Fat shaming from Peter Singer

Peter Singer – perhaps unsurprisingly – has some opinions about fat people.

Things don’t bode well from the beginning:

We are getting fatter. In Australia, the United States, and many other countries, it has become commonplace to see people so fat that they waddle rather than walk.

That’s objective rational discourse right there. But it gets better. Singer’s main argument is that people who weigh more should have to pay more to fly. Says Singer:

I am writing this at an airport. A slight Asian woman has checked in with, I would guess, about 40 kilograms (88 pounds) of suitcases and boxes. She pays extra for exceeding the weight allowance. A man who must weigh at least 40 kilos more than she does, but whose baggage is under the limit, pays nothing. Yet, in terms of the airplane’s fuel consumption, it is all the same whether the extra weight is baggage or body fat.

And you can imagine how it goes from there. Fat people cost more. Fat people are a drain on resources. Fat people should have to pay for it. He concludes:

Many of us are rightly concerned about whether our planet can support a human population that has surpassed seven billion. But we should think of the size of the human population not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of its mass. If we value both sustainable human well-being and our planet’s natural environment, my weight – and yours – is everyone’s business.

So clearly what we should do is make sweeping generalizations about “the overweight”. Then we should engage in some not-very-subtle fat shaming, in which we blame individuals for what is clearly a social phenomenon, and demand more money from those who can often least afford it. Flying can then become just another thin privilege.

While we’re at it, we should probably charge disabled people more to fly, given the extra airline resources it can take to get them to and from their assigned seat, and the extra weight of any assistance devices they might need. We will probably, for similar reasons, also charge the elderly more. And don’t even get me started on parents that travel with children.

Or we could try not listening to Peter Singer. That works too.







So suppose you do lose that weight …

I mentioned recently that I had been given a prescription for medicine that has for many a welcome side-effect: weight loss. One of the interesting things about experiencing the loss is that you can be left with your obviously untenable old beliefs, along with some scary beliefs in something like magic that become more visible. I think that if I mentioned them all, I might sketch a picture of myself that I’d soon regret putting on the web. So I’ll mention a few, and invite others to join in with their own examples, if they want.

One I knew about, but I saw again how clearly false it is. This is the belief that if I just lost five pounds, I’d be happy. According to quite a few women at the central APA, this is a very common belief, and all of us with it know it is false. There I was, two weeks and five pounds after I started, not feeling any happier at all.

I have wondered if we do really believe that. Perhaps we believe instead that our body shape is really bad, and any loss would be good. But I don’t really think so. I think we tend to believe the false version. That seems to leave us in the paradoxical position of admitting a belief of the form “I believe that P though it is not true.” In fact, the belief may not be as paradoxical as it seems. It may be that we have mistakenly thought of our minds on the model of the revisable essay, with assertions that are eventually integrated into a consistent whole. But in fact, our minds might be more like an old sewing basket, with bits of fabric saved though they are probably useless. (What do you think?)

Then there are the magical beliefs, as I think of them. At least there are out of touch with the way the world actually works. One might be, “after a weekend in New Orleans, I will have gained the whole 15 pounds back.” Or even, it could happen that the weight comes back some night when I’m asleep.

The thing that is remarkable about these magical beliefs it that they probably don’t exist inert in some hidden recess of the mind. They are probably tied in with some behavior and some other beliefs. But it is hard to see how believing that one’s body is so vulnerable to mysterious workings of a magical world would be a very good thing. They may in fact mount up to a not very rational tendency to blame oneself. Clearly, if these changes can happen just out of the blue, one should try to figure out how to avoid them, perhaps by being especially good and forgoing desert. Or whatever.

Another big category of magical beliefs for me concerns clothes. But I’m going to stop now and see if anyone else wants to add some examples.