What if you lose weight the “easy way”? (Reflections on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Surgery, Part 1)

In Germany, the show Big Diet locked contestants into a house to lose X number of pounds.  In New Zealand, an official proposal to tax food based on fat content was put forward in order to ‘cure’ fatties. In England, a child was sent home from school with a “You’re too fat” note while a couple was told they are “too fat” to adopt. In America, shows such The Biggest Loser suggest if you are big (re: fat) you ARE a LOSER and The Swan surgically removed fat from the bodies of already relatively thin contestants, revealing liposuction as (female) necessity.

These examples are only a minute offering of the continued abhorrence of fat in many (most?) cultures around the world. While many societal institutions and beliefs contribute to the ‘thin-is-in’ aesthetic, the media and the multi-billion-dollar ‘diet industrial complex’ are two of the greatest perpetrators of this fat-hating vitriol. Bombarding us with the equation that thin equals beauty, will-power, and success and fat equals failure, gluttony, and ill-health, the media consistently projects negative attributes onto fat bodies. Fat hatred and its ugly sister, anorexic approval, abounds not only in reality television, but in EVERY form of media. Seen any fat news anchors? Been encouraged to admire any flabulous films? Listened to any fat-positive songs? Not likely (unless, that is, you are an active fat acceptance person and purposefully seek out fat positive media – and, even then, it ain’t that easy to find).

Judging by this widespread fat-hatred, it seems the thin-loving media would have embraced the relatively new “cure” for fatness – weight loss surgery (WLS). Yet, coverage of such surgery has been largely negative.  Broadcasting surgical horror stories and framing those who opt for surgery as cop-outs, the media suggests  that being thin takes hard work, sacrifice, and will-power – that surgery is ‘the easy way out’. The now thin post-surgical body may be hailed for its newly acceptable appearance, but the words used to describe WLS from ‘drastic’ to ‘draconian’, from ‘last resort’ to ‘effortless,’ from ‘quick fix’ to ‘surgically induced self-control’ all connote WLS as cheating.

Perhaps the most-outspoken celebrity mouthpiece of this media doctrine is Bill Maher. In the following, he blasts WLS, suggesting that fatties are food addicts:

No more celebrating gastric bypass.  Carnie Wilson, Al Roker and now Starr Jones are all being heralded by the media for stapling their stomachs shut. They shouldn’t be.  They’re not making a brave choice to change. They’re giving money to doctors to reroute their ability to turn food into crap. It’s like kicking cocaine by crazy gluing your nostrils shut.

Drawing on the widely held erroneous belief that fat people are gluttonous, Maher makes it clear that he believes if you’re fat, it’s your own damn fault. However, despite his claims to the contrary, WLS is hardly praised in the media. Rather, typical before and after shots celebrate newly attained thinness while guffawing at former fat grotesquerie. They frame the pre-WLS body as out of control and GROSS. The post body is then dissected for evidence of quick weight loss – saggy skin, chin folds, upper arm sags – with an implicit message that if these fatties had done it right – or the ‘hard way’ – they wouldn’t have to suffer the post-op baggy-body-syndrome.

Thus, while our culture wants us to be thin it wants us to suffer to do so. Moreover, it wants us to be thin at all costs – with the emphasis on cost – to buy diet pills, exercise machines, diet food, etc, etc. Apparently the cost of surgery (which was for several years covered by various health insurance companies) was not generating enough profits for the weight loss industrial complex.

Oprah Winfrey, like Maher, is in line with the media’s message that WLS is the easy way out. Her mantra seems to be, “I did it the hard way, so can you” – yes, the ‘hard’ way with a personal trainer and full-time chef. Embracing her new thin self, and famously espousing that losing weight is her greatest achievement, she still supposedly wants to teach us to love the bodies we are in. Oprah seems to have fallen victim to the idea that the female body must be disciplined into proper shape. Relentlessly shedding her former fat self, she emerged as a new and improved cultural icon of female will-power. Yet, this shedding was, as it is for the vast majority of bodies that are not born to thinness, temporary. Now Oprah is “embarrassed” about her lack of discipline, embarrassed her body is back at the 200+ mark.

Oprah’s sidekick, Dr. Phil, also characterizes weigh loss surgery as the easy option, advising members of his “Weight Loss Challenge” group “If you want a quick fix, get your stomach stapled.” This idea that surgery is easy (and that in order to count, weight loss has to be a challenge) has been widely adopted by the media. Fat people are not supposed to have a cheaters way out, damnit! They should be made to suffer for their self indulgence, laziness, and constant eating! Never mind the fact that many thin people eat as much or more than their fat counterparts, many exercise less or not at all, many have just as many or more health problems. Never mind that such surgeries are hardly ‘easy’ (nor do they work for everyone) and YET they are more successful than yo-yo dieting, pills etc. This is not an endorsement of WLS (nor is it a condemnation) – rather, I ask, WHY does the media only champion certain types of weight loss? Why pick on people who have “chosen” – either for health reasons or for aesthetic reasons – to opt for surgery while celebrating others who make the very same “choices” but do so with pills, extreme exercise regimens, or starvation diets?*  Seems like a double standard… Does it perhaps come from the fact that the diet industrial complex’s main goal is for people to FAIL and that, as of yet, WLS has been one of the most successful ways in which fatties become skinnies? A drastic way – to be sure – but a way that has a much higher ‘success’ rate than obsessive colon-cleansing or chomping down acai berry pills…

While I am all for loving the bodies we are in – and loving all types and sizes of bodies – I understand we live in a world that force feeds us the message we must NOT be fat. As such, many, many people are constantly trying to lose weight. THIS is the problem – yet, too often I have seen people who have been brainwashed into believing they must be thin to be happy/healthy baring the brunt of attack from all sorts of places – including from fat positive activists. Shouldn’t we, as body lovers, be attacking the system and NOT the people who are its victims?

Up next, part 2, in which I consider the fat acceptance movement and condemnation of WLS…

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*I put chosen and choices in scare quotes to indicate the idea of free choice is a bit of an oxymoron given the level of fat-hating cultural indoctrination.

What if married people were treated like singles?

(A guest blog by Lisa and Christina from Onely)

We (Lisa and Christina, co-bloggers at Onely) both identify as white, middle-class, heterosexual women who are single and happy. We’re tired of cultural stereotypes that suggest we’re not supposed to be.

According to a U. S. Census report published last July, single people comprise 92 million, or 42%, of the American population (though several other sources put the number closer to 50%). 54% of us are women, 60% of us have never been married, and 40% are divorced or widowed (note that these breakdowns do not account for those who wish to be married but are refused that right by the law). 30.5 million, or 27%, of the U. S. population live alone, and 12.9 million of the general public are single parents. Singles comprised 36% of actual (not eligible) voters in the 2004 presidential election (numbers weren’t readily available for the 2008 election).

We define “single” as anyone who is unmarried: including coupled-but-not-married and domestic partners; anyone who identifies as GLBT and are either legally unable to marry or refuse the institution of marriage altogether; those who identify as polyamorous or asexual; divorcees and widowers; single parents; and, of course, anyone else who is just plain single. (Note: When we refer to the social [as opposed to legal] stigmatization of singles below, we’re referring more specifically to anyone who is uncoupled.)

In the PWI spirit, we’ve asked (and answered) a few questions to highlight the material, social, and legal restrictions habitually placed on adult singles, more often than not in favor of those who are married.

What if married people were treated by the media, friends, and family like singles (in this case, uncoupled singles)? They would encounter statements such as:

  • “Don’t worry, you’ll get a divorce someday!”
  • “Oh, you’re married? I’m so sorry!”
  • “You’re so great – how come you’re still married?”
  • “It’s okay to be married for a while, but eventually you need to grow up and become single.”
  • “You’re so lucky to be married and not have as much responsibility.”
  • “But don’t you feel bad not having a life, seeing as you’re married?”
  • “When are you going to get a divorce?”
  • “It’s so sad having to come home to a house with someone in it all the time.”
  • “Well, I would’ve invited you to book group, except you’re married and I thought you wouldn’t want to be around all those happily single people.”
  • “What’s a beautiful woman like you doing married?”

What if married people were treated by the government as singles? They would have to:

  • Fight to be recognized as a legitimate and powerful voting bloc, no matter how much of the American population they represent.
  • Lose the 1,138 federal provisions that currently accommodate married people on account of their marital status in the distribution of rights, benefits, and other legal privileges.
  • Come to work even if their spouses, children, or parents are sick and in need of their help. After all, they don’t get to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act.
  • Leave medical decisions for their loved ones to doctors and immediate family not related to the able spouse.
  • Live in the barracks like every other soldier.
  • Give up that extra cash-per-month and increased housing allowance that the military currently grants married soldiers.
  • Testify against their spouses in court instead of being granted immunity.

What if married people were taxed like singles? They would have to:

  • File individual returns only and never gain a tax “bonus” for filing jointly with a spouse.
  • Pay income tax on their spouses’ employment benefits.
  • Give up as much as 60% of their assets to the government in death taxes.
  • Lose all social security benefits when they die.
  • Give up benefits for those children living in the household who do not meet the criteria for a “qualifying dependent,” or those children who are not related to their caregivers by blood or marriage.

What if married people were paid and treated in the workplace like singles? They would:

  • Make, on average, 26% less than they currently do; they would be paid the same as everyone else regardless of their marital status.
  • Not be able to negotiate salaries and other work-related perks using marital status as a factor.
  • Be expected to stay late and work during the holidays, just like everyone else.
  • Have to give up vacation privileges (or implied benefits that assume that single people are not as invested in their families and personal lives as married people must be) – singles like to travel just as much as, if not more than, married people do!
  • Have to pay for expenses related to whole-family relocations due to work.
  • Encounter no support from employers in helping spouses find jobs.

What if married people had access to the same health and other insurance policies as singles? They would:

  • Be unable to add anyone, even spouses, to their employer-provided health care plans.
  • Have considerable trouble paying for independent health insurance, especially if the married people work part-time or if they freelance.
  • Have to decide between buying a high-deductible, bare-bones health plan and no plan at all because they can’t depend on their spouses to help them afford the low-deductible, full-coverage model.
  • Pay more for car insurance, especially if the married couple is young.
  • Have access to only limited options when it comes to life insurance; there’s only one or two plans in which married people can invest through any given company, whereas singles get many options.

What if married people were treated like singles in the marketplace? They would have to:

  • Convince real estate agents to sell to them by promising to pay on time, not relocate, and generally be financially responsible.
  • Also have to convince real estate agents that they really do want to look at the spacious house with the view, instead of the tight quarters that real estate agents insist would “be just right” for the married people and their families.
  • Pay more for travel packages so that single people could receive single-traveler discounts.
  • Pay more than singles for club and gym memberships, so that singles could reap the benefits.
  • Purchase single-serving sizes of food at the grocery store in order to receive a decent discount.
  • Dine alone so as to get the better deal at restaurants (especially large chains that cater to the singles population, like Applebee’s and TGI Friday’s).

(Many thanks to the following blogs and resources for providing much of the above information: see the Alternatives to Marriage Project; Bella DePaulo’s Living Single Blog; Rachel’s Musings; National Singles Association; American Association for Single People; Reuters and U.S. Census Bureau; and Cracked.com)

What if so called “truth warriors” put down their misogynistic weapons?

Some time ago, Visible over at Smoking Mirrors analyzed the corporate media (dis)information machine in a post entitled “The Hydra-Headed, Blood-Sucking Bitch Media” (not linked for reasons to be revealed below). The post covered media corruption and control, closing with “Every one of you is a warrior for truth… or should be.” Yet, problematically, the post suggested that truth warriors are male and the media is a hydra-headed, blood-sucking bitch.

Visible writes,”The most pervasive and insidious enemy of the people and the truth is Bitch Media. This is the control booth that forms mass opinion and precipitates the impetus that fires the engines of war.”

I agree that we no longer have a free media, and that our media is a “control booth” perpetuating massive disinformation while inducing consumerist apathy. However, I take issue with the choice of terminology. I said as much in the comment I posted to the blog:

“I agree with your analysis of the corporate dis-information media machine. However, I am wondering why you chose the terms ‘bitch’ and ‘hydra’ to describe it.

Bitch is a term most often used to denigrate females — or to insult men by equating them to the feminine.

Moreover, the hydra is often represented as a many-headed female water snake. Thus, both of your descriptors, ‘bitch’ and ‘hydra’ equate the media with a monstrous femininity.

Seems to me the ‘raping phallus media’ would have been more appropriate — especially as the media is controlled by those with penis privilege, rather than vice versa.”

Visible replied,

“I’m sorry professor. I should have a sign on my blog but I don’t. This is a ‘PC-free’ one. We consider PC thug action to be easily as bad as anything else faced by humanity.

I’m wondering if you get after the hip-hop and rap artists or are they allowed more latitude for the obvious reasons?”

Well, it would have been nice if Visible had addressed my question rather than merely informing me the site is “PC-free” in a comment dripping with sexism and racism. This tactic of dismissal by way of using the catch all idea that political correctness is “thug action” on par with say genocide or imperialism is an interesting (if unproductive) form of evasion. While I readily admit that what is known as political correctness has its limitations, I also would point out that most who condemn political correctness as a totalitarian mind control come from the far right, or that side of the spectrum that calls feminists “victims” and POC “complainers.”

Moreover, my comment resulted in an onslaught of hateful comments and threatening emails. The animosity and violence displayed in these missives was the worst I have experienced in blogland; hence, I purposely did not hyperlink the post as I really do not relish the idea of more emailed threats to my person.

As to the question posed above, whether I “get after the hip-hop and rap artists,” well, yes, I do, at least to those who promote racism, misogyny, and other forms of hate. The notion that latitude would be given for “obvious reasons” puzzles-is this meant to imply that obviously ALL such musicians are black and therefore I, as a VICTIM FEMINIST would give them a “get out of misogyny free card” ?

Others responded in the thread by calling me “Professor Dickhead” and told me to “Stop acting like a bitch.” Yeah, original. When you call someone out on sexist terminology, they use more sexist terminology to attack you with (without, I might add, one shred of analysis.)

I support the 911-truth movement (of which Visible is a part). However, I would prefer my 911-truth and truth-seeking without the misogyny. Unfortunately though, a hypermasculinist undercurrent seems to run through much of the truth-seeking blogosphere. When I read many of the blogs of this ilk, I find myself questioning why women writers and activists are hardly ever included. Instead, we have descriptions of women like those at Smoking Mirrors such as “bimbo with the short skirt” or quotes like “You are Charlie Brown. Lucy is Bitch Media and the truth is the football.”

Call me a victim feminist (or bitch) if you will, but I would prefer warriors for truth that employ non-misogynstic weaponry.

What if we had gender strainers rather than gender boxes?

My mom was recently here for a visit. She and I do not see eye to eye on gender. She is a big believer in biological determinism, while I am a card-carrying social constructionist. I concede that our personalities and proclivities are certainly PARTLY determined by biology/genetics (or nature), I give much more credit to societal conditioning and context (or nurture).

I cringe at phrases such as “boys will be boys” and “of course she’s emotional, she’s a girl.” I am equally perturbed by “men and women are just different” or anything that smacks of assuming there are two distinct genders.

I realize that many people fall into “traditional boy” and “traditional girl” categories, yet I think MANY less would do so if there were not so many societal punishments for failing to cram ourselves into those tiny, solid gender boxes.

Why can’t we think of gender like a strainer instead?

You know how when you use a strainer with holes that are quite big to strain pasta shapes that are rather small how a handful escape and end up in the sink? Well, it’s the same with gender. If you dump a whole batch of boys into the masculine strainer, many of them will happily stay in the strainer, but others, for whatever reason, squeeze through the holes. These boys are the ones that the “traditional boy” strainer does not work for.

If we thought of gender in this way – as a construct that is not solid like a box, but full of escape holes like a strainer – then perhaps it would be more acceptable to end up in the sink rather than on the plate covered in societal sauce.

I know a gender strainer doesn’t sound as catchy as a gender box – nor does gender sieve or gender colander. But, as my mom would say, it’s only NATURAL I think in cooking terminology, I am, after all, female.

What if you had to formulate ten must-read feminist novels in five minutes or less?

A similar challenge was posed to me during a program meeting discussing Women’s Studies course proposals. As a feminist trained in literary theory, and as a woman whose first love is books (not boys), I have been trying to get a feminist literature course ran where I teach for several years now. When asked off the cuff to list feminist must reads, here are some of the books that came to mind:

Herland, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Woman on the Edge of Time, Marge Piercy

The House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros

Woman at Point Zero, Nawal El Saadawi

The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston

The Color Purple, Alice Walker

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, Jeanette Winterston

The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison

Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood

Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko

To channel Charlotte Bronte, I ask: Dear readers, what are your top ten feminist novels?