Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Nearly 100 years of fat panic!

From Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss--and the Myths and Realities of Dieting, by Gina Kolata:
In her columns in the 1920s, Peters warned that three out of four Americans were seriously overweight.

Now, wait a second. If 75% of Americans were overweight in the 1920s, and the CDC is saying that 64% of Americans are overweight or obese now (and they are), then we're actually getting thinner, not fatter.

Or, maybe, like most fearmongering, this particular panic has been going on for decades, and, like many "the end of the world is nigh" cults tend to prove in the long term, time has demonstrated that fatphobia is baseless.

Indeed, throughout Kolata's book, she demonstrates how one diet craze after another proves to be at least worthless, and, sometimes, even harmful, but sanctimonious finger-wagging by elitist thin people keeps the sturdy-bodied masses running in circles trying to be socially acceptable.

How about we don't worry about what percent of the population weighs more than is socially acceptable--and instead, treat people as individuals instead of statistics? After all, the excessively adored BMI calculation is known to be flawed as a tool for determining who is fat. It does not distinguish between a fat person and a heavily muscled one, making it a fairly useless tool for its intended purposes of data mining and discriminating against fat people.

It makes a lot more sense to me for a person's health to be managed based on their individual needs; I can't see any real benefit for me to go to my doctor and have him tell me I've got to start dieting because 64% of Americans are considered overweight. My being fat isn't going to affect someone else, no matter what bullshit studies come out saying it's omgcontagious. My being fat isn't going to bring thin people over to bump up that 64% number. This is not an "epidemic", and it is not a NEW situation, and we need to stop acting like the sky is falling.


Karen said...

Umm, about the elitist thin people, some studies have found that heavier health care professionals are more likely to see obesity as the result of lack of willpower, laziness, what have you. Which is not to say that thin people can't be and aren't routinely jerks (they are, even to each other) but fat people aren't necessarily your friends.

That said, I can quite believe the panic is nearly (or over) a century old; the older the propaganda the more sway it has, and fat prejudice has a LOT of sway.

I'll also point out that the 20's was where the slim-hipped, flat-chested, boy-shaped waif came into women's fashion. If you head breasts or backside at all they thought you were too fat, at least as a woman. I have no idea what men were supposed to look like. Probably the "eligible bachelor" standard, expensive watch, tailored clothes and the cultural equivalent of a BMW.

Harpy said...

And even in the 20s with the fashion for having a lanky, straight figure, if you look at photographs of the models and beauties of that era, they'd be considered far too fat to be a model or a glamorous celebrity. See this picture of 'beach babes' of the 20s for an example:

(click to enlarge)

They've all got a body with smaller hips and breasts in comparison to the waist, but still have bellies and thighs that meet and other "figure flaws" considered undesirable today.

Stupid society. Stop judging appearances!

Harpy said...

Er, I meant "far too fat to be a model today" there. Need coffee.