Friday, August 03, 2007

A little more on stigma

Tonight as I was sitting down to update my blog, I checked my Sitemeter because I like to see who's been reading my blog. Because I got started blogging in a community oriented forum, reciprocal blog reading has become a habit. My first thought when I saw my referrals was, "Why am I getting so many people coming from Slate?" It turns out that William Saletan linked the entry I wrote in response to Fat Lies.

In Saletan's words, he was trying to say something important, and he botched it. I'll certainly agree to that. He did make things a little better with this article, even though it included some tap dancing around the dumping friends issue. Apparently, one is supposed to help their friends, he was just calling the researchers on the carpet for ignoring the opportunity cost of acquiring new friends, and he didn't write it as well as he should have. I'll cut him some slack for that, even though I'm still not convinced. It happens even to the best writers, and I give him serious credit for re-examining and clarifying his thoughts by writing a second article on a complex and confusing subject.

Where I can't offer the same generosity is here:

"You can't tell from looking at a chubby guy whether he's cursed with bad metabolism or just watches too much television. So, stigma could do more harm than good. Somehow, we need to reinforce norms against "psychosocial" weight gain without blaming people who have been dealt a bad hand."

Mr. Saletan has decided that there are now two kinds of fat people -- the suffering, righteous victims who get tarred by the same brush that deservedly belongs to the blatantly sinful bums. Living in the South where people handle how they deal with prejudice overtly, whether it's working against it or for it, I've heard this kind of statement before, "Well, you see, there are good, honest, hard working, respectable African-American people, and then there are (insert offensive racial epithet which I will not allow in my presence.)

It's bullshit however you say it.

The truth of the matter is that there are good people and bad people in every race, creed, ethnicity, religion, gender, skin color, body shape and size or whatever designation you want to use to separate people into groups. Beyond that, there is good and bad in every single person, not just every single group, and you can't tell by just by looking who leans more heavily to the good or the bad. Until you can, a "cultural erosion of the norms against fat" isn't necessarily a bad thing. It can be another form of accepting people as they are.

What about unhealthy behaviors though? Don't they need to be stigmatized? Well, people often need to learn how to be healthy. It's what I'm doing now, and having the support of my friends has been wonderful. If supporting your friends means reminding them every time you see them doing something less than healthy, go ahead. Remind them of the fat content in that cheesecake, and tsk, tsk whenever you see someone drink something beyond one daily glass of red wine. Speak up whenever you see someone take an elevator or cruise for the parking place nearest the door. Ask for documentation verifiable by a third party regarding how much exercise they've done that week. Pluck that cigarette from your friend's mouth. I'm sure they'll love you for it. After all, doesn't everybody need another mother?

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Blogger Virginia said...

Let's look at other unhealthy behaviors (and who engages in them). . . changing lanes on the highway without using a turn signal first, religious fanaticism that works to deny those that are different access to health insurance and thus medical care, drinking and driving, sun worshiping to get that perfect tan, bosses that yell at their employees (stress for both), attraction to extreme sports, all those people that nag at me to eat food that as a diabetic I cannot eat . . . the list goes on and on. Where is the stigma for these behaviors?

Cynthia, you are right to call prejudice for exactly what it is.

Thanks again for another well written post.

Peace, Virginia

August 04, 2007 6:15 AM  
Blogger TJ said...

Mirror Mirror on the wall...does the clothes make the girl or does the girl make the clothes?
Great entry.
Ps. I moved if you want to make a note of it or come to visit.

August 04, 2007 8:20 PM  

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