Fat-shaming and Healthism

Fat people can be as uncomfortable walking down the street as newly transitioned trans people- as vulnerable to abuse, and as hurt by it. Fat-shaming does no good: the advice “You’re too fat. It’s bad for you. Eat less, exercise more” sounds good, but everyone knows that stuff. It is a hurtful way of blaming fat people for their problems.

Don’t tell me the answer to my problems, it just gets me to self-blame more. I know what I ought to do, but cannot believe I would succeed, or motivate myself to try.

Though I noticed in my teens that my father would make helpful suggestions, I would dismiss them, and six months later be doing what he had proposed. I transitioned. It involved a lot of work with no certain end, over months, and I was motivated so I did it. Some people lose weight and keep it off.

I am swithering here. I need hope, and belief in possibilities. And I work on other things. But saying it is up to a traumatised person to deal with their problems creates a huge burden for them. Society should work to deal with our collective traumas.

The Guardian had an article against fat shaming, and the comments were almost all dismissive. Most upvotes went to dismissive comments:

-So being fat is an identity now?
-And medical advice is offensive.

“They know that stuff”, I commented. Someone replied, “So why do some people choose to ignore it, then?” “Sounds like common sense to me.” These decent, ordinary people don’t realise they are being hurtful, or perhaps believe they have to “be cruel to be kind”. “Normalising an unhealthy lifestyle is a ridiculous thing to do.”

Comfort eating does not tempt me. I do not overeat. A friend with a long apron and years of variable but too great weight would have a whole packet of biscuits, and “joke” to me about it- “You can’t have just one.” This was a person retired from a highly paid professional job. So I work my way into empathy: I know I have my own self-destructive avoidance behaviours, which I perform because they have value for me. They give me relief. I recognise the harm, and crave the relief. I have many problems, and am working on them, and do not need someone to point out just one and tell me, in a condescending manner, that I should work on that one in this obvious and simple way. And, I take that belief into myself: that I have not dealt with my problems better is a sign of weakness in me. I condemn myself, and my powerlessness increases.

Being fat can come from two distinct causes: comfort eating, an addictive or trauma-suppressing activity, and poor environment with lack of choice. And other things.

I am a taxpayer. Some of that tax goes to the NHS, which includes the profession of dietician. Dieticians give advice on diet and exercise to patients, especially when newly diagnosed with diabetes or other diseases, but also overweight. I like to think that the NHS has ways of promoting health. I hate to think that the work of dieticians might be useless, that they might not get the fat person healthier after all. Thin is not always healthier. Muscle is heavier, by volume, than fat.

And we have a pervasive cultural idea that keeping yourself in shape is a moral issue, and doing things which might hinder that are sinful. Eating cakes is “Indulgent”. I was fascinated to come across the concept of Healthism. It is a belief system that the pursuit of personal wellbeing is an individual moral obligation. Like other belief systems, it seems obvious, just common sense, to those within it. Each individual has the obligation to stay healthy, and some even argue that medical treatment should not be given to people who bring their problems on themselves.

What causes non-communicable diseases such as hypertension? Healthism explains it by diet and physical activity, but research shows racism increases hypertension. If instead of calling diabetes a non-communicable disease we call it a power-related disease, affected by the powerlessness and oppression people suffer, we see better solutions, which might actually mitigate the disease rather than blaming it on the sufferer.

Lack of control over your own life, as in a zero hours contract, causes stress. Racism, trauma, fat-shaming, loneliness and misogyny damage health. Exposure to pollution in air or water or substandard housing reduce life expectancy. Lack of power causes disease. Patriarchy imposes disease on its victims.

Lifestyle, from “bad choices”, is not the main cause of ill health. Oppression is. The answer is a social response, being kind and caring to each other, tackling the problems of pollution and oppression together as a society. We have an “obligation to help amplify others’ voices”.

The word “healthism” helps me see the belief system of personal responsibility and the solution of holding the powerful to account. It improves my self-worth: my situation is not solely my fault, a sign of weakness. Still, the chance of improvement is mostly down to me; but no-one has the right to impose that responsibility on others.

12 thoughts on “Fat-shaming and Healthism

  1. Thanks for this interesting post, Clare. I guess I could say that anyone with an opinion about other people is in judgement and that, increasingly, I school myself not to be in judgement but to decide what I prefer, while exercising my compassion. I agree with your view on shaming, a subtle inversion of all the old, tired arguments. ((xxx))

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  2. Hello Clare. I just read your post and I need to say this, “I feel you”. Losing fat is not even as easy as people think. It takes about 2 months of healthy eating and exercise to get results on small belly fat. Exercise can be a slow progress sometimes. You can see someone who looks big and say that they need to workout when in actuality they might already be working out and might have been working out for a while too. Exercise does not change the situation over night. For some people it takes even years of constant work.

    As a religious person, I like to see some of these things as distractions. The system in this world is set up in such a way that we are caused to worry so much about what other people think of us. We have little or no space to think of what God thinks of us. I also want to say this, this life that we are living in is not the final life. There is an eternal life beyond this life, and we do not get in based on how we look, we get in based on our relationship with God. So long as you are putting in work to improve your situation, whether it breeds immediate results or not, there is no need to feel guilty because you are doing something about it.

    Clare, I do not know whether you believe in God or not, but I would like to introduce the concept of God to you. God is love, and his love is the only love that is perfect, real and true. There is nobody in life that can make you feel as loved as God can. When we draw near to God, he gives our life a purpose, shows us our value, helps us to see beyond the natural, and gives us true happiness. If you do not have a relationship, I would really appreciate it if you could consider building a relationship with him.

    Here is how you can build a relationship with him: [Clare: deleted. A comment on an unrelated post is not the place to put two thousand words on how to come home to God. Put it on your own blog. Even links in comments on unrelated sites might be seen as spammy.]

    If you have any questions, feel free to let me know. If you need to talk, I am here for you. God bless you. Have a blessed day 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Welcome, and thank you for commenting. Your comment is mostly off topic, so I may delete it, but not if you address my discipline for following Christ, which is contained in the Advices and Queries, one of British Quakerism’s greatest treasures. Have a look at them, tell me what you think, and I will not delete the off-topic parts of your comment.

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          • Hello Clare. I just read it and I think they promote good virtues and some of the things that they mention are in line with scripture. Is there something in particular that you would like to draw my attention to, or do you just want me to make a general comment on it?

            Like

            • We build the Kingdom of Heaven, here on Earth.

              I wanted you to see it. You “introduce” me to God, tell me precisely how to make a profession of faith and how to pray, how to read the Bible when I have read the whole Bible and continue to read it. You appointed myself my teacher. God permeates this blog- more overtly in previous years, as trans issues are my service to God at the moment, but still, now, and with the Quaker worship and Quaker spiritual tools I seek to serve God. I am glad that you have found God. If Advices and Queries, or any part of it, speaks to you, I am glad that it blesses you, and would be delighted if you spoke of that here. If not, God has many way of blessing Creation.

              God speaks through each of us, and if you have anything to say about your own personal experience of God that would be welcome.

              Liked by 1 person

            • Yes Clare. Thank you for sharing the link that you did with me. I do not consider myself a teacher in the faith, I simply shared my opinions on good ways to build a relationship with God. I am happy that you already know about God. Stay in God. God bless you 🙂

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            • I have been on a spiritual journey since I was born again, on 14 February 1999.

              I love that you recommend a quiet place to throw self on the mercy of God, and confess sins. See the world as it is, rather than persist with your denials. Of course. But don’t think about “eternal life” as another life after death: death in this case is a metaphor, and we live our Eternal lives here on Earth. The Kingdom of Heaven is like a woman who put leaven, which worked through all the dough. Now. Not in some other life.

              In your detailed instructions on answering prayer, I feel you are using an earthly mind to analyse. God does not follow human rules of rationality. “Lazy prayers”- yes, but sometimes blessings fall on us like the rain, undeserved. And sometimes dreadful pain. All works out for good for those who love God, but you will only truly know this once you have sincerely prayed “Oh God I cannot bear this!” and felt that God did not answer. God breaks us to remake us.

              Don’t pray that your relatives will be “Saved”. Pray that you will see the good God is working in their lives, the blessings that God gives, and all the beauty in their ways. Praying that they be saved is judging them. You can learn from anyone, even those you consider most Godless, for no-one is completely Godless.

              I would not recommend the KJV. I like the NRSV. Biblegateway, on line, has many translations. I am unsure of dream interpretation. I am aware of the stories of Joseph and Daniel, but I prefer contemplative prayer: kneel in silence, awaiting the promptings of God. Fasting is not a way to get God’s attention. It is a way of putting your body on alert, so that things you would not normally think of come to mind as your body seeks to deal with the emergency. And also, as Mohammed recognised, a way of bringing yourself into empathy with the poor. You don’t recommend writers, but I recommend Marcus Borg and Richard Rohr, whose daily emails are a great blessing in my life. You can find them here.

              On reforming yourself, as Paul says, first we are justified, then sanctified, then glorified. I have found that Christ has purified my life in particular ways, not in an order I might have thought of myself. Christ knows the things in my life He needs to work on, now, and patiently does that work. Then, He works on something else.

              Rejoice always, pray continually: that is contemplative prayer.

              May God bless you.

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