Some Things Cannot Be a Left/Right Issue

I don’t particularly like Meghan McCain’s economic politics. But as a person, I find her engaging and kind of entertaining. I also think she’s the single most attractive size-eight girl who gets media attention.

I follow her on Twitter (along with Roy Blunt Jr., Tarryl Clark, and a feed that parodies Dan Maes) because I think, for a person commenting on politics, the honesty and youth is kind of refreshing. Or, I’m just nosy and I like seeing the thoughts of famous people. Whatever.

Someone recently made a comment @McCainBlogette insulting her weight and her book, which is to be released in ten days:

So I assume *Dirty Sexy Politics* by @McCainBlogette comes with a free bag of Pork Rinds.

Ms. McCain’s responses follow:

Does it make you feel better about yourself to make fat jokes about me? You are vile. Men like u give women eating disorders @jimccarson

I address body image issues w/ women (specifically in politics) in my book, it’s something close to my heart that I will fight for until I

can no longer breathe. We have to fight back against men like that, that think it’s acceptable to criticize women’s bodies. I get called fat

almost every single day of my life. All I know is that I am happy, healthy, and want the world to be a more open place for my little sister

Sometimes, I want to hug her. I do. Because acknowledging that this is an issue is so important. People think it doesn’t have any effect to just spout out fat jokes – I promise, that is not the case. I have been called fat enough times to know that.

I recently had a conversation with a friend who recalled a conversation with a girl I’ve never met. The girl told him that she had cried for an hour after being called fat. He was unsympathetic – she cried for an hour? I was going to respond, WELL OF COURSE SHE CRIED THAT MUCH ARE YOU STUPID? Then I choked up and got too nervous to say anything – actually, he is kind of stupid. He’s one of the people who has commented on my weight.

So Ms. McCain’s responses mean a lot to me. The fact that she is standing up for herself – and for those of us who aren’t toothpicks – is tremendously empowering. Yes, obesity is a problem in this country, and yes, it is unhealthy. But there are so many women – and so many men, for that matter – who feel like they are horrible people because they can’t stand their bodies. And you all continue to stigmatize fat people because you think you’re better than them. Congratulations on being superior. Want to place bets on how much that helps people who are overweight achieve both physical and psychological healthfulness?

The truth is that it doesn’t. I didn’t start losing weight and creating a healthier relationship with food until I felt better about myself and my body. When I couldn’t stand my body, it wasn’t worth it. I didn’t think I was capable of losing weight, and frankly, I didn’t see any reason to do so.

Need more proof that stigmatizing fat is bad? Thanks, New York Times!

Some of the most blatant fat discrimination comes from medical professionals. Rebecca Puhl, a clinical psychologist and director of research at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, has been studying the stigma of obesity for more than a decade. More than half of the 620 primary care doctors questioned for one study described obese patients as “awkward, unattractive, ugly, and unlikely to comply with treatment.” (This last is significant, because doctors who think patients won’t follow their instructions treat and prescribe for them differently.)

Despite the abundance of research showing that most people are unable to make significant long-term changes in their weight, it’s clear that doctors tend to view obesity as a matter of personal responsibility. Perhaps they see shame and stigma as a health care strategy.

If so, is it working? Not very well. Many fat people sidestep such judgments by simply avoiding doctor visits, whether for routine checkups, preventive screenings or urgent health problems.

Indeed, Dr. Peter A. Muennig, an assistant professor of health policy at Columbia, says stigma can do more than keep fat people from the doctor: it can actually make them sick. “Stigma and prejudice are intensely stressful,” he explained. “Stress puts the body on full alert, which gets the blood pressure up, the sugar up, everything you need to fight or flee the predator.”

Even if doctors don’t directly express weight-based judgments, their biases can hurt patients. One recent study shows that the higher a patient’s body mass, the less respect doctors express for that patient. And the less respect a doctor has for a patient, says Dr. Mary Huizinga, the study’s lead author and an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, the less time the doctor spends with the patient and the less information he or she offers.

Summary: doctors don’t like their fat patients and think we won’t comply with treatment. So we stop going to the doctor (I am walking proof of this claim – I haven’t had a check up in 2-3 years). Awesome! Then, because we’re already stressed out, we get even sicker! Oh hey, isn’t this the same theory that works for other stigmatized, fucked-over groups like African-Americans, women, and insert-minority-or-other-stigmatized-group-here?

And here’s the real kicker: it doesn’t actually matter how fat you are – this hurts everyone.

In studies, Dr. Muennig has found that women who say they feel they are too heavy suffer more mental and physical illness than women who say they feel fine about their size — no matter what they weigh.

So when we spend all this time freaking out about FAT, we hurt normal-sized women too. Like, say, Meghan McCain. And, oh, I don’t know, maybe ME, now that I’m starting to head towards the healthy weight range.

The one thing that I wish Ms. McCain would acknowledge is that while “we have to fight back against men like that,” we also have to fight back against women like that. Women are the primary sufferers of eating disorders, so make no mistake, this is a women’s issue. But that doesn’t mean that women aren’t joining in on the fat-shaming. In my personal experience, I’ve never been called fat by another girl (only several of my close male friends think it’s okay to do that, apparently). But my female friends aren’t always innocent. I get a lot of the “should you be eating that” commentary. Some of it is welcome – because from some girls, I’ve asked for it. The girls I live with, for instance, know that I’ve been on Weight Watchers since January, and spent all of last semester encouraging me to find new options in Leo’s. And they accomplished this without disdain, without rudeness, without a general sense of superiority, looking the other way when I wanted a chocolate chip cookie because they knew I would make up for it elsewhere.

But there are plenty of women who will judge what I eat. There are days when it’s not okay for me to be eating half a turkey sandwich from Corner Bakery, but it’s totally cool if you have Chinese. There are times when everyone talks about how much time they’ve spent at the gym and my silence is palpable – which wouldn’t be the case if you weren’t so obnoxious about it.

Men are responsible for the body image problems of women across the world – and so are women. Encouraging women to support each other is half the battle.

Laura Schlesinger, who recently decided to resign from her conservative radio show after screaming the n-word over and over again, is one of the women Ms. McCain can use as an example in her fight to help women help each other. After all, Dr. Laura is one of the women who called McCain fat instead of arguing with her politics.

I know I’ve written about this before, but weight stigma (in both directions, but that’s for another post) is a women’s issue, and it’s a feminist issue, and it’s an important discussion that we never have. And because, sadly, most of us don’t have the courage of Meghan McCain, it’s going to be a damn long time before any of that stigma is gone.

  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: