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January 12, 2012 / missmarymax

Think Thin Again: An Open Letter to Fontbonne University and KMOX

Head in Hands - Alex E Proimos

Head In Hands – Alex E. Proimos.

 

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).

5) ____.

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.

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3 Comments

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  1. Yan / Jan 13 2012 2:30 am

    (Apologies for the cis-gendered statement, but I honestly don’t know how this affects alternately gendered people except in the general sense of “negatively, I’m sure”)

    5. Because weight stigma affects all genders, but disproportionately women. Increasing focus on “the obesity epidemic” is more equitably spreading this stigma to men. This isn’t the equality I’ve personally been striving for. There is more to life than whether or not the media-trained majority “appreciate” the aesthetics of anyone’s physical form.

    Focus on weight reduction as a gateway to health is the aesthetic police of Hollywood in the guise of medical “concern” trolling. And it’s wrong, but so well-hidden as to be accepted.

    And because I’ve been involved in the dead boring conversations of co-workers discussing weight and diets, and seen the damage that the focus on weight has done to large but fantastic and healthy friends, who believe they cannot be loved (romantically) because of their weight.

  2. Dina / Jan 28 2012 11:28 pm

    I am bit behind on this. What ever became of this with Fontbonne. How would you felt if the topic was more of a health centered discussion rather than just getting thin? I know that there is a lot of confusing information available. So many people believe that being thin translates to being healthy, which is simply not true. I am so happy that you point out the problem with dieting. Just today in Men’s Health (I read my husband’s magazines 🙂 that same point was made. I thought this dieting craze was a women centric issue but apparently I was very wrong about that, if the topic of dieting has come up in a Men’s Health issue.

    • missmarymax / Feb 13 2012 5:45 pm

      I was contacted by Elizabeth Hise shortly after posting this, and Fontbonne as a whole seemed very interested in expanding the conversation. There was talk, for a bit, about members of the dietetics department attending the talk, and I was invited as well. That was initially Charlie Brennan’s idea, from my understanding, that we attend — but as the date drew closer, he failed to confirm details with Elizabeth or me, and the event — as far as I understand — went on as it was originally planned. Disappointing for sure, but I don’t put that on Fontbonne as firmly as I do KMOX.

      Anyway, I totally agree that it’s disturbing to see the dieting craze attacking whole new populations. It’s definitely no longer just a “women’s issue” and it’s taking some disturbing new forms. That actually speaks a little to how I’d answer your health question: I obviously have nothing against getting healthier, but given how complex health is — and how individual — I’d be wary of framing this particular event as about health. So often, we’re quick to be like “it’s not about being skinny; it’s about being healthy!” when really we’re just using that as an excuse to keep shaming people. And that I definitely have a problem with, you know?

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