Being Obese Is Political

Mülln, Salzburg, Austria


  1. Not sure about over there, but here there is a politically charged, “healthy at every size” movement. They have valid points like doctors failing to diagnose treatable conditions in obese patients because they are blinded to everything but the fatness. Also there’s plenty of obvious “fat hatred” in society at large, which amounts to a civil rights issue. Of course the notion that you *can* be healthy at *any* size is highly controversial.

    1. I fear that “fat hatred” might come over here since everything does. Of course, my question was ironic. After soft drinks and fast food next thing is “fat hatred”?

      btw – the German adjective “dick” might be better translated as “fat, corpulent” – while “obese” seems to me more used in the medical sense?! Is the woman in the stencil obese?

  2. Obese is a more technical term, but ill-defined. The Body Mass Index, invented a long time ago for the statistical study of large populations, is widely (mis)used now as a diagnostic of individuals for “healthy weight.” There’s a normal range, underweight, overweight, and obese. Trouble is, it’s calculated on nothing but height/weight, without any consideration of body type or physical activity. Elite marathon runner? You’re probably ‘underweight.’ Body builder? You’re sure to be ‘overweight’ if not ‘obese.’ The figure in the stencil would certainly measure obese in BMI, but in ordinary conversation would be fat, heavy, or big.

  3. Martina, Carl: I was quite uncertain which word to use – fat seems to be a peiorative, heavy I thought to be too ‘technical’, big is too near to tall, so I came up with obese, trying to be neutral enough to emphasize the nonsense of promoting body weight as a political statement. I mean, on the same level you could state that skinny is political…

    1. Markus, for people who live with fat hatred—fair term, they are assaulted by this in daily life—every day, it’s not just real but also political. Activists among them have taken up the term “fat” as an acceptable and accessible term to use. Neutral. We (they say) accept it, simply descriptive, we and they understand the term, now deal with us as people with different bodies from your standard. And stop discriminating against us in many ways every day. OK.

      Me, by pure chance, I compute to 21.9 BMI which is sorta dead center normal, in the stupidly mis-used metric, but that does indicate that people, populations, used to be thinner than we are now, here. I compute perfect normal, but that is not how anyone has ever seen me in recent decades in fat America. I read thin or skinny. Well, I read tall first because I’m kinda tall, but then it’s thin as the next impression. The issue of fat hatred is very real, and deserves serious political discussion. The counter notion that there’s nothing wrong with being fat also needs to be addressed because, well, type 2 diabetes…

      1. Unfortunately it seems to be an inseparable human need to find individuals or groups that can be declared inferior, being by religion, sexual orientation, race, or now, body weight. (Oh yes, we Germans have a sad record of this). And in the same way it seems to be a true human need to resort to health-wise harmful practics, and cigarettes, alcohol and other drugs, but also behavioural excesses can be found in all societies. So more tolerance is definitely needed, and the discussion where tolerance has to end is by definition limitless.

        Medical statistics have recently introduced the indicator of “lost life years”, and of course there is now way of denying that fatness accounts for a big number of such lost years. Buz it would be certainly worth discussing, if introducing fatness as a political statement is maybe just a very clever tactic of the big junk food producers to keep their sales figures soaring. Long term statistics don’t support the notion of ‘happy fatties’, I assume.

        1. Markus, I’ve read reports of strong correlation between factory-farm food, distributed as ‘fast food,’ or as highly processed, mostly-prepared grocery store food that’s nutritionally terrible compared to freshly prepared. It’s also cheaper, in part because of wrong-headed agricultural policies and subsidies, and terrible pay for fast food workers, but this leverages impact on the poor. It all ties together over here. Also, I’ve seen a lot of reports on research that may change some of our “everybody knows” assumptions. There’s certainly a correlation between obesity and a host of health problems, but it’s not at all clear that obesity is always the cause. Type 2 diabetes and obesity are highly correlated, but there’s serious investigation going on into whether this is not cause and effect but part of a complex syndrome that involves additional factors that may be genetic, environmental, or some combination. The antibiotics that are administered continuously to livestock in order to fatten them quickly (and help them survive awful factory farm conditions) have for a couple generations now also been administered to kids with earaches or sinus infections—what might these brief but relatively massive exposures have to do with increasing obesity in the population? Fascinating stuff that as a layman I’m only able to read with interest, not evaluate.

          1. I had some interesting discussion on googleplus (sorry, Markus, I know you don’t like this but Carl might look for it if he is interested) after I linked
            The comments there are interesting, too (that’s mostly why I linked the article).

            Food in Germany is not that highly processed as in the US – there are things you can buy at any supermarket in the US we don’t even dream exist. And if we would dream about them it would be mostly a nightmare – sorry to say this.

            I looked for some diabetes stats and found this – there is quite a difference between the US and Germany – but most of the data isn’t what I expected it to be I must admit. I thought there was a wider gap. However, interesting nevertheless I think.

            There once was an article about the food regulations worldwide, especially US vs. the rest of the world – also an interesting read – even not really scientific … let’s see if I can find this, too …. nope, don’t find it. But if one searches for something like “Foods Banned in %restoftheworld% Still Available in the U.S.” … or something like that there will be enough results.

            Okay, now that I have said nothing really but only threw some links in the discussion I might even go to bed 😉

          2. Don’t get me thinking about contemporary agriculture, Carl – I studied it and disliked what I had to learn so much that I seriously contemplated quitting. And today I am glad that I earn my money outside of all things agriculture. I am still no vegetarian (while two of my daughters try vegan) but reduced meat intake very much, especially if I don’t know the provenience. Since decades I have the feeling we are all part of a huge field test in almost all aspects of life, to the benefit of the most died-in-the-wool and most disrespectful capitalists. And the masses vote for their own butchers, everywhere.

  4. Martina, this certainly is mined territory, and comparing lifestyle and health is more than difficult. But we will soon have the opportunity to minimize the difference to the U.S., when thanks to TRIPP we get all the U.S. food varieties we miss so much at the moment.

    Sorry, I am in an overly cynical mood at the moment, but on Sunday we have elections on the municipal level here in Bavaria, and it looks like the sheepish hordes of voters will vote black (aka conservative) in their majority again. And just two days ago, the structural majority in my hometown’s city council (where the best of my wives contests for a seat) voted against a declaration as a gmo-free city. Those guys are so f….. dead stupid!

  5. I am late to this subject. I am the opposite body type to Carl. I am 6 feet tall and 250 lbs (112kg). I am, by the BMI, obese. I do carry fat around my middle. I walk a lot every day. Three days a week I go to a gym and lift weights, spend time on the StairMaster and then attend a 45 minute spin class. I am in reasonable aerobic condition. I have two daughters, one of whom is a full vegan and the other is a 95% vegetarian studying to be a health coach. Both girls are herbalists. I have been steered away from processed food and non-organic produce and meat for a long time. I had a triple bypass procedure five years ago that cleared up problems created by years of red meat and fried foods. So I am on a far better path and feel better than I have in years. My current problem is a slow heart rate that nobody is too worried about at my cardiologist’s office.

    I have been overweight most of my life. Before joining Weight Watchers I had ballooned to 330 lbs. for a year or so. Being fat is political in this country but far more so if you are a woman it seems. Fat women have a hard time being taken seriously, sadly. We are shown pictures by all of the fast food places of young slender hipsters eating plates of fried crap with no side effects. I don’t go to fast food places except when we travel by car. I never see slender people in them. The hard part is getting people by the ads for food by the giant companies that also have a pocketful of bought politicians who will not lift a finger to stop agribusiness. I have ranted long enough but what Markus is seeing in Bavaria is a template for the whole U.S.

    1. James, one fundamental problem I see here is an increasing inability to do sound things. Excessive use of a bandwidth of things, being it food, drugs, internet, gambling, currently seems to increase along with the widening gap between the well-offs and the people in precarious situations. That, for me, is the real political point in looking at obesity, which you pointed out so well. And as this our society – there probably is no difference between the U.S. and Germany – is so keen on extremes, of course social acceptance for fat people is really low.

      (By the way, my wife had visited the U.S. decades ago and told me that the welfare checks were exclusively for overprocessed food at that time)

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