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Watch it.

August 9, 2010

The other night, when refusing a second helping at a dinner party, a guy said: “None for me, I’m watching my figure.”

We all laughed.

What a silly thought, a guy, who’s young and looks fit, dieting? Ridiculous. And yet this is just expected for so many people. So often people who are read as fat (and therefore automatically unhealthy) are subjected to judgements and unwanted advice: if you only ate a little less, worked out a little more, watched your figure, you could look young and fit too!

This comment struck me particularly because I’m reading two book right now (by white men) where major female characters are made into joke figures because of their weight. While the eating habits and fitness of other characters are not chronicled, paragraphs are dedicated to Lizzyboo stopping for ice cream before dinner and every time Vera moves across a scene her jiggles or heavy breathing are remarked upon. The joke is not just fat = funny (which it isn’t) but also how stupid these women are! If she didn’t have those extra snacks she wouldn’t be such a fattie! Silly Vera, always going on binges after diets and gaining the weight back. They make it character flaw that they are fat. A flaw that they don’t know how to properly watch their figures.

A study came out recently that reported that when Forty dietetics and health promotion students enrolled in a university obesity course followed a a calorie restricted diet (1,200 calories for women and 1,500 calories for men) for just one week their was a significant change in their fat-phobias. It makes sense that once these future dietitians and health professionals realized how high the expectations were of their fat patients they would become more sympathetic. It so easy to look at someone else and think you know what is best for them, but in actuality, individuals are in the best position to make choices about their lives and bodies. Even doctors trained to take care of our health can be subject to fat-phobia, and take it out on their patients.

The largest debates I get into with people regarding fat acceptance (and my allegiance to it) is what about their health? And my response always follows similar lines:

1. You CANNOT determine’s someone’s health by looking at them. So stop it.
2. No one is obligated to be healthy for you. There are all sorts of unhealthy decisions we make about our bodies every day, we don’t need to demonize people for them.
3. Even doctors are subject to fat phobia (and then I go on to my example of a doctor who told me to lose weight because my BMI was above average even though I have low cholesterol and blood pressure).
4. Ugh. Diets don’t even work
5. Just read Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy? already so you’ll stop bugging me.

But now I have another to add: Do you realize the incredible expectations you are putting on some people just based on the way they look? Could you ever live on 1200/1500 calories a day and still have the energy to exercise? And if you have – do you really think others deserve to go through it?

While I’ve known a lot of people to joke about dieting or watching their figures, it’s not really a joke to me. I have certainly been at points where I was eating that little and exercising once or more a day. While I enjoyed the compliments at the time, I don’t think anyone deserves to deal with how that makes you feel physically and mentally.

**Miriam Heddy had a great comment on Well-Rounded Mama’s post on the study:

I agree that a week isn’t long enough to understand it if you haven’t been a participant. But I also wonder what the gender breakdown was in that study. Women are socialized into both fat talk and calorie consciousness as normative behaviors, whereas men are not. So I would figure that it’d be a great deal odder for men than for women to participate in it.

I also wonder if there was any care taken in terms of the ways it might be triggering.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jill permalink
    August 9, 2010 5:13 PM

    This study is super interesting. Thanks for the heads-up. It’s so important for people with all different kinds of power over bodies to understand the ramifications of their authority. Having read through the article, though, I wasn’t clear on whether the students actually came to believe that a severely calorie-restrictive diet was actually something that they SHOULDN’T advocate to their clients, or if they would merely try to be more understanding that people who are on these diets will be miserable. I hope it’s the former, but it’s probably the latter, which is still progress, I guess, but a shame, for all the reasons you listed.

    I thought the comment you posted wrt gender norms was fascinating as well. I can remember a dinner at Carleton in which a male friend just wondered in passing how many calories were in a food item. Of course, I knew, and he was kind of surprised at that.

    Growing up, even though my mom totally didn’t give a crap how fat I was or what size I wore or anything, she also engaged in this, I guess, calorie talk. Did you know that _____ has _____ calories if you don’t put _____on it? On the other hand, my dad is inching up on freak-of-nature weight loss status, and now I hear a lot more discussion about exercise, “nutrition,” calories, and food restriction from him, especially since I began gaining weight as a side effect of a medication. YMMV, I guess. It would have been really interesting to see what responses were associated with gender in this study, but since there were only four male-identified people participating, I can see how such an analysis could be difficult.

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