Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg has attempted to ban salt, trans fats, big gulps, baby formula, escalators, colorful cigarette packages and styrofoam cups. That’s not a complete list. Now, he plans to ban electronic cigarettes, according to newly drafted tobacco bills leaked by the Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA). Rather than asking what’s wrong with legal substances and those who use them, it’s well past time that we ask what’s wrong with Mayor Bloomberg.
We laugh and sometimes mock such comedic arrogance, but this orgy of bans has serious and damaging consequences. To be robbed of the right to make one’s own choices and therefore, one’s own mistakes, keeps people in a perpetual child-like state. The greatest risk to our health right now is the loss of the whole notion of freedom and responsibility.
What is and is not healthy for us has never been without controversy and those opinions continue to change and evolve. Artibrarily banning products and services and claiming that doing so will make everyone healthier, thinner or safer often has the opposite effect. The notion that anyone can change another person’s personal habits through force or coercion is preposterous. That anyone would seriously try, is what is particularly disturbing. In the area of food and weight concerns, it adds to the shame and the sense of powerlessness, which can create or exacerbate weight problems and eating disorders in the first place. For example, a ban on “junk food” in school lunches in California last year produced a black market in chocolate syrup. Chocolate milk has never been so popular.
Was it a joke? Or are we living in an alternative universe? The by-words of the politically correct used to be, “tolerance,” “diversity,” “no-more-bullying,” and “mean people suck.”
Now, in the name of “but we have to DO something, anything!” comes a proposal for institutionalized bigotry and elevating the shaming of fat people to a moral obligation.
A bioethicist named Daniel Callahan thinks it’s a good idea to shame obese people because they simply don’t know that being fat heaps social disapproval and discrimination upon them. He says they just aren’t aware of how fat they are and we ought to embark on a new era of “zero tolerance for body fat.” He adds that he “can’t see how anyone could possibly have a problem with that.”
A billion dollar weight loss industry hasn’t been able to come up with a one-size-fits-all magic pill that eradicates obesity from the planet and that’s the best he can do? Institutionalized bigotry? Don’t get me wrong. I would like him to stop doing altogether and recognize that he only gets to be in charge of his own body and not everyone else’s.
Among other things Mr. Callahan doesn’t understand is that some people regardless of their age or class, unconsciously use extra weight to set a boundary against exactly the kind of intrusion and cruelty he thinks is in their best interest to tolerate. There are many other complex causes for obesity, none of which respond to shame or one-size-fits-all solutions.
While I don’t recommend it as a coping mechanism, obesity for some represents an unconscious response to sexual abuse. It can be an act of defiance and strength, unlike Mr. Callahan suggests (who is certain that it always means ‘lazy, self-indulgent, lacking in discipline, awkward, unattractive, weak-willed and sloppy.’) There is actually something worse than not looking good, though Mr. Callahan would be hard-pressed to know what that is.
Should Mr. Callahan be the one to force (as if he could) others to remove that protection just so he won’t be offended by their pulchritude?
It’s clear that Callahan and people like him are the ones with the problem. But just as some believe about our waistlines, the problem is growing into an epidemic.
Many people with weight issues have unfortunately been so beaten down by the stigma of which they are very well aware, that they do a great job of hating themselves before others get the chance–almost out of a sense of obligation. The treatment for these patients is to attempt to undo that ugly cycle.
Civil rights, tolerance, “Fat is a Feminist Issue” all appear to have been thrown under the bus in favor of “but don’t we have to DO something?” Where are Bella Abzug and Gloria Steinem when you need them? Or would they have been co-opted onto this new fat-phobia bandwagon too?
There’s one more thing to say to Mr. Callahan: You ought to be ashamed.
I’ve never met Dara-Lynn Weiss but a few things about her are certainly familiar to me. Weiss is the “diet mom” who wrote a piece for Vogue about putting her seven-year-old daughter on a diet. The piece was reviled and roundly criticized. What happened after that? She got a book deal.
Ms. Weiss’ unapologetic book, ” The Heavy,” came out last week. In some corners, some of the old criticism has turned to praise. Some have even called her “brave” to dare put her daughter on a diet.
What has happened that a growing number of people accept the idea of food police in their everyday lives and the lives of others? I could write a book. Oh, wait a minute…
There’s so much to say here but just to begin: Mothers don’t have to put their daughters in beauty pageants to suffer from “Princess by Proxy” syndrome. Weiss’ book, the tour and the praise is clearly all about Weiss herself. But who speaks for the children? Just as with extreme pageant moms, we may have to wait a few more decades to find out. In the meantime, Weiss is being rewarded with exactly the kind of national recognition that “Honey Boo Boo”‘s mother Mama June is enjoying. Who would have thunk such different moms had so much in common?
No matter how much a child may say that it doesn’t bother her to be scrutinized and displayed, she cannot answer the question for the same reason that it is inappropriate to thrust her into adulthood in the first place.
By the time these kids can speak out, it’ll be much too late. Finding one’s way to a healthy adulthood is challenging enough. Such unnecessary stumbling blocks of body and boundary violation must not become an accepted part of the popular culture. If they do, who will speak out for children then?
From Mayor Bloomberg’s large-sized soda ban and a myriad of other culinary commandments, to burgeoning student protests about their school lunch fare, there appears to be a food fight brewing that could rival John Belushi in National Lampoon’s Animal House.
The ever-changing controversy about what is and is not healthy for us to consume is not unusual. What is disturbing here, is that some people whom I refer to as FYOGs (For Your Own Gooders, pronounced Fahye-Ogs) have appointed themselves lord and master over the rest of us and over our appetites.
Who gave them this jurisdiction some of us would like to know? Was it written in the Constitution? “Thou shalt have the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and control over what other people eat ?” Or was it when the hysteria over the “obesity epidemic” caused some to take leave of their senses and tolerate intrusion into their lives and stomachs, the likes of which we’ve never seen?
Either way, kids seem to understand the fundamental boundary that has been crossed when FYOGs mess with their munchees. In Wisconsin, students staged a strike out of hunger and frustration, as seen in JS Online. Wallace County High School in Sharon Springs, Kansas, created a YouTube video, “We Are Hungry,” pointing out the absurdity of grossly applied calorie guidelines. In New Bedford, Massachusetts there’s a new appetite and a black market for chocolate syrup.
This troubling trend puts some very serious issues on the menu. If anyone, whether fat or thin, young or old, is willing to tolerate dictums from self-appointed food dictators, will they ever learn to be in command of their own appetites? And even if they don’t make the choices we might make, are we willing to cross the line that may well lead to a nationwide FATLASH?
According to ObesityMyths.com “thirty-five million Americans went to sleep one night in 1998 at a government-approved weight and woke up “overweight” the next morning, thanks to a change in the government’s definition. That group includes currently “overweight” celebrities like Will Smith and Pierce Brosnan, as well as NBA stars Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.” “Overweight” had previously been defined as a BMI of 27.8 for men and 27.3 for women; in 1998 it was lowered to a BMI of 25 for both genders.”
Why is it so important to stir the pot of obesity hysteria and label more Americans fat? Could it be that it makes us flabbier and more tolerant of food regulation and food controls? It’s a losing vicious circle, (and not in a good way) as more control and admonishment leads to more real obesity and more FATLASH.
Obesity Myths also reports that many of the biggest food cops who regulate and litigate are funded by the weight loss industry. Check out this site: www.ObesityMyths.com It may explode a few myths you’ve been feeding too!
This week, The Atlantic praised Mayor Michael Bloomberg as one of the “brave thinkers” of 2012.
Is it bravery which leads a politician to anoint himself emperor and captain of the food police merely by virtue of having been elected mayor of New York City? Will the mayor of Philadelphia next be anointing himself captain of the fashion police?
Napoleon crowned himself emperor too. Maybe we’ll have a new pastry in a few hundred years called the “Bloomberg.” I have a feeling this Bloomberg would ban that too –but those are trans fats for another blog post.
While it’s encouraging to know that the Mayor’s hubris is largely unpopular, I keep wondering how any freedom-loving American could support a politician, City Council or other, who believes they can with force, dictate to those over the age of consent, how much soda, salt or “trans fats” they are allowed to consume. (It doesn’t work with children either, as FATLASH attempts to illustrate.)
After several conversations with people who see nothing wrong with allowing the government’s bloated belly to keep expanding, I had an epiphany:
Those I spoke with don’t think they need laws to control their diet. They think other people do. The campaign of hysteria over the “obesity epidemic” has demonized overweight people with such fervor that an increasing number of people are willing to allow bureaucrats to be their proxy in regulating what other people eat. This is a relatively new development and should be disturbing. What is also surprising is the belief that blanket bans on specific foods and ingredients will actually “make” people thinner.
A billion dollar weight loss industry has tried unsuccessfully to find a magic recipe to accomplish this for decades and their clientele is voluntary. They know better than anyone, that unless the client “owns” the process for themselves, they are doomed to failure.
“They came for the Ho Hos, but I didn’t like Ho Hos, so I said nothing. They came for the Mountain Dew, but I don’t drink Mountain Dew, so I stood by and did nothing. Then, they came for the nachos, my favorite tailgate snack, but they were banned before I could even protest.”
The Daily Mail reports that the Mayor and his minions now have their eye on your buttered popcorn. Proof positive that dictators are emboldened when their edicts are passively accepted. The Atlantic may have been right afterall. Bloomberg is bold –but not in a good way.
Whether food dictators are in your house or in your state house, it’s never about the food. It’s about control. If you stand by and allow others control over your stomach today, they will surely attempt and may succeed in controlling the rest of you tomorrow.
Everyone of a certain age remembers Chastity Bono, who was often brought out at the end of the Sonny and Cher variety show to say a hello and a good-bye to the audience. It seemed so idyllic didn’t it?
Among his other struggles, we have come to find out that Chastity who is Chaz today, was put on diets even though he wasn’t overweight. Once again, food, diet and appearance go hand in hand when children are put on display by narcissistic parents who live through them. Should anyone be surprised that today, Chaz Bono has a significant weight problem? Yet many people seem to be.
Chaz is attempting to lose weight in much the same public way that he was put on display. He says he hopes the pressure of trying to lose weight publicly will give him more incentive to accomplish his goal. If pressure is part of what created the problem, is the pressure to be thin and “socially acceptable” really the way a proud non-conformist like Chaz will best succeed? Or, is it that political correctness never applies to those who don’t “fit” the right size or the right weight?
I try never to make clinical assumptions about the lives of people I only know superficially, but could FATLASH be among the issues with which Chaz is struggling? You bet it could and probably is.
When food, weight and appearance become the battleground on which major developmental issues are fought -those of separation, individuation and a sense of body ownership, children and for that matter, adults as well, find ways of fighting back. If fat is so abhorent to the parent who insists on such diets, that is usually the best weapon. The struggle for self and fundamental independence become more important than the misery that often accompanies being fat in our society.
Whether anyone, parent or bureaucrat, has the right to control what someone else eats through shame, force or coercion is an issue in itself, but it can and does create a sense of deprivation that can feel like a life or death struggle.
Fat becomes a weapon that speaks when the person cannot. They may spend the rest of their lives learning how to say no and to set limits rather than allowing their bodies to do it for them. This gives new meaning to the term “pro-choice,” doesn’t it?
In Chaz’s case, public display, scrutiny, scorn and/or praise has been like “mother’s milk.” I cheer him on in his journey but if I could talk to him, I’d tell him to stop abusing himself the way he was “abused.” (I use this word lightly and not in the clinical sense.) Find your privacy and personal space, Chaz. Get to know your boundaries, your body and your appetites away from the public eye. That’s what will offer the best hope of finding your true self inside as well as out.
I loved this letter posted by Emma, Mom of little Helena on her blog, “Wealthy Single Mommy.”
How ironic that hatred which surrounds “fat” and obesity in this country never benefits from such positive expressions of acceptance. In fact, people are expected to hate themselves and often do so in order to inocculate themselves from the onslaught of fat hatred from others.
Fat hatred is often couched in “…but it’s for your own good” and has ballooned to such proportions that many are called fat even when they aren’t, as the highest form of insult.
A positive body image isn’t necessary for just some. It’s a necessity to affect any lasting change in one’s own body, whether it is to lose weight or to tolerate an “imperfection.” Everyone’s entitled to disapprove of course, but wouldn’t it be great if people recognized more readily, that people come in all shapes and sizes and forcing them to fit into prescribed dimensions is really not their business?