In reaction to media ads showing ever-thinner models, many opponents
of the status-quo have taken to saying that being overweight is
good, an assertion of refusal of media propaganda which aims to
sell diets, gyms, and self-hate, and which feeds on people's vanity
and exaggerated concerns about looks, particularly aging baby boomers.
This I believe represents yet another false alternative to the values
offered by the mass media.
An article in the Spring 2001 issue of Slingshot http://slingshot.tao.ca/displaybi.php?0071003,
"Reclaiming My Body", made excellent points about the
difference between the images being sold us via mass media advertising
and health. And its basic recommendations, a healthy diet and exercise,
are very sound. But then came an assertion that "weight is
not a true indicator of good health, that as long as you're exercising
regularly and you have good blood pressure, good cholesterol levels
and good blood sugar levels, you're in pretty darn good shape."
Excuse me, but that's like saying that a person falling off a tall
building shows few ill effects at the 20th floor on the way down,
aside from a rapid pulse. A similar claim can be made to the effect
that dioxin isn't bad for you as long as you seem healthy.
Many, many studies have shown a strong link between excess weight
and health problems, including one in April 2001 done by the World
Health Organization,which pins problems even on excess weight which
does not amount to obesity. Two major studies can be found in the
New England Journal of Medicine, one from 1/1/98 (whose
conclusion that excess weight may not be a problem past the age
of 75 was amazingly used by some to assert the study found no link
between health and weight) and a follow-up to it, 10/7/99, which
concluded the link is even stronger than first thought, and does
not weaken after 75.
This is not a cosmetic matter, a question of "looksism".
The article focuses on appearances, ie media images, rather than
the underlying material situation, just as the movement as a whole
focuses on the symptoms of capitalism, rather than capitalist social
relations themselves. Anorexia and bulemia are bad problems for
quite a few people (especially women), and even deadly for a few.
And many women (and men) are often needlessly pressured to question
their attractiveness simply because they don't happen to fit the
image of the media star of the moment (one could wish that the fame
of most of these stars would only last fifteen minutes). But these
problems are dwarfed by a growing excessive weight epidemic.
More people than ever, 61% of Americans at last count, are overweight
(based not on height/weight charts, as the Slingshot
piece author Tracy Lee contends, but on body mass index), more than
ever are obese. And the problem is worst among children, up to 25%
of whom are now obese, a doubling over the last two decades. Adult
(sic) onset diabetes and even heart attack incidents are growing
like crazy among kids (as young as 4!), who are subject to more
and more ads for junk food, even at school. Over 280,000 die in
the US every year due to weight-related problems. (San Francisco
Chronicle, p 1, 10/27/99)
An explanation lies in "life" within capitalist society.
We are stressed out with long work hours, long commutes, less and
less time to exercise or in fact do anything, and usually drive
to work,shopping, and/or "leisure". Our time is spent
online, watching TV, talking on a cell phone, or consuming mass
media, or all of these simultaneously. Our "nutrition"
thus increasingly consists of junk/fast food with its fat, sugars
and salt. We are all impacted as well by an environment that is
increasingly polluted and stressed out, which no doubt disrupts
our body rhythms. (Toxic chemicals have been connected to disruptions
of animal reproductive systems.) Any wonder we are getting obese?
To top it off, all this is used by the purveyors of snake oil diets
and other scams to sell us their commodities with renewed urgency,
and the ads portray models who are unrealistically thin. It's so
out of whack that even Marilyn Monroe has been labled "fat"
by movie star Elizabeth Hurley. The weight epidemic provides fertile
soil for this image industry.
Some people have even gone as far as to contend that since proportionally
more poor people and folks in the African-American and Latino communities,
especially women, are overweight or obese, criticism of excess weight
amount to "classism" and racism. But even a simple examination
of the facts would disclose that the poor, of which a larger portion
are African-American and Latino than is the general population,
have diets which are particularly dependent on the shit food produced
by capital, and are subject to high levels of stress and pollution.
I should make it clear that this analysis has nothing to do with
notions that people who are overweight lack moral fiber; the problem
is social in nature. Demands for "fat acceptance" are ultimately
demands to accept the poor public health conditions of capitalism.
I don't know Tracy Lee's "fat vegetarian bike messenger"
friend, for whom she claims good health in contrast to anorexic
models. But i do know people who are/were nominally vegetarians,
whose diet included lots of processed cheese, large quantities of
beer, and commercially-grown (ie pesticide and fertilizer rich)
vegetables. Such a "vegetarian" diet is not a recipe to
good health. In fact, one of the people i know like that was a close
relative who died of a heart attack at a relatively young age. Even
organically-grown food is not good for you if eaten to excess; too
much organic butter or organic chocolate will mess up your body
chemistry just like any excessive amount of non-organic butter or
And Lee's advice to eat when you feel hungry is not necessarily
a good idea. As mentioned before, our body rhythms get disrupted
by all the toxic shit around us, and our stressful social environment.
We should think twice if we are really hungry, or simply nervous/hyper,
since we are not living in a state of natural balance.
(August 13, 2001)