I’m Not Convinced the Leopard Has Changed It’s Spots

Published March 8, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Today over on The Discourse, Dr Samantha Thomas announced a MAJOR win on her behalf for the fight against the stigmatisation of fat people, when she shared that Obesity Prevention Australia had removed all images and references equating childhood obesity to child abuse. I am incredibly impressed that Samantha, and all others who spoke out against these disturbing messages and images, were able to have them removed and the collection tins bearing them recalled by Obesity Prevention Australia (OPA), and major kudos go to Samantha for spearheading it.

However, I’m not letting OPA off the hook that easily.  While I think it is excellent that they have removed this ignorant tripe from their site, and recalled those highly offensive collection tins from circulation, I still have lots and lots, and LOTS of problems with them.  Let’s make a list shall we?

  • In the response from Levi Walz, the CEO of OPA, he said “Firstly, I would like to issue my deepest apologies to anyone who has been offended by our awareness slogan.”  Well there’s your first problem.  There is no apology for the actual offense, merely a “sorry you’re offended”.  Which is a false apology – the onus is placed back on those who are offended rather than OPA for engaging in offensive behaviour.
  • Secondly, Mr Walz states “this upsetting feedback is truly new for us however, as since OPA’s inception the response we have received nationwide has been nothing short of completely positive (governments, health professionals, schools, program participants, other organisations, local business etc).”  All this illustrates to me is that fat hatred is deeply entrenched and OPA are actually contributing to it by adding their offensive campaigns to the already hostile environment for fat people.
  • Mr Walz then says “I have felt sick in my stomach at how our organisation has been interpreted by your readers”.  There is no “interpretation” of fat stigmatisation, by equating childhood obesity with child abuse, OPA were directly accusing parents of fat children of abusing those children.
  • He then states that he also feels sick in his stomach at “and how many of the people we aim to help have been hurt.”  The assumption that a) fat people either want or need any help from an organisation like OPA is both patronising and dismissive of the experiences of fat people at the hands of those who insist on stigmatising fatness as dangerous, deadly or abusive.
  • He then says “maybe people have been offended prior, however have just kept it to themselves” which makes me wonder if there has been any thought by he and the OPA into just how shaming, bullying and stigmatising fat people silences them.  Have they put any consideration into how much courage it must take for someone to stand up to a large organisation who are promoting the idea that “Childhood obesity is childhood abuse.”?

So that’s the response that we have seen with regards to this immediate matter.  I have noticed a general change in tone to the website since the piece by Dr Samantha Thomas (and she has lots of screenshots on this piece), which is a good start.

However, there is still a whole lot of wrong with the site, the organisation and the messages it sends out.  So let’s have a go at those too:

  • The name.  Obesity Prevention Australia.  As though obesity is a) something that can be prevented, b) something that should be prevented and c) something that is “other” than a human being.  “Preventing” obesity implies that one has control over one’s body size, which is erroneous to start with, and implies that obesity is someones fault.  Well, we’ve already seen them imply that obesity is the fault of parents.  Obesity isn’t a thing or a disease, it is a medicalisation of the state of being a fat PERSON.  I feel that naming your organisation “Obesity Prevention Australia” implies the eradication of fat people.  Be it through fat reduction by any means, or simply removing fat people from our culture.
  • While we’re on the topic of this being an organisation, I am wondering why they are using a .com.au web domain, which by law in Australia can only be registered by a registered BUSINESS (not organisation) with an ABN and the domain name must have some connection to the name, or the business type, of that registered business.  Surely a non-profit organisation should have a .org.au domain name, which are reserved for registered non-profit organisations?
  • Let’s talk about Shannon Ponton’s involvement with OPA.  Why is a physical trainer who works on a television show famous for bullying, shaming and humiliating fat people for entertainment, while promoting unhealthy extreme dieting and exercise practices, in a “lose weight at any cost” mentality, a member of an organisation that is supposedly concerned with the health of Australians, unless to add to the message of fat stigmatisation in a highly public manner?
  • How about OPA’s statement that they are an organisation “committed to reversing the obesity and inactivity epidemic that is debilitating our nation.”  Have they got any evidence of this supposed debilitating epidemic?  I can’t seem to see them citing any references anywhere on their site to go with their statistics and claims.
  • Actually have a look around the site at all of the “statistics” and claims.  I am unable to find any of them reference to anything.  They could be made up for all we know.
  • If you delve into their “Who we help” pages, they claim that “It is estimated that if current trends continue, close to 70% of all Australian adults will be overweight or obese by 2020!” – can we have some kind of evidence to this claim please?  They even follow that sentence up with “(If this does not scare you please read it again).”  This is meant to aid in healthfulness of  ALL Australians how?  It sounds far more like an “OMG THE FAT IS CATCHING AND IT’S GONNA GET YOU!!” than a positive message of raising health in Australia.
  • I’m rather impressed by how many ways they suggest that you can give them money.

I could go on, and on, and on with the ways in which this “organisation” make me question their intentions, their fund-trails and those who are involved with the project.  But I have to get up and go to work tomorrow and to be honest, the fat shaming on the site is starting to wear me down.  I invite anyone else reading to wade into the website if you have the spoons to do so (I will warn that it is full of fear mongering with little to no sources of information cited, that may be triggering to some) and add some more points of concern into the comments if you wish.

While I am very pleased that Obesity Prevention Australia INC (the INC is only mentioned in their prospectus page) has listened and removed the “Childhood Obesity is Childhood Abuse” propaganda, and some of the more disturbing images that were featured on The Discourse in response to Dr Samantha Thomas’ fantastic exposé on their methods, I am not ready to believe that they have the best interests of fat Australians at heart.  So long as they use the name “Obesity Prevention Australia”, spout unfounded death threats and continue to focus on and stigmatise fatness, they are doing more harm than good.   It is going to take some RADICAL changes of their entire organisation to rectify this, and I will be watching to see if this actually happens.

If they truly wish to improve the health of Australians, their focus needs to be on the availability of health education and resources for ALL Australians, not just the ones who don’t pass as “thin enough”.

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14 comments on “I’m Not Convinced the Leopard Has Changed It’s Spots

  • Hell yes. I agree with you totally on this one. I take great offence at their idea that I need to be prevented. And not citing sources is a major no-no and they should know better.

  • I couldn’t agree more, Kath. I think it was a victory, truly, but only in that it removed such vile language and imagery from the public. The underlying message and thrust of the organization is still unsound and harmful, and will be until they stop medicalizing size variation and claiming some varieties of humans should be ‘prevented.’

    • Absolutely, Samantha had an epic win with getting to back down as much as they did. I’m well impressed.

      But for OPA… they’re not off the hook and I’m going to be watching what they do from this point on.

  • I was so disgusted at the campaign I couldn’t reply at Samantha’s blog. But they will continue to use their argument that parents who have fat kids are abusers and fatties need to be eradicated in a less offensive way, bet on it.

    Also, “stop fat” groups use people like Shannon, MeMe Roth and Jillian Michaels because they’re extremely vocal and hateful towards fat people. They aren’t objective and don’t want to believe they’re wrong about their spiteful and ignorant perecptions about bigger bodies. Their soundbites bring the traffic and the press, period.

    • Exactly Bree – they use these people to gather public bigotry and loathing and further their agendas.

      Sometimes I wonder if they take an extremist view to start with so that they can “soften” and look like they’re taking things easier?

  • My curiosity was raised by your point about their use of a com.au domain when they’re supposedly a business so I did a domain lookup search and found out the following info…

    Domain Name: obesityprevention.com.au
    Last Modified: 11-Feb-2011 14:19:40 UTC
    Registrar ID: VentraIP
    Registrar Name: VentraIP Wholesale
    Status: ok

    Registrant: FITKIDS AUSTRALIA PTY LTD
    Registrant ID: ABN 44127613843
    Eligibility Type: Company

    Registrant Contact ID: VIP-AU21108
    Registrant Contact Name: Levi Walz
    Registrant Contact Email: Visit whois.ausregistry.com.au for Web based WhoIs

    Tech Contact ID: VIP-AU21109
    Tech Contact Name: Danny Clayton
    Tech Contact Email: Visit whois.ausregistry.com.au for Web based WhoIs

    Name Server: ns2.cove.com.au
    Name Server IP: 112.140.180.10
    Name Server IP: 2400:b800:1:1:0:0:0:3
    Name Server: ns1.cove.com.au
    Name Server IP: 112.140.176.10
    Name Server IP: 2400:b800:0:0:0:1:0:6
    Name Server: ns3.cove.com.au
    Name Server IP: 67.23.5.45

    In regular English this basically shows that the website is owned by “FITKIDS AUSTRALIA PTY LTD” and are clearly a company not an organization. It looks like they were hoping to create some sort of link to their fitkids website(http://www.fitkidsaustralia.com/). It certainly looks like they have monetary motives for creating the OPA…

    • Hmmm… that’s some very interesting information C. Thanks for running that search. If nothing else, it’s a nice little tax break for a business, is it not?

  • I completely agree. I still don’t understand how they’re helping anyone, they seem to just be fat shaming and asking for money. Call be crazy but I’ll continue to be suspicious of a company asking for money to fund fat shaming campaigns.

  • I agree that it’s a fantastic victory by Sam, but that some concerns remain. Follow the money. Fitkids Pty Ltd is a for-profit (apparently) supplier of health/activity programs to schools around the country. Their website is actually remarkably low on mentions of weight/obesity, though there is some. Most interestingly if you Google you can see that a stated aim of OPA is to contract to supply fitness/activity programs provided by FitKids. You will also find that there is a group on Facebook called “GC Transformation Challenge”, (website also) a Biggest Loser style weight loss thing, run by a Steven Evans who puts himself as the (co-)originator of both Obesity Prevention Australia and FitKids. I’d love to see exactly what’s going on with this setup.

    You’ll excuse me for being a bit cynical here.

  • Came across your blog by accident a happy one i may add. I am an Australian living abroad and i think back to my childhood, a fat childhood where my mother tried everything from starving me to making me run around a field to make me lose weight and how miserable it made me and her i am horrified that an organisation could have suggested she was abusing me for feeding me. The abuse was her trying to make me diet. I am a fat adult and 45 now with a 10 year old who loves her food she is a little podgy but she is beautiful and thats all she needs to know. When i left Australia at 24 I left feeling invisible because i didnt fit the body beautiful image. It want to think that there is some little far girl out there who knows she is a beautiful Australian and a person’s value isn’t based on the size of her arse! Keep up your fight

    Trish

    • Thanks Trish. I too suffered REAL childhood abuse, both in the name of making me “thin” (even when I really wasn’t fat until I hit puberty) and actual domestic violence. To see this organisation equating being a fat child to child abuse makes me physically sick.

      And bless you for having a balanced approach to the wellbeing of your sweet daughter.

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