I had the pleasure of spending a bit of time with Cat Pausé recently whilst she was in London. She is one of the few fat activists currently engaged with building global networks and understanding what local fat activisms look like around the world.
During our conversation I made the naïve assumption that a developing international discourse around fat activism was the result of the powerful movements of fat feminist discourse. Well, isn't that a fanciful idea! The reality is more depressing. More people are getting into fat activism because it is a necessary survival tactic in the face of global obesity epidemicTM rhetoric established in 2000 by the World Health Organization.
As well as massively exacerbating pre-existing fatphobia, the WHO's take on obesity has been a Western diet industry sponsored project of market expansion and colonisation of places where fat was not regarded as much of a problem until the turn of the millennium. There is evidence aplenty to show that, although viewed as common sense, weight loss brings with it a plethora of health problems. The key word is iatrogenisis: illness caused by treatment. In this respect, the WHO has underwritten a worldwide public health calamity.
This week I had the pleasure of another conversation, this time with Laura Thomas. She told me that the WHO had published a report about 'Weight Bias' and we talked extensively about the gentrification of professional language around fat.
Now, I have been working on other things and have not been keeping on top of fat in the news as I may have done in the past. I may be a little bit late to the party, but I have some things to say.
The WHO has published a paper suggesting that resilience is the appropriate response for fat people suffering from the hatred engendered by the massive political problem created by the WHO themselves. Resilience, now there's a neoliberal buzzword. Let's translate, it means: too bad, suck it up.
I'm assuming that I am supposed to be pleased and grateful that the WHO recognises that fat people are often treated poorly. There is a crumb of comfort that this paper could lead to policy change, it would be nice not to be discriminated against when I am trying to access basic health services. It shows that the WHO obesity policy is in crisis and could herald the end of fat panic, they have published a paper that seems to contradict their earlier position. But where is the apology? Where is the restitution and accountability? It also reads very much like business as usual.
Weight Bias typifies the process in the world of fat where oppressors become pseudo-helpers. They do this through appropriation of fat activist concepts and language, and of renaming ideas so that they are tidier, less raw (an example of this is the pressure from thin academics to rename Fat Studies 'Critical Weight Studies' which has led to academic research that has no connection with canonical Fat Studies literature). This has the effect of making the originators of those concepts invisible, it is an act of social cleansing. Indeed, I'm not surprised to see Rebecca Puhl of Yale's Rudd Center in the WHO report, longstanding readers of this blog will remember this nonsense she pulled back in 2011.
The act of appropriating fat activism is a denial of the essential maxim for the liberation of all beings: nothing about us without us. The WHO has failed to recognise and respect fat expertise. It reproduces the idea that fat people can only ever be passive and grateful service users, not in the driving seat of our own lives. It is patronising, arrogant, about maintaining thin privilege, power and status.
Weight bias and obesity stigma: considerations for the WHO European Region (2017)