Everything You Know About ‘Obesity’ is Still Wrong

“For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives.”

Last week the Huffington Post published an article that, for many fat people, felt nothing short of revolutionary. The audacious headline, “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong,” was just the tip of the iceberg. The article’s author, a thin man named Michael Hobbes, not only calls out the medical industry for its blatant maltreatment of fat people, he forces readers to contend with actual science and, perhaps most importantly, the stories of fat people in their own words.

It’s a long but worthwhile read. I texted it to family members, posted about it on multiple social media platforms, and am still thinking about it now, almost a full week later.

There is no reliable, long-term way to make a fat person thin. Diets do not work. Shaming does not work. Telling someone to diet and exercise instead of providing proper care? Surprise, surprise, this also does not work. In fact, Hobbes illustrates, most of the “tools” we’ve developed to cure fat people of their fatness actually make health outcomes worse, and further serve to marginalize fat people in almost every aspect of our lives.

But, although the article feels revolutionary, here’s the rub: it isn’t. It merely summarizes (in a nice, visually appealing package) what we — fat activists, academics, researchers, and everyday fat people — have been saying for decades.

Even more insidiously, the article reproduces an incredibly harmful narrative — that there is a “wrong” and a “right” way to be fat. It says that, though we cannot become a thinner nation, we can still be a “healthier” one, but it doesn’t question why that should be an imperative in the first place. It says that fat people could be healthier if only we could get nutrition counseling — but it also points out that the doctors who give this kind of care frequently half-ass it and are likely to assume noncompliance in their fat patients from jump. And it says nothing about whether or not unhealthy thin people should have the same kind of counseling.

Hobbes tries to move us away from the assumption that fatness and health are inextricably linked… by making the majority of his article on fatness about health. Do you see the problem here?

So while Hobbes is calling for a “new paradigm,” some of his solutions are just perpetuating the same anti-fat bias he is trying to get out from under. He is still concerned with why we’ve gotten fatter, and finding someone or something to blame — he’s just not blaming individual fat people. Which is admirable, and needed. But it’s not enough.

What if we decided to celebrate body diversity instead of finding the “culprits” that “cause” it? There is so much good in this article about how we as a society need to treat fat people better, about how fat people deserve respect and dignity, access to unbiased health care, better wages… and about what happens to us when we don’t get these things. It’s a wonderful 101-style introduction to the issue at hand, but…

Fat people need more than 101-style criticisms of the fatphobia we endure every day. We need answers. We need action. We need systemic change.

Instead of demanding this, Hobbes accepts that these things won’t change, and says that it’s “up to every fat person, alone, to decide how to endure.” Fat people may not be to blame for the size of our bodies, according to Hobbes, but it is our burden alone to figure out how to live in them.

“[T]here is no magical cure. There is no time machine. There is only the revolutionary act of being fat and happy in a world that tells you that’s impossible.”

Now, I’ve been living this way — unapologetically fat and happy — for the better part of a decade. It has absolutely changed my life for the better. But it hasn’t done a damn thing to change any doctor’s mind about my body. It hasn’t done a damn thing to make restaurants, concert venues, and airplane seats more accessible to me. It hasn’t done a damn thing to change how strangers treat me. It has only made dealing with the emotional and physical pain of fatphobia a little easier.

And how fucked up is that?

My hope is that articles like Hobbes’ will inch us closer to some semblance of fat liberation. But we need so, so much more than simple awareness for that to happen.



Edit, 9/27/2018: Please check out this brilliant response from Tasha Fierce.

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