Alright, I’m exaggerating somewhat. I’m not at all against healthy children of all sizes.
But I’m *totally* against Healthy Children of All Sizes as mantra against the Strong4Life campaign.
Much has been written about Strong4Life and the stigmatization it heaps on fat children. I didn’t want to add anything at first, because everyone else was all over it and they said everything I would have said if I were to say anything. Now I have decided to add my two cents.
Fat Acceptance Says…
I have heard people say that fat acceptance supports Healthy Children of All Sizes. No, fat acceptance does not support it. Prominent voices in FA support it. A large faction of FA activists do.
But I’m fat acceptance too. And I don’t support it or Let’s Move or any other lifestyle program.
Cutting to the Chase
I can hardly read a post that covers the issue without running into groveling pronouncements aimed at our detractors that OF COURSE we want more wellness for young people. OF COURSE we want to teach parents and children about healthy eating and exercise and provide opportunities to engage in good behavior. We just don’t want to leave the thin kids out. ALL children should be healthy, and the government should make sure of that.
Of course, it’s laudable to want people to have opportunities to live healthy, happy lives. There’s nothing wrong with having a passion for dance, growing your own vegetables, or including people of all sizes and abilities into these activities. Health promotion in various forms is a passion of many of our bloggers, and you should do what your passion is. Someone’s listening and wants to hear about it.
What I’m asking is: Why is that the first thing that comes out of our mouths when we get confronted? We want to reassure them that we’re really not that different from them, that we may differ on what size is socially acceptable, but we can ALL agree that it shouldn’t be socially acceptable to be unhealthy!
What we should be saying is, “Suck it. You’re not my doctor and you’re not my child’s parent.” Period. Full stop. End of story.
That does not mean that you stop promoting the idea that fat can be healthy or that thin can be unhealthy. It does not mean not giving out lifestyle advice. It just means that it should be tangential, an afterthought, to the central message: Suck it.
For some people, though, the health message is the central message. “Let’s work together to make everyone healthy,” is just as meddlesome and potentially destructive as “Let’s work together to make everyone thin.”
The message that should come first, the message that should be most prominent throughout our posts, the message that we need to DRIVE HOME more than any other is the hands-off message.
The Problem with “Public Health”
Healthism is the mother of fat hatred (and of other forms of prejudice). The idea that people bring ill health on themselves through various misdeeds is as old as the tale of the Forbidden Fruit in Genesis. Over the centuries, the physical characteristics of poor, minorities, and other marginalized groups were made to be synonymous with ill health. After all, if they had been “good,” God would not have put them in the lower classes. Like all good citizens, the healthy and privileged want to stand out from the diseased and underprivileged.
Fast forward, and for a while now, that marker of ill health is fat. Why it is fat could be a post in and of itself. Suffice it to say that there are plenty of possible explanations for this, and there is probably more than one. It might even be all of them. The point is, now it’s all about teh fatz as a marker of illness and premature death.
We now know that people are born with certain physical characteristics or the genetic propensity to develop them later in life. We know (although most of the world doesn’t) that fat is largely genetic and so are conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. These so-called lifestyle diseases are also strongly linked to chronic negative stress, such as the kind caused by lower social status.*
You can’t be against fat hatred on one hand and actively promote the mother of fat hatred on the other. It just doesn’t work like that.
If we know that fat and these conditions are genetic, then what sense does it make to devote billions of dollars, resources, time and passion to fix diet and lifestyle? What other causes of ill health, what other treatments, aren’t being investigated while we nanny marginalized adults? Many of whom aren’t just poor and/or fat but members of other minority groups? Do you really think that poor fat people who are elderly, disabled, racial or sexual minorities, or otherwise stigmatized won’t feel pathologized?
If we know that fat and its associated diseases are causes or at least influenced by stress, then the solution to that problem is to raise the status of marginalized peoples. The first step towards this goal is to challenge the stigma that leads to their discrimination. It’s not to reinforce those prejudices in order to target them for government intervention.
It’s not healthism! We’re not shaming anyone for their health! We are fun, friendly, and inclusive!
That’s exactly what it is. People will claim that they don’t want to force anyone to do anything. They just want to provide options, in a stress-free, stigma-free environment. They don’t blame the people themselves, either. They blame our society.
I’m forced to pay taxes for it. As a poor person with limited economic/geographic mobility, I’m forced to stay in a neighborhood that has been reconstructed, without my consent, to serve an agenda I oppose. I’m forced to hear messages that reinforce prejudices against me: that my place is under the watchful eye of government and upper-class benefactors, that my fat and my health are social scourges and that they are caused by my slovenly eating and lifestyle.
Besides, in this culture, what makes you think this program would stay voluntary? If my health, regardless of my size, is socially undesirable and costing everyone money, and the government has the power oppress me, they will take it. Lending our blessing to government health programs, no matter how inclusive, relaxed, or voluntary, just opens the door for this to happen.
As for stress-free and stigma-free, there is no such environment when that environment exists because of, and reinforces, prejudice. An environment that reinforces diet and lifestyle as primary deterrents of health and downplays stress, low social status, and genetics is discriminatory, no matter how nice it seems. Kinder, gentler bias is still bias.
Don’t get me started on “It’s SOCIETY’S fault!” How much better is it, really, to be painted as a helpless victim of society as opposed to a deliberate drain on society? In the latter scenario, I have some agency while the former image is truly beyond pitiful. Paint me evil any day.
Are marginalized people, especially poor people, trapped by their circumstances in a lot of ways? Absolutely, but they still have agency. The way to capitalize on that agency is to stand in solidarity with them, not to nanny them or treat them solely as charity cases.
But So Many Poor People Support the Cause!
I’m sure most of us know poor people that blame their their fat or their illnesses on their lifestyles or their neighborhoods. They totally support government lifestyle programs. Again, so what? Most fat people blame their health problems on their fat and totally support weight loss efforts and obesity cures. All that tells me is that these people have internalized prejudices against themselves.
Are all poor lifestyle activists prejudiced against themselves? No. Poor people can be foodies and vegans. Poor people have political opinions and lifestyle preferences just like other people. However, I suspect that many of these people perhaps have internalized these prejudices. In any case, the fact that some poor people support government lifestyle programs does not mean that they are right to support them or that all people agree.
We need to re-center the message behind our opposition to Strong4Life. We need to move away from reasoning with healthists and move towards aggressive anti-interventionism. If we choose to reason with healthists, we will lose. They will never take us seriously, and as long as we prioritize what they value in our own advocacy, we are enabling fat/health stigmatization.
People who want to promote alternative ways of living well should continue to write about their lives and their advice on their blogs, in letters to the editor, and elsewhere. They should volunteer to make changes as private citizens. When you teach private dance lessons to children of all sizes and abilities, you are acting as a private citizen. When you and your neighbors get together to grow an organic garden, you’re acting as private citizens. You have the right to do this, and you might even do some good. But stop demanding the government do it for you at my expense.
So concludes yet another of Joanna’s famous rants about healthism. I know I said in an earlier post that I would unleash my bloody saw on anyone that raised my anti-healthist hackles, but I’m retiring the saw for now. Let the pyrotechnics begin.:)
*I can supply other sources on request. They are also readily available on Google.