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Progress Report —

July 28, 2014

Halfway-There

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Weight LossFat PoliticsFat HealthFat ScienceFat FashionExerciseEating DisordersFat NewsWeight Loss SurgeryDickweedDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Discussion of articles about weight loss, eating disorders and weight loss surgery.

Welcome to Parents Night, Mr. and Mrs. Post. It’s such a pleasure to see you again. You’ve got quite the ambitious rapscallion on your hands with Young Huffington. He’s quite a resourceful lad and I have to say he’s one of my favorite aggregators by far. He provides us with daily updates on the state of the world, politics and pop culture in a way that is both entertaining and informative. And he’s quite popular, to boot.

There’s just one area that I feel I need to bring to your attention. It’s his Body Acceptance. He’s certainly made a lot of progress since that unfortunate incident four years ago, but as you may recall, last summer Huffington angered some by spreading sensational stereotypes about fat people on the same page as “Plus-Size Model Stuns in New Swimwear Line.” It’s as if he doesn’t realize that “obese” is the same as “fat” is the same as “plus-sized.”

Huffington’s confusion led me to follow his work far closer this past year, and I’m finally ready to share with you my findings on exactly what he’s been up to. What follows are the screen captures of all Body Acceptance-related front page stories that Huffington has shared in the past 12 months. The coverage isn’t perfect, but I check on Huffington enough to confidently say that 80-85% of his work is included in this analysis.

I’ve divided the headlines into the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Oh, and the Meh.

I hope you’re willing to listen and work with Young Huffington so that he will continue to improve on providing a welcome place for people of all shapes and sizes.

The Meh

These are the eight headlines having to do with diet, exercise, weight loss or fat people that didn’t raise any flags or make me stand up and cheer. They’re the straight news stories that relate information without judgement.

They certainly aren’t perfect. At first glance, I worried that the giant, naked, climbing fatties might make larger bodies the butt of the joke (pun intended), but I would imagine that any building-sized nude statue is going to be interpreted as offensive to some, regardless of what size.

MehI’ll take innocuous over insolent any day.

The Good

Huffington has shown some amazing progress in the past year in representing fat people, as well as promoting positive body image, body acceptance, and inclusion. He has great initiative in covering a variety of aspects of weight and health that are both respectful, insightful and relatively diverse. If Huffington’s goal in life is to begin meaningful conversations on difficult subjects surrounding weight and health, then he has taken great strides toward that goal since last July.

One of my favorite front-page pieces was Lauren Duca’s outstanding analysis of Biggest Loser.

Biggest LoserOriginal

From the very first paragraph, I knew I was reading something special:

It’s no secret that “The Biggest Loser” is unhealthy. Outlets like The New York Times itemized the hazardous medical implications of such extreme and rapid weight loss as early as 2009. Yet, the “Biggest Loser” is flawed beyond the questionable practice of more than six hours of exercise a day. Ultimately, the concept of diets — absurdly rigorous or not — are faulty attempts at healthy living. And the imposition of such an intense weight adjustment has an alarming impact once the cast leaves the ranch.

I remember being pretty shocked that I was actually seeing any kind of skepticism of the show. Prior to 2014 (when “winner” Rachel Frederickson’s  weight loss “shocked” the country), Huffington posted just one brief, critical article about the show from 2009. There are articles about controversies, but none as harsh as Duca’s. Huffington did once report in 2012 about a study on how the show discourages people from exercising. Other than that, it’s all been “rah rah, Biggest Loser!” Quite frankly, we were all quite embarrassed by it.

I can only imagine the epiphany Huffington must have had when he witnessed what happens when you train people to adopt disordered eating and exercise habits for a cash prize and extend the time contestants could follow such toxic advice. Hopefully Huffington realizes what happens when these contestants go back to the real world where people have jobs and families and responsibilities outside of their daily six-hour workouts. He’s quite a bright lad, and I have no doubt he’ll come to his senses.

Huffington has also shown himself to be quite the wisenheimer, sharing body image comics that can’t help but make you smirk.

Devito Small

When you click the link, you get Annie Lederman’s quirky sketch.

Devito

Huffington has also handled an easy-to-sensationalize story without taking cheap shots. The article and accompanying video are appropriately horrifying and heartbreaking.

Too Fat

Of course, I’m never going to discourage Huffington from reporting what Pat Robertson says God thinks about low-carb dieting.

Robertson

Finally, there was one troubling incident that, for all intents and purposes, clearly belongs in the Good list. And yet, in the presentation of Jenny Trout’s hilarious bikini exposé, somebody fucked up. See if you can spot the error (hint: it’s outlined in a red box).

Eating Disorders

Nowhere in Jenny’s story does she talk about an eating disorder, which made me wonder if this might be a prank on the order of Huffington’s anti-Fat Acceptance Easter egg. I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt that it was an accidental tag, but given his history, it’s hard not to fear some malicious intent.

And although Huffington has had a number of body positive “fatkini” articles, he occasionally falls into old habits. One afternoon, I had a teachable moment with Huffington. I sat him down and showed him four headlines and asked him to play “One of these things is not like the other.” You probably remember it from Sesame Street.

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFbK0mE06FY%5D

See if you can figure out which one of these things is not like other, which one of these things just isn’t the same, Mr. and Mrs. Post:

One of these Things

I’ve pointed out to Young Huffington that it’s unseemly to promote summertime confidence on the front page while peddling swimsuit insecurities on the front page of the Weight Loss section.

Weight Loss

But overall, Huffington has shared having an impressive 67 body positive and fat-friendly articles, not including the five stories in the animated gif below that exist twice under different headlines or photos.

Good

But as evidenced by the Bikini Paradox, Huffington is suffering from an acute identity crisis, which can best be summed up by the presence of this article:

How I Got Thin

Huffington wants to give the impression that obsession with fatness is a “social epidemic,” and yet any one of the magazine headlines illustrating this point could just as easily have come from Huffington’s Bad headlines.

The Bad

Sadly, Young Huffington still loves Fat Talk, even while decrying it as a social epidemic. Being fat is still the biggest health problem in his eyes, rather than the behavioral choices that can negatively impact the health of people of all sizes: poor nutrition and sedentary lifestyle.

The popular belief goes something like this: people who eat a diverse, healthy diet and get adequate exercise are thin, while people who do not are fat; ergo, all fat people are eating an unhealthy diet and not getting enough exercise. So if you’re fat, regardless of what your actual lifestyle choices are, you should be doing more, more, perpetually more, until you are the right size.

This popular belief permeates our culture and leads people (especially women) to treat their bodies like a lifetime “home repair” project. In fact, the language surrounding weight loss is that once you shed all that unsightly fat, you’ll have a “new body.”

As I wrote in my post on weight bullying, at this point they must have Britney bodies stacked like cordwood in Hangar 51.

If Young Huffington really wants to do something about this social epidemic of fat talk, then he’s in the perfect position to do something. First and foremost, stop framing so many stories around the importance of fat people losing weight. Now, I can tell by the aghast look on your faces, Mr. and Mrs. Post, that you’re wondering whether I am joking or not, and I assure you that I am not. It’s a complicated subject which will be discussed at length next week by our special guest lecturer from Harvard, but in a nutshell, when people adopt a healthy lifestyles they don’t tend to drop 100 pounds or more, even in the long term.

In fact, the average amount that people lose after a year (regardless of what diet you prescribe, how much exercise you prescribe, how much counseling you receive, or which professional service you hire) is between 5-10% of your starting weight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pay some lip service to it on its healthy weight loss page by linking to this study (PDF), which explains why 5-10% is so successful and so sustainable. And we have now secured an interview with the professor who wrote that paper where he goes on to explain how people who promote weight loss of greater than 10% are woefully misinformed.

In fact, this same professor wrote another paper on how people who have weight loss surgery lose an average of 25% of their starting weight (less if we’re talking Lap Band). So hopefully you understand why promoting the most extreme weight loss of 25% or more is giving a false impression of what the vast majority of people experience when they adopt healthy lifestyles. Is it impossible to lose more than 25%? No. I know people who have done it. But is it sustainable in the long-term? For most people, no.

And yet here is the Weight Loss section by Huffington Post today below the lead story of the girl who went from “obesity to bikini body”:

HuffPost Weight Loss

Huffington features an average weight loss of 140 pounds. So, unless each of those subjects started out being 1,400 pounds, then Huffington is promoting the most outlier results from the average weight loss experience. And according to our guest lecturer, that goes against what the public health message is supposed to be.

And by “supposed to be” I mean that if you open a weight loss research paper, any weight loss research paper, you are 95% certain to find a reference to that 5-10% average being referred to as “clinically significant weight loss.” When you hear somebody bragging about how their study showed their particular weight loss approach yielded “significant weight loss,” ask them if it was more than 10% and watch that smirk melt right off their face.

So what is the answer? How do you promote healthy behaviors without falling into the trap of promoting calories as currency in the down payment on your “new body”? Well, oddly enough, Huffington published the answer himself last year when he shared Iris Higgins’ open letter to her weight loss clients.

Promoting healthy foods? Great! Promoting exercise? Awesome! Promoting either as the penance you must pay to get your bikini body? [Cue Price is Right horn of sadness]

So when I looked at Huffington’s front page headlines, what jumped out at me was the obsession with outlier weight loss as inspiration and the emphasis on sneaky and bizarre ways to lose 25% or more and how to “reset” after overeating (aka, perpetuate the restriction/disinhibition cycle that is at the very heart of yo-yo dieting) and how obesity is simply caused by skinny kids not eating apples and how you should “burn calories like an Olympian” rather than exercise like an Olympian.

Bad

But what really steams my clams, Mr. and Mrs. Post; what really chaps my hide is that Young Huffington knows that The Biggest Loser is full of shit, and yet he chooses to promote its approach anyway.

Biggest LoserNewHuffington Post needs to make a choice: is it going to continue promoting unhealthy behaviors in the pursuit of unrealistic goals? Or is it going to promote healthy behaviors that work for every body regardless of how much weight they lose? This is ultimately the choice that Young Huffington needs to make in the coming years.

Biggest Loser

And yet, even with all this Bad, there is still some Good. Above, I listed just 22 Bad stories, which is just a third of the Good stories I found. Given Huffington’s history, I was kind of shocked by the ratio. In my personal opinion, 2014 was a year of breathtaking progress on the front page of Young Huffington Post. It gives me great hope that in the coming years he can begin living up to his full potential.

The Ugly

Disturbingly, there are still remnants from Huffington’s cretinous past. From time to time, there’s a meanness about the way Huffington talks about weight issues. For example:

Cartman

When I saw this, I pulled Huffington right out of class and said, “Really?” If you’re going to discuss fat kids, discuss fat kids, but don’t make a mockery of your subject.

Another simple rule of thumb is that Huffington shouldn’t ask questions that make people look at him like he’s sprouted a tiny penis at the end of his nose.

Jeans

Also, if Huffington insists on promoting weight loss, could he at least match the photo to the story? For example, this story…

Everyone should do

… made me think I was going to click on an article about how enjoying yourself at the beach makes you skinny. Nope. It’s about weighing yourself. Go figure. So in hindsight, what this story seems to be saying on the front page is, “Hey fat people enjoying themselves at the beach, why don’t you weight yourself once in a while!”

I’ve also advised Huffington to keep Bill Maher’s fat jokes to a minimum:

Christie

It’s a dick move to post fat jokes at all, but to mock a man who was (at least partially) motivated to mutilate his stomach just so he wouldn’t face the same level of weight stigma when running for President of the United States is despicable.

Also despicable? Body shaming anyone.

Danica Patrick

Of course, I already decimated Huffington’s “exercise vs. diet” nonsense. Extreme Obesity

But Huffington definitely needs to knock this shit off: Huge Baby

And how in the hell did Huffington not realize how insulting this juxtaposition is?

Lies

Now, there’s one area where Huffington may feel justified in being hyperbolic and aiming its lens directly at fatties:

Liver DiseaseWhat is it? According to The Washington Post, it’s liver disease, or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD):

The condition’s rise is tied to the obesity epidemic — about 40% of obese children have it — but isn’t caused solely by being overweight. The disease appears to be growing among normal-weight children too, experts say. And even though obesity rates are starting to level off, the prevalence of fatty liver disease continues to rise, they say.

Here’s the thing: NAFLD is caused by insulin resistance, and weight gain can be a symptom of insulin resistance. But there are normal weight insulin resistant people, too. So, by focusing this on fat kids, you’re simply targeting a symptom rather than the disease. And the fact that some fat kid might be reading your front page, recognize himself on that scale and believe he’s got a fatty liver is a shitty thing to do.

So, what is a conscientious Huffington to do? Consider all the influences:

It’s likely there are multiple factors that worsen fatty liver disease. Early research shows that the disease is partly genetic but likely needs to be triggered by environmental conditions, like obesity or insulin resistance. Much of the current research has focused on genes and specific nutrients in the diet that might cause the disease. One culprit is fructose, a type of sugar found in corn syrup and fruit juice, which are widely consumed in western diets, according to Dr. Vos’s research.

And guess what triggers insulin resistance in those genetically susceptible to the disease? Fructose. So, why not focus on the dietary influence, rather than singling out fat kids?And yet, even the article turned its lens on fat kids in the end:

The medical team educated the Waskowskis, who live in Cleveland, about the condition and what Gregory needed to do to reduce his weight, which is the primary recommendation for treatment. He now exercises five hours a week, mostly by walking on the treadmill, and eats more fruits and vegetables. The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Alkhouri, one of his doctors, wrote a note to his school advising against excess snacking there for Gregory.

Of course, research has also shown that NAFLD can be improved on a Mediterranean diet, regardless of weight loss. So what if Gregory adopts those behaviors, but doesn’t lose much weight? Because those behaviors may improve NAFLD, but may not result in a huge weight difference.

If you’re going to wage a public health campaign, at least aim it at the things that ALL bodies need to be healthy. Don’t single out the one group you think needs it.

Finally, Mr. and Mrs. Post, Huffington needs to stop giving a platform to the haters. Back in January, this made the front page:

The Letter

As you may recall, some ignorant dog-fucker named Dick Wisken wrote an open letter to the fat guy he had to sit next to on the plane. As I pointed out, aside from being completely unsubstantiated, many of the details seemed dubious at best. Why give Dick Wisken any oxygen? Because he wrote a snarky letter to some fat person who doesn’t have the opportunity to defend himself? What’s the point? If I write a sufficiently witty letter to some douchebag who doesn’t use deodorant on my next flight, will you give me some clicks? Honestly, who gives a shit what this bottom-feeder thinks?

As the ancient proverb goes, you are who you link to.

Final Grade

In the end, Mr. and Mrs. Post, it all comes down to what kind of environment Young Huffington wants to promote. Does he want to be the aggregator who trades in insecurities and body shame or does he want to be the aggregator who promotes self-acceptance and positive healthy change?

You can see the conflict in action when you compare the “obesity” tag to the “plus-size” tag to the “fat” tag. The first is for hyperbolic fear-mongering of fat people, the second is for celebrating fat people, and the third is for ambivalent coverage of fat people. And here’s a final hint for that last tag: if I self-identify as “fat,” then I sure as shit don’t want to read any articles by Dr. Dickhole, the mile high fat-shamer extraordinaire.

As far as Huffington’s grade, he would be in big, fat trouble if I used letter grades, as his rating of 67% would not get him out of failing territory. But for now, we’re grading on pass/fail and, this year at least, Huffington has barely passed.

I hope to work with Young Huffington to improve his score this year, and I will continue keeping a close eye on his content to ensure that progress is being made. But for now, I’m willing to celebrate the fact that he has expanded his discussion of fat people beyond “ZOMG! FATTY APOCALYPSE!!!” rhetoric. At least he seems to understand that even fatties are people too.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 31, 2014 12:15 am

    Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    I have nothing but praise for this fine analysis of young Huffington’s performance. However, I sadly do not see him doing anything to alter the error of his ways anytime in the near future.

  2. July 31, 2014 12:17 am

    Also, the phrase “Ignorant dog fucker named Dick Wisken” nearly made me pee my pants laughing, and the sound of my raucous laughter terrorized my cats.

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