Whoops the UNM Psychology Department Response to Fat Hatred

[Content Note: Fat hatred.]

Yesterday, I posted a (quickly redacted) fat-hating tweet published by an evolutionary psychology professor at the University of New Mexico. In comments, Shaker ladydreamgirl shared that the tweet's author, Geoffrey Miller, has since claimed the tweet was part of "a research project" which consisted of sending out "provocative tweets" in order to gauge people's reactions to them.

Even if that's true (and I am extremely dubious that it is), given the demonstrable capacity for harm of public body shaming, such a project would be extremely unethical. Personally, I find a psychology researcher claiming he was deliberately provoking fat people by publicly shaming them significantly more disturbing than publishing an insensitive tweet reflecting personal bigotry.

UNM Psy­chol­ogy Chair Jane Ellen Smith has given a statement in response to the controversy, in which she notes that Miller's claims of a research project are being investigated. She also had a few other things to say:

Text Onscreen: Prof. Jane Ellen Smith, UNM Psychology Department Chairwoman.

Text Onscreen: What was your reaction to Prof. Miller's tweets?

Smith, a middle-aged thin white woman, standing in front of a bookshelf: I started getting lots of emails from very concerned people yesterday afternoon, and, when I discovered what it was about, I was really surprised, I have to say. Um, the idea that the psychology department here at the University of New Mexico, or any department at UNM, would be discriminating against people because of their size or shape—it's just outlandish. That's nothing we would ever do.

Text Onscreen: How does this tweet touch on your own area of research?

Smith: Actually, one of the main areas of my research is in the body image and eating disorder and obesity area, and so it really hits close to home, because not only do I do research with people who have a lot of concerns about their body, you know, regardless of their size—underweight, normal weight, overweight—but you can see the devastation it causes.

Text Onscreen: Is UNM planning to take any action?

Smith: Well, we're first going to find out exactly what happened—um, I've had some contact with Professor Miller about this; he claims it's part of a research study. He's a social psychologist, um, does work in the evolutionary area, and, uh, claims that he's been sending out provocative tweets over a number of months now to measure people's reactions to them, and so we'll be investigating that.
Okay. I don't know anything about Professor Smith or her work, but I would be surprised if whatever work she's doing "in the body image and eating disorder and obesity area" is Health at Every Size-based, given her use of "normal weight" as distinct from "underweight" and "overweight," thus suggesting it's never "normal" to be fat. I also note that her Center for Health Policy at UNM bio notes: "Dr. Smith specializes in both substance abuse and eating disorders/obesity." Which suggests that fat is pathological and all fat people are compulsive eaters.

And then there is her incredible claim that it's "outlandish" to imagine there's any discrimination against fat people in any department at the entire University of New Mexico. I've never been to the University of New Mexico, so I had no idea it exists in a void! How truly extraordinary that there is no fat bias to be found anywhere at a university that operates in a culture otherwise rife with institutional fat hatred, including well-documented employment discrimination!

Claiming that X bigotry doesn't exist in a community where a member of that community just expressed X bigotry is: 1. Bullshit; 2. Hostile to the basic concepts of how culture works and how bigotry is transmitted; 3. A deflection of communal accountability; 4. A pretty good indication that no meaningful examination of community standards will happen; 5. A harbinger of a failure to facilitate institutional change.

Somehow I don't feel reassured.

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