Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Got a real hit spike from blue milk for my sleepovers post. I went back to leave a responce and noticed the metric-shitload of feminist motherhood/parenting/but mostly motherhood blogs she has in her linkage. So I hit up Spilt Milk and found a post about something called Fat Acceptance or Health At Every Size. It was crafted as a responce to a blog of John Birmingham's.

Instead of blogging on someone else's comments page, I decided to put off the PhD for (yet another) night and think this one out right here. I would welcome any thoughts on this issue.

I'm having a bit of trouble getting my head around this concept of Fat Acceptance. I'm not going to read JB's blog because I like him as a gonzo journo, but as a blogger it's obvious the pressure to push instead of polish is getting to him.

I'll roll with Fat Acceptance and Health At Any Size. I'm completely in agreeance with a philosophy of body autonomy and I realise that divorcing external moral pressure from health care is of primary concern if we're all to move forward to the spaceships (Bill Hicks - not me - not crazy!).

But I'm still curious. Is there a line? I'm assuming that FA/HAES is about having each person draw a personal line between 'Screw everyone, I'm just fine actually' and 'My chances of heart disease could be lowered if I changed'.
I also assume that it's at the other end too - skinny people cop the inverse kind of hatred. Instead of you succumbing to self-loathing when someone makes a salad comment, skinny people (I've known, loved, etc) are equally as alone when someone makes an envious comment about their figure. Any body image problems are automatically negated and silenced because 'You're skinny'. This is body hate lingua for 'Shut up you cow stop saying I'm fat'. Skinny people are not killing anyone with their bodies any more than fat people are.

The most reasonable argument for losing weight that I can think of is the one which puts the body in the national perspective. An increase in the national rate of obesity equals greater pressure on health care resources in the future. Call it a 'Lose Kilos For Your Country' platform. This increase will occur in much the same way that the Baby Boomer population will be draining resources when they hit retirement en masse from now and for the next 30 years or so. Perhaps the losing weight argument could be put as a warning, not about heart disease, but about competition: 'You'd better lose weight or else you'll be fighting a bunch of geriatrics for a dwindling number of heart surgeons who will have more insurance than you.'

However, this denies body autonomy and is an exercise in exerting possibly the largest (per capita) amount of external moral pressure possible (ie. the entire country doesn't really want you to get thinner so you'll feel better, they want you to do it in case their future taxes go up).

I am still wondering whether there is a line, a personal, subjective line between feeing okay in your body, whatever you name it's shape, and flat-out obesity.
The kind of obesity in which blame is not important.
The kind of obesity which is as unhealthy as consistent sunburn.
The kind of obesity which sits at the upper reaches of thousands of statistics which all begin with the words 'Increased risk of ...'
Nothing is guaranteed. You could eat healthy, exercise regularly, but still have to buy two plane tickets and you could live to ninety-eight.
But where does Fat Acceptance and Healthy At Every Size draw its line and say 'You are probably going to die sooner and suffer longer because of the size of your body'?


  1. As you think through this, I'd encourage you to first separate Fat Acceptance from Health at Every Size as they are different. Fat Acceptance is an aspect of Health at Every Size (HAES), but not all people that endorse Fat Acceptance endorse Health at Every Size. Next, HAES is not in denial around health concerns - it merely suggests that people -fat and thin -would do better by addressing health concerns directly, rather than using weight as a mediator. Regardless of whether weight loss would be beneficial, we can all benefit from adopting good lifestyle habits, including eating well and being regularly active, no? And then we don't have stigmatize fatter people and imbue everyone with a fear of fat. There are plenty of fat people leading long healthy lives and don't need your admonitions (not the anyone does), and there are plenty of thinner people who get metabolic and other disorders who get lost when we express that belief that thinness is what's necessary for good health. Also, I'd really encourage you to examine the research around health and weight and prescriptions to lose weight; I'm sure you'll be surprised to see how many myths you express above. You can find a scientific article which will educate you on these issues, called Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift here: I've also written a of simpler reading documents to educate non-scientists - you can find plenty of free excerpts on the website of my book, Health at Every Size(, if you just follow the excerpts link.
    Glad you're asking the questions.

  2. Oh. Just as I was about to add my only comment:
    'Fuck knows' is my answer to your final question get Linda Bacon's response.

    Health should always be the first priority, not dress size but your point of 'the increased risk of' is surely a valid start? That if you find yourself in the 'morbidly obese' category or hear the doctor saying you're at 'the increased risk of....' then the weight *is* a concern - how couuld it not be?

  3. Hi Linda - thanks so much for the detail comment - it really draw open the language and stigma issue around weight and it's lack or over-abundance. I think you're right that weight has simply become a mediator for health, rather than an indicator.

    What about if it were thought of as purely an indicator? This is the problem with a medicalised discourse - indicators and risk factors are not things which can be effectively analysed and accounted for. As an example, look at the terror which pregnant women (and expectant fathers) go through when they get told by doctors "If , your risk of will increase by 30%", which, once you unpack it, simply means that some studies which some doctors have read have shown that instead of 1 in 100,000 births, it's now 1.3 in 100,000. Going from fuck-all chance to simply Buckley's.
    Just saying "All fat people are unhealthy and SHOULD change or they will die and cost their loved ones MONEY" (something I don't advocate) isn't the way.

    But what about fat as one of many indications of other, much more tangible indicators of ill-health? Like high blood pressure, diabetes, etc? You don't need to be fat at all to have these diseases, but you can avoid them by, as you say, living healthily and not having people shout "Keep walking, fatty" every time you go outside.

    I mean - is this all a question of semantics? Is FA/HAES purely about changing perceptions and fighting persecution or is it also related to an advocation of healthy lifestyles? And if so, how can you tell someone that it's fine to feel comfortable in their body and to fight for their right to go through their day without being persecuted, but also not make any movement at all towards an obese person which would assist this advocacy?

    Maybe I'm asking the wrong questions.

  4. Hi Franzy, yep I think you're asking some of the wrong questions.

    I don't have time for a huge response here (in any case you have my blog & Linda's great resources)! But I do have some questions of my own.

    Can the majority of people achieve long term weight loss?
    Does attempting to lose weight (dieting) carry health risks?
    Is dieting in one's lifetime associated with higher weight?
    Is correlation (obesity with diabetes) causation?
    Does social isolation cause health problems?
    Is a 'personal responsibility' approach the best to take towards public health problems?
    What percentage of obese people are the obviously fat, 'morbidly obese' size? (I'll answer that one - it's about 6%. The vast majority of people counted in obesity statistics are not considered very fat by societal standards. Check out the BMI gallery at Shapely Prose to see what I mean).

    I guess what I'm saying is that many assumptions underpinning 'mainstream' beliefs about fat and health can be proven wrong or at least a little wobbly.

    Always great to have people join in the conversation :)

  5. I'm overweight, but plump rather than fat, my cholesterol is a little high, but it always has been, no matter whether I diet or not, so I'd say for me, that's what it's meant to be. I'm also unfit, but tests show heart, lungs, liver and kidneys are all functioning properly, so I'm not too concerned. and I don't care at all, well, not too much, that my clothes are size 14-16. I can understand why the health commissions are concerned though. Obese people do have greater risks of things like heart disease. But if they're obese and fit, like a friend I had in Melbourne years ago, (she weighed 100kg and played netball twice a week), the only real problem I see is they need bigger everything. Clothes, chairs, coffins.......


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32