I Write Letters

[Content Note: Discussion of fat-hating tropes.]

Dear Population Action International:

I really admire your advocacy on behalf of global access to modern contraceptives. I'm writing you this letter in good faith, as someone who values and supports your advocacy, in the hopes you will hear this criticism and use it to make your work even stronger.

My concern is about the infographic "The Dollars and Sense of Family Planning," which makes an excellent case for how logical and decent it is for the US to allocate funds to international family planning. Specifically, this part, intended to show how little, in the grand scheme of national spending, $1 billion really is:

chart reading: 'Americans spend $1 BILLION or more annually on: Valentine's Day Candy | Mother's Day Flowers | Super Bowl Snacks | Potato Chips'

Three of your four examples here are what is commonly referred to as "junk food" (a term I don't like because no food is "junk" to someone who needs the calories). And "junk food" is commonly associated with fat people—and increasingly associated with fat people, as the "war on obesity" is waged via public initiatives like Mayor Bloomberg's soda ban.

The intent of this graphic may not have been to suggest that spending $1 billion on candy, or Superbowl snacks, or potato chips, is profligate and self-indulgent spending, but it certainly reads that way to me.

I think there's a problem with focusing on what average people spend on anything, when US government spending on war and weapons, often in countries with low birth control access, is a more pertinent issue. But that problem is exacerbated when the specific implication is that people are spending money on a type of gluttony associated with fat people.

In a country where fat people are (wrongly) being blamed by their First Lady for higher healthcare costs and lower productivity, where we are blamed for the rising cost of airfare, for higher insurance premiums, for all sorts of financial burdens on "taxpayers" (as if we are not taxpayers ourselves)—and, further, in a country where we are often denied access to healthcare on the basis of being fat—it is not okay to even obliquely suggest that if only fatties weren't eating so many potato chips, woman would have better access to contraception.

I am quite certain that was not your intended message, but this graphic doesn't exist in a void. It exists in a culture of pervasive and harmful blaming of fat people for wrongful spending, in a culture rife with narratives that it is only fat people who eat "junk food," and that consuming "junk food" is immoral.

I beg you to reconsider using these sorts of examples in future.

Best regards,

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