The Deep Harm of World Obesity Day
Before I start today, I want to preface this by saying that there isn’t as much “deep dive” research and analysis as usual. That’s because (while I don’t talk about it much) in addition to the time and effort it takes to write about these topics, there can be an emotional toll as well. I want to be super clear that I have a lot of (white/cis/abled/neurotypical et. al.) privilege to cushion me from that toll, as well as the privilege to have the time and background to write about this, and having paid subscribers who support my work. I often use activism as a self-care practice and so the work I do can be emotionally self-supporting as well. I know I’m privileged to get to do the work that I do, and there is nothing I would rather be doing in the world as it is.
That said, some days it’s harder. Some days the weight loss and healthcare industries seem to work extra hard to make it clear to me that they want me thin at any cost, and they are happy kill me in the process, all while co-opting the language that my community has created to protect ourselves in order to profit from our harm. On those days it can be really difficult to wade through their muck and break down the harm they do piece by piece. Yesterday was one of those days. So this piece talks about broad concepts with links to more detailed work that I’ve already done. In the future I’ll do a deeper dive into all of this. For now, please know that this can be quite triggering so do what you need to do to keep yourself safe, including skipping this edition o f the newsletter, and I’ll be back on Wednesday with more of the usual. Thanks for reading!
Yesterday was “World Ob*sity* Day”(which I’m going to call WOD from here on out.) This is a day that does incredible harm to higher weight people in a variety of ways. (“Fun” fact - prior to them changing the date in 2020, WOD used to be on October 11th which is my birthday.)
As we know, the concept of “ob*sity” was made up to pathologize larger body sizes. (The word is from a Latin root that just means “to eat until fat” so…not particularly scientific.) It is based on concepts, including Body Mass Index, that are rooted in, and inextricable from, racism and anti-Blackness, and I highly recommend Sabrina Strings’ Fearing the Black Body – the Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and Da’Shaun Harrison’s Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness to learn more about this. It’s also an idea that drives tremendous profit to the weight loss industry, including diet, drug, and surgery companies, and tremendous shame, stigma, and oppression to those who fall into the definition (with the most harm going to those of the highest weights and multiple marginalized identities.)
The forces behind WOD are part of the group that are co-opting the language of fat liberation to harm fat people for profit. For example, they claim that they are “anti-stigma” but at the very top of the first page of the website there is a (dubious, at best) “calculation” of the “cost” of people existing in higher weight bodies. Whenever you try to calculate the “cost” of people existing in the world, and then use that to justify their eradication (especially, as in this case, for profit,) you are going down a bad (and blatantly stigmatizing) road.
You cannot call for the eradication of higher weight people and also be against weight stigma. These two things are mutually exclusive. No amount of slick marketing and so-called “anti-stigma” campaigns bought and paid for by anti-ob*sity” organizations will ever change that.
In addition to their less-than-subtle attempt to expand their market by using person-first language to pathologize body size, their messaging is a combination of tired tricks, like using outliers or short-term stories to claim “success” of weight loss interventions. Of course, they don’t deal with or even discuss the realities of how the weight stigma, weight cycling, and healthcare inequalities that this day creates and supports will do massive harm to the people they are supposedly advocating for.
This year’s theme (oh yes, they always have a theme) is “everybody needs to act” which seems custom-made to empower everyone from internet trolls to doctors duped by diet culture into seeing (and treating!) every fat person who comes across their path as a “drain” on the healthcare system who should be willing to risk their life and quality of life to try to become thin.
Put succinctly, WOD is a day that:
1. Encourages stigma against higher weight people
2. Recommends methods for manipulating body size that have been shown to be ineffective for decades
3. Insists that its worth risking fat people’s lives and quality of life in attempts to make them thin (again, hardly an anti-stigma position)
4. Suggests that the solution to weight-based oppression (which, remember, they are actively perpetuating) is for fat people to change themselves to suit their oppressors.
And for what?
This day supports larger campaigns that drive a ton of money to the weight loss industry and the organizations that represent their interests. It was started by the World Ob*sity Federation which is one of a class of organizations that claim to advocate for higher weight people but are, in fact, funded by (and act as a lobbying arm for) those with a profit interest in (often dangerous and expensive) weight loss “treatments” including our old “friends” at NovoNordisk.
Do I think every person involved in this is clear that it’s about money and not about creating health or reducing stigma for fat people? No, I don’t. Do I think everyone knows what kind of harm they are creating by joining the war against fat people? No, I don’t. I’m sure there are plenty of well-meaning people involved in this who are simply duped by diet culture. But I have to focus on the harm that they are doing, and the fact that ignorance of (or refusal to believe) the evidence is not a justification for harming higher weight people, especially considering that they do the most harm to those with the least privilege.
WOD is about leveraging fatphobia for money, all while claiming to be in the interest of fat people. It drives physical and psychological harm to higher weight people while providing no actual benefit. It’s unconscionable. It’s disgusting. It never should have existed, and I hope that we’ve lived through the last one.
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*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 Harrison’s Belly of the Beast: The Politics of Anti-Fatness as Anti-Blackness for more on this.