Richard Cohen’s Washington Post Editorial

I think I spent enough time peering into the dark and twisted cave of hate and ignorance. So I’m going to move up into the light of reason. It’s easier to breathe up here.

Richard Cohen wrote a great editorial in the Washington Post. (Pointed out by a reader of the Big Fat Blog forums). Cohen’s editorial discusses Gina Kolata’s Rethinking Thin; the “war on obesity” as a moral panic; and fat in presidential politics:

The incessant message is that you are overweight because you lack willpower. Willpower is, of course, right up there with morality — the two being almost synonymous in the minds of many people….This explains why a presidential candidate must be trim. To be overweight, even pleasantly so, suggests a lack of self-discipline. That, of course, is utter nonsense.

He also notes how Bush’s persistent leanness has had no apparent impact on his ability to think:

Not only does he subscribe to silly nostrums — celibacy instead of condoms for the young and restless, for instance — but he has also led us into a disastrous war for which there appears to be no end in sight. Still, the man looks good.

Celibacy as a “silly nostrum.” Interesting. I’m not sure if his bringing celibacy up in this context was an intentional comparison, but if not, then I’ll do it. At the risk of ….well what the hell, I’m just going to go ahead and repeat myself:

“Dieting” as a response to to health risks associated with fat has a lot in common with “abstinence education” as a response to the AIDS epidemic. Both are ineffective means of improving public health. Both pit public health against the people they presume to “help,” putting them in hopelessly moralizing and paternalistic relationships. But both “solutions” are tenaciously clung to and promoted by certain quarters, for reasons that are political, ideological, economic, or some combination of all three

And both of which have the larger effect of shaming and victim-blaming than they do of making anyone thin (or abstinent). And least of all making us healthy.  

Think I can make a bumper sticker out of that?


7 Responses to “Richard Cohen’s Washington Post Editorial”

  1. spinsterwitch Says:

    Unfortunately, people would have to get so close to your bumper to read it, you’d just end up getting rear-ended a lot.

    It’s a wonderful couple of paragraphs, though.

  2. fatfu Says:

    that’s what insurance is for 🙂

  3. celsou Says:

    I’d never thought about diets and abstinence before but it makes total sense. It’s puritanism in both cases, this belief in controlling the body and its urges, the fear of losing control and the license to judge others while feeling superior.
    If you make that bumper sticker I’m buying one:)

  4. fatfu Says:

    Celsou – Ooo nice! you’re wittling it down. You’ve got it to soundbite size at least.

    And in both cases this puritanical impulse and contempt for sexuality or appetite is so strong that it completely obliterates the facts on the ground for these people and makes it impossible for them see what course of action would actually make people’s lives better.

    I think the difference between the two is with sexuality/abstinence – mainly conservatives think this way, and the rest of us kind of realize that sexuality is one of the facts (and joys) of life and it’s something we have to find ways to work with, rather than try to crush. With eating, EVERYBODY moralizes and just completely avoids reality.

  5. Sharon Says:

    That is a very nice analogy, you are so right. Also in that trying to remain abstinent is difficult even if you are trying hard to be celibate. Similarly, trying to remain at some level of starvation is difficult too. At least staying a virgin has some plus points (lack of STDs, no unwanted pregnancies), but dieting is generally harmful, healthwise.

  6. vesta44 Says:

    Not to mention how easy it is to stay celibate while having all these sexualized images pushed on you from tv and print. I can see Playboy/Playgirl/Penthouse pushing celibacy….not! Just like the media push being thin and equate it with being beautiful and healthy, all the while pushing all the fattening, non-healthy food on the public (and then beating us up emotionally when we succumb to their blandishments). Hell, they beat us up for being fat whether we eat a healthy diet or not.
    Personally, I have to eat a healthy diet as my husband is an adult onset diabetic and I’m not about to sabotage his health by having junk food in the house.

  7. heebie-geebie Says:

    I thought the dieting-abstinence parallel was really interesting, and went on to write a post about it over on my site. Thanks for the inspiration!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: