The “Building Bridges” interviews

quotable“This is also one of the reasons that I have recently started studying the stigmatizing content that is sometimes present in “anti-obesity” campaigns or media messages that aim to encourage healthy eating or exercise behaviors. You may recall the anti-obesity campaign by the Georgia Children’s Healthcare Alliance in Atlanta, which received national criticism for promoting negative messages and stigmatizing children. This kind of campaign reinforces stigma and bias and is problematic on numerous levels. In our research, we specifically set out to examine how the public reacts to different obesity-related media campaigns. Not surprisingly, stigmatizing campaigns were rated poorly and were not motivating to people in their efforts to improve their health (regardless of their body size). Instead, our findings showed that the kinds of media campaigns that increased motivation to improve healthy behaviors were campaigns that focused on specific health behaviors (such as replacing soda with water, or eating more fruits and vegetables) and didn’t even mention obesity (or body weight) at all. This tells us that the message should really be about supporting and empowering people, regardless of body size, in their efforts to engage in healthy behaviors.”

Building Bridges: Interview with Rebecca Puhl (Part 1), by Jenny Copeland, PsyD, Association for Size Diversity and Health (

Well put. I have looked at the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and anyone else who has looked at it will probably see that some of what I write falls in line. I don’t believe that problem in this country is “fat” or “obesity”. The idea that “obesity” is the problem does chaff me, mostly because to me, that distracts from the true problem, which is as Yale Rudd has identified it: unhealthy food.

It is a problem which effects us all, en masse, regardless of personal body mass.

So looking at the YR website ( can be a trigger. They’re all about “obesity”… and food policy. But it can be hard to see that their focus is food, seeing as how they tie in obesity so much with food. Maybe to the detriment of their point. But their point is not just legitimate, it is true! The fast food and junk food industries are wrong, are bad, and continue to create and propagate a society with health issues and stigma.

I’ve said in the past that the one main problem I have with “obesity” research is that it is considered a condition and not a symptom of something else. I think the Yale Rudd people sort of treat it as a symptom, but not in the same way as me, in which you will see IT’S A SYMPTOM repeated over and over in this blog. You know, to make it clear. “Obesity”, at the end of the day, is a word that has been tacked on to people like me to both define us and attack us. Because of this, its medical value is lost because the word itself is so loaded. It never should have been loaded. It should be what it is: and expression of the way in which a body is functioning. I call it a symptom, which probably pisses A LOT of fat advocates off, because that is what it is, symptomatic of a certain metabolic state. What people miss is there is no value judgement to that. Obesity can simply be a symptom of having a metabolism that is really good at storing fat, which is what I believe it really is. However, I look at it as a symptom of other things because of the yo-yo weight phenomenon that I and many others experience. We’re so pushed to see obesity as bad that many of us are always bouncing up and down in our weights, losing and regaining, or gaining more on top of stuff we’ve regained. This is NOT healthy, and should be treated as a symptom of something out of whack in our bodies, because a healthy body will just pick a weight and stay there.

A healthy body may be “obese” in terms of BMI, but it will be stay within like a twenty-pound obesity range, and not deviate too greatly from that range. It’s the deviation, not the actual fat that is bad. Researchers don’t focus on this enough, which ticks me off. Every fat person is seen as a deviation, which is wrong. Some of us are just base-line fat. We deserve to be treated as if that is our inherent condition. In doing so, in accepting that a person’s ideal weight may well be 200 pounds, even if their BMI says it should be 140, we can better determine whether “obesity” is a symptom of something in them, because it means a lot more when a 200 person shoots up to 300 than when a 200 person loses down to 190.

Diabetes, heart disease… all these are symptoms of well, and not of obesity. They are symptoms of a culture which promotes an extremely unhealthy diet and lifestyle. Because it’s written into the culture, EVERYONE has to deal with it. Skinny to fat, we all have to deal with the fact that Americans are sold on the idea of being lazy, of eating bad food… and then resold on the idea of stupid crash diets to “get back” to the shape we were in before we were told to buy the newest Playstation game.

In other words, the problem with America today is not fat, it’s Twinkies (so to speak). Some will eat those little pre-offal cakes and become fat, others won’t… either way they are a celebrated cultural phenomenon that has absolutely no nutritional value, and which actually contains a lot of stuff that is bad, like preservatives and processed ingredients. Even the joke that points out that the only two things on Earth that will survive a full-scale nuclear holocaust are cockroaches and Twinkies has not stopped people from wanting to eat Twinkies.

People were horrified and traumatized when they heard that Hostess was going under.

I jumped my fat ass up and down and pumped my fist… until it became apparently that corporate America was not going to stand for the collapse of one of the biggest food-crime organizations in this country.

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned through writing this blog and trying to engage with those who want to end fat stigma, its that there is a lot of diversity within the fat population. And part of that diversity will inevitably be what I now personally call the “Alabama Factor” (See this NYTimes article which gives examples of other State laws meant to undermine consumer rights by capitulating to food corporations), those people who will want to see less labeling and less information on how poorly they are eating… god only knows why.


The Alabama Factor and those fatties who generally don’t care don’t seem to recognize that cooking up your own hamburger at home, with lean beef on a grill instead of frying, with your own spices that don’t include salt, and your own vegetables flat-out makes a better damn burger.

That said, I recognize that the Alabama Factor is just a very, very small percentage of the population of supposedly “obese” people that are victimized by the fast food industry (I’m only being partially facetious when I say this).

Its unfortunate that Yale Rudd uses “obesity” because the word puts off so many people before they can read the little section about “economics” which points out how difficult it can be for the poorest people to get really good, nutritious food. At the end of the day, when bad food is more accessible and cheaper than good food, we’re going to see people that are forced to eat badly. THIS IS WRONG AND MUST END.

So yes, I admit, there are some aspects of the Yale Rudd theory that are flawed, because it is not obvious when you look over their site that they don’t automatically assume, like others automatically assume, that fat people aren’t all just lazy, stupid fast-food gluttons. After all, isn’t that what “obese” pretty much means in common usage? But while the insinuation is there, I don’t see the same sort of in-your-face stigma that I see in other spheres, such as FB fat-hating trolls.

What I do see are people that want everyone, not just the fat, to recognize that it is worth paying more for food, because you get more bang for your buck when you do. The quality of the calories we eat is much, much, muchmuchmuch more important than the quantity, or lack thereof, of those calories.

How do I know this? Well, I will leave you with a link, and the lesson I learned from it: According to the conclusions reached in Eternal Curves, an article that appeared a while ago in Psychology Today, our food cravings stem from the desire to introduce certain nutrients into our bodies, so the real problem pops up when we completely replace “good” nutrients with their evil twins. This can literally make us crave and over eat things stuff like fat, because we are starving for good fat, while getting too much bad. In other words, Eternal Curves says, if women got more Omega-3, maybe they wouldn’t overeat Omega-6. Sounds reasonable to me.

As does Yale Rudd. They are being honest. Maybe not totally supportive, or extremely helpful, but they’re honest. Which is why I appreciate that HAES is taking the time to interview people like the woman who said the above, to bring other ideas into their conversation. Not just because of the whole bringing in of ideas, but because it may help with one of the most divisive parts of our fat community: triggers and defensiveness among people that fall into different sub-culture fat categories.

We are not a group of people. We are a group of beings who are our labels. When Marilyn Wann says things like “stomach amputation” she may be trying to stigmatize weight loss surgery, but she is actually stigmatizing me. When people look at YR and see “obesity” they don’t see “obesity” they see themselves.

So, the only way for us to truly win the fight against stigma is to make peace within our own ranks. This doesn’t just mean not being defensive anymore, because, truthfully, I have a right to be offended by “stomach amputation” and I have a right to tell people “don’t say that, that is such bullshit, you are mean” because it is such bullshit and they are being mean! And it doesn’t mean banning all trigger words, phrases or ideas because, truthfully, those who are afraid of the gastric bypass will probably see it as stomach amputation because it is so SCARY to them.

And they want a reason to believe that it is wrong, wrong, wrong. As a Fierce, Freethinking Fatty put it in her blog today “Some of us have not only yo-yo dieted for years, we’ve also had weight loss surgery that has failed to make us thin, given us complications that make our quality of life suck, and we’re fatter than we were before the surgery. We know diets don’t work, “lifestyle” changes don’t work (a diet by any other name is still a diet), and we’re not interested in hearing about them anymore.” [Bad encounters may prompt obese patients to doctor-shop (DUH!)]

I freely admit that this is what some people go through. My only side affect has been anemia. I’m really quiet happy with my weight loss surgery. It did what I wanted to do when I had it, and even though I have regained a lot of the weight, I’m still thinner than I was when I had it and, more than that, I have learned a great deal about my relationship to food. Maybe it was wrong of me to have this surgery since it didn’t actually address my compulsive eating problem. It did make me realize I have that problem, however.

It’s because of the facts above, because of my life, my body, my opinions and my insights into fatness that I should be able to tell another person “stop using hurtful words to discuss WLS, it doesn’t make those of us who have had it, either successfully or unsuccessfully feel any better about it, it doesn’t help because it doesn’t promote a positive body image” and more importantly BE LISTENED TO! I’ve worked at getting past those words triggering hurt feelings within myself, because I’m an adult, not a child, and need to just lick my wounds, get them to heal and move on.

But as I have worked so hard to not be defensive, others among us need to work equally hard at finding ways of being omni-accepting. If we fatties can’t embrace each other without disdain and prejudice, then how the hell do we expect the rest of society to embrace us?

So thank you HAES for bringing in an outside voice. I encourage anyone who might read this to read the whole of that interview and the second part, when it pops up next month, and any other interviews that may present obesity in a way that is too entrenched in stigma.

I know that is what HAES is trying NOT to do, and the more I read their stuff the more convinced that I really am a HAES person, while also being an “down with the Corporate Burger Swine” person, because I don’t believe the two views are mutually exclusive, and I don’t believe attacking those who are profiting from selling non-nutritional pre-offal is bad, because they don’t deserve to be treated any better than drug dealers and used car salesmen. They know what they are doing is unethical because their food isn’t healthy, and they don’t care.

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