by the US Food and Drug Administration.

The 3747 kcal per day figure does not include any junk food consumed.

Producing those daily calories uses the equivalent to 2000 litres of oil per person each year. That accounts for about 19% of US total energy use.

Okay, so I used some advanced Google-fu to try to track down what David Pimentel (a noted biofuel skeptic, longtime ecologist, and generally reasonable science type) and his colleagues actually said in whatever published report Brahic is talking about. I just couldn’t imagine that someone who knew the intricacies of the industrialized food system, and its devastating environmental and economic impacts, would boil it all down to telling people to stop shoving baby donuts in their pieholes. Especially since, in the very quote above, it’s the reporter drawing that false conclusion – energy demands being halved is not the same thing as people eating fewer calories. Most of the food-related calories Pimentel is referring to come from the fossil fuel-based fertilizers and pesticides being sprayed on the production end of the system, transit costs, and that sort of thing….not so much the actual kcals in the baby donut itself.

I couldn’t find any recent statements or research from Pimentel. (If anyone else tracks it down, pass it on – I’d dearly love to review it.)

Brahic (who, as far as I can tell, is using Pimentel’s research – wherever it came from – as a vehicle to promote her own views) next moves on to the ever-popular “go veggie” argument. Now, as a committed flexitarian (meaning I eat mostly veggie with occasional meat), I agree that reduced meat eating has a huge environmental impact – especially if it’s mostly (energy intensive) factory farmed meat being cut out. Seriously, I think taking money away from those sick de-beaking fucks at Tyson is a wonderful thing…but it has nothing to do with going on a diet. Just switch it up to some nice ethically-raised free range chickens from your local family farmer, and you’re cutting the fossil-fuel kcals in your food without necessarily changing your caloric intake one whit. (Of course, that’s disregarding the limitations of class, location, and finances that make this not so much a workable solution for lots of people.)

Even Doc Pimentel agrees with that:

In 2004, Pimentel estimated 6 kilograms of plant protein are needed to produce 1 kg of high quality animal protein. He calculates that if Americans maintained their 3747 kcals per day, but switched to a vegetarian diet, the fossil fuel energy required to generate that diet would be cut by one third.

The next part is a little trickier. Brahic is using some crazy new math I don’t really follow.

In addition to the 3747 kcals, the average American consumes one third of their calories in junk food and Pimentel and colleagues suggest this could be cut by 80% and the total calorie intake be reduced by 30%. That could drastically cut the amount of energy which goes into feeding Americans, as junk food is typically low in calories, but energetically expensive to produce.

Okay, for starters, where the fuck is she getting the data that says the average American consumes 3700 kcals, PLUS a third more calories in junk food? Say what? That’s over 5600 kcals. Every day?
Seriously? I mean, the odious Morgan Spurlock didn’t even quite pull that off by eating at Mickey D’s three times a day… and I somehow doubt that’s a habit of the average American. In fact, per the latest data (2004) from the UN Food and Agriculture Office, Americans average 3770 kcal per day. Now, I’m not sure if FAO is including junk food in there or not, but I’m guessing they probably don’t count junk food calories separate from regular ones (especially since they have a dietary breakdown that includes fats and sugars and other junk-food-type ingredients right there on the same page).

What’s really just pants-pissingly hilarious, though, is the bit about reducing that phantom third-of-overall-calories-from-junk-food by 80%, which somehow reduces the overall number by 30%. Now, I wasn’t a math major, but lemme see if I can add this up: 3747 + 1874 (the extra third, assuming that 3747 is two thirds) – 1499 (80% of the 1874 junk food calories) = 4122 kcals. Hang on a sec, 70% of 5600 is only 3920! Hey, wait…maybe she lives in a land where numbers don’t have a constant value?

I also particularly LOVE the “junk food is typically low in calories” line. Make up your own joke.

Don’t get me wrong, I agree with a lot of the actual, substantive points of the article. Factory farming is horrible for animals, the environment, the economy, and for people. Eating less meat demonstrably reduces overall energy usage on a global scale. Single serving packaging wastes energy and materials needlessly. Reducing the amount of meat and processed food we eat is a step towards better physical and environmental health for most people.

But you know what it ain’t? A diet.

In trying to stay abreast of what’s going on in the environmental movement, I see a lot of fatphobia. The constant flourishing of a fatass as the foremost symbol of Classic American Overconsumption is a popular theme, and speaking out against it in environmental circles often a difficult and thankless task. In that context, quite frankly, this is a pretty mild example of the usual “if we stopped burning fossil fuels and eating meat, we’d all be skinny vegans riding bikes everywhere” rhetoric.

It’s a cheap shot, though, and the reasons for making changes to how we look at what we eat are strong enough to stand on their own – without bashing fat people, without using Madison Avenue marketing smoke and mirrors, without playing on the engineered fears and insecurities of a constantly bombarded populace. But then, Brahic and her editors (who knows which of the two slapped the headline on this article?) aren’t in the business of actually making the world a better place. They’re looking for clickthroughs and ad revenue… and everyone knows, chicks can’t resist an article with “diet” in the

Quick hit: Racism and victory daps

The next time someone tells you that fatphobia differs from racism in being a “socially acceptable prejudice,” kick them over to this post. It’s a hilariously written but chilling roundup of histrionic reactions to the celebratory dap — sorry, GANG SIGN — between Michelle and Barack Obama last week, courtesy of Drive-By Assholes on the Internet. Here’s some of their more charming brainfruit:

It is more evidence of the penetration and corruption of our dominant culture by the minority.

I love the idea of a racist mullato being president. History has shown repeatedly, when Whites set up new countries and then give the control to the blacks, or any non-White race, it will soon collapse into another third world catastrophe.

I can’t be denied that just about all their dance moves , walks and crazy handshakes mimik some kind of animal motion. What’s next? the knee in the crotch-hands above the head greeting?

Another dispaly how Black “keep it real”-real dumb. Picture Obama and wife having to meet world dignitaries. 1st of all this Punk of a wanna-be presient doesn’t even salute his OWN flag. that will look retarted when the national anthem is played as he stands in front of other world officals.

You got to be kidding, The fist “bump”, .America “WAKE UP”, You are getting your first taste of what it is going to be like electing Barack HUSSEIN Obama for president. Next you are going to see southern fried chicken, black-eyed peas, corn bread, and watermelon as your daily meal. Let’s not forget what Obama’s middle name is, funny thing, he never wants to use his middle name on his campaign.

Racism may not be socially acceptable among the people we choose to socialize with. But there are entire communities of bottom-feeders among whom it’s a major social currency. Fatphobia is unusual, though not unique, in that progressives will be gleefully fatphobic, while they’d be ashamed to express racism overtly. But that’s progressives. There’s a lot of folks on this internet, many of them with real-world counterparts, who aren’t the least bit ashamed to be blatantly racist.

I read some of these aloud to Dan, including the one about having fried chicken and cornbread as your daily meal, and he said “hey, that doesn’t sound so bad.” He’s right — it wouldn’t be my first choice of menu, and it might get a little tedious, but compared to a bungled war and a tanked economy it looks pretty desirable. But this person didn’t namecheck fried chicken and watermelon because they were awful; he or she did so because they were racist stereotypes of food preferred by blacks. That’s how “socially unacceptable” racism is for some people — they’re more interested in just saying something racist than in saying something that actually conveys meaning. The idea, in theory, was originally to say something menacing about an Obama administration, but that goal is totally secondary. The real goal is just to be as racist as possible as quickly as possible without stopping for any reason. And these people aren’t doing this out of a self-flagellating desire to be socially shunned. They’re doing it to get accolades — but not the dap, that’s WAY too black — from like-minded bigots.

I know this isn’t news to most of you, but it’s a useful illustration of why official policy around these parts rejects the “last acceptable prejudice” bohonkey. Virulent prejudice — racism, sexism, homophobia, fatphobia, transphobia, ablism, stop me any time — is more socially acceptable across the board than many of us could ever imagine, or would ever want to imagine.

Non-headless non-fatty

As Jessica at Feministing notes, the Wall Street Journal, that bastion of…something, has launched a new “women’s” section online. Three guesses what kind of topic is considered Suitable for the Ladies. Okay, to be fair, there are some career and politics-oriented articles, but there are also the obligatory articles on shopping, exercising, and dieting. The dieting article is almost HAES in drag: it’s about mindful eating and its potential to help chronic dieters or those with eating disorders. Sounds good, right? Well, it would be if it didn’t emphasize the weight loss of one participant, and if it didn’t include this delightful quote from a psychotherapist:

“I’ve worked with lots of obese people — you’d think they’d enjoy food. But a lot of them say they haven’t really tasted what they’ve been shoveling down for years.”

Use of “obese”? Check. Stereotypes about fat people? Double check! Fatties both loooove food AND can’t enjoy it because they’re shoveling it down too fast to have normal human experiences like “taste.” Mind you, the article does discuss binge-eating disorders in a reasonable way, but that’s not what our friend the psychotherapist is talking about — she just means any old “obese people” out there. You just can’t stop tear them away from the baby-flavored donuts!

But what really burns my cookies is the picture used to illustrate it. I was expecting a Headless Fatty, natch, but oh no, they’ve gone one better:


Hillary Clinton is not mentioned once in this article. Is she a binge eater? A chronic dieter? Does she practice mindful eating? Who knows? Who cares! It doesn’t matter. She’s a Lady, you see. And the WSJ is all about The Ladies. I’m sure running an unflattering picture of the first major female presidential candidate next to a headline about being “mindless,” for an article that reminds us that sometimes women eat cake! and then they get fat!, is just a random pairing that has nothing to do with WSJ’s notoriously stodgy editorial stance.

This article, which actually delivers what could be a fat-positive or at least fat-neutral stance, is framed as a way to keep all those silly fatties and mindless women from devouring the world. No woman is immune from public scrutiny of her diet: not even if you are rich, white, able-bodied, post-menopausal, and a US Senator can you avoid being used as a cautionary tale of The Dangers of Women Eating.

Massachusetts Hearing Round-Up

A few links to coverage of yesterday’s hearing, for your reading pleasure…

Susan Stinson’s description of events and her testimony

Marina Wolf Ahmad in comments

Boston Now, including video of some testimony

A pessimistic but otherwise pretty good article from the Attleboro Sun Chronicle

Boston Herald

Salem News, including this gem of a quote from the opposition:

But Rep. Bradley Jones Jr., R-North Reading, said height and weight discrimination doesn’t merit legislators’ attention, especially with the Legislature’s session ending July 31….

Jones is also concerned that obesity would be out of place alongside unchangeable traits currently considered in state anti-discrimination laws. Though height is predetermined, weight is something that’s a matter of choice, Jones said. For that reason, he said, it probably should not be grouped with race, religion, age or gender.

Emphasis mine. ‘Cause, you know, religion is totally predetermined and immutable. (Yes, I realize that for those who are born into a faith and continue to subscribe to it as adults, it pretty much feels that way. And I don’t believe anyone should be discriminated against on religious grounds, especially not because they could “just choose” to change their faith. It’s not nearly that simple. But it’s sure not that simple for fat people, either, and yet the “Fat is a choice” argument is still wielded against us.)

I find it interesting that these articles are mostly focusing on the height aspect of the bill. On the one hand, it’s a slap in the face–height is automatically seen as the more important issue because of the “choice” bullshit. On the other hand, if people are focusing on that instead of screeching about whiny fatties who refuse to diet, I’m not complaining.

What do you guys think? Any more reports from the field?

Scottish Social Services Set to Take Fat Children from Parents

So I wake up this morning to an e-mail from long-time Shapeling Buffpuff, with a link to this story. Scottish Social Services have threatened to remove six children, ages 21 months to 12, from their parents’ home, unless the kids lose weight within three months. To “safeguard their welfare.”

‘Cause, you know, nothing says “safeguarding welfare” like taking children out of a loving home.

Buffpuff on the U.K. media response:

Needless to say I woke up this morning to a tirade of holier than thou anti-fat rhetoric radio presenters and listeners alike. All the clichés were present from donut-scarfing to emotional eating to “where’s-their-sense-of-personal-responsibility?!”

The Mirror helpfully offers a taste of that with a point-counterpoint feature about whether this is a good idea or not. Representing the “Great idea!” camp is Tam Fry, Chairman of the Child Growth Foundation, who I can only assume is the U.K.’s answer to MeMe Roth.

In 99 per cent of cases, obesity is so avoidable. Letting a child get so fat is a form of abuse as there’s a possibility they could die before their parents.

It’s important they are taken out of their homes and put under 24-hour surveillance from doctors and nurses.

We have no hesitation in removing a severely undernourished child from their home. We should be as concerned when they are seriously overweight.

The blame is not always entirely the parents. In this case, where were the health professionals to intervene early?

Going into care is a last resort. But if your kid is obese, do something. Apart from the name-calling they will suffer, do you want a death on your hands?

Where to begin?

It’s “so avoidable” in 99% of cases? Um, [CITATION NEEDED.]

Fat children could die before their parents? Well, yeah, so could anybody. But the people who screech about how THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC BOOGA BOOGA BOOGA will inevitably result in a generation of parents outliving their children still have no goddamned answer when you point out that life expectancy continues to increase. And it did so while obesity rates were rising (which, psst, they aren’t anymore, at least in the U.S.). Not to mention, both of the parents in question here are fat; if you believe obesity is deadly, how the hell do you figure it’s going to kill their kids before them?

And “letting” your children get fat — as if it’s something all parents can easily control — is “child abuse” tantamount to starving them? They should be under 24-hour surveillance? People can seriously say this shit with a straight face?

Speaking of which, what happens when parents are forced to “do something” about their fat kids (since we all know the thought would never have occurred to them before Social Services stepped in)? Well, when one of those kids is an 11-year-old girl threatened with losing her parents unless she loses weight, take a wild fucking guess.

[The mother] fears the girl, 11, may develop an eating disorder as she now shuns proper meals…

Way to safeguard those kids’ welfare, there, folks. A girl who’s too terrorized to eat is way better off than a fat girl. Keep up the good work, you despicable assholes.

Oh, and hey, let’s not forget this part:

The Dundee family came to the attention of social services when they asked for help in caring for the kids, including the girl, three, who has developmental problems.

Let that be a lesson to you, parents: Don’t ever ask for the help you need with your kids. Jesus.