Tuesday, May 26, 2009
They don't even know they're doing it
Like most smallish local newspapers these days, the one in my town picks up a lot of copy from various sources. I'm not a fan of such content recycling, though I understand why it's done.
This item is the kind of thing I mean: a list that ran in a section called The Daily Dose, under a headline reading "Indulge, But Not Too Much." The intro copy reads "Almost everyone needs to indulge once in a while, so why not today, Memorial Day? Here are some ways to limit the damage, nutritionists say:"
Then follows a list of seven tips. Here's number 1 (the quotes are from the original):
Keep it occasional. There's nothing wrong with a little "cheating." Whether it's once a day or once a week depends on your weight, health, overall diet and activity level.
Can I tell you how many ways from here to next week this pisses me off? For starters, the assumption that everyone who reads this is on a diet. And not only are they on a diet, they're always on a diet. Hence the word cheating.
Wake up, people. Diets don't work. You know it, I know it, and researchers at UCLA said so several years ago, so it must be true. Yet this inane little piece assumes that everyone is continually on a diet. Or should be.
It's the assumption that gets me: the idea that any "indulgence" constitutes "cheating," that your entire life is supposed to be spent restricting what you eat, counting calories and fat grams. This assumption underlies 95 percent of the ongoing cultural conversation. It's so insidious we don't even name it, much less question it.
And check out the infantilizing language around this: We indulge like naughty children. We cheat like even naughtier children. When we're not being good, we're being bad. And like naughty children, we must be punished for our transgressions--in this case, by threats of the "damage" we're causing ourselves, and with warnings about how being fat will kill us.
I hated this kind of thing when I was 5. I damn well hate it now.
We don't hear much about findings like this one, which show that overweight heart attack survivors outlive thin ones, including those who follow the doctor's orders and lose weight after a heart attack.
My point is that by now, the bias against fat in every form is so widespread, so widely accepted, that to question it is the equivalent of throwing a rock through the neighbor's window: being a naughty child par excellence.
I wish the editors at my local paper had thought about this item before they plugged it into the hole on the features page*, but I really can't blame them. In 21st-century America, it's far worse to be fat than to be unfaithful to your spouse, to bilk your investors, to not give to charity. Several years ago, researcher Abigail Saguy coined the term moral panic to describe the way we talk and think about being fat in this society. I would add "unthinking, unquestioning moral panic." As items like this underscore all too well.
*In many ways, it doesn't even make sense. The list goes on to suggest that you "eat the real stuff" like ice cream (though only a half cup! Never more than that!) and "mix salt with fat" by adding peanut butter to your pretzels, but ends with the admonition, "Pretzels and baked potato chips are examples of tasty snacks without artery-clogging trans fats." Hello, how do you think we got to where we are now? It wasn't until the low-fat craze of the 1980s that Americans' weight began to rise.