The High Cost of Magic Bullets

Lynne Murray says:

We’ve gotten into a miracle pill way of thinking since the 1940’s when
antibiotics began to be used as the “magic bullet” to treat infections
that were once incurable.

The concept of magical cures comes up all too often for fat activists,
most recently in light of what I think of as a virulent epidemic of
bariatric surgery. In all its smug, simplistic glory, the question is:
If there were a magic pill that you could take that would make you
thin instead of fat, would you take it?

Clearly this is a question with an agenda: Fat is bad/unhealthy and
no matter how much you say you like and accept your fat body, you’d
change it if you could, wouldn’t you?

The question seems plausible because we’ve come to expect drugs to cure any illness.

The term “magic bullet” suggests a weapon against an invading army of disease. But unlike the microscopic critters that cause infectious disease, fat is not a disease, nor is it contagious. The only contagious part of the so-called obesity epidemic is the prejudice and hatred toward fat and fat people that it stirs up. When we turn our efforts against our own bodies and make them into the enemy, we are damaging rather than promoting health.

Leaving the realm of medically-endorsed hysteria, let’s look at magical
remedies in fairy tales.

Magic remedies always cost something in fairy tales. Consider Hans
Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid. The heroine, a mermaid, falls in love with a human prince. With the help of a sea witch she is transformed into a human woman with legs replacing her mermaid tail, so she can try to win the prince’s love. In the process, the mermaid loses her voice, and every step she takes feels like walking on knives.

Pretty major side effects if you ask me.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I have had a few relationships like that. Reading the tale again as an adult, I see that after all that she went through to be with him, the prince didn’t even marry the mermaid–condemning her to total annihilation under the terms of her agreement with the sea witch. The deal was no marriage, no immortal soul. I’m not going to even start to get into the sexist meaning of that contract. The Little Mermaid’s sisters had to do another deal with the sea witch to try to save her life. Here’s to the underwater sisterhood.

In the real world, magic pills may be advertised as “curing” illness, but even when they target a specific microbe, things can go wrong. For example, microorganisms have now evolved to become resistant to antibiotics, as described in a article

Most of the candidates for “magic weight loss pill” work via blocking the body’s natural hunger pangs. Given the dismal long-term results of calorie deprivation as a weight loss tactic, this is futile at best, and certainly unethical, considering the uncharted side effects both from the drugs themselves and from the yo-yo regain that accompanies most short-term weight loss.

Now that I have spent several years listening carefully to my body, I can say with total assurance that one thing it has never asked is for a magic pill to make it a smaller dress size. Considering the Little Mermaid’s example, I would mistrust any magic that took away my voice, made me ignore my body’s feedback, or made me live so that every step (or every bite) brought pain.

Medicating to ignore our physical needs drives a further wedge between our selves and our bodies. This is not a recipe for health.

</p> <p><a href="" rel="tag nofollow">body<br /> communication</a><br /> magic pill<br /> magic bullet<br /> antibiotic resistant<br /> pills<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">weight loss</a><br /> side effects<br /> Hans Christian Anderson<br /> Little Mermaid<br /> Lynne Murray<br /> <a href="" rel="tag nofollow">Body Impolitic</a></p> <p>

10 thoughts on “The High Cost of Magic Bullets

  1. I wouldn’t mind a magic pill to make me fit into an airline or theater seat. I would want to change back to my regular size afterward.

    What I’d like better would be a magic pill to make airlines and theaters decide to build planes with reasonably sized seats. Would it work to block the capitalists’ profit pangs? Would it magically turn on empathy? What would be the side effects?

  2. LOL, Stef! I love it. I suspect if we could sneak the Empathy Formula into the water coolers in all the major corporations, they’d close down the buildings until the unprofitable contamination had been removed.

  3. Excellent post, Lynne. These “if you could take a magic pill” hypotheses, of course, always assume that there is something wrong with us as we are, that we hate ourselves, & that we SHOULD hate ourselves until we do what is necessary to make ourselves “acceptable.” And those pushing these “cures” care nothing about our REAL health, well-being, longevity, or anything else, because it is not their lives they are endangering. They are more than willing to sell poor health & early (or sudden) death in order to make a profit.

    I have been dealing again with self-acceptance & body image issues as I confront aging in a disabled body, feeling the way I am changing, the way my weight is redistributing, & hearing old (stupid) voices telling me that I would not be as likely to fall if I weighed less. I have been examining all this with loved & trusted friends, & I know that it is total bull, that when I feel these doubts, I am allowing the culture’s beliefs to affect me. I have cerebral palsy, have had since birth, now complicated by arthritis; I have problems with balance, coordination, motor skills. I fall more easily than some people do & that has been true whatever I have weighed. Weighing less actually makes me MORE likely to sustain a serious injury when I do fall. And, as a good fat activist, I have done extensive research on all this. There is NO evidence that being my size (5’6″, & between 180-190 pounds steadily for the past 27 years) increases ANY health risks or has any impact on mobility.

    I am with you, Lynn. I am not about to buy any cures for an illness which I do not have & pour any money into the coffers of bigots. We are fine, beautiful, & worthy as we are & we do NOT have a disease. They need to concentrate their energy on curing cancer.

  4. very true. Have you seen the latest X-Men movie? While it is in many ways flawed as a film, it is ostensibly about exactly this point you make; the film contains a “cure” for the mutant gene, which raises the question of whether or not the mutant gene is something which needs to be cured. While the movie lets all complicated questions fall by the wayside in favor of the action plot, it nonetheless raises some questions that a lot of disability activists should be paying more attention to: for some people, the mutant gene isn’t a disease and doesn’t need to be “cured”. But there have always been mutants in the X-Men universe whose mutations prevent them from living happy, healthy, and functional lives, no matter how the world adapts to fit them.

    I sometimes get frustrated at the disability activists (that I’ve seen most commonly in the Deaf and cerebral palsy communities, but who I know are prevalent in many disability communities) who say “we don’t need a cure — it’s who we are!” Which is all well and good for people with some disabilities, but certainly not for all.

    Somehow society has to find a healthy middle ground on helping find solutions for people who need solutions but adapting to accept people who don’t (and and to except those for whom no solution, no magic bullet, yet exists).

  5. Patsy and Jadelennox, I think those of us who see magic bullets “aimed” at us, get the message that, yes, the community at large (as opposed to the large community, sorry, couldn’t resist the pun) would like to see suffering ended with the appropriate magical medicine. But there is an equally strong desire on the part of the general public to not have to hear about other people’s problems if they can’t be easily fixed or if they are not “cute problems”–e.g., plucky little orphans with resolvable medical issues. I saw that pretty clearly when some NAAFA activists on the Dr. Phil show talked about airline seats and armless chairs to accomodate larger people and he told them to “stop playing the victim.” I’m old enough to remember that people in wheelchairs had to campaign and negotiate for ramps and curb cuts to make buildings and streets accessible and/or easier to navigate (and now old and impaired enough to appreciate the curb cuts)! Lynne

  6. I am learning more about disability activism as I age, & I understand what they are saying, that they are fine as they are & do not need a cure. I have been called “defective” enough in my life to understand. I am NOT “defective”, I am different, special, unique, & the world needs us as unique individuals & the world needs to be able to adapt to accept & accomodate those who are different. Please remember, even if you were not born disabled & are not now disabled, that is no guarantee that disability of some kind will not happen to you. Many disability activists refer to able-bodied people as “TABS”, temporarily able-bodied, because the fact is that if we live long enough, our bodies change & with aging, they DO deteriorate, & virtually everyone faces some challenges & limitations over time. That doesn’t mean that we should be taken out & shot or that we need to be cured. It sure as hell doesn’t mean that we are to be pitied. We are who we are, & most of us have worked hard all our lives to adapt & fit into the world around us. What we want is what everyone wants, the right & the opportunity to live fully & well as individuals. Whether our difference is fat, disability, gender, age, cultural background, social class, whatever…we have value & we deserve respect. We do not necessarily need to be “fixed.” The world would be dull (& terrifying) if we were all perfect clones.

    Ah, curbs…strange that you should mention them, Lynne, sinced downtown Bangor, Maine (pop. 35,000, I do hope most would not be overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of people if they visited) has curbs so high that one nearly breaks a jaw with her own knee stepping up onto them. Indeed, I do find the places where they have been cut to accomodate wheelchairs whenever possible.

  7. Patsy —

    All very good points, but my point is that it’s easy to forget in our (necessary) activism that some of us *do* need cures. I would like to be able to use all the tools I use to be able to use. I would like to be able to drive, to garden without pain, to play computer games. My sister would like to be able to live independently without other people having to make decisions for her, and she would like to be able to walk without falling down and breaking bones. She would like to be able to speak in a way which is intelligible to other people.

    Yes we need respect, and yes we need society to adapt it to be able to fit our lives into society as a whole. But when we start to use phrases like “we don’t need cures, we don’t need to be fixed”, we run the risk of moving society’s emphasis away from those problems that those of us who have them would really like to fix.

    It’s not self-hatred to want to live without chronic pain, to want the same physical abilities or mental abilities that many other people around you have. My sister’s not “differently abled”, as the term went for a little while, she’s mentally disabled. She didn’t get some magical afterschool special emotional or mental ability to make up for the lacks which nature cruelly threw at her in her adolescence.

    this is why I ask for balance. Because for myself — I, personally, would like a cure. And if someone were to hand me a magic pill? I would take it.

  8. I do understand what you are saying, Jadelennox. And probably, if there WERE a “magic pill” without bad side effects (since I have to admit watching commercials on tv for drugs that the side effects scare me worse than the conditions for which they are prescribed) that would allow me to know what it is like to be able-bodied, I would also take it. And, for that matter, I might take one which would allow me to be thinner…not thin, what our culture calls “thin enough” is not appealing to me, but I admit to having a secret wish to be the size of those lovely models they call “plus size”, those beautifully-curved, admittedly airbrushed & computer-enhanced size 14’s. I don’t feel it every minute of every day, but that feeling does come occasionally, mostly as a desire to be in the shape I was within the past few years when I spent 3 to 4 hours daily working out instead of the hour or so which has been my usual habit. I do know that, when I feel that desire, I am being superficial, I am caving in to the messages of our culture & allowing myself to believe that some of us are more beautiful than others because we meet some standard which the culture sets for us. The desire to be able-bodied & capable of doing some things I cannot do & doing others more easily is not so superficial, but it is still problematic. I know that my friends who are disabled, all those passionate, dedicated disability activists, are hurt by my feelings that something is “wrong” with me, & I also know that most of those feelings actually come from my abusive father.

    It’s a very complex issue, there are strong passions on all sides, &, as you can see, it is not easy for even one individual to always know how she feels & where she stands. However, I work hard every day to claim my identity as a disabled woman & a fat woman, to love & respect myself & carry myself with pride & know that I am as good as anyone else. And I work hard to honor the struggles of all others like me. And, in some part of my heart, I also know that in a great many ways, the world would indeed be poorer & less interesting & colorful if we were ALL “perfect”.

  9. Jadelennox and Patsy, I think you are both making important points here. I don’t think any of us want to throw out the medical advances that (just to pick a couple of random examples) make a better quality of life available for diabetics, or for those with bipolar disorder. I can only speak for myself and say I see drug manufacturers borrowing the “halo effect” of some of the more effective treatments, and presenting more questionable drugs as if they were cures. That is possible because the science behind some medical treatments is very hard to understand, ane we so earnestly desire to cure certain conditions that we don’t know how to weigh the odds, risks and benefits.

    An example from my own life. My late husband had hepatitis C (which was and is incurable). He had no symptoms for decades, didn’t know he was sick, and in fact was a frequent blood donor(!) back in the ’70s. When it was discovered in 1982, he had about 10% liver function left and there were few treatments available. In 1984 he had an emergency operation to re-route some of his blood away from his damaged liver to deal with internal bleeding. We later learned that no one expected that operation to buy him 7 more years. With major lifestyle changes he managed to make it to 1990 and suddenly his doctors were recommending a liver transplant. We gathered as much information as we could (this was before medical journal articles were readily available online) and discovered that the body never truly accepts the foreign organs. So he would have to take immune suppressant drugs the rest of his life to keep his own body from rejecting a new liver.

    Now let’s take a minute and think about this. Hep. C is an incurable, blood-borne virus similar to HIV in that stays in the body permanently once infected. If he were to have a new liver transplanted, and take drugs to keep his immune system from rejecting the liver, how could his body fight off the Hep. C? Wouldn’t the virus attack his new liver and destroy it even more quickly? The only answer anyone on the transplant team had for this was that those who had had one transplant got were high on the list for ANOTHER transplant if the first (or second) one didn’t take. We really felt pressure from the “transplant support groups” to go for a liver transplant.

    What bothered me most of all and bothers me to this day was the way the doctors lost all interest in him when he decided against the operation. They wanted a heroic patient who would play the role they set up for him, and allow them to play their roles as surgeons (and researchers). When he decided not to play that role, the medical team’s goal became getting him into a hospice or back at home as soon as possible. Death on a low-tech, day-to-day basis is a different medical specialty. (He died in June of 1991, after about a year of the transplant roller coaster.)

    The science of today’s transplants is no doubt more advanced than 15 years ago. But I don’t think there’s only one answer, and sometimes none of the answers are very good.


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