Historical Fat and Not-Thin People, Part 4: “Stagecoach” Mary Fields

Mary_Fields“Stagecoach” Mary Fields was not exactly fat: at 6′ tall and ~200 lbs, she had a BMI of about 27, the middle of the overweight range. Probably, based on accounts of her life, a lot of that was muscle. But I couldn’t resist featuring her because of her story. This post by Kristen Majewski is one of the best online biography I’ve found of her; this one at the Toledo Blade is also very good and contains some reflections from the archivist for Toledo’s Ursuline Convent (where Mary Fields worked for part of her life), Sister Kathleen Padden, as well as some of the nuns there before her. According to the Toledo Blade:

Miss Fields arrived by train in 1878. As Mother Amadeus helped her old friend get settled in her new quarters, she asked if there was anything she needed.

According to the book Working for the Ursulines, Miss Fields answered, “Yes, a good cigar and a drink.”

Continue reading

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Historical Fat (and not-thin) People, Part 3

I recently came across some more examples of historical fat people! (Part 1 here; Part 2 here.)

In the first one, we finally get a fat POC! The exhibit Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott is made up of images of people from the 1950s who went to (black segregated) grade school with the photographer, and their families and friends.

gg0010_standard

Second, going back further in time, we see some fat and not-so-thin people, both men and women, in Charles Dana Gibson’s drawings. (There are five sections, but the two linked contain the most examples.) The Gibson Girls themselves are universally slender, but many of the people surrounding them are not. (The lady near the center of the women in the background, just barely out of the shadows, looks plump. There are other, more clearly fat people in some of the other drawings in the set.)

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Eric Garner and Mike Brown: adding insult to injury

Rep. Peter King of New York has blamed Eric Garner’s death on his weight. Well, on his weight and asthma, but he’s emphasizing the weight more,probably because his weight is perceived as something that’s his own fault and therefore King can hold Garner partially responsible for his own death. Unfortunately, this meme has spread to some people I know who work for DHS, who were saying that he died “because he was 400-something lbs” (the Atlantic article says 350) and that the autopsy showed that his trachea wasn’t damaged (the Atlantic and some Fox news sources [these two people were Fox fans] say there was hemorrhaging in Garner’s neck, evidence of compression). I tried to avoid joining in the conversation, but after being asked what I thought and telling them once, “You don’t want to know what I think”, I told them.

Talking to them further–well, mostly one of them, the one who’d asked what I think–caused her to admit that pretty much anyone can begin having problems breathing if they are lying on their stomach with someone on top of them, although both their own weight and the weight of the person on top of them affect how quickly it will become a hazard. (She also admitted that, as annoying as she found Al Sharpton, he probably wasn’t a truly one of the biggest contributors to the race problems in this country, as she had said earlier. In turn, I said that although the statistical disparities between races in killings by police are a bigger problem than Al Sharpton, it can be hard to tell how much race/racism affects any one case.) Then she and the guy she was talking with started going off on a tangent about how fat people are used to carrying a lot of weight around and can throw you around and can be dangerous, even if they’re not “on something.” (Then they started going off on a tangent about how a guy who was only 150 lbs who was on meth was throwing around 3 or 4 people.)

Which demonstrates another way that being fat (or even just sort of fat) can work against people in general and black men in particular. Mike Brown was the same height as Darren Wilson but outweighed him by about 80 lbs–and Wilson said of Brown, “I felt like a 5-year-old holding onto Hulk Hogan”. Hulk Hogan’s billed weight was 302 lbs, more than either Brown or Wilson. A typical 5-year-old is, what, 40-50 lbs?

When it’s convenient for the people talking about them, fat black men are “big and strong”, and when it’s convenient, they are weak and on death’s doorstep.

See also:

the HAES® files: Murder at the Intersection of Fat and Black

Soul’s Breath

Too Fit Not To Acquit

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Ridiculous holiday eating advice

Today I was waiting for my husband at the doctor’s office. I looked through a little mini-magazine that said “WebMD” and “Diabetes” on it. One page had some advice for holiday eating, including the strangest such advice I’d seen in a while:

Wear something snug: In a big, flowing dress or loose pants, you won’t be able to tell when you overeat. Instead, Weisenberger suggests wearing slimmer-fitting clothes. That way, you’ll feel the tightening the moment you’ve had too many hors d’oeuvres.

This Weisenberger character may be surprised to learn that humans have built-in sensory mechanisms that can tell them how full their stomach is.

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Fat is the go-to metaphor and point of comparison

Ever notice how fat/the obesity epidemic seems to be people’s go-to metaphor or point of comparison? When we found out how deadly loneliness is, we said it was deadlier than obesity. When commenting on how much Americans were panicking about Ebola, we compared their worries about Ebola to their worries about obesity. I can’t as easily think of good examples of using obesity as a metaphor, but I bet most of the people reading this are familiar with this phenomenon. (I do remember my local public radio station, during a fundraising drive, talking about information overload as “infobesity”.) I think people are doing this so much and so automatically that they don’t really think about if the comparison really makes sense.

Ally Fogg recently wrote about masculinity and violence, and while the stuff he was actually writing about was good, it included this unnecessary and almost nonsensical comparison to the obesity epidemic:

Saying that men have a problem with violence does not mean that all men are violent, any more than saying Britain has a problem with obesity means that all Britons are fat. In both examples, it means the phenomenon causes immense social harm and individual suffering, and occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.

Obesity causes immense social harm? What does that even mean? Obesity causes individual suffering: that seems pretty straightforward. Much of the individual suffering associated with obesity is due to living in a fatphobic society rather than due to obesity itself–either directly through stigmatization and the denial of proper medical care when a doctor decides that any problem a fat person has must be due to their fat, or indirectly with the meme that fat people don’t eat healthy foods and exercise, which sends the message “this healthy food and exercise isn’t for you”–but at least I can tell what he’s talking about. But the most mind-boggling is the last part: “[obesity] occurs at levels far above those we should be willing to tolerate in a civilised society.”

What in the world makes him think that obesity is “tolerated”? Obesity is very obviously stigmatized! The NHS limits access to fertility treatment based on BMI! Look at all the obesity coverage in The Guardian! What exactly does he think we should do to make obesity less “tolerated”?

I guess that since he goes on to talk about ways that we can prevent children from becoming violent, e.g. not using physical punishment, hopefully he doesn’t mean what people most often mean when they say, “We shouldn’t tolerate obesity”. Because they usually seem to mean that we should stigmatize obesity more. This idea is both evil and not reality-based. I don’t suppose that, when deciding how to phrase the bit quoted above, he thought about the possibility that people who do want to stigmatize obesity more will probably read what he wrote as supporting them.

[“Civilized” also has a lot of baggage, but that’s a whole other post.]

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The advice column letter-writer who complains about SO’s weight: an unreliable narrator

I happen to believe it’s sane, not shallow, for you to balk at marriage (!) with someone you apparently don’t like as much as you used to.

I generally respect Carolyn Hax and the advice she gives. And in the end, I think she arrived at the right result, but the path she took to get there was questionable.

Here’s the original letter (judgy stuff about weight ahead, if you haven’t guessed):

My girlfriend of two years could stand to lose about 20 pounds, which would result in increased energy (as it is now she spends a lot of time sitting around playing iPhone games), more confidence (she says she doesn’t like the way her clothes fit her) and more attraction between us (I’m reluctant to admit it, but her added weight is a bit of a turnoff).

I suspect she’d have more energy and more confidence because I did when I lost about 60 pounds over the course of a few years. I’m guesstimating here, but I think she could’ve stood to lose about 10 pounds when we started but instead she’s added 10.

I’m not sure how to approach this because I don’t want to sound shallow, but I’m also concerned for her health, and we’re kind of at that stage of figuring out what’s next for us (i.e., marriage). But I’m not sure I want to be married to someone who puts on 10 pounds every two years and then sits around on her iPhone complaining her clothes make her look fat. Your thoughts?

The letter-writers to advice columns are real people, and in real life, everyone is an unreliable narrator. Carolyn Hax knows this. In general, she’s probably better than I am about keeping this in mind and questioning the picture the letter-writer gives her. But I think, on this topic, I’ve educated myself enough that I’m better at properly questioning the letter-writer’s story.

Hax doesn’t just take as gospel that the girlfriend in question basically does nothing but play games on her phone and complain about how her clothes fit–she seems to even go beyond what the letter-writer wrote and reduce the girlfriend’s daily activities to nothing but those two behaviors. I’m skeptical here because the LW (Letter-Writer) says he lost 60 lbs recently, he is interpreting his girlfriend’s experience by leaning heavily on his own experience, and he seems to be closely tracking his girlfriend’s weight. Everyone’s familiar with the phenomenon of someone who’s discovered something that helps them in their life, and now EVERYONE has to try it, right? (Perhaps the most frequently-used example is the alcoholic who is convinced that everyone around them has drinking problems.) I think in this case, there’s also “this is my new idea/cause/explanation for everything”. (Don’t get me wrong, we all have those; one of mine is ALLOPARENTS. My problem is not with the existence of hobbyhorses, as long as we stay aware of our biases; it’s with the particular one that he’s chosen.) If she’s complaining every day about how her clothes fit, sure, that’s a problem. Could his girlfriend have merely complained a few times about specific pieces of clothing, and he’s seized on that as proof that she’s unhappy because of her “excess weight”, because EVERYONE has to try the thing he’s done? I think it’s likely.

I think there is legitimately some snobbishness directed towards people who play games as their primary hobby, both in society in general and by Carolyn Hax in this column. “Rotting on a couch”? There’s some emotive language for you. It’s a video game habit, not a heroin addiction. Yeah, it’s probably not mentally healthy to do literally nothing but play games in your free time, and that would probably make for a boring romantic partner (even if they made an exception to the literally nothing for sex), but at the same time, I have trouble believing that she does literally nothing else, and indeed, the LW did not say that; he only said she spent “a lot of time” doing that. (How much is “a lot”? Is it “more than I personally would like”?) (Full disclosure: my husband’s primary hobby is video games, mostly MMORPGs. I also sometimes play video games, but I wouldn’t say they’re my primary hobby. That is actually not the thing I do that most makes me feel like an anti-intellectual slumming time-waster. The habit that most makes me feel that way, off the top of my head? Reading advice columns.)

Also, note this framing: “which would result in increased energy (as it is now she spends a lot of time sitting around playing iPhone games)”. He seems to be assuming that if she had increased energy, she would not want to spend as much time playing iPhone games–that she is only doing that because she lacks the energy to do something else that she would prefer to be doing. This seems like a questionable assumption to me.

If I’m right that LW’s problem is that EVERYONE has to try the thing he’s done, and that he can’t resist judging other people who he feels need to lose weight because it’s A Cause for him, I think that Carolyn Hax is wrong in thinking that his issue isn’t reallyhis girlfriend’s weight, and that he wouldn’t really care about her weight if she “met you at the door dressed to dance and led you by the wrist to a weeknight salsa-fest”. I think he’s inevitably going to be judgmental of anyone he thinks is overweight and is not at least trying to lose weight. So he’d be doing them both a favor if he breaks up with her.

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McDonalds and Zombie Factoids

It’s almost Halloween! Time for some scaaaary zombies!
Surprisingly, Night of the Living Dead is public domain
Or zombie factoids.

Now, you might wonder why I’m defending McDonald’s on a pro-HAES, fat acceptance blog. But A) even though we know here that there isn’t as much of a link between fast food consumption and BMI as people think, the fact is that many people do use fat to attack fast food and fast food to attack fat people; B) this kind of stuff is interesting to me; and C) someone is wrong on the internet.

McDonald’s is trying to debunk the myth that their food does not decompose. Jezebel points out how, out of context, it’s funny that a company would be talking about their food rotting as a selling point. Indeed. But then the Jezebel writer, C.A. Pinkham, makes a little non-joke joke:

It’s worth noting that McDonald’s has tried to defend their food’s adherence to the laws of the 4th dimension before. In 2012, they posted on their Canadian website that “hamburgers, french fries and chicken are like all foods, and do rot if kept under certain conditions.” I’d write a joke in response to the fact that they had to include “if kept under certain conditions” (probably for legal reasons), but we both know I don’t need to.

The problem is, ‘under certain conditions’ is true, not just of McDonald’s foods, but all foods. Continue reading

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