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The Religion of Weight Loss

May 6, 2014

Weight LossFat HealthExerciseEating DisordersFat NewsDickweedDiet Talk

For the past two weeks, I have been observing and participating in #notyourgoodfatty on Twitter, which you can read the genesis of here.

In summary, the hashtag was started when fat activist Amanda Levitt and mazzie had a conversation during which mazzie came up with the hashtag as a reply to Amanda; thus, the #notyourgoodfatty Diet Culttrend began. The hashtag was soon filled with fat positive ideals and affirmations; things that fat people do unapologetically, and it soon became a supportive place for fat activists. At one point, the hashtag became one of the top popular trends on Twitter.

But of course there are detractors — trolls came out of the woodwork from the swamps of 4chan and reddit to invade what is basically a fat-positive space in order to demean and put down contributors to the thread. Trolls opened sock puppet accounts in order to put their piece in. While I was reading them, I came to a profound realization: the weight loss paradigm could be the world’s sixth major religion.

How I came to this conclusion was that many of the trolls’ language and demeanor reminded me of how Christian evangelicals preach their religion to others; of how they believe those who don’t fit into their worldview or their beliefs are doomed to a life of unhappiness; of how those who don’t accept their doctrine will be damned in some form. Those who proselytize the weight loss paradigm do so by means of such tactics as “concern trolling,” where they feign concern about one’s health by using language such “You are eating yourselves to death,” “I care that you are unhealthy being fat,” and so on. An example of such language can be seen in these Twitter posts:

Although this isn’t a direct example, the implications are there that these posters are “concerned” about the fat activist’s health. This is comparable to an evangelical Christian saying that “You should give your life to Jesus,” “We should pray for others to come to Jesus,” and “I care that you know who Jesus is because I care about your salvation.”

The trolls on #notyourgoodfatty go about spreading their message with the same gusto and fervor as evangelical religionists who proselytize their beliefs to non-religionists. The same black and white thinking that such religious individuals and groups have is a similar mentality that the trolls have, that being fat and healthy is a heretical thing to say, as it goes against the more accepted paradigms of our society’s beauty and health ideals as it was, and still is to a point, heretical to believe that there is no God.

Indeed, as it is seen to be blasphemous for one to say that there is no God or that God is different from what the doctrine says, it also seems to be a form of blasphemy to say that one can be healthy, happy and fat. The incredulous responses in #notyourgoodfatty are evidence of this absolutist belief: “You can’t be fit and fat, that is a myth,” “All fat people are unhappy, despite that they say they are,” “There is no such thing as being fat and being healthy, it’s impossible!”

One of the tactics that is used by both religious and weight loss evangelists is a logical fallacy known as argument from authority — that is, they use an authority figure to argue their case. In the religionist sense, it is often a priest, a pastor or some other religious leader (e.g., “My pastor told me that homosexuality is a sin”). With the weight loss evangelist, it may be an authority whose expertise is in health (e.g., “Dr. Oz says that obesity is bad”). The point here is that many people will take something at face value without even questioning it or thinking beyond what the authority figure says.

Other tactics and logical fallacies used in abundance are circular arguments in which the person uses proof within the argument, rather than from external sources. For example, it is common for a Christian to tell the person they are proselytizing to that “Jesus is the son of God and our Savior.” When prompted to provide evidence, they often reply, “Because it says so in the Bible.” For the weight loss proponent, this might equate to saying, “Obesity is bad because these studies say so.” When confronted with differing facts, they resort back to “But there are much more studies out there that say that obesity is bad.”

Another is appeal to popularity. In Christianity, it is pointed out that since most people in the world practice a form of that religion, then Christianity is the one true way. Proselytizers try to appeal to the person who they are preaching to that most people practicing the religion “feel free and comforted by accepting Christ as their personal Savior.” In weight loss talk, the proponent often uses language that fall under this fallacy by stating that “being fit is in and it feels great to be healthy and everybody knows that to lose weight means being healthier and happy.”

These Twitter posts are an indirect example of this kind of argument:

This particular poster states that since he/she lost weight that they are more healthy and are able to do things that fat people supposedly cannot do. This is an argument of popularity since it is believed that being fat is a hindrance to being able to do things that thin people engage in.

(Note: There are a few other logical fallacies that these weight loss trolls use; however they are numerous and it would be too much to dissect each and every one of them, so if you are interested in these fallacies, you can read about them here and discern for yourself.)

This post brings up another practice shared by Christian evangelicals and weight loss proponents: the testimonial.

In some Christian denominations, mostly Protestant-based ones such as the Apostolic and Pentacostal faiths, there is a practice called “testifying” in which members of the congregation discuss how Christianity and, in particular, how letting Jesus into their hearts, has made a positive change in their lives. Such claims as “He has given me strength and hope,” “Having Jesus in my life has helped lift up burdens that I had,” and “Christianity has made me stronger in faith.” These testimonies demonstrate to others the positive effects of having such a relationship in the hope that the audience listening would come faithfully into the fold.

Weight loss proselytizers use similar language and, indeed, it is the type of discussion that the trolls on #notyourgoodfatty use in the hopes that their stories, or testimony, will convince fat people participating in the hashtag to convert to a “healthier lifestyle.” They use uplifting and motivational words such as in these Twitter posts:

This person states that he was once obese, but after losing weight, he/she is able to do feats only imaginable by the fittest athletes. The implication is that if only fatties would conform and motivate themselves, they will “save themselves from a lifetime of bad health,” that fatties are in need of “saving” just as non-believers to the Christian faith need “saving” from damnation and hell. This person’s attitude is no different than the preacher who stands on the street corner preaching about salvation.

Another notable comparison between Christian evangelicals and weight loss proponents is the use of propaganda. Now, I am not going to go in depth about propaganda techniques — I’ll save that for another time — however, both the Christian proselytizer and the weight loss evangelist will use glittering generalities of the positive effects of practicing such lifestyles. In Christianity, the words, “light,” “glory,” “peace” and “comfort” are commonly used to describe certain aspects of Christian life. The Bible is commonly used as a propaganda device and proselytizers will quote Bible verses to cement their points. In weight loss language, words such as “healthier,” “trim,” “energized,” and “sucessful” are used. Though Christian propaganda is not overt in these days, weight loss propaganda is very much prevalent in our culture. One need only look at the magazines displayed at the check out lane, with such headliners as “Lose 10 lbs and Feel Great!,” “Get Feeling Better with these Weight Loss Tips!”, “Slim is In!” We are bombarded with such propaganda in the media and on the internet. Everywhere we turn there is an ad for weight loss. Indeed, this “thin ideal” is ever-present.

While observing the #notyourgoodfatty hashtage, I noticed another startling trend: when the message fails to get across, or the person being proselytized to decides not to give in, they are then attacked and ad hominems abound. For those entrenched in Christian doctrine, this may be a statement such as, “You are devil-worshipping heathens.” The most extreme of religion-based insults is seen with the late Fred Phelps, wherein his church was reknown for insulting homosexuals, a lifestyle considered a crime by most religious fundamentalists.

On Twitter, weight loss trolls resort to very childish insults. Indeed, many seem like petulant children not getting their own way. Such trolls use insults in order to deride and degrade the fat people in the thread, frequently using fatphobic remarks or even parroting health propaganda. Often times, food is brought up because of the stereotype that fat people eat too much:

Some of these weight loss proselytizers even go so far as posting death threats or similar language:

In fact, some of them may delight in the idea of persecuting fat people and keeping them marginalized. In Christian history, it has been shown that those who disagree with the dogmas and doctrines of the religion were persecuted, often resulting in campaigns against whole groups of people. Though it is not overt as in history, persecution and discrimination against fat people exists; you just need to put “fat hatred” or “fat discrimination” into Google to see it. Those who refuse to bow on bended knee at the Altar of Weight Loss are seen as a threat, a threat against a privileged group. Without a doubt, the fact that Fat Acceptance advocates refuse to be silenced and are vocal about such topics seems to get these trolls riled up, so they attempt to silence fat people. After all, they want “good fatties” that will just go along with the status quo.

Finally, this comparison between religious fundamentalism and weight loss propagation is a comparison of ideologies. That is, those who hold these ideologies closely will do or say whatever is necessary to keep the status quo. Those who go against the grain of society’s ideals will face persecution, perhaps even death threats. Tactics used by both groups are designed to suppress and marginalize groups seen as “undesirable” or deemed “unworthy” as well as probable dissidents. In the case of Christianity, whole campaigns were, and still are, designed to instill fear and loyalty, the Spanish Inquisition being one of them, as well as Helen Ukpabio’s evangelism against so called “witch children.”

Though nothing drastic like that is happening to fat people, the weight loss paradigm is strong in Western society and fat people are actively suppressed, the evidence of which is seen in the #notyourgoodfatty hashtag. Confronted with their privilege, trolls lash out. However, the voice of fat people is starting to grow and be heard and it will continue.

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 6, 2014 12:17 pm

    Reblogged this on Luscious Words and commented:
    Can I get an amen?

  2. May 6, 2014 12:18 pm

    Great post. I really want to jump up and shout, “A-fucking-men!” 🙂

  3. May 6, 2014 12:32 pm

    Good analogy! “I once was lost [fat], but now am found [thin]; was blind [unhealthy] but now I see [healthy].”

    • May 6, 2014 4:14 pm

      Buzz Litebeer seems to be trying REALLY REALLY hard to convince himself that he is HAPPY, dammit! He’s happy and he’s so much better than all the bad, evil fatties!

      • May 7, 2014 12:14 am

        He may indeed be happy, but knowing that need not make the rest of us admire him. There are few things in this world more obnoxious than a reformed sinner. :/

        • May 8, 2014 12:29 pm

          There are few things in this world more obnoxious than a reformed sinner. Too true! My best friend has made the same comment about those who’ve had WLS and believe they must convert everyone to have WLS because it’s soooo wonderful and soooo great.

        • May 8, 2014 1:12 pm

          It’s along the lines of the preachy ex-smoker who now tells all other smokers just how eeeeeevil they are.

  4. vesta44 permalink
    May 6, 2014 1:15 pm

    Great post! I hadn’t really thought about comparing the weight loss movement to religion, but it makes sense.

    • May 7, 2014 12:15 am

      I’ve thought about it often, but I never managed to pull all the threads together as well as dowjones does here. 8)

  5. May 6, 2014 4:13 pm

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    It’s a bad religion, and just like the Westboro Batshit Church lot, the vile diatribe that spews from these nasty detractors makes me wonder at the fact that they believe themselves to be oh so holy and pure. Anyone that can spew that much venom is not even close to being good.
    No good has ever come from trying to eliminate entire groups of people.

  6. Leila Haddad permalink
    May 6, 2014 8:02 pm

    Absolutely brilliant! Good job.

  7. BBDee permalink
    May 6, 2014 10:45 pm

    Paul Campos made a related point in his book *The Obesity Myth*, that weight and “health” consciousness has become the new Puritanism. In the 17th century, when people suffered setbacks in their lives, all the good Puritans, rather than having concern for the person in question, would speculate “was he/she righteous in the eyes of God?” Now whenever anyone encounters a setback, especially if health related, the Concerned Health Worshipers similarly intone “did he/she live a healthy lifestyle?” Same holier-than-thou-ism, just new “paradigm”.

  8. May 7, 2014 2:21 pm

    Excellent post. I’ve never consciously compared the two before- i think you may be onto something here!
    Red_red_red and their comment can go and suck a bag of dicks.

    • May 8, 2014 11:43 am

      Now, now. At least specify that you mean a bag of sugar-free dicks. Otherwise the poor dear will be convinced that the evil fatties want her to be fat, too. :p

      • GLWERTH permalink
        May 9, 2014 7:42 am

        They’d have to be fat free, low carb, dicks. I made a mistake and read her next comment in the twitter site. She’s a piece of work, as my grandmother would say.

    • May 8, 2014 1:13 pm

      Anyone who makes a comment like that is a P.O.S. with no redeeming qualities. I can only hope that Karma has her nasty self on its radar.

  9. May 10, 2014 7:49 am

    I think there’s a more direct parallel WRT “All fat people are unhappy, despite that they say they are.” One of my fiance’s friends from community theater told him that people could not really be happy without God, and if they thought they were, they were mistaken.

    After reading your post, I stopped to think whether it applied equally to other controversial beliefs (e.g. political beliefs, climate change beliefs, moral vegetarianism/veganism), and I think the similarities to particular strains of evangelical religion are stronger than to those other things. There isn’t the same sense, with other controversial topics, of both working for the “sinner”‘s own good and the outrage and intolerance when the sinner doesn’t appreciate it. And with most of those other issues, there’s either self-interest (trying to achieve a political goal) or moral advocacy on behalf of others (applies to some political goals, and also to moral veganism).

  10. Dizzyd permalink
    May 10, 2014 2:31 pm

    While my beliefs fall into the category of ‘born-again’ Christian, (and yeah, I probably would want to share, but only if you’re interested – and I’ll hear about your beliefs as well), I’ll be the first to admit that there are a lot of similarities between them and weight-loss zealots in how annoying and better-than-thou some of them can get. (Just think about neocons). And weight-loss IS a religion, and God have mercy on those who dare to challenge the ‘sacred cows’ of thin-worship. And, btw, that’s a better name for that wacko ‘church’ – which is an insult to believers everywhere.

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