Fat Anti-Bias Campaign

By Christine |

“In an overwhelmingly overweight nation that worships thinness, many describe prejudice against the obese as one of the last socially acceptable biases,” writes Lisa Anderson at the Chicago Tribune. “Advocates for the plus-sized, particularly activists in the ‘fat acceptance’ movement, want obesity to become a category legally protected against discrimination, like religion, race, age and sex. But not everyone agrees.”

“I think it would help mostly because it would send a message that fat people are equal citizens. It’s not in the litigation rates, but the rights consciousness that comes after legislation,” said Anna Kirkland, an assistant professor of women’s studies and political science at the University of Michigan who is author of the new book, “Fat Rights: Dilemmas of Difference and Personhood,” which examines the question of whether weight should be a protected category.

The story goes on to discuss a law to ban discrimination against weight and height pending in Massachusetts. Here’s the text of House bill 1844 (PDF), sponsored by Rep. Byron Rushing.

Rushing has offered similar bills six times in the last 12 years. He told the Trib that last month’s public hearing on the bill showed “there is a growing number of people who think this should happen and an even larger number of people who think we should at least be talking about it.”

Similar anti-discrimination legislation is already in place in Michigan and the District of Columbia, and cities such as San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Madison.

“It’s not really about litigation, but about taking a stand,” said Marilyn Wann, a fat-rights activist who testified at the Boston hearing and helped get San Francisco’s law passed in 2000. “I do think when a government says it’s not OK to dismiss someone as a person because of weight, that’s helpful.”

Plus: Read Fat People: Please Stop Existing at Big Fat Blog.

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2 Comments

  1. Jacqueline says:

    Sometimes fat bias is really subtle and just can’t be covered by a law such as the described. I cowrote a pregnancy guide for plus-size women (kindly listed by OBOS in its health resources)and can attest to the fact that getting mainstream media attention for the book was next to impossible. Most weight-related media stories = only stories that point out how bad it is to be fat or tips for losing weight. A ‘don’t beat yourself up, just take good care of yourself’ approach to weight issues (and this case, prenatal care)is ignored. The law could handle face-to-face dealings and job interviews, but the anti-fat bias runs so deep, it just seems part of the mainstream’s collective psyche.

  2. This editorial responding to a state insurance board policy has media and race components in which some MACers may be interested. If not please delete.

    Know Justice, Know Peace,
    Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin
    Professor of Communication, ASU FSA Co-VP for Faculty
    AEJMAC Membership Chair
    Alabama State University, 915 S. Jackson St.
    Montgomery, AL 36101-0271 PH:334-229-6885
    Thanks in advance for your research & creative activity referrals: http://home.earthlink.net/~ekdaufin

    Alabama Insurance Board — Don’t Beat Me Up Because I’m Big
    ©2008, Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin
    1,146 words

    The Alabama Insurance Board should just say NO to the racist, sexist, ageist, classist, inhumane and ineffective proposal to financially penalize bigger than average people with a Body Mass Index of 35 or more.

    The proposal is RACIST because African Americans, American Indians and Latinos are most likely to have a higher BMI than Whites or Asians for complex reasons. Longitudinal studies, including those of twins raised separately, show that about 70-percent of one’s weight is genetic rather than diet or exercise related.

    The proposal is SEXIST. Women of any race are more likely than men to have a higher BMI. African American women are more likely to have a higher BMI than other women. It is physiologically more difficult for women to lose weight at all – much less safely and permanently. Women are already (and men increasingly) brutally barraged by the omnipotent media and thus socially mandated to be as thin as possible.

    Virtually all the women I know are doing their best to weigh as little as possible, even the pregnant ones. The Montgomery Advertiser photo that accompanied the story of the AIB’s impending decision (was of a decapitated plus-size woman in very casual, ill-fitting clothing) seems to be another example of media objectification of women (a headless body) AND a perpetuation of the negative stereotypes of plus-size women. On average women still make about 75-cents to every dollar men make so we are even more discriminated against by any BMI surcharge.

    Perhaps the dehumanized headless woman in the Advertiser photo simply couldn’t afford better fitting, more expensive, plus-sized clothing.

    Those sizist bigots who would tell us to go on a diet should know that virtually all weight loss diets actually lead to a yo-yo effect that resets the metabolic set point higher and higher. That not only makes one fatter over time, it becomes progressively more difficult to lose any weight at all. Dieters are wrongly led to believe that it is their failure, not the diets’, when they fail to lose weight or keep it off. This repeated failure despite earnest efforts and often prayer, leads to depression and even lower self-esteem.

    An increasing percentage of little girls as young as six years old are dieting, depriving their bodies of crucial nutrients in their formative years. My parents forced me on the first of many starvation diets when I was 5 years old, the lifelong legacy of which I still continue to work on healing.

    Weight loss surgery is the most lethal elective surgery I know of and deadly weight loss drugs continue to prove that too many would rather have folks a thin corpse than a living fat person. Weight loss surgery usually leads to a lifetime of post-operative gastrointestinal distress but who cares as long as the ailing individual attains a 35 or lower BMI, right AIB?

    Fat oppression is so bad that for example, a New England study showed that pregnant couples would chose to abort a fat fetus more often than one with any other “disease.”

    The AIB proposal is AGEIST because as one ages, one’s BMI usually increases. So someone close to the 35 BMI cut off all their lives would be penalized for simply growing older while still serving the state of Alabama. How’s that for honoring our elders’ service?

    I now use the word “fat,” the way Fat Liberation Activists do, the way Civil Rights Activists used Black and now African American (BOTH fighting words in my parents’ day). I’d rather call myself fat (and phat – Pretty, Hot And Tempting) than a walking disease, the scarlet letter “O” for obese.

    Not all of us fat people are compulsive eaters and not all compulsive eaters are fat. However some depressed people compulsively eat to help medicate themselves against the truly debilitating sadness life often brings them and to which they are chemically more sensitive. There are sick skinny people and fat healthy people. For a person of size, visits to the medical doctor, if one is not in perfect health, can be a depressing and humiliating experience in and of itself …It sure is for me.

    Even in years of optimal health I had to fight the nasty, smug, fat prejudice of health care providers until the labs came in.

    Being held up (pun intended) for the humiliation of individually higher insurance rates to get medical care only makes the problem worse. Some studies have shown that in communities where being fat is NOT demonized, fat people are as healthy as thin ones.

    The pervasive prejudice against fat people, as well as attempts to lose weight at any cost, are often the cause of fat people’s illness rather than the state of fatness itself. Too many studies use hospitalized fat people as their population rather than healthy fat people living their lives. The few studies that have monitored NON-dieting fat people show that we eat as much or LESS than thin people do.

    The proposal is CLASSIST because poor people are more likely to be fat — again for complex reasons virtually all NOT under their conscious control. The AIB surcharge will take more money out of our shrinking pocketbooks, leaving even less for expensive organic fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats and fish. Yes, the chemicals in pesticides can cause many problems including contributing to weight gain and retention.

    International bestselling author and psychologist Dr. John Gray of Mars and Venus fame says big people are big because we are sensitive and psychogenically stay large independent of diet and exercise to keep a layer of protection around us. Ironically this protective device is not under our conscious control and only sets us up for more attack from a fatophobic society including the AIB.

    All my adult life I have exercised 5-7 days a week, have taught yoga, been a professional dancer, am a holistic health consultant. I pray and meditate. Twenty years ago when I was a more resilient teenager and weighed less than I do now, I allowed myself to be dipped in a vat of water and did other precise tests. My BMI was 44 then. I sure it’s higher now.

    I’m big and beautiful and doing my best to keep my stress levels down so I can stay healthy. That’s big NOT lazy, NOT a glutton and certainly NOT deserving of the pompous, poisonous disrespect served up daily to those of us with more bounce to the ounce. Now the AIB wants to add to our stress and subtract from our shrinking assets because our BMI is bigger than theirs.

    Let’s facilitate everyone’s efforts to be healthier (self-esteem and beauty at any size; regular moderate, fun exercise; lots of fresh, high quality food with regular, reasonable treats) without damning those of us who have a higher BMI and ascribing virtues to our thin brothers and sisters that they may not even merit.
    _______________
    The Rubenesque Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin is the founder of the Love Your Body; Love Yourself™ workshops, a consultant for an international holistic health company and a professor of communication at Alabama State University.