18 November 2008

Anti-obesity campaigns: fat hatred and charity

I can't believe I missed this story from January. Actually, I can. It's exactly the kind of story that obesity stakeholders would rather hush up because it exposes so brilliantly how those same people are in the thrall of the weight loss industry, and how the war on obesity is lining some people's pockets very nicely. According to the report, the conflict of interest regarding TOAST and LighterLife surfaced in 2003, but by then TOAST had already scarfed down over three years of funding. How greedy!

Obesity stakeholders and charity, what a winning combination. Please excuse my sarcastic tone, perhaps if I hadn't been introduced to The Social Model of Disability at an impressionable age I might think of charities as always being a force for good in the world. I'm sure there are plenty of very good charities, but disability theory is useful in exposing how they promote pitiful attitudes towards disabled people; they are politically unaccountable and seek to speak for disabled people, yet deny them rights or access to power within the charity. Oh, there are many more things I could say about this but you'd be better off reading Mike Oliver's fantastic book, The Politics of Disablement, or this quick rundown of why charities can be a bad idea for disabled people, or spending a bit of time mooching in the Disability Studies Archive at Leeds University.

Now that obesity stakeholders are getting in on the charity act you can see the same processes going on. Fat people are pitiful, allegedly grateful for charitable intervention, helpless, stupid, and need fixing. Honestly, charities like TOAST and the equally dumbarse Weight Concern ("Fighting Obesity With Knowledge" oh dear...) should be grateful to the fatties for providing them with a living.

Meanwhile, I'm delighted to see that, even after they were exposed as frauds, Ian Warburton, the TOAST boss, was unable to resist more bullshitting about the sterling work they'd done for fat panic, though there was no mention of how they had been shut down because they were effectively using charitable status to plug LighterLife.

He said "TOAST has effectively achieved its objectives of raising awareness of Obesity as one of the most significant health concerns of the 21st Century. However, The Trustees have unanimously agreed that the task of finding the solutions to the problem is too large for a charity of this size. TOAST has successfully advanced the debate and we are now handing over the complex task of finding the solutions to other agencies better positioned to carry this out." Yeah, yeah, sure, sure.

By the way, you too can check out TOAST's magnificent(ly awful) website via the Wayback Machine, and remember: TOAST - be part of the solution.

Actually, I don't know why I'm laughing because I'm fairly sure that TOAST is connected to some work I was involved with in Harlow in the early 1990s. At that time Harlow council had a very progressive attitude towards fat, the council sponsored two community conferences about body image that were really inclusive and radical. For a while I did some work for the council, investigating possibilities for further work in the area, and then I left to do something else. Weirdly, Size.net reported that TOAST was sponsoring some kind of Obesity Awareness shindig in 2001 with a day that included: "a 'fat' fashion show, 'fat' art exhibition, makeovers and massages, the latest science, The David Kennedy Memorial Research Prize and much more." I am just confused about that. So lord knows what happened inbetween, how the work we did could have been twisted so revoltingly into an illegal anti-obesity fake charity funded by a dodgy diet company, but there you go.

09 November 2008

Anti-obesity campaigns: £275m from UK government

According to this feature in The Times, the British government have sunk £275million into an advertising campaign to help people become more grossed out by the idea of fat.

You'd hardly think that this would be something that needed funding, many people already seem pretty revolted by fat bodies judging by the amount of hostile stares, tutting and general opprobrium directed at fat people every day, not to mention our own, learned, self-destructive internalised hatred developed through these experiences. But now the government have managed to spell out exactly how disgusting they think we are, and the results are going to be plastered on billboards, in leaflets and on the TV in your living room. Joy.

Change4Life is modelled on anti-smoking and safe driving campaigns, which regularly use shock based on repellant imagery for effect. I think that shame, disgust and stigma are questionable bases for public health programmes and I suspect that this campaign is likely to do little more than add to the daily burden of fatphobia that so many of us negotiate.

I also wonder if Change4Life (ugh, was there ever an uglier name?) is a government response to the threat of self-acceptance promoted by fat activists and health promotion professionals who are sick of working under a model of obesity treatment and prevention that is ineffective and health-depleting. Perhaps they see self-acceptance as a threat. It's a shame that they're not committed to investing in that as an evidence-based obesity intervention. Meanwhile, it seems to me that the government is committed to chucking good money after bad, by funding one useless and massively expensive obesity initiative after another. Lucky for Saatchi!