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The Front Page of Today's New York Times

A story called "Fat Stigma Spreads Around the Globe," by Tara Parker-Pope, was on the front page of the New York Times this morning. It reports on a new study in the April 2011 issue of Current Anthropology, Body Norms and Fat Stigma in Global Perspective.

The news is bad.

Dr. Brewis said she fully expected high levels of fat stigma to show up in the “Anglosphere” countries, including the United States, England and New Zealand, as well as in body-conscious Argentina. But what she did not expect was how strongly people in the rest of the testing sites expressed negative attitudes about weight. The results, Dr. Brewis said, suggest a surprisingly rapid “globalization of fat stigma.”

“The change has come very, very fast in all these places,” she said.

However, but the coverage is amazingly even handed.

...what appears to have changed is the level of criticism and blame leveled at people who are overweight. One reason may be that public health campaigns branding obesity as a disease are sometimes perceived as being critical of individuals rather than the environmental and social factors that lead to weight gain.

“A lot of the negative health messages have a lot of negative moral messages that go with them,” Dr. Brewis said.
...
Marianne Kirby of Orlando, Fla., who writes the fat-acceptance blog TheRotund.com, said the apparent spread of fat stigma was not surprising, given the global push to brand obesity as a major health threat.

“The fundamental message we’re putting into the world is that fat people deserve shame for their own health,” said Ms. Kirby, co-author of the book “Lessons From the Fat-o-Sphere.” “We’ve been pushing this message for a long time. I don’t think anyone is immune to it.”

Wow! This article includes a quote from Marianne Kirby. The author has come to us - fat acceptance advocates - for balance. This is truly amazing to me. Maybe we really are making a difference.

Half of British Women Avoid Sex Because of Poor Body Image | Lonie McMichael: But it’s for my health!!!

BigLiberty's picture
BigLiberty
March 31st, 2011 | Link | I think we're making a

I think we're making a difference. Smiling

Thanks for posting this, and thanks to Marianne Kirby and other FA bloggers and activists who work tirelessly to turn the overwhelming tide of fatphobia. The job's often thankless -- then there are moments like these.

The future looks dim, with fatphobia spreading so quickly. But if we're getting media exposure and we're being taken seriously by papers of note with loud voices, things could start to change in our favor.

omnifrog March 31st, 2011 | Link | This comment made me tear up

This comment made me tear up at work:

http://community.nytimes.com/comments/well.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/spreading-fat-stigma-around-the-globe/?permid=103#comment103

(It's comment #103)

I kinda want to go to Minnesota and give her a hug - I know how she feels.

AndyJo's picture
AndyJo
April 1st, 2011 | Link | Yes! That was a good

Yes! That was a good one!

--Andy Jo--

BigLiberty's picture
BigLiberty
April 1st, 2011 | Link | But didn't you know, fat

But didn't you know, fat people are liars, so says another commenter further down (TRIGGER WARNING):

#103: There is no way that you can eat 1,500 calories per day and exercise regularly and still remain at 400 pounds without losing weight. Its not physically possible. Even if you did zero exercise, you'd lose significant weight eating only 1,500 calories per day. You must be cheating on your diet.

...which just reinforces my belief that we canNOT really advance the cause of fat acceptance solely through health mythbusting and promotion of "good" fatties alone. This isn't about health, at bottom -- that is, if the vast majority of fat people were proved (well, more publicly, since that's already happened) to be as healthy as the vast majority of normal weight people, there would still be rampant fat hate. The health argument is just a proxy. The commenter who responded to #103 can't let a 400 lb fatty think she's as good as him. She's a "cheater." No 400 lb fatty isn't rife with moral vice, in other words. She *has* to be painted as deviant, or else it will be revealed to him that his fat hate wasn't justified, and that he's just a jerk. No one wants to believe that about themselves.

There were some comments fighting back against the fat-hate tide under #103, just in case some people were interested. I wouldn't read the rest, it's just like a parroting of fat health myths and false correlations.

Note that the lady in #103 responds to the comment above in #144.

Note further -- some of the most virulent comments are coming from the same people (do a comment search in the article for "Trent" from "Austin" for instance). And also note that fat-hate troll sites do actively fan the flames in articles about fat and health all the time (cough) MFA (cough). So I think some of the worst most persistent commenters might not just be your average NYT reader. But perhaps that's beside the point.

AndyJo's picture
AndyJo
April 1st, 2011 | Link | Well... Ummm...

We are sort of making a difference... For the author.

There were 17 pages of comments about this on the Well Blog as of this morning. Seriously. 17. This was chum for the Well Blog sharks. Seriously. There are not enough sanity points in the universe to read the comments. I read through some and commented my thoughts about the unspeakable fat haters. That was only after reading pages 1 through 4 (which were the ones up at the time), but my comment made it to P. 7 (that is, there were 3 pages of spew ahead of what I said). There are 10 more pages of hatred. The volume of fat hate in the comments is just... Unbelievable - even for the Well Blog which I read and comment on. I SWEAR she must have picked that article as chum for sharks.

Linda Bacon (yes, THE Linda Bacon) commented, and one mush-for-brains called her ignorant (or something along those lines -- the hateful comments all run together). One person actually went out to Marianne's site, but his response was not positive. Let's just leave it there.

So... if you have a strong stomach go ahead and read it, but don't even think of reading the comments on the blog.

One GOOD thing -- they have changed the commenting features and now they use the same system as the rest of the comments in the paper, so you can report inappropriate ones.

--Andy Jo--

BigLiberty's picture
BigLiberty
April 1st, 2011 | Link | AndyJo, I love your comment

AndyJo, I love your comment on the article and want to post a link to it. Cheers Smiling

AndyJo's picture
AndyJo
April 1st, 2011 | Link | Why thank you!!! <<> I

Why thank you!!! <<> I appreciate that!

--Andy Jo--

richie79's picture
richie79
April 2nd, 2011 | Link | The worldwide spread of

The worldwide spread of fatphobia comes as little surprise when you consider the extent of globalisation generally. Western ideology and approaches have been spread throughout the developing and non-Anglophone world through powerful media groups, and given how hatred of fat people (and the obsession with the 'perfect' body in general) is absolutely central to competitive, visual Western culture it's inevitable that it will surface alongside other elements of that culture. I recall discussions in high-school sociology of studies which examined the effects of the introduction of Australian and NZ TV channels to traditional Pacific Island communities in the 1990s and the corresponding spikes not only in eating disorders and body dissatisfaction but brand fetishism, materialism and many other hitherto unseen elements of more 'developed' societies.

Through the immense hegemonic power of their media those in charge of the developed countries have turned most of them into hotbeds of bullying, dog-eat-dog competitiveness, misogyny and banality, and now we're spreading this toxic cultural soup of distorted priorities to the rest of the world with predictable consequences that often extend far beyond those nations' fat populations. And then there's the parallel globalisation of medicine and the health industry - the predominantly American and European companies behind weight-loss drugs and gastric bands have certainly not restricted themselves to their own territories but expanded into 'developing markets' the governments of which have also been persuaded (mainly by the WHO, another international organisation) to problematise fat people even where they're very much in the minority.

The corresponding rise in stigma is the inevitable result of the way in which the issue is framed and presented, as a social problem and an issue of individual culpability and immorality. These messages are disseminated by the media, internalised and reproduced by the populace and eventually come to inform government policy. Indeed in many places stigmatisation and the mobilisation of social pressure are regarded as appropriate methods of achieving what is now considered the wholly legitimate objective of making people lose weight - for instance 'manipulating social norms and mores' is central to the new 'behavioural engineering' (or nudge) approach being endorsed by the British govt, whilst in the US the omission of weight from the new 'Safe Schools Improvement Act' anti-bullying bill suggests a desire to legitimise the bullying of fat children (not least because were it to be included Michelle Obama's 'Let's Move' campaign would immediately fall foul of it).

I wish I could share in the optimism about this representing the beginnings of a weakening in the media's relentlessly one-sided presentation of the debate, because ultimately it is the media through which information is now distributed and through which the moral panic over fat was created and is ultimately sustained. Unfortunately we've been here so many times before; the BBC, NYT, Guardian and other 'progressive' outlets have all carried articles critical of either fat stigmatisation, the epidemic model in general or both, often containing input from prominent FA people, only to resume normal service the very next day with the usual hateful and simplistic fodder. Maybe I'm losing patience with the rest of the world for 'not getting' what I've long since come to regard as the only logical approach and becoming jaded and frustrated at the apparent lack of progress, but from where I'm sitting (in the UK, where six years after the 'obesity crisis' became part of the popular narrative it's still impossible to read / watch a media outlet or increasingly even have an office conversation without the unwanted intrusion of something fat-related) things still seem to be getting worse and voices of dissent fewer, further between and more marginalised than ever.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

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