Month: May 2014

The Religion of Weight Loss

The Religion of Weight Loss
By Dow Jones

I have, for the past two weeks been observing and participating in the Twitter hashtag #notyourgoodfatty in which the genesis can be read about here: http://www.shakesville.com/2014/04/notyourgoodfatty.html
But in summary the hashtag was started when fat activist Amanda Levitt (@FatBodyPolitics) and mazzie had a conversation in which mazzie came up with the hashtag as a reply to Amanda and thus the #notyourgoodfatty trend started. The hashtag was soon bombarded with fat positive ideals and affirmations; things that fat people do unapologetically and became a supportive place for fat activists. The hashtag became very popular and at one point become one of the top popular trends on Twitter.
But of course there are detractors; trolls came out of the woodwork from the swamps of 4chan and Reddit to invade what is basically a fat positive space in order to demean and put down contributors of the thread. Trolls opened accounts in order to put their piece in and while I was reading them, I came to a profound realization:

The weight loss paradigm could be the world’s sixth major religion.

How I came to this conclusion was that many of the trolls’ language and demeanor reminded me of how Christian evangelicals approach others in order to preach their religion. Of how they view those that don’t fit in their worldview or their beliefs are doomed to a life of unhappiness or those that don’t accept their doctrine would be damned in some form. Those that proselytize the weight loss paradigm do so by means of such tactics as “concern trolling,” where such trolls feign concern about one’s health using language such “You are eating yourselves to death,” “I care that you are unhealthy being fat,” etc. An example of such language can be seen in these Twitter posts:

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Although this isn’t a very direct example, the implications are there that these posters are “concerned” about the fat activists’ health. This is comparable to an evangelical Christian saying that “You should give your life to Jesus,” “We should pray for others to come to Jesus,” and “I care that you know who Jesus is because I care about your salvation.”

The trolls on the #notyourgoodfatty hashtag go about spreading their message with the same gusto and fervor as evangelical religionists that proselytize their beliefs to non-religionists. The same black and white thinking that such religious individuals and groups have is a similar mentality that the trolls have, that being fat and healthy is a very heretical thing to say as it goes against the more accepted paradigms of our society’s beauty and health ideals as it was, and still is to a point, heretical to believe that there is no God.

Indeed, as it is seen to be blasphemous for one to say that there is no God or that God is different from what the doctrine says; it seems to be a form of blasphemy to say that one can be healthy, happy and fat. The incredulous responses in the Twitter thread are evidence of this absolutist belief: “You can’t be fit and fat, that is a myth,” “All fat people are unhappy, despite that they say they are,” “There is no such thing as being fat and being healthy, it’s impossible!”

One of the tactics that is used in both religion and weight loss evangelists is a logical fallacy known as argument from authority, that is they use an authority figure to argue their case. In the religionist sense, it is often a priest, a pastor or some other religious leader, i.e. “My pastor told me that homosexuality is a sin.” With the weight loss evangelist it may be an authority whose expertise is in health: “Dr. Oz says that obesity is bad.” The point here is that many people will take something in face value without even questioning it or thinking beyond what the authority figure says.

Other tactics and logical fallacies used in abundance are circular arguments in which the person uses proof within the argument rather than from external sources, for example, it is common for a Christian to tell the person that they are proselytizing to that “Jesus is the son of God and our Savior.” When prompted to provide evidence, they often reply, “Because it says so in the Bible.” For the weight loss proponent, this might equate to saying, “Obesity is bad because these studies say so.” When confronted with differing facts they resort back to “But there are much more studies out there that say that obesity is bad.”

Another is appeal to popularity. In Christianity, it is pointed out that since most people in the world practice a form of the religion, then Christianity is the one true way. Proselytizers try to appeal to the person that they are preaching to that most people practicing the religion “feel free and comforted by accepting Christ as their personal Savior.” In weight loss talk, the proponent often uses language that fall under this fallacy by stating that “being fit is in and it feels great to be and everybody knows that to lose weight means being healthier and happy.”
These Twitter posts is an example of this kind of argument, however indirectly:

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This particular poster states that since he/she lost weight that they are more healthy and able to do things that fat people supposedly cannot do. This is an argument of popularity since it is believed that being fat is a hindrance to being able to do things that thin people engage in.

(Note: There are a few other logical fallacies that these weight loss trolls use, however they are numerous and it would be too much to dissect each and every one of them, so if you are interested in these fallacies, you can read about them here: http://examples.yourdictionary.com/examples/examples-of-fallacies.html and discern for yourself.)

This post brings up another practice shared by Christian evangelicals and weight loss proponents: the testimonial.

In some Christian denominations, mostly Protestant based ones such as the Apostolic and Pentacostal faiths, there is a practice called “testifying” in which members of the congregation discuss how Christianity and in particular, how letting Jesus into their hearts have made a positive change in their lives. Such things as “He has given me strength and hope,” “Having Jesus in my life has helped lift up burdens that I had,” and “Christianity has made me stronger in faith.” These testimonies demonstrate to others the positive effects of having such a relationship has in the hope that the audience listening would come faithfully into the fold.

Weight loss proselytizers use similar language and indeed, it is the type of discussion that the trolls on #notyourgoodfatty use in the hopes that their stories, or testimony, will convince the fat people participating in the hashtag and convert them to a “healthier lifestyle.” They use uplifting and motivational words such as in these Twitter posts:

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This person states that he was once obese but after losing weight, he/she is able to do feats only imaginable by the fittest athletes. The implication in this is that if “only fatties would conform and motivate themselves, they will ‘save themselves from a lifetime of bad health’” that fatties are in need of “saving” just as non-believers to the Christian faith need “saving” from damnation and hell.’ This person’s attitude is no different than the preacher who stands on the street corner preaching about salvation.

Another noticable comparison between Christian evangelicals and weight loss proponents is the use of propaganda. Now, I am not going to go in depth about propaganda techniques; I’ll save that for another time, however, both the Christian proselytizer and the weight loss evangelical will use glittering generalities of the positive effects of practicing such lifestyles. In Christianity the words, “light,” “glory,” “peace” and “comfort” are commonly used to describe certain aspects of Christian life. The Bible is commonly used as a propaganda device and proselytizers will quote Bible verses to cement their points. In weight loss language words such as “healthier,” “trim,” “energized,” and “sucessful” are used. Though Christian propaganda is not overt in these days, weight loss propaganda is very much prevalent in our culture. One just needs to look at the magazines displayed at the check out lane, with such headliners as “Lose 10lbs and Feel Great!,” “Get Feeling Better with these Weight Loss Tips!”, “Slim is In!” We are bombarded with such propaganda in the media and on the Internet. Everywhere we turn there is an ad for weight loss. Indeed, this “thin ideal” ideology is ever present.

With observing the #notyourgoodfatty hashtage, I noticed another startling trend: When the message fails to get across or the person being proselytized to decides not to give in, they are then attacked. Ad hominems abound and even downright insults. For those entrenched in Christian doctrine this may be a statement such as, “You are devil worshipping heathens.” The most extreme of religion based insults is seen with the late Fred Phelps wherein his church was reknown for insulting homosexuals; a crime to most religious fundamentalists.

In the Twitter thread, weight loss trolls resort to very childish insults, Indeed, many of which seems like a petulant child not getting their own way. Such trolls use insults in order to deride and degrade the fat people in the thread typically by using fatphobic remarks or even parroting health propaganda. Oftentimes, food is brought up because of the stereotype that fat people eat too much:

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Some of these weight loss proselytizers even go as far as posting death threats or similar language:

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In fact, some of them may delight in the idea of persecuting fat people and keeping them marginalized. In Christian history, it has been shown that those that disagree with the dogmas and doctrines of the religion were persecuted often resulting in campaigns against whole groups of people. Though it is not overt as seen in history, persecution and discrimination against fat people exist; one just needs to put “fat hatred” or “fat discrimination” in Google to see. That if those that refuse to bow on bended knee at the Altar of Weight Loss are seen as a threat, a threat against a privileged group. It is without a doubt that the fact that fat acceptance advocates refuse to be silenced and are vocal about such topics seems to get these trolls riled up and use tatics to silence fat people. After all, they want “good fatties” that will just go along with the status quo.

Finally, this comparison between religious fundamentalism and weight loss propagation is a comparison of ideologies. That is, those that hold these ideologies closely will do or say whatever is necessary to keep the status quo. Those that go against the grain of society’s ideals face persecution, perhaps even death threats. Tatics used by both groups are designed to suppress and marginalize groups seen as “undesirable” or deemed “unworthy” as well as probable dissidents. In the case of Christianity, whole campaigns were, and still, are designed to instill fear and loyalty, the Spanish Inquisition being one of them and Helen Ukpabio’s evangelism against so called “witch children.” Though nothing drastic like that is happening to fat people, the weight loss paradigm is strong in Western society and fat people are actively suppressed, the evidence of which is seen in the #notyourgoodfatty hashtag. Confronted with their privilege, they lash out. However, the voice of fat people is starting to grow and be heard and it will continue.

Dow Jones