Just No Jennifer Lawrence

For those of you who own a TV and would actually spend time watching Barbara Walters’ interview people her yearly special on people she thinks are fascinating is airing soon, mind you she’s interviewing famous people. I’m pretty sure she isn’t interviewing activists, community builders and others who spend their lives helping people in need (but that’s another post entirely.) If watch her yearly special you will be able to see an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, where she talks about how Jennifer has been critical of the way the media talks about the bodies of women on red carpets and elsewhere.

If you aren’t aware Jennifer has made comments about body policing quite a bit in the past and continues to make comments that appear on their surface to be body positive. Though overall her career she has also made quite a few problematic statements that make me wary of almost anything she says.

This is what she had to say,

Because why is humiliating people funny? And I get it, and I do it too, we all do it. But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress or making fun of the girl that’s, you know. And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?

Most of what she said about how the media creates and participates in a culture of body policing is true. They are pivotal in the way women in the media are spoken about and continue to create new media that feeds off of promoting white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals. The issue with her statement is the way she is blaming this kind of climate on people using the word fat and not on how they use it as a weapon.

This kind of thinking has been around for awhile, particularly within body positive spaces where discussions about “fat talk” or negative body talk are being discussed. The framing of fat as a negative word, a word that hurts people, is completely ignorant of how the word is being used and the context of the statements being made. The word fat is nothing more than a description of someone’s body type, but when someone like Jennifer Lawrence is telling the world it should be illegal there is a huge issue.

When people are calling someone who looks like Jennifer Lawrence fat we shouldn’t be telling them that they shouldn’t use that word. We should be thinking about how fat phobia and stigma is so pervasive in our society we body shame people who live in thin bodies by making them fear fat people, appearing to be a fat person or becoming fat themselves. It’s not a coincidence the people who are telling others to not use the word fat are more often than not never going to be defined as “overweight” or “obese” and revel in a thin privileged reality by being able to frame words like fat as something that should be considered illegal. Nor is it a coincidence that the people who face the real harm are fat people, not the thin people being called or taught to fear fatness.

Their bodies will never be pathologized or thought to be inherently diseased like fat people’s bodies are. They will find no problem in denying how fat positive communities have used the word fat to build spaces where fat political identities are empowering fat people daily. That’s why when I hear statements like the one Jennifer Lawrence said; I know that those words are not for me. They are only for the people who look just like her.

If we wanted to actually challenge the media to create a landscape where white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals aren’t able to thrive, we need to deconstruct how body policing isn’t just about saying mean words but a structure that denies people with specific bodies access to it. We need to question why we fear the word fat but are completely comfortable with using medicalized terms that imply pathology like “overweight” and “obese,” in all of my years dealing with the media they fear using the word fat but will drop o-words in a second. We need to question why we are only talking about the media being critical of the bodies of women who already have access to those spaces, but not the people who are regularly denied jobs within the industry due to issues with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia etc. (the list continues).

Once Jennifer Lawrence starts talking about that, I may take the time to listen.

**A reader reported Jennifer decided that it would be awesome to dress up like a fat person for halloween. Not surprised at all.

Trolling by Dude Bros™: Fat positive backlash in the spotlight

If you weren’t already aware, this past week has been dubbed “Fat Shaming Week” by a small group of men who incorrectly assume that shaming will actually make fat women thin. Leaving aside that these dude bros have created a week to shame fat women as they are in tears over their lack of boners because fat women are fat. It sounds like a personal problem and the notion that fat people are unfuckable is unfounded (social construction anyone?). They spent the beginning of the week harassing every fat activist, news source and blogger they could find as an attempt to have their “campaign” get attention.

I was one of about five people who had been tweeted at on Monday when their “campaign” started and like everyone else ignored them until Buzzfeed thoughtlessly pick it up. While I’m happy that the few major sites who wrote something about the week framed it as being disgusting, almost all of them have centered the tweets they shared around the worst tweets that could be found in the hashtag. In the beginning of the week almost all of the tweets were directed specifically at fat women but quickly devolved into arguments about health, which shows how little fat shamers actually care about health and in reality are interested in promoting an ideal body type that they find to be physically / sexually pleasing.

A few other fat / body positive bloggers have written a response to the week and you can find them herehere and here (tw weight loss talk). I wanted to create a post that specifically outlines the kind of responses to this week I had as well as other people on twitter. While most news sources have focused on the hateful tweets by the creator and his numerous fake twitter accounts, the outpouring of people objecting to this week has been too big to ignore.

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. This week has given even more proof that bullying is not something that only happens when someone is a child but continues on throughout their lifetime and is deeply rooted in different forms of marginalization. Read my post, Bullying It’s Not Just for Kids

Speaking Hypothetically

Yesterday there was a post floating around on tumblr that was a drawing of a fat disabled woman with the signs “Fuck Diets” covering her naked flesh. What many people saw was a person rejecting diet culture and the shame that comes along with not only being fat but also being disabled. Something that was suppose to be positive was turned into a conflict due to a few trolls that wanted to decide that this fictional person was disabled due to an illness not being taken care of. I find it pointless to discuss the semantics of the whole conversation because I find the idea that people are putting a label of disease on a fat body, a disabled and fictional drawing of a body ludicrous.  It is truthfully the sign of how much fat stigma is alive in our society that even a drawing meant to be positive and show body diversity is turned into something it isn’t.

What I want to talk about is the reaction from the people who were trashing the drawing by saying that their response was a hypothetical situation the drawing could be depicting. When people say that they are speaking hypothetically what they really mean is that they are not talking about you, so you don’t have the right to find what they are saying offensive. This kind of response to a push back against negative comments is not only meant to try and negate the emotional reaction of those people who are offended, but is also a way to try and silence the ability of anyone who takes issue with the person’s harmful stance. By saying that they are talking about a hypothetical situation it also makes it so that a person who has had their own body read in a similar fashion has no space to speak out, because clearly they are not speaking about actual situations that have happened to actual people.

Attacking a drawing, that doesn’t depict a real person, gives people who are blinded by their own prejudice an ability to try and remove their own responsibility that is connected to the harm their words cause. The issue really isn’t that they are reading a drawing of a person that was meant to be positive, but that they are trying to negate the reality that their words have been said about real people, with real bodies that live in reality. Their lives and body should never be used as a hypothetical situation

When fat disabled bodies are read as a being the result of an inability to take care of ones self that is not only fat phobia but also ableism in action. When someone sees a fat disabled body and automatically assumes that the state of their body is the end result of mismanaged care that is directly related to growing up in a society where you are socialized with fat phobic thinking. We are continually taught fat people have X illness and that illness results in X state of body, then our minds fill in the blank. Without challenging social conditioning no one is able to break away from the fat stigma that is so ingrained within our society.

By not breaking away from prejudice, people create these hypothetical situations while forgetting that there are real people with real bodies who have and continue to deal with people who do not think hypothetically about the way they read their body. All of us learn to read bodies in a way that doesn’t allow for us accept difference in others but question why someone else’s body exists as it does. Instead of allowing for bodies to merely exist many react with fear and push back trying to understand through ableism and fat phobia, speaking in hypothetical’s to try and protect their own discomfort.

Bullying It’s Not Just for Kids

October is National Anti-Bullying Month and along with the video from Wisconsin newswoman Jennifer Livingston the conversation surrounding bullying culture in our society has ramped up yet again. Much of the discussion has not focused on the video itself but whether or not the email Livingston received was in fact her being bullied. In these responses you can find the issue that can come up when you have a movement like the one for anti-bullying that continues to be more focused on the interactions between children than the underlying reason for prejudice.

The current framing of bullying in our society treats intolerance with kid gloves. We are led to believe that bullying stops when a person gets a high school or college diploma. We are told “It Gets Better” when this is not always the case. Worst of all this treatment of intolerance as something that needs to be dealt with as delicately as possible removes the terms that most anti-oppression activists use that could further the discussion surrounding the unbalanced power dynamics. If we actually started calling bullying what it is and address it as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia and classism it would actually give children a better way to deal with the very same power dynamics they will face as adults, while also giving adults more responsibility to challenge the intolerance that is rooted within our society overall.

The idea that there is a distinct difference between the bullying we learn or participate in as children and the power relations we are forced to navigate through as adults is just as harmful to the culture of bullying as the actual bullying itself. It ignores that children are not the only people who are participants in the cycle of violence. If you are the product of this culture and have been bullied there is a large possibility that an adult in your life has used the same tactics against you. More often than not this has continued throughout your lifespan within everyday relationships at work and home.  One of the main reasons that adult to child power dynamics are so common is due to the lack of personal autonomy that children are given. We often treat them like we have unwavering authority over them as an adult or parents treat them like they are property. This kind of thinking continues through bullying culture and we come to accept these power dynamics once we are adults ourselves.

When we don’t address how the power dynamics in our society are based on real life forms of oppression it allows for children to be led to believe that those forms of oppression do not exist. It allows for the most privileged of people in our society to continue to dismiss the calls of discrimination from marginalized groups or as with the response from Livingston it allows for us to question the validity of her claim that she was being bullied. By disassociating forms of oppression from bullying culture it also lays the burden of proof of that marginalization on the person being discriminated against.  This reinforces the way people with privilege are not expected to own up to their own ignorance or prejudices.

As the product of bullying myself the notion that my experiences were not due to the way sexism and fat phobia is rooted in our society denies that those experiences have happened at all. It ignores that we have a history in our society of othering people due to their differences from what we consider to be “normal.” All the while continuing to shift the responsibility on the people being oppressed to speak up and challenge those of us with the most power. The binds on our access to power and the need for us to stand up for ourselves means that we are expected to challenge authority no matter the harm or violence that we might receive. This harm can even come through the dismissal of a person’s reaction to bullying because it makes people feel even more silenced by their oppressors as well as feel like their connection to reality is being challenged.

This is why the idea that some among us are willing to dismiss Livingston’s interaction with her bully is so harmful. It further frames the subject of bullying as something that only happens to children from other children but it also is continuing the cycle of violence where we do not address it for what it truly is. We need to start taking responsibility for the way all of us contribute to a society rooted in intolerance. The first step is to stop acting like we need to only address bullying with children because one day they will become adults thrown into a world where there are no kid gloves.

Fear Mongering for the Nation

The last two nights I watched the new HBO documentary “The Weight of the Nation” and was live tweeting with the hashtag #WOTN. While the producers seemed to try and make the film appear to be compassionate toward the plight of fat people, the pre-apocalyptic language and fear mongering used by many of the people interviewed as well as the lack of a well rounded argument that looked at both sides of the issue made this documentary a fat hate fest. In the four hours of documentary only one mention of a fat person being able to be metabolically healthy was mentioned. At no point was there ever discussion on the failure rate of weight based health initiatives (95% in the first 1-2 years) or that those who “succeed” by 5 years only manage to keep 10% of their body weight off. 1 At no point was there any mention that a lifetime of weight loss attempts leads to weight cycling and weight gained as well as other health complications.2 There was huge emphasis on the rise in type 2 diabetes in children but no mention that due to the escalation in fat phobia and dieting behavior children are more likely to have an eating disorder. 3

1. Misuse of BMI Charts

The films start with the history of BMI charts, interestingly enough they use modern day BMI chart numbers with no mention of the change that occurred in the late 90s that made millions of people “overweight” and “obese” overnight. There is no mention of reality that BMI charts were never supposed to be used as a measure of health or for large populations as a whole.

2. What About the Children?

Part 3 of the series is completely dedicated to the “prevalence” of type 2 diabetes in children. No mention that the CDC does not have statistics on how many children have the disease because it is so rare.4 There is also commentary that now that the “epidemic” has started in children it is easier to take seriously than “when it was only adults or people in less valued groups.” That comment summed up the tone for the rest of the films, showing how we will help people like children who are not thought of as having their own autonomy while simultaneously deeming the lives of adults or “less valued groups” as insignificant.

3. False and Unscientific Presentations

The most egregious clips from part 1 is where they are examining the 3 different hearts at Northwestern University’s School of Medicine. They show the heart of a “normal” weight 26 year old woman and compare it to not only a 50 year old man who weighted 500 pounds but also to a fat 71 year old heart. At no point was there any mention of the significant difference between the hearts due to aging only mentioning the difference in body size. Aside from the fact that this was completely unscientific it is a perfect example of the fact that a viewer will see this clip and not think about the information that is being left out. After viewing this clip myself I saw numerous tweets about how they couldn’t believe the difference in the hearts, everyone attributing that difference to body size not age. If they were truly interested in presenting an unbiased scientific opinion, hearts from bodies of people of the same age with different weights would have been the way to go. This was not only banking on fat phobic beliefs but instilling fear of fat in viewers.

They also followed a woman who was part of a study that had its participants eat an extra 1,000 calories a day at fast food restaurants. Other than the fact that they are showing someone drastically changing their behaviors, the adverse health affects of the extra calories is completely blamed on the small amount of weight that was gained. This is only a few examples of the film that showing an unrealistic approach from science to try and prove that gaining weight not changing behaviors is related to a change in health status.

4. Promotion of Harmful Weight Control Measures

During part 2 the film followed two women who are part of the weight control registry that keeps track of people who have kept of their weight “long term,” which the registry defines as 1 year. What they showed was obsessive calorie counting, keeping food journals and excessive exercise. Watching the women explaining the obsessive behaviors that they have mastered to control their weight was one of the hardest things to watch about the films. They also promoted weight loss surgery as an option. The man that they followed to his surgery, and then did a follow up after only 6 months, had many of the life threatening complications that happen with bariatric surgery but they were down played by his affirmation that he would have done it again.

5. The Fatpocalypse is Coming!

All of the films had commentary that made it seem as though the world was going to end if we didn’t stop this “epidemic.” One commentator said that the US would be crushed by it, another said that businesses would go overseas to find a workforce (because clearly fat people are only in the US), that we wont have a workforce in the US because everyone will be fat, and that our health care costs will continue to grow until Armageddon happens. They also mentioned the overused and misplaced study that said this generations children would not live to the same age as their parents.5

6. Risks

The documentary kept talking about risks associated with “obesity” but doesn’t explain that risk does not mean cause. The confusion between correlation and causation in understanding study results is astounding when research is written about in the media.

7. Fake Compassion

The film was very conflicted with its point of view on how we should feel about fat people. Not only did they say that we should know that people are fat outside of their own control, but many of the fat people who were interviewed said that it was their own fault or that they could change their body if they tried. The idea that they want us to see fat people as helpless while also giving “choices” on how fat people can lose weight is asinine. They are trying to appear to be compassionate and create less fat stigma when that is exactly what they are doing.

8. Structural Changes

There is a lot of time dedicated to the prevalence of poverty and body size in the films. How in low income areas there are no outdoor spaces for people to move their body, that they are often located in fresh food deserts (lies) and how junk food is the most affordable food available. All of this creates the idea that they don’t want to place the blame on people living in those areas while also presenting misleading information. The top suggestions given were creating safe outdoor spaces and access to affordable fresh foods. They also tried to tackle the prevalence of fast food restaurants in low income areas but didn’t mention a recent study that showed more middle income people eat fast food than people who live in poverty.6

9. The Food Industry

While talking about the amount of junk food in stores they also try to engage the food industry referring to it as something similar to the smoking industry. Many suggestions of reforming the food industry are not sustainable for the population of our country. Organic fresh foods, grass fed beef etc would not be possible with the amount of land we have and the population of the people we need to feed. As it is we have people that starve every day, stores like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods throwing out blemished foods because they don’t look good enough for their shelves. One commentator even made the suggestion that they should be required to make less food each year so that people would be forced to eat fewer calories. All of these suggestions mean someone completely more sinister than just trying to make people thin because if this were to actually happen people would die. We would need a smaller population for these suggestions to actually work and they would be created by the lack of food available for the current population. Also, none of the suggestions given would actually make the population as a whole thinner or make it so that fat people didn’t exist.

10. Conflict of Interest

Many of the contributors in the film as well as the National Institute of Health, the Institute of Medicine and the Center for Disease Control, all sponsors of the documentary, have possible conflicts of interest with people in their organizations who get money from companies that bank on fat bodies being pathologized. The NIH specifically had a panel that recently was called out for having conflicts of interest with the makers of Lap-Band.7 A few of the contributors of the documentary have been on this panel and every person who spoke in the film has a job that depends on fat bodies being considered diseased.

Final Thoughts

While the documentary banks on the normal ignorance surrounding weight and health, I found the worst parts to be the way they used scare tactics and misleading information. The length of the documentary was almost excruciating to sit through aside from the information being presented, they probably could have cut the time in half if they didn’t repeat half of the information numerous times in what I am assuming they hope will make people remember everything that they talked about.

One of the short films titled “Stigma: The Human Cost of Obesity” talks about weight stigma, but even in that portion the stigma is completely blamed on the weight of the person, as you can see with the title of the clip, not on society or fat phobia. In the clip Rebecca Puhl says how we need to not make this a fight against fat people but against “obesity.” The problem is that when you live in a fat body that science doesn’t know how to make thin you really are waging war against people.

Some more reading,

Bread and Circus (Hold the Bread):Weight of the Nation Deserves an Imperial Thumbs Down by Linda Bacon, Ph.D., MA, MA

Weight of the Nation Serves Up More Fat Shaming by Marilyn Wann

Debate the Weight: Deconstructing HBO’s The Weight of the Nation by ASDAH

the HAES files: Stereotype Management Skills for HBO Viewers by Deb Burgard, PhD

the HAES files: Top 10 Reasons to Be Concerned About “The Weight of the Nation” Documentary by Fall Ferguson, JD, MA

1. Do 95% of Dieters Really Fail – Dances With Fat

2. Weight Cycling, Weight Gain, and Risk of Hypertension in Women 

3. Incidence and Age-Specific Presentation of Restrictive Eating Disorders in Children 

4. Children and Diabetes – See Difficulty Detecting Type 2 Among Children

5. the HAES files: the cockroach effect

6. Fat Food’s Biggest Consumer: Not the Poor but the Middle Class

7. Health Guideline Panels Struggle with Conflicts of Interest