by Linda Bacon, PhD, and Lucy Aphramor, PhD, RD The Health At Every Size® Blog is honored to feature this post, which is also being posted as part of the “Featured Bloggers” online conference takin…“Obesity-related” disease actually tracks your social status more than what size clothing you wear. In developed nations, data show, members of stigmatized groups, including those who are economically disadvantaged and people of color, are the most common victims of illnesses typically grouped under the “metabolic” umbrella.All forms of discrimination rely on stereotypes that lead to unfair prejudice, and weight discrimination is no exception. Scapegoating fatness and fatter people leads to disadvantage throughout the life-course, from education through to the workplace, travel, adoption, healthcare, insurance – and research increasingly shows, this bias in itself promotes metabolic disease. Is it coincidence or just irony that these diseases happen to be the ones we usually blame on weight? Metabolic syndrome tracks inversely with social status: The lower you fall on the social scale, the more likely you are to develop symptoms. The phenomenon has often been blamed on poverty-induced “bad habits,” where poor nutrition and a lack of exercise are assumed to lead to weight gain. But even when we control for health behaviors and BMI, studies show the health discrepancies persist. (In a sampling of studies, health-related behaviors accounted for only 5 to 18 percent of neuroendocrine differences that lead to metabolic syndrome.) So what can be making disadvantaged and stigmatized people sicker, or more accurately, fatter and sicker, than the rest of us?The day in day out strain of living in poverty and the experience of oppression and stigma lead to chronic physiological stress. We’re not talking long-line-at-Starbucks stress but the hyper-hormonal “fight or flight” chased-by-a-tiger rush that tenses your entire system for survival – at the expense of ordinary, necessary biological functions. Extensive research documents that chronic stress of this type can raise cholesterol, blood pressure, triglyceride levels, stimulate inflammation, and impair insulin sensitivity, all of which can lead to the metabolic conditions associated with obesity, including hypertension, diabetes, and coronary heart disease.Do eating, exercise, and drinking patterns also affect these conditions? Sure, but contrary to mainstream spin, their impact is somewhere below 25 percent of measured causation, far below the impact of social status and daily psychological stress.Hectoring the population to “eat better, exercise and lose weight” misleads and has proven harmful, so it’s time for new approaches that cultivate equality and don’t harp on body size. Health – and social – policy must focus instead on equalizing life chances, reducing stigma and mitigating the physiological impact of stress. (Telling a patient she’s too fat, by the way? Not stress-reducing.)
Safe Spaces and Intersectionality
In the social justice sphere, probably the two most talked about issues are safe spaces and intersectionality; it is ironic because safe spaces don’t exist and intersectionality is something we pay lip service to. Even if a blogger does their absolute best to set a tone that respects differences between people, some jackass will decide in the comment section that this is simply unacceptable, and then proceed to spew their shite all over the comment section. To some degree, the blogger will have some control, because zie will have the option to ban, delete or simply not publish said comment, but regardless, someone has to wade through this muck.
Intersectionality is supposedly about eradicating the concept of competing oppressions and the end of the idea that there is any such thing as a good oppression. Since none of us are born outside of discourse, this means that we still at the very least subconsciously repeat patterns of behaviour and modes of thought that we claim to be against. How often have you seen a single issue blog that is determined to fight, sexism, racism, homophobia etc., turn around and oppress another group in the project of securing rights for themselves? Because these blogs are largely insular, they don’t get called out regularly on their failures, or those that do protest, are quickly overwhelmed with the onslaught of denial.
All of this of course leads to an unsafe space. Do you see how this creates a circle of oppression? I think what bothers me the most, is that in the act of calling out privilege, far too many forget that they still exist with privilege. If someone is marginalized, they are oppressed, and they should not have to justify this by producing a pound of flesh, as evidence of the way that they have been harmed, when we know that homophobia, racism, sexism, transphobia, disableism, ageism etc., (yes there are more) are institutionalized. The very fact that we demand this evidence, is proof of unacknowledged privilege. Imagine for one moment the need to relate the most painful events of your life to prove that you are oppressed. What kind of sense does this make? To me it feels like revictimizing someone who has already been dreadfully hurt.
Every community, no matter what form of oppression that they have faced, has actively oppressed another group. It is a very easy thing to do, because we are all taught from birth to respect and enforce hierarchy. This of course becomes complicated when one’s body becomes representative of several oppressions. I was born a Black woman, but I became disabled, and when this happened, I finally had a true understanding of the need for intersectionality, because my body became a reflection of it. I learned that having privilege in one area, does not negate the oppression someone faces in another.
Even with all that I have learned, I still make mistakes. Sometimes, as in the case of the trans community, I have gotten on my pedestal claiming to fight transphobia and cissexism, and then promptly engaged in it myself. Most recently, I think that I have been guilty of erasure. If you look through this blog, you will find many articles written by me specifically arguing against the suggestion that the Black community is specifically homophobic, but what I neglected to mention was the other side of the coin, the GLBT community is not uniquely racist either. While I have written articles against homophobia, and even have several BLGT contributors, I trusted my previous actions to speak for my feelings and by so doing, I ignored the way that when race enters the picture, suddenly the effects of homophobia or transphobia, seem to disappear in conversations in the social justice blogosphere. I am as guilty as anyone else and I apologize.
A White TLBG person will always have racial privilege. Nothing that they say or do will ever erase this, but this does not mean that the attacks that they face based specifically in cissexism and heterosexism should ever be minimized, no matter what the intersection is. Just as I decry racism, I must work to ensure that it is not over shadowed by cissexism and heterosexism, because they are harmful and wrong. I think for me, it was easy to let this slide, because I am a person of colour, and I know first hand the effects of racism. To take this idea one step further, the elements of the GLBT that are racist are no more respective of the entire community than the elements of the Black community that are homophobic. What we need to do is to have conversations about the isms rather than attacking each other because when we do this the project of acquiring equality is stalled. As oppressed people, we have far more in common than we recognize, and this pursuit to ensure that hierarchy is enforced in our various communities, is harmful and parroting the oppressor.
- Renee at Womanist Musings
This is an amazing post by Renee that relates to a lot of arguing that happens between social activism communities. She breaks it down like the amazing person she is, once again.
If you haven’t visited her blog, Womanist Musings yet, I highly recommend you do so immediately.
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