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Fatties Need Not Apply August 17, 2009

Posted by Jae in Fat, Stupid News.
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Wandering around Shakesville today, I found this gem of an article: The Way We Live Now: Fat Tax.

Just from the title, I knew that this was going to be good, but it really exceeded my expectations in a wow-this-makes-me-sick kind of way.  In summary, the article focuses on the Cleavland Clinic’s policy of not hiring smokers and espouses the virtues of similarly vilifying fat people to save money.  (By the way, all of the following emphasis is mine.)

Refusing to hire smokers may be more hard-nosed than the other parts of the program. But given the social marginalization of smoking, the policy is hardly shocking. All in all, the wellness initiative seems to be a feel-good story.

Actually, I do find it shocking because I believe that what someone does with their own time and with their own body is none of my business.  While I don’t smoke, and I certainly appreciate laws prohibiting smoking in enclosed public places, it never dawned on me that I should be able to penalize someone engaging in a legal behavior that I find unacceptable.  I don’t consider myself to be a libertarian, but the idea that employers should essentially be able to police the choices you make in your life really burns my cookies.

In order to survive in this society, everyone needs money which, for most people, means you need a job.   In the United States, we already have less vacation time than most other Western countries and we work some of the longest hours too, so we sacrifice a lot of time and life to our jobs.  If employers can start discriminating against job applicants for smoking, where will what we sacrifice end?  Couldn’t they refuse to hire people who have unprotected sex, because they may catch an STD and then they would miss work and cost money by using their health benefits (if they even have them)?  What about people who drink alcohol?  There are some health risks to that.  Or people who engage in risky hobbies?  Sure that mountain-biker might improve his cardiovascular health, but what happens if he falls and breaks a leg!?  Or hell, what about people who watch TV in the evenings instead of reading?  They could be learning more if they read a book instead of watching a reality show, and this could help them in their work.  Shouldn’t employers have some say in that too?

No, they shouldn’t and I’m sure it sounds ridiculous (to most people) for me to even suggest that.  But once you give an employer the right to govern one element of your private life, other restrictions are not going to be far behind.

That’s the case at the Cleveland Clinic.  Because the Clinic’s Chief Executive, Delos M. Cosgrove, not only loves their no-smokers-allowed policy, but would love to expand it if not for those pesky legal restrictions.  Can anyone guess to whom he would like to expand this policy.  Why, to fat people of course!

“Why is it unfair?” he asked. “Has anyone ever shown the law of conservation of matter doesn’t apply?” People’s weight is a reflection of how much they eat and how active they are. The country has grown fat because it’s consuming more calories and burning fewer. Our national weight problem brings huge costs, both medical and economic. Yet our anti-obesity efforts have none of the urgency of our antismoking efforts. “We should declare obesity a disease and say we’re going to help you get over it,” Cosgrove said.

Oh, I don’t know Dr. Cosgrove, maybe it’s unfair because a person’s body size is none of your fucking business.  Even if we discount the fact that there is a genetic component to body size, the idea that you should be able to govern the size of your employee’s asses is insane.  What would you do if you hired someone, who you felt was of an acceptable weight, who later gained weight?  Suspend them until they lost weight?  Fire them if they couldn’t or didn’t want to?

The debate over health care reform has so far revolved around how insurers, drug companies, doctors, nurses and government technocrats might be persuaded to change their behavior. And for the sake of the economy and the federal budget, they do need to change their behavior. But there has been far less discussion about how the rest of us might also change our behavior. It’s as if we have little responsibility for our own health. We instead outsource it to something called the health care system.

Oh yes!  Of course, that is one of the major problems of our health care system.  It isn’t that insurance companies are using every trick in the book to avoid paying for necessary treatments or that drug companies are doing everything they can to make a huge profit off of illness and suffering.  It’s that people just don’t care enough about their health not to be fat.  Because according to a study referenced on the left side of this very article, 9.1% of the annual health care costs in the United States are “obesity related.”  Yes, that’s right: less than 10% of our health care costs go towards treating these so-called obesity related problems, including heart disease and diabetes. If not for that ten percent of costs, everything would be a fucking field of flowers; everyone would have all the health care they need, and no one would ever die.

Let’s ignore the fact that the top risk factor for heart disease is increasing age and that increased age is also a risk factor for developing diabetesAnd that our population of people over age 65 tripled from 1990-2000 and has been growing ever since.  I’m sure that an increasing older population has nothing to do with the increase in the cost of treating heart disease and diabetes; it is all those lazy fatties who clench their teeth shut when presented with a vegetable.

Not to mention that even this article acknowledges that you probably aren’t paying the costs of your fat coworkers health care:

Cosgrove mentioned to me an idea that some economists favor: charging higher health-insurance premiums to anyone with a certain body-mass index. Harsh? Yes. Fair? You can see the argument. And yet it turns out that the obese already do pay something resembling their fair share of medical costs, albeit in an indirect way. Overweight workers are paid less than similarly qualified, thinner colleagues, according to research by Jay Bhattacharya and M. Kate Bundorf of Stanford. The cause isn’t entirely clear. But the size of the wage difference is roughly similar to the size of the difference in their medical costs.

Certainly one of the causes is fairly clear to anyone with two brain cells to rub together: fat hatred.  Fat people are repeatedly categorized as being lazier, sloppier, and dumber than thin people, and it is often claimed that they cost the healthcare system more money than thin people.  Considering the widespread nature of these beleifs, are we really that suprised that employers are paying fat workers less than their thin colleagues?

But that isn’t enough for people like Cosgrove.  In spite of this study, he still wants to find a way to charge fat people more for their insurance (if he can’t avoid hiring them all together); if they are already paying their fair share do to the decrease in pay (and this assumes that the alleged increased costs of obesity are true, though as I showed above, that is also complicated), why should they also be penalized with higher health insurance premiums?

Cosgrove’s would-be approach may have its problems. The obvious one is its severity. The more important one is probably its narrowness: not even one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals can do much to reduce obesity. The government, however, can. And that is the great virtue of Cosgrove’s idea. He is acknowledging that any effort to attack obesity will inevitably involve making value judgments and even limiting people’s choices. Most of the time, the government has no business doing such things. But there is really no other way to cure an epidemic.

Control, that’s why.  The end of this article brings me right back to my original point.  It isn’t about increased costs or keeping people healthy; this is just one more thing that those in power would like to control.  If they can keep us all worried about not being able to find a job because we are fat, than we won’t dare to worry about being overworked and undercompensated.  We won’t speak up about a stressful work environment or a lack of vacation time.  We will be too busy worrying about keeping ourselves acceptable enough to remain employed!  Someone will decide for us what is important in our lives and what we are entitled to have, and if we don’t agree, well…that will just have to be too bad.

People worry that a single-payer healthcare system would be a step on the road to the government dictating what sort of treatment we would get, punishing those they deemed unacceptable, well as you can see, that’s already possible.  When everything is about profit and cost, those things that supposedly cost the most are going to be the first things people try to cut down.  This is why we need to move towards a system that is based around caring for people, not making money by denying those who need help.


Dating the Other August 14, 2009

Posted by Jae in Dating & Relationships, Fat, Intersectionality.
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Today, I let my subscription to match.com expire without having even been on one date.

This is not my first time on the online dating carousel, though I’ve never had much luck at it, mostly, because I would chicken out before meeting up with anyone I corresponded with.  I did have a brief semi-relationship with a guy I met on Yahoo! personals once; he was nice, but the two of us just weren’t in the right place so things didn’t work out.

Perhaps another reason for my lack of luck with online dating was that I never contacted anyone who I found interesting; I just waited for men to contact me.  Back in the day, I was too shy and insecure to make the first move, even online, and I told myself that if I didn’t act that just meant that the right guy was going to come to me.  This time around, I decided not to be so passive about things; I promised myself I would contact anyone who I thought sounded interesting.   Sadly, I didn’t run across a whole lot of guys who really tickled my fancy, but what I did find was a whole lot of support for society’s standard notion of beauty.

On match.com, every profile you view is assigned a sort of compatibility percentage; it tells you how many traits you share with that individual’s ideal match (and vice versa).  Ninety-nine percent of the time, if I was a near perfect match with someone the reason that I wasn’t a perfect match was that I had described my body type* as “a few extra pounds.”  Among those who specified a preferred body type, I never came across anyone who was willing to go any higher than that and most didn’t go higher than “average.”

Something else troubling that I noticed: the amount of men who, if they checked a preferred ethnicity, often selected a preference for white women or women of a background considered by our culture to be exotic (i.e.: Asian, Native American, and/or Middle Eastern).  Occasionally, Latina women were included, but the rarest of all stated preferences (at least in my limited research) seemed to be for African-American women**.

The message here is clear:  there is the beautiful, the thin, white or exotic women and there is the other.  This isn’t really news to anyone I’m sure, it certainly wasn’t news to me, but it really drove home the fact that even seemingly slight things, like checking a preferred race or body type box on a dating website, continues to help perpetuate a culture where women are simply objects.  So many people think that hatred is always something huge and obvious, like an unapologetic white supremacist or a person who thinks that disabled people should be euthanized; what they fail to realize is that subtle actions are what allow these larger than life examples to grow.

I can already hear the objections:  ‘It’s just a personal preference,’ ‘I’m just not attracted to (insert culturally unacceptable feature here); it’s not racist or sizeist,’ and that may be true for the individual person.  However, what people don’t often consider is that when an individual has a preference that just happens to fall in line with what is considered culturally attractive, there is some question as to why they hold that particular preference.

Speaking only from my own experience as a white, cisgendered, able-bodied,  moderately fat woman** I can say that I received some notes or winks from men who had said that they were not interested in women my size.  I included a full body picture of myself and indicated that I was heavier than average, so there is little chance they missed this fact.  I can only assume that those men either a) were contacting anyone and everyone to see what would stick or b) they looked at my picture and decided that I really wasn’t too fat for comfort.  But yet, before they saw me, they had it in their minds already that they wouldn’t want to meet anyone who dared tick “a few extra pounds” as their body type, which leads me to believe it isn’t totally about a personal attraction, but that they, like most everyone alive, have taken a cue from the world they live in about what they should find attractive and, more importantly, worthwhile.  Before they read my profile and decided they liked my sense of humor, or thought I had pretty eyes, or seemed engaging, they decided that no one with my body could be any of those things or that if they were those things, that those things were less important than being conventionally attractive.

For example, I have a friend who I fell for when we first met, and eventually he told me that he liked me too.  He told me that he had been feeling pretty lousy about life, but that spending time with me made him forget anything was wrong.  We stayed up into the wee hours of the morning, just talking.  We made everyday trips to run errands into all-day hangouts.  We talked baseball.  We talked literature. We talked art.  But when it came time to do something about it, he  balked.  He didn’t tell me it was because I wasn’t thin or because I was white (I later found out that the only white girls he has ever dated were either foreign or punk-rock type girls [though it is important to note he is not a punk-rock type boy]), but he didn’t have to.  Because I’ve seen the girls he’s dated since; they have all been very thin and all been considered exotic for one reason or another.  And I’ve seen him compromise on things he considered important to date them.  It’s the look of the person that matters most for him, and who that person is clearly comes in second.  In our case, it didn’t matter in the end how much we clicked, because I wasn’t what he was supposed to want.  And on the other hand it also doesn’t matter if these beautiful women he dates are smart or dig the same kind of music he does, he appreciates those qualities but wouldn’t miss them if they were absent, because they are  beautiful.

Those are the kinds of choices we make about furniture or clothes.  We’ll wear a pair of pinchy high heels instead of our comfiest sneakers on a job interview, and while we’re at it, we’ll buy a business suit that we wouldn’t wear otherwise because we want to look professional so we can land the job.   But making those kinds of choices about who to fall in love with or hell, who to even just spend a couple of fun evenings with?  That equates people with an itchy sofa you bought because it matched the rest of the living room furniture.  And that is just fucking problematic.

*I could write a whole ‘nother post on how one is supposed to chose one’s body type on such a site, and how men are given a lot more leeway than women.  And maybe I will!

**There is an interesting discussion on Racialicious that talks about this from a race and ethnicity perspective, but the post is nearly a year old.  If anyone knows of any others (my googling skills have failed me here), feel free to leave a link in the comments.

Today’s Special: Virtue with a Heaping Spoonful of Self-loathing March 29, 2008

Posted by Jae in Body Image, Fat, Jobz.
Tags: , , ,

So our healthy lunch program has begun, and it is…awkward. I decided that since I couldn’t stop the program, I would just personally avoid it, but that’s pretty much impossible to do because there are always questions from coworkers about who tried the food and who didn’t, who liked it and who didn’t, and the slightly judgmental why that comes along with taking no part in it.

Truthfully, I’m not finding it that hard to deal with, but a year or two ago I would have found it excruciating. I have never been good with eating in public; in fact there was a time when I could barely manage it. I feared, as I suspect many eating-disordered people do, that I was being judged for what I ate, that people were looking at my plate and tallying calories to decide if I was virtuous or a total pig. And in some way this is true; I don’t know a single soul who hasn’t had someone, sometimes a friend, sometimes a relative, other times a total stranger, comment on what they were eating.

For me, these comments definitely left their mark. When I was in high school I went on a field trip with my English class; a couple of my traveling companions were guys I had known for a couple of years. As we sat in the grass in the park enjoying our lunch, one boy, who I was starting to fall for, remarked that my turkey sandwich was the first thing he had ever seen me eat. I (sadly) how proud I felt in that moment (even though they in no way expressed admiration for my food-avoiding skills). They noticed how little I seemed to need food! I was a worthy girl-type human being! I can also remember comment that came from my grandfather, the sweetest man to ever live. He remarked that I seemed to be eating more at dinner one night and I stopped fork in midair and didn’t eat another bite. In retrospect, I can only imagine how bad I made him feel. My grandfather believed in food; happiness for him was taking people out to dinner. Here he was, happy to see me eating, and there I was paralyzed by the voice in my head screaming “PIG!!!!”

Even though I’m a hundred miles away from those moments, I doubt I’ll ever forget them or the feelings they inspired. So having the girl who sits across the room want to know why I didn’t eat a pasty plate of pasta with cardboardy meatballs can be extra unpleasant for me; I still feel a little like I’m being accused of something.

But the more I hear the questions, the more I realize that they aren’t really questioning me; they are questioning themselves. Just the other day we were sitting down to lunch when one of my coworkers passed by on her way to the gym, lamenting the fact that she had to go to the gym instead of eating lunch. It wasn’t that she wanted us all to drop what we were doing and join her on the treadmill, but that she wanted to drop what she was doing and have some diet chicken salad, but she wasn’t allowed. She had no choice (in her mind) but to spend her thirty-minute lunch running at the gym. Now, if she had been psyched about working out during lunch, there wouldn’t even be a need for discussion; she would have been doing what she wanted to. However, the longing look she gave us as she ran out the door told anyone watching exactly how much she wanted to go to the gym.

And it’s this same kind if thinking that fuels questions and comments about food choices. My coworker doesn’t really want to know why I think I’m too good for a diet lunch –she wants to know why she isn’t good enough for a real one. I only wish I knew how to tell her that she is, but somehow I doubt she would believe me.