Thursday, September 2, 2010

Fat of the Land

A blogger at Feministe responds to a typical argument against the conflation of weight and poor health. Monica's position is that tracking average weight (or BMI) of populations is useful from a public health standpoint. Thus the Jezebel party line against "fat shaming" is potentially harmful to the extent that it complicates addressing the genuine public health issue regarded as an obesity epidemic.

The arguments are typical of this topic, and they go past each other. The "obesity" epidemic is actually a poverty epidemic shaded by bad food policy. Corporations, as they always do, use its prominence in the public consciousness to push their products: we all know that there is this problem called "obesity" which threatens our society, so do your part by buying our snake oil.

Jezebel is primarily concerned in this case with media and marketing messages aimed at women. They are on perfectly solid ground warning consumers off marketing narratives that conflate a public health crisis with individual morality as expressed by participation in the fitness and diet industries. And while the personal responsibility narrative hurts the middle class consumers Jezebel is looking out for, it does a further disservice by obscuring the extreme income inequality at the root of our society's obesity crisis, so perhaps they do good in that sense as well, if inadvertantly.

In any case, defending the "overweight is unhealthy" status quo is neither necessary at this point nor particularly likely to result in meaningful progress against the poverty-based obesity problem. Middle class tolerance of fatness is a project that does not in any way conflict with correcting the market and policy failures that cause and maintain massive economic inequality.

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