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Last week I published a guide to help readers tell the difference between actual anti-weight stigma work and the diet industry’s co-opting of anti-weight stigma work to sell their products. I received this question from reader Amanda:
I showed your article to my husband, who is a doctor, and he asked me this question. I really don’t mean to offend you and I know that he’s wrong, but I’m stuck at how to explain. Anyway, he said “ She says not to trust the source if they quote people who profit from weight loss, but you are paying for her newsletter so she profits from being against weight loss. By her own logic she can’t be trusted.”
This is definitely not the first time I’ve heard this, sometimes from people who really are grappling with understanding the difference between me and the diet industry (which is the category into which I’m assuming Amanda’s husband falls,) sometimes from people who are part of the diet industry and are purposefully trying to obfuscate intentions, and sometimes from internet trolls. To start, I’m just one of many, many people who have done/are doing/will do this work, a lot of whom have less privilege than I do, and I don’t want to put words in anyone else’s mouth so I’m speaking only for myself here.
There are lots of differences between me and the diet industry (hopefully as many as possible,) but I think the main difference is our ultimate goal:
Their goal is to keep the weight-centric paradigm going in order to assure that they keep raking in hundreds of billions of dollars forever, even though it will harm and kill fat people.
My goal is to end the weight-centric paradigm and create a world where fat people are affirmed and accommodated, at which point there will be no more reason to do what I do anymore.
That brings us to our principles around money. In the guide I published, I mentioned that Novo Nordisk is one of the worst offenders for this and I think they make a pretty good example for this comparison.
One of the goals that I created for myself when I decided to try to do this full-time is to keep money from being a barrier to people getting information. For this reason, I work on a sliding scale for almost everything. For other things, like this newsletter and my original blog, I have a paid subscription option that allows people to pay me for my labor so that I can pay my bills, but for those who don’t want to or can’t afford to subscribe, the vast majority of the content is available for free. I’m also paid directly by the people who benefit from my work, or who support it because they believe it is of benefit to others, so my responsibility is to myself and my audience - not sponsors or shareholders. (I also want to acknowledge that there is a lot of privilege and luck in addition to hard work that has gone into me being able to do this full-time for the last ten years.) At the end of the day, my goal is to help end weight stigma and create a world where fat people can thrive so, for me, success would mean working myself out of a job.
On the other hand, Novo Nordisk’s stated goal is to “double their ob*sity* sales” with their new weight loss drug. Note that they aren’t even bothering to give lip service to a goal around thinness or health (which are two different things, neither of which is likely to be achieved by their drug.) Their goal is money, and their fiduciary responsibility is to their shareholders. The fat people to whom they peddle dangerous and expensive drugs are simply a means to an end, and that end is extraordinary wealth for a relative few people. That is why they have priced the exact same drug at at 51% increase if it’s prescribed for weight loss rather than as a treatment for diabetes. At the end of the day, their goal is to make money for themselves and their shareholders. Harming and killing fat people is an acceptable risk for them, as long as it doesn’t put too much of a dent in their bottom line. If this pill harms enough people that it gets taken off the market, they’ll just take all the money they raked in in the meantime and come up with another one. At the end of the day, their goal is to use fat people for profit forever.
Finally, understanding that health is an amorphous multi-factorial concept and is not an obligation barometer of worthiness or entirely within our control, my position as it pertains to health/healthcare for fat people is grounded in thoroughly analyzed research, whereas the diet industry’s position is based on pathologizing body size, creating shoddy and misleading research, and making basic correlation vs causation errors. So, again, very much not the same.
Some people are genuinely confused about this. Others, especially those who want to perpetuate oppression for profit, as well as those benefiting in other ways from the current paradigm, have a lot to gain from trying to blur the lines between their work to perpetuate oppression. and other’s work to end oppression, so we have to be clear about the differences.
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For a full bank of research, check out https://haeshealthsheets.com/resources/
*Note on language: I use “fat” as a neutral descriptor as used by the fat activist community, I use “ob*se” and “overw*ight” to acknowledge that these are terms that were created to medicalize and pathologize fat bodies, with roots in racism and specifically anti-Blackness. Please read Sabrina Strings: Fearing the Black Body – the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and Da’Shaun Harrisons Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness for more on this.
oof. my heart hurts for Amanda. it must be tough to have a spouse like that.
it's frustrating to me that people (healthcare providers especially) can't see the difference between a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical company that spends 20x the R&D budget on dividends and stock buybacks (source: Katie Porter's interview of AbbVie CEO Richard Gonzalez) with the goal of infinite growth, and the individuals doing free/cheap labor with the goal of putting themselves out of a job.
I know that we all start somewhere when it comes to identifying the cracks in capitalism and anti-fatness, but the amount of damage certain people (doctors) cause before they get there is terrifying.