January 9 2013
National Review Online
Betsy Woodruff is warning of a new threat: The rise of the “fat activist,” and even more ominously, “fat feminism.”
At first, I was intrigued when I read Woodruff’s piece. I’d not heard of this new strain of activism even though I write on food and obesity issues. In all my reading on these topics, I’d never come across this — as Woodruff portrays it — very powerful new movement.
Yet Woodruff’s case rests on a few obscure websites dedicated to the “fat acceptance movement” — websites that are hardly a part of the mainstream. She also mentions the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance — a somewhat more mainstream advocacy organization, but hardly one playing a leading role in the larger obesity debate currently raging in Washington.
Of course, one can agree with Ms. Woodruff that no one should be advocating for the “right” to have a larger derrière, but to read her piece, you would think the fat-acceptance message was suddenly a part of popular culture; infiltrating schools and filling vulnerable children’s heads with the idea that it’s perfectly fine to be obese.
That simply isn’t happening. In fact, quite the opposite is occurring.
It’s hard to believe Ms. Woodruff has simply missed the much louder movement claiming that obesity is a crisis of epic proportions and that fat people are nothing more than a drag on our economy and health-care system. Ring any bells?
These activists often lament how this generation will be the first to die earlier than their parents, suggest obesity is worse than pandemics like the black plague, and of course demand that the government come to the rescue to “solve” the obesity crisis by imposing more and increasingly onerous regulations on the food industry.
These activists, it seems to me, are the bigger problem — a problem more deserving of NRO ink.
Woodruff also should look beyond the anti-obesity alarmism. Rather than parroting conventional wisdom such as when she states that “more and more people are fatter and fatter,” she should consult the CDC which reports that obesity rates are actually declining and the latest data shows that childhood obesity rates have fallen even among those who are most vulnerable — poor and minority children who live in urban areas.
Woodruff wonders why “more and more” fat people wouldn’t “breed societal acceptance” of obesity and says she’s confused that anorexia and bulimia are on the rise.
Is this really so confusing? How has she missed the near constant bellyaching about the current state of obesity in America (the dominant narrative in this country since Michelle Obama picked up her first hula hoop on the White House Lawn)? These messages — telling fat people they are pariahs in our society — sting, particularly for young girls who are especially vulnerable to negative messages about weight.
And it isn’t just the White House and public-health officials promoting these messages. Magazines thrive on the “You’re Fat!” narrative. Billion-dollar diet and pharmaceutical industries rely on keeping the hysteria about fat at a fever pitch. And in Hollywood, Woodruff would be hard-pressed to find a starlet that looks anything approaching normal . . . that is, unless the actress is portraying a character from the 1960s or who stars in a show literally written about overweight people.
And let’s be honest. Does anyone think overweight and obese people feel good about themselves in today’s fat-phobic culture? Do these obscure websites cited by Woodruff pose any real problems? Is this “empowerment” niche going to cause some sort of dangerous groundswell of people chucking their diets — determined instead to live a life of happy overeating? Does Woodruff think that the cause of obesity is that fat people don’t feel enough rejection, self-loathing, guilt and shame?
Woodruff’s concern that a pro-fat movement is sweeping America seems at best misplaced and unnecessary, and at worst just plain mean. Fat activism seems to be a pretty marginal movement. I certainly don’t agree with all of its goals, and believe obesity can be avoided with healthy eating habits and moderate exercise. Everyone must care for their bodies by practicing self-control.
But the real threat to the idea of self-control in our law and culture comes from nanny-statists, not a few misguided fat-acceptance activists who sometimes overreact to them.