This post includes discussions of research surrounding weight and health.
Over the past few weeks there have been a flurry of articles on the death of “healthy obesity,” also known as fat and fit. For example, in early November Time published the results of a Danish study that that analyzed the data of over 77,000 individuals who took part in the Copenhagen General Population Study. Between 2003 and 2011, subjects were examined and researchers collected detailed information about BMI, waist measurement, blood pressure and whether the subject had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that indicates the presence of insulin resistance (for more information, check out this post on the man who discovered metabolic syndrome). Since first coming across the study I’ve been planning to comment on it.
Then, two days ago I received an email from a local television reporter who had previously interviewed me about Health at Every Size® (HAES) asking my opinion on the research disproving fat and fit. I assumed he was referring to the Danish study, but when I clicked the link to the NBC News story I was caught off guard when I saw he was referring to a new study coming out of Canada.
Suddenly, I’m seeing articles everywhere declaring HAES dead and “proving” that fat people can’t be fit, no matter what the fatties say. Those articles spread like wildfire on reddit: there’s the /r/science subreddit post that took off with “told ya so” glee, seven links to a BBC article, three links to an article in the Toronto Star, two links to the CBC, and two links to a new Time article about this latest study titled “You Can’t Be Fat and Fit.” I could only find two links that actually direct readers to an actual study.
I decided to jump in the fray over at the /r/science subreddit by responding to this comment and explaining that his explanation of HAES was flawed. You can follow the thread I started here (as I was downvoted out of existence from the comment). Now, something interesting happened at this same time as I began responding to the Danish study on reddit: I got shadow-banned.
[NOTE: The following section is tangential to my analysis of this research. If you’d like to skip to the meat and potatoes of the research, skip down to the bold header that reads “Digging Deeper.”]
I’ve been on reddit for four years now, although I’ve only been actively posting links for the past year. I had never heard of the shadow-ban and only learned about it from two redditors who pointed it out to me privately. In essence, a shadow-ban is when a forum “bans” you from participating in conversations by preventing your comments or profile from showing up for other readers, but the shadow-banned user isn’t informed, while the user is still able to see his own comments and profile. So, unless someone points out that you’ve been shadow-banned, you don’t know.
After doing some digging, I discovered I was shadow-banned because a member of the subreddit /r/FitnessCircleJerk (FCJ) reported me for spam. For those who aren’t familiar with FCJ, they’re fitness trolls who loathe fat people, but have a special place in their little black hearts for Fat Acceptance bloggers like me and Ragen at Dances with Fat. They’ve been hate-reading our blog since last November when they launched a vigorous assault in our comments ranging from respectful, intelligent disagreement to profane, barely-literate tirades. In the end, I had to change our long-standing comment policy and start approving each comment by hand to prevent further disruption.
Pissed that I won’t allow them to shit on our forum, FCJ took steps to ensure I could not have such a forum on reddit. I began my own subreddit last March called /r/AskHAES, where people could ask questions about HAES and we would provide the HAES perspective. There was an immediate influx of FCJers who downvoted every response from HAES advocates, upvoted their own comments, and lobbed a relentless parade of insults at fat people, which Kitsune documented thoroughly here. I began moderating with an iron fist, banning anyone with even a whiff of disrespect for dialogue or who appeared to be part of FCJ or the other fat-hating subreddits I’ve discovered since then. To participate, you have to be able to disagree respectfully, which is too much for most of these knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers.
I’ve written about my theory as to why fat haters seem so deeply invested in shaming and degrading and humiliating fat people. But when FCJers talk about their hatred for fat people, their far more circumspect. I’ve repeatedly been told that they don’t hate all fat people — if you want to be fat, be fat! — but that they hate a particular type of fat person who claims that fat people can be healthy and they especially hate a particular type of fat person who tries to provide a scientific basis for that belief (i.e., me, Ragen, HAES bloggers).
We’re lying, they say. We’re justifying the unhealthy lifestyles of fat people by claiming that you can achieve Health at Every Size. That seems to be the biggest hangup for many anti-HAESers. Case in point:
So the name of this movement is Healthy At Every Size. Of course we all know that is ridiculous. Morbidly obese and walking skeleton is not healthy for anybody… A hideously fat or skinny person living an unhealthy lifestyle with no intent of changing could read about this movement, read the title, and say “Yeah, fuck society. Just because I’m so skinny my bones rattle and my dick looks like a tootsie roll except with more wrinkles, i am healthy at any size!”
That’s the argument.
HAES is bad because some fat person might read the name and say “HOORAY! I’M HEALTHY!” and go about their business.
But here’s the thing: it’s Health at Every Size, not Health No Matter What.
Could someone read the title of the movement and assume it means ALL fat people are healthy? Of course. And clearly many FCJers are incapable of seeing anything else. But the whole point of HAES is that you actually have to make lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, to improve your health. If you don’t make healthy changes, then your health will not improve. End of story.
This is the message gets completely ignored by FCJ and anti-HAESers. More accurately, this is the message that gets downvoted on reddit and ignored by society in general. They don’t want to have a discussion, they want to shout us down and overwhelm us with enough anecdotal evidence that we just give up the fight and start obeying their particular guru or meal plan or example. Where it is possible for them to control the conversation, they will use whatever tactics they have to silence us, not because the studies are flawed or the evidence is weak, but because they hate the name and they hate fat people.
And for a while their silencing technique worked on /r/AskHAES. I pretty much gave up participating because I couldn’t even answer a basic question about HAES. Instead, I focused on providing content to /r/BodyAcceptance instead, since the moderators requested that I submit links from our blog. And all that was moving along swimmingly until I got shadow-banned, which was the most effective silencing technique to date.
After reading up on shadow-bans, I learned that it’s pretty difficult to get a shadow-ban lifted. So I emailed the reddit admins and explained that /r/BodyAcceptance requested my links and pointed to the FAQ on what constitutes spam:
To play it safe, write to the moderators of the community you’d like to submit to. They’ll probably appreciate the advance notice. They might also set community-specific rules that supersede the ones above. And that’s okay — that’s the whole point of letting people create their own reddit communities and define what’s on topic and what’s spam.
About three minutes after I sent it, the admins unbanned me and I was free to post once more.
Victorious, I decided to rub it in FCJ’s face with this post titled “MFW reddit overturns the shadowban you pathetic sacks of shit tried to impose” (MFW stands for “My Face When” which linked to this photo:
If you’ve ever wanted to see the trolls get trolled, this is the thread for you. FCJ proceeded to meltdown as they posted over 200 comments attempting to insult me. To compare, this is a screenshot of the most commented on posts from yesterday, a max of 68 comments. This kind of response is caused by what the kids these day refer to as “butthurt.”
And not only did they have a field day responding to my trolling, they began submitting their own posts to take me down a notch, mostly through the clever (for a homunculus) photos.