Carrie Gillon: Hi, and welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.
Megan Figueroa: I’m Megan Figueroa
Carrie Gillon: and I’m Carrie Gillon.
Megan Figueroa: Hello.
Carrie Gillon: Hello. Happy birthday.
Megan Figueroa: oh my god! Thank you. I thought you forgot
Carrie Gillon: No! I was going to wait until we were on air.
Megan Figueroa: I was just like what a bitch. Friends. For. So. Long.
Carrie Gillon: My memory is not great for birthdays, but I did remember.
Megan Figueroa: Here’s the thing about my birthday too, besides just being a gift to the world. Four years ago, we start, we launched this podcast on my 30th birthday.
Carrie Gillon: We did, and then we had to relaunch it.
Megan Figueroa: We had a little trouble, you know, I feel like until the day I die, swearing is somehow going to be a problem, for me, even though I think it’s pretty low on the list of terrible things, people do
Carrie Gillon: not even terrible.
Megan Figueroa: I know exactly. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: It’s just a matter of what you consider polite, not polite, that’s it.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. But for our podcast to have to relaunch from the beginning, because we put asshole in the title or in the subtitle, or description, I mean, that’s, that’s pretty a hashtag vocal fry energy
Carrie Gillon: chef’s kiss.
Megan Figueroa: That’s perfect. But yeah. Happy, happy anniversary to us.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, happy anniversary. And speaking of that, for our fourth anniversary, we have launched a new tier on our Patreon and it’s a mug, a Vocal Fries mug. You can have the fries on your mug for your morning coffee or morning tea or whatever you’d like to
Megan Figueroa: yes. Or just the water that you have in there, whatever. and. Yeah, exactly. Whatever, whatever you need. and it’s the only way to get the, get our logo on a mug is going to be through our Patreon our beautiful logo designed by your husband, who- I love it. It’s still a fa- like some people probably only listened to this at the beginning because of the logo, I’m guessing.
Carrie Gillon: It’s probably true
Megan Figueroa: I that’s good. That’s good logo design then and that’s okay.
Carrie Gillon: So we wanted to have an extra special, special shout out to our first, patron at the $15 a month level because they’re the first person to get the mug and it’s Joseph Herbert. So thank you.
Megan Figueroa: Thank you so much. appreciate it so much, right. I mean, we want to, we say this all the time though, We’re an indie podcast. We like that about us. We just sometimes need a little bit of help to make sure that we can make this as accessible as possible. Your funds are going toward transcriptions to our lovely transcriptionist. Yeah. It’s it’s we really appreciate it. Cause it’s important to us that you’re listening. And also that we have these transcripts.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. So make it slightly more accessible.
Megan Figueroa: Yes. Yeah.
Carrie Gillon: To a slightly larger group of people.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely. .
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. This episode, it’s a very exciting episode. We kept it long because the conversation was just so fun between the four of us and it’s with the co-hosts of Maintenance Phase, which is one of my favorite podcasts. I I’ve always been fascinated by like the way that we talk about dieting and, and, and weight and all kinds of things, and just like how dangerous it all can be. So I was really excited to have them on to talk about it. Cause you know, they’re more ex experts than we are.
Megan Figueroa: Absolutely.
Carrie Gillon: So it was really great to hear their voices on this.
Megan Figueroa: I guess the one of the messages always is if you get too many podcasters together, things go a little long
Carrie Gillon: yes, yes. We do like to chat.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. I mean, why cut any of this when it’s fun and good. And of course, take care while listening. If this is a topic that is hard for you, but of course, like Carrie said, I mean, it’s, it’s interesting how we use language in this, in this realm of dieting and anti-fatness and all of that, and it’s harmful and it’s just, you know, I think it’s good that we are talking about it on the pod. because I don’t think a lot of people know. People that haven’t, you know, a lot of thin people have no idea what the fuck is going on. you know,
Carrie Gillon: yeah, for sure.
Megan Figueroa: Or they haven’t thought about it.
Carrie Gillon: Right. I, and it’s just our, anti-fatness pervades our culture so much that like, it’s really hard to even notice it, I think for many people.
Megan Figueroa: Oh yeah.
Carrie Gillon: I don’t know. Like, it’s not maybe as bad now as it was in the nineties, but remember how any fat jokes Jay Leno would tell, like I could not stand him for a variety of reasons, but one of them was that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah,
Carrie Gillon: I’m not, I’m not a fat person, but I just, it really fucking bugged me. So I, yeah. Anyway, it’s just there. Anyway, we don’t talk about, we don’t talk about calorie counts or anything like we’re super specific, so hopefully there’s nothing triggering, but just in case you should just,
Megan Figueroa: just in case,
Carrie Gillon: keep that in mind.
Megan Figueroa: But otherwise, this is just, we, we hope you, if you can, we hope you listen to this episode. It is so important. And it’s so funny. And these, this
Carrie Gillon: It’s really funny.
Megan Figueroa: These two people are gems.
Carrie Gillon: Yes, they really are.
Megan Figueroa: I’m talking about you and me.
Carrie Gillon: coincidentally, at the very end of the conversation, we do talk about the keto or they bring up the keto diet a little bit. And that’s the most recent episode is with the keto diet. So it’s just kind of interesting timing. Cause we recorded this a bit a while ago. So
Megan Figueroa: yes we did. I’ve been anticipating just on wanting to tell everyone, but I just kept it a secret. Cause I thought it would be fun, for it to be a reveal.
Carrie Gillon: Oh, my God. It’s the crossover event of the season. We are so excited to have both co-hosts of Maintenance Phase, but let me introduce them separately. So Michael Hobbes is a journalist, podcaster, and animator, which I did not know until I looked it up just now, co-host of You’re Wrong About and most relevantly Maintenance Phase.
Aubrey Gordon writes about the social realities of life as a very fat person, previously publishing anonymously as Your Fat Friend in Health Magazine, Vox, Gay Mag, and Medi among others.
She’s a columnist with Self Magazine where she writes about health, weight, stigma, and fatness, and it is the other cohost of Maintenance Phase and the author of What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat. So welcome.
Aubrey Gordon: Thank you so much for having us.
Carrie Gillon: So before we begin on the reason that we wanted to have you both on the show, first of all, why did you want to start a podcast on wellness and weight loss?
Michael Hobbes: Aubrey always has a better answer for this than I do.
Aubrey Gordon: I’m going to give it a shot. You tell me, I feel like, listen, there’s a long and good answer, which I will get to in a minute, the short and bad and fairly honest answer is it was quarantine. And we both had a bunch of time at home.
Michael Hobbes: You know
Aubrey Gordon: you’re like, you’re fun to talk to. Let’s do this. Part of it also was that, you know, in looking at health and wellness podcasts, there are a great deal of them that are claiming a great deal of authority and sort of in broad brush strokes, going like the research shows, blah, blah, blah, and like sort of never citing their sources. There’s not necessarily a ton of rigor and there’s mostly a bunch of passing on of what actually turns out to be like pretty bad or incomplete information through those. And I think what we wanted to do was do like a very fact checky, very like grounded in research and data kind of, approach to talk about health and wellness. And, I think in part the reason that we want to do that, or the reason that I wanted to do that was that, I think the research tells us something really different than what we think we know about health and wellness, which is like being fatter makes you less healthy. And actually a bunch of research tells us that actually being stigmatized is what makes you less healthy, right. that there’s just a whole host of stuff like that. That feels really important to get into. I don’t know, Mike, what would you say?
Michael Hobbes: Like to put it in the most neoliberal terms possible I do think that there is a gap in the market for this kind of information because there’s sort of the health and wealthness content podcasts, whatever that are like, how to get your 10,000 steps or like how to do that CrossFit. And that are just very like pro like whatever the fad is. And then there’s also a category of sort of debunking podcasts or debunking articles that sort of take the stance of like, is this thing real or is it just like a placebo and it’s harmless? Right there like, that’s the question they’re asking, like, does this work or is everybody using their best intentions? And like, maybe it’s not as effective as they say/ whereas there, there doesn’t seem to be anything carved out that’s like, oh, this is a scam. Like there’s, there are cynical operators behind a lot of these things and that they are, and they are fleecing people for their money and they are lying to you constantly. And they are gaslighting you about what their product can do. And I think like, it is weird to me that sort of the, the both sides in the health conversation is sort of like, does this work, or does it not work? As opposed to, are these people acting in good faith or are they just like literally scamming you to get- yeah, to get you to use this product that they are making money on. And so we wanted to sort of come at it from a point of view of like, we have to at least entertain the possibility that these people are not acting in good faith and like might actually be harming people or taking their money that they could be spending on something else.
And it just, that seemed like a huge hole in like the entire health and fitness discussion.
Megan Figueroa: And you’re bringing your, your expertise from You’re Wrong About, and the fact checking you do there to this. And so you’re used to doing this kind of, kind of podcasting.
Michael Hobbes: Well, there’s a lot of you’re wrong abouts in health and fitness. And I think, you know, the biggest thing that we’ve learned from doing You’re Wrong About for almost three years now, Everyone is operating from incomplete information. And oftentimes, I mean, there are sort of good faith actors who just simply don’t know things. And there’s sort of this like game of telephone that you play with little facts and information that ends up getting morphed over time. And it’s even worse with anything involving health and wellness, because like there’s a lot of extremely basic stuff about health and fitness that we just don’t know. And yet, as soon as you get sort of sports drinks involved and diet food involved and you know, these billion dollar industries, all of a sudden, there’s this weird sense of certainty around like, you have to do it this way. And what were a lot of what we do on the show is just try to go back to like, well, what do we actually know about this topic? Like what, what are any of these messages actually based on? And usually they’re based on these like weird Phantoms or like it’s a weird study with, you know, 15 people or something like that. Like we just actually don’t know that much about health and wellness.
Carrie Gillon: So the reason why we wanted to have both of you on is obviously the language around, diet culture, and fatness and all these things. And I think we should start with what your book is about, Aubrey. So why did you want to write a book about talking about fatness
Aubrey Gordon: to steal Mike’s very neoliberal frame. It felt like a real gap in the marketplace. You know, me classic capitalist. Marketplace. And, there were lots and lots of books about how to be confident as a fat person. There were lots and lots of books about why it’s unhealthy to be fat or why it might not be as unhealthy as we think to be fat. And there were very few non-academic books that just sort of laid out like, okay, when we talk about fatness and fat people, like let’s actually just have a conversation about the impacts of weight stigma on fat people. It just felt important to be able to have a conversation that wasn’t talking about the impacts of weight bias on thin people, which is disproportionately the conversation that we have.
Yeah, totally. Well, and to actually say, this is something that’s designed to hurt fat people. Let’s talk about the ways in which it actually impacts fat people. That’s what felt most important to me and felt really missing from quite a bit of the conversation.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. It seems like the most important part of the conversation.
Aubrey Gordon: I mean, I would argue it’s a pretty central one, right?
Carrie Gillon: Central is the best way to put it. Yeah.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. I mean, like, I, it would be real wild to me if every time we talked about misogyny, we just talked about how it hurt men. Right. That would wig me right out .Guys, but men are really suffering and you’re like, okay, that might be true. But also what? Can we talk about sort of the main event here.
Michael Hobbes: Aubrey? What’s an example. What you mean? What, what, what are the messages like? What are these messages that say that like fatphobia is hurting skinny people.
Aubrey Gordon: I think it’s a lot of the stuff that we saw. Oh, you and I were just talking off mic about, Jessica Simpson, I think quite a bit of the outrage over Jessica Simpson and Kelly Clarkson being called fat. Right. That it’s like, they’re not fat though, which sort of reinforces the idea that it’s okay to do that if someone is. Right, right. But it’s not okay if it’s inaccurate, right. That actually the central sort of issue with that is that it’s inaccurate. Not that it’s like a deeply harmful and mean-spirited thing to do to someone, right. Like regardless of their size. I think it also shows up quite a bit in conversations about eating disorders, that there is this belief that the thinnest among us are paying the greatest price for weight stigma, because it’s, leading folks to anorexia or bulemia or significant restrictive eating disorders. And what we learned in our episode with Erin Harrop, who’s a great researcher on eating disorders is that actually it appears that the majority of people who get eating disorders are fat people because we’re under the greatest pressure to diet, right. But that research hasn’t happened because, there is a ceiling at which researchers stop examining eating disorders. Right? If you have a BMI of over 25, congratulations, you are out of the sample for any eating disorders research. So. We frankly haven’t had data around fat people in eating disorders. So like, those are the kinds of structural things that we’re talking about, where fat people are just being categorically written out of the conversation about a thing that is fundamentally about us in our bodies.
Carrie Gillon: Well, I found that episode really fascinating. I was so happy that you did that one because I had no idea either. Like, yeah, you’re right. It’s always about like super skinny people.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Which is like, of course we should talk about that too. And yes. Maybe let’s also talk about the intended target instead of just sort of, folks who are functionally sort of collateral damage of the intended target. Right. Which is and always has been fat people.
Megan Figueroa: I’m going to mention your Self essays several times, probably during this conversation, but you have one that says basically stop bringing up anti thinness when we’re talking about anti-fat bias. I’m not surprised that this is happening, that people are like, but what about thin people.
Michael Hobbes: Skinny shaming! Aubrey loves talking about skinny shaming.
Aubrey Gordon: Oh my God, it’s my favorite thing of our society, right? The worst thing that can happen to any human being
Michael Hobbes: someone once left a rude comment on the Instagram post of a hot person. I think
Aubrey Gordon: anyway, guys, I can’t get healthcare, but let’s talk about people saying mean things about Jessica Simpson or what gray like, or whatever, not to pick on Jessica Simpson at all. I’m being like a little bit flip about the, skinny shaming stuff. But I think there is a degree to which skinny shaming is absolutely a thing, right? That people are shamed for the size and shape of their body. That should not happen ever at all. And, there’s a degree to which that can be a bad faith conversation revealed by the ways in which it really only comes up when fat shaming is invoked or when we’re talking about fat people and fatness, right. That it becomes this sort of, whataboutism kind of rejoinder? That’s like, okay, but what about thin people? Why aren’t you standing up for thin people? And it’s like, well, totally we are. But also we’re having a conversation about this other thing right now. Right? Like that it sort of shows up mostly as a derailing tactic, which again doesn’t mean that it’s right and should continue. Doesn’t mean that, you know, nothing should be done about it, but it does mean that if there were an independent conversation about it, that that would be like a good space for it, rather than using it as a way to shut down conversations by and for fat people.
Carrie Gillon: Speaking of misogyny. It goes back to that too. Like misogyny does actually hurt men, but it only gets brought up when we’re talking about how it hurts women.
Aubrey Gordon: Totally. Yes. Correct.
Michael Hobbes: To me, it’s like the difference between rudeness and marginalization. Yeah. If somebody posts a photo of themselves and you’re like, eat a sandwich, like that’s a dickish thing to say, like, don’t do that. But also like there are not statistics indicating that skinny people are denied access to jobs, access to education. It’s not clear that they’re earning less money, like conventionally attractive people have every advantage sort of on the societal level. And like, yes, they experience rudeness as all people do. And you shouldn’t be rude to people, but also it’s, it’s not fair to compare that to systematic, measurable, quantifiable marginalization that fat people face. And like, it’s, it’s really, it’s also very rude to bring that up when somebody is talking about their marginalization to be like, what about this time someone was rude to me. It’s like, that’s not actually relevant to the conversation that we’re having.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. Yeah. That’s exactly right. It’s like, it’s reductive to compare that to, you know, fat people making up to 20 grand less a year for the same job than thin people, right? Like that is a real colossal derailing tactic.
Michael Hobbes: Right?
Megan Figueroa: If we’re talking about all these like harmful practical manifestations of, you know, like making less money, if you’re a fat person, all of this is this connected at all to people being so worried about using the term fat to describe other people?
Michael Hobbes: We’ve reached the lexical part of our journey. This is a podcast called the Vocal Fries.
Aubrey Gordon: side note, the greatest cover art I have ever seen. If someone would animate me as a French fry, Michael, our resident animator as a French fry, that would be much appreciated.
Carrie Gillon: That that was my husband. So you can ask him to
Aubrey Gordon: that’s my compliments to the chef. Yeah. I mean, I do think, I would say rather than like, I don’t know that the word fat is a driver of weight stigma, but I do think it’s a reflection of it, if that makes sense. That what happens. So for example, like a little real-world example, you know, if somebody says, oh my God, I got this dress. It would look so cute on you. You should pick it up and I’ll go, oh, where’d you get it? And they’ll go, you know, whatever X and such store, I don’t know Wet Seal or another very contemporary and I’ll have to go, oh, got it. I’m a fat lady. And they don’t actually carry my size. Right. That’s sort of like, just a matter of fact, like, Nope, sorry. That what I will be met with is, oh sweetie. No, don’t talk about yourself that way. You’re not fat. You’re beautiful. You’re blah, blah, blah. Right? Like that. You’ll get all of these kinds of ways of distancing me from the word fat, which is also distancing me from my own body. It’s a little bit of fatness is a terrible thing and I can see your body, but I don’t want to think of you in the ways that I think of fat people. So I’m going to say, don’t call yourself fat. Right? It almost gets treated as like a, like a four-letter word in some ways, right? That’s like, you know, the, the name that cannot be said, right, is fatness. so I think it is quite a reflection of our own sort of like baggage that we bring to the idea of, fatness and to our perceptions of fat people. But we just put all of that on the word and go, you just don’t say that word, and then it’s not a problem. Right. rather than going, we have a lot of work to do on our perceptions of people. Right. so there may be more there.
I’m curious about you guys, what’s your relationship to the, to the word fat and Mike too, everybody.
Carrie Gillon: I don’t remember which episode it was, but one of your episodes made me think about it. It was probably the WeightWatchers episode, cause like almost everyone in high school that I was with all the girls anyway, we’re all part of weight Watchers. And I was basically the only one who wasn’t and that’s just because my mother thinks diet culture is bad. And so I’m grateful to her for that because anyway, but I was still thinking, okay, what was my relationship to the word fat? And I think, yeah, I thought it was a bad word and I didn’t, I, I didn’t have the skills to investigate like interrogate why I might think that, but so yeah, when I, at least when I was younger, I thought it was a bad word and I would switch to overweight or, you know, something like that. And I didn’t know what, why I was doing that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. So much, verbal gymnastics to avoid the word fat for so long for me, I also grew up thinking it was a bad word because of, you know, I guess, I mean, I, I grew up perfectly within this the night, like the late nineties where like movies, like 10 Things I Hate About You or the people, the women in those movies were so skinny. I mean, not that that’s changed much, but you know, it’s like, I don’t know. It seemed to be the culture that I grew up in. You know, I was like 13 and seeing these images and, you know, J 14 and stuff magazine, you know, all these magazines. but yeah, I absolutely was raised to believe that it was a bad word. and I would avoid it at all costs.
Michael Hobbes: I think it’s a really hard sort of word to know when to use it because it’s, it’s in the process of being sort of reclaimed, but a lot of people aren’t there yet. And a lot of people like aren’t comfortable using it in that way. Like my mom I’ve, I’ve talked about one of the sort of most formative experiences in my life was my mom’s struggling with her weight for my entire life. And always be on weird diets and the family was on weird diets with her, et cetera. And like, she identifies as overweight. She would never refer to herself as fat. She’s not there. And so when, you know, when me and her speak about this issue, like I’ll say overweight because that’s like the most respectful way to talk about her. And then when I talked to other people, I’ll use fat because that’s the most respectful way to talk about them. And I mean, tell me what you think about this Aubrey, but like, I, I’m not at a place where I would ever call somebody else fat without sort of knowing that that’s how they self identify, because I know that like, that’s still a word with a lot of power to hurt people. If you’re not sort of in, you know, if you haven’t reclaimed it already. Like that can still really hurt people’s feelings. And so even while I sort of like on a, on a broader societal level, I don’t love these like euphemisms, you know, like curvy or like large or whatever. Like I will use those euphemisms in some contexts if I don’t know the way that somebody is comfortable identifying.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s right. And a good general sort of guideline for folks is like, if you’re talking about individual people, use the language that they use. If you’re not sure what language they use, ask them what language they use.
Michael Hobbes: Yeah.
Aubrey Gordon: I will also say. I think there’s a degree to which discomfort with the word fat is generational it’s community specific, right? Like there are lots of different lines that it sort of breaks along. And I think one of those is in my experience, the people who are most uncomfortable with the word fat are people who have not ever been very fat, right. That for people, my size and larger it’s like, oh, being called fat is genuinely the least of our worries. Right. It’s like, like it’s kind of fine. Like I know I’m fat and it’s very odd and uncomfortable to me personally, when people sort of go out of their way to tiptoe around it or to dismiss or deny it, like, that’s really bizarre to me when people are like, you’re not fat. And I’m like, Madam, I am 350 pounds. You cannot like that’s th that is observably false, right. And I think what I have noticed just personally and anecdotally is that the people in my life who are most uncomfortable with that word are the people who are thin people with high levels of body dissatisfaction, who are the folks who tend to push back on it the most, most of the fat people that I know might not use it to describe themselves, but also are sort of like whatever, you know what I mean? Like they’re sort of used to moving through the world as a fat person, which means that, hearing that word doesn’t necessarily hold the weight that it does again, for folks who don’t necessarily have that life.
Michael Hobbes: Yeah. I guess this just like lit up a light bulb for me. Cause I am, I am like five foot six, I’m five foot eight on my dating profile when other people. Like I’ve done the thing where I’m like duh duh duh as a short guy duh duh d and then people will be like, oh, you’re not short. And I’m just like, confused. Like, no, like, I don’t feel bad about being short. I’m not self-conscious about being short. Being short is fine. And it’s always weird to me when people are like, oh no, don’t say that. It’s like, it’s an accurate description.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, totally. In the same way. Just like I’m five 10, I’m tall for a lady. And if someone was like, sweetie, do not call yourself tall. I would never. Right. Like that is a wild response to have to like observable bodily characteristic. And yet it is sort of the prevailing response that we have and that’s real wild, like that is something else.
Michael Hobbes: But that’s also, it’s also telling of like the way that so many of these conversations are framed around like the need to lose weight, right. That you don’t for those people sort of in the middle range that are like not quite comfortable identifying as fat or like are still super afraid of becoming sort of undeniably fat. Like we have to sort of there’s this way that we have to sort of frame the conversation around like, well, you won’t always be fat sweetie, or like, you can, you can not be fat anymore. And so there’s this sort of mythos around sort of like the obligation to lose weight and this sort of like this, the terror of just like being a fat person.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. And that like your body, if you are fat, or if you’re, you’ve gained weight from wherever you were before, that this is a pit stop on your way to, or on your way back to thinness, right? Like your ultimate and true state is a thin person. And your job is to get yourself back to that ultimate and true state, regardless of like, that’s never- boy, a boy, you can go back to the sixth grade and that has not been true of me. Right. Like, that, it’s just, it, it just, isn’t true for some of us, but there is this sort of belief that, again, like the correct form for a body to take is a thin form. And we don’t really do much interrogating of that.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. Aubrey, you talked about the cultural differences too. I was thinking about it, I guess. I didn’t think about it as deeply before. but my, the Mexican side of my family, I feel like they were comfortable talking about it. Fatness, but it was to point out that, you know, you, again, this pit stop thing, like there needed to be a change, but also there’s this whole, the whole phenomenon of making nicknames for people based on things about them, like their body or whatever, or the skin color.
So like, I have a cousin Gordo though, and Gordo is like, you know, fat. and it, I remember telling someone that my cousin’s name was Gordo or his nickname was Gordo and it was, a non Latinx person. And they were like, oh, Terrible. I’m like, oh, is it? Like, I didn’t think of it as terrible at all. for some reason when the language changed, I was not afraid of the word fat
Aubrey Gordon: in English is at once a deeply, deeply stigmatizing and then distancing ourselves from that stigma. So we’re like doing it all at once, right in the use and our relationship to this one word. We’re like piling all of this weird baggage onto fatness and fat people, and then going, but not you. Right. And sort of pulling it all back away where you’re like, well, we’ll just, what if we just left it alone to begin with? We just let people describe their own bodies.
Megan Figueroa: So how are we raising kids? As a society.
Aubrey Gordon: That’s a big question, Mike, what do you think? Raising kids. Tell me, right smack dab in your lane and mine.
Michael Hobbes: I know as someone who’s raised 19 children
Aubrey Gordon: As one of the Duggars Mike for sure. Not for sure.
Michael Hobbes: I’m technically octomom. Yes. This is my expertise. you want me to me, this sort of, to me, like the way that I would frame this, cause I know nothing about parenting is like public health messages that so much of sort of the very standard, very mainstream messaging of public health is like, we need to lose weight. We need to be at the correct weight. Being fat is really bad for you to sort of in an uncomplicated way, right? Like every single fat person is unhealthy. Every single skinny person is healthy. And so the fat people need to become the skinny people and like, that’s it. I do think like, one thing that I’ve learned from fat activists is to like, think about the way that that message sounds to a fat kid. Like, what does it feel like if you’re 13 years old and we know that weight is the number one reason that kids are bullied in school, it’s not race. It’s not gender, it’s not identity. It’s not anything else. It is weight. And oftentimes that is reinforced by teachers and principals. And they’ll say, you know, if you weren’t so fat kids wouldn’t make fun of you so much, like it’s awful to be bullied for your weight. And then, you know, you look at a billboard, a public health billboard of like, don’t drink so much soda or else you’ll end up looking like this kid. And you’re like, well, that looks like me. Like, that’s, that’s really hurtful. And considering, you know, how many fat people we have in our society, how many fat kids we have in our society. The fact that fat kids are not responsible for their weight. They’re not responsible for their diets. They’re not responsible for their exercise. Like they are kids. They’re not responsible for anything. It really feels like we’re, we’re like loading this gun with all of this, just like poison ammunition and just like spraying it out into society. Like, don’t be fat, don’t be fat. And it’s like kids see those messages, they hear those messages and we have much better messages available for these things of just like, try to eat right. Try to get some exercise. Like maybe you’ll stay fat your whole life, but like, exercise is good for you regardless, but you can do it in like a fun way that doesn’t like contribute to kids being bullied for their weight, which they already are.
Aubrey Gordon: Two things that I would add on to that are a couple of studies that I was reading just this morning on this question of sort of kids and BMI in particular. One is that in, I think it’s 26 states. I could be wrong. it’s either 25 or 26 states currently send out BMI report cards to parents.
Michael Hobbes: These are the worst.
Aubrey Gordon: They’re terrible. School staff will weigh kids. They will calculate their BMI and they will send a report card home to parents going red alert. You gotta take care of this. And they did their first study on how parents actually receive those in California. So California, you would think like pretty receptive place to those kinds of public health interventions. Over half of the parents did not believe their kid’s BMI report card, like just straight up or like this isn’t right. And just sort of set it aside, right? So we’re spending all of this time and money and effort in 26 states to do something that absolutely stigmatizes kids that hasn’t led to fewer fat kids or better health outcomes. And that is not landing with parents. So like, what are we, what are we doing here is step one. Right? and step two is the other study that I read this morning, with regard to this kind of stuff, was a study of suburban middle and high schools that found that when they gave teachers in those schools similar essays or the same essays from different students and gave them pictures of fat students and thin students to attach to sort of who had written it, that they would give the same essay, lower grades, that they would assume that the fatter student needed more remedial help and needed remedial placement in classes. Right. So like it’s actually also directly impacting teachers, but also like adults broadly, right? Perception of fat kids. And that’s not a problem that is specific to teachers. That is a problem that is specific to kind of everybody and teachers happen to be in the driver’s seat in this particular role. Right. So that’s where it shows up. It also shows up with doctors. It also shows up with, you know, public policymakers. It shows up in a lot of places, but there are ways in which we are just stacking the deck where again, like, even if you have a, an accepting and lovely family, as a fat kid, you know, as soon as you step outside of your house, you’re getting sort of bombarded with all of these messages that are just like. Your body is wrong. You look like the wrong kind of person. You have the wrong kind of body. I mean, famously I think it was about 10 years ago, the state of Georgia launched a public education campaign called strong for life. that was about tackling the quote unquote childhood obesity epidemic. And they took pictures of fat kids with their faces and everything, and put them on billboards and said,
Carrie Gillon: God.
Aubrey Gordon: Warning, big bones didn’t make me this way. Big meals did. Warning. He’s got his father’s eyes, his mother’s laugh, and his dad’s diabetes, right. That it’s like just intensely stigmatizing. They say that their goal was to get at parents. and I would say, you know, there are kids in those cars too, driving by those billboards, right?
Michael Hobbes: And also what we know from sort of the research on individuals is that shaming somebody for their weight increases their desire to lose weight, but it does not increase their ability to lose weight. So oftentimes it just results in this desperation. And, you know, as we know, 95 to 98% of weight loss attempts fail. Right? And so what you’re doing, even if, sort of your goal is to like get at the parents and like finally tell the parents that sodas are bad or whatever. You’re not actually increasing the ability of those parents to do anything. Like a lot of parents work two jobs. A lot of them like might not have kitchens, might not know how to cook, like might not be able to afford fresh fruits and vegetables, which we all know are like 50 billion times more expensive than like the poundcake at the grocery outlet. Like you’re not actually helping in any way. All you’re doing is giving them ammunition to like be shittier to their kids. Like, all you’re doing is basically telling them, like, this is a new dimension on which you have to shame your child. So you’re just sending the shame home with them. You’re not actually doing anything meaningful for those kids. So it’s like, you’re better off just not telling them that.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s a real, it’s a real heartbreaker for me. I mean, I will say it also shows up in like interpersonal interactions around the word fat. I was in an airport at one point and I was at the TSA security checkpoint, putting my shoes back on. and a toddler was like, momma, look at that fat lady or something like that. And this, mom came down on her kid and was like, you don’t ever say that you don’t ever like, no, no, no, no, no, no. Which I get, right. Like, that’s like an embarrassing thing. Anytime your kid is like, I’m going to say this thing that’s like off program. Right? Like, whoa. And I was like, you know, it’s actually okay. I’m a fat lady. People come in different shapes and sizes. There you go. Something like that. Right. and that parent then got upset with me for correcting her in front of her. And I was like, oh God, this is such a mess. Right.
Carrie Gillon: Minefield.
Aubrey Gordon: It’s totally a minefield. It’s totally a minefield. So it’s a very, very complicated word. And I feel like, again, like Mike, the sort of guidelines that you offered around, like I just use it when I know that that’s the word that people use for themselves is really solid advice. And I think the work that’s probably ahead of most of us is to interrogate like when I say someone isn’t fat or can’t be fat or shouldn’t call themselves fat, what am I afraid of? What’s the fear that’s underneath that, that I’m trying to pull away from them. And is that a fear that I know that they have? Are they expressing that fear to me? Or am I putting that fear on them? feels like a worthwhile little interrogation to do.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah, we, we like to advocate for, for stopping and reflecting. cause that’s the first step really, you know, being armed with this knowledge of, of any sort of, you know, discrimination that may show up in your language or how you feel about other people in the way use language would be to first know that it might be discriminatory and that to stop and reflect on that because otherwise it becomes overwhelming. I mean, you just, I think it’s just a really good first step. So I really like having these kinds of questions to reflect on, to ask yourself about. I wonder if there are other ways that anti-fat bias shows up in our language that we can look out for.
Michael Hobbes: Ooh, Aubrey,
Aubrey Gordon: I would say truly all of the euphemisms.
Megan Figueroa: What is it like big boned?
Aubrey Gordon: Curvy, big boned. Like I’m convinced that big boned is a thing that thin people came up with. Like, I’ve not ever heard a fat person go, I’m not fat. I’m big boned. Like, that just feels like a weird meme to me. Like again, like I just. It’s not a thing I’ve actually heard from an actual fat person. Other folks may have, I personally have not. curvy is a weird one because it is a body type that is something other than fat. So it’s a weird one to use for fat. It totally means something different and people who fit that description should have a word to describe their bodies. That’s that’s a worthy thing. fluffy, I personally hate. Oh, Jesus. I got at one point reseated at a restaurant, like I was going in with a bunch of coworkers and the, host at this restaurant was seating us. And I went to go sit down in a chair and in front of all of my coworkers, he was like, no, no, no, no, no, no, I can’t have you sit there. That chair isn’t made for fluffy people. So I’m going to have you sit over here and had like, did a whole orchestration of a seat switching thing with one of my coworkers and then came over afterwards to be like, it’s okay. I love fluffy people. They’re my favorite. You’re wonderful. You’re beautiful. And I was like, this is not, I don’t need you to tell me that I’m beautiful right now. I need you not to have done this very weird thing. Right. That kind of stuff is another place where folks’ sort of baggage around fatness and fat people shows up. Right. Which is like, I’m going to use a word that I think is complimentary while doing a thing that is like kind of unquestionably stigmatizing or embarrassing or whatever. Right. those are the ones that come up for me. I also think our use of the term obese is very clearly and directly stigmatizing because most of us use it without actually knowing someone’s BMI, right. We sort of defend it as a medical term, but we use it as a way to describe bodies that we find unacceptably fat, right. We go, that person’s obese. It’s not because you know, their weight divided by their height times, whatever. Right. It’s because you’re like that’s too fat. I’ve decided that that is too fat. So that person is therefore obese or quote unquote morbidly obese, right. so I think those are, those are some other words that I think we pile quite a bit of, stigma into, even in our best intentions to sort of strip stigma out. What do you all think, Mike? What else would you say in terms of stigmatizing language?
Michael Hobbes: I mean, to me, like, I understand why people use it and I use it when I’m speaking about it specifically, but also just the, sort of the framing of the obesity epidemic, this idea that sort of like the problem that we have in America: too many people are too large, which is not the problem. Like we’ve done this on the show a million times at like not every fat person is unhealthy. Not every skinny person is healthy. There’s lots of skinny people who get diabetes. There’s lots of skinny people with like high resting heart rates and bad cholesterol. There’s plenty of fat people who have like really wonderful, like the cholesterol readings of like an 18 year old gymnast. Like there’s, there’s lots of sort of overlapping circles in all of this. And it’s, you know, it’s true that America has like, you know, heart disease is the number one cause of death. And like, we have really high diabetes rates and like, we have like a genuine problem in this country, I think with like diet related disease or like lifestyle diseases. Like, however you want to talk about it. But somehow we’ve sort of put that into the frame of like all fat people are unhealthy and all fat people have this obligation to lose weight regardless of their actual health, right? Like we’ve completely leapfrogged health to obesity, which is supposed to be like a proxy indicator, right. Like looking at someone and being like. They have a high BMI. Technically that’s like supposed to be an indication that they have, you know, high cholesterol and a high resting heart rate and blah, blah, blah. But it’s like, we’ve taken this proxy indicator and we’ve made it the end goal. We’re like, no, no, no. Now it’s just about actual fatness. And it’s like, well, wait a minute. Wasn’t fatness supposed to be an indicator of all of these other things. We have the data on all of these other things. So why are we using this proxy indicator? And so, to me, I think like, you know, I I’m, I’m in a lot of like sort of urbanist, like, you know, build more bike lanes and like have more dense housing and make it easier for people to walk and bike to work and build parks. Like, you know, a lot of these conversations about sort of public health measures that we need in cities oftentimes get framed as like, well, too many people are fat and if we had parks, then like we could solve the obesity epidemic. And it’s like, no, we’re not like that’s not gonna make people skinnier. It’s probably going to make them healthier. Like more kids walking and biking to school is great because exercise is really good for you. But like some of those kids are gonna stay fat and like, we need to be nice to those kids. And like, not tell them that they’re doing something wrong, even as like, we should make it easier for everybody to walk and bike to school. Like we should make it so that everybody has a park within 15 minutes of their house. And if they want to go play Frisbee, they can, we should make like disability accessible sidewalks. Like we need to do all of these things, but like, sorry, we’re not going to solve fatness this way. We can solve lots of other problems. But it’s like, we don’t need to inject like fatness as a problem into every single issue. Like that’s not actually the thing that we’re trying to solve.
Aubrey Gordon: Not only have we sort of injected this kind of like, you know, fatness, like no longer is, sort of addressing a series of chronic illnesses. The problem like being fat is the problem. We’ve also collapsed all of those chronic illnesses and all of those health indicators into fat bodies, right? So there is a degree to which I think most people, certainly this has been, again, my own personal experience, see a fat person and think that it is a matter of time before that fat person has a heart attack or gets diabetes, right. rather than like, sort of, you know, we don’t really have an understanding of like, no, there’s all this data and X percent of fat people go on to develop type two diabetes. And Y percent of thin people go on to develop type two diabetes. And we don’t actually look at the role of weight cycling in that. So, gaining and losing a lot of weight is one of our biggest indicators for future weight gain. It’s one of our biggest indicators for future eating disorders. And it’s also one of our biggest indicators for chronic illnesses like diabetes, like type two diabetes, right. that it’s not actually being fat. It’s the gaining and losing of significant amounts of weight, which is propelled by weight stigma, right. It feels like we’re sort of using fatness as a stand in for like a hundred much more complex conversations, which is why we’re sort of getting a bunch of stuff really wrong on this issue.
Michael Hobbes: And also like you don’t care, you don’t care about the fucking resting heart rate of your friend. Like if a skinny guy is sitting next to you on the plane, and he’s like having a conversation on his phone with his wife and he’s like, they found out that my cholesterol is really high and I need to change my diet. You’re not going to be like you piece of shit. I’m going to move my seat. And they’re like, you don’t care. The whole thing is just a way of stigmatizing people based on their looks. And like, let’s all admit it. Like you are not going around asking people for their LDL cholesterol numbers. You don’t even, I didn’t even know what, like good and bad cholesterol is. I don’t know what my blood pressure is like supposed to be. 99% of the population does not know this stuff, but it’s only when somebody is fat where like, I’m really concerned about your blood pressure. Like, come on.
Megan Figueroa: So this, this reminds me of what I find it out in the world to be stigmatizing language that is kind of hidden or, you know, in plain sight kind of thing is the healthy versus unhealthy discussion. And both of you mentioned the word healthy, you know, several times when you’re talking about this and we were mentioning, you know, up until this point, the word healthy. Is healthy/unhealthy, a false binary.
Aubrey Gordon: 100%.
Michael Hobbes: We have talked about this on our show, like three times and we’ve cut it out every time. We’re like that’s too much.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, that’s right.
Carrie Gillon: Let’s do it.
Megan Figueroa: Here we are. Let’s solve it. Let’s solve.
Aubrey Gordon: So, I mean, Part of what, like Mike and I have gone back and forth about this quite a bit. And we have like, complementary but different perspectives on this. I would say my thinking on it is it is a false binary because we’re unable to talk about health without layering on moral virtue and without sort of ascribing intent and ascribing virtue sort of on the basis of someone else’s health, which actually means their perceived health, which usually means their size, right? So like what we’re talking about when we talk about someone else being healthy or unhealthy is our perception of their health, which usually just means is that person thin? Do they look like, you know, sort of sallow, do they look- right? Like, what is their physical appearance is functionally what we’re judging in the absence of like an in-depth conversation with their doctor and a look at their medical charts, right? Like most of us are passing appearance based judgments on someone else based on their own health. and then sort of deputizing ourselves as like public health authorities who need to tell fat people that cheeseburgers are bad for them, or to put down the donuts or whatever, regardless of what they’re actually eating, or if we get a salad going, nice try. That’s never going to work. Right? Like there’s sort of this kind of way in which like, I would love to be able to have a conversation about health and nutrition and nutrient dense foods and all of that kind of stuff and access. but the problem is that we are currently so steeped in the really deep ableism and sort of healthism of those conversations of believing that there is again, like virtue in being healthier and that you can see someone else’s health based on how they look, that it becomes really hard to disentangle in this particular moment. That’s that’s what I would say. I don’t know. Mike, how about you?
Michael Hobbes: I mean, to me, there’s like two completely separate conversations. That are very difficult to reconcile with any kind of like theory of everything. Cause you know, a couple episodes ago I mentioned something on the show of saying like, well, you know, nobody is saying that it’s, it’s just as healthy to eat a Snickers as it is to eat an apple, right? Like, no one’s comparing those two things. And one of our listeners wrote in and said that like, you know, I don’t think that you should be sort of making comparisons between foods or sort of labeling foods as healthy versus unhealthy. And I think that this is like a totally understandable opinion, right? Because there is so much moralizing around food and we had these like absurd things of like, you can’t spend food stamps on like some kinds of peanut butter, but you can on the other kinds of peanut butter. And it’s just absolutely ridiculous. So like at the- t to me, it’s like at the individual level, there are so many reasons why somebody would eat a Snickers instead of an apple. Like that is like, you don’t have enough money for an apple. You don’t have the time, you need something. That’s going to fill you up really quick. You have a job that’s really hard and you need as many calories during the day, as you can get, like, there are so many reasons on an individual level, why you would make that choice. And I have no interest whatsoever in like policing anybody’s diet or like making anybody feel bad about their choices or like any of this, like food stamps, WIC, any of this stuff should just be like fucking cash in an envelope for everybody and like buy whatever you want with it. I do not care. Right? Like getting all of that stuff out is like extremely important to me. But then I also think at sort of the societal level. Like we should be promoting, like we should be making it cheaper for people to buy apples, like w ensuring access to fresh fruits and vegetables is like a big thing. And there’s all of these studies showing that, you know, like there’s things where if you subsidize fruits and vegetables and they’re cheaper, like you can actually afford them. People will feed that to their kids. Like people want to feed their kids, quote, unquote, healthy foods. Like people do not want to eat fish and chips every single day. One of the reasons why they’re doing that is because it is cheaper. And so I think sort of at the societal level, it’s actually really important to me to have like, policies that promote like more fruits and vegetables and diets, make it easier for kids to walk and bike to school, like making the sort of the healthy choice, the easy choice, and sort of at the societal level, you do have to acknowledge on some level that like, okay, there are certain foods that are quote unquote healthier than other foods, but then it’s really important not to sort of transfer that down to the individual level and be like, how dare you eat a Snickers? Like, let people eat their Snickers. It’s fine. Does that make sense, Aubrey?
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, it totally makes sense. And I don’t disagree at all. I think it just becomes a thorny conversation, right. Like, I think you’re totally right. And also I would add like that there’s like a degree to which we sort of make, we render invisible, the subsidies that are happening for corn and wheat, and that we are actually already like very actively at like federal policy levels. making foods that are less nutrient dense, more available to more people. and we’re not actually thinking about like, what would it look like if we subsidized broccoli, right. Or something else, right. we’re, we’re not, we’re not sort of having that conversation. And I think, to my mind, it feels like a really, really, really tricky conversation to have without contributing to, you know, anti-fat bias and ableism and a bunch of other like individual bad behaviors, right. Unless and until we can sort of like disentangle this idea of like, what do we know large-scale versus what should I do as a person when I see a fat person eating? Like that’s a good thing. Yeah. Totally. Probably actually absolutely nothing
Michael Hobbes: to me. I sort of liken it to like voting access. I think the country would be better if we had 100% turnout rates, like I think we would have far more progressive policies. I think the country would be on a much better trajectory if everybody could vote. But on the other hand, like I know people that don’t vote. Like I understand why people don’t vote. It’s really hard. The offices oftentimes aren’t open all the time. A lot of people distrust the political system because the political system has like fucked them over a bunch. And like, I have no interest in like shaming or like yelling at, or scolding people who don’t vote. Like my interest is in making it as easy as possible for everyone to vote and do it in this like encouraging kind of way. But also, like, I do think the country would be better if everybody voted, right? Like I want to find out the reasons why people aren’t voting and like make it easier for them. But I, I, at an individual level, it’s deranged to like yell at some like single mom that couldn’t get a chance to vote because she has two jobs and the polls close at seven. Like it’s just to me, it’s like, let’s just make all of this stuff really easy. And right now it’s not easy to like get exercise every day. It’s not easy to eat healthy quote unquote foods. Like it’s not- like these things are not easy. So the first thing we have to do is build much better systems for this stuff. Like we’re not anywhere near the sort of the ceiling of like, what we can do as far as access is concerned.
Megan Figueroa: Well, yeah, so people live in food deserts, right? So this is, this is a fact. but I also, you know, know that even if someone doesn’t live in a food desert, maybe they go to the grocery store. And like you mentioned earlier, see vegetables and fruits and stuff, and they’re expensive. And you know that your kid loves fucking Kraft macaroni and cheese. So you’re going to get the thing, you know, your kid’s going to eat cause you don’t want to waste the little money that you have.
Michael Hobbes: Exactly. And there’s no point in like yelling at them like, oh, macaroni and cheese, again. Like it takes 30 minutes to make a meal for like three kids. Like of course people are doing right. It’s extremely delicious. I also, I mean, this is kind of one of my beats with this one. A lot of the, sort of the conversations are an access. Like there was a sort of fad a couple of years ago for like, we have to put farmers markets in poor neighborhoods and stuff like this. And it’s like, have you been to a farmer’s market, dude? You know how much like a pound of sweet potatoes cost? It’s like eight bucks. Like people are not going to spend like $22 on like enough sweet potatoes to like roast for their kids. Like they’re not going to yeah.
Carrie Gillon: And this is where the subsidies have to come in. Cause otherwise never gonna change.
Michael Hobbes: It’s never going to be competitive with like all of the fast food, like strip mall, fast food stuff that is there. And so it’s like, if it’s not competitive, then like it’s so just shitty to shame people for making like the really obvious choice of like buy the thing that has more calories and is going to feed your kids for less money. Like of course they’re going to do that.
Carrie Gillon: And I’m assuming they’re less likely to be shamed at the, at the fast food restaurant than in the farmer’s market. Intersecting forms of oppression here.
Megan Figueroa: But then if they’re at the farmer’s market, you’ll get the comments like good for you. Right. Like then there’s the, you know,
Carrie Gillon: there could be that too.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. People can’t keep their mouth shut.
Michael Hobbes: Yeah. Like the virtuous conversation, or like, you’re not like those other people in the primary to hit or whatever, but it’s like, it’s access, but it’s not access in the form of like, we need a Whole Foods in like poor neighborhoods. Like that’s not what we need. We need foods that people can actually afford. And we also need all of these other structures of like, what are people’s working hours? What are people’s wages? Like? There’s all these other systems that have to be in place for people to actually take advantage of this. So like the issue of access is where all of the effort needs to be. And none of this, like individual, like don’t drink soda billboards, like come on.
Carrie Gillon: Well, the individual level focus is almost always the wrong focus and that applies to so many things and it drives me absolutely up the wall.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. I mean, I will say we’re also talking quite a bit about like, food access and food deserts and all of that kind of stuff. I will also say that data is not uncomplicated, right? That those sort of metrics of what constitutes a food desert are overwhelmingly developed around very white ideas and very middle class ideas around food access. So this is like a big blow up in Portland a couple of years ago that there was an area that’s actually not far from where I live, that was declared a food desert and the city wanted to move in a Trader Joe’s. It was a historically Black neighborhood and a bunch of Black people. Okay. But we have like an African market here. We have like this place, we have this place, right? Like we have all these things, but they don’t sort of quote unquote count in the food desert model. So there’s now this move to move in a Trader Joe’s. And there was like, quite a bit of outcry from folks being like, you mean the place that white people shop. You mean? You mean the place that all the way people go? As part of, and there were already sort of tensions around this like area rapidly gentrifying, all of that kind of stuff. So it’s also worth looking at like, even when we look at the sort of like social contributors to size and health and all of that sort of stuff, that that’s also sort of viewed through these prisms of whiteness and through sort of class privilege and all of that kind of stuff is also brought to bear even on how we talk about that stuff. So it’s like, it is a really thorny complicated conversation. And one that deserves a whole lot more thought than just like I noticed that poor people are fat. How do we make poor people stop being fat. Functionally the conversation we’re having, like all the time, I guess.
Michael Hobbes: Right.
Megan Figueroa: That’s such a good point. Cause I’m thinking about how a lot of people will say Mexican food is unhealthy and Mexicans don’t eat plants or, you know, they eat more whatever. And I’m like, we fuck any cactus. We use the earth. Like, you know, we’re using cilantro in it. Like there, you know, it’s again through the lens of, you know, Anglo middle-class or whatever. but you know, people are using what they have around them in very creative and amazing ways. And we take away from that when, with this conversation too. we’re not more nuanced. Yeah, absolutely.
Aubrey Gordon: It’s very much like a bunch of white people going, but where are the salads? Right. I recognize where did you put the salads?
Megan Figueroa: Right?
Michael Hobbes: I do think sort of reality check. Like there are people with extremely long lifespans in every single country around the world, right? Like the human species has wildly varied diets and sort of like, there’s extremely healthy, like Japanese people and Ugandan people and Argentinian people. And there’s with all of, sort of the diversity of the human diet and the way that people can flourish with all of that diversity. Like so much of this is just like, yeah, this weird imposition of like, no, no it’s kale. Like kale is going to save us everyone should be eating kale. And it’s like, well, some people don’t like kale. Some world traditions don’t include a lot of greens and like, they’re still healthy people with like long lives there. So like, we just need to accept the fact that there’s never going to be one answer. It’s going to be about finding things that fit in with people’s lifestyles and that like they can do and just like expanding the options for everybody and not trying to impose some- like, I fucking hate kale. I hate quinoa like a lot of these like fad foods. Like I like- goji berries. Like I just don’t like these foods. And I really resent the implication that like I, a normal person I’m supposed to like invest in all these fucking super foods now. I don’t want to eat the superfoods. I don’t like the superfoods. I just want to eat normal stuff.
Carrie Gillon: How about statements like I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m just trying to get healthy. Is this another form of ableism or what’s going on here?
Aubrey Gordon: I think it’s, ableism, healthism, classism and anti-fatness all rolled into one.
Megan Figueroa: Define healthism, for us.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. So healthism is a term that was coined by a sociologist named Robert Crawford in the eighties. And he was sort of noticing, the ways in which, sort of our drive to quote unquote become healthy. And, you know, I think it’s what we would now call like a self optimization or a wellness movement, right. the ways in which folks were translating that for more than just I’m making changes to my diet or to my exercise to I am becoming a more virtuous person and other people are treating me as a more virtuous person as a result of the ways in which- not, I am changing my health behaviors, but I am changing my performance of my health behaviors, for other people to see. Does that make sense? That it’s much more about the sort of social rewards for appearing healthy and the ways in which not just we receive them or don’t, sort of passively, but the ways in which all of us sort of contribute to that. Right. I would say a really great example of healthism is that, without knowing the story of why someone has lost weight, if we see someone that has lost weight, we go, congratulations, you look awesome! Without knowing whether or not that person has been through chemotherapy or a divorce, or has done intentional weight loss or had an accident, or, you know what I mean? Like any number of that could be any number of things. And we just sort of assume that it’s good and we want to congratulate people for moving in what we see as the right direction, which is toward thinness.
Michael Hobbes: There’s also, an I always associated it sort of to, to return to the apple versus Snickers thing. Like some people just want to eat Snickers and they enjoy Snickers. And like, those people still deserve healthcare and deserve employment. There’s this thing of like, sort of there’s the, the good fat people. And then there’s like the bad fat people. And it’s like, oh, I’m not one of those fat people who like eats ice cream all day and has like really bad cholesterol numbers. And it’s like, well, what if you were like, those people also deserve human happiness and there’s no obligation of every single human being to be healthy or to achieve some optimal health. Like people can make the choices that they want. And so there’s also, the healthism is also this idea that like, no, no, you’re obligated to be healthy. And it’s always like, whatever I deem to be healthy. And like, you’re not living up to that standard. It’s like, why? Like, if you want to eat apples all the time and go running and like really work on your cholesterol ratings and like, honestly great. But like other people might just not want to do that. And they might want to focus on other aspects of their lives and like leave them alone.
Aubrey Gordon: So to get back to this idea of like, quote unquote, getting healthy, I think there’s a degree to which there’s like some acknowledgement happening now that people don’t want to just come out and say, I don’t like fat people. I think they’re unhealthy. I think they’re gross. I don’t want to date them. Right. Like people won’t. Just kind of cop to the underlying attitudes. Cause it’s really uncomfortable. Right? We don’t want to think about ourselves that way. We don’t wanna think about other people that way. so what we talk about instead is I’m just trying to get healthy and usually overwhelmingly that is. Well way that people say I’m trying to lose weight. I’m not trying to lose weight. I’m just trying to get healthy by losing weight. Right. So, so I do think there is, you know, there’s quite a bit of ableism and healthism tied up in that. There’s a degree to which folks are sort of cashing in on, proximity to thinness, right. or to actually being thin, right. which is being perceived as being healthy. And I think there’s quite a bit of classism in it, because a lot of the ways that we think and talk about quote, unquote, getting healthy are like having a Peloton and drinking cold pressed juice and buying particular kinds of produce from particular places. Right? All of these sorts of things are kind of legible symbols of our perceived health status. So when we talk about sort of quote, unquote, getting healthy, overwhelmingly, those are not folks who are talking about like, oh, my cholesterol is at this level and I want to get it to this level. Or my blood pressure is a little bit elevated or a little bit low, and I’m going to try and get it into my target zone or whatever the things are. Right? Like those are not folks who are talking about, again, overwhelmingly, not folks who are talking about specific health conditions or specific markers of their health. they’re, they’re talking about a perception from those around them and a perception, sort of an internal perception of their own sort of perception of themselves. How many times can I say perception in one sentence. Perception, perception.
Michael Hobbes: I will say though, like as an addendum to that, like one of the things that we try to do very explicitly on the show is that like, there is a lot of fad stuff out there. There is a lot of scammy stuff out there and like ableist and bad. And also like neither one of us do very much policing of people’s individual, like behavior, like, you know, I know people that are like, I’m trying to run a 5k and like I’m training for it. And like, that’s awesome. I know people that are like way into CrossFit, like that’s awesome. Like it, it’s a happy, social, fun thing that they do. And like, I, I don’t think that like the project is, I don’t want to make it seem like we’re sort of going around and like policing people when they’re like, I want to eat less fast food. And we’re like, you piece of shit.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, totally. We’re not going around knocking cans of SlimFast out of people’s hands
Michael Hobbes: In general, like in the same way that I think that people should not judge fat people’s choices or health or Instagrams or anything. I think that also, like these things are really deeply embedded in our society. And like, some people want a sort of like, I want to do a whole month of like, not eating any meat or whatever, or like, I want to learn to go biking after work every day. And like in general, I like encourage all of these health seeking behaviors. But like it, we should sort of on a societal level interrogate, like what exactly does that mean? And like, what are the sort of industries behind this, right. And like, what are the messages that Americans are actually getting? Yeah. On, like, what does healthy mean? Right. A lot of times it is backed and sort of fueled by these like very capitalistic impulses. And so again, people should do what they want to do if you want to like, do pull ups after work, like go for it. But it’s, there is a larger structure behind this stuff. Like the, the last thing we want to do is like fuel any of our listeners, like being pricks to other people online, let people’s Instagrams be obnoxious. Like it’s fine.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. I mean, like I would say related, right? Like there are a number of people that I know and love and I’m in close relationship with who are in Weight Watchers currently. I’m not going to bag on those people. I’m not going to like, mostly we don’t talk about it. If we do, and they feel like it’s going well, I’ll be like great. Right. Like, okay. and I’m still gonna make a podcast episode where I go, Hey, did you know that the guy who owns WeightWatchers also owns Keebler and keeps talking about how great it is for him that whether or not people are dieting, he’s making money, does that change your opinion of weight Watchers? Maybe it does. Maybe it doesn’t. Right, but like being able to sort of have a macro conversation that is, not reflected in our personal relationships and how we decide to treat people in a way that like approves or disapproves of their individual choices or perceived choices feels like very important to, to Mike and I both, I would say is that fair, Mike?
Michael Hobbes: Yeah, let, let people do CrossFit. If you’d like your CrossFit, I’ll allow it for now.
Aubrey Gordon: Cut to next week, we do a CrossFit episode and we’re like, oops, Nazis invented it bye!
Carrie Gillon: That’s what it feels like from the outside to me. I might,
Michael Hobbes: I might open Instagram this afternoon and take all of this back. everyone exercising. Fuck you.
Aubrey Gordon: Totally. And listen this afternoon. I might also just be like, surprise. I operate entirely off of Moonjuice now. Yeah, we did it ashwagandha. Sign me up.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. I always think about like, Everyone, not everyone. A lot of people in the wellness industry, all they talk about is like, oh, Big Pharma, they’re making all this money. And it’s like, but like, what are you spending your money on? Like who are you giving money to? Can you not see the same issue here? And maybe it’s actually worse because at least the pharmaceuticals sometimes are actually keeping us alive.
Michael Hobbes: And also at least the pharmaceutical industry is fucking regulated as opposed to like the nutritional supplements industry can literally put sawdust in here, like vitamin D pill and just sell it to you. So like, I do think again, like, not like again, like not shaming anybody for their individual choices. I was actually at the store the other day and vitamin D was on sale and I bought a bottle of vitamins. It was like six bucks. And whatever, like maybe it’s saw dust and I’m out six bucks, but like, ultimately it’s pretty low stakes, but like there, it is important to sort of resist the urge to universalize this stuff. I think that sort of, if there’s like a general finding that we have, it’s like the most important thing is to not try to apply whatever works for your body to other people’s bodies. And like, if you’re, if you’re on a keto diet, then like, that’s great and I’m not going to tell you to get off of it, but I’m also going to be super mean to you. If you start implying that, like everybody should go keto and that like people who aren’t on keto are like somehow broken or immoral or something, or like, have you tried keto? Like, no, I’m happy for you. You have found happiness. This is a diet that is good for you and working, but like leave people the fuck alone. And if other people aren’t on keto and don’t want to be like, people’s bodies are different and like let their bodies go like, go with God. Like the same way I’m going to let you go with God. Like let other people, regardless of their size or their diet or anything else, just like leave them alone,
Carrie Gillon: leave them alone.
Megan Figueroa: So simple.
Carrie Gillon: Don’t be an asshole.
Aubrey Gordon: Absolutely. We’re the Chris Crocker of dieting: leave people alone!
Michael Hobbes: Under that blanket crying.
Aubrey Gordon: Weeping, eyeliner running the whole bit. Absolutely. It’s also tricky because it is like, overwhelmingly like genuinely well-intended, right. All of this stuff comes from a genuine place of good intentions and also causes genuine and clear harm, right, often. In terms of like the individual behaviors that we’re talking about, when we’re talking about sort of corporate and policy maker decisions, I’m like, I’m less concerned with intentions. Right. But like, on an individual level, when people say good for you, to me, when I’m, you know, out taking a walk, they- right- it’s weird and gross. It’s weird and gross.
Michael Hobbes: Dan don’t do that.
Aubrey Gordon: And they absolutely think right. They’ve done their good deed for the day, rather than like low key, just calling a stranger fat. Right. Which is totally what just happened. Right. Like they’re not saying that to thin people. so it also just feels like part of what makes this stuff, so intractable is that it’s hard to have a conversation and then it’s something we’re struggling with on a number of fronts right now that acknowledges that folks might mean well, but also might do harm. and that feels like it’s like at the core of so much of this, again, like on the individual level, right? Like we’re all doing our best. And sometimes doing our best means we’re like actually, not helping other people or ourselves. and that feels like the sweet spot of the, of the show to me.
Michael Hobbes: Yeah. I mean, I keep coming back to something. I came across when I was doing the research for the Dr. Oz episode that we did, where it was a doctor who sort of who was saying that like the central conundrum of a figure like Dr. Oz or really any of these health influencers is that sort of what we know about health is extremely boring and we all know it already. It’s like try to eat fruits and vegetables. It doesn’t really matter what those fruits and vegetables are. Try to get exercise. It doesn’t really matter what the exercise is. You know, go, go running, go biking, play tennis. It doesn’t really matter. Just like try to move and like, that’s about it. Like, you know, don’t smoke. There’s like some other sort of standard ones: wear sunscreen. You can’t build an industry around that because it’s just going to be the same message over and over again. And the specifics don’t really matter unless they’re sort of resonating with you for whatever reason. And so the, a lot of the, sort of the, the entire edifice of the sort of health and wellness industry is built around trying to make you forget that and that like, no, no there’s super foods. Or like, there’s this activity that you have to do that has like some, you know- Soul Cycle is like the special new thing that works differently than every other form of exercise. And it’s like, no, it’s just exercise. And like, if you like it, then you should do it. But like this entire industry doesn’t really have to exist, because we already know all of the ways to become a healthier person, but there’s no money to be made doing that. Like just giving the exact same advice every day. And so we always have to look for these specifics or this thing that is going to be the new miracle or something and it just doesn’t exist. Yeah, exactly. It’s like these, these life hacks to like, make this sort of somehow more efficient and like, it just doesn’t really exist. Like eat the stuff that you like and like, try to move around a little bit. Like, and if other people don’t do that, like shut up, like that’s, that’s basically the whole thing. And like we’re, we’re committing this sin in that we’re accusing other people of. Cause we built a whole show around this. Every single one of our episodes just ends with like, ah, just like let people do their thing. And like, I don’t know, eat the stuff you like. It’s chill.
Megan Figueroa: That’s a good message.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah. yeah, I mean, I think like one of the things about the like, like sort of move around more stuff is that that didn’t really quite sell. So we came up with this 10,000 steps metric, which is not based on
Michael Hobbes: yeah. Oh my God.
Aubrey Gordon: Any science, right? There’s no science around like 10,000 steps specifically for everybody, but it launched an industry of like Fitbits and fitness trackers. Right. It launched all of these sort of like high ticket items that are part again, like part of that sort of performance of health, which if you have a pedometer or a Fitbit or a, you know, an app on your phone or whatever, like go forth, God bless, have fun. and also know that. 10,000 steps is like a genuinely, a pretty arbitrary number. Right. so like just like bringing that level of awareness to folks so that you can also kind of let yourself off the hook a little bit. If you don’t hit all of those marks all the time, feels also like, sort of part of this, part of the project of the show.
Carrie Gillon: Well, that’s good to know. I, I, I didn’t know. It wasn’t based on anything, although I should have guessed because you know, the eight glasses of water wasn’t really based on anything and like all these things that we think
Michael Hobbes: yeah. When in doubt, all of the numbers are made up, just start with that assumption. And every once in a while you’ll be wrong. But mostly you’ll be right. If you’re like this number was pulled out of somebody’s bamo, it’s fine.
Aubrey Gordon: This number was pulled out of somebody’s bamo so that they could make money. It’s probably part two, right?
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. Definitely part two
Aubrey Gordon: so they could make your money. Right. So they can get money from you personally. There you go.
Carrie Gillon: Awesome. Well, thank you so much. This has been such a fun conversation,
Megan Figueroa: so fun.
Michael Hobbes: Yeah. We love your show. We love your icon,
Aubrey Gordon: everything about it. Just such a treat.
Megan Figueroa: Yeah. We appreciate it so much.
Carrie Gillon: Yeah. And we always leave our listeners with one final message.
Carrie Gillon/Megan Figueroa: Don’t be an asshole.
Aubrey Gordon: Yeah, there it is.