Aubrey Gordon on Debunking Myths About Fatness
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
This week on The Maris Review, Aubrey Gordon joins Maris Kreizman to discuss her new book, “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths About Fat People, out now from Beacon Press.
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On reading the science closely:
MK: A big project of Maintenance Phase that also runs through all of your other work, including this book, is debunking studies that I might have once read and took to be fact. And overall being more critical of data.
AG: First of all, that’s the thing that I feel like I have picked up from Michael Hobbes, so I’m happy to pass it right along to you too. This feels like fraught territory to me that gets really easy to get into anti-science land, but I think there is a difference between being anti-science and reading the science closely and reading what it’s actually saying.
One of the big ones for me in the writing of this book was this idea that 360,000 Americans die every year just from being fat. That somebody just gets so fat they just dropped dead. Which, like, of course we’ve all known countless people who just got so fat they had to die. Actually that’s not a thing.
When you read the actual study that came from, it’s cited one bajillion times by other researchers who are saying this is nonsense and it doesn’t make sense to me. So red flag number one. Red flag number two is if you actually read the methodology section, they state plainly that they assume that every fat person who died in excess of every thin person died because they were fat.
They didn’t look at death certificates, they didn’t do any kind of autopsies, they didn’t do any kind of analysis. They just assumed if more fat people died than thin people, those fat people died of being fat, not of being in a plane crash, not of being struck by lightning. Not any of those things, but just you were so fat and then you died.
That feels like pertinent information for a conversation that we’ve now been having for 20 years that has taken this really alarmist bent and has really started to scapegoat fat people for being some kind of social contagion and being to blame for our own mortality and all kinds of stuff. It feels worth getting into the weeds on this stuff and figuring out how to sort the wheat from the chaff a little bit.
On bringing everyone into the conversation:
MK: There’s a particular myth, number 16, that I really appreciated because you write in the second person. It starts out, “I know that you have learned to hate your body. We’ve all been called fat.” I listened to the audiobook and when you said that to me, I was like, oh, no one has said this to me before.
AG: I think this is a really challenging part of this work. It feels increasingly clear the more that I do the work that much of the garbage that gets foisted onto fat people is the garbage that non-fat people have accrued from being threatened with becoming fat or being told that they’re fat or what have you.
It creates this sort of spectrum of bodies. And anyone who’s bigger than your size, whoever you are, becomes your nightmare future self, right? And you stop treating that person like a person who’s different from you, who has their own life and experiences, and start treating them and talking to them with talk that we normally reserve for ourselves, with the kind of hurt and the kind of harm that we usually reserve for ourselves.
We happily foist it onto fat people because we stopped distinguishing between our own nightmare version of ourselves and somebody else entirely. I have yet to figure out a way through that conversation with people who are not fat that doesn’t require some level of healing that person, or deep emotional support work, which is a challenging thing to do with a person who is hurting you right here, right now.
It’s a challenging thing to be like, okay, I hear where you’re coming from. That sounds really hard. Here’s a bunch of empathy that I have to give for you. I’m gonna sit with you for 30 minutes or an hour or days or whatever. And then once you feel filled up, once you feel like your tank is full, then we can talk about how, when you bring this stuff to these conversations, it really hurts me in these ways.
It’s a hard thing, but that second person stuff feels really important unless and until people get their amygdalas to calm down, and unless and until people can hang with a conversation that isn’t fundamentally about them. There is a lot of care and feeding that needs to happen to bring folks into the room. And that stuff felt like an essential ingredient that I wish was less essential.
Aubrey Gordon writes under the pseudonym of “Your Fat Friend,” illuminating the experiences of fat people and urging greater compassion for people of all sizes. Her work has reached millions of readers and has been translated into nineteen languages. She is co-host of the Maintenance Phase podcast and a columnist with SELF magazine. She lives in the Northwest, where she works as a writer and organizer. Her new book is called “You Just Need to Lose Weight”: And 19 Other Myths about Fat People.