The Beauty Advantage

2nd August 2010

The Beauty Advantage

by Rachel

I meant to post this the other week, but that pesky thing called life got in the way and I back-burnered it.  Newsweek has put together an awesome special feature on the advantages (and yes, even disadvantages) of being beautiful and how it can affect our lives, careers and health.  There are a lot of great multimedia links to follow, but here’s a few that caught my attention:

(And in my own addendum on the subject, I highly recommend Kathy Peiss’ Hope in a Jar: The Making of America’s Beauty Culture and — what I consider the definitive work on the history of American cultural beauty standards — Lois W. Banner’s American Beauty: A Social History…Through Two Centuries of the American Idea, Ideal, and Image of the Beautiful Woman.)

I think that most of us would agree that lookism is A Bad Thing, but surprisingly, in a survey conducted by Newsweek, only 46 percent of the public said they would favor a law making hiring discrimination based on appearance illegal.  Is this a case of a deluded public who’s bought the beauty myth hook, line and sinker?  Or could it be a pragmatic public realizing the practicalities of such a law difficult to enforce?   Your thoughts on this and the other columns and galleries in Newsweek’s special feature on beauty?

posted in Body Image, Fashion, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Pop Culture, Rachel, vintage ads | 4 Comments

14th July 2010

Help stamp out fat hate groups on Facebook

by Rachel

Atchka of the blog Fierce Fatties is looking for your support to end Facebook’s demonstrated tolerance of fat hate groups on the social networking site. He’s started a petition with the ambitious — but not unattainable — goal of 100,000 signatures. F-word readers, let’s help him out.  Read the call below and sign the petition here.

There are an obscene amount of Groups and Pages on Facebook which are solely dedicated to the humiliation, degradation and dehumanization of fat people.

Although they seem to violate Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities, Facebook refuses to accept fat people as a “protected group.”

Despite a request for clarification of terms, Facebook refuses to respond to followup questions and has deferred its responsibility to judiciously exercise editorial oversight.

However, they do currently exercise oversight with regard to gay bashing groups, despite the fact that sexual identity and gender orientation are not “protected groups” by federal definitions. They purposely delete gay bashing groups swiftly and effectively, yet fat bashing groups remain.

Seeing as how the majority of these groups are directed specifically at fat women, we do not understand how most of these sites are not a violation of the Rights and Responsibilities if only seen through the lens of sexism and misogyny.

WE RESPECTFULLY REQUEST that Facebook change or clarify it’s current policy with regard to fat hatred. Either remove fat hate groups entirely or justify the inconsistency of the current policy.

Fat people endure an intense amount of hatred both in public and online. It is a hatred that impacts every aspect of our lives and it is currently seen as a socially acceptable form of discrimination and bias.

As Facebook is the largest social networking site, we encourage them to take a stand against hatred IN ALL FORMS, rather than allow certain types of hatred to go unchallenged.

posted in Fat Bias, Rachel | 7 Comments

29th June 2010

Open Topic: Talking to kids about fat comments

by Rachel

I’m back on my thyroid medication and feeling more like myself than I have in the past month I’ve been off it, so I hope to be back posting regularly soon.  In the meantime, here’s an item for discussion.  My brother- and sister-in-law and their children live in a city about an hour and a half from us (and have 6-month-old twin girls), so we don’t see them as often as I would like.  We made the trip down on Sunday to celebrate my niece Klara’s seventh birthday; our previous trip was in April to celebrate my nephew’s birthday.  On our last two visits, my niece has made three comments on my weight, specifically about how fat she thinks I am.  On all three occasions I was caught off-guard and didn’t give as good of a response as I would have liked to give.  The first time I think I said something like, “Yes, Klara, I am fat” and changed the subject.  She made another comment later that night and I tried to explain to her that God made everyone different, like he made Uncle Brandon tall and Aunt Rachel short, and that we would be really boring if we all looked alike (the family are devout Christians).   The last comment came during dinner on our latest visit.  Klara suddenly grabbed the loose skin on my bicep and remarked that I wouldn’t be so fat if I didn’t have so much extra skin.  Caught off-guard, I kind of stammered that “Yes, I lost weight too fast and my skin couldn’t keep up and that’s one of the reasons I am fat,” and changed the subject.  * All three comments were unheard by her parents.

My BIL and SIL are very insistent on teaching their children good manners and both Klara and her brother are otherwise very polite children.  Brandon and I both thought it odd that she would comment so much on my weight, so I sent her parents an email letting them know.  Here’s part of what I wrote:

I don’t want Klara to grow up thinking that “fat” is a four-letter word — girls these days have enough issues with self-esteem and body image — but many people do consider it to be an inappropriate comment to lob at someone and I would hate for Klara to inadvertently insult someone in your church or at her school.  I’m also concerned that Klara seems to hold a negative perception of fatness and fat people and I worry that that perception may color how she sees and relates to others and may influence her own sense of body image as she grows older.  The prevailing cultural opinion seems to be that fat people just sit on the couch all day stuffing Twinkies down their throats, but genetics do not come in a one-size-fits-all sequence and people are fat for a variety of medical, physiological, socio-economic and emotional reasons.  You two do an awesome job of trying to instill in your children respect for different races and people and basic etiquette, so I thought that I would bring this to your attention so that maybe you can have a discussion with Klara on how it is impolite to comment on the bodies of others and to respect that people come in different shapes and sizes.

I don’t have children (thankfully) and I can usually only take kids in small doses before they mentally and physically exhaust me, so my experience in how to relate and explain things to children in language they can understand is limited to say the least.  I do think that it’s important to let Klara know that it isn’t appropriate to comment on the way someone looks or on their body, but I’m  concerned that by shushing her, it will reinforce to Klara that being fat is Something Bad, which is also something I don’t want her to think.  Does anyone have any suggestions on how to explain to a seven-year-old that being fat isn’t bad or something to be ashamed of, but at the same time that it isn’t polite to comment on someone’s body?

posted in Body Image, Body Politic, Fat Bias, Rachel | 40 Comments

23rd June 2010

Wednesday Weigh-In: A tide-you-over post until we can write something in more detail

by charlynn

I have a feeling I’m not the only writer for that is insanely busy right now since no one has posted in over a week. On behalf of the three of us, you have our apologies. We hate it when life gets in the way of blogging just as much as you do. :)

With that in mind, here comes another roundup of links instead of a fully thought-out post, but at least it’s something new…right? Right!

MSNBC profiles three women who gained weight as a result of illness, not overeating. One struggles with a hormonal imbalance and has noticed how people treat her differently because of her weight. Another gained weight as a result of taking steroids for migraines. The third woman developed insulin resistance, and prior to developing her condition, believed that obesity was a “couch potato disease.” Not any longer — she says she is ashamed for being so judgmental in the past.

In case you haven’t already heard about this, former Biggest Loser contestant Kai Hibbard is speaking about her experience on the show, saying she left the show with a distorted body image and developed an eating disorder. She is going public with her story because she feels that some elements of the show are misleading and hurtful to viewers. in Israel has a fantastic story about what life is like at the eating disorders unit at Sheba Medical Center.

And finally, the Los Angeles Times published an article a couple of days ago about the Maudsley Approach. Success stories as well as skepticism about the method are discussed.

For the sake of discussion, what has everybody been doing while we’ve been absent? Share your latest by making a comment!

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Bulimia, Charlynn, Eating Disorders, Fat Bias, Recovery | 12 Comments

9th June 2010

The Wednesday Weigh-In

by Rachel

Margarita Tartakovsky of the blog Weightless interviews Cheryl Kerrigan, author of the new book Telling ED NO! and Other Practical Tools to Conquer Your Eating Disorder and Find Freedom.

Fat Lot of Good blogger Bri weighs in on a recent study that found that children whose mothers were chronically abused by their partners were more likely to be fat by age 5.  Because being fat is so much more pressing of an issue than being victimized by domestic violence.

Urban Outfitters removes what many are calling a pro-ana t-shirt from its website, but the “Eat Less” shirt remains available in stores.   Outraged?  Join the Girlcott Urban Outfitters group on Facebook.

Should appearance-based discrimination be treated with the same weight as we give to other -isms like racism and sexism?  That’s the question Deborah Rhodes tackles in her new book, The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law. Read Dahlia Lithwick’s review of the book on Slate.

Just when you thought the insanity would never end…  It’s not enough that some parents lose custody of their obese children because of their weight.  Now a British animal welfare council has seized custody of an obese dog.  The pudgy pup Gucci is said to now be on a strict diet and exercise regime at a special canine fat club.

FEAST has launched its Around the Dinner Table Plate Drive through June.  The fundraising initiative supports the group’s mission, which is to empower families and support parents and caregivers in helping loved ones recover from eating disorders.

The British Mail’s Lucy Taylor ruminates on on how she gave up running and learned to simply enjoy the journey. contributor Karen Salmansohn looks at the Fox and ABC refusal to air the sexy new Lane Bryant lingerie commercials in a different light: “The fact that a TV network would find this Lane Bryant spot far more sexually enticing than Victoria’s Secret spots — which air all the time — simply shows they’re acknowledging the extreme sexiness of voluptuous women!”

Comments?  Any links to share?  Add your two cents in the comments below.

posted in Anorexia, Body Image, Body Politic, Body-Affirming, Eating Disorders, Fat Bias, Feminist Topics, Legal Issues, Mental Health, Non-profits, Politics, Pop Culture, Rachel | 12 Comments

7th June 2010

Replacing racism with sizeism? Not cool, Wonkette

by Rachel

So, the blog Wonkette recently opined on Prescott, Az. city councilman Steve Blair who used AM talk radio show to advocate for the removal of a black child’s face from a downtown mural.  Arizona isn’t exactly considered a bastion of racial tolerance right now, what with the passage of SB 1070, a stringent law many (myself included) would argue only legalizes racial profiling of Hispanics.  But the case of the mural, which was drawn from the photographs of actual children enrolled at the nearby, racially-diverse Miller Valley School, is especially egregious.  Blair’s call for the removal of an African-American child figured prominently in the mural was met with a wave of Waspian support, with even the school’s principal pressuring the artists behind the mural to lighten — a.k.a. whiten – the faces of children depicted (the principal has since backed down).  And this is just the latest insult — the children who worked alongside the artists were repeatedly subjected to drive-by racial slurs and epithets during the months-long project.  Read more on this affront to decency here.

Wonkette, like so many others, was naturally outraged by the blatant racism, as was radio channel KYCA, who promptly and appropriately fired Blair from his radio show (he still remains a city councilman).  In an blog update about the firing, Wonkette had this to say about Blair:


But whatever, look at this fat fucking hunchbacked pig, and pity him if you have that kind of generous soul.

Not to take attention away from this horrible display of racism, but is anyone else struck by the inherent hypocrisy of Wonkette replacing one form of -ism — racism — with yet another form of -ism — sizeism?  There are plenty of slurs with which to hurl Blair’s way — racist, bigot, uninformed, xenophobic and spineless, ignorant twit, to name just a few — but commentary on his size and appearance should not be among them.  Not only are these remarks entirely irrelevant to Blair’s speech and actions, such comments, in fact, only perpetuates the  exploitive hegemonies and ideology of domination that buttresses all forms of discrimination.  As Shirley Chisholm once said, In the end antiblack, antifemale, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing – antihumanism.

posted in Body Politic, Fat Bias, Race Issues, Rachel | 14 Comments

4th May 2010

No, I will not help you make money by spreading fat hate

by Rachel

Here’s an email I just received from some PR flack who’s obviously never been to The-F-Word.


Recent studies have shown that depression can actually lead to obesity in adolescent youth through raised stress hormones. With a very recent, hefty 6 million dollar donation from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, The Cornell Center for Behavior Intervention Development has begin its approach at striking down obesity in our youth, including minorities.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss the topic at hand with you and the readers of

Please, take a minute to consider this and get back to me at your earliest; it would be a pleasure to contribute!



And my reply:

Instead of “striking down obesity in our youth,” have you ever considered “promoting mental and physical health for ALL youth, regardless of weight”? Or, have you ever considered that fat kids develop “raised stress hormones” as the result of weight-based discrimination and harassment, including campaigns like this one that tells fat kids that their bodies are deviant and not acceptable? Have you considered at all that by specifically targeting fat kids, you are actually only contributing to the kind of hostile environment that lead many of them to develop depression and other mental health problems.?

No, thanks.

By the way, Rachelle’s signature identifies her as working in “Web Relations” for a large Chicago-based cosmetic surgery center.  No surprises there.

posted in Body Politic, Fat Bias, Rachel | 17 Comments

13th April 2010

Quick links: Waging war on obese people

by Rachel

Americans like to shroud complex social issues in the the context of militarism.  We have the war on drugs, the war on terror, the war on guns, and as conservative fundamentalists would have you believe, even a war on Christmas.  America’s latest war — the war on obesity — is much like its forebears: more a moral crusade and panic than corporeal imperative.  And as as biological psychologist Hal Herzog notes, it is one that “like some other recent wars, there is little evidence that it is winnable, particularly by penalizing the victims.”

Two quick links highlight the fallacy of a war on obese people.  The first piece is by religion scholar Michelle Lelwica, author of the book The Religion of Thinness, writing for Psychology Today.  While Lelwica tends to overlook the physiological factors of weight while focusing inordinately on social-driven behaviors, her overarching point is a salient one:

A combative approach is apparent both in the explicit language used to describe the war on obesity, and in the implicit notion this battle conveys, namely, that fat is the enemy. The trouble with this approach is the trouble with most wars: it exacerbates the very conflicts it is supposed to resolve, while it fails to address the underlying conditions that give rise to the problems in the first place.

…If we are to move in the direction of greater overall health as a nation-including our physical, mental, and spiritual well being-we need to dig deeper than the current “war on obesity” encourages us to do. We need to infuse this battle with some loving-kindness by understanding the complex causes of obesity and by envisioning a broader, more peaceful path to the wholeness we seek. Such a path would require us to rethink our relationship to the earth (i.e., how food is produced), to our appetites (i.e. what it feels like to be hungry or full), and to our suffering (i.e., how we handle the stresses and pain of our lives). Ultimately, it would encourage us to see that the real enemy is not fat, but fear, apathy, and ignorance.

The second is an awesome piece I linked to last week on The-F-Word’s Twitter page by Betsy Phillips blogging for Nashville Scene. Phillips, who also blogs as Aunt B. at Tiny Cat Pants, asks the obvious question: Does the (Tennessee) Obesity Task Force even have any obese people on it?  The answer, of course, is an unsurprising no.  Explains Phillips:

One, when you set up a dynamic where obesity is a problem that needs to be eradicated — and obese people are the literal embodiment of grave failure as responsible people and responsible Tennesseans — and you are the answer-man heroes who will come in and save the day, chances are slim that you will want to hear from people who don’t see themselves as an unsightly problem that needs to be removed from our society.

Also, the chances that doctors will want to hear from obese people about the shitty prejudices we face from doctors — many of whom have preconceived ideas that we’re stupid, poor, slovenly liars who just aren’t trying hard enough? Probably also pretty slim.

Phillips then goes on to juxtapose the group’s supposed mission of promoting health with its images and propaganda that depict fat people as “slovenly, stupid and, apparently, prone to bouts of cheesy cross-dressing.”

People are obese. People. Obesity is not some abstract thing to be studied from afar by people with expertise. It’s a type of body that a lot of people in our state have. Yes, often times, it can lead to health problems. But just as often, if not more, it is a symptom of some other issue.

And being obese in this society is not easy, because we get that you think we shouldn’t exist how we are. We get that message, loud and clear, all the time.

We know how y’all talk about “health” but you really mean “how you look makes me uncomfortable.” We get that message loud and clear, too.

Believe me, if you’re not obese, you may think you get what it’s like to have a body that so plainly marks you for most people as stupid and lower-class and unwilling to get with the program and unworthy to live unmolested in society. But you do not.

And, frankly, there is no real middle ground here. Once you’ve made it as plain as you have that you think being fat is disgusting — and that my very body, which I live in, is some problem which must be eradicated — your cries of “But your health!” or “But the children!” don’t mean much.

Your thoughts?

posted in Fat Bias, Rachel | 17 Comments

1st April 2010

Open post: Your school bullying stories

by Rachel

Outrage is growing in the case of Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts teenager who hanged herself two months ago after being bullied, harassed and assaulted by classmates at school.  Nine students implicated in her torment face criminal charges, including criminal harassment, stalking and statutory rape, and parents are now calling for the firing of school administrators, whom they say knew about the bullying and did nothing to stop it.  This isn’t the first time bullying has led to such tragedy.  Remember Megan Meier?  She was the 13-year-old Missouri teen who also hanged herself after being bullied online by a former friend and her mother.  And last year I blogged about a Pennsylvania woman who sued her daughter’s school, claiming that bullying led her daughter to develop anorexia.

I don’t know the girls who tormented Phoebe Prince, but I know their type.  I faced them down each and every day of my daily school existence starting in middle school.  High school ran in slow motion.  Each day only promised yet another bottomless black hole in my existence.  Attendance was state-mandated child abuse; there was no way to avoid it.  Come morning I would stumble and begin falling, slowly, end over end, for eight hours, like a bad dream you wake up from in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, a cold lump in the pit of your stomach. I don’t think a day went by when I wasn’t called some derivation of “fat bitch.”  Girls I barely knew threatened to beat me up, spit hunks of phlegm in my hair on the bus.  Boys sent me fake love notes, hoping I’d fall for their cruel chicanery.  My only goal was to be a double negative, not seen and not heard, and so I never spoke up about the abuse, never reported it to my teachers or administrators.  Even so, I know at least a few of them witnessed it and yet they did nothing to help me or to stop it.  Reconciled to a fat girl’s passivity, I accepted my second-class status and believed that because I was fat, I was somehow less than human than those pretty, popular types and therefore deserving of the harassment.  Today, I can only wonder if some of my teachers perhaps thought the same.

In the wake of the Phoebe Prince case, hundreds of MSNBC readers have written in sharing their own abuse and bullying stories.  Kids are bullied for any reason or no reason at all, but it seems that being fat is a common theme throughout many of the submissions.  Here’s a few of their stories:

I was bullied from kindergarten through high school. I was constantly taunted as “fatty”, “fatso” and “loser” even though, looking at old photographs I was not really heavy until mid-grade school — after I took their teasing to heart. In high school, kids would follow me down the hall and hit me in the head with textbooks. At one point, for several days in a row, I was held down on the school bus and forced to ride it to the end of the route which resulted in a walk home of several miles.  I was threatened often.  I suffered from low self-esteem and depression through my entire childhood and had several bouts of suicidal ideation in my teens.  I did talk to some teachers and my parents about the bullying but I was always told to “ignore them” or “walk away”; two pieces of advice that could not be put into practice. I eventually dropped out.  Now, at almost 40 years of age I look back and think about how my life might have been different if I had not been afraid for so long and if I had learned not to hate myself sooner.

As a child I was morbidly obese. One individual in particular bullied me constantly. Slaps in the face, taunts, property destruction. I was dragged through the snow for yards once. I’ve long since left my home town. However on one return visit I was shocked to find out that this person is now a police officer!

I was always bullied throughout my school life for being overweight. I’m a guy, and yet because of all the bullying, I always had the personality of being self-conscious, low self-esteem, and a complete dislike of my body. I always, still to this day, think of what others will think of my actions. I’ve lost weight from my school days but I still remember so well feeling such depression when I was young. I know that if I didn’t have Christ in my life, I would have ended it a long time ago.

How about you?  Were you ever bullied in school?  Did anyone step in to stop it?  How did your school react to it?  How did the abuse affect you then and today?  Share your bullying stories in the comments below.

posted in Fat Bias, Mental Health, Rachel | 75 Comments

5th March 2010

Feel Good Friday: Sending a message to the message-makers

by Rachel

It’s Friday, the sky is blue, the sun is shining and I’m much too buoyant to dwell on frustrating and depressing news, so instead I’ll share some fuck-yeah! good news from the north. Canada’s National Eating Disorder Information Centre has teamed up with Toronto-based advertising agency Zulu Alpha Kilo to creatively combat unhealthy body images promoted by the fashion industry.  The small-budget guerrilla-style advertising campaign involved sending fashion editors and brand marketing directors across the country a Hallmark-style greeting card which reads, “Thanks for helping to make me such a successful anorexic.” They also sent out T-shirts with an absurdly small waist featuring the message, “Please try this on to experience how your ads make us feel.” And an interactive transit shelter with a poster reading “Shed your weight problem here” currently functions as a garbage bin for fashion magazines, complete with a slot at the front which allows consumers to add their glossies to a growing stack of Glamour, Vogue, and Fashion magazines.  The campaign’s broader goal asks marketers and fashion leaders to “cast responsibly and retouch minimally.”

More than half of all Canadian women diet, according to NEDIC, and one in four teenage girls engage in eating disordered behavior (in the U.S., it’s estimated that three out of four women have disordered eating and as many as 10 percent may have a full-blown eating disorder).  The fashion industry often bears the brunt for instilling unhealthy body images in girls and women and while NEDIC director Merryl Bear acknowledges that “a range of factors” are at play when it comes to eating disorders, the organization’s goal, she said, was to “focus on different audiences at different times to look at a broad range of some of the influences on body image and disordered eating.  We wanted to show that both the public and some fashion thinkers are ready for change. It may look provocative and edgy, but it is a very substantive campaign.”

NEDIC is collecting digital signatures for its petition, which asks fashion leaders and marketers to “broaden their definition of beauty and inspire us with looks that are beautiful and attainable.”  Watch highlights from the campaign below (beware: the video contains potentially triggering images of emaciated models).

posted in Body Image, Eating Disorders, Fashion, Fat Bias, Rachel | 9 Comments

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