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.