Fatsronauts 101

Fatsronauts 101 is a series in which I address assumptions and stereotypes about fat people that treat us as a monolith and are used to dehumanize and marginalize us. If there is a stereotype you'd like me to address, email me.

[Content Note: Fat bias; passive violence.]

#14: All fat people are unhealthy.

Nope! That is absolutely not true. Wrongity-wrong-wrong. False.

I'm not even going to provide you with examples of fat Olympians, fat marathoners, fat dancers, fat cyclists, fat long-distance swimmers, etc. as is the typical response to the erroneous assertion that all fat people are unhealthy, because those are exceptional people among the entire population (that is, most thin people aren't marathoners, either), and it is actually not exceptional for fat people to be healthy.

And physical prowess is only one measure of "health," which itself is not exclusively about physical ability anyway.

There are fat people who do not have health problems, fat-related or otherwise. There are fat people who do have health problems that are unrelated to their fat. There are fat people who have health problems that are associated with, and in some cases the direct result of, their fat. And there are fat people who are fat as a result of disability, disease, injury, trauma, or some other divergence from "ideal health."

This makes fat people like the rest of the population: Various levels of health, some of which correlates with and/or results from and/or causes a particular body type.

That's it. It's really that simple.

You don't need to take my word for it. There are studies you can find that say the same. And the ones that don't, well, I would caution you to look at the source of their funding, because it's usually someone with a vested interest in the notion that fat axiomatically correlates with a lack of health, e.g. the Diet Industry.

Go read everything you can find by Marilynn Wann and Paul Campos. Go check out the Health at Every Size Blog. Go read the archives—the beautiful, beautiful archives—of Junkfood Science.

The dubious often suggest that fat activists have their own agenda, and I will concede that is true. I have an agenda. My agenda is prioritizing the dignity and safety of fat people over prejudice and profiteering. You are welcome to weigh that (see what I did there?) against the unprofessed agenda of for-profit corporations who seek to exploit prejudice for profit.

I don't fear the comparison.

Anyway. There is another part to the "fat people are unhealthy" discussion that needs to be had, and that is the part where lots of fat people have worse health outcomes not because of inherently worse health, but because of the strong disincentives against seeking healthcare that fat people face.

Sometimes, it's more than a disincentive. Sometimes it's a straight-up denial of accommodation to access care. Earlier today, Shaker bekitty forwarded me the link to this terribly sad story: 407-Pound Woman Denied Flights Home, Dies Abroad.
The death of a 407-pound woman after being denied boarding on three flights was "preventable," according to an attorney for the woman's husband, who plans to pursue legal action against three airlines.

Vilma Soltesz, 56, died of kidney failure on Oct. 24 in Hungary, where she and her husband, Janos Soltesz, took an annual vacation to a home they owned in their native country, said Soltesz' attorney, Holly Ostrov-Ronai.

Soltesz, who had health problems, had been trying to get back to the United States, where she could see her doctors, Ostrov-Ronai said.
Following at the link is a tale of all the many ways in which she was refused accommodation, despite having made prearrangements with the airlines and having made the trip previously without any trouble. The airlines are sorry she died. Whoops.

Vilma's health problems may or may not have been the result of her weight (and just as likely may have been its cause), and she may or may not have died even if she'd gotten home in time to see her doctors, but she is not dead because of her weight and she is not dead because maybe she would have died anyway; she is certainly dead because of a towering blockade of fat hatred that denied her access to healthcare.

One of the most widely linked comments I have ever left in this space is this one, in response to a commenter who took issue with the idea that fat people are an endangered population.
No, there is not a documented epidemic of brutal murders of fat people for being fat, but there is a documented epidemic of failure to provide life-saving healthcare: Google will easily help you find stories of fat people who died while emergency crews laughed at their weight and appearance, of fat people who were told they should lose weight to fix problems actually caused by blood clots, cancer, internal injuries, infections, and myriad other problems that later killed them, because their doctors couldn't see past their fat to properly treat them. Google will also easily help you find stories of medical equipment that cannot accommodate fat bodies, of anesthetists who accidentally kill fat people in surgery, of doctors who prescribe wrong doses for fat bodies, of drug trials that make no attempt to include fat patients. Google will also easily help you find stories of fat people who did not seek life-saving healthcare because they had been so viciously fat-shamed by doctors their whole lives that they had given up hope of finding sensitive and caring providers who would treat them.

Fat people die because of fat hatred ALL THE TIME.
The blog First Do No Harm is an invaluable resource in its documentation of fat prejudice in healthcare. (See also. And here.)

The point is this: Not all fat people are unhealthy. And of the ones who are, for any reason, we are likely to become more unhealthy, or even dead, because of the prejudice that presumes we are all unhealthy and all of our unhealthfulness can be magically solved by being less fat.

The presumption that all fat people are unhealthy is not just wrong. It is deadly.



#13: Fat people looooooooooove Twinkies!
#12: Fat people don't like/want to see media representations of themselves.
#11: No one wants to be fat.
#10: Fat people need you to intervene in their lives.
#9: Fat people don't know how they look.
#8: Fat people don't deserve anything nice.
#7: Fat people are permission slips for thin people to eat what they want.
#6: Any fat person eating a salad or exercising is trying to lose weight.
#5: Fat is axiomatically ugly.
#4: Fat people eat enormous amounts of food.
#3: Fat people are jolly/mean, and fat people are shy/loud.
#2: I can tell how someone eats all the time, because of how they eat around me.
#1: Everyone who is fat is fat for the same reason.

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