This week, Lisa Du Breuil alerted people to the New York Times' "Invitation to a Dialogue: Talking about Obesity." From the name alone, you know it's going to be bad. The so-called dialogue begins with a lengthy letter from someone who pulls a classic Susie Orbach maneuver: decrying dieting and negative appearance talk as damaging for average-weight girls but urging them as necessary for fat girls because…health.
My response wasn't picked for publication, but I was still eager this morning to see which fat community person or Health At Every Size® proponent they included…
Not. A. Single. One.
That's not a coincidence, that's prejudice in action. (HAES was mentioned…snidely…by a diet book author/MD who got the name wrong, calling it "Health At Any Size.")
Adding insult and idiocy, here's the headline of the so-called dialogue: "Is Obesity O.K.?"
Two obvious points:
1. Fat people don't need permission.
2. The word "obesity" [sic] is not okay. It's inaccurate as a diagnostic category and dangerous as a term that supports and promotes discrimination in all sorts of settings.
I've heard that at least three people submitted fat-poz/HAES responses. None were used. Here's a breakdown of the responses that were included…
my (unpublished) response:
To the editor: Carol Weston is right to warn against dieting and weight-negative talk. They are ineffective, injurious, and encourage an ugly prejudice. That's why it's unconscionable when she insists on the same old weight focus for larger girls. Bad advice doesn't magically turn into good advice just because Weston can't see fat girls as healthy and happy. Weight-loss initiatives have targeted fat children since the Kennedy administration. After decades of such efforts, we have rampant eating disorders, punishing increases in weight bullying, and none of Weston's desired weight loss. If we want children to adopt healthy habits and feel welcome in society, stop adding the unnecessary and unhelpful poison pill of weight bias to what should be enjoyable and self-affirming experiences of food and fitness. A weight-neutral, Health At Every Size® approach expands both wellness and civil rights. Children of all sizes need safe sidewalks, reduced junk food marketing, *and* protection from body policing. It's not a good way to start a dialogue.
- 1 letter from the Obesity [sic] Action Coalition (which believes fat kills)
- 1 letter from two MDs who believe fat kills
- 2 letters from teen girls who believe fat kills
- 1 letter from a woman who believes all women prefer being a size 10 to a size 16
- 1 letter from a woman who believes "overweight" [sic] children should not be shamed, but should get diet/exercise advice from pediatricians
- 1 letter that a woman who describes the negative impact of weight stigma, then writes: "Does being fat have health risks? Maybe, though the jury is out on whether it is weight or lifestyle that matters. Clearly a fat fit person who eats healthfully is in a much healthier place than a thin couch potato with an unhealthy diet." [Insert 'good fatty' critique here!]
Where was a letter from a fat civil rights group, for balance? Where were letters from HAES-based medical experts, for balance? Where were letters from fat teens, for balance? Where were letters from fat adults who have a wholly fat-positive worldview, for balance?
In case it wasn't already obvious: We live in a society in which a publication of record can give prominent space to people who are encouraged to criticize an entire demographic group as if we're all sick and wrong, while making sure to exclude any voices of people who are proud to be part of that demographic group…and call that dialogue. Such choices are not even questioned, much less treated as career-ending errors.