Rod Dreher doesn’t understand culture re: fat people

Well, just when you thought Rod Dreher couldn’t get more annoying, he comes out with this post.  A taste:

I push back hard against well-meaning people like Harriet Brown, not because I think Fat People Are Bad, but because I want to push back against this culture that tells me I can’t overcome my own sloth and gluttony, that I ought to settle for the spiritual disorder that results in my being overweight.  Weight loss really is hard, …you have to push back against this permissive, indulgent culture at every turn.

He’s referencing an article by Harriet Brown in which she basically finds that medical professionals are willing to say horrible things about fat people without hiding their biases.  Furthermore, Brown outlines how this attitude among medical professionals leads them to treat fat patients with less respect, spend less time with them, work less hard on their cases, and assume that they won’t follow prescribed treatment.  (And we wonder why there might be health issues associated with obesity — I’m not saying that weight has nothing to do with it, only that the cultural attitudes held by your primary care-giver might play into the quality of care received.)

But Dreher is really annoying here, and he’s annoying because his assumption is basically wrong.

“Permissive, indulgent culture?”  Does Dreher really believe that on issues of weight, our culture is “permissive” and “indulgent?”  This is my problem with Rod Dreher: he substitutes his “feelings” for what our culture is for what our culture actually is.

When it comes to fat people, our culture is a bundle of hatred and shame.  Media messages are driven by engines of idealized bodies in which fat can have no part.  It is impossible to have a story on television news about weight loss without being accompanied by fearful messages about the Obesity! Epidemic! and pictures of larger rear ends walking down the street.  Those pictures are meant, not to suggest largeness, but to suggest ugliness: a constant, hyper-present messaging to larger people that they are not beautiful and they are actually threatening society with their atrocious DeathFat.

Harriet Brown’s piece deals with all of this.  It is a society which is NOT permissive, NOT indulgent: a society in which people lose jobs and promotions over their weight, a society in which the constellations of discrimination coincide to stack the deck against big people.

Dreher’s piece is, at least, reflective.  I’ll give him some credit: he struggles with these issues himself, and I try not to be quick to judge someone too harshly for being wounded by our society’s UNpermissive, NONindulgent response to overweight people.

But this is really a deeper problem with Rod Dreher generally, one he definitely has with the gay question — he responds to the question based on his perception of a broader culture that doesn’t really exist.  Yet with the gay questions, he doesn’t have the similar struggles that can foster at least some empathy with the people involved.

I’ll probably say more on this later.  I feel something of a commitment to fat acceptance issues, being a fat guy myself, so it’s sure to come up again.

2 comments on “Rod Dreher doesn’t understand culture re: fat people

  1. Harriet says:

    Good post. I’ve been astonished by the level of vitriol directed at the article in the Times, and at me personally. It’s very disturbing.

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