Yesterday, the articles about fat being contagious starting showing up. I knew they were going to the minute I heard about the study they were based on. I expected the ZOMG FAT IS EPIDEMIC rhetoric and the alarmist (and hateful) language.

I didn’t expect people to come right out and say that thin people might want to dump their thin friends.

People who notice their friend packing on pounds might want to steer clear if they value their sleek physiques.

Now, that’s an article from Yahoo!News, but given how many people get their news from that source instead of newpapers….

So, I called some of my thin friends and I told them, “Hey, you might not want to be friends with me anymore.” And we laughed about it and did our best to  deflate the Important News tone most of these articles are taking.

But it didn’t deflate a lot of the fear these articles caused me to feel.

I’m not used to feeling afraid. Not like this. I mean, yes, I’ve been confronted with a large, stinging insect and been afraid of it. But this is a generalized fear that something outside of my control is going to hamper everything from whether or not my friends chose to remain friends with me to my career advancement prospects.

Last night I went home and ate dinner. But before I ate dinner I had to debate whether eating dinner was going to be in reaction to reading these articles – was I eating because I was hungry, because it was dinner time, or because I wanted to pretend that the articles hadn’t had any effect on me? Was I eating because I had suddenly turned into an emotional eater? Would I feel better if I ate salad?

I ate dinner anyway because, emotional state aside, eating dinner is a good idea for me.

And then I went to bed. Because this stuff is exhausting and because I just wanted to hide for a little while before I decided how to deal with this. Sometimes, you know, we just need to take a little bit of quiet time.

Now that I’m rested and I’ve had a little time to think things through, I want to send copies of this response from Kate  to every person who might possibly believe these articles. I want to send copies of this other response from Kate to other people who might possibly believe these articles. I want to tell thin people and fat people alike that, as a friend on livejournal said, if fat people are subverting the dominant social paradigm regarding what an acceptable body looks like, well, just by BEING fat…. Hey, that’s a GOOD thing. It means our definitions and standards are changing and that WINS.

Now that I’m rested and I’ve had a little time to think things through, I want to write letters to authors who are using phrases like “fat contagion” to talk about social networking effects. I want to write letters to authors who are talking about the viral spread of fat.

Dear ___________,

Hi, I’m fat. Recently, you wrote an article that advised my friends not to be friends with me if they wanted to stay thin. Rather than assume anything, I thought I’d ask you, “Do you really think it is in the best interest of journalistic integrity and responsibility to advocate the ostracizing of any social group?” I’m especially curious since the study you are referencing is nonconfirmable and doesn’t take into account a huge variety of social factors, much less the recent data from several sources that fat has a strong genetic component.

Thanks,

The Rotund

Don’t get me wrong, y’all. This is some scary shit. It would be infinitely easier to give in, to knuckle under social pressure and start myself back on the disordered eating carousel at the weight loss carnival. But, truly and deeply, I was miserable and I don’t want to go back to that. If fat-hatred is going to win in our society, well, I’d rather go out fighting.

And if enough of us continue that fight, we’ll be the winners.

There’s a lot of “but what should be DO?” going on right now. And so I will make a couple of suggestions.

1. Write letters. Write respectful or angry or analytical letters to writers and editors who publish these articles. Don’t call the writer/editor a nasty little bridge troll who must have mother issues. That won’t help you be taken seriously. But don’t be afraid to be angry and don’t be afraid to question the writer/editor about their motivations and whether or not they have seriously considered the impact their writing can have on people.

2. Share your response with people. Write in your blog or journal or just talk to your friends and family about how this makes you feel. Pretending it isn’t going on won’t make it go away.

3. Call people on fat-phobia. You don’t have to be rude, you don’t have to be all militant activist on anyone (though militant activists are awesome). But if someone says something anti-fat and you’re sitting right there, let them know that they are wrong.

4. Continue with your lives. You are not hurting anyone or making anyone else fat. Fat is not a virus. Be yourself, be confident, be happy.

5. Treat yourself to something nice, whatever that means for you, because this really sucks and self-care is an important way to guard ourselves against this kind of assault.


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23 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2007 at 9:11 am | Permalink

    For the time being, TR, I am placating myself with the thought that anyone who would reject my friendship (or my work contributions) because of a story like this is too stupid to be worth bothering with and has the kind of control issues I’d rather avoid like the plague.

    For one thing, it proves they don’t RTFP, because even this ridiculous “story” says the findings on friends making each other fat applies only to men. I am not a man. Therefore, anyone who’d dump my fat ass because they think it’s “contagious” is stupid SQUARED.

    Admit it though. Didn’t anyone here think, even for a fleeting second, “Well, then being friends with Beth Ditto is the best thing that could ever happen to Kate Moss, then, isn’t it?”

  2. Fillyjonk
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I’ve already written to Kolata (the letter that was on my livejournal); she wrote back and I encouraged her to come participate in the discussion at Kate’s blog. Hope she does.

    The more reliable news sources like NYT are saying that you should try to befriend thin people, rather than that you should dump your fat friends. Thank god! It’s about time thin people had an easier time socially!

    I, too, am having a hard time with my food choices after this spate of articles. I’ve just been talking to Laura about what I can do to go ahead and be ED today without being *too* ED.

  3. admin
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    You know, if, in some magical alternate reality, I were a thin person, I’d resent the hell out of people wanting to be my friend just because I was thin. The advice, no matter how it is cast, doesn’t flatter anyone.

    I have decided to go with simple things that I don’t have to think about too much. Because if I have to give too much mental space to food right now….

    So I have a bag of pita chips and some cafeteria sushi. I’m trying to find a balance between making sure I eat something and making myself nutso over it. And since the cafeteria posts calories per serving on the regular meals, I opted for the sushi.

  4. Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    Ok, I think there’s something you should know.

    Since we’ve become friends, I’ve actually lost weight thanks to you. And that’s without even really trying.

    See, since we’ve gotten to know each other, you’ve taught me a lot about respecting my body instead of hating it, which has led to my taking care of my body instead of fearing it. I started paying attention to the signals it was giving me. I took notice of when I was truly hungry, compared to when I was just snacking out of boredom. Your crafting inspired me to try my hand at it, which has given me a far more positive outlet for boredom and stress than the aforementioned snacking. That, I know now, was key to my being stuck at my previous size. Your focus on respecting your body and listening to it was what got me doing just that, and I’m now down to sizes I haven’t seen since high school (size 12!). For that, I truly thank you. What’s more, my actions and successes (the ones you helped to bring about) have caused my boyfriend to explore ways that he can get healthier by maintaining a weight that is healthy for him, eating better and exercising more. Between the two of us, who knows who else we could go on to positively influence?

    Perhaps this study missed the mark because it focused strictly on physical effects and not on psychological components. Maybe it isn’t a perception that larger bodies are the norm – maybe it’s a factor of “misery loves company” in the sense that people who feel down about themselves tend to huddle together for support and engage in comforting activities (such as drinking, smoking or overeating) that ultimately do more harm than good. Perhaps the focus of outreach and education should not be on the one note, fat = bad equation that is so prevalent, but instead on respecting your body and yourself enough to take care of yourself by engaging in healthy behaviors. I know it’s the latter that’s done wonders for me after years of struggling with my weight.

    I’m not friends with you because of how you look. I’m friends with you because of the support, encouragement and confidence you’ve given me. Thank you for that.

  5. Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I saw the headline Fat? Blame Your Friends in today’s Metro, and I confess that my heart sank too.

    My problem is less with the study, which I haven’t had a chance to look at, than with the reportage, which is messed up and sensationalistic.

    I’m drafting a letter to send off to the Metro, and will post the text in my LJ when I get a chance.

  6. Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:40 am | Permalink

    The reporting is, from what I can tell, pretty much in line with the perspective of the study’s authors. The seem to think they’ve found a causal link when at best this is a correlation and at worst a pretty meaningless correlation that could be interpreted about 10 different ways with just as much legitimacy. The conclusion being drawn, though, appears to be the one the study drew itself.

  7. admin
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    A friend of mine also made the point that with over 12 thousand study participants, ANY little bit of data can seem massively (ha, my puns are still funny) more important than it actually is, especially over such a length of time.

  8. shinypenny
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 11:52 am | Permalink

    Did you see the blog posting from Dick Cavett in the NY Times? (I’m linking to a non-Times version since the original is located by the TimesSelect paywall). -_- The fat hate in the comments is just so fucking depressing.

  9. Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    The really sad thing is that this study and the news articles about it just put into print the attitudes that most people have, anyway. Which is why the study’s results, at least as far as noticing that social networks tend to vary in weight less than the whole population varies, are true. Much of the time, thin people avoid fat people if they can. And at least for me it works the other way around too. I know that not all thin people are prejudiced against me, but I confess to being suspicious until shown some evidence to the contrary.

  10. Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    I stumbled across this story on the Reuters wire while on the phone with a friend, and I almost pissed myself laughing. I mean, I swore I thought I was reading somethng from The Onion.

    When I realized it was a legit (and I use the term loosely) news piece, I just blinked a lot and started looking for the goatees or whatever it is they have in Bizarro World.

    I’m with Meowser – anybody who buys this BS is a freakin’ moron, and I have a zero-tolerance moron policy.

  11. Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    BStu, thanks. On a slightly closer reading of the reportage, that’s what I was noticing as well—to say the least a very, very unscientific tendency to equate correlation with causation.

    Sigh.

  12. Kristen
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Oh, they’re wayyyy behind two of my ex-friends from divinity school. One of them flat-out told me that she was distancing herself from me because she was worried that I would influence her to be less disciplined about her weight. The other friend fed her this line but didn’t say it to my face.

    It hurt a lot at the time. Now, not so much.

  13. Posted July 26, 2007 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    Well, Meowser already said it, but I’ll ditto her: if any thin friend of mine decided to stop being my friend due to terror that they might catch The Fat, then that jackhole is someone who I don’t WANT as a friend.

    I also can’t help wondering if the people who write all these articles about the Contagious Fat are, themselves, thin. Because if they aren’t, I would think they’d choose their words carefully; otherwise, they might start losing friends due to their very own reporting.

  14. Posted July 26, 2007 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    The thing I do worry about, though? Kids reading this stuff and using it as ammunition against other kids, who have enough crap to worry about already and a lot less control over their environments. Adults or even teenagers who have a few rounds of sophisticated reasoning behind them can laugh it off as the B.S. it is, but “cooties” (or is it “shigellae”? not having grade-schoolers around I can’t keep up with the latest) are enough of a problem to deal with when you’re 7.

  15. Posted July 26, 2007 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    Okay…I’m rather tired, having just got home from work, but I seem to have stumbled into some kind of Twilight Zone-esqe Stupidverse. I mean seriously, folks, is there anybody alive dumb enough to actually believe this shit? Calling me a friend is going to make someone fat?! You know, I’ve a sociable job and consequently a fair few friends – and only two of them are fat. Indeed my 2 best friends, (one of whom I’ve known for 30 years, the other 20), are pretty skinny…so, either they’re only pretending to be my friends, or I haven’t been boring them to death about fat politics pretty much since they’ve known me, or – oh yeah – somebody with a vested interest in upping society’s collective neurosis about fat, (because, hey, not enough people know how baaaaad it is), is talking complete and utter bollocks for a change.

    Marianne, I do relate to that horrible gut churning fear thing, especially when I hear about fat-taxes orfat children being taken into care – but this just makes me want to laugh. The only rationale I can come to is that the media’s done such a bang-up job convincing everyone, including the medical profession, that fat people are halfwits that they think we’re the ones who are dumb enough to believe this farcical, illogical and entirely unscientific drivel.

  16. vesta44
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

    I read the comments by Dick Cavett, and I was shocked. Granted, I haven’t watched him in years, but I used to like him. Now, all I can think is that he’s a fat-phobe who needs to get a few clues. The following is the comment I left:
    “I really think you should read a couple of books about why dieting doesn’t work. Gina Kolata and Paul Campos have good ones, but there are others, you can Google for them.
    If you’ve never been fat or had to struggle with your weight, how can you sit there and pass judgment? What gives you the right to pass judgment? I don’t know who died and made you the grand poohbah of the universe, but it’s none of your business what anyone looks like, whether it be too fat or too skinny. A person’s worth is not based on their size, it’s based on the fact that they are a human being, and as such deserve to be treated with respect, regardless of size, color, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or any other reason that human beings differ one from another and are singled out for hatred and bias.
    Fat has little to do with health problems, research proves it, but the cosmetic/diet/big pharma industries would go out of business if people were more concerned with health than with size. After all, not all women can look like Kate Moss, even if they all starved themselves for the rest of their lives. And why should they have to starve, just to try and meet some unrealistic, unattainable ideal? Of course, keep women striving to meet that ideal and they won’t have time to bitch about the fact that they make less money than men for the same job with the same qualifications, and they sure as hell won’t have time to lobby against the men who want to take away our right to control our own bodies. I’m sorry, I have a life to live and enjoy and I don’t have the inclination to put it on hold while I try to meet some unrealistic goal that society says I need to meet. I’m too busy enjoying life to worry about what some number may mean to someone who doesn’t know me and hasn’t walked a few miles in my shoes.”
    I don’t know that this will change any minds, hell, who knows if it will even get read, but I wanted to make my displeasure known.

  17. Posted July 26, 2007 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    I have commented on two other posts on this topic at other places and I’m going to keep talking about the douchebaggery CNN aired this morning – a woman perpetuating the “thin = fit, fat = unfit” myth and “fat people waddle their lardy asses up to the feeding trough and CHOW DOWN!” Disgusting. Disgusting. Disgusting. CNN, not us. Sigh. Asshats. Angry! I will be writing letters.

    And I will also be reminding myself not to let these cocksmacks get me down.

  18. Posted July 26, 2007 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for reconfirming my decision not to have cable television. If Comcast ever gets around to asking why I won’t subscribe when I have high-speed Internet from them, they’re gonna get a big fat earful.

  19. wriggles
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 4:32 pm | Permalink

    So the risk of ‘obesity’ goes up by –%, FROM WHAT? What IS the likelihood of a non fat person becoming fat in the next 2/3 years?

    ‘groundbreaking, changes the way we think of non communicable diseses etc.,’ KERRCHING!

    ‘Sohisticated statistical analysis’ Ummmnnnn.

  20. Amber de Katt
    Posted July 26, 2007 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I had a very interesting experience the other day listening to how this news blurb mutated over the course of 24 hours. I listen to my local progressive/AAR-affiliate station, and they have the hourly on-the-hour little-more-than-headline newsblurbs from CBS news, I think it is. ( Mainstream newsdreck, whichever network it is that provides it.) When the news was first released, it was pretty low-key and matter-of-fact (well, for this subject, anyway…) — something like “Study finds that obesity can spread through friends and family.” But as the next 24 hours wound its way through the radio network, each hour the headline became more and more alarmist, along with the newsblurb-headline readers voice, until it was “ZOMG!!! OBESITY IS CONTAGIOUS!!!!”

    Fascinating process.

  21. MizB
    Posted July 27, 2007 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Last evening, after nearly two days of reading and posting on this “study,” I just crashed. I felt sad and scared and still do. I’m no stranger to prejudice for other reasons, and certainly being fat all my adult life has toughened my skin — but this “fat is contageous” business, as ridiculous as it seems, is dangerous. People DO believe this stuff — the same way people believe that Jews have horns and sacrifice Christian babies at Passover. Hate is irrational and the reasons that people hate are irrational. People hate fat. They always have and I fear they always will. But increasingly, the fanatic climate that combines fat hate with fearing every ailment on the planet, insisting that everything smell good, and being determined to live to 100 seems to be reaching some kind of acid-flashback crisis. Life is hard, and people want someone to blame — and fat people are the perfect enemy. I literally fear for my safety as I move amongst the skinny. And I’m exhausted. Hate is unbelievably draining. What now??

  22. Optimisticynic
    Posted July 27, 2007 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    The crappiness of the “science” in this study just defies description. Let’s see… year by year almost everyone will gain some weight. And the government draws the “obese” line pretty low. So a bunch of your friends will become “obese” in any given year. And if everyone knows someone who is now “obese” then they must have caught it from that friend?

    You know what else is contaigious? Getting older! I have a bunch of older friends and now I’m getting older too! AAAAAUUUUGGGHHH!!!!

    It’s all stupid and the consequences are scary. But let’s try to stay strong and count on the tiny tiny attention span of the American public to save us.

  23. Woods
    Posted July 29, 2007 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    I saw Good Morning America and the Today Show cover this crud the other day, and I couldn’t quite believe what I heard. My friends and I basically slap this “study” in the face. Three of my friends are fat and I’m the Skeletor of the bunch (as dubbed by the nice people who yell things out car windows). We are who we are–our body shapes are unaffected by one another. We have to stand up for each other when people pick on us. My blood boils whenever anyone gives them looks of disdain, and they feel the same at the sound of laughter due to my own “digusting” bony frame. I feel that this study is going to make it even worse for my friends, which is terrible because it seems like people already are less friendly to them based on their size. But I know my friends are intelligent, friendly, smokin’ hot ladies. I just wish that people could see that not by “looking past” their weight but rather including that factor as part of what makes them the amazing folks that they are.

One Trackback

  1. By Big Fat Carnival - Sixth Edition at Seeworthy.org on September 29, 2007 at 1:31 am

    [...] Are we friends? Are you fat yet? at The Rotund Hi, I’m fat. Recently, you wrote an article that advised my friends not to be friends with me if they wanted to stay thin. Rather than assume anything, I thought I’d ask you, “Do you really think it is in the best interest of journalistic integrity and responsibility to advocate the ostracizing of any social group?” [...]

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