Meghan Trainor, Fat Shaming, and the Health Myth

Meghan TrainorI often think of something Fabienne says in Pulp Fiction, “It’s unfortunate what we find pleasing to the touch and pleasing to the eye is seldom the same.” It doesn’t especially mean anything other than that our ideas about beauty are arbitrary. And I’m fine with that. But what most bothers me about the modern world is that we have convinced ourselves that what is pleasing to the eye is healthy. And it turns out that it really isn’t. What’s more, there was never any reason to think that it was. It seems too obvious that what’s really gone on is that society decided to shame the ugly people, because the biggest prejudice in society is against the ugly — and especially the fat.

One of the problems with the constant concern trolling about obesity is that it actually is bad to be very overweight. But regardless of how we ought to try to help people with body mass indexes (BMI) over 40, our societal focus seems to be on “helping” people that are far less overweight. Consider for example, Meghan Trainor — she’s that young woman who does that “All About the Bass” song. I had lunch with Will the other day and he mentioned that people were talking about how fat she is, even though her dress size is 12. I replied, “You mean less than average dress size of American women.” Yep. That’s what passes for fat in modern America!

I found some statistics on Ms Trainor. She is supposedly 150 pounds and five foot two. That makes her BMI around 27. This is considered “overweight.” It’s weird, right? She is thinner than the average American woman. But that’s not all. French women have the lowest BMI in all of Europe: 23. And that is distinctly on the high side of “normal.” English women are on average about where Trainor is. Maybe it is time to reconsider what is normal.

I can hear the outraged responses to this, “But that weight is unhealthy!” Well, let’s just start by noting that this belief is not based upon data. This is Madison Avenue defining what is healthy. Recent research has found that being modestly overweight is not bad for people. In fact, a two decade long study involving a million people found that people in the “overweight” category (BMI 25-30), were actually 6% less likely to die during the study period. So this isn’t about being healthy. And in my experience, people don’t get a lot of positive feedback for making positive changes in their lifestyles if it doesn’t lead to weight loss.

Well, we have another study. Aaron Carroll provided the overview, What Are the Healthcare Costs of Obesity? And what it found is that, as expected, obese people consume a lot more of our healthcare dollars. But it isn’t about the “overweight” (BMI: 25-30) or even the class 1 “obese” (30-35). The study found no significant increase in healthcare costs for them. But the costs go up exponentially from there.

Now I don’t especially care about healthcare costs. We already pay far too much for healthcare in this country — for purely political reasons. Trying to blame it on the fat or the old or whatever seems a pretty vile approach. But I am interested in the way that people will use a study like this to go on shaming fat people — Like Meghan Trainor! — because they’ve decide that fat starts at a 25 BMI. It’s ridiculous. If people want to hate fat people, have at it! I’ll just write them off as I do with all the other bigots of the world. But let’s not pretend that this bigotry is about concern for the health of our heavier friends.

“Elite” Schools Get the Pick Elite Students

Kevin CareyThe whole apparatus of selective college admissions is designed to deliberately confuse things that exist with things that don’t. Many of the most prestigious colleges are an order of magnitude wealthier and more selective than the typical university. These are the primary factors driving their annual rankings at or near the top of the US News list of “best” colleges. The implication is that the differences in the quality of education they provide are of a similar size. There is no evidence to suggest that this is remotely true.

When college leaders talk about academic standards, they often mean admissions standards, not standards for what happens in classrooms themselves. Or they vaguely appeal to traditions and shared values without any hard evidence of their meaning. This is understandable, because the alternative is admitting that many selective institutions are not intrinsically excellent; they were just lucky enough to get into the business of selecting the best and brightest before everyone else.

—Kevin Carey
The Fundamental Way That Universities Are an Illusion

Why Donald Trump Appeals to Evangelicals

Donald TrumpDavid Brody of the Christian Broadcasting Network thinks he knows why Evangelicals are so keen on Donald Trump, Explaining the Evangelical Attraction to Donald Trump. It’s because “Trump operates in a world of absolutes” and so do they; what’s more, Trump gets “public ridicule” for the things he says and so do they. So they are like peas in a pod: the only thing they are more certain of than being right is that other people are oppressing them because of it. But really what Brody is arguing is that Evangelicals like Trump because they like Trump. They accept him because they think he is one of them.

The big problem here is that it shows what a sham the Evangelicals are. I’m not saying this is shocking news. For years, I’ve been writing about how Evangelicals don’t seem to be interested in theology. More recently, I wrote, American Christianity as Cultural Signifier. Because among the conservatives, Christianity doesn’t mean much other than that “good people” are Christians and “bad people” are not. Trump is an excellent example of this. He is not an Evangelical. In fact, he only seems to be a Christian in the most casual of ways.

This is how Brody looks at the issue:

Now look: when Trump talks about how he doesn’t really ask God for forgiveness except for when he partakes in communion, that obviously is not the evangelical textbook answer. But at least they appreciate his honesty and with politicians nowadays that is a valued commodity.

So is he saying that these people would appreciate the honesty of any politician? Say an outspoken atheist politician? Of course not. This is just a little bit of apologetics — an excuse for why Evangelicals would like Trump despite the fact that he says things that should be offensive to them. It would be like explaining a groundswell of Mexican support for Trump as, “Now look: when Trump talks about how Mexicans are drug dealers and rapists, that obviously is not the Mexican textbook answer. But at least they appreciate his honesty and with politicians nowadays that is a valued commodity.” I don’t think so.

Sarah Posner noted a bit of a contradiction in what Brody had to say. He is still upset that Bush operative Ken Mehlman got the Evangelicals to come out and vote for Bush by pushing the anti-LGBT Federal Marriage Amendment, only to find out later that “Mehlman was a homosexual who really didn’t believe in the whole effort…” But somehow, the Evangelicals are now happy with Trump’s being “honest about [his] views about God”? But it was only a few years ago that Trump was pro-choice and pro-LGBT. So Evangelicals — and Brody most of all — think that Trump is saying what he really thinks now? He was lying before?

Let’s just be clear here: the Evangelical community is very homogeneous. It doesn’t like outsiders. It sees itself as embattled. Donald Trump tells the Evangelical community exactly what it wants to hear: it is great and all its problems come from those “other” people: immigrants, liberals, and (unstated, but only because it is toxic to talk about it) blacks. People think of identity politics as something that has to do with minority groups. But there is no greater — and more bizarre — identity than the Evangelicals. And Trump now, and Reagan before him, knew that it isn’t Christianity that binds them together. And so it doesn’t matter that neither man was religious. They both “endorsed” that particular kind of Evangelical bigotry. So Evangelicals are very happy to support Donald Trump.

Very Serious People Do What They Are Paid For

Hanry FarrellHenry Farrell wrote a great article at Crooked Timber on Wednesday, A Brief Theory of Very Serious People. He argued that what’s really going on with Very Serious People (VSP) is a kind of group think. And this is made pernicious because the VSP exist in a media framework that takes what they say as always being right and so magnifies their biases. But I think there is a touch of question begging here. Why is it that a media framework exists that allows this? And I think the answer to that is that the VSP are the basis of the liberal class: the apologists for the power elite — the great bulwark against revolution.

All you have to see is that the VSP just so happen to always be pushing the interests of the power elite. This is how we get the likes of William Saletan, who considers himself to be a “centrist.” But this supposed centrism consists of economic conservatism and social liberalism — the very opposite of populism. And his opinions are not moderate; they are instead rather extreme in both areas. He is neither a centrist on economic nor social issues. It’s like saying a hardwood box is soft because the inside in empty; in point of fact, if you banged your head on the box, you would see that it is not soft.

Now I can’t say if the VSP hold these opinions explicitly to curry favor with the power elite. Because the truth is that the interests of the VSP and the power elite are the same. In many — perhaps even most — cases, the VSP are the power elite. But the way this works is very clear. The VSP are in favor of cutting Social Security, because they plan to work at their cushy jobs well into their 70s. They are in favor of keeping taxes low, because they “make” a lot of money. They are in favor of education “reform,” because they send their kids to private schools. What’s more, they have friends who work in the “reform” movement. They aren’t too keen on the minimum wage, because they don’t know anyone who makes that little. But they do have friends in the LGBT community, so they are in favor of equal rights for them. People of their class know how an unplanned pregnancy can ruin a life, so they support reproductive rights.

Usually, the VSP make the most tired of arguments. They are some of the biggest supporters of conventional wisdom. But not always. The VSP love to push counter-intuitive ideas — but only when those ideas help the power elite. Raising the minimum wage might seem like it would help the poor, but they argue that it won’t. They argue this because of a collection of ideas from free market dogma, which might apply if we actually had a free market. But the VSP never get to the end of that reasoning chain, because the moment they get to a conclusion that helps the rich and tells the poor to shut up, the VPS know they are done.

But most of all, the VSP love “tough decisions.” They love to push the ideas that cause a lot of pain in society because they think it makes them seem strong. Of course, making a tough decision is one that ought to be applied to oneself. But the supposed tough decisions of the VSP only result in pain for people well removed from them. It is not tough for me to decide that Khalid Bin Mohsen Shaari ought to lose some weight. It is a tough decision for me to go out and run each night rather than sit at home and watch reruns of Arrested Development.

And this, I think, is what really matters about the VSP: they actually think that they are serious. They are so unplugged from the real world, that they think that reducing inflation by throwing 10 million people they don’t know out of work is a sign of how seriously they take policy. But the actual work that VSP are expected to do is things like arguing to keep inflation down, because that’s what the rich want. So when they make such “tough” decisions, they are not pushing against expectations. They are instead doing what is expected and therefore easy. And that is why they transcend being simply wrong and move on to being some of the most offensive (Very Serious) people on the planet.

Morning Music: Billy Bragg

Talking with the Taxman About PoetryI’m going to try to do a little series of union or at least worker songs for the Morning Music posts. Since it was brought up the other day in comment, I thought I would start with Billy Bragg performing his song “There Is Power in a Union.” It is not the Joe Hill song (which I will do tomorrow). It is his own lyrics to more or less the melody of “Battle Cry of Freedom.”

He introduces it with a brief discussion of faith. It is something that is near to my heart. But it also explains why I would never make a good activist of any kind. I’m not good with faith. I don’t believe in promises. My experience in life is that things stay the same, but just get more so. But I want to believe. And I know that it is true that there is power in a union.

Anniversary Post: Svetlana Savitskaya Space Walk

Svetlana SavitskayaOn this day in 1984, Svetlana Savitskaya became the first woman to perform a space walk. She was also the second woman in space. The first was also a Russian, Valentina Tereshkova. That always kind of shocks me: here in the land of the free, we certainly are conventional. I’ve seen that with the press, which I now firmly believe is only free because it absolutely will never push against the power elite in this country. We have free speech in this country only so long as it isn’t used or is powerless.

I’ve often wondered about Sally Ride — the first American woman to go in space. Even to this day, she has the record for the youngest American to ever go into space. Did the US push her along out of a sense of embarrassment? I hope so! That’s not to take anything away from Ride. She undoubtedly was hurt far more by the politics of her gender than she was helped. I would like to think that the example of Svetlana Savitskaya helped our government get over itself about women in space.

Regardless, Svetlana Savitskaya is still around. She retired from the Russian Air Force in 1993. Currently, she is a member of the Federal Assembly of Russia, where she is a member of the Communist Party. That’s another thing. I don’t think of Russia as being a terribly free country. But there are serious libertarian and communist political parties in Russia. Here in the United States, everything is clustered to the right and to the extreme right. Things are so screwed up that most Americans think of the Democratic Party as leftist.

Anyway, we mark this day 31 years ago when the first woman walked in space.