Conservatives blame the media-hyped “epidemic of obesity” on failures of individual will, while liberals point to McDonald’s, high-calorie school lunches, and sedentary jobs. But it’s unlikely that any of these factors is making us fat. After all, thin people watch television and eat fast food, too, and fat people have never been proven to consume more calories, or more “junk food,” than others. And as numerous excellent books have demonstrated (see Paul Campos’s The Diet Myth and Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin for detailed explications of some of the scientific information presented in this article), we are not in the midst of an “epidemic” of fatness. Since 1990, Americans have experienced an average weight gain of about 15 pounds. Hardly cause for alarm, especially since this modest increase in our collective size may be a good thing: A decline in smoking rates could be a factor (quitting smoking typically results in weight gain), as could the increased popularity of weight-lifting and other muscle-building exercise (statistics on “obesity” are based on BMI charts, which classify Matt Damon as “overweight” and Tom Cruise as “obese”).
Nor is fatness, as conservatives often claim about homosexuality, a “lifestyle.” Body size is determined primarily by genetics, and while diets and exercise programs may produce short-term weight loss, they have a 95 percent failure rate over the long term. Yet like queer people living with hiv or aids, fat people are stigmatized for a condition that is imagined to be their fault. They are hectored by conservatives such as Mike Huckabee, mocked by liberals like Jon Stewart (who, of course, would never dream of making lesbians or gay men the butt of his jokes), harangued about their weight by medical professionals, and subjected to a barrage of advertisements promising “cures” for their supposed disorder.
Does this sound familiar? Remember psychiatry’s attempts to cure homosexuality? Our culture’s hand-wringing over the “obesity epidemic,” its hawking of one breakthrough diet or miracle weight-loss product after another, and its moralistic shaming of those it deems “too fat” are as conducive to self-hatred as “gay conversion therapy.” But while the harmful conversion therapy that religious conservatives practice on lgbtq people has rightly been the target of political protest and legal intervention, the medically sanctioned use of weight conversion therapy (a.k.a. dieting) has provoked far less outrage on the Left. Let’s Move, as McCrossin observes, is essentially “a child-focused, government-sponsored fat version of conversion therapy.” If we would ban the use of gay conversion therapy on children (a practice now condemned by the American Psychiatric Association), then why do we foist similar programs on fat children—subjecting adolescents, most recently, to the humiliation and health risks of vying for the title of the Biggest Loser?…
… Clearly, the politics of homophobic hate are inseparable from our culture’s fear and hatred of fat people. The slur “fat, ugly dyke,” used to police women of all sizes and sexual orientations, exemplifies the deeply rooted intersections between fatphobia and homophobia. Sure enough, a new federally funded study plans to determine why lesbian and bisexual women and girls are among the “hardest hit” by the “obesity epidemic.”