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.



rachel on April 6, 2011 at 12:54 pm.

But wait–are the We Love Colors leggings better than teggings? I can’t imagine anything better than teggings. Though I guess there aren’t tie-dyed teggings.


Lesley on April 6, 2011 at 1:31 pm.

They’re different! Teggings are lighter and stretchier; the WLC leggings are heavier—possibly too heavy for summer! But good for cooler weather.


Lampdevil on April 6, 2011 at 1:40 pm.

Thanks for the info breakdown of the WLC leggings! I didn’t even know they had those in plus-size. They don’t pop up in the plus size section, so it wasn’t on my radar. And me gearing up to put in a big order from them this payday…

But yikes! 26 bucks for leggings? :O These had better be REALLY FAB leggings, to make that worthwhile. Are they really fab? Or only just kind of fab?


Lesley on April 6, 2011 at 2:37 pm.

They are fab if you have Specific Color Needs! If you want black or grey, go to Target. If you want a particular shade of neon chartreuse, I think they’re worth it! I am kinda exacting in my colors, so your mileage may vary.


JonelB on April 6, 2011 at 12:55 pm.

Wait..what? I’ve always been the smartest in my class…people came to me to spell and define big words! Any academic grunge I lack is from simply not seeing the point of trying any harder. But again, I don’t want a “it’s up to you, fatty, to do your best!” program to start–rather than singling out fat kids–they should present the class at large with programs designed to get everyone better nutrition and adequate exercise.


Kiya on April 6, 2011 at 4:09 pm.

I absolutely agree! There are plenty of skinny kids with fast metabolisms that spend their days in front of video games and eating fast food. I daresay they are probably no healthier. HEALTH is the problem in this country, not fat kids.


SweetAsCake on April 6, 2011 at 1:43 pm.

You’re right to point to social issues as the cause. Guess who is likely to have trouble with “reading and arithmetic, memory, attention, and decision-making”? People who are depressed. Guess who’s more likely to be depressed? People who are socially isolated, abused and harassed. Hey, let’s make it worse!



Kiya on April 6, 2011 at 4:13 pm.

I also absolutely agree with you!
I did a research paper in college about single parenting and one of the big studies I cited was that study that took place in the innercity in New York and they followed these kids for a certain number of years to see how they performed in school, etc. and they concluded that those children raised by single mothers performed more poorly, had more behavioral problems, etc.

Well, upon closer inspection (and a follow-up study by a group who was not so biased) – the majority of the “single-mom” kids living in housing that was covered in lead paint, which probably was just as much a contributing factor to their problems. Not saying that being raised by a single mom is a contributing factor to problems! Just saying that in these studies and theories, they tend to focus and blame one thing without even looking to see if there could be other factors that are just as significant.

Sorry to ramble.


Kiya on April 6, 2011 at 4:15 pm.

also, sorry about all the typos. I also meant to say “this study” not “that study” – like just by saying “that study” all of you would all of a sudden know which study I mean. lol.


Melody on April 6, 2011 at 5:45 pm.

This is super crazy! I have PCOS and have been a “death fat,” as Lesley would say, since more or less forever. That includes since 9th grade, when I weighed 245 pounds and now weigh more. And I was on math team! Ha, proved wrong, crazy article!


Frances on April 6, 2011 at 7:56 pm.

The WLC leggings page confuses me. The 3X is supposed to fit a 45″ hip, which is smaller than me, but they fit you (who is bigger than me)?! I do not understand…


Lesley on April 6, 2011 at 11:08 pm.

Yeah, um, don’t look at the numbers. I just took a guess!


Zoe Danger Awesome on April 6, 2011 at 8:53 pm.

I so need to make a We Love Colors order soon

also, arg! I am having one of those days where I am just sick of being alive.

You know what we should do? Find some un habited tropical island, claim it for our own and name it Fatopia. Lesley, you can be president. I’ll be the queen. And only fat people and the awesome people that love them can live there. We will have big seats and co-ops everywhere. And we can have fair health care. And unicorns. It’ll be awesome!

On a less optimistic note. Have you seen this? My heart, its broken.


Erina on April 6, 2011 at 10:49 pm.

Fat = cognitively impaired? Times have changed — when I was in school the stereotype was “dumb jock.”


kbryna on April 6, 2011 at 11:19 pm.

I’m confused. Is this just kids? Are fat adults cognitively impaired? What about skinny kids who grow into fat adults? Or fat kids who grow into skinny adults? Are there no skinny, cognitively impaired kids?

This project is called Banishing Obesity and Diabetes in Youth. *Banishing*. Wow. There’s a loving, compassionate message right there.
Jesus. Why can’t they just do Health At Every Size? Or better still, why not do some projects attempting to correct institutionalized racism and poor parenting and poor public schools and environmental factors causing asthma and allergies and who knows what else?

Making people hate themselves just doesn’t seem like the best route to anything here, except depression and shame and misery.


Mary on April 7, 2011 at 12:24 am.

I guess someone should have told all the people in my school district these facts before they made me 8th grade Valedictorian, scholar’s bowl captain, and 12th grade Salutatorian. As the fattest kid in the running for all of those things.


PlusSizedWomanist on April 7, 2011 at 1:32 am.

Oh wait, you mean my fat black ass just needed to lose weight in order to succeed in school?? Right. So institutional fat hatred and racism have NOTHING to do with the whole deal. Who knew. So I guess my 4.0 GPA and 28 ACT score means nothing since I was fat when I graduated from HS. Good to know…

The racism and fat hatred in this article is so sickening, I just can’t even find the words for it…


Kreske on April 7, 2011 at 5:58 am.

Wait, so fining people who supposedly make unhealthy choices in food etc. makes perfect sense because they don’t need that extra money anyway since it’s sooo much cheaper to buy healthy food than, say, a Big Mac? Gaaaah?
Anyway, the argument behind a lot of crap like that seems to be the old “fat people and smokers get sick and therefore cost the medical system a lot more money” and I kinda have a question about that.
I remember reading about exactly that argument some time ago and I read that people with an unhealthy lifestyle, like smokers and people who eat crap and don’t exercise and so on, actually cost the medical system less money in general because yes, they get dangerous health problems earlier, but they also die earlier and therefore need less long time medical attention than all the healthy people who live to be 98 years but spent the last 20 years getting hip replacements.
Unfortunately, said article also made the “bad eating habits equals fat” connection, but I still thought it was a pretty good counter argument, but I just can’t remember where or when I read it at all.
Did you, or anybody else here, ever hear that before? And have any idea if there is some truth behind it (some study etc one can look up)??


Eliana on April 8, 2011 at 4:49 pm.

Folks dying earlier and ultimately having lower life-time costs doesn’t help these programs over the next 5-10 years. Healthcare costs are rising at unsustainable rates for a lot of complex reasons. The long lifespans of healthy people are Medicare’s problem. Programs are looking for short- to medium-term cost savings right now.


Other Kate on April 7, 2011 at 10:53 am.

Lesley, what’s your policy on leggings as pants? Do you wear them with something of at least tunic-length, or no? Maybe it’s just my age (I was a teenager in the late 90s so I was raised to hate the 80s) but I feel weird going about with my nethers clad in nothing but stretchy fabric. But it’s becoming so prevalent I’m wondering if I’m behind the curve.


kbryna on April 7, 2011 at 11:53 pm.

Other Kate, there’s a bad pun/joke in there somewhere about curves and being behind/ahead.

But I am glad you raise this serious issue affecting our college-aged young people. I, like you, was raised to not just hate but mercilessly laugh at the 80s and its fashions (I still struggle when I see skinny jeans and flats – my negative associations, many of which are depressingly class-based, are still THAT strong).

I just think that leggings-as-pants is just not a great look. It’s evidently acceptable, because at the university where i’m a grad student, I see it ALL THE TIME, and not just as gym-wear. But I feel like leggings are – like tights – an accessory to garments. You wouldn’t wear just tights and a shirt, would you? I’m also confused when I see girls wearing, without leggings or tights, what look to me like obvious tunics. Having to hold the hem of your “dress” at all times so it covers the good china maybe should suggest that your “dress” is too short.

But I still haven’t been able to bring myself to buy a pair of leggings now. I mean, the last time I wore leggings, I was 13 years old and a big fan of Bon Jovi and had a perm. and wore *vests*. I just can’t go there again.


Heidi on April 7, 2011 at 1:21 pm.

“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!”

Oh, THAT’s why I was only twelfth in my class of 700+. Come to think of it, the valedictorian and salutatorian were both thin girls. That’s totally it! Finally it all becomes clear to me!

Me and my second-master’s-in-progress can give up now. Fat’s making me dumb!


Eryn on April 9, 2011 at 3:11 am.

The “fat tax” is no surpirze to me, unfortunately. Arizona has a long history of being ruled- oh, sorry, I mean governed by people who are hateful as fuck, and will trample and tax whoever and whatever they see fit.


Haystacks on April 9, 2011 at 4:28 am.

This may seem like a strange question, but my problems with leggings is that if the fabric is too slidey or microfibery, they constantly slip down my hips and I am doing the awkward shifting dance all day. How do you find these?


Fatshion Hustler on April 9, 2011 at 5:30 pm.

I’m another anomaly! One of the fattest kids in school and one of the smartest! Actually, funnily enough, in Australia in Year 4 us smart kids get the chance to take a test to get into a special class, FULL of smart kids, for years 5 and 6. Two of the three of us that got in were two of the fattest. And the other guy was no health nut, can I just say?


Judy on April 10, 2011 at 9:53 am.

Hmmm. I am another valedictorian, and my SAT math scores were high enough that IBM gave me a merit scholarship. (This was in the pre-Kaplan days.) I have always wondered if the “fat girls are outcasts” idea isn’t actually linked with the “fat girls are often particularly smart” experience (too smart to attract boys, who want to be the smart ones).
Getting these kids to lose weight strikes me like having redheads dye their hair black as a way of avoiding sunburn.


Liza on April 10, 2011 at 11:16 am.

I guess my fat ass means that clearly my straight-As, high SAT score and genius-level IQ are just some kind of fluke.


Shoshie on April 10, 2011 at 7:27 pm.

Another one who had a high class ranking while fat, and high SAT scores. And now doing scary science research. My brother was also a fat kid and really smart. He’s not particularly fat now, though.


Barbara on April 10, 2011 at 11:57 pm.

Wow…so I’m fat…had a 12th grade reading level (was as high as the test went) when I was in sixth grade, and I got all A’s and B’s except in Chemistry which I still don’t get. Yet fat makes kids stupid. WHY DIDN’T THEY TELL ME BEFORE!? I wouldn’t have gone to college and gotten a degree if I knew my fat made me stupid! (Three more weeks till commencement and counting!)


Heather on April 13, 2011 at 12:03 pm.

As a ~250 lb, 5’2″ woman with a BA in Mathematics, I’d just like to raise my fat little hand and be counted. Here!


Kella on May 25, 2011 at 7:45 pm.

I love hearing about how fat people should be. Apparently, I am not fat, though I weight many many many pounds over my “ideal” weight. When I hear about how overweight kids/adults are so stupid and lazy, I think, “Gosh, how is it even POSSIBLE that I did well throughout school, went to a good college and got accepted and through (almost) medical school? I should never have been able to move past drooling. What happened??” *headdesk*

As I delve into Fat Acceptance and HAES, and see the bias that some of my own classmates (many are awesome and fat friendly too!) have toward their fat patients, I feel like more and more, I must stand up and be counted as an intelligent, healthy (if you don’t count the failing adrenals), and successful person. It inspired me to start a HAES group at school in fact, though that is a struggle since I’m so lazy….no wait, trying to get through MEDICAL school…I get a little slack right?

Thanks for your blog. I am enjoying reading it a great deal, though “Ladygroper” nearly made me laugh out loud during cardiology…oops. 🙂


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