Against obesity, not obese people

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I used to skewer the brazen flaks at the "Center for Consumer Freedom" a lot more than I do now — or perhaps I just think that's true because of all the times I feel moved to expose their flabby logic, and then allow my cooler self to prevail. How many times can I link to an organ I want to disappear before I realize I'm making them more visible?

I may be heading in a similar direction with Ragen Chastain, an impressive dancer and firebrand advocate against fat bias, not because I want her to fade away but because, IMO, illogical arguments are not helpful to the cause they advocate for. Here's just the first paragraph of her most recent post, with my added emphasis:

All kinds of things are being floated as things that fat people should have to do either by social pressure or government edict until we are thin (at which point we can ostensibly do whatever the hell we want as long as we don’t get fat.) I’ve seen it suggested that we should be forced to exercise, forced to undergo mandatory counseling, forced to have our food and exercise monitored by the government etc. The media publishes studies with highly questionable research methods funded by corporations which directly benefit from their findings as proof that fat people can’t be trusted to make decisions for ourselves. It is suggested that completely untested interventions should be made mandatory for all fat people. That’s how fat people become unwitting — sometimes obligatory — participants in experimental medicine, sometimes with some truly horrible results and almost always without success.

Re. the first: Our existence is not one dimensional, and no one says that fat is the only issue to be dealt with on earth, but that's the implication of the statement: You can rape, pillage, and refuse to recycle, as long as you're not fat. That's a close equivalent of when Big Soda argues that its sugary products aren't the sole cause of obesity, so therefore they're no cause.

The rhetorical value of overstatement is that one then gets to dismiss those who advocate for the other side by painting them as extremists. My argument isn't against fat people but against fatness: I was fat for most of my first 33 years, topping out at 365, and I found very little to recommend it. Nothing, really.

Part of that was due to bullying, fashion, and other biases of other people. But it was also about comfort, health, and happiness.

Now I've been in a normal-sized body for more than 20 years, and it's better. No reservation.

That's mostly an inside job, but even regarding others' opinions: They may be — no, they are — an abhorrent fact of this life today, but they're facts nevertheless, likely to remain for the foreseeable future, even while we work against them. Meanwhile, my biggest defense against them resulted from changing the thing I can change most — myself, inside and out. And, what worked for me will work for anyone, a conclusion that I base on my certainty that I'm just another bozo on the bus.

As for the second snippet, the allusion that arises for me is suicide. I concede that suicide is a right, so long as the suicider doesn't harm others. 'Course, that's an unlikely prospect, given the wreckage it leaves behind, even when it is a solitary act. But OK, conceded. Even so, just because one has a right doesn't make it a healthy, happy choice, and I'd rather advocate for healthy and happy than rights alone.

To me, health and happiness are more than sufficient goals. But in addition, obesity does incur shared costs. Chastain previously railed against making correlation into causality, to which I responded, correlation is still correlation: Quite a few debilitating, life-shortening, life-quality-degrading conditions correlate with obesity. That's true, even if we can't say one causes the others. It stands to reason, then, that if collectively, we reduce obesity societally, the costs that correlate with obesity should decline too. And, fewer people will be debilitated, have their life shortened, or their quality of life degraded. Health. Happiness.

Should we conscript obese people so that we non-fat people don't have to pay their bills? No, that's not only abhorrent but idiotic. But are such methods the only way to reduce societal and individual deficits that correlate to obesity? How 'bout dialing back the obesogenic environment, or favoring community design that encourages community and activity? Later in Chastain's post, she alludes to such things, but IMO, by then, she's already tainted her credibility.

Demonizing individuals is not decent, permisslble, or productive. But that doesn't make obesity a good choice. In my opinion. From my experience. Opinion and experience — these underpin Chastain's platform as well. We agree on quite a lot, and I'd love it if Chastain, whom I've neither met nor conversed with, would engage on these points. But so far, I'm just another reader of her blog, Dances With Fat.

[Two notes: I've seen Chastain twirl, in a clip in Darryl Roberts' film "America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments." It was impressive as well as instructive. She's big, and she can dance better than I ever will, and probably better than anyone I know. But she's not close to typical. And: yes, I compared obesity to suicide. At 33 years old and 365 pounds, I feel sure I was headed for premature death, a near certainty I've seen play out, sadly, in more than a few friends, including Jerome and Jimbo, whom I miss. No, Ragen, it's not causal, but it definitely correlated — in their minds, in mine, and in the minds of many mutual acquaintances.]

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