A few weeks ago I was at a meeting. When it finished we were given a tour of the library where the meeting was held. It was a lovely library and a very interesting tour. (Side note: As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a librarian and I’m notorious for taking busman’s holidays, or at the very least finding one library along the way to visit.) Still, I decided to pass on the very last part of this tour, which was going up to the roof.

There were a couple reasons for this. The first – I am never sure whether my knees can manage the climb (I had both knees replaced in the past couple years and they still aren’t 100%). The second – I am never sure about whether I will end up being embarrassed because I may not fit into a particular space (for example a smaller door frame, an antique chair, an old-fashioned carriage, particularly anything from when people were of a smaller stature). “Normal” sized people never have to think of these sort of things – I have to think about stuff like this pretty much every day of my life.

I waited on the upper level for everyone to return, plopping down in a chair near the top of the stairs. A man, balding and middle aged, made his way up the steps, not too quickly but not too slowly either. He had on a backpack and was huffing and puffing a little.

As soon as he reached the top he said, “I feel like a fat lady.” It was then that he noticed me. I felt my cheeks flush. His face fell as his brain registered that I had heard what was now obviously an insult. He began to backpedal. “A really, really, really big person,” he corrected, sort of sputtering. He turned and walked very quickly toward the stacks.

The thing is, he actually made it worse. Later he came over to where I was sitting. He bent over near me in a way that wasn’t particularly natural, but in doing so I could see his face, and he smiled at me as if to say – hi, see, I’m a nice person, I’m not a jerk. He picked something up but I couldn’t see what it was. I’m not sure whether he actually needed to come over to where I was sitting or if he was doing so just to smile at me. I smiled back and he turned around and walked away.

I’m hopeful that he learned a lesson, but I doubt it will stay with him. He’ll probably be thoughtful about not making similar statements for a few months or weeks or even days and then go back to his old ways. Because let’s face it, despite Bill Maher’s delusional belief that fat shaming went away, it most certainly has not. Most times it is like this, accidental or unintentional, other times it is not.

I’ve been itching to bring up James Corden’s response to Bill Maher. There were so many things wrong with what Maher said. And there were a few things that I felt were omitted from Corden’s response. So I thought I’d go through both clips and write up my thoughts or rebuttals on some of the statements that were made.

Even though I would rather not, let’s start with Mr. Maher’s extremely ignorant rant about how fat shaming needs to “come back.” (Full disclosure, I have never been a fan of Bill Maher. I think he is all about shock value just like Howard Stern or Alex Jones and I don’t believe his phony liberalism.)

I thought I’d pull out some of the worst lines from his rant:

“Americans eat shit and too much of it.”

This is actually the only line that is accurate, but unfortunately he missed an opportunity to gripe about something legitimate. The American diet is crap but there are reasons for this more than simply people have no will power.

One major culprit is the loosening of regulations. Hell, just a few weeks ago the USDA announced they are basically allowing the pork industry to go to a mostly self-regulating process. SELF-REGULATING. They are doing this despite the fact that there has been a significant increase in the number of food recalls in the past ten years. They are doing this despite the fact that the chief veterinarian with the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Services (FSIS), Pat Basu, refused to “sign off on the new pork system because of concerns about safety for consumers and livestock.” (Pork industry soon will have more power over meat inspections by Kimberly Kindy, Washington Post, April 3, 2019)

About a week after Basu left, the USDA sent the proposed regulations to the Federal register and they were made official less than a month later. Hmmmmm.

Again, full disclosure, the FSIS wrote a response to the WashPo article. They claim that Dr. Basu was not part of the clearance process and that his signature was not required nor requested. Of course that doesn’t mean that the normal procedure hasn’t always been for him to to sign-off on it. It may not have been required but it may have been the norm. As to the request, well, I suspect that if you are doing something that you think ethical people might disapprove of then yes, you wouldn’t ask someone to review your proposal. There is more, if you would like to read it you can find it here. I’ll leave it up to you to determine who has more to lose and more to gain.

(Side note: my family owned a meat packing company for nearly 65 years. As of the above announcement I became a pescetarian (wild fish only by the way). I’m so sorry Gramps. I had already reduced the amount of beef and pork I had been eating for health reasons. And I wasn’t eating lamb (my favorite) that often, mostly on special occasions, but that will be the most difficult thing to give up. Now chicken, which actually may be one of the worse culprit, that’s verboten. Of course unless I am in the EU, then I can go crazy!

But back to deregulation. Deregulation by the current administration is leading to bad practices, mostly by BigAg. It also creates confusion for already befuddled consumers. Small, family-owned farm owners (mostly organic) are actually pushing back though.

This leads me to the second reason Americans eat like crap – they can’t AFFORD to eat healthfully. According to 2017 estimates, nearly 40 million (39.7 million to be exact) Americans are living in poverty. Besides the fact that they have to opt for cheaper, unhealthy food choices, junk food may be the only indulgence that they can afford.

The third reason are product size and marketing. Too many companies, especially fast food companies, are creating oversized menu options and ridiculous menu combinations (I’m looking at you Taco Bell). I remember about ten years ago writing to McDonalds asking them if they could possibly offer some more healthy breakfast options and suggested that they have turkey sausage on a McMuffin or something with only egg-whites. I was told that they didn’t have the demand for it so thanks for the suggestion but no thanks. Wow. And don’t even get me started on Dunkin Donuts (I’ve never been but I have a few stories.)

Here is a fascinating article about food advertising. It looks at two studies, one done at Yale and the other at the University of Liverpool. They both came up with interesting results. They show how advertisers are able to manipulate viewers into craving foods. The second study also showed that children are more susceptible than adults, thus the increase in childhood obesity as commercials during their cartoons have turned from showing toys to showing food.

“Being fat isn’t a birth defect.”

Actually it is genetic and it is a defect.

Back in April the results of two coordinated studies were published in the journal Cell. According to the first study (the largest done to date, a half million people aged 40 to 69) completed at the University of Cambridge, it is easier for thin people to stay thin. They discovered a genetic alteration that makes people less interested in food. In other words, they really only eat when their body needs energy.

The second study, using the data from the first study, developed a method for predicting obesity, starting as early as childhood. Fascinating!

The study of the appetite-dulling mutation was led by Dr. Sadaf Farooqi, professor of metabolism and medicine at the University of Cambridge, and Nick Wareham, an epidemiologist at the university.

The study drew on Dr. Farooqi’s research into a gene, MC4R. She has probed it for 20 years, but for the opposite reason: to understand why some people are overweight, not why some are thin.

People with MC4R mutations tend to be obese. Researchers have recorded as many as 300 mutations in this gene, and they are the most common single-gene cause of obesity. Mutations in the gene account for 6 percent of children with severe obesity.

The mutations destroy satiety, the feeling of fullness after a meal, Dr. Farooqi and her colleagues have found.

Normally, when people eat a meal, the gene is switched on and sends a signal telling people they are full. Then the gene turns itself off. But some people carry a rare mutation in MC4R that prevents the gene from working.

As a result, their bodies never get the signal that they have eaten enough. They always feel hungry and often are overweight. Their risk of diabetes and heart disease is 50 percent higher than those without the mutation.

In the new study, Dr. Farooqi and her colleagues found that in some thin people, the MC4R gene is always turned on, instead of always off, because of different mutations involving a previously unknown metabolic pathway.

From ” This Genetic Mutation Makes People Feel Full — All the Time” by Gina Kolata, New York Times, April 18, 2019

Of course genetics alone can’t cause obesity, but add that to other factors:

  • Antibiotics in foods/being over prescribed
  • Additives in foods, cosmetics, flame retardants and other items people use daily
  • Stress/Anxiety, sleep issues, society’s fixation on being thin
  • Lifestyle changes – people are walking less (especially in the US and in suburbs), kids are playing outdoors less (safety factors are part of that), jobs are more automated
  • Things I mentioned above – poverty, deregulation, product size/marketing

Those are just a few things off the top of my head. Well, all of those things make it a hell of a lot more difficult to keep the weight off when you are genetically disposed to putting on weight. I’ll be discussing this more in-depth in a future post.

Maher cites the article Our Food is Killing Too Many of Us: Improving American nutrition would make the biggest impact on our health care by Dariush Mozaffarian and Dan Glickman, New York Times, August 26, 2019.

I had to go read the actual article right away. Shame on Maher and I wonder, did he even read it? He left out so many important things that the article suggested as ways to actually help (and I’ll tell you, NONE of them were fat shaming):

  1. ACTIVELY teaching people about nutrition through insurers and medical providers
  2. In addition to taxing some of the bad foods (such as sugary beverages and junk food) provide subsidies for healthy foods – this goes along with what I mentioned above about how low income people can’t AFFORD food that is good for them.
  3. Nutrition standards in school (and no, this isn’t a violation of anyone’s constitutional rights)
  4. This one was interesting, though personally I think it is a pipe dream: “The private sector can also play a key role. Changes in shareholder criteria (e.g., B-Corps, in which a corporation can balance profit versus purpose with high social and environmental standards) and new investor coalitions should financially reward companies for tackling obesity, diabetes and other diet-related illness. Public-private partnerships should emphasize research and development on best agricultural and food-processing practices. All work sites should demand healthy food when negotiating with cafeteria vendors and include incentives for healthy eating in their wellness benefits.” (‘Our Food is Killing Us’, NYT, Aug. 26, 2019)
  5. Creating something like the “National Institute of Nutrition” (LOVE IT!)
  6. And of course the government needs to step up and start doing something. You know, when Michelle Obama made it her campaign to help kids eat more healthfully and exercise more, well, it was awful that she got push back on it. Look where we are now.

“Everyone knows that obesity is linked to terrible conditions like diabetes, heart-disease and virginity [pause for laugh] …. not to mention cancer.”

It is true that being obese increases the risk of diabetes, heart-disease, and cancer. The virginity part only confirms he’s an ass.

“There is literally nothing that being overweight does not make worse: eyesight, memory, pain, fatigue, depression, you don’t poop right [pause for laugh]… it weakens your immune system.”

I’d like Maher’s sources for this statement because I call bullshit. Being overweight doesn’t necessarily cause these things. Having certain health problems may cause issues like these and the health problems may or may not be due to a person being overweight. For example, I have an autoimmune disease. When I was diagnosed with the disease, one of the first things my father said was it must be due to my weight (he thinks everything I have wrong with me is because of my weight so now I ask, every time, and you know what, more times than not is isn’t). I asked my doctor and it was not. My dad didn’t believe me but luckily I was able to tell him that Venus Williams had the same autoimmune disease.

And not pooping right? Besides the fact that he obviously put it in for laughs (Jeez Louise, I was a children’s librarian for 12 years, I know that using the word ‘poop’ in a storytime is guaranteed to get giggles) that is because people have a bad diet, not because they are obese. And not all obese people have bad diets. Just because someone is overweight, doesn’t mean they eat bad foods. NOT the same thing. And people who are thin can have a bad diet.

And frankly, there are a ton of factors that can affect people’s BMs.

“We scream at Congress to find a way to pay for our medical bills but it wouldn’t be nearly the issue it is if people just didn’t eat like assholes, who are killing not only themselves but the planet. The Amazon fires? are because farmers there are burning down the rain forest to make room for future hamburgers (and soybeans.)”

Oh yeah, let’s blame fat people for the Amazon fires. That’s brilliant.

It is true that the rain forest is on fire because farmers are making way for more cattle and more soybeans, which you might have noticed he threw in because someone called him out on it. But it is also for lumber (deforestation.) According to an article in EarthSky by Catesby Holmes, “Deforestation in the Amazon has spiked since the election last year of the far-right President Jair Bolsonaro. Arguing that federal conservation zones and hefty fines for cutting down trees hinder economic growth, Bolsonaro has slashed Brazil’s strict environmental regulations.” (Why the Amazon is burning: 4 reasons by Catesby Holmes, EarthSky, August 27, 2019)

Rachel Garrett, a Boston University professor who studies Brazilian land use, says there is no evidence to back up Bolsonaro’s claim. In fact she states the opposite is true. Since 2004, food production in Brazil has actually increased thanks to the environmental and sustainable regulations that have been put in place.

Read the article, it’s very interesting. And guess what, none of the reasons have to do with fat people. And I realize he was trying to say that fat people go to Mickey D’s and eat too many hamburgers and the rain forest is on fire because they’ve been clearing the rain forest for more cattle, but that’s only one of several reasons why the rain forest is burning. And one more thing, skinny people buy beef too.

“Because here in America we look at fried chicken and think, that’s a good start, now put it on a bun, and add bacon, and cheese, and something no one even thought to put on it. Make my mouth cum.”

Does he really think that regular Americans are coming up with such concoctions? Nope. It’s some clever team at a fast food company who are trying to get more people addicted to their products. Not only have there been studies showing that fast food and processed food contribute to the obesity crisis, there is also evidence that today’s diets have more sugar hidden the food than previous generations. It turns out that sugar is addictive. So companies will sneak sugar into foods and drinks to get people to want more/come back.

I have a nephew who works for a company that works with multiple fast food companies. He told me that Dunkin Donuts (okay, I said I didn’t want to get into this but I’ll be brief) puts sugar into all their coffees unless you specifically ask for no sugar or say you are diabetic. I was looking up the nutritional values of their drinks, if you order a large black coffee with mocha swirl but no added sugar you would think to yourself that it would be a fairly safe drink, right? I mean, how bad could a little flavoring be? How about 46 grams of sugar.

“Europe doesn’t look like this because Europe’s not always eating for two.”

Europe is experiencing an obesity crisis just like the US. According to the World Health Organization

  • The worldwide prevalence of obesity nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008. According to country estimates for 2008, over 50% of both men and women in the WHO European Region were overweight, and roughly 23% of women and 20% of men were obese.
  • Based on the latest estimates in European Union countries, overweight affects 30-70% and obesity affects 10-30% of adults.
  • Estimates of the number of overweight infants and children in the WHO European Region rose steadily from 1990 to 2008. Over 60% of children who are overweight before puberty will be overweight in early adulthood. Childhood obesity is strongly associated with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, orthopaedic problems, mental disorders, underachievement in school and lower self-esteem.

The European crisis seems to be not as severe as it is in the US (lucky for them) and if I were to guess why I would say it is because many people walk more, there is much more regulation when it comes to how food is processed and what is in it, and there’s a lot more education starting at a young age on how to eat properly.

If I had to point fingers and name what is causing the obesity crisis outside of the US I would say it is the export of American processed and fast food products combined with greed.

“We weren’t always like this. Watching the footage of the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, I was struck by how not-fat everyone in the crowd was. We looked like a completely different race of people. Now look at us, we wear shirts that our ancestors could have used as a sail.”

I shared this link earlier but he is right, people were skinnier. (And people were physically smaller in stature as well.)

“Can fat be beautiful? That’s in the eye of the beholder, but healthy? No, that’s science.”

It is true that there are many health risks that come with being overweight. Therefore an overweight person can’t be considered 100% healthy. But, an overweight person can have an excellent cholesterol level, good blood pressure, good resting heart rate, good blood work, etc. – in fact, an overweight person can have medical test results that come back even better than most thin people’s results if they are practicing a healthy lifestyle.

I wonder exactly what is the goal of saying that a fat person cannot be healthy? Should they just give up then? A person who is claiming to be fit & fat is most likely a person who exercises and/or who is eating right. They are doing exactly what they are supposed to be doing and may not be losing weight. Maybe they aren’t dieting or exercising enough because of the multiple other factors that have been discussed previously. Are we saying they should stop? Seriously, Mr. Maher, I’d really like to know.

“Weight Watchers had to literally take the words ‘weight’ and ‘watchers,’ I’m not kidding, out of their name. It’s now WW, because merely the idea of watching your weight is now bullying. What’s next, banning scales? Hey liberals, you know how you hate it when conservatives won’t even let the CDC study gun violence as a public health issue? This is that. You are the NRA of mayonnaise.”

God, is he really this stupid? It was a BRANDING decision. Because in order for people to actually lose weight and keep it off, they need to make lifestyle changes.

And regarding the gun violence/NRA comparison – you aren’t comparing apples to apples. The mass shootings that are occurring are primarily killing our CHILDREN. In terms of threats to our children, a study done by the University of Michigan using CDC data shows that obesity doesn’t even show up on the list.

“Fat shame, no, we fit shame. Really, you hear it all the time. Someone sees a merely trim person, ‘you should eat something.’ No, you should not eat something.”

I’d like to point out that Bill Maher’s show is filmed in Los Angeles, the land of be-thin-or-leave. I don’t know about you but in the Midwest, well, I don’t hear people thin-shaming “all the time”. When Midwesterners see a “merely” trim person we usually don’t say much. For myself, if it’s an age appropriate guy I may check him out. If it’s a woman I might, well, check her out. If we see someone who is extremely thin someone might say something like, “wow are you thin.” Not as a criticism, simply as a statement of awe, almost in admiration possibly (or maybe a little concern.) Perhaps that is just a Midwest thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying thin shaming never happens, but to say that it occurs as often or MORE often than fat shaming is outrageous. And ultimately neither should be happening. The message should be simply this: body shaming of any kind is unacceptable.

“I should be more unhealthy so you can feel better about your fat ass.”

This is just an asinine statement. There is no more that needs to be said.

In August, 53 Americans died from mass shootings. Terrible, right? You know how many died from obesity? 40,000.

Again, throwing out a statistic like this without citing a source is bull. I am extremely skeptical that he could have found such a current statistic for obesity-related deaths that is accurate. WHO, for example, only has the 2017 statistics posted on its website because it takes time for stats to be submitted and calculated and compiled and put into reports. There is also the fact is that the CDC doesn’t list obesity as a cause of death, so it is impossible to know the actual number of obesity-related deaths.

But more importantly, what is the point of this comparison? Once again, it’s purely for shock value.

“Fat shaming doesn’t need to end, it needs to make a comeback. Some amount of shame is good. We shamed people out of smoking and into wearing seat belts, we shamed them out of littering and most of them out of racism. Shame is the first step in reform.”

Actually, shaming didn’t get people to stop smoking or to wear seat belts or to stop littering – LAWS got them to do those things.

Legislation and plenty of educational campaigns helped to get people to stop littering. Anyone who has watched movies and television prior to around the mid-1980s knows that was about the time seat-belt laws were starting to be enacted (and Hollywood helped promote them). And laws banning smoking from restaurants and other public places has grown dramatically since around 2000. That, combined with the educational campaign on the dangers of smoking, has caused people to quit (or to simply smoke at home or in their cars.)

Most importantly, shame actually is not the first step in reform. Shame will have the opposite effect. Shame causes people to feel badly and people who have emotional instability or addictive personalities will turn to whatever they use to make themselves feel comfort – for some people that can be a hobby, for others a sport, but for some it can be things like alcohol or gambling or overeating. Shame is never a solution. EVER.

Now, on to Mr. James Corden’s reponse.

To be honest, there is nothing that Mr. Corden said that has to be corrected.

I do have issue with one thing he did though I know why he did it.

I don’t think that making fat jokes, even when they are at his own expense, was the best tactic to take. If we are trying to get people to stop fat shaming (aka bullying), then we can’t do it to ourselves. This actually reminds me of what Hannah Gadsby said about her Nannette special in the NY Times: “‘I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor, and I don’t want to do that anymore,’ she says in the special. ‘Because do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.'” (The Comedy-Destroying, Soul-Affirming Art of Hannah Gadsby by Melena Ryzik, New York Times, July 24, 2018)

And this was the best line from his response – “Fat shaming is just bullying.”

So BRAVO Mr. Corden and Thank you so much!!!