Short Cuts: Mailbag edition

By | April 6, 2011

Illustration for an 1883 advertisement for "Good Health Corset Waist"; "A Perfect Health Corset, Superior to All Others" Drawing features a corseted woman from the waist up, holding a hand mirror so the tiny corseted child beside her can see her reflection.Let’s start with the fluff and work our way down to the horror, shall we?

Those of you who follow me on Twitter may be aware of my ongoing Leggings Quest. A week or so ago, I broke down and ordered leggings from We Love Colors. They arrived! And they fit! I got the 3X, and could probably have done with a 2X as well. The leggings are comprised of a surprisingly substantial fabric and are well-constructed. Alas, they are a little pricey as leggings go, but as I said to Marianne, where else are you gonna get tie-dyed leggings in a 3X?

A whole bunch of readers have emailed me about Arizona’s plan to assess an annual $50 fee to Medicaid recipients who are fat, diabetic, and/or smokers. I’ve yet to see a coherent argument on this issue. The logic seems to be that taking $50 from somebody once a year will encourage them to be “healthier.” Also, that Arizona is broker than the windows in Chris Brown’s dressing room, and nobody likes fatties, diabetics, or smokers, so they’re easy targets!

Apparently this fine would only apply to “certain childless adults”, which ramps up the weirdness factor even more. See, Arizona’s only punishing fat smoking diabetics who refuse to procreate! Problem is, if poverty made people thin, obesity rates would not be so high amongst the poor. Not that this fine would be acceptable even if that were true. Maybe Arizona should consider restricting food stamps for fat recipients. And then they can levy fines against anyone selling or giving food to fat people. C’mon, Arizona, get creative.

Another sharp-eyed reader sent me this blog from the HuffPo about a project taking place in some public New York high schools. The program specifically selects kids with high BMIs, and gets parental consent to do a series of pretty standard tests, including “blood pressure, sugar, insulin and cholesterol levels.” The article also argues that fat kids have impaired brain function, but never quite makes any concrete connection betwixt their size and their smarts, aside from implying that of course fat will make kids bad at math! I guess!

Unleash the SCIENCE! Blockquotes off the starboard bow:

…[O]bese youth have problems with reading and arithmetic, memory, attention, and decision-making. Imagine how learning, and consequently school performance, will be impaired if you are having trouble in these essential areas of brain functioning. And, by the way, the more overweight youth are the more they experience the medical consequences of obesity, and the greater the difficulties they have — in all these areas of cognitive functioning.

I am generally inclined to believe in folks’ good intentions, even when their actions seem to go against common sense. The article above is a rosy and upbeat story, the big message being “Hey, ain’t it great, we’re empowering kids to make healthy choices!” And you know, it is great to empower kids to make healthy choices; it’s great to give them choices at all. But I lose faith when the author fails to even mention that the cognitive functioning of fat kids may  be due, in however small a part, to social issues. “Problems with reading and arithmetic, memory, attention, and decision-making” can also be symptoms of a lack of self-confidence, or an environment in which bullying is taking place. I’m not arguing that every fat kid bad at math because of low self-esteem, but we know that confidence is a huge factor in the academic success of all students, so it seems woefully incomplete to not even consider that social circumstances may play a role here.

And then, we have this.

Youth of color and living in poverty are the most at risk — no surprise — thereby potentially interfering with the opportunities that education provides them to escape their circumstances.

For those of y’all scratching your heads, wondering why this is problematic, I’ll explain: framing the “success” of poor youth of color as an “escape” is a bad idea because it does not address the systemic oppression that “traps” them in the first place. It puts forth the notion that the culture and space where these kids have grown up—their home, for heaven’s sake—is forever an unpleasant place to run from. The reality is far more complicated. Kids need choices. Institutionalized racism is the opposite of choice. That is what needs addressing here, and yet it’s treated with the same shrugging inevitability with which we treat the sun rising in the morning and setting at night.

This ideology of valuing individual circumstances over cultural ones is a metaphor for the whole program in question: rather than look at the social surroundings across these school’s whole populations, this project instead pinpoints individual kids and installs a sense of personal responsibility. Don’t try to change the world, kids, it’ll only break your heart! Just get that cholesterol down. Heaven forfend that anyone should try to both affect broad change and personal change at the same time.



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