Saturday, February 21, 2009

Health Prejudice

ElseNet a community is discussing (criticizing) a fat woman's nude magazine cover on the basis that she is thereby encouraging people to be unhealthy, and that no obese person can possibly be healthy.

What I always want to ask people who attack obese people on the basis of health is, do you also attack skinny people and moderate size people about their health?

The thing is, size and health are not directly related. Neither are exercise and health. Jim Fixx, the famous jogger, died of a heart attack, so clearly exercise isn't 100% preventive of heart disease (even though fat people are always told they just need to exercise and eat less). Lots of people who "look normal" or have "normal" BMI might have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, or some chronic disease that is untreated..and just because they aren't overweight everyone assumes they are healthy. They might be couch potatoes whose only exercise is walking around their home. They might be eating a horrible diet of junk food and pop all the time. They could even have cancer. But because they're not obese, nobody questions them.

You can't tell by a person's size what their health status is. Attacking fat people and excusing it on the basis of health is just prejudice: you don't actually know anything about their health. You're assuming they are unhealthy because of their appearance. You're not their doctor, and you don't actually know whether they're healthy: what their aerobic capacity is, their blood test results, etc.

You're bullying people and justifying it by pretending concern about their health. Cut that out: it's still bullying.

This also reminds me of how people criticize Israel on human rights, but aren't as frequently vocal about any other countries' human rights violations. Tell me again it's not antisemitism when you never mention Darfur, but write or talk about Gaza regularly?


Irfon-Kim Ahmad said...

I think that the other issue to consider here is the idea that health, and so-called "optimal" health, is the only goal worth striving for or somehow the measure of a person's value. Why is that the only characteristic that's considered important? If someone is unhealthy but has other positive qualities, those other positive qualities are generally overlooked in deciding whether they're a good role model or a person who should be represented. And in terms of sexuality, if someone's not optimally healthy, they don't get to also be sexy?

Kai Jones said...

A good point, but the people I usually have this argument with actually do make the argument that if you're not in perfect health (or striving for it through exercise and diet), you cannot possibly be a good and valuable person. That in fact your ill health is a signal or consequence of some negative thing in your psyche, some way in which you are broken and therefore not admirable as a person.

If you challenged them, they'd tell you of course that doesn't apply to disabled or chronically ill people, but they don't really think about it that way--or if they do think that way, it doesn't show in their arguments.