Thin Again: An Open Letter to Fontbonne University and KMOX
I am going to state the following fact as calmly as I can:
This month, my alma mater’s book club is a dieting seminar.
Here are 5 reasons this is unacceptable.
1) The number of college students at risk for — or currently struggling with — eating disorders is astronomical.
The average age of onset for anorexia (the deadliest of all mental illnesses) is 19 years old. The average age of onset for bulimia is 20 years old. As many as 44% of female students report severe binge eating habits, with the drive for thinness acting as a contributing factor. In this context, offering strategies to lose weight — and further insinuating that weight loss is always a laudable goal — is dangerously irresponsible.
2) Promoting dieting at an educational institution requires one to ignore actual research.
This book, like so many before it, aims to sell people on a “solution” to their bodies, despite the fact that studies (remember studies, academia?) repeatedly show diets fail. 95% of people who diet gain back the weight within five years, and people whose weight fluctuates dramatically (say, from yo-yo dieting) are less healthy than those who are overweight. Truth. So those health problems we’re supposedly fighting by taking on obesity? We’re actually contributing to them.
3) You know what else causes health problems? Stigma.
There is good evidence (research again!) to suggest that the problems currently correlated with obesity are not, in fact, caused by it. (Incidentally, “correlation is not causation” is a tenet of good research that I learned at Fontbonne University.) Instead, it’s increasingly suspected that the stress created by weight stigma is responsible for health problems. Moreover, that stigma makes it difficult for people who are fat — or perceived as fat — to seek and receive proper medical care. Proposing weight loss and reifying the thin ideal does not support anyone’s health. Shame, as a friend of mine so eloquently stated, is not a public health policy.
4) Shame is also not a strategy of social justice.
The foundation of Fontbonne University, and the aspect of its mission that I hold most dear, is the pursuit of social justice — originally practiced by our founding order, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. The blurb for this Think And Grow Thin event acknowledges that D’Angelo, like so many others without thin privilege, experienced ongoing bullying as a fat youth. Using that story as the platform for a diet sales pitch fails to critically examine the social aspects of sizeism. Instead of interrogating society’s war on obesity, instead of recognizing that bodies come in diverse forms and that the BMI is not an indicator of health, instead of making any changes at the cultural level, this event puts the burden of change on the individual. It puts the burden of liberation on the oppressed. You want to stop being shamed and discriminated against? Just lose the weight, so you’re no longer in the group we’re oppressing! Gosh. Why haven’t more people got on board with that?
(Oh, I remember. See #2).
The last point is blank for a reason. I want those of you who have a connection to this issue or this community to think for a moment about why it bothers you. Maybe it’s because you know what it’s like to struggle to make peace with your body. Maybe it’s because you’ve spent as much money on diet tricks and tips as you have toward your textbooks. Maybe it’s because you’ve lost someone to an eating disorder, or you encounter every day the kind of hatred that says “your body, as it is, burdens society, puts your health at risk, and — frankly — disgusts me.” Maybe you feel that a book based in pseudoscience and geared toward selling diet coaching degrades the integrity of an academic institution. Maybe it’s something else entirely. Whatever your reasons, I hope you will voice them.
Please. Tell Fontbonne and co-sponsor KMOX radio your reasons for not supporting ‘Think and Grow Thin.’
Please note: The book selection itself belongs to KMOX. Regardless, I firmly believe that Fontbonne remains culpable based on their decision to host this event on a university campus.
*Fontbonne e-mail contact is Elizabeth Hise, Senior Communications and Marketing Coordinator. KMOX e-mail contact is Charles Brennan, host.