It’s been ages since I wrote. Lots has happened in the international conversation about fat. It’s been, at least for me, more than eclipsed by both the weirdnesses (and terrors) of the U.S. elections, the ongoing horror of Daeshe, and the hideously gargantuan mess of the refugee crisis. All of this, of course, is about bodies–women’s bodies, Muslims’ bodies, refugees’ bodies, immigrants’ bodies and whether we should care for them, let them join us at the table, tolerate them, grant them agency over themselves. I don’t remember a year in which I have been so angry, full of grief, drowned in disgust, and terrified by the outside world. By its apparent resistance to the basic notion that the body should be inviolable because the individual human body is (if you’re religious) a piece of the divine (if you’re not, then it’s a matter of the body itself constituting a kind of sacredness, as near as I can figure it). Bottom line, leave other folk’s bodies alone except to heal, protect, or honor them. Hands off. Laws off. Boundaries open. Now if I can only get someone to pay attention to what feel to me like seriously obvious behavioral patterns… I don’t get to rule the world, though. Which is probably better. I’m preachy and grouchy and would rather be left alone to write, generally speaking.
In case you wondered whether I haven’t been paying attention to the fatosphere, specifically: 1. Oprah’s acquisition of a big chunk of Weight Watchers stock stinks and I have pretty much lost respect for her. Except that it was probably a terrifically intelligent investment. And a manifestation of the extent to which she continues to suffer with her own body issues, which is sad. 2. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition featured a slightly plus-size (but still conventionally beautiful–whaddya expect, it’s a beauty-porn thing) model, Ashley Graham. Kudos to them, though she still represents a nearly impossible standard for female beauty, but heck, at least they extended the boundaries a bit. Then Cheryl Tiegs had a hissy fit about it. I mostly felt sorry for Tiegs, who has probably been quietly fighting her own demons about her body and her identity as Beautiful for decades. I’ll be impressed when they feature Tess Holliday.
Then I was driving home today and heard an NPR report (NPR LOVES anything about obesity, I swear) about a new article in The Lancet about a multi-national, multi-study analysis of BMI statistics revealing that for the first time since anyone started keeping statistics on this sort of thing, the percentage of humans who are obese exceeds that of those who are underweight. The Lancet is venerable, though they did publish the falsified evidence for the (it turns out) non-existent connection between vaccinations and autism. I suspect they’ve been extra careful since wiping that egg off their editorial faces, so I assume that the research on this thing about there being more fat people (13.5%?than underweight ones (9%). Of course, the numbers alone are massively complex, full of differences of geography, economic status, sex, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Here’s the thing. The study was based on two radically flawed, but still scientifically acceptable, terms: Firstly, BMI, which was never intended to be a medical tool (it was designed for sociological research), and which is profoundly meaningless given the infinite variety of human bodies. Secondly, the word “OBESE,” which is nearly as meaningless in terms of actual health. Most tellingly, the two terms the British researcher proudly used were not “underweight” and “overweight,” but “underweight” and “obese.” There are no words for “fat” that are not loaded with the freight of stupidity and righteousness, but the choice to use the more medically “weighty” term revealed a lot about the researcher’s biases. Besides, “fat,” “obese,” and “overweight” are all umbrella terms that include everyone from Ashley Graham (which is a joke) to a 500 lb man who is on constant pain and can barely move. Meaningless.
More to the point, it was not only bad science based on thoroughly discredited (though you wouldn’t know it by the way the majority of the medical community acts) terms, it was science with a clear, even gleeful, agenda of demonizing a pretty large chunk of the human family. BAD SCIENCE. It was also meaningless–though the researcher was suggesting that maybe governments could subsidize the availability of healthy foods for low-income folks (good idea, but not new) and tax sugars and dangerous fats (only okay if you’re going to do the first, I think.). BAD SCIENCE.
It’s kind of like the thing where mainstream neuroscience has just “discovered” that the brain has another exterior layer full of tiny veins that turn out to be crucial to many neurological and immune disorders. Osteopaths have been talking about this for ages. Mainstream medical science has also recently discovered the fascia (that stuff that forms the boundaries around all our organs muscles and keeps us from turning into bags of goo), when physical therapists who work with dancers and athletes have known about it for ages because it heals at a much slower rate than nerves and tendons and muscles. Sometimes mainstream medical science is just dumb. Fortunately, it still manages to make progress. It’s been centuries since anyone was suggesting a compote of butter and mouse dung as a cure for migraines, for instance.
Bad medical science (most bad science, I suspect) is usually a function of researchers not being able to step away from their own prejudices. You know, like the one that says all fat people are stupid, slow, and morally corrupt. Dear Lancet, fuck off.