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Drinking the Kool-Aid–Again: Two Bloggers Dialogue

Note: This post by Lynne Murray inspired Debbie to start a dialogue with Lynne. All text is by Lynne unless otherwise indicated.

I recently had the good fortune to have a conversation with Marilyn Wann, who has an almost Jeffersonian gift for explaining the common sense of Health At Every Size in terms of “Truths we hold to be self-evident.”

One thing we talked about, as fat activists will, was how often fat activists re-embrace weight loss and then feel betrayed not to get approval from fellow fat activists for weight lost, diet mania re-embraced and even gastric bypass surgery. I’m not taking about results from exercise or healthful eating but those who put aside the idea of Health at Every Size to embrace Weight Loss as a Health Goal.

(Debbie: I have seen this happen with fat activists, but nowhere near often enough to be what I would identify as a trend or a regular issue. I also believe that there are individuals for and situations where weight loss is, in fact, a legitimate health goal. One of the most amazingly talented, extraordinarily fat-accepting body workers I know has been known to recommend WLS in at least one very specific and limited circumstance.)

“The idea appears to be, “I’m still fat, I’ll never be what society thinks of as thin,” therefore you should support me in whatever I do to my body.”

(Debbie: I’d describe what I’ve seen in this regard more as “I’ve made this decision taking my belief in size acceptance into account, and whether or not you support me, I hope you can wish me luck in my goals.”)

We need all the allies we can get, but why are we expected to endorse their dieting behavior?

(Debbie: Someone asking me for support is not, to me, the same as someone expecting me to support her. Heck, Glenn Beck wants my support. He just doesn’t get it.)

The process seemed to me to be a prime example of drinking the Diet Kool-Aid, going back for seconds and sharing with others. When I use the term “drinking the kool-aid” I don’t mean to disrespect or trivialize those who lost loved ones at Jonestown.

We don’t have armed cult enforcers dispatching those who refuse to drink the Diet Poison Flavor Kool-Aid. We do live in a an ocean of propaganda that daily tells us our choice is “lose weight or die.”

Sincere, caring relatives push the Diet Kool-Aid at us at holiday dinner tables all over America. Medical doctors contemptuously dismiss fat clients with diet sheets without bothering to look at the scientifically proven 98% failure rate of weight loss methods. The fat hatred is such that giving a fat person an unworkable solution is thought to be better than accepting them as fat and working with them to be healthier where they are.

When a former fat activist drinks the Diet Kool-Aid and expects support for it the real statement is: “If you’re really my friend you’ll continue to support me when I diet/have by pass surgery, etc.”

(Debbie: The statement I’ve heard is more like “I feel like I need to do this and I’m afraid of losing all my friends.” I don’t believe that there’s any one “real statement” of a bunch of people engaging in comparable behaviors.)

I am saying in return, “Weight loss talk is rarely neutral. I’ll support anyone’s body positive actions, but talk to someone else about your weight loss.”

(Debbie: I’m not convinced that intentional weight loss is never a body-positive action. However, I’m more than happy with “talk to someone else about your weight loss.” I don’t think any of us should have to listen to diet talk if we don’t want to. And I agree 100% about the amount of push we get without having to hear it from fat activists.)

There’s reason why someone climbing back on the diet bandwagon would want to hang onto the support of fat activism. The diet world is full of cheerleaders in the form of authority figures and fellow weight loss advocates. But the positive energy is all aimed at meeting weight loss goals, and each cup of support contains several teaspoons of body hatred.

(Debbie: Again, I genuinely believe that it’s possible to try to lose weight loss for reasons other than body hatred. I think, though, that that’s even harder than embracing our fat bodies without body hatred, which is god-damned hard enough.)

Changing television channels the other day I stumbled across one with a weeping fat woman in a gym being screamed at by a thin personal trainer. I realized this must be a “reality” show I have never seen or wanted to see called The Biggest Loser, where people compete to lose as much weight as possible, as quickly as possible. I kept changing channels. An hour later I clicked past this channel and the SAME thin personal trainer was screaming at the same crying fat woman–two hours of fat hatred.

Sue Widemark on the Fat Activist Network describes this horrible program in a post entitled “Biggest loser video… open fat phobia?”

No reputable doctor can justify this sort of crash diet, and the pressure on contestants has nothing to do with health.

It also offers an opportunity for viewers to learn self-bashing tactics from the contestants, who are convinced that they were hopeless failures until weight loss. The program producers are well aware that they are providing role models for fat people in the audience when they tout it as “inspiring” as recent New York Times article points out.

Love Diet-Kool-Aid style is conditional on meeting impossible goals, not listening to what the body wants, and pushing the body beyond its limits. No wonder former fat activists who return to the diet lifestyle would like to also keep the warm and fuzzy body positive vibe of the fat acceptance community, even while sipping the Diet Kool-Aid.

(Debbie: Completely 100% agreed!)

All this led me to think about how the “Diet or Die” mindset can so easily be revived. Some years back when many cults were in flower, there was a movement toward deprogramming the religious cult brainwashing, which like dieting, uses peer pressure, repetition and magical thinking to undermine thinking ability and shape a person’s reality.

(Debbie: I would say that the contemporary conception of dieting involves peer pressure, repetition, and magical thinking, but that those things are not theoretically necessary to the idea, if the culture was less pathological. I also have been sorry for a long time that we use “diet” to equal “weight-loss diet,” when in fact there are dozens of other kinds of diets, none of which get any attention or awareness.)

I revisited some of those ideas wondering if there was a parallel between Diet Mindset brainwashing and kind used in cults. The main difference I noticed was isolation. Dieters are not separated from the society as a whole. Sadly, they are in perfect accord with the dominant cultural worldview.

So it doesn’t seem likely that the deprogramming tactics that helped people who have been in cults learn to start thinking for themselves again would work on the Diet or Die mindset.

I do still think it’s appropriate to call “Diet-or-Die” a cult in that it isolates us from reality. It encourages people to do non-healthful things in the name of “health.” The fact that a large percentage of Americans believe in the diet mindset saddens me, but belief, even by millions of people, does not make a lie true.

(Debbie:: A lie and a cult are two different things. While I deeply wish that the world was not diet-mad, we have to deal differently with a mass craziness that 90% of all American women (at least), as well as most men, the medical establishment, and the government have bought into than we would with a small extremist cult.)

Diet-or-Die is a society-wide delusion firmly maintained in open denial of the medical facts. One reason I think it has flourished is that the diet or die brainwashing fits like a key into a lock with the “Flesh Bad/Spirit Good” view that exists in many Eastern as well as Western religions. So it’s easy to think of “good” or “bad” or even “sinful” food.

Breaking out of a pre-conditioned mindset requires thinking, and learning how to think is not a simple or easy process. I can testify that for me it took years. My touchstone was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Crack-Up”, because he really describes how it felt:

“I was forced into a measure that no one ever adopts voluntarily: I was impelled to think. God, was it difficult! The moving about of great secret trunks. In the first exhausted halt, I wondered whether I had ever thought.”

The problem with dieting and trying to think at the same time is that restricting one’s food intake forces the body to constantly notify us of its hunger and trains us not to listen to our own bodies. It’s very hard to starve and think at the same time.

(Debbie says: I don’t think it’s either accurate or useful to define everyone who diets as “starving,” or to define everyone who is hungry as unable to think. Hunger is a complicated, rich mechanism which can make us stupid, make us sharp, make us spiritual, make us crazy. I think the problem is much more social than individual, and the difficulties with thinking around dieting can be laid more realistically at the door of social denial and the human need to be liked and wanted, which the culture so frequently denies to fat people.)

It’s also not easy to think clearly in a social environment where we are constantly told that our bodies are out of control and that we are about to drop dead simply because we are fat. To find refuge from this, many us have worked very hard to build pockets of body acceptance both private and shared. Small resting places in the midst of the red sea of body hatred that we live in. Supporting one another is sometimes literally a life saving act. We need the love.

(Debbie: Yes!)

As I poked around the net looking for diet cult links I found a wonderful page– Beautiful You by Julie, that linked to another page 700 Stories and an “End Fat Talk Week” event

This is a brilliant idea–young women bonding over body positive moments rather than sharing what they hate about their bodies or beating themselves up over what they just ate or didn’t eat. There do seem to be more peaceful islands nowadays, and I believe the fat acceptance movement can take credit for this.

As a fat activist, I don’t want to burn bridges with someone who may need fat acceptance big time when the latest diet has run its course. But I can’t bring myself to praise or support the behavior of someone who has gone back to drink the Diet Kool-Aid. I’d rather save my energy to help turn over the vat where it’s mixed and empty it out on the ground so it cannot poison more.

(Debbie: Again yes. To go back to my original point, though, I think there’s a long distance between deciding not to praise or support someone, or even deciding not to listen to someone, and making a flat statement that the individual choice that they are making is either definitionally stupid or definitionally wrong. Health at Every Size has to be just that. Lynne, I hope you’ll respond in comments and we can carry this dialogue further.)

27 Responses to “Drinking the Kool-Aid–Again: Two Bloggers Dialogue”

  1. Janet Lafler Says:

    Well, if you don’t mean “drinking the (diet) Kool-Aid” as a reference to Jonestown, why use the term? Sorry, but I really really really really really

    REALLY

    hate that expression. Really. It saddens me every time I see it.

  2. Janet Lafler Says:

    One problem, by the way, is that when you use an expression like that, it simply turns off my desire to listen to anything you say. I literally couldn’t read another word after I got to that point. So whatever interesting and relevant and insightful things you might have said afterward I completely missed.

  3. Lynne Murray Says:

    I had a few responses to Debbie, but first, Janet, I can understand your response. I have several triggers similar to that. For me the metaphor is close to home because of my own cult experience in the 1960′s-1970′s.

    One thing I had thought to include in this post, but perhaps wrongly decided to leave out because I didn’t want to get too sidetracked, is that I myself was in what was essentially a cult from 1968 to 1975–dates approximate because getting in and out of the cult part was a slow process.

    The cult was the Sokagakkai, which was at the time the only available lay organization of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism. I kept on doing the Buddhism (42 years in March), and over several years managed to separate out the “cult culture” from the religious practice. During my most fanatical cult years I often asked myself where I would draw the line to if I had to die for my religious beliefs. No one asked me too, but it’s the kind of thing one contemplates, or at least I did. I don’t know if you’rel reading this, Janet, but if you are, I don’t take the kool-aid metaphor lightly.

    My slow separation from the dieting life style began a few years after my self-deprogramming from what we all referred to as “The Organization.” Ironically one close Buddhist friend and I went on a liquid protein fast in 1977 that brought her fainting spells, maybe a little hear arhythmia. For me the liquid protein fast proved that my body would not respond with acceptable weight loss even if I literally starved it.

    My friend was a more efficient religious fanatic than I, and also a more effective starvation dieter. Those are some other very loaded terms. For her dieting was a potentially fatal experience. In Buddhism a topic often discussed is “misleading beliefs”–e.g., “the sun revolves around the earth rather than vice versa,” which was an non-negotiable misleading belief when Galileo had his encounter with the Spanish Inquisition.

    One takeaway from my early Buddhist years which I still firmly believe today is that to intentionally mislead someone about something that can damage them is, shall we say, extremely bad karma.

    I personally feel very strongly that many people are misled about what can and can’t be changed about our bodies. When someone misleads another for profit, I lose respect for them. When someone misleads themself and embarks on an unwise diet based on current wisdom, I feel sad, and I can relate because I’ve done it so often myself. As you can probably tell I don’t feel neutral about either.

    Debbie, re food restriction as starvation, I agree that the restriction of food is an extremely complicated question. Some people (e.g. those with health issues such as food allergies, diabetes, etc.) restructure what they eat in order to make the body work better. But the vast majority of food restruring or restriction that I have seen has been served up with the aim of subverting the body’s natural signals, even when done in the name of health.

    The one thing, Debbie, that I hope I didn’t say or suggest is that someone who aims at weight loss is

    “…either definitionally stupid or definitionally wrong.”

    What I had hoped to convey was my own perspective on the practice of food quantity restriction, the conventional “eat less, move more” prescription. Certainly not life-threatening starvation, but my own body responds as if it were. I’ve probably already said too much, so I’m not going to start talking about hunger–definitely a many-faceted topic!

    Lynne

  4. Stef Says:

    I’m confused by the description of this post as a “dialogue.” It In a dialogue, people respond to each other, but this looks like a post by Lynne about the cultlike aspects of diet and weight loss beliefs in our culture, into which Debbie has inserted a number of comments about other weight-and-health-related topics.

  5. Janet Lafler Says:

    Lynne, thanks for the explanation. Now that I’ve read the whole post, I can see that the Kool-Aid metaphor actually makes a lot of sense in context — you’re not using it unthinkingly. My own context is that I was in high school in Oakland in 1978, and Jonestown (and the murders of Milk and Moscone soon afterward) affected me in the way you might expect them to affect a sensitive adolescent.

  6. Lynne Murray Says:

    Stef, maybe it’s more of a “delayed reaction conversation” I was going to say “time lapse conversation” because I always think of those time lapse photography set ups where you can’t see the plant growing, but taking a picture at fixed intervals, you can see the growing process speeded up. It probably seems more natural to me because it’s close to the editorial process–except that the areas of agreement or disagreement may never quite converge–and don’t have to!

    Janet, thank you, I appreciate your reading the post. A friend of my late husband lost relatives at Jonestown and I don’t think there was any coming back for him, the man’s life was devastated.

    I hear you about being affected by the Milk and Moscone murders as a teenager. I’m a lot older but I remember being in high school when JFK was assassinated, some of the teachers tried to hold their classes “as usual” but one teacher cancelled the lesson and suggested we all talk about what we felt, he said, “For some of you this may be the first time you’ve ever experienced death, and even for grown ups it’s not like anything we’ve been through before, so let’s talk.”

  7. Sue Trowbridge Says:

    I just thought I’d mention that the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” is sometimes thought to have originated with Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters. Their “Acid Tests” involved handing out LSD-laced Kool-Aid to people, and the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid” was used in Tom Wolfe’s book “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.”

    Regarding the program “The Biggest Loser,” I’ve never watched it but surely it’s only a matter of time until a contestant has a heart attack? I have seen the ads and every season they boast about “the biggest contestants ever,” and I don’t see how it can possibly be safe for previously sedentary 500-lb. people to suddenly start exercising strenuously for several hours a day while a trainer yells at them.

  8. Patsy Nevins Says:

    I just want to say that I agree much more with Lynne than with Debbie in most of these questions. I am a very radical, passionate fat liberation activist, & have no patience for what I see as ‘kinda, sorta, maybe, for some people’ fat acceptance. I read Sandy Szwarc’s writings a lot & have done a lot of research & studying on my own, & I do not believe that there is EVER a place for weight loss surgery or dieting, that there are NO health problems which happen to fat people which do not also happen to thin people, that a great deal of so-called ‘fat related’ health problems are caused or greatly exacerbated by the stress, discrimination, & ostracism with which fat people live in this culture, & certainly that we have been lied to & manipulated by the mainstream medical & scientific communities & all the mainstream media for at least 50 years. There is a great deal of scientific evidence that body size is either irrelevant to health or that fat is protective, especially as we age, enough so that a non-smoking woman who weighs over 350 pounds has a very good chance of outliving a 6 foot, 170-pound man by three or four years. There is a great deal of evidence that weight loss surgery is harmful & carries a greater risk of death than any other surgery, as well as many terrible side effects which lead to othe health problems, malnutrition, & very likely earlier death & that weight loss, especially in those of us over 60, increases mortality risks by several hundred percent.

    I personally am not about to be sold weight loss as a cure for anything, anymore than I am about to be sold on taking statins, which have often catastrophic side effects & are completely useless in women & MAYBE helpful to about 10% of men. If I have a health issue, I want it to be treated the same way that the same health issue would be treated in a thin person & I KNOW that when a thin person walks into a doctor’s office, the first words he hears are NOT “Lose weight.” There is nothing more wrong or intrinsically unhealthy with being fat than there is with being thin, if that is how one is made. I wish that we could all accept & understand that people come naturally in a wide range of sizes & shapes & that is as it should be. However, there is no money to be made in telling people that they are fine as they are.

    As for ‘drinking the Kool-Aid’, I have come across it a lot online, to mean being brainwashed, accepting what one is told without question, & trying to conform to the what the culture tells one is the right way to be & the right thing to do. I march to the beat of my own drum & never touch the Kool-Aid. I have always been ‘independent as a hog on ice’, as my father used to say, but since turning 60, I have realized that life is much too short to accept anything in the media as fact or to quietly do as I am told. I am proud to be an aging pain in the ass.

  9. Lynne Murray Says:

    Sue, you’re right, the Merry Pranksters did drink (and share) their LSD Kool-Aid, although for them it was an attempt to “turn on” the people they invited to the Acid Tests, almost the opposite of the leader-induced, non-optional suicide Kool-Aid in Jonestown. Words are slippery things, aren’t they? A bit wriggly too as they keep changing.

    I also agree that pushing of supersized contestants into extremely unhealthy competitions on “The BIggest Loser” is a heart attack waiting to happen.

    What angers me also about that is, if such a tragedy should happen, it will be reported as because of the victim being so fat, rather than because of the stress and covert encouragement to do whatever extreme behavior it takes to lose as much weight as quickly as possible and win the money. I think that The Biggest Loser’s legal advisors feel they can damage the contestants’ health at will with no fear of being sued because of the contestants’ poverty, and the learned habit of blaming themselves “because of the fat” for any medical problems. Not to mention all the releases they sign before going on the show. Grrrrr.

  10. Patia Says:

    I have been saddened for some time now by the fat acceptance community’s rigid rejection of dieting, weight loss and any evidence linking excess weight to health problems. Certainly there are problems with each of these, but they are not black and white issues. We would do well to remember that extremism in any form is myopic at best and dangerous at worst.

    I learned to love my body in the fat acceptance movement, but when it became clear that fat was making my body sick, the community did not want to hear it. I still love my body and I still reject society’s narrow definition of beauty, but I also want to be well. It is a complex problem that I have yet to solve. Unfortunately, I feel abandoned by my former friends in the fat acceptance community.

    I have very mixed feelings about The Biggest Loser — yes, it’s dangerous, unrealistic and profit-driven; yes, it denies that fat people in many instances can be happy and healthy. But it is also inspiring to see what a strict regimen of diet and exercise can accomplish. I love Jillian and wish I had a trainer like her to kick my ass into gear. She’s probably the only one who could.

    If the fat acceptance community wants to stop alienating many of its prospective supporters, it needs to acknowledge that sometimes, fat makes people miserably uncomfortable and desperately unhealthy. I firmly believe it is possible to love one’s body, reject society’s narrow standards, embrace a wide range of body sizes and also recognize that weight loss is desirable (and yes, possible) for some.

  11. Stef Says:

    Patia, I know that it hurts to be abandoned by friends and I’m sorry you lost friends over your choice.

    I think there are many fat activist/fat acceptance communities, and there is no consensus viewpoint among them on whether fat can be unhealthy or whether weight loss can be a good idea. If a particular subcommunity has rejected you for your choice, I think there are others that would accept you.

    Personally I am glad that some of these communities don’t spend a lot of their activist time and energy adopting a position “that sometimes, fat makes people miserably uncomfortable and desperately unhealthy.” I’m glad of that for two reasons.

    1. The entire rest of the world is happy to tell me that all day long, and I wouldn’t want to be subjected to a lot of discussion about it from all my fat activist communities too.

    Sometimes I like to interact with people in a context where “fat is dangerous” isn’t going to be the topic of discussion, and so I value the few remaining corners of the fat activist community that don’t allow positive talk about diet, weight loss, and weight loss surgery and don’t allow “fat is dangerous” conversations.

    2. Fat usually does not cause health problems, and most emotional problems that fat contributes to are largely due to societal judgement rather than to something intrinsic to fat.

    I believe that message is much less well known than the message “that sometimes, fat makes people miserably uncomfortable and desperately unhealthy.”

    So I prefer to spend my activist energy promoting the less well known message than discussing the one that everyone already knows.

    Speaking for myself, I know fat can sometimes contribute to health problems and emotional problems. I know that some people choose to address those problems by losing weight. I also know that some of those people are happy with their solution. I can live with that as long as I have places to go to get away from discussion of it, and as long as I mostly don’t hear details.

  12. Lynne Murray Says:

    Patia, I am sorry that friends in the fat acceptance community were not supportive of your choices in pursuit of health. Health issues are scary. I can also see your point and Debbie’s about providing an accepting environment, and not excluding people who are dieting.

    I also kinda understand how you might want a strong mentor/trainer although I personally am no fan of Jillian, if that is the same woman I personally refer to as “Sadistic Boot Camp Personal Trainer Lady” on The BIggest Loser. I’ve had mentors who held me to strong standards of excellence and I’ve been better for it. Although I haven’t had and do not admire someone who purports to be a mentor while screaming abuse at someone who is crying. That personally would not motivate ME to anything positive. If I had to even listen to it for more than a few seconds I would seriously consider taking up murder mystery writing again just to the have the opportunity to put a bullet in said mentor/trainer lady’s head without having to go to jail for it. Sorry, that’s just me, when someone kicks my ass it doesn’t make me work harder, it makes me want to kick back. But everybody’s different.

    The problem, as I see it, and I tend to agree more with Patsy Nevins and Stef on this, is that we fat people, fat women in particular, are so conditioned to bond over weight loss efforts, that we need to model some new behavior. One way to help make that happen is to purposefully exclude diet talk, even if that seems rigid.

    It reminds me a little of the concept of “women only space.” I don’t want to open up a whole ‘nother thread. I will confess that women only groups can make me uncomfortable–I’d probably need psychoanalysis to explain why. But they are a way of providing an atmosphere to develop behaviors in women that can be thwarted by the presence of even supportive men.

    To make the weight loss parallel, as Patsy points out, dieters can get approval and even applause for the effort practically everywhere outside the fat activist community– which is still not that numerous.

    I think diet/weight loss talk makes a fat accepting refuge less fat accepting and less of a refuge. Even Weight Watchers is now picking up some of the “accepting” lingo and talking about accepting your body–while working to make it a smaller version.

    If diet talk invades Health at Every Size spaces, where do you draw the line?

    Weight Watchers At Every Size? Maybe that kind of a group is needed and would help many. But I’ll take a long shot and guess that the weight loss voices would drown out the fat accepting voices in such a group.

    Coincidentally I just found Marianne Kirby’s September 10, 2007 post on Fat/Size/Body Acceptance 101. She described some of my feelings, perhaps in a more accessible way at
    http://www.therotund.com/?page_id=190

  13. Patti Says:

    As you know, I have fairly strong opinions on that.

    One is that the fat acceptance movement often displays an appalling (and probably willful) ignorance of science and statistics. While it’s true that there are no health problems that are exclusively the domain of fat people, it’s also true that being fat increases your risk for some health problems. The most obvious and easily-explained case of this is that carrying around excessive weight puts more strain on your joints and increases the risk of injury to them. We all remember F=MA from freshman physics class, right? (Force = Mass times Acceleration.) More mass means more force on the joints.

    I’m also puzzled and horrified by a fat acceptance movement that wants to be accepted for their weight and their choices around it, but refuses to accept the choices of others. If not losing weight is a valid choice, then losing weight should be an equally valid one. Otherwise, they’re just taking the dominant paradigm of “you must lose weight”, inverting it, and expecting everyone to follow the new world order.

    To me, the size acceptance movement should be about accepting all sizes, and all decisions surrounding weight.

    I can certainly understand Stef’s perspective. If I understand it correctly, she wants the fat acceptance community to behave like a support group– one that focuses only on positive messages and allows her to escape from negative ones. While I certainly understand the need for support groups, I think that activism is better served by a rational analysis of facts and opinions and acceptance of a diversity of voices.

    I think Patia hit the nail on the head.

  14. Marilyn Wann Says:

    I think the historical moment we occupy, one during which it is common practice to blame all individual and societal ills on the existence of fat people (and on the existence of fat in a person’s body) makes it unusual when people refrain from such blaming.

    I don’t have any say in whatever people want to do regarding weight-loss goals. I cannot be required to agree with such “choices” or required to interact with people who want to participate in weight blaming.

    I refuse to believe that the *only* way to improve a person’s life or health is via losing weight.

    My life is just too short and too wonderful for me to want to spend time around fat-blaming and weight-loss goals. Whether or not I could or should force myself to be a friend to such a person or to welcome such people in various community spaces…the real question is whether they could be a friend to me, whether they would enhance or diminish my experience of community. I’ve found, repeatedly, that people who believe in fat blaming and who hold weight-loss goals are bad for me as friends and regardless of their intentions, they diminish my experience of community.

    I find it interesting that when our community discusses this topic, timidly, haltingly, with a great deal of topic-shifting, people tend to focus on the feelings of people who engage in weight-loss goals and not so much in the feelings of people who seek interactions free from weight-loss goals.

    Also, it’s interesting to me that this is even a topic for debate, when the general term we all supposedly find interesting is “fat acceptance.” (Although I strongly prefer terms like fat pride or fat liberation or celebrating weight diversity.) If one rejects fat, in part or in full and for whatever reason and by whatever means, I view that as fundamentally inconsistent with the general idea that brought us together. So it’s not tragic, to me, to imagine that people might part company when we no longer share a viewpoint on what brought us together.

  15. Patti Says:

    Marilyn, you used the phrase “weight-loss goals” repeatedly, as though weight loss was an end unto itself. We could certainly discuss whether weight loss is a valuable goal in the abstract, but I can certainly see it as a useful tool for achieving some other, more-valuable life goal.

    For example, “I want to lower my blood pressure without resorting to drugs”, or, “I want to reduce my risk of type 2 diabetes”, or, “I want to stop my left knee from being in constant pain.” All of those are valuable and worthwhile life goals, I think, and for all of them weight loss is one tool for helping accomplish them. That’s not fat blaming so much as a simple acknowledgment that there is a connection between weight and some medical issues.

    Besides, we all know that fat isn’t the root cause of all society’s problems– terrorists are. :-)

  16. Patia Says:

    I’m sure you realize, Marilyn, that your community, the Gab Cafe, is one of those I no longer felt welcome in. Not that there was any overtly hostile rejection, just that I knew I could no longer speak freely about what I was going through. There are some unwritten rules one must abide by to be part of the fat “acceptance” community, including:

    -Don’t talk about weight loss as desirable or possible, ever.
    -If you get sick, blame it on anything but your weight. (Or better yet, don’t tell anyone.)
    -You can’t love your body and want to change it at the same time.

    I hope you know, Marilyn, that I have the greatest appreciation and respect for you and your work. But I firmly believe that it is possible for me to respect your choices and circumstances while wanting to change my own. Just because I want to lose some weight for my health and comfort doesn’t automatically mean I disapprove of you. Nor does it mean that I have joined the “thin is in” crowd.

    What I learned during my time in the movement is that fat is a human rights issue — that every body deserves to be treated with respect, decency and equality under the law. I have carried that lesson forward with me even as I pursue my own goals, and yes, watch “The Biggest Loser” for inspiration.

    I saw women in the Gab Cafe dropping like flies with diabetes diagnoses. I’m sorry to say that I even participated in some of the subtle shaming that went on around their diet talk and low-carbing. Then I had my own wake-up call. I do understand the desire for “no-diet-talk” spaces, and you certainly have the right to set the boundaries of your own community. I’m just saying that, although I have as much fat-acceptance cred as anyone and am still an advocate for body image sanity, I no longer feel welcome in the fat acceptance community. Which I think is sad.

    This “You’re either with us or against us” mentality is as dumb in the fat acceptance movement as it was when George Bush said it.

  17. Lynne Murray Says:

    Marilyn, thank you for commenting on this–as our conversation was what prompted me to post and I took your name in vain without asking your permission! One thing in your comment resonated with me:

    “I find it interesting that when our community discusses this topic, timidly, haltingly, with a great deal of topic-shifting, people tend to focus on the feelings of people who engage in weight-loss goals and not so much in the feelings of people who seek interactions free from weight-loss goals.”

    I confess that it didn’t even seem strange to me that the feelings of those with weight loss goals would be at the center of the discussion. Have we internalized the idea of fat women as eternal nurturers, whose needs are always put aside to make others feel better.

    As Groucho so succinctly put it, “I resemble that remark!”

    Patti and Patia, I totally respect whatever works for an individual person to make for a healthier body.

    Sheesh, I hate to open up this can of worms–but when have I ever put down the can opener once a can of worms presented itself?

    In what you are saying there seems to be an assumption that food restriction will result in weight loss. This has not been the experience of many of us in fat activist circles. Yet when weight loss talk enters the room, it seems as if everyone who is pursuing this goal defends it as if it were a foregone conclusion that it will work for them…. somehow…permanently and without a regain backlash.

    I have knee problems, and I might be healthier if I weighed less. I might also be healthier if I were younger, or if I had different parents. However, my own reality with food restriction from age 9 to 29 is that each attempt to lose was followed by rebound weight gain. So as much as I totally respect other people’s choices, I personally wouldn’t get on that yo-yo train again.

    I know, I know, no one is asking me to get on it. However, it seems to me that I’m not being rigid, so much as simply observant when I say that the results of food restriction for weight loss have always been regaining up to a higher weight for me and many others. It seems, at the least, a little naive not to consider that this may happen. It so very often does.

    So when fat activists express concern about food restriction behaviors, it may not be rigid “group think” so much as that old nurturing thing kicking in, and trying to break through the magical thinking of “wanting to lose weight means losing weight.”

    Recycling the virtual worm can, putting the worms in the virtual compost heap.

  18. Patti Says:

    Lynne, your point is well taken. I was thinking about weight loss in a broader sense, not specifically in terms of calorie-restrictive dieting. I believe that there are sane behaviors out there that would allow some people to lose weight if they chose to do so. Discussing weight loss as a concept seems like a different question from discussing one particular method of trying to lose weight.

    I’m currently on a serious binge of embracing exercise as a tool for achieving some health goals. It turns out that it’s having the side benefit of helping me lose weight slowly, and I’m both happy and not-surprised about that. More importantly, my blood pressure is down. My blood sugar (which has always been good but has started rising in the last few years) is down. I’m sleeping better. I have more energy. And yes, I’ve lost five or ten pounds in the last few months. I really have a hard time seeing the whole thing as anything other than a great big bucket of win.

    I guess I really don’t understand why fat activist means “you must stay fat” rather than “it’s OK to stay fat.”

  19. Debbie Says:

    I’m really appreciating the thoughtful conversation on such an incredibly personal and loaded topic.

    First to Stef: Yes, you’re right, it really wasn’t a dialogue. I was certainly hoping Lynne would continue the conversation in comments, but I could have used a better phrase, like her “time-lapse” conversation.

    I think it’s useful to distinguish what’s activism, what’s community, and what’s personal choice. I disagree with Patti that activism is best served by rational analysis: activism is best served by passion and commitment. Activism, by its nature, is at least somewhat about extremism, and I completely understand why fat activists don’t support dieting, WLS, or other weight loss measures.

    Community is about mutual support and like-mindedness, shared interests, and trust. Some people need their communities to be in agreement on basic issues, others thrive on conflict. One is not better than the other. We choose the communities that feed us, we leave the communities that don’t. Again, I think this is fine. I’ve been in many communities in my life, and expect to be in more before I’m through.

    Personal choice is just that: it’s personal. If I make a personal choice that goes against my previous activism, or isn’t in accord with my community, I have to expect to be criticized for that choice. I believe it’s possible to criticize someone’s choices, and even to decide that I don’t want to hear their arguments, and still support their right to make that choice their way. The example I always use is that in the 1970s, when I was a draft counselor, I used my knowledge of the military medical regulations to help a friend get into the army, for his own reasons. Many other draft counselors would have made a different choice: I don’t think they would have been wrong. I know that, for who I was then and still am, I did the right thing.

    Finally, Marilyn, I personally like “size acceptance” and “fat celebration.” I don’t find them mutually exclusive.

  20. Patia Says:

    Hilarious. Rather than address my concerns, Marilyn has defriended me on Facebook. I guess this makes my excommunication official.

    Well, I’m sorry that you disapprove of my difference of opinion, Marilyn. I still support the goals of the fat-acceptance movement — loving one’s body no matter what, respect for all sizes, not blaming fat for all evils — but I will not stick my head in the sand and deny any connection between weight and health or people’s right to make their own informed choices about their bodies.

    Lynn, I totally agree — weight loss is HARD, and harder for some than others. I know that from personal experience and I sure as heck haven’t figured it out. I think one thing The Biggest Loser shows is that diet and exercise DOES work — but who has six hours a day to spend at the gym, personal trainers, catered 1,200 calorie a day meals, exclusion from temptation, medical supervision, group support, weekly televised weigh-ins and a $250,000 carrot?

    Debbie, that is a really good point about activism being somewhat extremist by definition. I can see how dedication to a political cause requires unbending commitment to one’s principles.

    I guess, for me, it’s about trying to find balance — a realistic, positive, healthy, self-loving way of living in this body and this crazy world.

  21. Marilyn Wann Says:

    I’m not ignoring you, Patia, I just don’t stop by here often. And yes, I prefer not to have social-network links with people who have weight-loss goals. Not just you.

    I don’t actually care what anyone weighs or whether people’s weight changes. In my experience, my own weight and other people’s weights change a lot over the course of a lifetime. I care whether people *care* that they’ve lost weight and I care when people identify the change in weight as a thing that directly causes other desired changes. I have a deep level of skepticism that when people eat differently or exercise differently or adopt any number of other behaviors that it’s useful to attribute 100% (or even any percent) of whatever benefits a person may be seeing to weight loss. As an ethical matter, I am not willing to say that the *only* way for any person to enjoy some benefit (improved health, various subcategories of health measures, etc.) is to lose weight because as we presumably have all noticed and perhaps experienced ourselves, longterm/lasting weight loss is highly unlikely. I don’t deny that some people manage it, just that given its rarity, I’d rather recommend to people that they go catch a unicorn because *that’s* the only way to health improvements.

    So, Patsy, I think it’s perfectly lovely to have a goal of improving health measures, so long as people recognize that these numbers are not always available for total control and so long as we don’t imagine weight loss is necessary for reaching such ends.

    Patsy, I can celebrate with you any of the other changes you describe in your life but I’m completely unwilling to share your celebration of losing weight.

    I opened my post above with the preface about the moment of history that we occupy because I believe that if we lived in a moment of history when it is less prevalent to blame all bad things on fat and attribute all good things to weight loss, then we wouldn’t need to have this discussion. But in that lovely moment, we also might not need to spend time arguing against weight-based prejudice and discrimination, either!

  22. Stefanie Says:

    I am jumping into this pretty late. But I wanted to address one thing that Patti said in comment #18. I am glad to hear that exercise is having good benefits for you, Patti. Would you still consider all those other benefits to be beneficial if you weren’t also losing weight?

    I ask because of personal experience. A relative of mine went on a “lifestyle change” program several years ago. She changed the way she eats, exercised a lot more, and talked more openly about a lot of hard emotional things. Her blood pressure went down, her energy level went up, and she lost a lot of weight. She was thrilled, and talked a lot about how it wasn’t really about weight loss, it was about health and lifestyle.

    Five years later, she is still in that program. She is still exercising; her blood pressure is still down; the other benefits still accrue. But, she slowly regained a good bit of the weight she had initially lost. And as that has happened, she has become more stressed, more singleminded, and has been restricting her calories more and more to try to stave off the weight gain. She no longer talks about the lifestyle change or the benefits she still sees from exercise– she talks about how she needs to lose the weight again. Oh, and how she’s starting to have memory issues which of course can’t at all be related to the fact that she is eating less than 1,000 calories/day now.

    And that is what I see most often in other places too. That exercise, in and of itself, for its own sake, is not enough; nutrition, in and of itself, for its own sake, is not enough. Weight loss always seems to be the most important part of the equation, and the benefit that everyone is truly pursuing.

    That is where my objection lies, and what I take from Marilyn Wann’s comments as well– that the fact that wellness can be for its own sake, and does not have to entail weight loss, gets drowned out. Even in communities that are supposedly focused on that very insight.

  23. Stefanie Says:

    And that is not even to mention the people, like me, who are limited in how much “wellness” we can even pursue. And/or those who are more interested in working on other issues than diet or exercise or the physical stuff at all.

  24. Lynne Murray Says:

    Marilyn, you make an interesting point with the addiction metaphor, and Stefani, thanks for sharing about how the hypnotic conditioning of maintaining the weight loss numbers asserts itself even when the supposed aim was health and the continued quest for lower numbers literally gets in the way of health.

    I think a lot about thinking the way that someone who came back from paralysis thinks a lot about moving. I still remember the extra energy I had when I was a religious fanatic, and my observation is that, as a fanatic, I had learned how to switch off the part of my brain that weighed information, analyzed it and made decisions. The decisions had been made for me and all I had to do was carry them out. There’s a Brecht quote along the lines of “When a good soldier gets an order, he gets a hard on. When he carries out that order, he comes.”

    Getting my brain going again took work. But I would never go back. Ditto with the food craziness. If my body tells me something, I listen.

    Last night on the local news, one of the young female anchors started talking about how, “after the holidays you might come home and feel hungry,” and how you should fight this temptation to eat when you’re hungry. She went on about this for a couple of minutes (“we all know what works, eat less, move more & etc., & etc.”), sharing her eating disorder with the viewing audience.

    After yelling at the TV, “Here’s a novel idea, when you come home hungry–eat something” I turned it off.

    We live in a sea of misinformation, it’s a miracle any of us get out of Brainwash Land and into Fluff Dry City.

  25. Patti Says:

    Marilyn, I have a question.

    You said that you would be unable to share anyone’s celebration fo losing weight. Would you similarly be unable to share someone’s celebration of gaining weight, or of maintaining exactly the same weight?

  26. Marilyn Wann Says:

    Patti, I apologize for confusing your name earlier, which I typed as Patsy.

    No, I don’t celebrate gaining weight. I oppose weight-gain goals just as vehemently as I oppose weight-loss goals. I joined the NAAFA board several years ago with the goal of convincing that organization to adopt an official policy against feederism. Here’s the current version: http://tinyurl.com/y9lwe6j.

    While I’m aware that research data links a stable weight to lower risk of morbidity/mortality (illness and death), I don’t celebrate stable weights for myself or others. I can’t really imagine a situation where that would happen.

    I find this urge to control or change what we weigh unpleasant and damaging. I deem that it participates inevitably in beliefs that I oppose.

    What I do celebrate is weight diversity. I think it’s natural and wonderful that human beings come in so many different sizes and shapes and colors and genders and sexualities and abilities. I don’t expect everyone to be the same skin color. I don’t expect everyone to conform to a 2-gender system. I don’t expect everyone to be able to run a marathon or even to be able to walk. I certainly don’t expect everyone to weigh the same, any more than I’d expect us all to be similar in height.

    I also celebrate people who aim to celebrate their current embodiment, whatever weight that happens to be, fat or thin. I imagine that such people expand the liveable space for all of us. (And if our bodies change as we go through life, I imagine we would still celebrate our current embodiment, not the fact that our bodies happened to change.)

    I appreciate that people who lose weight anticipate being congratulated and that pretty much everyone they meet will readily offer such congratulations. I do not.

  27. Lynne Murray Says:

    Just a small note–Stefanie, apologies for leaving the final “e” off your name–people are doing that to me all the time!

    Marilyn, I love the idea of celebrating people who aim to celebrate their current embodiment. I have a lovely exercise for supersized bodies tape Kelly Bliss made with Lynn McAfee
    https://kellybliss.com/store/product_details.php?item_id=162
    where Lynn talks about getting IN TOUCH with your body by actually touching it before moving it, particularly the parts that you may feel alienated by, and respecting your body as it is right now. She addresses the issue that “my body size may change and that’s all right,” But her point, very gently demonstrated, is to value all parts of our bodies as they are now.

    At one point she talks about celebrating a large belly and the strength it requires to move it in daily life. I thought of that yesterday while balancing a heavy box against my own large belly to heft it to where I wanted it, using my body as a counterweight. Later I thought about it again while one my shy, formerly feral girl cats climbed up, with little anxious meows to rest on the very top of my belly, purring at the warmth, half nervous and half really wanting to be held. The top of my belly was a destination for her.

    I very much appreciate how the fat acceptance movement has taught me to value and celebrate the power, the warmth, the substance that I embody today.

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