Fat Shame Porn – Fed Up the Movie

It feels like every few years another movie comes out attempting to expose the root cause of the “obesity epidemic” making my life as an activist and a fat person even harder. Last night on twitter I was asked if I had heard about the documentary Fed Up that’s coming out next month by someone who saw it at Sundance in January. You can read their review here but after watching the theatrical trailer that was released this week, it only confirmed what my initial fears would be about the film.


(Photo from the Fed Up press kit)

At the 45 second mark commentary on the trailer states “this is the first generation that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents,” which first started circulating in 2002 and was again reinforced in 2005 by a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The lead researcher later backed off his assertion (downloads pdf), as did the first author in 2002, after he admitted that this statement was a prediction and not based on empirical evidence. Since then, especially after the study F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future was published in 2011, the idea that children today will live shorter lives than their parents is continually presented as fact when that simply isn’t true.

While the movie is focused on how policy changes have allowed for the food industry to create products that make it all but impossible for people to eat well, the way they frame it as fat being inherently unhealthy is harmful and doesn’t actually help fat people. By them following around fat teenagers to find out more about how they live, they have participated in the exploitation of the fat shaming they experience and reinforce the dehumanization fat people deal with from a very early age. The girl featured in the trailer talks about how her doctor has told her she could become a statistic, a grim outlook on her life, but frames the problem as being based on her body and not the society we live in. This has been a main tactic of the diet industry in general, where they have continued to imply the experiences fat people have due to fat stigma is not based at an institutional or structural level but instead on individuals for having the audacity to exist.

Furthermore, the fat children and the shots of headless fatties that are flashed throughout the trailer, in-between shots of grocery store isles and spoons in sugar, are not a true representation of what this “epidemic” looks like. All of the images show bodies that most people would visually identify as fat or “obese” yet people of that size take up 6.3% of the US population. This kind of imagery creates a false idea of what this “epidemic” looks like and creates an even less safe society for fat people to live in by removing them from what this reality looks like. This in turn creates a heightened focus on people who are visually labeled fat.

One positive from the film appears to be them trying to combat the idea that willpower has anything to do with body size, but even then by blaming sugar and Michael Pollen talking about how sugar is a drug they are counterproductive in their attempt to challenge this misunderstanding. Most fat activists are well aware of the argument that too much sugar causes fatness and diseases like diabetes. By comparing sugar or food to a drug like heroine, I already know that people will continue to push the need for fat people to have the willpower to fight their sugar addiction and only eat foods who don’t have added sugar.

While the film apparently talks about the structural and class issues related to food access I am unaware of is how they talk about those issues. The inclusion of Bill Clinton in the film seems counterproductive within itself when his presidency gutted welfare and made access to health behaviors in general even harder for people living in poverty. When the Clinton Initiative and their Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s main goal is to end “childhood obesity” by only focusing on the food children have in schools, free time out of school and healthcare, but doesn’t try to build a social safety net for their families or communities they are setting themselves up for failure. This is even truer when we simply don’t know how to make fat people thin people long term and again focusing on people’s bodies not structure doesn’t help much.

The food industry does need to be reformed but focusing on one industry as the root cause for an “epidemic” that many people don’t believe exists is harmful. The health of our society is not purely caused by the food industry but overwhelmingly is related to social conditions created by poverty and inequality. It harms people regardless of body size who desperately need structural changes in our society to create more access to health behaviors and for people to find real solutions other than focusing on individuals to overcome the constraints of their lives.

It’s harmful to the incredibly small segment of fat people with a BMI over 40 who are continually shamed for their bodies and face a higher risk to their health due to weight based stigma. That higher risk is more directly correlated to social conditions like inequality and poverty than biology, as no research has found a causal link between fatness and disease. While fat people are more likely to live in poverty they are also more likely to be a Person of Color and female forcing them to navigate the constraints of fat stigma, racism, classism and sexism while attempting to access health in whatever way they can.

All of this is why I won’t be giving my money to a film that attacks an industry in the name of fat people existing. The experiences fat people are not pawns for filmmakers to use and exploit anymore. If people were seriously invested in creating a healthier society, they would be fighting to end stigma and inequality, not using fat people to point fingers at one industry when there are many other people / industries who need to be pointed at as well.

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The Road to Hell – Consequences of Good Intentions

On Tuesday Michelle Obama is going to appear on the Biggest Loser as part of her Let’s Move! campaign. This comes after she has spent the last 2 years as the First Lady of the United States continuing to add to the ever growing amount of fat stigma in our society. Bringing up the problematic portions of her campaign normally ends with most people saying that she still has good intentions. Most people, even when they are causing harm, have good intentions but acknowledging the portions of the campaign that cause more harm then good is not ignoring the positive aspects. The problem with the Let’s Move! campaign has far more do with the way that it is framed and the reality of where it came from.

The announcement of the Let’s Move! campaign coincided with a report from retired military leaders titled “Too Fat to Fight,” which called on schools to remove junk food from their cafeterias because once children were becoming old enough to enlist in the military 40% of them did not fit into the BMI standard set by the military. FLOTUS’s relationship with the military has been extensive during her time with the campaign. She has spoken about how fat bodies are a national security risk continuing the link between body size and lower acceptance into the military. This has continued to happen without even acknowledging that the very BMI standards that the military uses increases the risk of service members of having or developing eating disorders Some say they are three times as likely as the general population to develop an eating disorder. She has also visited Fort Jackson military base in South Carolina to promote the campaign.

While her campaign continues to work towards creating access to fresh foods and getting children moving in their bodies, she is also speaking out nationally about how she plans to stop childhood ‘obesity’ in a generation, that fat people are more likely to be bad employees or need extra sick time, and has continued this with her support of the program the Biggest Loser. The reality is that this isn’t a show that is trying to make people healthy; their primary goal is to make people thin by using some pretty horrific tactics.

She might have good intentions in creating a better society to live in but in reality her efforts will always fall short if she continues to frame it around the idea that fat bodies are inherently unhealthy while also not acknowledging that we don’t know how to make people lose weight long term. Looking past all of these issues by believing that her intentions are good doesn’t mean that the harm she causes is invalid or that they don’t matter. Harm is still harm it still changes lives.

Further Reading (Aside from all of the links above),

Paul Campos article “Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move Campaign is Helping Bullies.”