Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fatness vs obesity

Today I have an op-ed at the Wheeler Centre in response to an essay by Karen Hitchcock in The Monthly. Hitchcock is a doctor treating extremely fat people whose ill health makes them candidates for bariatric surgery.

Hitchcock’s arguments about the adverse effects of being very fat and the fatal allure of ‘bad’ foods are alarming but persuasive, as are her clinical experiences with the strain that a large amount of weight places on the body. It’s certainly troubling that we are medicalising what is really a social issue.

But it’s hard to have a constructive public discussion about obesity when scientific research and medical authority are used as moral justification to shame and blame fat people.

In my book Out of Shape, I identify a rhetorical mode in public debate that I’ve dubbed ‘scienciness’. Just as ‘truthiness’ is something that feels intuitively true without requiring any evidence, sciency writing uses the language of science to normalise the judgments we make about other people’s bodies.

Hitchcock’s essay was frustrating for me because she understands the way culture works on us, yet in her position of authority as a doctor she also regurgitates its worst messages. She lists the tools of her trade – ‘our ears, our voices, our hands, our pills and our scalpels’. But she leaves out the most important – her eyes.

Read the rest at the Wheeler Centre site.

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