This week, one of my professors brought up Sarah Palin in class. I always HATE when professors talk about politics, because the power differential in the classroom leaves you without much recourse to respond. So when my professor started criticizing Sarah Palin for bringing cookies into a school in the midst of an unprecedented Childhood Obesity Epidemic, I pretty much just bit my lip and looked away.
Let me explain. The phrase “nanny state” makes me break out in hives. I think that schools should be providing healthy foods for kids, and that junk food vending machines should be a comparative rarity on school campuses- at least until high school, when kids are going to eat what they want if they have to smuggle it in in their underpants. But I can’t help but cringe when I hear the phrase “Childhood Obesity”. So I was kind of cheering for Palin when she brought cookies to a school she visited as a way of protesting the area’s proposed limitations of classroom treats and celebrations (because what school really needs is LESS FUN).
But here’s what you need to know about me: I used to be fat. Not “a little chubby”, but clinically obese, surgical options fat. I am a way-left Liberal. I am a feminist. And I’m working on a doctorate degree in psychology. So when people talk about childhood obesity, here’s what I hear: No Fat Chicks.
Oh, I know all about the health risks that are supposedly associated with obesity. But if we’re so horrified by these health risks, why do we focus on the obesity stuff and not just talk about Colon Cancer, or Heart Disease, or Diabetes? After all, there are plenty of risk factors for each of those diseases above and beyond obesity. Not to mention the fact that if society actually cared about the health of the obese, they wouldn’t be getting lower quality health care. Fat people are hated and discriminated against, and that stigma comes with health consequences, and if people cared about fat people, they could be working to combat that stigma. Not so much. So hysteria about the “Obesity Epidemic” is not really doing anyone any favors.
Beyond the issues with urban food deserts, beyond the fact that obesity is Not simply solved by cutting down on sugary treats for most individuals, and beyond the fact that even following SURGICAL weight-loss interventions weight loss is extremely difficult to maintain, simplistic and heavy-handed interventions are worse than incompetent- they are DANGEROUS. Anti-obesity hysteria is contributing to a considerable increase in eating disorders in teenage girls (eating disorders are, by far, the most fatal of all mental disorders).
And guess who is more likely to be obese? Why, it’s women and girls! And who suffers the most from anti-obesity stigma? Women and girls! And guess who suffers overwhelmingly from eating disorders? Again, women and girls! And guess who is more likely to be living in poverty? Right Again! This anti-obesity push is a Gendered Issue.
Of course, lots of anti-obesity activists are just plain misogynists who think that women who are insufficiently decorative are blights on society. But while I understand that most anti-obesity activists may have their hearts in the right place, I urge them to consider that their criticisms are landing on women who are already punished every day for their weight, who might not have a lot of options, and on girls who might be teetering on the brink of a catastrophic eating disorder.
And why? Because we don’t want to foot the bill for their health care. Never mind that health care in this country isn’t exactly heavily subsidized to begin with. Never mind that we don’t kick up this much fuss for smokers, athletes, alcoholics, or anyone else whose behavior directly leads to their healthcare costs (except for abortions- oh wait, Women Again).
No, this is just another instance of embracing misogyny in the name of social justice. And it certainly isn’t the first time.