How may I erase thee? Let me count the ways.

Cross posted

Bouquets and brickbats time, for the New Zealand Listener.

The cover story this week is about weight loss myths. It’s not on-line yet, but if you can buy a dead tree version, it’s worth it. The story is familiar to people who have even a passing acquaintance with the fatosphere and fat acceptance, as I do. The standard points:
– Dieting doesn’t work for the great majority of people (that would be 95% of people).
– Fat seems to be linked to poverty.
– Diabetes and heart disease don’t have a causal relationship with fat, or if there is a causal relationship, it’s a minor one, or it comes about through side effects.
– The death rate for fat people is no better and no worse than the death rate for thin people.
– Health At Every Size (HAES) is the way to go.

So far, so good. The story even ventured into some difficult territory, talking to a woman who had instigated severe diet control, and lost a huge amount of weight, going from size 22 to size 12 through dieting alone. But is she happier?

“… It’s still the same me and in some ways I am happier. There’s no doubt you have more social approval…. but there are things that I miss from when I was a larger woman. I got enormous pleasure from eating and loved to feel as though I could eat when I wanted to eat. That’s a wonderful thing and a wonderful pleasure…” She weighs herself every day and says sometimes she feels that her life is destined to be one “where I hardly eat anything”.

The story works hard against all the myths about weight and weight loss. There’s no alleged “balance” from people think that it’s just a matter of will power and diet. It’s all about debunking the myths. In the mainstream media. That’s fantastic.

But… the writer talked to four people, all of them academics: Andrew Dickson, Linda Bacon, Robyn Longhurst, and Cat Pausé. The printed article had pictures of three of them: Andrew Dickson, Linda Bacon, and Robyn Longhurst. Dr Dickson is a large man. Dr Bacon seems to be of slender to moderate size. Dr Longhurst is slim. Only one largish body in sight, and certainly not a fat body. The only person who was interviewed for the article, and who was not pictured, is a fat person, Dr Cat Pausé. Cat is fat. Not large. Not weighty. Not chunky. Fat.

So as far as the New Zealand Listener is concerned, we can talk about fat, but we can’t picture it. Erasing people who are fat, and hiding them from view, turning fat people into just words, but not whole people with bodies and faces and lives and realities, even in a sympathetic article.

And while they’re at it, they drop the accent mark from her name.

Erasure. So many ways to do it.

So here’s a picture of Cat. It’s her signature piece.

Dr Cat Pausé

And here’s a google image search.

Here’s her page at her place of employment.

Here’s a 20/20 segment about fat acceptance in New Zealand, featuring Cat.

And here’s Cat’s reflection on the 20/20 segment on fat acceptance in New Zealand.

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7 comments on “How may I erase thee? Let me count the ways.

  1. Linda Bacon says:

    Glad to see you naming this. You’re right in guessing that I’m not fat. Ordinarily, I leave my weight out of the equation in interviews, but this time I was “outed” by the pic. I get a lot of media attention and experience shows me that people give a lot more credence to my words than if the same words were spoken by a fat person. Similarly, people tend to give a lot more credence to my words as an academic describing the physiologic basis for weight regain despite dieting/exercise than they would a fat person describing their experience. That sucks. I think we all need to be really conscious of unearned privilege, name it, and try to be respectful about it. I try to do what I can – for example, in this case, I referred her to Cat, for many reasons of course – Cat’s pretty amazing – but also because I wanted to make sure the journalist got more perspective from a fat person. But it is a constant challenge for me to figure out how to be responsible with the attention I get. I am so aware that this isn’t a fair world and it’s much harder for fat voices to get heard and respected. I want to applaud you for naming this and pushing for it. If you are interested, I discussed this topic in much more depth in a keynote talk I did for the National Association for the Advancement of Fat Acceptance: http://www.lindabacon.org/Bacon_ThinPrivilege080109.pdf. Ironic, I know, that NAAFA had me – a thin person – keynoting, but I think we’re all just trying to figure out how we can be allies in fighting oppression and getting more fat voices heard. So thanks again.

  2. Denny says:

    I want to find out more about something you report. I have always understood that obesity significantly increases the of risk of diabetes, high levels of cholesterol, and heart disease. So is this a myth? Can you point me in the direction of studies showing otherwise? I’m interested because there are some obese people at the gym where I go, and they are specifically there on their doctor’s advice to lose weight and reduce the chance of diabetes and heart disease. They are also wanting to lose weight because they have been told by their doctors that their joint pain is due to excess weight, and that their weight is increasing the likelihood of hip and knee injury. One man is there because he wants to play with his son, but he has trouble walking fifty metres because of his problems breathing due to his obesity – he says.
    I’m also interested because my husband had high levels of cholesterol (increases likelihood of a stroke) and was taking a statin to lower it. The statin was causing him to forget words and become less coherent – a problem in his job. He lost about 8 kilos, his cholesterol measurements improved, and because of that and increased fitness, he’s stayed off statins.
    I’m not bothered by whether someone is fat,skinny, tall, short, wears glasses, is bald … The only concern I have is for someone’s health, and that’s all about HAES.

    • Deborah says:

      Actually, I have some niggling worries about HAES, but they are not so much to do with HAES itself, but with the difficulty for some people of achieving health, simply because of their circumstances. I’m thinking in particular of the times when I just couldn’t find time to exercise, because of the demands of childcare. Much as I would have liked to have gotten up and gone for a walk, I couldn’t leave my small children alone. And I wonder whether we are obliged to be healthy anyway?

      Having said that, I think that saying that it is much better to worry about health than fat is a good step. And I really need to read some of Dr Bacon’s links before writing anything substantive about it.

  3. Linda Bacon says:

    I don’t have time to respond here, but I have written extensively on these topics. Check out this scientific article that I co-authored, called Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift: http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9. If you are less academically inclined, you can find many of these issues discussed in simpler terms in free excerpts from my book on this page, particularly the HAES Manifesto: http://www.lindabacon.org/HAESbook/excerpts.html. If you follow links to my other web pages, you will find plenty more resources, like here’s one that discusses joint pain: http://www.lindabacon.org/faqs_joint%20difficulties.html, and this is a site that has many more educational links: http://www.lindabacon.org/resources.html. Of course, there’s also my book, Health at Every Size (www.HAESbook.com).

  4. Deborah says:

    Many thanks for your comments, Dr Bacon, and for the links to the research that Denny was asking about.

  5. Hi Deborah, Andrew Dickson here. Sorry about the late reply, Cat just linked this on facebook so I have only just seen it. I have three points to make:

    First – like Linda I also referred Joanne Black to Cat.

    Second and a bit more complicated, so please entertain my musings… The Listener has a bit of a left-leaning semi-intellectual history, with many of its’ readers being educated and working in a professional capacity (here I vastly generalise). This grouping views biological/medical science as ‘truth’ rather than a contested version of truth, therefore the very idea that anti-obesity science is contested is novel, challenging and frankly for many, distasteful. On these grounds my guess is that the journalist, who was I suspect convinced by the HAES argument, has tried to ‘bridge’ between the audience and the idea. The easiest way to bridge in this circumstance is to use images that tell the story, that are confronting for the reader without being outrageous. It is sad that an image of Cat is outrageous in the context of this article but that is probably a fair reflection of where we are in New Zealand with regard this topic. It may be that by NOT displaying Cat’s image (in the context of this story) the movement generally benefits.

    Third – and related to the second, in another media story I was described as “Fat and Fit” (http://tvnz.co.nz/close-up/fat-and-fit-weighty-issue-video-4968223). This was even though when asked by the reporter “would you describe yourself as fat?” I said – “No”. Mainly because I respect those who are actually fat. Regardless this went to air on prime-time. The main difference between this media article and the Listener is what is being turned into a commodity – in the Listener it is the idea (HAES and weight anxiety), in this other one it is my supposed ‘fat’ body. I have blogged on this here: http://othersideofweightloss.org/2012/07/13/commodification-media-gingernuts-and-revolving-revolutions/. Basically I think this second media engagement did nothing to alter the status quo because it focussed on the supposed ‘fat’. By contrast the Listener may have had a real impact on real people (certainly that is the feedback I have been getting).

    The sadness inherent in this entire turgid business is that many in the general populace seem very resistant to seeing fat people as first, REAL PEOPLE. This silencing is a violence that I as a large man, but a white educated one, even if I am weight anxious, will never experience, and for that I am sorry.

  6. You might also be interested in Cat Pause’s radio show “Friend of Marilyn” that she presents on Access Manawatu in Palmerston North every Wednesday night. There’s a 5-episode archive here: http://www.accessradio.org/public/programme.php?uid=1313540452-463-11

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