Fatness is double-plus ungood.

Last night, in my internet travels, I came across this New York Times op-ed from a former hedge fund manager who left the world of finance when he realized it had turned him into a greedy, wealth-addicted jerk.

Although I couldn’t wrap my mind around the sheer enormousness of the numbers the author, Sam Polk, was talking about (multimillion dollar bonuses? It’s like a completely different reality), I liked some of his observations. Like this one:

I made in a single year more than my mom made her whole life. I knew that wasn’t fair; that wasn’t right. Yes, I was sharp, good with numbers. I had marketable talents. But in the end I didn’t really do anything. I was a derivatives trader, and it occurred to me the world would hardly change at all if credit derivatives ceased to exist. Not so nurse practitioners. What had seemed normal now seemed deeply distorted.

And then I got to this part:

But I was lying to myself. There were plenty of injustices out there — rampant poverty, swelling prison populations, a sexual-assault epidemic, an obesity crisis. Not only was I not helping to fix any problems in the world, but I was profiting from them. 

Right, because fat bodies are an injustice, not the stigma and discrimination we face. Not the $60 billion industry devoted to eliminating us. Nope, just the fact that we exist.

Let that sink in for a second. Fat bodies. Are an injustice.

The exorbitant salaries of the financial sector that the author left behind aren’t the only thing that’s deeply distorted.

And when he left it, guess what he did? Did he devote his life to helping people who had been harmed by Wall Street’s predatory practices, perhaps by fighting foreclosures or supporting living wage campaigns?

No, he started a non-profit “to help poor families struggling with obesity and food addiction.”

Food addiction. Food addiction. Not hunger, or food insecurity, or lack of access to nutritious food options, but food addiction. And fatness. Because heaven forbid poor people ever enjoy food or be anything less than thin. Because clearly what poor people need isn’t money, but rich people telling them how to eat.

I just …my head spins trying to make sense of it.

All the sense I can make is that power distorts thinking, twists the urge toward compassion into condescension. Into a sick sense of superiority and a savior complex.

Polk says he finally feels as if he’s making a real contribution. Well, he’s certainly contributing to fat hatred, to a toxic culture of moralizing about food, and to the lack of respect for poor people as humans with intelligence and agency.

Note #1: Chris Maisano has a great analysis of what’s wrong with the op-ed, which he calls “chicken soup for the neoliberal soul”: an individualistic approach that erases the need for collective action.

Note #2: Hedge funds always make me think of hedgehogs. The world would be a much better and cuter place if we could replace all hedge fund managers with hedgehog managers.

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8 thoughts on “Fatness is double-plus ungood.

  1. Just a note: food addiction is a real thing. It’s something I struggle with myself. It’s not a chemical addiction obviously, however psychological addiction can happen to pretty much anything, including food or say shopping or video games. By definition, psychological addiction happens when a person loses control over their ability to choose whether or not to engage, and instead acts on impulses, and there have been studies that it actually changes neurotransmitters in the brain. This doesn’t mean anyone who eats a lot is addicted to food or has binge eating disorder. If they *choose* to eat a lot, and that choice is something they actually want and is fully within their control, that is fine. This is a distinction that a lot of fatphobic assholes forget to make, but denying the existence of food addictions and/or binge eating disorder isn’t good either.

    I still think this guy is a privileged fatphobic saviorist asshole, though, and you make a lot of good points about the so-called “obesity epidemic”.

    • The way I see it, compulsive behavior around food such as binge eating disorder isn’t actually an addiction–I really like how the Fat Nutritionist analyzes it here and here. I’m not denying that disordered and compulsive eating exist, I just don’t think that the addiction framework is an appropriate or helpful way to talk about them in general (although of course, everyone can define their own experiences in whatever way works for them). But either way, my main problem with this guy’s focus is that he skips right over the HUGE issue of food insecurity, because he doesn’t seem to understand that people need to have *enough* food before they can worry about what kind of food or their behaviors around it.

      • I do see a qualitative difference between food addiction and binge eating disorder, so that is why I think it’s important to have distinct terminology for distinct phenomena. I used to struggle with binge eating disorder, have since recovered, though still have food addiction. I also have technology addiction, which to be honest has impacted my life more than the bipolar or anything else. It has impacted my life very similarly to how my uncle’s addiction to cigarettes has impacted his life. The only difference being that I *can’t* quit, either food or technology, and so have to confront these issues everyday, and yet because neither are chemical I can’t get coverage for addiction treatment that would help me a lot.

        Psychological addictions can be just as devastating as chemical addictions, though in different ways, and while labeling them as such may not change how the person with the addiction conceptualizes anything, in the eyes of insurance companies having a label is the difference between treatment and no treatment. Treatment for binge eating disorder would be inappropriate for me though seeing as I no longer binge at all, *just* have food-related compulsions (eating when I’m bored but not hungry, but eating an amount of food that is not a binge). Having addiction counselors tell me “no, we can’t help you, your addiction is not real, you’re fat so obviously your problem is BED, go see a nutritionist instead”, is really unhelpful and aggravating (despite that I could probably still use a nutritionist separately, for other reasons…just not a nutritionist who will try to diagnose me with BED).

  2. Fuck me sideways. What a ginormous horse’s arse this man is. I’m almost speechless and that doesn’t happen often.

    Is there any way you could bring your piece to this pillock’s attention? Submit it as a letter to the New York Times perhaps? Because this is a really excellent piece and you make some very salient points. And people who are this far up their own fundament need to be disabused of the notion this kind of caper makes them a saint.

  3. There is definitely something about being rich that makes you oblivious to what “normal” people struggle through.

    It seems ridiculous to me that he doesn’t understand that not only is there food insecurity among the poor, but it’s the food desserts that exist. They have no option to purchase nutritious food.

    I live very close to some very poor areas. The closest gas station to my house is right next to a trailer park. There are always people from that neighborhood walking to the gas station and purchasing groceries. The gas station has a extremely small refrigerator section with things like milk, eggs, and OJ. I don’t even think the place has any fruits or vegetables in the store they sell at all. But people are buying groceries there because they can’t walk to the closest grocery store 5 miles away every time they need something. The way I see it, that type of situation is what needs to be helped.

  4. Pingback: Sunday links, 11/23/14 | Tutus And Tiny Hats

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