Weight is a battlefield
War is declared between the medical world and the big guys. On the one hand, the heavy combine of public health, determined to crush the obese to rid them of their superfluous fat and make pretty thin stems like the others, easier to fit. Curative and preventive medicine, long angry with overweight, is assisted in the USA by companies, some city councillors and even airlines.
Responsible for a $130 billion loss in productivity, the big guys are treated by U.S. companies as criminals. Filed by the chain of pharmacies CVS, which requires metabolic assessment and measurements of its employees, deducts an additional cost of health insurance from the salary of non-standard. Michael Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York, in 2013 forced fast food restaurants to display the number of calories of products sold, and wanted to ban giant sodas. Samoa Air, SouthWest and United forced customers struggling in their seats to buy a second one.
Let’s form the lines
Medicine has arguments… of big weight. Diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, osteoarthritis, susceptibility to infections, the list of complications of overweight is endless, until the nastier Covid for the fat, which has earned them a vaccine priority.
Opposite the army of the big ones is constantly strengthening its workforce. Americans are 70% overweight, 40% of whom are obese. Statistically the “normality” has shifted. The French are less numerous but still 50% overweight, 15% obese. Generals fight against grossophobia. They say you can be fat and healthy. A defense movement, the NAAFA (National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance), was born in 1969.
The creation of the NAAFA goes to Fat Admirers, men with a sexual attraction to overweight women. Important clue to understand this somewhat surprising war. Shouldn’t there be unanimity around the fight against obesity, given its insidious lethality? Have we seen associations fighting for the protection of smoking? No, here there is a manifest discordance between body-organism and image-representation. Conflicting desires. Which one is “natural”, which one is “perverse”?
The two sides do not use the same look. Adverse ontological effects of overweight pointed out by science. Equally pejorative teleological effects pointed out by the NAAFA, which has become more generally the Fat Acceptance movement: the fat are indeed subject to excessive and unacceptable discrimination, stigmatization when hiring, insults in transport, accusations of psychological weakness and inculture (overweight dominates among people with low levels of education).
And when two acceptances are contradictory?
So obesity, a major health problem or identity to defend? The accusations of both parties seem justified. Yet they contradict each other, so each tries to discredit the other. Identitarians highlight the big who feels well in their skin. Health is content to align its statistical numbers but thinks half-heartedly that grossophobia is not a bad thing. Stronger in France, grossophobia is probably what prevents progress towards the American figures. Campaigns against tobacco are obviously smoker-phobic, without anyone being upset.
Everyone is right and that is a contradiction. Impossible to grasp without having separated the ontological and teleological looks, which are not really adversaries. The first part of the article has begun the explanation, and I will continue to develop it. But first let’s see another critical interaction between feeding and body image.
Anorexia is Culture…
If overweight has important genetic and microbiotic determinants, involving the ontology of the body, anorexia on the other hand seems the prototype of the teleological disease, entirely created by a disturbed or even suicidal body image. Several cultural determinants are cited: the rigorous fashion environment, the popularity of the ‘thigh gap’ that clears the genital area but is only reached at the cost of a consequent thinness, and probably more banally the occurrence with puberty of feminine forms that bother the adolescent. Are they still an asset at a time when they are staged, coveted, commodified, or on the contrary mocked as the mark of the obsolete woman-object? Curves are the target of negative discrimination for a number of young girls. There is no question of letting them settle.
The fashion world wanted to clear itself with a code of ethics, while testimonies of anorexics affirm the absence of any link with the image of the model. Nevertheless, fashion is at the heart of our society of the spectacle and carries the feminist image of women, radically opposed to the luscious icons that men love. The testimonies are marred by the denial of the almost constant disorder in anorexia, and by the difficulty of going back to its unconscious origin, beyond the description of the experience.
But we still look in Nature…
To say multifactorial the cause of anorexia admits above all the impotence to organize these factors into a coherent explanation. Genetic and biological ontology does not find determinants. However, science strives to privilege this direction of the look, making genetic connections with other psychiatric pathologies, presenting neuromediator abnormalities as a cause rather than a consequence, establishing connections with the microbiota. The effect is to dispossess anorexics of their behavior. They appear programmed by their genes, their neural chemistry, their symbiotic bacteria. Behaviorism always seeks to eliminate the concept of free will.
What place do I still have?
In these two stories, obesity and anorexia, consciousness manipulates the image of the body in very different ways. In the obese it accepts the public image, objective, but refuses its pejorative interpretation, as well as responsibility. It is an image suffered rather than desired. The body is good that way, it is only a matter of requalifying it. In anorexic people, body image is discordant with objective. The body is healthy as well. The brain is stimulated by anorexia but thoughts do not readjust. The alarmist value of the signal is obscured. Only stimulation is sought. The brain becomes addicted to its own drugs from despair.
Could we say, not seriously, that self-awareness occupies the remaining place in the body? Mild in obese, heavy in anorexic? The force of ontological and teleological looks is reversed. It is the ontology that takes power over the body of the obese, which makes the observation of a different beauty. Teleology, on the other hand, dominates that of the anorexic, which forces the body to be beautiful, even when it is not.
What is common is that dialogue is not established in the mind of the obese or the anorexic. The dominance of one look prevents the other from appearing. They do not meet.