How collectivism promotes fat shaming

I really liked OXJane’s An Open Letter to the Guy Who Helpfully Announced “Daaaaamn Bitch, You Fat!” to Me in the Target Parking Lot this Morning.

The author reasonably wonders why anyone would feel the need/right to inform her that she’s fat and comments on the ubiquity of fat shaming in the US.

I find fat shaming extremely unfortunate. I understand some people find a slim body more aesthetically pleasing. I understand that fatness is associated with poorer health, and many people just want the best for others, which they consider to be a “healthy” weight.

But aesthetics are subjective. And the correlation between body weight and health is far from perfect. Many fat people are much healthier than many thin people. And even if fat shamers could prove that skinny is objectively better than fat — which they can’t, but let’s just say — many people are either genuinely not in control of their body weight or at a huge disadvantage in keeping thin due to prescription drug side effects or diseases.

So to shame someone for not conforming to your own personal, subjective ideal, when they may or may not even be physically capable of conforming, is the height of douche-itude.

But I want to deal with the mindset that it’s okay to fat shame when you’re having to shoulder the burden of someone’s lifestyle choices in the form of medical bills.

I’ll let Reason explain why it’s factually incorrect that obese people cost slim people money.

Far be it from me to deny the undeniable, but the fact that obese people have higher annual health care costs does not mean they have higher lifetime costs. It therefore does not follow that reducing obesity would reduce total medical spending in the long run. In fact, a study published last year in PLoS Medicine reached the opposite conclusion: Because obese people tend to die sooner than thin people do, the researchers found, eliminating obesity would increase spending on health care.

So there’s that. But even if fat shamers were correct in claiming that fat people are a financial drain on the slim, would that make it okay to fat shame? In other words, does the fact that I have to pay for someone else’s choices make it okay for me to pressure that person to make less-expensive choices?

Certainly the desire to pay less is understandable. And when we’re all paying for each other’s health care, we look not only to ourselves, but to each other, for potential cost reduction.

So if obesity were more expensive than slimness over a lifetime, and if it were necessarily a lifestyle choice and not the result of a disease or side effect, you’d have every reason to prefer that people chose to be thin.

In this way, cost sharing takes things that are inherently personal, like body weight, and makes them communal. Suddenly it’s in my self-interest to pressure you to lose weight. (It’s not in real life, but in this scenario)

The more we pay for collectively, the more incentive we’ll have to influence other people’s personal choices.

Lesley wrote, “I get to live whether you approve of me, my life choices, my eating habits, my wardrobe, and the shape of my body, or not.”

I could not support that sentiment more, which is one reason I stand against collectivism in all forms. The further removed you are from my choices, whether they be food, clothes or body weight, the freer I am to live as I choose. As a dear friend of mine likes to say, “Take what you want, pay for it.” Yes, please.

Photo by ??peppersmom??.


  1. thisisthinprivilege

    Hi Cathy,

    Market anarchist fat activist here, and I couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve devoted years (on top of the day job and writing) to researching just why in heck we’re in this anti-fat person moral crusade, whether its claims have any merit, and how to effectively counteract collectivist notions of health that have the effect of making bodies and personal choices public property/issues.

    My conclusions (thus far):

    1. Fat bias really does exist, is very damaging, is near-constant for fat people, and not only acceptable in so-called ‘tolerant’ circles but encouraged.

    2. Body size is, like height, largely genetic within a range of 30-ish lbs around some certain setpoint. It does change through life, and due to environmental influences like famine (self-imposed diets or external), pregnancy, and age. Sedentariness and higher relative caloric intake can push someone into the higher end of that range, but it’s difficult to break out of it. If you eat normally — when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full — and a wide variety of foods, you can stay in the range very easily. Also, fatter people don’t eat more than thinner people do, on average.

    3. The so-called ‘obesity epidemic’ has been largely manufactured through BMI definitional changes in the 80s and 90s, and childhood obesity is defined using height/weight charts of kids from the 1960s (even though kids are both heavier AND taller now, with the effect that 17% of children are in the ‘95% percentile’ for height and weight). The estimated average population-wide weight gain has been something like 15 – 20lbs throughout the ‘epidemic,’ which is understandable given the huge move towards office jobs, cheaper higher-energy food, yo-yo dieting (which contributes to weight gain), quitting smoking (which contributes to weight gain), and an aging the population (older people tend to be heavier until about age 65).

    4. Due to an aging population, a creaky entitlement state, and draconian regulations, health insurance costs have been rising like gangbusters. Rather than say this is due to older people and too-large government, political leaders (who rely on the votes of seniors and a too-large government to comfortably stay in power) find scapegoating fat people a wonderful alternative, even though the cost-hiking effect of the ‘obesity epidemic’ is demonstrably false. Due to how health insurance companies are being squeezed by regulatory agencies, they have an incentive to save money wherever they can. So, even though it’s demonstrably false that the average fat person will cost more money to insure than the average not-fat person, they buy into the popular narrative to raise rates or outright deny coverage to fat people regardless of a fat person’s health numbers/history. Obamacare has codified this: though cost-discrimination against women is now illegal, Obamacare says it’s okay to charge fat people 30% – 50% more for health insurance. As a healthy fat person, this means I will likely get a nice scapegoat tax slapped on top of my already sky-high Massachusetts premiums.

    I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. It’s difficult for me to really lay this out with many so-called libertarians (who will scream until they’re blue that weight is entirely controllable and that fat people should just take ‘personal responsibility’ and lose it already) and many progressives (who, even if they don’t buy that the obesity epidemic exists, seem to a giant blind spot about how damaging collectivism and the entitlement state is to the rights of fat people). Thanks for this post, I was thrilled to read a sensible article about fat people from an anarcho-capitalist viewpoint.

    I also liked the article by Lesley, lots!

    • Cathy

      Abigail, I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful, insightful, informative comment. I really loved point number four, and would love to read more about that. I’ve read a decent amount about Obamacare but had no idea it’s legal to discriminate for body weight. That’s insane, as preexisting conditions cannot be taken into consideration, and the only possible justification for fat charging would be that it was essentially an expensive preexisting condition. Unless it’s just naked social engineering. Gross.

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