FA in the news

Daniel Engber of Slate has an interesting article up today about fat politics. Engber has written previously about anti-fat discrimination in our institutions and culture, so I know he’s pretty well-read on the topic. His question is whether bigotry will cost Chris Christie votes in the NJ gubernatorial election, and his answer is, well, most likely. That’s not really a big surprise and I don’t disagree with him.

There are some issues with how he gets there. For one thing, he cites Nate Silver’s ridiculous article as though it represented actual data on the body shapes and sizes of our nation’s governors, even though Silver evaluated their sizes by eyeballing photographs. (All that great statistical analyses he was known for leading up to the 2008 election seems to go out the window when it comes to certain subjects.) He also speaks authoritatively about what makes people fat — either overconsumption if you’re rich, or eating the wrong foods if you’re poor — even though the statistical differences in body size between those groups is poor, and even though any real correlation would still say nothing about causation.

Also, Engber, major fail on the oppression olympics front with this:

As a fat man, he’d get none of the deference afforded to women, homosexuals, blacks, Latinos, or any other marginalized group with its own identity politics. Never mind all the evidence of body-size discrimination in employment, education, and health care. Weight bias may be just as prevalent as racial bias, yet we’re reluctant to assign any political status to obesity.

Yeah, dude, no. Don’t even go there.

The interesting part for me was that he presents some aspects of the fat acceptance movement with some reasonably fair analysis. I think he could stand to be even harsher in his condemnation of people whose response to FA is to fling angry insults, and the internet really deserves a much bigger plug — places like Shapely Prose and Fatshionista are much more the face of fat acceptance than anything related to NAAFA (and thank god). But overall I like reading things like this in my news feed:

Thin people tend to think they’ve controlled their weight through hard work and strength of character…That makes the idea of size acceptance seem like a personal affront to anyone who’s not severely obese. If we’re all OK with being fat, then there’s no pride in being thin….Most of the country is overweight or obese, according to government standards, yet there’s no constituency for a fat politician. Conservatives see excess weight as a sign of moral failing or a breach of personal responsibility. Liberals sneer at the bloated American lifestyle, even while imagining the war on obesity as a fight for social justice.

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7 Responses

  1. Thanks for noticing my article. I’m curious: What’s your beef with the oppression olympics?

  2. Hey, thanks for finding my little blog and responding.

    The problem with oppression olympics is that it suggests that one system of oppression is harder or more severe or worse than another, when in fact they are just all bad in different ways. It’s not easier to be black than it is to be fat; they are both hard, and different from each other. They also intersect, so saying that, say, a fat person has it harder than a person of color disappears the experiences of fat POC.

  3. Hi Dan Engber! A great example of Oppression Olympics gone wrong is with the 2008 Democratic primaries, with the whole media-perpetuated “Do I vote for The Black Guy or The Woman?” meme, which both pitted racism and sexism against each other and completely erased the possibility that, say, a black woman might vote.

  4. Your new username is excellent.

  5. Ah. I was just trying to game out the politics of the governor race, not pass judgment on whether fat people are more or less oppressed than blacks, or gays, or anyone else. The discussion during the 2008 primaries is a good example of how the Left gets hung up on identity politics. Yet you would never see any angst over the question of whether to vote for the “Fat Guy or the Black Woman?” The oppressed fat-guy meme doesn’t really exist in the mainstream.

  6. Well, it’s at least a good example of how everyone gets hung up on accusations of identity politics, as though there were something wrong with prioritizing issues directly relevant to your life and identity when evaluating politicians. (Or at least, something wrong with it when you don’t identity as a rich, able-bodied, thin white male.)

    Anyway, while the “fat guy” identifier doesn’t evoke the same outcry, there are other situations where it might — my point was more that all of those systems of oppression exist, and some are displayed more blatantly than others in some contexts. But it’s really tricky ground to start making those comparisons, because it very quickly starts to sound like “fat people have it harder than black people” even if that wasn’t the intent.

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