Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Media -- Project, Perpetuate and Create --Weight Bias

The Media -- Project, Perpetuate and Create --Weight Bias
in Form and Content
The media including all advertising, entertainment and news, provide the primary channel in which notions of what is so-called normal body size, what are the usual behaviors of and health effects of being fat, indeed -- about what causes a person to be fat and how those people should be treated. 
As McCluhan coined, “The medium is the message,” in this case the physical, or rather non-physical act of using media itself increases the likelihood of weight gain.  We saw this whimsically depicted in the blockbuster Disney children’s film,  Wall-E where all the humans  waiting in a space ship for Earth to become capable of supporting life again, regardless of race, were very cute, very fat and used personal electronic media “pimped out” hover-lounges rather than their shrunken chubby legs as their only means of transportation.   Not only does watching television encourage us to be less active (if we would otherwise be doing physically active things), the constant commercials for junk food are created to trigger cravings and further distort our natural sense of hunger.
Media usage studies show that children spend a whopping 7 hours a day using some form of media and that the media rival peer influence and can supersede parental, church, and school influence on myriad indices including notions of weight.  So the media bear the lions’ share of responsibility of weight bias in form and content, especially in a nation where few medical schools even have an “obesities studies” elective option.  It’s sad that the majority of medical doctors themselves usually rely on their inaccurate cultural, rather than medical, knowledge of what makes their fat patients big and how health and weight really are connected and not.   
Some medical doctors whose research does not support popular weight bias say they find it difficult to get their research published in medical journals because of the weight bias of the editors. Often the authors of the medical studies, and certainly the journalists who use those studies for their headline weight biased studies, are basing their information on flawed weight biases rather than accurate science.
Examples of medical bias include doctors, nurses, nutritionists and other health professionals making derogatory comments and jokes about fat people, viewing us as lazy, lacking self control, non-compliant, unintelligent, weak-willed and dishonest[i].  A useful mini-documentary on weight bias in the health care system is at

Next Week:  Weight Bias is Racist; Fat is a Womanist Media Issue

[i] Friedman, p. 5

Monday, November 14, 2011

Why Weight Bias is Bigotry

 Fat Is A Feminist (and Womanist)
Media Issue

NOTE: My work uses the term “fat” the way the Fat Liberation movement uses it.  “Fat” is used in a non-pejorative sense, to describe corpulent people rather than a negatively connoted  terms such as “obese” or worse yet, “morbidly obese,” or even “overweight.” It is an effort to reclaim and de-demonize “fat” as African-Americans have reclaimed what was a previously insulting use of the terms Black or African to describe us.  It is also an attempt to reform the language to separate the possibly positive descriptor “fat” from other negative descriptors often coupled with the term fat when it is spat, such as “and ugly,” “and sloppy,”  “and lazy” which readily apply to people of any size. When the biased terms of “obese and overweight” are used they are the terms of others, not this author.

Why Weight Bias is Bigotry
Weight bias is the notion that a person is fat because, she must be eating too much “bad” (but delicious!) food, as well as not exercising and thus by definition is undisciplined, lazy, (the cause and) worthy of all manner of viciousness.  It is also assumed that the fat person is a liar if she claims otherwise.  One of patriarchy’s worst nightmares is a woman not in patriarchal control…not behaving well according to patriarchal standards…Thus a fat woman is considered a villainous beast, not a woman at all.  Fat men are treated better but not much and it’s getting worse for both genders. In fact media mogul Oprah Winfrey’s favorite go-to-guy on health and weight loss – “Dr. Oz” (Much like the fearsome Wizard of Oz, Dr. Oz really is, in my professional opinion, a skinny fat-bigot, wizard breathing fire and smoke) while discussing hormonal causes for erectile dysfunction – says with a sneer on a program about sexuality,  that fat men were castrating themselves, “literally making women out of themselves” because the fat men don’t become thin.
Everyone’s body is NOT the same.  A weight loss diet that works wonders for one or some can cause others who faithfully follow it, to gain weight.  A grossly incomplete  list of the many interacting multiple reasons most fat people are fat includes[ii]: 1. genetic factors – by far the biggest group of complex causes including the way our bodies process carbohydrates, the number of fat cells we are born with, how and when our bodies physically signal hunger and satiation, metabolic factors, how sensitive one’s nervous system is, 2. repeated weight loss dieting, 3. fasting, 4. food pesticides, 5. other pollution and toxins, 6. depression, 7. sleep deprivation,  8. availability of “good” food (the jury is still out on what exactly that may be, 9. biologically driven food preferences, 10. non-biological family heritage regarding food and exercise, 11. lack of time for “sufficient” exercise, 12. lack of safe and pleasurable exercise options, 13. when one eats what, 14. poor available food quality, 15. other food industry practices, 16. increasingly required time sitting at a computer just to survive in most work and even home environments as employers, organizations and businesses force us into more online tasks to save their businesses money, 17. hydration, 18. alkalinity, 19. stress (including crime and all types of abuse) and the list goes on.
Weight Anti-Discrimination leaders urge us to emphasize health rather than weight loss.  To experience good health, virtually all of us should make lifelong efforts to exercise half an hour or more at least five times a week and enjoy organic foods that include large portions of fresh, high quality vegetables, fruits, the right amount of complete proteins and sleep in a dark, quiet well-ventilated room for 7 – 9 hours every night. 
That’s hard enough even for high income working people, nearly impossible for most of the rest.  What is tragic is that even doing all of that and more will never make most of those considered fat – thin enough to escape weight bias.  In fact media weight bias actually contributes to making people fatter and/or sicker in the effort to prove ourselves as worthy of being treated humanely and judged on the content of our character rather than the calibrations of a cruel scale.
Citing thousands of current studies, Australian researchers Michael Gard and Jan Wright say that the “obesity epidemic” and its resulting hysteria is the result of cultural ideology, rather than science or medicine.[iii]  In her book Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight  Loss – and the Myths and Realities of Dieting,  New York Times reporter Gina Kolata takes a historical survey of the diet industry and body ideals and dispels the assumption that the lack of will power is at the root of all fat people’s weight issues.[iv]
Next Post: 
The Media -- Project, Perpetuate and Create --Weight Bias
in Form and Content
This is the second in a series of posts from a paper I presented at the AEJMC Annual Conference 8/9/09. 

[i] Roberta R. Friedman, ScM, , “Weight Bias: The Need for Public Policy,” (Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity: New Haven Connecticut) 2008, 11 pages.
[ii] Various works including: Lisa Sanders, M.D., The Perfect Fit Diet: Combine What Science Knows About Weight Loss With What You Know About Yourself, (Rodale Inc.: United States) 2004, 358 pages.
[iii] Citation for Michael Gard and Jan Wright The Obesity Epidemic: Science, Morality and Ideology
[iv] Citation for Gina Kolata, Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight  Loss – and the Myths and Realities of Dieting,

Friday, November 11, 2011

Unfair and Damaging Weight Bias Exists in the Culture

Welcome to my home country - DAUFINation where all the definitions are daufinitions.
The next few posts will be excerpts from a presentation I made at a previous Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference in Denver.  The Minorities And Communication Division and Commission on the Status of Women co-sponsored the session.

NOTE: My work uses the term “fat” the way the Fat Liberation movement uses it.  “Fat” is used in a non-pejorative sense, to describe corpulent people rather than a negatively connoted  terms such as “obese” or worse yet, “morbidly obese,” or even “overweight.” It is an effort to reclaim and de-demonize “fat” as African-Americans have reclaimed what was a previously insulting use of the terms Black or African to describe us.  It is also an attempt to reform the language to separate the possibly positive descriptor “fat” from other negative descriptors often coupled with the term fat when it is spat, such as “and ugly,” “and sloppy,”  “and lazy” which readily apply to people of any size. When the biased terms of “obese and overweight” are used they are the terms of others, not this author.

Unfair and Damaging Weight Bias Exists in the Culture
A few years ago the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University examined weight bias[i].  Rudd Center Director of Public Policy Roberta R. Friedman, ScM reports that “obese and overweight adults” experience weight discrimination from employers, doctors and teachers.   He says that weight discrimination causes serious medical, psychological, economic and social damage to the 66% of adults and 50% of children in the United States.  Rudd Center researchers and others say that weight bias, rather than fatness in and of itself, increases the risk that the victims will suffer depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, poor body image, suicidal acts and thoughts AND weight gain. The Center calls for public policy that includes weight in the list of categories that are covered in anti-discrimination laws on the local, state and federal level as is race and gender.
Next Post: Why Weight Bias is Bigotry

[i] Roberta R. Friedman, ScM, , “Weight Bias: The Need for Public Policy,” (Yale University Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity: New Haven Connecticut) 2008, 11 pages.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Stop in the Name of Love and Legality: HBCU Fat Discrimination

Welcome to my home nation – DAUFINation, where all the definitions are daufinitions.
©2009 Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin
I am a plump African American professor at the oldest public HBCU in the country and a national expert on media weight discrimination and people of color in the professoriate.  I am concerned about some of the statements in Dr. Marybeth Gasman’s response to the Historically Black University Lincoln’s policy that penalizes its students who are “heavy” in body as well as mind by forcing them to pass an additional “Fitness for Life” course or refusing to graduate them.  The policy is certainly unethical, probably illegal and ironically racist, sexist classist AND counter-productive.
The policy is racist because African Americans whose ancestors survived slavery – i.e. were able to work 12 hours a day on little more than a single chittlin’ and a biscuit under horrific psychological stress – have a very efficient metabolism and for a many reasons tend to be fatter than other Americans.  Most of these reasons don’t have to do with being lazy, pigging out or ignorance about ideal healthy lifestyle choices.  We are constantly facing so much discrimination based on our body size already that it is a scary second (third, fourth…) slap in the face to have an HBCU that has a concentration of African American women discriminate against us too.  By matriculating in college, the students signed up to show intellectual rigor in order to graduate rather than be punished by an extra course to pass.  Those who were born with a luckier genetic draw from the deck get to do their graduation march on their academic merit rather than their weight.
The policy is sexist because African American women tend to weigh more than all other race women in the country and Understanding Gender At Public HBCUs reports that females are 63% of the students enrolled at HBCUs.  It’s also physiologically harder for women to lose weight than it is for men.
The policy is counterproductive because fat people, especially fat women, are already under full attack on every front.  We know we are fat.  Others who feel they have the right to openly harass big people, just as it used to be okay to harass us because we are Black, wouldn’t let us forget it even if the media did.  Just last a couple of years ago, as an HBCU African American full, tenured professor, a male student screamed repeatedly at me from an open dorm window “Dr. D -  Fat Ass!”  Fat female students are under even MORE harassment than fat male students.  Naturally thin students with abominable eating and exercise habits in speech, broadcast and online journalism courses want to lecture the fat students and me, their fat teacher, about what they assume are our poor eating and exercise habits. 
Lincoln’s policy is classist because as a group, students who go to HBCUs are more likely to be first-generation college students; poorer than any other 4-year college student; often overscheduled and over working to earn part or all of their way through university, usually with no financial help from their impoverished parents. Lincoln’s policy places greater time AND financial demands on students who are struggling with far more than their weight.   Also poor people are more likely to be bigger too because they have less access to affordable, tasty, healthy food.
Preventing students, no matter how brilliant, from graduating from college just because they are big is counterproductive.  It only adds to their humiliation and stress, increasing the likelihood that they will exercise less and, if they do compulsively eat – eat more of the wrong kinds of foods.
If Lincoln University really cares about the obesity epidemic in the Black community it ought to require ALL students, not just the ones with “more bounce to the ounce,” to complete their Fitness for Life class as they do (or as part of) Freshman Orientation or any physical education requirement.  The thinner students may be as unhealthy as some of the fatter students or worse.  Notice I said, “SOME” of the fat students because one can be fit and fat.  I eat a well-balanced, health-oriented diet, exercise 5 times a week and I am still a plus-sized woman. I refuse to use the “O” word because I am NOT a walking disease or symptom for that matter.  I am not alone.  Many of our thinner counterparts are couch potatoes and eat far more so-called bad foods.  Also thinner students who eat poor diets and don’t exercise regularly may find themselves slipping in to the discriminated size range as their youthful metabolisms age.
I hope Lincoln University stops this ugly size discrimination before a big student with deep pockets successfully sues them for a gigantic number of dollars and contributes to the demise of another precious HBCU.  Gasman is wrong when she says physical education has long been part of our intellectual development.  It’s part of our physical development that, in the effort to attract more students with faster-to-complete programs, most colleges have dropped as a requirement. Also at a time when colleges are offering more online degrees, ending physical education and even exit exam requirements, Lincoln University should be ashamed of their nasty fat phobic fitness course. I would implore them that as their namesake “freed the slaves,” may Lincoln University let my chubby people go.  Let freedom ring and let my chubby people graduate if they’ve got the grades… to go.
Submitted to Online  Diverse Issues in Higher Education 11/30/09

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mrs. Obama, We ALL need to exercise regardless of size.

Welcome to my home country DAUFINation where all the definitions are daufinitions.

                I am so relieved that First Lady Michelle Obama’s plan to work on childhood obesity is focusing NOT on weight loss dieting but instead on getting more and better grocery stores in low income neighborhoods.  She’s also promoting financial support for schools to get rid of their deep fryers, start organic school gardens, cook more nutritious food, as well as have it available in school vending machines.  Still, I wish the messages I see about her “war on childhood obesity” focused more on increasing activity for ALL CHILDREN rather than creating a “Biggest Loser – Kiddy Version” for only the queen and king sized kids.  In her nationally televised PSAs we should see smiling active big children with her, not just the slim ones.
            I beg the First Lady to be mindful that street crime and school yard teasing also make it difficult for inner city kids to be active.  I was a fat kid and not only did my dangerous Brooklyn neighborhood make every venture outside a risky proposition, but verbal and physical harassment, much like what we saw the large leading character in the award winning film Precious version of the novel  Push endure. 
We all should focus on more activity and better health rather than weight loss diets.  Weight loss diets actually make you fatter.  They also increase depression because repeated, desperate effort and failure as well as the notion that there’s nothing too horrible to subject yourself to if it makes you lose weight or at least claims it will is more than disheartening.  I ask the First Lady as well as anyone supporting ending childhood (or any) obesity, to also realize that following Mrs. Obama’s good initiatives will increase muscle (which weights more than fat) and MAYBE decrease weight a little but some of us, at any age, will never be as thin as she and her daughters are, or the media and medical doctors lead us to believe we should be. 

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Black/Latina Women Worth Our Weight in Gold

Welcome to my home country - DAUFINation where all the definitions are DAUFINitions.

It's a White supremacist and patriarchal act to beat down Black women for having the highest weights.  Not only did our ancestors pick cotton and drop babies, get regularly whipped and raped...surviving all that on a biscuit and a chitterling if we were lucky.  Until Black women and Latina's are widely considered worth our weight in gold we need to stop judging all women by how much we weigh.  The stress of battling racism, sexism and the speed of American life now make it hard for most of us to get day to day.  Look at stress, abuse, safety issues and the insinuation of sugar into virtually everything for the solutions, not more disparagement of people of color.
Diversity in Hi Ed post 11/10/10 In response to, “Researching Obesity’s Complexity and Impact,” by Katti Gray, posted the same date.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

“Alabama Voices: ‘Just Sayin’’ Column Unfair to Overweight Children,”

  • Daufin, E-K. “Alabama Voices: ‘Just Sayin’’ Column Unfair to Overweight Children,” December 16, 2010, p. 3C.

Josh Moon’s “Just Saying” Sunday was “Just Stinking.”  Instead of writing that prejudiced, inaccurate, offensive tripe, Moon ought to shut his big obese mouth.  Moon uses the word “grossly” rather than “very” to indicate the level of heaviness for kids, giving the impression throughout the article that he thinks fat children are gross – period.  He refers to heavy kids as “pudgy” and to how they ought to be sent to “waddle” into school. 
Even the headline says, “Let’s get our obese kids active”… as if we should send them on a death march of shame.  Moon reminds me of a video I was shown as part of a nationally syndicated TV dating program.  The video of one potential suitor showed an average looking guy who said he had no problem dating plus size women because he would get in his car and “run them down to size.”  Ehhh! I passed on him and the Montgomery Advertiser ought to pass on any more of Moon’s columns.
I do agree with Moon that those who want to keep Congress from getting junk food out of school lunches are not playing with a full pack of Skittles.  However ALL kids need to be encouraged to be more active, the ones who have the kind of metabolism that allows them to eat packs of potato chips without packing on the pounds and the ones who eat a banana and blow up.  Don’t assume that skinny kids are healthy, active OR eating well.  Even as adults are forced to do more online for work and in life, all of us, fat and thin could use more physical activity as we struggle more and more to keep an offline life. 
No, weight is NOT just a simple equation of too much food and not enough exercise.  Not all fat people have terrible eating habits and not all thin people are at peace with the food pyramid. Shame on Moon for perpetuating that insulting stereotype.
Moon says when he was in school, “No one turned down that hour of basketball, football or dodge ball.”  He goes on to castigate kids who, “…spend the hour walking around the track or football field.”  He probably just didn’t notice the children who may have been more sensitive than him…the ones who didn’t like getting beat up for a ball or battered by sadistic dodge ball throwing demons.  Or perhaps he was one of the kids teasing the fat children about how they looked in gym shorts or giggled when the fleshy kids jiggled in motion.  
As a Native New Yorker, I know that most urban children don’t have safe or pleasant places in which to be physically active, especially if they don’t get a charge out of combative forms of competitive group sports.  Perhaps Moon doesn’t know the humiliation of everyone treating you like a pariah, a gorilla in a gym suit who is a convenient target to vent any misplaced hostility thinner demons may have. 
Moon’s nasty, ignorant, fataphobia only makes more people of size more ashamed and an easier target for the abominable harassment and battery to which we are already subject.  Fat children are the most likely to be teased.  Fat adults are derided constantly in the media and in the mimicking even supposedly well meaning community.  The prejudice against fat people is often called the only socially acceptable bigotry left in mainstream America, and fat females are usually treated more severely than fat males. 
Also African Americans, American Indians and Latinos are more likely to be fat than Whites and Asians.  So Moon’s little tirade was also indirectly patriarchal and White supremacist.    I’ve applied for a sabbatical from my university to work on a guide for journalists to help them more ethically and accurately cover the king and queen sized of our community.  From Moon’s condescending column, it’s clear there a big fat need for that kind of guidance for journalists here on Earth as well as on the wicked dark side of the Moon.___________________
Rev. Dr. E-K. Daufin is a professor of communication at Alabama State University and a national size equity expert.