This Obesity Task Force thing is giving me almost “going to a new doctor” levels of anxiety. I wrote a post about it over at Pith and I kept waking up last night thinking, “there’s still time to call Jim Ridley and beg him not to run it.” But what would be the point?

Honestly, I think I still believe that, if I just keep my head down and go along, I will at least get a pass as not like those other fat people. They may be disgusting, but I have an excuse. And not only is that a bullshit, unfair place to live in your own head, it’s just not true. No one who looks at me doesn’t see that I’m fat. And no one who looks at me who doesn’t know me and who thinks I’m disgusting gives a shit about whether I’m fat for a good reason.

Even this post I’m having trouble writing.

It’s funny. I can write about all kinds of intimate things without giving it a second thought, but when it comes to talking about the shape of my body, the whole thing makes me want to throw up.

I’m still thinking about how it’s a member of the Obesity Task Force, a guy I really like and respect, who told me I should read the report that contains that image you see in the post below this. He sent that report knowing that I’m obese. And knowing that image is in there.

Do I think he meant for it to cause me to wonder if he fucking hated me? No. I think that, because he’s taken on this “problem” as his “problem” and it’s not something that directly affects him, he didn’t even consider that picture. To him, it’s just an illustration that, generally, says “Obesity is kind of gross, we need to do something about it.”

He didn’t even think about how I would see that as something that means that he thinks that I and the people I love who look like that are gross, that we are some kind of disappointment to evolution, how we even look stupider and more disgusting than regular people, and how we’re silly and obsessed with food.

He didn’t think that I would see those images and identify with the people in the images. He thought I would see those images and agree they were a problem.

At least, that’s what I tell myself, because I can’t stand to think that a guy I like would take joy in rubbing it in my face that he thinks I’m disgusting.

And, you know, the whole thing would be less problematic except he’s on the Obesity Task Force. That image comes from a presentation another guy on the Obesity Task Force gave. It’s on the Obesity Task Force website.

How much clearer could they be that these are their unexamined assumptions about obese people?

And I want to sit here and be like “Whatever, idiots. Your loss if my fat ass prevents you from getting to know me.” and then move on with my day.

But they’re running a state-wide initiative.

And they don’t seem to have any obese people on their task force (I’ll admit, I just googled 40 of them, but there’s only 140 people on the task force. If obese people were represented on the task force in any numbers like our percentage of the population, you’d think I’d have found one).

And their art and words could not be clearer about their assumptions about obese people. I mean, that art shows us as literally stupid and frivolous.

I don’t want to say anything. I find it painful and more anxiety-producing than anything else going on right now.

And they may not even listen to me. Or it may just reaffirm to them that obese people have to be dealt with like a public menace because we just refuse to get with the program.

But I feel like I can’t just sit here and say nothing, either.

But I feel like throwing up about it.

34 thoughts on “Shook

  1. I’m in a dark place right now, and trying to not infect your site with my darkness.

    At the same time, I’m also bewildered at the fact that this is going on in broad daylight and it’s only some fat chicks bitching about it on the internet that are calling into question the very ethics and morality of the thing.

  2. Maybe it would help if we didn’t use scoldy-shamey words like “fat,” which really aren’t descriptive of anything except our culture’s fucked up way of looking at issues like body image.

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  4. Funny thing for me is that I fall on both sides of this issue. I feel for folks such as Aunt B who have no control over their weight. I have a sister with a thyroid issue that has caused her to gain 150+ pounds in a few years. She can’t stop the weight gain and the meds that treat the issue cause her to gain more weight. Moreover, I take your point that this will lead to much nastiness in the hands of the “I’m better than you crowd.”

    However, many of us, myself included have grown obese by our own bad habits. This seems like a freedom of choice issue to me, but I do believe that obesity is a major cause of health problems. I’m a large man without weight gain and many of my smaller framed friends have no idea how easy it is for a man of my stature to go from big guy to “fatty.” I’ve recently lost 50 pounds and it has changed my life. Before losing the weight my snorring was out of control and I was about to have to be treated for sleep apnia (sp?). I was losing energy and had high blood pressure. All of that is better now that I’ve lost weight. My snorring is nearly gone. My blood pressure is within an acceptable range, etc.

    We do have an addiction to sugar and overeating in America. It is impossible to ignore the connection between obesity and type 2 diabetes. In fact, an alarmingly high number of children are developing high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. That is of major concern.

    I’m also tired of the “poor people can only afford fattening and unhealthy foods” meme. Not at all true. Last time I checked bags of uncooked beans. lentils, pea halfs, chickpeas, etc., remain very cheap and brown rice is as well. Discount grocery stores such as United Grocery Outlet sell both healthy and unhealthy foods. It is the individual who must choose the appropriate food for consumption. What we have developed is a lazy culture that eats too much bad food and is too lazy to actually cook cheaper foods that would be healthy.

    Go to a Chinese buffet and tell me that we aren’t nasty overeaters! What made us think that we needed fourth meals at midnight and super-sized everything? Students constantly come into my class with 44 ounce route 44 Sonic drinks loaded with high fructose corn syrup. Every pre-packaged food in America is loaded with corn syrup and other sugar additives.

    When I go to France each summer, I see a much healthier population there. Most of the over-weight folks that you see are either American or German. However, France is changing rapidly. They are undergoing a process they call “Americanization” which includes “supermarchets” filled with American treats such as Sunny Delight and sugary cereals. China is now struggling with a growing obesity problem largely attributed to growing affluency and an addiction to American-style fast food.

  5. I haven’t even begun to dive into these posts yet, but on a superficial level, can I just say how much I think this might be the best sentence ever written:

    “I just had to sit there and listen to his bizarre theories about why God hates fat chicks because I was in stirrups and he had me by the cooter.”

  6. So, Casey, you began to eat better and exercise more and yet you, a college professor, attribute your feeling better to losing weight?


    I mean, this is why I can’t even get mad at the dude on the Obesity Task Force. You’re a brilliant guy and even you make that twist in logic.

    You began to eat better and exercise more and you feel better.

    A side effect of that was that you lost weight.

    That’s not the same thing, at all, as you feel better because you lost weight.

    See what I’m saying?

    But when even a smart guy like you has so deeply ingrained fat as a cause and not a symptom, how in the hell can we even begin to talk about obesity if smart, informed people still don’t unpack cause from effect?

    I just find that depressing.

    And, I expect naked pics.

    Ha, sorry, just trying to lighten the mood.

  7. No one is holding you down and stuffing your face. You are the problem. Your “condition” is an excuse.

    Obesity is simply slow suicide combined with an inability to restrict your desires. You know this in your heart of hearts.

    You are valuable to your family. Nashville loves you. Your writings add to the color of our town. We will miss you when you are gone.

    If this Task Force offends folks, then it is doing its job. Obesity needs to be outed for the killer that it is.

    Let folks die of “fattness” if they wish. I just want there to be full disclosure on the issue. How about a little Surgeon’s General skull and crossbones on everything that contains HFCS and lard?

  8. And Casey, what, no skinny people ever eat crap? Or eat at buffets? You don’t have skinny friends who eat what they want all the time and don’t gain weight?

    It’s just not that simple.

    And we’ve got a lazy culture that won’t take the time to cook? Yeah, it’s laziness that’s keeping a mom from spending an hour or so cooking after she gets home from a long shift on her feet at Wal-Mart, not fatigue. Not only is this bullshit, but in a society where women do most of the cooking it’s sexist bullshit.

  9. Thank you, Randal, for illustrating so clearly every point I tried to make. In the future, will you be slapping me when I get mouthy, for my own good, too?

    Or do you restrain yourself just to the verbal abuse of people you don’t know?

  10. Aunt B,

    I take your point in describing obesity as a consequence of my bad habits and not the cause of my health issues. Maybe we should simply have a Good Health Choices Taskforce and emphasize excersize and diet over body shape and size.

    I’m clearly no expert on what causes these health issues. I do know that excess fat can contribute to some problems such as overtaxing the heart by making it work more. However, massive consumption of energy drinks does the same thing.

    Oh, and I can’t forward the pics as my fiance would kill me. I turned 39 on Monday and am finally tying the knot this summer.

  11. Good heavens, Randal. Have you spent any time with B? Do you know what she eats? Do you know how active or inactive she is? Since you don’t, telling her what she is doing and what she knows about it is (I’m looking for a kind word to use here) insanely rude preposterously irrelevant pretty goofy. I had actually written out a comparison of B’s and my eating habits, exercise habits, and weight/body type, but then I realized that justifying anyone’s weight and looks to you (or to anyone) is part of the problem. You don’t know what you’re talking about, wrt B or to weight issues at all, so maybe you ought to shut up and learn something.

  12. O.C.

    Wow, so one post of mine and you label me sexist. Actually, you are being a sexist in assuming that I was discussing women. Second, the foods I listed can be thrown in a pressure cooker and left all day while someone works. Clearly you can’t even handle a measured response by someone who attempted to handle the discussion with sensitivity and discussed their own problems with an unhealthy lifestyle.

    I have one simple comment for your dumbass: “Grow the fuck up and learn to discuss difficult topics with other adults without exhibiting such a thin skin.”

    Moreover, of course, there are skinny people who have bad lifestyles and have unhealthy. Point out to me where I said otherwise you twit.

    Sorry Aunt B for going off, just had to let O.C. have it.

  13. A “Good Health Choices Taskforce” sounds okay by me. If people really do the work to disconnect weight and health, we might make some progress on health.

    But I still barely understand that need anyhow. Our average lifespan is impressive, and growing. And I would rather live a better life than a longer one anyhow. That probably involves cookies.

  14. Maybe we should simply have a Good Health Choices Taskforce

    This is what I’ve always said. I think there is merit to encouraging people to be as healthy as they can be, but I think going strictly after obesity makes about as much sense as going after fraternities as a means to combat rape in the comments several posts ago.

    Healthy activities are as healthy for the slender as they are for the plumper, so why aren’t we encouraging thin people to partake in them with as much vigor as we encourage larger people to. If the goal is truly health, it seems to be a distinction without merit.

  15. You just can’t convince me that our workaholic culture – tied to an office while people in Europe and elsewhere get three times the vacation time, more accessible health care, etc – isn’t inextricably tied to this issue.

    People get stressed out, they eat. It’s just not as simple as any one cause.

    I salute the Gov for doing something about this issue, but agree that the photo posted out front as the marquee for the effort is just really offensive. Do they really even need illustrations at all? Much less the man-in-a-dress meme here in gay-hating Tennessee?

    Wish I could pitch a fit about my tax dollars paying for this stuff, like the righties are making a stink about their taxes going for abortion in the health care bill.

  16. Maybe it would help if we didn’t use scoldy-shamey words like “fat,” which really aren’t descriptive of anything except our culture’s fucked up way of looking at issues like body image.

    A) I’ll use any words I like.

    B) I’m reclaiming fat.

  17. I agree with a lot of what Eleanor A. says. But I think it’s a positive thing that there is a task force. It means someone in government FINALLY wants to start addressing these lifestyle issues that are killing us.

  18. Casey, I didn’t label you a sexist. Part of what I’m responding to relates what you said to interviews of Jamie Oliver and Michael Pollan bemoaning the fact that so few people cook at home anymore. But what gets ignored in that bemoaning is that most cooking is done by women, so if increasing home cooking is going to increase health (which I doubt anyone’s shown anyway, but let’s go with it) then they’re suggesting that women should take on that additional labor. They never examine that assumption, and instead just blame poor people for not cooking or eating right, and therefore getting fat.

    If any of the anti-obesity crusaders would really look at the whole sociological picture of poverty, work, race, sex, and health, I’d be a lot more likely to respect what they said.

    Back to the larger picture, all of the arguments are moot, as long as the medical establishment hasn’t produced a reliable, safe way to help ANYBODY lose a significant amount of weight AND KEEP IT OFF. Search the medical literature yourself at You’ll find plenty of studies that produce exceedingly modest weight loss, with no long term follow up. The meta-studies that do look at the long term uniformly show that people with either regain almost all of their lost weight, or will regain MORE than they lost.

    That’s what it boils down to. Everyone can debate the relative risks of fat until the cows come home, but nobody knows how to permanently, safely, make a fat person thin.

    Or a thin person fat, for that matter.

  19. or will regain MORE than they lost.


    I’ve certainly done that before.

  20. B, you didn’t tell me that the SS sniper discussion kicked back up in December! That one will never die, it will just multiply, or is that the Gangs of LA?

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  22. Here’s one for you: I have been considered “thin” or “scrawny” my entire life. About seven months ago, I stopped eating meat. Since then, my stomach issues (acid reflux mainly) have almost completely disappeared. I have more energy and sleep better. My, um, digestive system works normally now. I am eating what would be considered a healthy diet for probably the first time since I left home for college in 1997.

    I have also gained 15 pounds.

    And you know what? I look better in clothes. I feel better. I’m happier. Sure, I want to go for walks and run and tone up and all that, but over all? I feel better mentally and physically.

    Anyway, my whole point here is that I am going through what America and this Obesity Task Force is telling us is wrong and gross and evil — I am gaining weight. And while I feel healthier than I ever have, I constantly have to fight my brain that’s screaming “DON’T GAIN MORE! YOU’LL BE GROSS! YOU SHOULD BE SKINNY! YOU SHOULD WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT!” because even when I weighed 90 pounds at 5’8″ and was told I was actually UNDERweight, I was still bombarded with messages telling me I could never be too thin, should always be dieting, shouldn’t eat that last cookie.

    The task force can kiss my big sexy ass.

  23. First a positive image of a fat chick:

    only one of the earliest human representations EVER.

    Second, @casey, a crock pot or pressure cooker cost money. It’s a capital expense which most poor families cannot afford. Go read “Nickeled and dimed”: it’s full of concrete examples of how it is easier for rich folks to live cheaply, because they can afford capital expenditures which allow cheaper consumption in the long run: cooking utensils, fridges/freezers, more efficient appliances and cars, housing closer to work, preventive care instead of emergency room debt ….

    And food preparation is a gendered problem. Claiming otherwise is just plain disingenuous.

    Until you’ve walked in someone else’s shoes, you know nothing about them and shouldn’t be so f*ing judgmental. You know about your experience, that’s all you’re qualified to talk about until you take the time to learn what other people’s lives are really like.

  24. Like many folks here I grew up poor. I bought my three crockpots used at the Salvation Army for less than $10 total. A new one costs $15 at Walmart. It is a myth that one can’t choose to cook good food cheaply. The real issue is that we have become too lazy as a culture to do it.

  25. Yes, Casey, but this is what women in this thread are trying to point out to you. We (men and women) still live in a culture where the “we” in “we have become too lazy as a culture to do it” is, by and large, women, since we have the vast majority of the responsibility for food preparation in most households, still.

    And that “we” has some dang good reasons, beyond “laziness” as to why “we” don’t cook.

    I mean, if you work second shift, and your kids are on their own for dinner and you don’t want them messing around with the stove or forgetting to unplug the crockpot or whatever, leaving them a stash of Hot Pockets makes sense. Easy to eat, safe to prepare.

    And that’s just a “for instance.” What you see as “lazy” is, in large part, just women being in the workforce en masse for a second generation. Cooking and food prep is taught one on one while a meal is prepared.

    If there’s no one home to teach you, you don’t, in general, learn. And, if you’re not home to figure it out with your kids?

    We’re not lazier than we have been. And I know you know that. So, what about this has got you so riled?

    I mean, you don’t have to tell me. But that’s part of what makes these discussions so hard. Food in our culture and how we prepare and consume it has a lot of cultural meaning.

    If you perceive the absence of properly prepared meals as evidence of mothers not caring enough about their children, that’s something that’s hard to even admit.

    Just like, when a person confronts the obesity task force with evidence that their problems with obesity are disgust-related, they get defensive, even if it’s obvious.

    We’re dealing with a subject that carries a lot of fundamental symbolic weight.

    And that’s why the answers aren’t easy and straight forward.

    It’s not just about health or knowledge or willingness; it’s this primal shit, too.

  26. B, without reading further as I’m going into a meeting. I agree with your point that women often get stuck doing the majority of work in the home. I have no argument against that and I realize that it is unfair.

    I think it is beyond unfair, in fact. It doesn’t happen in my relationship. We are marrying this summer and I stay at her house sometimes. We split cooking and child care when I’m there. But I realize that is rare these days.

    All I can say is that old patterns of patriarchy are dying slowly. Heck, they won’t ever die. But my point that it is possible to cook healthy food at reasonable price given a little extra time.

  27. And many mothers and fathers don’t care enough about their children to feed them properly. Many parents don’t care enough about their kids to clean them and send them to school in clean clothes.

    And I do think that we are lazier than past generations of Americans. Most of the instructors that I work with who have been teaching for decades will verify that. There is a marked difference in the work ethic of my students and those of past generations.

  28. Okay, you ‘women are the ones who cook’ folks just suck my butt.

    I, the father, fix more than half the meals eaten in our house after 5 PM. And they’re usually ad hoc thrown together processed foods because I have zero time for anything other than keeping my toddlers from killing themselves and various other living creatures while my wife takes some well deserved time away from toddler duty.

    I have maybe two hours of time in the average work day that doesn’t involve the office or the children and if I don’t sit down and decompress then sanity goes out the window. So once again, bite my butt. That would also be the exact same reason I’ve been gaining weight ever since my children were born.

  29. W. you can’t get upset at the people who are on your side! It’s awesome that you cook and that you keep your children from eating each other’s boogers or other gross stuff.

    You just wait there for the rest of society to catch up to you.

  30. B,

    I’ll try to explain why I was frustrated. I don’t mean that to suggest that you won’t understand, but that it is difficult for me to explain. It is the same thing that drove me nuts in grad school; almost every argument ends up going towards one, or all, of the three main strains of American thought: race, class, and gender. Most arguments end up with terms such as sexist, racist, rich bastard, the lazy poor, etc.

    I’m not downing anyone for discussing those factors as the national obsession with them proves that they must be researched and talked about. But why do we always end up on those worn out rodes? They so often derail discussion from the intended topic. Why did discussion of the obesity issue end up femanist and class-based?

    Why couldn’t we have stayed on it being a mockery to try and change fat folks regardless of their race, class, and gender? This decision affects folks who fit all of those categories and are overweight/obese, or care about someone who fits the description. I’m a large man in terms of stature. In high school and early adulthood I was in exceptional shape. Could dunk a basketball at just over six feet tall. Athlete and geek actually.

    But, as happens to so many of us, I stopped working out at one point and continued to eat too much. Became overweight. My health suffered. I really don’t know if it was the weight or other factors that have changed, but my health is much improved since changing my lifestyle.

    I think we do need to convince young folks to embrace a better diet and an active lifestyle. I don’t want to make fun of overweight folks as I’m still chubby after losing tons of weight. And I don’t believe in acting that way. So, I still think that this could be a good idea, but under a different title and with a focus on healthy choices and not so judgemental.

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