Friday, July 06, 2007

I got a response! What fun!

Here it is:

Dear Spins,

The editors at the News and Review forwarded your eloquent letter to me, and that letter deserves a reply, though it's not likely that anything I say will change your view of the piece I wrote.

First, let me apologize for any pain my essay may have caused. My intention was not to belittle fat people, but rather to make a serious point about the epidemic of obesity in our nation, and to connect that epidemic with the laziness and apathy I find in the American populace. I did not intend to offer insult, though your letter clearly shows that I did, and I regret that. It was not my intent to make fun of people who have often been the target of derision.

But when some 60% of the nation has become obese, and when rates of Type II diabetes due to diet are skyrocketing, clearly there is something wrong. And, though it may seem a stretch, when a majority of Americans exercise neither their bodies, their minds, nor their franchise to vote, that also suggests that something is wrong.

The target of my piece was not individuals who are overweight--though your letter gives me to know it came across that way--but a nation that has grown flabby in character. And, though I know that many people fight the problem of weight just as I sometimes do, I also know that, for most people, weight loss can be accomplished rather simply by minding caloric intake, along with a program of exercise.

Beyond the laziness and the ignorance that leads a big swath of the population to eat processed foods and supersized portions from fast food restaurants, there is the problem of high fructose additives in much of what is sold to us. And, though many people struggle mightily to manage their weight, I think you must agree that a significant percentage of people who are currently overweight have taken no responsibility for their own health, neither by informing themselves about nutrition, nor by attempting in any way to control their caloric intake.

I don't blame you for resenting a writer who presumes to use you as a metaphor for a national malaise, though there surely is some correlation between the large number of people who refuse to take responsibility either for their weight or the state of the nation, who are lazily indifferent to the news whether that news is about nutrition, justice, or wars in distant lands.

I admired your letter, both in style and substance, and I regret that my attempt to express an opinion about the sorry state of the nation bore hurt for people struggling to control their weight, or their attitudes about their bodies.

Sincerely,
Jaime O'Neill

*******
And of course, I had to respond to that:

Mr. O'Neill:

Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think that what is frustrating to myself and to others like me who have struggled with weight and dieting for most of our lives is that there is an assumption, based in a large part on how we look, that we are exactly what you have described: people who do not have a care for the consequences of our actions. Indeed, with greater and greater stridency this message is proclaimed by the media everyday.

But someone out there is feeding the multi-billion dollar weight loss/fitness enterprises. The sheer amount of money that people put out to try to lose weight, the growing numbers of people who are willing to risk their life to undergo bariatric surgeries each year, tell me, at least that people are trying, even though recent reviews of the literature confirm that diets are not effective for the majority of dieters over the long term.

And those who are at the greatest risk for being overweight and obese, those populations which eat processed foods and fast food most often? They are often poor with limited access to afordable whole foods in their neighborhoods. And exercise? I once made the mistake of asking one of my West Oakland clients who couldn't afford a gym membership why she just didn't walk in her neighborhood. I got a good lesson in what it is like to walk alone through a neighborhood with limited resources.

I did understand your analogy regarding obesity and our country's disproportionate consumption of the world's resources, but I guess that for me it does not work. I don't think that the people in the US are lazy, per se, or don't care about people in other countries (although it's almost always true that an individual will care more about those that they have a common bond with than others), I think instead there exists a profound apathy. People feel utterly helpless in the face of a problem the scope of which you describe.

I wonder what instead it would be like if, instead of insulting people for their actions in an attempt to shame them into change, someone like you could propose an empowering message of confidence in the power of what people can do if they put their minds to it?

There is a small and growing number of people who advocate Health at Every Size within the fat acceptance movement. Hearing this message helped me to break a rather distructive spiral of attempting to diet my way into a better life, and I now have more motivation to actually do things which keep me living rather than retreating from life until I weighed what I should.

People need inspiration. We need to hear, if we are to vote, what initiatives would begin to help change the world, even on a small scale. We need to learn about the grassroots efforts that we who are not leaders can provide support to.

I thank you for the opportunity to create dialogue, and I'm glad you were able to hear what I had written. If you would like to learn more about some of the research about weight and obesity that is ignored or how some of the current research is being twisted, I would recommend reading Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin or go to visit the very interesting website Junk Food Science.

Sincerely,
Spins

14 comments:

Sonia said...

"And, though I know that many people fight the problem of weight just as I sometimes do, I also know that, for most people, weight loss can be accomplished rather simply by minding caloric intake, along with a program of exercise."

you mean that's all i have to do? man! if only i'd known it was so SIMPLE!

(i got here through kate harding's blog. thanks for writing to them.)

spinsterwitch said...

Another further update:

It seems I've caught more flies with honey than with vinegar as I got another reply.

I have to run off for the day or I'd post that, but he responded again quite civilly and with a reflection on the complexity of the issue of weight. He's also said that he is interested in looking into the resources I gave him, so hopefully that education will help.

Thorny said...

You are so awesome! I'm here via Shapely Prose, and just... you kicked so much ass there!

I've have read the constantly patronizing thermodynamics BS and lost my shit righ there, and never would have managed to respond to his reply.

Go you!

Kate Harding said...

*APPLAUSE*

Kate Harding said...

Note, that was for you, not him.

I'll admit that this is more than I expected from him, but there's a reason why "I think we can agree we're in the middle of an epidemic" is on the Fat Hate Bingo card. Sigh.

Glad he claims to be looking into Kolata and JFS, though.

Becky said...

Amazing letter! You're so eloquent. It was considerate of him to reply, but:

I think you must agree that a significant percentage of people who are currently overweight have taken no responsibility for their own health, neither by informing themselves about nutrition, nor by attempting in any way to control their caloric intake.


I don't have to agree to anything of the sort! I don't know a single fat person who isn't trying to control their caloric intake... or who hasn't at least tried to do so in the past and found it didn't work for them. But of course, those people must all be liars who secretly gorge themselves on food, right? *eyeroll*

Hippy Chick said...

Go Spins! That was totally awesome - go you!!! :)

meowser said...

Shit, dude, you were nicer to him than I would have been. "Most" fat people have never made any attempt to eat healthier or cut calories or exercise more? Really? How many fat people does he know personally, anyway? (Homer Simpson doesn't count as someone you "know personally.")

But if you got him to read Kolata and Campos, maybe I can learn something from you about not flying off the handle. I was just so infuriated by the "fat people on scooters" thing I could barely type straight.

La di Da said...

You are awesome! And as others have said, much more patient and eloquent than the likes of me when trying to deal with people who haven't figured out that fat != lazy and gluttonous and ignorant.

I'm hanging out to see what you say next. :)

buffpuff said...

Okay, he still obviously thinks health is a moral imperative but what a fantastic result, spinsterwitch! Last year I challenged a similarly unpleasant piece of bigotry in the UK's Daily Mail. Like you I wrote to the editor as well as the author and the paper sent a photographer round to my flat who told me they were running my response as their leading letter.

Unfortunately what they printed bore scant resemblance to what I had written; not did I ever receive an acknowlegement, let alone an apology, from the author. I did write to the editor again saying I would have gladly have forgone the mugshot and bold type in favour of the Mail publishing more of my genuine words, opinion and depth of feeling as opposed to the sanitised, neutralised and heavily paraphrased version they did run.

Maybe I need to work on the honey thing...

Anonymous said...

Spins -- Way to go! Every bit of activism is great. Boy, you were nicer than I would have been. I have this "stupid" belief that journalists have a responsibility to their readers to do their job professionally and report accurately. Virtually every sentence in his letter (and article) was nothing but fat prejudice based on complete and utter garbage science.

1. “an effort to make a serious point about an epidemic” -- he made NO effort to research and learn the facts before he published his piece. His original article called fat people dumb and ugly, “rapacious, gluttonous, insatiable nation of swine, the Pig People of North America, the fat neighbors who are fouling the whole neighborhood, consuming everything in sight, and strewing waste in your wake.... overstuffed swine wallowing in the mud of our laziness and indifference...” These are not the words of anyone trying to do anything credible. This is nothing more than name-calling and bullying.

2. “connect that epidemic with the laziness and apathy I find in the American populace” -- a statement of prejudice pure and simple; fat people are not lazy or uncaring.

3. “some 60% of the nation has become obese” -- false, he could have easily found the actual stats, just as he could have researched and learn we are not even the fattest nation in the world

4. “rates of Type II diabetes due to diet are skyrocketing” -- false, he could have easily found those, too, and would see rates are not skyrocketing but age-related; he could also have easily researched and learned that diet does not cause diabetes

5. “a majority of Americans exercise neither their bodies, their minds” -- false, most people move their bodies, and education levels have never been higher in the history of our country

6. “weight loss can be accomplished rather simply by minding caloric intake, along with a program of exercise” -- oh, PLEEASE. Show us the proof.

7. “laziness and the ignorance that leads a big swath of the population to eat processed foods and supersized portions from fast food restaurants” -- good grief, he appears to get his science from movies because he clearly has not bothered to look at credible sources for the facts about portions, calories and fat intakes in the population over the past century, nor to have the remotest concept of chemistry and food science to understand “processed”

8. “significant percentage of people who are currently overweight have taken no responsibility for their own health, neither by informing themselves about nutrition, nor by attempting in any way to control their caloric intake.” -- I’m feeling queezy now. He clearly equates weight with health and believes body sizes are a matter of “personal responsibility” rather than genetics; and fat people make up the greatest number of dieters and virtually every fat person can cite calorie counts in their sleep.

9. “sorry state of the nation” -- things are only dire to those trying to scare us and manipulate us.

10. “regret that my attempt to express an opinion... bore hurt for people struggling to control ...their attitudes about their bodies” -- that is the most disingenuine of all; acceptance of diversity is what all people need, not hateful assumptions about their behaviors, health and morals based on how they look.

LavaLady said...

Go Spins! I saw your name on comments at Kate Harding's place a couple of weeks ago, btw, small world! - I'm so glad you wrote that letter - it was a great reasoned response, one I never could have given. I love (read:actually hate) how people really believe it's a simple equation. We are not cars...

Aravis said...

What a terrific dialogue the two of you have going. It's amazing what can happen when someone is willing to listen to another point of view.

suburbanhen said...

off topic, what's your email address, spinny?

please reply to henlet at suburbanhen@gmail.com