Sunday, January 24, 2021

Of Fatness and False Benevolence

March 4, 2010 by  
Filed under Fat Acceptance

By Kim Brittingham

I recently sat in the audience for a taping of ABC’s Nightline at Cooper Union in New York City.  Juju Chang moderated a debate titled, “Is it OK to Be Fat?”

Arguing on the side of fat indeed being “OK” were plus size model Crystal Renn and Marianne Kirby, co-author of Lessons From the Fat-o-Sphere.

Arguing that fat was most definitely not OK were Kim Bensen and Meme Roth.  Kim Bensen is the author of Finally Thin!, a memoir detailing her struggles with yo-yo dieting and her eventual triumph (so far) over obesity.  Meme Roth is an emphatic woman who made up an organization called National Action Against Obesity, then gave it a web site and a mission statement:

“National Action Against Obesity is a non-partisan, all-volunteer advocacy group dedicated to reversing the obesity crisis by eliminating disease- and obesity-accelerators from the food supply; barring junk food from child care centers, preschools, and schools; and eradicating Secondhand Obesity ™ (obesity handed down from one generation to the next, as well as from citizen to citizen); while encouraging exercise across all ages.  Success relies upon wholly re-imagining what the U.S. population considers ‘normal’ food consumption and ‘normal’ exercise.  When the majority is overweight, America cannot be normal.”

The issues touched on during the debate were the same old same old, as far as I was concerned.  Roth asserted that thin people are unfairly shouldering the financial burden of fat people and their fat-related diseases.  There was bickering back and forth about the effects of dieting and food restriction, about eating disorders.  It was argued that fat people are treated unfairly by the medical community, that cupcakes should be kept out of the classroom.

What no one was talking about, however – what no one ever seems to have the clarity (or perhaps the balls) to talk about – is fat hatred framing itself as humanitarianism, with society’s hearty blessing.

Remember my essay “Fat is Contagious”?  In it, I introduced you to a woman I called Miss Hostility.  On a New York City bus, Miss Hostility harassed me, unkindly and openly, about my body size.  And in the next breath, she had the nerve to claim an interest in my good health.

There are legions of ordinary people like Miss Hostility who give fat people a hard time, and attempt to mask the less charitable roots of their bad behavior by playing the insincere “but it’s about their health” card.  As if they really, truly give a damn.  Heck, most of these holier-than-thou types are so thoroughly lacking in self-awareness, that in spite of all behavior to suggest the contrary, they actually believe they’re doing us fatties a kindness.  I suppose alienating us, stigmatizing us, and otherwise playing unfair is all done in the name of tough love.

But there’s a higher profile, more destructive breed of the same animal, and the Nightline debate gave a platform to two textbook examples.

Kim Bensen and Meme Roth are individually building careers out of harming fat people and calling it “help”.  Their methods differ, but the game is the same.

The commonality between Bensen and Roth and others like them is an egocentric delusion. Each believes she has the one and only true answer to the “obesity problem”.  They see themselves as crusaders; Florence Nightingales to the fat masses who can’t seem to help themselves, poor things.

But their “concern” for fat people is a sham – and not even the messiahs themselves are able to see it.  To recognize it, and further to admit it, would shatter their apparently delicate psyches.

But I think it’s time to call the bullshitters on their phony benevolence, to bring into question their misguided “aid”. Let’s pull away the downy baby blankets that protect their deeper motivations to wage war on other people’s bodies.

If they’re made of even halfway-decent stuff, Bensen and Roth will find some humility, acknowledge where they’ve done their fellow beings a disservice, and do better.

Kim Bensen has a story with which many American women can identify.  For years, she got suckered in by the threats and promises of the weight loss industry.  She tried and failed, over and over again, to reach the promised land of her ultimate Goal Weight.  For years, like most people who diet, she was unable to sustain any single weight loss program.  Each time she fell off the wagon, she regained the weight she lost and then some.  Eventually, she peaked at about 350 pounds.  It’s a classic story of yo-yo dieting up the scale.

But Kim Bensen isn’t fat anymore.  She tried dieting one more time – and succeeded.  She reached her goal weight and appears to be keeping the weight off.

This is how Kim Bensen sells weight loss – and make no mistake, she is selling it, with a web store replete with specialty food items, scales, pedometers, “Believe” tote bags, kitchen tools, jewelry, and “premium” memberships that entitle one to online meetings, food plans, member-exclusive videos, access to 24/7 chat rooms and other features smelling curiously like Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutri-System and the like.

Bensen sells an empty promise – empty for most. “Believe”!  It’s the same tiresome product the weight loss industry has been peddling for years.  It’s the hope that some day this dieting thing really is going to click, and then I’ll finally be thin, and life will be great.

The only fresh twist on this haggard theme is Bensen playing up the frustrations of yo-yo dieting specifically – the pseudo-tender “I’ve been there”, the seemingly no-punches-pulled confession that yo-yo dieting does make you fat – hey, it happened to her!  I guess this is supposed to make fat, fed-up women trust Bensen more readily.  I guess it’s meant to set Bensen’s weight loss plan apart in the minds of vulnerable women.  Wow, she’s admitting that yo-yo dieting is a loser’s game!  How refreshing – now here’s a diet peddler I can trust!

Bensen is asking fat people to swallow the bullshit all over again.  She’s begging them to try just one more time, because the only way to guarantee you’ll stay fat is to stop trying to get thinner.

Ironically, Bensen is saying just the right thing to keep fat people fat.

I believe that Bensen believes in what she’s selling.  At the Nightline debate, she spoke in pleading, syrupy tones about how she, personally, suffered as a fat person.  “I couldn’t put on my own shoes,” she said.  “Crossing my legs was something I just dreamed about doing…I couldn’t breathe when I slept at night.  I had sleep apnea…my throat closed up, and I would snore so loudly, and I don’t snore at all anymore.”

But there’s an arrogance to Bensen’s campaign to “help” others that’s downright reckless.  Meanwhile, she seems to think she’s doing good.

Bensen will easily admit that yo-yo dieting makes people fatter and fatter, adds to their frustration, their sense of hopelessness, their misery.  She lived it, all the way to 350 pounds.  But her highly unusual success has gone to her head.

Bensen is the walking embodiment of the familiar diet disclaimer, “results not typical”.  She’s  delivering false hope – and making a tidy profit in the process.

The fact is, most people who yo-yo diet themselves to fatness will never experience the One Diet That Permanently Worked.  Most people will never be Kim Bensen. Sad but true.  The statistics are out there.  Furthermore, researchers point to the health dangers of fluctuating weight versus the benefits of weight stabilization.  And let’s not forget the psychological ramifications of repeatedly cycling through failure and false expectations, versus reaching a more empowering place of self-acceptance.

Meanwhile, the very nature of yo-yo dieting means that every failed attempt results in the packing on of even more pounds.

When Bensen begs us to try one more time, buy her premium membership, order her tote bag, foods, food plans and scales, she’s asking us to take the risk of getting even fatter.

How dare she?

It’s utterly irresponsible.

Bensen lives inside her own narrow, self-centered world, where everyone who’s fat surely must feel the exact same way she once did; a fantasy world where her one-size-fits-all weight management plan is the answer to every fat person’s prayers.

The woman’s failure to see outside of herself is downright dangerous.

Even if Kim Bensen is able to help one person achieve permanent weight loss, it’ll be at the cost of dozens, hundreds, probably thousands of other souls who failed, and who are consequently that much more miserable, and a few pounds heavier than before they put themselves in Bensen’s “expert” hands.

Bensen is an expert in nothing but her own body, her own experience of the world – and she’s free to talk about that experience, write about it, promote and sell it along with her special “light” bagels and plastic egg poachers.  But just because Bensen wants to be a beacon of hope to others, doesn’t mean she’s doing right by her fellow human beings.  In fact, her efforts just make her part of the same old problem.  In the final analysis, she hurts people.  She makes them fatter.  She makes them sadder.  She weaves fairy tales that are unlikely to ever come true.  She puts bad joss out into the world, period.

Bensen would be better off championing improved eating habits and increased physical activity, outside the context of weight loss.  She’d be far more trustworthy, far more credible.

If it’s not about Bensen’s ego, or a god-like belief in her singularly perfect ability to “fix” fat people; if Bensen is so selflessly true-blue about wanting to help fat people, then where are these disclaimers on her website?:

– Statistics show that my weight loss program will most likely be just another in a long line of programs you’ll try in your lifetime that will fail to result in permanent weight loss.

– Just because I’m one of a very, very few people who ‘did it’ doesn’t mean there’s anything special, magical or advantageous about my particular weight loss program over others.

– If my products fail to get you to your goal weight and keep you there for life, you will experience disappointment, self-loathing, self-doubt, weight gain above and beyond your previous highest weight, and possible physical complications associated with weight gain.

– I don’t know anything about your unique physiology, your private relationship with food, or anything else that might affect your ability to lose weight, and therefore my program is not designed with you in mind.

I guess if she did include disclaimers this honest and forthright, Bensen wouldn’t sell too many “reflect-encourage-reward” bracelets, now, would she?

Americans have lived around the corner from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers for decades, and in those same decades, obesity rates have steadily increased.  How is this fact lost on Kim “premium membership” Bensen?  If she’s a smart woman with pure intentions who’s also interested in her own personal growth, she needs to stop kidding herself that she’s a selfless crusader for the unfortunately obese.  Her efforts are clumsy, and her mini weight loss marketing empire is entirely self-serving.

Until she stops persuading people to follow in her footsteps, Bensen is contributing to the very problem she claims to be battling.  She is hurting far more people than she is helping.  She is naïve to believe otherwise.

Meme Roth is not as subtle as Ms. Bensen.

It’s easy to dislike the woman.  Sharp-tongued and sharp-featured, she comes off snippy and self-righteous.

Roth’s communication style alone makes it difficult to take her seriously.  She reminds me of a phony medium, as though employing that old trick meant to unsettle an audience and place them in a more suggestible state: speaking quickly, with a rapid-fire spewing of questionable statistics and the rushed quoting of university studies that may or may not be trustworthy.  After all, it’s old hat for individuals and organizations with something to sell (like weight loss products, for example) to commission sloppy university studies that support their shaky claims.

Roth made no friends when she rambled to a largely fat Nightline audience that “…the overweight person, their brain is four percent smaller than a healthy weight person…that’s out of the University of Pittsburgh. That’s how the University of Pittsburgh, the obese brain is eight percent smaller…by age seventy, than a healthy weight person.  You can laugh, but this is…this is in the mainstream science.”

Roth rattles off a lot of names and numbers to create a seemingly credible context for her message.  She hasn’t quite perfected her delivery, however – she wins over far fewer people than she rubs the wrong way.

Like Bensen, Roth claims to be fighting obesity for the greater good of society.  She cites obese family members as her inspiration:

“My father’s 300 pounds.  My mother in the ’80s was 225 pounds and I assure you, back then, that was considered very large.  My grandmother’s over 300 pounds in a 24-hour care facility, my aunts and uncles were all overweight.  My father used to do sprint track runs with me, and now can barely walk from one end of the Walmart to the other.  My mother has type 2 diabetes, my grandmother…uh, it is tragic.  She went from the point of being voluptuous, chubby, fat, obese, to morbidly obese, to a woman who stares out the window at a hummingbird feeder, who a few years ago decided it was too much effort to get out of bed to go to the bathroom.  So I do know obesity takes people, and I assure you the people in my family aren’t just a little overweight; they are dangerously, tragically overweight.”

However, Roth’s energetic crusade may be fueled by a loathing of her family roots, rather than a bleeding heart on their behalf.  Her efforts to “help” fat people may be, in actuality, the twisted acts of Roth’s angry, embarrassed inner adolescent.

If Roth was genuinely interested in improving the health of fat people and those in danger of getting fat, she would fight for things that are an inarguable physical benefit, while simultaneously steering clear of supporting anything that stands between fat people and a better quality of life.

Roth’s battles are schizophrenic.  On one hand, she believes fat people should lose weight because god forbid they should get as sickly and immobile as her beloved fat relatives – that would be tragic.

On the other hand, this compassionate spawn of giants works hard to egg on the marginalization of fat people. She encourages fat hatred by spreading the idea that fat people are making health insurance more expensive for everyone else.  She’s trying like hell to popularize the idea, and to what end?  So that fat people will eventually be unable to get insurance and thus health care, either because insurers will refuse them coverage, or charge amounts that are unmanageable?  Is that caring about the health of fat people?

If you believe Roth’s statistics about the alarming number of fat people in America today, how is denying affordable health care to such a huge segment of our population promoting a stronger, healthier nation?  Rather, it reeks of eugenics.  Perhaps Roth wants to concentrate on the prevention of fatness in children and let the existing fatties die off from neglect, sparing her of the uneasy transference of her familial humiliation onto fat society as a whole.

When fat people don’t devote themselves religiously to weight loss in precisely the ways Roth deems appropriate, she has the arrogance to accuse them of being defeatist.

In the Nightline debate, Marianne Kirby attempted to make a sound point about the diverse causes of obesity:

“It is almost impossible, I think, to sum up the reason why people are fat…There are a huge number of complex factors that go into human biology, and that go into the way our bodies process food and store fat, and respond to activity…To believe that we have some sort of conscious control…through the power of…absolute will…is, I think, a very socially irresponsible position to take.”

Roth’s prompt response was,

“I think defeatism is a socially irresponsible position.”

Accusing fat people of being defeatist does not support Roth’s self-professed mission of “reversing the obesity crisis”.  It is presumptuous, disrespectful, and dismissive.

Even if one assumes that eradicating obesity is the way to a healthier America, Roth’s refusal to hear fat people isn’t going to help anybody lose weight.  The reasons why people are fat can be complicated and varied.  Anyone with a sincere, unclouded agenda to simply make people healthier would be willing to entertain flexible approaches to improved health.  They would understand that unforgiving rigidity doesn’t work for most people.

Fat people have been trying to tell Meme Roth what’s working and what isn’t.  She isn’t listening.  She’s married to her ideas.  It doesn’t matter that they’re far from being the most effective in creating lasting change in the population.  And it doesn’t matter that throwing a floodlight on the most ridiculous claims of all – like fat people having smaller brains than thin people, thus suggesting inferior intelligence – puts most of the fat world on the defensive, unwilling to listen to anything Roth has to say.

There is ego involved here – not clean benevolence, not sainthood, not public service.  There’s a deep-seated personal agenda that has nothing to do with saving my fat ass or yours.  If this weren’t true, Meme Roth would be working with fat people, not against them.

It’s a shame Roth has chosen to foster a repellent, hard-edged persona, because some of what she says makes sense, but is unlikely to be heard.  Her point about food and the prominent place it takes in  American culture harkens back to observations made by David Kessler in his eye-opening book “The End of Overeating” (read my review of the book here).

Kessler spoke to people from other countries who found the presence of food in settings like business meetings and classrooms distinctly odd.  They marveled at our tendency to put a platter of sandwiches or bagels on a conference room table for every office gathering.  They didn’t understand why college students would bring snacks or even cups of coffee into a lecture.

I’m not opposed to questioning our culture – why do we feel the need to insert food into almost every social situation?  Aren’t our interactions with one another enough?  Can’t social occasions be centered around enriching activities rather than the consumption of food?  I think it’s a subject worth further discussion – though I’d probably leave Roth out of it.

I don’t believe fat-fighting generals like Roth and Bensen are truly evil – I don’t believe they wake up every morning and ask themselves, “Hmmm, now how can I torture a fat person today?”  Rather, they just have their heads far up their own behinds.  They’re more invested in their own PR than they are in creating real beneficial change for other people.  It’s their way or the highway, simply because they say so. And their way – at least in their eyes – has taken on an almost holy shimmer.  They couldn’t possibly be doing wrong by other human beings when they’re feeling so darn right.


43 Responses to “Of Fatness and False Benevolence”
  1. Meems says:

    “I couldn’t put on my own shoes,” she said. “Crossing my legs was something I just dreamed about doing…I couldn’t breathe when I slept at night. I had sleep apnea…my throat closed up, and I would snore so loudly, and I don’t snore at all anymore.”
    The woman’s failure to see outside of herself is downright dangerous.

    This is it exactly. I’m obese based on weight, though not plus sized, and maybe little more than “chubby” to the casual observer. And yet, I represent a very large percentage of those people who make up the “obesity epidemic.” I’m healthy, active, and can easily tie my own shoes or cross my legs when sitting. Any breathing issues I have are unrelated to my weight – I had them as a (very thin) child. Bensen really wants to represent obesity, but she’s just one person, and her experiences are hers and hers alone.

    As to Meme Roth’s totally unnecessary comment about brain size and obesity: women’s brains are, on average smaller than men’s. Are we less intelligent? If Roth knew anything, she’d know that the variation in brain size among humans has no real correlation to intelligence. I have no respect for that woman and am embarrassed that we share a name (even if it’s spelled differently). From how she’s described her eating habits, she has some pretty seriously disordered eating, and is potentially damaging her body by not nourishing it properly. I really think she’s just projecting her own issues and fears onto the general public.

    Thanks for writing this, Kim, I’m glad you’re still contributing.

  2. sleepydumpling says:

    Wonderful, wonderful post. Heading off to pop it on Stumble Upon ASAP.

    The thing with Roth is, she is clearly a woman filled with hate. Hate for her family, hate for fat people, hate for herself. And nothing good can EVER come of hatred.

  3. vitty10 says:

    This is just excellent. I think that Meme Roth is so hateful because she feels ashamed of her fat family. She is so invested in hating fat people (yes it is hatred, I doubt she’s actually concerned about my health) that rationality flies out of the window.

  4. Gina says:

    Wow – KIm Brittingham rails against KIm Bensen for promoting fat hatred, gets in a little dig about her “eventual triumph (so far) over obesity”, then launches into a full-fledged attack of Bensen’s weight loss business.

    Which is it, KImBritt? Are jealous of Bensen’s sustained weight loss? Or the fact that she appears to be making more money from her weight-loss empire than you are from your writing career? Or both?

    And yes, wishing weight regain on a successful dieter is a form of hatred. You don’t have the moral high ground here.

    • atchka says:

      Calm down. “(so far)” is in reference to the fact that at the five year mark, the overwhelming majority of people (95%) have regained that weight.

      She’s not wishing it on her, she’s just saying that, yeah Kim Bensen lost weight, but until her life is over, she sure as hell can’t claim it’s permanent.


    • kimbritt says:

      No, Gina, I am not the least bit jealous of Kim Bensen’s sustained weight loss, nor of any money she’s earning.

      Nowhere in my article did I wish weight regain on a successful dieter.

      THIS is not “wishing weight regain”:

      “…eventual triumph (so far) over obesity.” It’s simply acknowledging that, SO FAR, Ms. Bensen has maintained her weight; something not unreasonable to remark upon in this case, because Ms. Bensen herself speaks often about her years of yo-yo dieting.

      You’d have a point if perhaps I had written, “I really, really hope Kim Bensen regains all her weight. I’m wishing she would.”

      There is no wishing here. You have a reading comprehension problem. And your vitriol does not flatter you.

      • Gina says:

        Kim, you deliver a rant against a woman who lost over 200 pounds, wrote a successful diet book, has set up a weight loss website, and from all accounts appears to be a very nice person.

        Your rant is peppered with phrases like “building careers out of harming fat people and calling it “help”… “egocentric delusion”… “apparently delicate psyche”… “But I think it’s time to call the bullshitters on their phony benevolence asking fat people to swallow the bullshit all over again”… “an arrogance to Bensen’s campaign to ‘help’ others that’s downright reckless
        utterly irresponsible”… “downright dangerous”… “[her] ego, or a god-like belief in her singularly perfect ability to ‘fix’ fat people… “[living] inside her own narrow, self-centered world”…

        And you accuse me of being vitriolic?

        Maybe you aren’t the least bit jealous of Kim Bensen’s sustained weight loss, nor of any money she’s earning, but given the length and and tone of your screed, I find that a little hard to believe.

        As Bianca has sensibly pointed out below, Bensen is not forcing anybody to take her advice, join her site, or buy her stuff. Your criticism of her seems unwarranted, to say the least.

  5. Gina says:

    Calm down. “(so far)” is in reference to the fact that at the five year mark, the overwhelming majority of people (95%) have regained that weight.

    I know about the magical five-year mark at which dieters are meant to regain all their lost weight and more, thank you. A quick check of Kim Bensen’s Amazon page shows that she started her final diet in 2001. So including the time she spent losing, she has maintained her weight for about nine years.

    Add the fact that her livelihood and professional reputation depend on her continued maintenance, and I think it’s unlikely that Kim will regain, don’t you?

    I’m betting that in another nine years, Kim Bensen will still be the same weight, while Kim Brittingham will still be taking nasty little shots at people who succeeded where she has failed.

    • atchka says:

      Yeah, you know what that means? Unlike the rest of humanity, Kim Bensen is in that 5% who have success in weight loss.

      If the other 95% are likely to fail, but the Kim Bensen’s of the world continue saying, “You can do it because I did it!” then you are setting up 95% of the people for disappointment and bitter failure. In many cases for repeated cycles of weight loss, which is quite dangerous and unhealthy.

      So, yes, Kim Bensen’s work is not something to celebrate. She lost weight, good for her, but the rest of the world is dealing with a different kind of reality. And the fact that Miss Bensen refuses to acknowledge that reality is where I have a problem with her.

      There’s no jealousy, only frustration with her message of futility.


      • Gina says:

        I take your point, but the people who buy her book and subscribe to her website want to lose weight.

        FA proponents are a tiny minority of overweight/obese people, and will find it very difficult to convince the would-be dieters of the world that they are wasting their time.

        • atchka says:

          And that’s fine. But think about it this way… if this country magically became majority Christian Scientist, and the prevailing opinion was that we shouldn’t seek out medical intervention for our health problems, should the minority (those that support medical intervention) not criticize the majority, even though the majority for ignoring a growing body of evidence contrary to popular beliefs?

          That’s an extreme example, but it’s simply to put you in the mindset that if a certain group or person is pushing a faulty ideology and people are enthusiastically embracing it, we shouldn’t then say, “Well, they want to lose weight, so who are we to judge?”

          No, you fight misinformation and put as much truth out there as you can so that would-be dieters who have ridden the weight loss roller coaster for years can finally see the futility of their attempts and focus, instead, on something valuable, like health.


  6. I think criticism of Bensen is a bit over the top. She’s not forcing anybody to take her advice, join her site, or buy her stuff. At the end of the day, the people who choose to do so are adults, and are responsible for their own actions.

  7. Catgal says:

    Why did I get the distinct impression that Kim Bensen had WLS? I watched the whole debate and for some reason came off with the impression that she had a bypass… Weird.

    • Gina says:

      Not sure how you got that impression. According to the blurb for her book, she lost weight through dieting.

  8. living400lbs says:

    Wow, she’s admitting that yo-yo dieting is a loser’s game! How refreshing – now here’s a diet peddler I can trust!

    Not unlike casino and lottery advertisements…

    “I couldn’t put on my own shoes,” she said. “Crossing my legs was something I just dreamed about doing…I couldn’t breathe when I slept at night. I had sleep apnea…

    I realize that everyone is different but … this sort of thing makes me nuts.

    My thin father had trouble putting on his shoes when I was kid. He had to put his foot up on the piano bench to tie it because his hamstrings were too tight to bend over. I? Have no problem bending over to put on and tie my shoes, or sitting with my ankle on my knee to put on shes, or sitting cross-legged to put on and tie my shoes…

    Dad has sleep apnea too.

    Note again, my father was thin until he retired from his very physical job and quit smoking. Since then he’s put on 20 or 30lbs.

    They marveled at our tendency to put a platter of sandwiches or bagels on a conference room table for every office gathering.

    Still? The only meetings I’ve been to with food in the last 10 years have been all-day or most-of-the-day meetings where nobody would get lunch unless it was brought in.

    (10 years ago I did work in a group which had catered lunch meetings every Friday. I didn’t envy the group admin who was dealing with the various food/dietary restrictions (vegetarian and religious). We had a lot of quiches and a lot of chicken.)

    • Gina says:

      I? Have no problem bending over to put on and tie my shoes, or sitting with my ankle on my knee to put on shes, or sitting cross-legged to put on and tie my shoes…

      That’s great, but you have written on your blog about needing a motorized scooter to get around at Disneyland, not being able to walk up six flights of stairs without needing to catch your breath, and so forth. I understand that you have medical issues with your hip (or is it knee?) but I would find it hard to believe that your weight doesn’t affect your mobility.

      • living400lbs says:

        Yes, most of the times I’ve started an exercise program recently I’ve injured of my knees – right knee in the fall of 07, left knee last fall when I was gung-ho on walking faster in prep for my trip to Disney World (and neglecting the strength training).

        I ended up in physical therapy after the 07 problem, and repeated those exercises again after I screwed up last fall. Now I’m on a more gradual walking program and NOT neglecting the strength training.

        I’m sure some people assume my problems are ONLY due to being fat — including fat people. Part of why I write about this on my blog is that I’ve talked with and exchanged emails with fat folks who assume* that exercise is out of the question until they become thinner, and that if exercise hurts then they shouldn’t do it at all. To my mind, exercise is good for everyone, and if it hurts a lot or you injure yourself then you should do things differently.

      • Lori says:

        Do you know many thin people who can walk up SIX flights of stairs without needing to catch their breath? When I park on the upper level of the parking deck, which is three flights up, everybody is huffing by the time they get up there.

        • Gina says:

          Really? I don’t need to stop and catch my breath after walking briskly up ten flights. Sure, my heart rate gets up a bit, but I don’t need to actually stop and catch my breath. You must work with some very unfit people.

          • Lori says:

            You walk up ten FLIGHTS of stairs with your heartrate only getting up a little?

            I’ll be honest: I find that incredibly hard to believe.

          • Susan says:

            My heart rate increases, but I’m certainly not gasping, wheezing or need to stop and catch my breath. I don’t know why that’s so hard to believe.

          • anon says:

            Wait, I’m confused. Are Susan and Gina the same person?

          • Marlie says:

            It’s just very rare.

            I believe you, because it would be a silly thing to lie about.

            But I am curious:

            Is climbing stairs apart of your exercise routine? Do you live in a walk-up? I just don’t have anywhere in my life other than a workout, where I would have the opportunity to climb 10 flights of stairs. Are they actual stairs, or a stairclimber?

  9. wriggles says:

    Roth’s prompt response was,

    “I think defeatism is a socially irresponsible position.”

    This is one of the things I find odd about MeMe Roth, how she writes off her own family, even though she loves them.

    When you look at other people who believe members of their family are dying, they tend to agitate and advocate for cures that actually work. They don’t just say, this is what there is and if my loved ones can’t use it, they kind of deserve to be written off.

    If you wish to find a solution to something, you keep going until you find a viable one, pretending you have one when you don’t, is ‘giving up’.

    As for Kim Bensen, as far as I can tell she was slim for most of her adult life and became fat then eventually lost it again. Maybe that’s why she held her body in such low esteem that she happily dieted up to beyond what most people weigh in order to lose it. Most of us will never have that ‘dedication’, thank goodness.

    • Gina says:

      Maybe that’s why she held her body in such low esteem that she happily dieted up to beyond what most people weigh in order to lose it.

      Except that, judging from what she said to Marianne Kirby (“You didn’t diet your way up to that size”) Kim Bensen would deny that she “dieted” up to her highest weight.

      • wriggles says:

        “You didn’t diet your way up to that size”

        Yeah, you’re right, she did say that. Then she back tracked whilst Marianne was answering her question and said “that’s what I did”.

        That bit when she asks Marianne how she got to be that size was really confused, Kim Bensen seems to lose track of her question and ends up maybe not asking the question she wanted to.

        Either way, it seems that she was slim into her thirties at least.

        I’m a little tired of “five minute fatties” telling those of us who’ve been fat since childhood about what they clearly know nothing about, just because their body spontaneously remembers how to be how it’s been for most of it’s life. If it her weight loss was purely down to dieting, it would have worked long ago.

        They should reserve their advice for those it applies to, although I wouldn’t advise them to go down her direction either, frankly.

        • Gina says:

          I do agree with you that weight loss is a very different prospect for people who have been fat since childhood than it is for “five minute fatties” (love that expression!)

          I don’t know Kim Bensen’s history, but she did lose over 200 pounds and has kept it off for 8-9 years, so that gives her a lot of credibility in my eyes.

          • wriggles says:

            but she did lose over 200 pounds and has kept it off for 8-9 years, so that gives her a lot of credibility in my eyes.

            A lot of our bodies have lost over 200 pounds ourselves; by not putting it on in the first place.

          • Gina says:

            A lot of our bodies have lost over 200 pounds ourselves; by not putting it on in the first place.

            That doesn’t make any sense.

          • wriggles says:

            What doesn’t make sense to me is how anyone who judges people by what they weigh can support such weight gain in the service of weight loss dieting.

          • Nikki says:

            You’re only supposing that they MIGHT gain weight. If someone WANTS to lose weight, that is his/her decision.

            Saying they shouldn’t try because it might end badly is like saying I should never go on a date because there is a 99% chance someone will end up getting their feelings hurt and the relationship won’t work out. If I want to find a lasting relationship, I have to keep putting myself out there no matter how many feelings get hurt and no matter how many times it doesn’t work out.

          • Lori says:

            I think, though, that telling people not to is different from giving them the facts in advance. If 95% of all dieters regain the weight, and most of those regain more than they lost–and, in both cases, this seems to be true no matter how well one sticks to the diet/exercise plan–then that’s information a person should have before embarking on a weight loss diet.

            It’s different from the relationship example because studies have actually been done on weight loss dieting, and we know their success rates. It would be more like saying that about half of all marriages end in divorce. That’s a statistical fact. Now, it may or may not dissuade someone from getting married. (It didn’t dissuade me.) But, if somebody is going into marriage thinking, “We will NEVER get divorced, because if people just try hard enough, every single marriage works out great!” then somebody probably should give them a bit of a reality check, so they can base their decision on something other than wishful thinking.

            People have a right to know the pros and cons of weight loss dieting, especially since all we are ever given in the media are the pros. Nobody advertises the documented failure rates of dieting, and I do think that’s essential information for people to have if they are going to make informed decisions about their bodies and health. If the point is to lose weight, and it’s much more likely than not that you’ll end up fatter after a diet than you were before than that you’ll maintain a significant weight loss, that’s something that should factor into your decision.

          • Lori says:

            Why does that give her credibility? The plural of anecdote, as we all know, isn’t data. Just because one person has done something–through which means we don’t know–doesn’t mean everybody else can or should. (And, re: the WLS thing, just because her book says she dieted the weight off, doesn’t mean it’s true. See Starr Jones.)

            It reminds me of a funny comedy piece a friend of mine who is blind showed me one time, where a comedian who was blind was saying that, if he could punch one person, it would be the blind guy who climbed the Andes. She totally agreed. Because this guy was constantly being held up as, “See, he can do that, so you can do anything!” Or, in a less positive way, “He was able to climb the Andes, and you need help doing _____?” (fill in the blank with some task less arduous than climbing a mountain). Just because one blind person had either the good luck, support, and/or motivation to climb a mountain doesn’t mean that it’s a task that’s in reach for most blind people, nor should it be.

            There are plenty of people in the world who devote inordinate amounts of time and energy to doing things that are unusual or uncommon. And, if they want to do that, that’s fine. Since Bensen’s weight loss has not, as far as I can tell, contributed to the good of humanity, I’m not going to start applauding it for it any more than I’m going to applaud somebody who, say, spends tons of time playing a video game and beats a high score, but she can do what she wants. The idea, though, that everybody either should or can do what she did is the problem.

          • Gina says:

            While you may not be interested in losing weight or maintaining a “normal” weight, you are in the minority. So while FA advocates don’t find Kim Bensen inspirational, many more people do.

            As for suggesting she may have had WLS, I find that very mean-spirited.

          • Catgal says:

            I did not mean it in a mean spirited way at all. That was just the impression I got. I have had WLS myself, and believe me, it’s no panacea.

          • Lori says:

            I didn’t suggest she had WLS. You were the one who claimed that, because her book said she just used diet and exercise, that must be true. I was just pointing out that Starr Jones’ book said the same thing. Just because it’s not mentioned in a book a person in trying to sell to promote their diet/weight loss plan, doesn’t mean they didn’t get it. I have no idea whether she had WLS or not, and don’t really care either way.

            And, I’d rather be in the minority and maintain, as I have, a stable weight (that every doctor I’ve seen has been completely happy with, given that I take a medication that has weight gain as a side effect) for the last 12 years aside from when I’ve been pregnant or nursing, then like too many people who yo-yo diet themselves up to a weight that ends up being significantly higher than where they started out. So, no, I don’t find weight loss, in anybody, “inspirational.” I’d rather be inspired by people doing things to genuinely help others and make the world better, then by people who have succeed to conform their bodies to cultural standards.

  10. lifeonfats says:

    The problem is, many who have lost weight through whatever means and have managed to keep it off for a number of years believe that all fat people can do the same thing and it’s not true. Every body is different and despite what you don’t want to believe, some people will never be thin (which as we’ve seen these days) is open to interpretation when we’ve got people who think Beyonce and Mariah Carey are obese.

    Not losing weight is not a failure, it is a sign that perhaps the body is not meant to be thin and likes where it is. If we as a society stop buying into these myths that all fat peoples’ bodies are the same—full of disease and limited physical mobility, then maybe we’ll be a lot better off as far as treating fatties like decent human beings.

    And that’s what it all boils down to. Being treated like individual human beings, not some monster with a hive mind.

  11. Nikki says:

    This is in response to Lori above, but the replies were getting too cramped to read so I posted down here…

    I was framing the relationship example in the context of, I have been on literally hundreds of dates in the past 10 years and none of them has resulted in a marriage. Since that’s the reason I go on dates, I have a 0% success rate at dating. 🙂

    I think the information that dieting will probably not have permanent, significant results is advertised (i.e., “results not typical”) but people who want to lose weight very badly will ignore those disclaimers.

    I disagree that the studies show most “failed” dieters stuck to the diet — in “Rethinking Thin” every participant admits to straying from the diet.

    Also, I think it is true that many people can be overweight or obese and NOT experience health problems. I absolutely 100% believe that this is true. But on the flip side of the coin, there are also overweight and obese people experiencing health problems related to or aggravated by their weight (sleep apnea, diabetes, blood pressure, joint pain, etc.). If losing weight can help these people, I don’t see why they shouldn’t try. If Kim Bensen can help, I don’t see why she shouldn’t. A person might gain more weight, but if there is a possibility they could keep the weight off, I think they should try and I don’t think they should be discouraged from trying. I say this as a person who lost 70 lbs. over 5 years ago and has kept the weight off. I tried many diets before and failed.

    Do I think every person in the world can lose 70 lbs. and keep it off? No, I would not generalize my experience to the entire world. But I know there are people in the world like me who would benefit from weight loss, and if those people would really like to lose weight, I think they should do it.

    • wriggles says:

      I disagree that the studies show most “failed” dieters stuck to the diet — in “Rethinking Thin” every participant admits to straying from the diet.

      If people can’t take the medicine, then the medicine is no good.

    • Meems says:

      I actually see the flip side as the thin people who have all these diseases we associate with weight, like diabetes or sleep apnea or high cholesterol. The problem is that weight loss doesn’t always alleviate any of these problems. In fact, I believe I’ve read that weight loss doesn’t have a statistically significant effect on an individual’s ability to control his/her blood sugars.

      This isn’t to say that I think that people should eat a diet of nothing but fast food if they feel like it, and eating differently can undoubtedly impact health.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. 6 Tips to Improve Your Body Image | Body Image Mastery says:

    […] Of Fatness and False Benevolence « Body Image Blog We Are The Real Deal […]

  2. CHINESE WISDOM | couple dress up games says:

    […] Of Fatness and False Benevolence : We Are the Real Deal […]

WordPress SEO
Get Adobe Flash player Plugin by wordpress themes