An Open Letter to Rebecca Sparrow

Published June 21, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Dear Rebecca Sparrow,

I’ve decided to write to you tonight because I feel like you’ve been listening during our conversation on Twitter.  Which makes you a rarity among the many high profile writers, journalists, bloggers and other personalities that many of us have tried to talk to about the subject of fat stigma over the years.  Usually we get the “But you’re not healthy!!” door slammed in our faces when we try to talk to someone who has written about the subject of fat and health/body image publicly.

But tonight on Twitter, I think you were listening.  This is a very good thing.

I have also opted to write an open letter to you, for two reasons really.  Firstly it goes to anyone who is willing to listen to the perspective of an actual fat person about fat stigma, and secondly, it’s an opportunity to reach out to other fat people who may be feeling like the world is being very hard on them, but don’t necessarily have the confidence or even the right words to talk about it themselves.

So, let’s get to it.  My name is Kath and we were born the same year.  I live in (and dearly love) Brisbane.  I am a fat diabetic (Type 2, the “bad” kind).  As a fat diabetic, I am the example used when the mainstream media talks about the “Obesity Epidemic”.  (Cue dramatic sound effect here.)  You probably wouldn’t recognise me if you saw me, because most people are used to seeing me being represented like this:

Yup, I’m usually represented by someone in ill fitted-trackies with most or all of their head cut off.  You can see more examples here.

Rarely am I seen represented like this:

Fashionable

Or this:

Joyous

This:

As a Loved One

And almost never like this:

Active

When people talk about fatness, they always default to poor health, and negative connotations, like ugly, lazy, greedy, selfish, dirty, slobby and such.  They don’t talk about fat people, particularly not fat people with diabetes, like they are human beings with lives, loved ones, jobs, hobbies, passions and feelings.

This is fat stigma.  When the media, bloggers, public figures, and even popular culture portray fat people as nothing more than lumps of fat to be eradicated, an epidemic to be “cured”, and use the term fat to mean all of those negative descriptors, rather than just being a person with more adipose tissue on their bodies, they stigmatise the actual human beings who are fat.  They demonise us as less than human, or as a cautionary tale as to what will happen to you if you’re “bad”.  They place moral value on health and thinness, which stigmatises those of us who have illness or disability, and/or who have fat bodies.

The impact of that is a culture that treats fat people, and especially fat people with illness or disability, as sub-human.  In the past month alone, I have been sent death threats on my blog because I talked about being a fat woman with diabetes, I have been photographed on the street or other public places by a complete strangers (at least four times that I know of), had a well dressed woman of about 45 call me a “fat cunt” as she passed me on a train platform, been spat at by a man passing me on the street and had rubbish thrown at me from a car.

These things don’t happen because there are lots of bad, horrible people in Brisbane.  These things happen because every day people are told over and over and over that people like me are an “obesity epidemic” that must be “cured” for the good of the human race, and that fat is a dirty word that you should not say in front of children lest it give them an eating disorder.  Because it is bred in our society that fat is the worst thing you can possibly be, so therefore it’s ok to behave horribly to fat people.  Because “You’re not healthy!” has become the equivalent to “You are a worthless person!”

The thing is, health is never a guaranteed thing in life.  Every human being, at some point in their life will face illness, and almost all, bar being taken by a horrible sudden accident at the prime of their lives, will be disabled at some point, if nothing else in old age.  Besides, you cannot eat yourself to diabetes.  The only concrete deciding factor for diabetes (and most other diseases blamed on fatness) is genetics.  There is no shame in being unhealthy, because health is so subjective and personal, that what is healthy for one person, is unhealthy for the next.  Not to mention that every human being, even those who are fat and/or have illness/disability, deserves respect, dignity and the peace to live their lives without stigmatisation.

This is the basic premise of the Health at Every Size movement, spearheaded by Linda Bacon PhD, which I very much encourage all people to take the time to have a look at.  The concept that every human being has the right to live their life to the best of their ability, given the circumstances of their lives.

As I mentioned earlier, we are the same age.  I ask you to consider what your life might be like today, if you had spent the years from the onset of puberty through to now living in a body like mine, having experiences like mine with the media and other public commentary referring to the primary descriptor of your body as the worst thing you could possibly be.  What kind of person would you be if you were subjected on an almost daily basis the abuse from strangers I mentioned above?  Do you think you could describe yourself as robust and happy, as I describe myself?  Do you feel you could live your life positively and with strong self esteem?  I am loaning you my shoes to walk a mile in (but not those boots above, I like them too much to loan to anyone!)

So what it comes to is this.  Please do not have pity on me or other fat people, that’s not what we need.  We don’t need people to feel sorry for us “poor fatties”.  What we need is for people like yourself, who have a public profile and the unique opportunity to comment and be heard on the topic of body image, health and self esteem, to make a difference.

You have the power to make a whole lot of difference to a lot of people’s lives.  When you talk to your children, and most importantly when you talk publicly, about bodies and health, you can choose to go along with the cultural majority that conflate health with morality, and use fatness as a “This is what will happen to you if you’re bad and eat too many lollies/chips/ice-cream.” and use me, and people like me, as a cautionary tale.  Or you can think about the impact of your public words and what you teach your children on the lives of people who have jobs, families, lovers, hobbies, worries, dreams and most importantly feelings, and perhaps teach children that human beings come in all different shapes and sizes, that health is something that we look after as best we can within the circumstances of our lives, and that all human beings have the right to live their lives with out stigmatisation on the basis of their bodies and/or health.

I thank you kindly for taking the time to read this and to listen to the perspective of a person who actually lives in a fat body with a health issue.

Yours most sincerely

Kath aka Fat Heffalump

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102 comments on “An Open Letter to Rebecca Sparrow

  • Kath, I love you. These are the words that were yelling incoherently in my head this afternoon and that I would never have been able to put together this beautifully. Thank you.

    • Emily I think that’s the most powerful way that fat people are stigmatised – by the use of photographs that “other” us. They cut off our heads, remove any trace of positivity from our images, make sure we’re showing rolls of fat and are dressed badly. They show us as anonymous blobs of fat rather than real people.

      Putting the people back into “fat people” is the first step to reclaiming respect.

  • I love love love this essay – you’re so respectful – and I also love love love that photo of you in the denim jacket and tunic!

  • Kath, this is most excellently said. You are becoming a real force to be reckoned with on the old ‘sphere. I hope you receive a positive response from Ms Sparrow.

  • Hi Kath!

    First of all, can I just say that what you wrote was wonderful. So honest and real (which is what I personally connect with in other people’s writing). And I love that you wrote me an open letter on this topic. So thank you. I agree with what you have written but I want to point out that I always have … if you knew me and my family and friends you would immediately understand that i have a connection and understanding to the concerns of people who are overweight.

    In my role as Deputy Editor on Mamamia, I guess I am always looking for ways to help teach people better ways to parent (myself included! I am far from perfect). With yesterday’s post, written by a reader, I suppose we wanted to explore this issue of how to talk to your kids about food and have other parents suggest a better way to handle the situation the reader found herself in. Many parents – thousands of parents – are utterly confused about how to talk to their kids about food. Many of us have our own issues from our childhoods — so we think if our kids become “fat” they will get the teasing or bullying that we may have experienced at school. So we become obsessed with our kids NOT becoming fat. (That said, one of my dearest friends would be classed as obese and she was rarely teased about her weight at school). Society is horrible to overweight people (as you expressed in your letter) and so we panic — not wanting that for our kids. And then on the other hand we don’t want them to not eat because what if they become anorexic? (I have yet to meet an anorexic or bulimic person who would wish their illness on a child). So parents are floundering and saying all kinds of damaging things to their kids in the process.

    But you’re right — the REAL answer is to spread the message that your self-worth is not wrapped up in your weight. Live a full life. Follow your passions. Laugh. Volunteer. Travel, Read. There is so much more to all of us than that damn number on the scales.

    Our twitter conversation last night was great for me most of all because it really REALLY reminded me of the feelings of people who are overweight and that they are tired of being held up as the example of all that is bad about today’s world. I hear you. When you said that to me on Twitter last night, the penny dropped. So thank you. I shouldn’t need to be reminded of that — but I did.

    I am always looking for safe, respectful ways in which we can explore the topic of body image and weight on the site. And I am open to any ideas or feedback you have on that topic, Kath. (From one Brisbane gal to another!)

    I can’t thank you enough for writing such a brilliant open letter to me. And if you would ever like to write something for Mamamia — please just say the word. We would be honoured to have you.

    Warmed regards

    Bec

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to read and respond Rebecca. It shows that my initial impression that you were in fact listening to me as an actual fat person who is impacted by the portrayal of fatness in the media, blogs, popular culture and other public arenas was correct.

      I do understand your desire to help parents in providing the correct information and language for their children, to find that delicate balance between making sure you optimise the health for your children, without triggering low self esteem, a lack of confidence and disordered eating/exercise behaviours. I do honestly understand that. But I think the problem lies in that so many well intentioned people focus on changing their behaviours (and those of their children) to prevent being bullied and discriminated against, where we should all be focusing on changing the behaviours of the bullies and the discriminatory. By teaching children (and the public in general) that fat is bad and conflating health with morality, we are just creating a culture of bullying and discrimination. We’re teaching kids that “bad people get fat/unhealthy” instead of “bad people bully others”.

      We need to be teaching kids, and each other, since society in general is very hostile towards fat people, that people come in all sizes, shapes, levels of health and ability, colour, race, gender, sexuality, religion, etc and that it is every single one of our responsibility to treat our fellow humans with respect, dignity and fairness. And most importantly, that no one of us is better or more valuable a person than the next.

      When it comes to the issue of health, instead of conflating weight with health, we need to be focusing on wellbeing. Wellbeing is a flexible, compounded approach. It takes in to account people’s lives, abilities, experiences, genetics, environment and all other variables, and focuses on making people feel better, not worse, about themselves.

      You are spot on with the need to live as full a life as possible within our individual circumstances. I’m so glad you mentioned reading… I am a librarian named Read after all!

      As for safe, respectful ways you can talk about the issues around weight, I have three key changes you can make right this moment.

      1. Commit to never using photographs of fat people that “other” them. No more headless fatties, no more sloppy fatties, no more “point and laugh” photographs of fatties in bikinis, no more fatties eating junk food (as though only fat people eat junk food!) If you cannot find a respectful photograph of a person to accompany an article, use a photograph of something else.

      2. Commit to using positive language around fatness. Let go of terms like overweight and obese, that a) imply there is a “correct” weight for all human beings and b) pathologise a body type – obesity is not a medical condition, it is the medicalisation of fat. Fat is only a dirty word if we make it so. I’m proud to be a happy fatty!

      3. Commit to providing a safe, welcoming online environment for fat people, in fact for all body types. Recognise and nip any instances of stigmatisation from other commenters in the bud, and have a policy that all body types are welcome and safe in your environment, even those at the extremes (no more of the “well there’s healthy fat and then there’s unhealthy obese” kind of thinking) of fatness and thinness, and ESPECIALLY for those facing the double stigma of weight and health/disability.

      There are a lot of other ways you can help remove fat (and health) stigma from our culture, but these three are the first key steps to start that process. Everyone can make a difference, and it’s easy to do.

      Thank you again for your honest response and most importantly the open-mindedness you have shown. As I mentioned in the piece, we usually get the “But that’s not healthy!” door slammed in our face whenever we try to talk about these issues with popular media, bloggers and such. It’s excellent to be able to have a dialogue with someone in your position and I appreciate that thanks to your sharing of my post, a lot of new people have been exposed to the concept of fat stigmatisation and fat acceptance.

      Kath

    • Oh and thank you Rebecca. I try to be positive, and try to approach this from a positive perspective. However, sometimes, it’s anger, or pain, or frustration… all of which are valid responses from someone who is facing stigmatisation and discrimination for her body size and health. Sometimes I just have to get my ranty pants on and metaphorically thump the table in anger to get that message out.

      Simply because this DOES directly affect me and my life. There are very real impacts on me personally, along with all other fat people.

  • Great essay. Great pictures. I enjoy seeing positive pictures of fat people. Check out also the danceswithfat blog – there have lately been some beautiful pictures and videos of active fat people. Sometimes the visuals work better than the words.

  • Whoever Rebecca Sparrow is, she’s lucky someone as fabulous as you bother to write her such a brilliant letter!

  • You…. wow. You just blow me away.
    Thank you for illustrating your impeccable words with those photos. Fashionable, active, joyous, loved…. and *real*. We’re real people and I hate that we are marginalised to statistics or boxed up as one big problem for ‘normal folk’ to tut over.
    I love your words. Thank you for this.

    • Carly that’s the important message I think people need to take away when it comes to talking about fatness and health… fat people are PEOPLE. We have been othered for so long, I think a lot of folks forget that.

  • Great letter Kath, love the pics too. It begs the question why don’t we see more pics like that in mainstream media.I love seeing people having fun, being active and sometimes being a little bit silly and like seeing different representations than the narrow stereotype. I think this issue needs to be continuously discussed until we get a broader more accepting society.
    I am sorry that you have experienced such obvious discrimination and abuse. Your triumph over this is a testament to the amazing person you are.

    • Thanks HAEScoach – I am but one example of how fat people are treated. Personally these days I’ve got a very solid “fuck you” vibe for anyone who behaves like that towards me, but that wasn’t always the case. It used to DEVASTATE me. Thanks to being treated like that for pretty much the past 25 years, I believed I was worthless, and consequently my health suffered. The turning point was discovering fat acceptance and HAES. I began to believe that I was worthy of a happy, positive life and that gave me the ability to create one.

  • So pleased that someone has told it like it is. I regularly get called a ‘fat slut’ by groups of men in cars when I walk down the street. I am tertiary educated. run my own not for profit, run a creative business on the side, am married and happy. But all they see is my fat which makes me somehow worthy of their denigration.

    In regard to my obesity burdening the public health system, I spent 20 years severely bulimic (and yes, thin) and now as I am somehow cured (no longer purging) I am a lot bigger. I can tell everyone I was a greater burden on the public health system when bulimic!

    • Cate you’re absolutely right. That perception that fat people are a burden on public health is complete and utter bullshit. I’m a fat diabetic, yet I pay for my own private health insurance, pay for my own medical costs and also pay a higher tax bracket than most of my peers… yet I’m considered a “drain on the public health system” simply by measure of my fatness.

      I’ve said this before, but it’s really not about health. It’s about appearance based judgement and superiority.

  • Well done! Can’t express how much this post resonates with me – especially the awful things said and done by total strangers based only on how much I weigh.

    As someone without as much self esteem – I already think about my weight and how I look every single day in my own eyes and in the eyes of others. I am paranoid. I hate walking into clothes stores. I hate eating in public. I hate exercising in public (thank you to the kind souls who think that yelling “keep running you fat so & so” is motivating).

    Yet I ask is there the same stigma attached to the slim person who eats junk food, smokes, drinks alcohol, doesn’t exercise etc etc.

    It’s baffling that health in the media is judged on weight. Unhealthy comes in ALL shapes and sizes.

    • Breezle I do know what it’s like to struggle with poor self esteem and a lack of confidence. I was in a very bad place before I found fat acceptance, I believed I was worthless because of the cultural message that fatness is somehow second class citizens. This is not true.

      The good news is that you CAN find strong self esteem. You CAN find confidence. Clothes shopping, dining out, being active and having a social life doesn’t have to be difficult and painful. It all comes with rejecting the labels other people put on you and believing that you ARE valuable, valid and worthy, just as you are, right now, this minute.

      Stick around hon, we’re going to take you on an amazing journey!

  • Kath I am so glad you have written this! So many people need to hear what you have to say. I’ve posted a link on my page.
    Just a few months I was so angry when I realised guys I used to be friends with were doing the things you mentioned strangers were doing to you. I wrote a blog about it and it got a lot of people fired up. Most of the people were absolutely appalled by it. But the guys responsible got quite angry so I’ve put it on password protect. If anyone wants to have a read it’s this one http://intrepidness.wordpress.com/2011/04/08/you-really-did-it-this-time/ and the password is YRDITT (stands for You really did it this time. Which was what the original post was named, but I changed it so they wouldn’t realise). I’m so tired of people thinking the most important part of someone is their physical appearance. It’s pathetic.

    • intrepidness – thank you for sharing your post. It’s heartbreaking that adults think this is acceptable behaviour.

      I have been the victim of this kind of behaviour on repeated occasions. I regularly catch people taking “sneaky” photos of me in public – particularly if I’m dining out. Once one of my colleagues discreetly informed me that he had seen a photograph of me on an “ugly people” website. I have seen myself on news stories about the “obesity epidemic” – some TV crew have filmed me walking down the Queen Street Mall and used me as a “headless fatty”.

      It’s fucking disgusting.

      But there’s one thing you need to know. The people who do this kind of things are the ones that there is something wrong with, not those they humiliate. There is something seriously wrong with people who get their kicks from shaming other people, from being judgmental and nasty.

      • Wow, great piece Kath! I gotta say, this comment is the thing that stuck out the most to me. When reading the original post, all I could think of was “WTF seriously, people have actually done this..?” You’re right, it is absolutely fucking disgusting and points a much more serious problem.

  • You are the reason I bought an Electra Townie and everytime I ride the Elvira Gulch theme song goes through my head and I smile :) That is because of you. You made be brave. I thank you :)

  • So awesome Kath! Please write something (or this) for Mamamia. I would go back to reading it. Maybe.
    Also, I am swooning over you on your bike:)

  • Wow – Kath what a fantastic piece of writing and respect to Rebecca for really taking this on board. I see hope that one day we can stop confusing body size with health and we can eradicate another form of prejudice. Just about every insult levelled at fat people has been, at one time or another, been levelled at race/skin colour. If someone used the term “black cunt” it would be unacceptable (as it should be!). The point I’m making is if we substitute the word “fat” for “black”, “Indian”, “Jewish”, “French” – anything – it shows us plainly what an insidious lesson we are showing to the younger generation.

    Sorry – I could rant forever on this. I live my life as a healthy, active, fat person who eats well. Today I actually have a cold, and it’s my first one of the year. For someone who is supposed to be at such risk I find myself in pretty good health.

    • Thank you Jenny!

      I just want to clarify though – racism, homophobia, anti-semitism (and other faith-based bigotry) and such are all still very much alive and kicking unfortunately. People DO refer to black/Indian/Jewish etc like that. However, I do understand your point that people who would be absolutely horrified at other forms of bigotry are quite comfortable heaping on the fat hatred, and without shame or hesitation either.

      It’s disgusting that people cannot see the bigotry they spout.

  • Firstly, let me thank you all for your comments, feedback, retweets and shares over the past 24 hours. I have been thrilled to watch this post pop up all over the world in all kinds of places. I humbly thank you for your support, really.

    Secondly, I promise I will take some time to respond to all of your comments at some point. It’s funny that the busiest post of the year was written three nights before my end-of-financial-year deadlines at work… I am completely bushed and can barely think! Every project I have had over the past year (and there have been a record number this year) has to be completed and signed off on by close of business on Friday, so things are somewhat manic for me!

    But I will take the time to respond to everyone here as soon as I can, in particular Rebecca herself, who I am pleased to have seen respond so promptly this morning.

    Thank you again for your overwhelming response, all of you, and I will be back to further discussion as soon as I’m able to string some coherent thoughts together.

    Look after yourselves lovelies – you’re the only you there is!

  • *applauds* This is beautiful.

    Firstly, it’s a great response to the typical idiocy of weight discussions at Mamamia, and you should jump at the chance to write for the site and inject a bit of analysis and compassion into the issue. Currently, the comments on the post you’re referring to aren’t considering WHY “fat” has these negative associations at all, but are a bunch of wannabe yummy mummies one upping each other with, “Well, MY children will never have these problems because I NEVER give them junk food and MAKE them play sports. That’s why I can share my 11 year old’ daughter’s wardrobe!!! It’s THAT simple!” Yeah, you just might’ve missed the point there…;-)

    More importantly, it’s a concise and eloquent articulation of what fat stigma is and how extensive an impact it has over the course of a lifetime. It’s a disgusting and very real thing that thin people often have a hard time believing is real without firsthand experience. I’m a formerly fat woman who’s shrunk a bit over the last few years (getting treatment for depression and consequently finding the size my body prefers to be), and even sympathetic friends have had trouble understanding it over the years. Fat stigma does so much damage to so many aspects of your life, but through this blog you continue to demonstrate how to fight back and rebuild your self esteem. You’re a great example, so rock on!

    • Thanks A!

      It’s totally a double whammy, isn’t it? Firstly the media and popular culture “other” fat people by using headless fatty photos, talking about fatness as if it is an epidemic that needs eradicating, and generally just presenting a demonised version of fatness. But then people who are not fat, and who have never been fat, profess to know what our experiences are. They don’t. Just as I have no idea what it is like to be thin. Nor do I have any idea what it is like to be black, or gay… but I can have empathy for people who are.

      That’s the power of privilege. When someone has unexamined thin privilege, they have no concept of what it is like to be marginalised for their body.

  • This was beautifully written and illustrated. I hope you are able to write for her mag, and give the fat perspective….

  • I hope this Rebecca Sparrow person can learn to stop using inherently judging O-words, too! Say the F-word, loud and proud! From the belly!

  • Thanks Kath,

    As a fat male, we are often excluded from the discussion of fat bigotry. I can’t tell you how many times that I have heard people tell me that being a fat boy is different from being a fat girl Believe me, the beatings, taunts, verbal humiliations and outright hatred of a frightened 9 year old boy stay fresh in the mind of a 48 year old man, now dealing with diabetes, and the constant drumbeat by his doctor and friends that his life is nearing an end due to his sloth and gluttony.

    I am a happily married father of a beautiful daughter, with great friends and family in my life. Sadly, I sometimes allow myself to embrace the idea that I am dying slowly. Your words were a rallying cry for me to get on with my life. Thank you.

    • I hear you Alan, I really do. Men have privilege over women in that their bodies are not considered public property and objectified like ours are, but fat hatred still exists for you. Fat men still get bullied and stigmatised (though strangely, fat men statistically get paid more than fat women and thin men or women. Fat women are lowest paid of all.) and health policed.

      Do not let the “Vague Future Health Threat” rule your life. You know your body, it’s just a matter of finding medical help that will listen to you about it when you need them too. I know how hard that is.

      Fat people receive death threats day in day out with the “You’re gonna die, fatty!” message coming from all aspects of our culture. As my doc says “That’s no use to anyone!”

  • I just wanted to say that it is so sad that people dont accept others no matter what size, color or race! I love your blog Kath! It is humbling! I believe you have to listen to your body,,,,,,no matter what your weight is ! Every person in the world is beautiful! But again I believe you need to listen to your body and if you are aching…..or have diabetes or depressed due to weight then you need to look for support and answers. Diabetes can happen at anyones weight. Heavier or not? Happiness is the key! Trying to do the best that you can with your eating is another key! Most of all love your smile ,,,,

    • You’re absolutely right Susanne. Every body is different and the only way to keep it at it’s best condition is to listen to it and love it. After all, if you have something you hate, you’re not going to look after it, are you?

  • Kath, wot they said above!!! One of the best letters ever encountered in my 66 years of living — may your words sail wide and far, and may they sink deep into the thinking apparatus of so many ‘image’-warped minds. Goes without saying that your attitude will continue to shine its cleansing light on cruel social stigma. Hurray for posting this. And no need to reply to this one — it’s an honour to be here, period.

  • Kath, wonderful post, powerfully written! You are living breathing joyous active proof that a life well-lived is a life well-lived, regardless of size or health (or age or gender or any other single characteristic of the gazillion traits we all possess!) I am so sorry that you must endure such hateful, hateful attacks by strangers. It seems that the whole world is sucked up into either promoting fear of fat, lashing out against anyone who is fat, or engaging in emotionally & physically damaging behavior designed to prevent or “cure” fat…
    love the photos!

  • “What kind of person would you be if you were subjected on an almost daily basis the abuse from strangers I mentioned above?”

    You would be me… broken, self-hating, and damaged almost beyond repair but struggling to fix myself at 46.

    • Screaming Fat Girl – I do understand. I was like that myself until about 2 or 3 years ago. But the good news is this – you are not beyond repair my love. It takes time, but surrounding yourself with the right environments and the right people make it possible.

      Stick with me, we’ll go places!

  • I don’t know what research you’re reading, but type II diabetes is not genetic. Type II diabetes is caused by insulin resistance from over exposure to insulin. Type I diabetes is a genetic disorder that results in an inability to produce insulin, not a resistance to it. The resistance is caused by repeated exposure to high levels of insulin. Insulin is your body’s way of regulating the amount of sugar in your blood stream by signaling your liver, muscle, and fat cells to take up the glucose and form glycogen and fatty acids.

    I do agree with you that stigmatizing “overweight” people is not any help. It does not help that we use crude measurements to categorize weight and its relation to health. Sumo wrestlers might be “obese” from a medical perspective, but they are also incredibly healthy. They lack the visceral fat that is often to blame for complications of being overweight as well as having a very low rate of type II diabetes.

    We do not stigmatize people with other disorders nearly to the same degree, and there are plenty of risky behaviours that we do not stigmatize, such as extreme sports. You can rack up some rather expensive medical bills after breaking a few dozen bones or paralyzing yourself after a failed motorcycle stunt.

    • Type 2 diabetes IS genetic. You can read about it yourself here. I’m not sure if you actually have any medical qualifications, but my doctor does. A little objective research (ruling out studies funded by the diet industry, Allergan and anyone else who will benefit from weight loss profits and diabetes drugs) will also bring you up the same thing over and over and over.

      Unless you have genetic markers for Type 2 diabetes, there is no way you can get it. Look anywhere in the family of someone with Type 2 diabetes and you will find other members with it, both thin and fat. You cannot eat your way to diabetes. I do believe however, that you can screw up your metabolism so bad with dieting and eating disorders that you can bring a genetic disposition to Type 2 diabetes on earlier in your life than if you had not messed with your metabolism so much.

      The belief that people can eat their way to insulin resistance, or lose their diabetes by losing weight is dangerous and stigmatising.

    • As a genetic counsellor with a passion for insulin resistence and diabetes, I know diabetes type II does show some genetic predispositon as do most lifestyle diseases. The actual gene/s that are implicated are not as yet confirmed. They have discovered a couple of genes in the hispanic population but they does not appear in other populations, still so far to go. However we do know that lifestyle diseases and genes are mediated by our environment and diet and we can develop a disease with or without the gene/s. Breastcancer has proven this. When we see patterns of illness in families, often there will be a genetic component and the link can also be because we tend to live and eat in similar ways within families. A true genetic condition is one which we are born with such as downs syndrome, sickle cell anemia, haemophillia etc or one that develops regardless of interventions such as cystic fibrosis or motor neurone disease. With lifestyle diseases the genetic component may be more about how our body processes foods or there may be slight intolerances or metabolic dysfunctions all of which are genetic in origin. But discovering the source is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Insulin resistence is a big problem for more people than those that go onto develop diabetes type II and so the research is extensive. Each individuals ability to be sensitive to insulin differs, this is where genetics does come into play. It is controlled by the genes as they code for amino acids. The start and stop codons for this genetic process are those that are most affected by our environment, illness, stress, diet etc. Some people may be slightly affected whereas other severely affected depending on all the other genes and processes that are being undertaken. Genetics is complex and relatively new area of research. There is still so much we don’t know and understand, far less how our genes affect each individual.

      • You illustrate my point perfectly Kerry. We can’t be stigmatising T2 diabetes as the “bad kind” that people “bring on themselves” by eating too much. This isn’t how it works, nor is it of any use to individual or public health.

        Besides, hands up anyone who has a friend or relative who eats nothing but fast food and sweets, but is as thin as a rake and diabetes free? I have several of them.

      • Thanks Kerry – I am a type II diabetic and so is my dad and one of my aunts. If that’s not genetic, I don’t know what is.

        • Same for me La – I only found out about my maternal family since being diagnosed myself, but I get the double whammy – paternal as well. Grandma, great uncle, at least 4 cousins and I would say my mother isn’t far behind from her symptoms. On the paternal side, both aunts, an uncle, several of my many cousins. And they range from extremely thin to very fat on both sides – weight has not been an indicator at all of who gets it and who doesn’t.

      • Sorry I was actually agreeing with the genetic component which Brookswift above was saying isn’t a factor. But perhaps I didn’t clarify sufficiently. Yes family’s do indeed have histories of diseases and conditions. In your cases it is a stronger predisposition to a condition or disease than occurs in the general population. Genetic predisposition covers all those conditions that run in families like diabetes, breast cancer, allergies etc. Genetic predispositions are mediated by nutrition, environment, the bodies biochemistry, medications etc but how is not fully understood. Much less is know about how this interplay occurs for genetic predispositions that genetic disorders. As yet for diabetes and insulin resistance they have not been able to find a particular gene/s and I would imagine they may not for quite sometime. But by looking at a family history we can quickly see patterns of diseases and conditions regardless of a genetic test. My feeling it is perhaps a number of factors that combine to create the ideal environment for us to go onto develop a condition. Our genes are at work all the time and are part of every process in the body which is why they can be affected by our environment etc.
        Sorry for the confusion again.

  • Yes, certain genetics improves the risk of contracting Type II diabetes, but like alcoholism, which has a genetic risk, it can be avoided by way of behaviors that reduce the risk. You cannot develop insulin resistance if you maintain a diet that does not cause insulin spikes. Type II diabetes is not about being thin or being fat. It’s about exposure to insulin. You can have a bad diet that leads to poor heath and be fat or thin, just like you can engage in temporary dietary measures trying to change your body in both healthy and unhealthy ways.

    I am not denying the ability to be fat and healthy, but genetic markers for type II diabetes are only slightly increased risk factors, not direct causation. The cause of Type II diabetes is over-exposure to insulin, which has an increased chance of causing insulin resistance in people with a genetic predisposition to that resistance.

    You may have your doctors, and I have mine, along with research and studies on the topic. The public understanding of diet, “fat”, diabetes, and all the rest are extremely political issues. It can be very hard to sort through the political and special interest fluff. The science is undergoing a shift in understanding with current research changing many of the basic ideas we have about metabolism.

    I make no claim that you can lose your diabetes by losing weight. It doesn’t make clinical sense anyway, because weight has nothing to do with the causes of diabetes (type II). Weight is merely a high correlation (similar to how BMI has nothing to do with health, it merely has a statistical correlation). However, I do claim that you can eat your way to diabetes, and you admit that diet can bring about an earlier onset of diabetes. I claim that a) genetic predisposition to diabetes does not necessarily lead to diabetes and b) certain dietary patterns do lead to diabetes (type II) through repeated exposure to high insulin levels. Your body gets desensitized to all sorts of hormones due to overexposure and it’s a real problem when it comes to things like opiate pain killers.

    • There is no concrete evidence at all to say that Type 2 diabetes is directly linked to weight and or caloric intake. If you are someone who has no genetic link to Type 2 diabetes, and you eat a high caloric diet, high in sugar, carbohydrates and fats, you will not get diabetes. You MUST have that genetic marker to be able to get diabetes. We know this from studies of Indigenous Australians and some other Pacific region peoples, who have the highest world rates of diabetes.

      There is also no concrete evidence to suggest that caloric restriction will assist in any way in Type 2 diabetes. What there IS concrete evidence for, is that in caloric restriction, if weight loss does occur, it is not long term and results in regain of the lost weight plus more, which then exacerbates the metabolic issues further.

      For SOME people, a Low GI intake will assist in lowering blood sugar levels, but this does not work for all. Nor does glycemic load monitoring work for all T2 diabetes patients, but will for some. To suggest any form of dietary restriction is the cure for diabetes (or will by default even lessen diabetes) is dangerous. It takes careful monitoring and a process of trial and error for each individual patient to establish a method to manage diabetes.

      I do not admit that “diet” can bring about an earlier onset of diabetes, but a pattern of dieting (ie caloric or other food restricting) or disordered eating can. I will repeat – there is no concrete proof that a high sugar, carbohydrate or high fat intake will give someone diabetes – if there were, all people, fat or thin, with these intakes would have diabetes, instead of just some. It would mean also that people with low or no sugar, fat or carbohydrate intake would never get T2 diabetes – which we know is not true.

      In fact, I am living proof that you do not need a high sugar, fat or carbohydrate intake to be either diabetic or fat. I am tasked with making sure I eat ENOUGH, which I have always struggled with. If it were about “eating your way to diabetes” I would not be a diabetic today.

      Not all people with genetic predisposition to diabetes WILL contract diabetes, that is correct. But neither will eating high sugar/fat/carb intake make you more predisposed to contracting diabetes.

      But most of all, framing T2 diabetes as a dietary issue is both stigmatising and incorrect.

      I will thank you to not derail the original purpose of this topic further.

      • Indeed it is a complex issue with complex reasons. I am grateful for these discussions to understand that behind stats and the ‘how we shoulds’ are real people with real life information of what works, what doesn’t and how it impacts from a psychological perspective. This feedback is important for realising that global statements are often not helpful for individuals and most importantly do nothing to improve health. Thanks

  • Her post really resonates with me. I may have missed the point of it in saying this but even as a size 8 (sometimes 10), I may not have “body issues” or a diet related disease per se, but I am not immune from issues surrounding bad health. I say issues because, in some ways it is the connotations surrounding the health condition itself that for me are often worse than the condition – hope that makes sense.

  • Well said! Here’s a new book on the subject. A comprehensive study of the history of fat stigma… Fat Shame by Amy Farrell. I just finished reading it. A real eye-opener.

  • I have to admit that as a fat women I struggle with the concept that there are fat people out there who don’t eat very much or only eat very healthy diets and are still fat. I am fat because I eat a lot, and some of it is high calorie food (like cake and chocolate). I also happen to exercise daily and have normal health indicators like BP and blood glucose, but my diet is the cause of my weight. After a life time of dieting and weight return and gain I have been the same weight for the last few years – after giving up the dieting cycle and just deciding to be ok with me the way I am. If I developed any health issues and there was evidence they were fat related I would most probably lose weight.

    I get slightly annoyed when I see some fat people write into blogs and other things listing the foods they apparently eat each day as if they want someone to give them a badge to wear that states GOOD FAT PERSON – please treat like a human being as opposed to the BAD FAT PERSON eating the burger king over there. Can’t we just move on and accept whatever the reason we are fat we should be able to get on with our lives and not be stigmatised for doing so? Fatness is one of the last characteristics you can still legally discriminate on.

    • Ahh the old good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy. This is the phenomena where fat women who are “trying hard” not to be fat are given a “pass” for their fatness. So if a fat woman lives with guilt, knocks herself about over-exercising and constantly dieting (or even has an eating disorder), then she’s a “good fatty”. But if a fat person lives their life as they please, without actively trying to lose weight, or is sedentary and eats a lot, then they’re a “bad fatty”. The whole thing is a crock of crap really – fatness, food, health and activity are not moral issues. They are personal ones.

      However, I must challenge the last sentence. You can still legally discriminate on a lot of things (providing you know the law). We must not erase other discrimination when talking about our own. But as I said before, weight discrimination is one kind that people who shun other discrimination still feel comfortable with perpetuating.

  • What an amazing blog! Well done Kath, Rebecca, and all those who’ve responded. We can make a positive difference in each other’s lives, and the lives of those we’ll never meet, just by speaking out against discrimination in all its forms & insisting that all women, regardless of size, are treated with respect. It’s a wonderful thing to hear people speaking with such honesty and humour about such a complex subject.

    If you were asked, “which is better, blue or brown eyes?” you would reasonably respond, “neither, they’re both lovely, but it all depends on what you do to maximise the individual beauty of the eyes you have.”… well I feel the same way about size. So, I ask “which is better, fat or thin?” and the answer must be exactly the same. “Neither, they’re both lovely, but it all depends on what you do to maximise the individual beauty of who you are.”

    Every day I meet plus size women (and their men), who carry the weight (pardon the pun) of their ‘guilt’ like a yoke on their shoulders. Living with feelings of overwhelming guilt is crippling, depressing, and does no one any good. My mission in life is to empower all women to believe in the beauty they have within – and then show them how to wear it on the outside. Fat or thin, tall or short, male, female, black, white or somewhere in between, we each have a personal beauty that can shine a light for all the world to see.

    I’ve recently become the store manager of [REDACTED]. If anyone here, or any of your friends ever wish to experience the positive reinforcement expressed in this blog, I welcome you to visit our store and share in the delight of people who will help you find ‘your light. We’ll style you up in clothes that actually fit your gorgeous body and express your magnificent personality.

    I’m a women’s wear designer & patternmaker of 20+ years experience and I’ve spent most of my working life showing women how to make the most of what they’ve got. Fit is one of my specialities. When clothes are ready made, it can be very tough to find any that fit in all the right places. It’s often the simplest of alterations that make the world of difference. And don’t think this is a problem just for plus size women. It’s a problem for every woman, of every size. I’d like a dollar for every size 6, 8, 10 or 12 client who’s expressed dismay at their imperfect figure. If I did, I’d be very wealthy indeed. THE PROBLEM ISN’T YOUR BODY, THE PROBLEM IS MASS PRODUCED CLOTHES THAT DON’T FIT YOU.

    This may sound like an advertisement, but it’s not. It’s a promise. A promise that my team will do everything within their power to show you how shine. And if you don’t get the service I am promising, please, let me know. You can email me at [REDACTED], and let me know. I’m listening, because I genuinely understand how challenging it can be, to be a plus size woman in today’s media (skinny) obsessed world.

    Biggest wiggly hugs to you all for such a marvellous blog!!! Keep up the wonderful work.

    Donna x

    • Donna. I thank you for your comment but I do not allow unsolicited advertising on this site. If you had contacted me privately to discuss, I would have gladly discussed and considered working on something but as it was unsolicited I have removed any identifying details.

      Please consider this your first warning, any further unsolicited pushing for business will result in blocking your access to comment on this blog.

  • Excellent post ..you have said it so welll……and also =====thin people develop type 2 diabetes ..anyone can if they have the right genetics with right insulin exposure ,,there are quite a few studies coming out saying this ..this is why the moral panic has been activated …not because fat people are developing t2dm but all sorts of people are.
    (long time lurker )

    • Absolutely melissa (and I’m glad you’ve de-lurked). More people ARE getting T2 diabetics but they aren’t all fat people. It doesn’t help that the parameters for “obesity” changed overnight in the ’90’s, lowering the numbers so that more people were classed as overweight/obese. Of course the data reflects badly after companies like Allergan (who manufacture the lap band) successfully lobbied to lower the weight level classed as obese.

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