Bestselling author dismantles myths about fatness in latest book

Stigma around weight is pervasive in the United States. But as author and podcaster Aubrey Gordon outlines in her New York Times bestseller book, anti-fat bias is also counterproductive, exacerbating health disparities and interfering with effective obesity intervention treatments. Stephanie Sy speaks with Gordon to learn more.

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  • John Yang:

    Stigma around weight is pervasive in the United States. In fact research has documented negative attitudes toward overweight bodies in children as young as three years old but as a new book outlines anti-fat bias is also counterproductive.

    It exacerbates health disparities and interferes with effective Obesity Intervention efforts. Stephanie Sy spoke with author and podcaster Aubrey Gordon, whose "New York Times" bestseller aims to combat these bias.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Aubrey Gordon`s second book, "You Just Need to Lose Weight": And 19 Other Myths About Fat People`we`ve scientific research, cultural analysis, and Gordon`s own personal experiences into a handbook for people she writes are, quote, struggling to interrupt moments of anti-fatness in their lives.

    Aubrey Gordon joins me now thank you so much for being with us. Right off the bat, I am just so uncomfortable using the word fat. It feels unkind to say. But one of the first things you write in your new book is that fat is a neutral descriptor primarily for plus size people. Explain why you`d rather that descriptor be used than ones that are less fraught.

    Aubrey Gordon, Author and Podcaster: I totally understand that many folks are uncomfortable with the word fat, most of us have learned that that is an unkind word to use. And what that means for me in my daily life as a fat person is that anytime I reference my size, what ends up happening is that most people correct me and will say no, no, no, no, no, you`re not fat, you`re beautiful, or you`re not fat, you`re fun, or you`re not fat, you`re smart, which is like very revealing of sort of the biases that we attach to the word fat and our ideas about fat people.

    Some of the more sort of, quote unquote, neutral words that folks will use are words like obese, which the Latin origin of that term is to have eaten oneself fat, right? So it`s already sort of presuming you`re here because of gluttony. You`re here because you couldn`t control yourself. So for me, personally, I just prefer the word fat, it`s very straightforward.

    And again, everybody gets to use whatever words they want for their own bodies. For me, that`s mine.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Let`s talk about that myth that you describe within the medical field, one of which is that it`s a myth that doctors are sort of neutral judges of health, that they are not biased. And in fact, your experience and that of others you describe is that there is a lot of bias in the medical field. Can you talk about that?

  • Aubrey Gordon:

    Yes, absolutely. So I would say healthcare providers go through an immense amount of technical training. But what they don`t actually go through is training to check and challenge their own biases. What we see from the research is that fat patients get office visits that are considerably shorter than — than thin people. That fat people are more likely to face misdiagnosis for things as profound as cancer or any number of chronic or terminal illnesses because the recommendations that they`re met with from health care providers are come back when you`ve lost weight.

    And if that doesn`t take care of it, then we`ll look into it. Many patients end up postponing care, many patients end up avoiding contacting health care providers and many patients have worse health outcomes as a result.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Right. And yet, we hear over and over again, from everyone from the CDC to the World Health Organization to most recently, the American Association of Pediatrics, that obesity is a problem. It`s a health problem. And I`m actually curious to ask you about how you feel about the recent guidelines issued by the American Association of Pediatrics that recommends interventions for obesity in children as young as two.

    I know there`s been a lot of pushback, but the medical world is still saying we need to do something or we`re dealing with disease.

  • Aubrey Gordon:

    I would say it is totally fine with me to talk about health risks related to being a fat person but the American Academy of Pediatrics is recommending dietary interventions as young as two, weight loss drugs including injections as young as grade school and weight loss surgery and permanent body altering and life altering lifelong surgical procedure as young as 13.

    As someone who in my teenage years took Fen Phen which was considered to be a miracle diet drug and it was pulled from the market within two years because it caused people`s hearts to stop and their lungs to fill with fluid until they essentially drowned. I come to this conversation with someone who has seen this before, who has taken these sort of miracle drugs that are recommended, and who now lives with the reality of being essentially sort of a ticking time bomb potentially, of future health outcomes related to my heart.

    And what I would love is more curiosity, more nuance, and frankly, any interest in the quality of life, the life experiences and the needs of fat patients, that feels like what it is missing profoundly from this conversation is.

    We have many, many, many folks with a great deal of clinical expertise telling folks with a great deal of lived experience, what we ought to be aiming for, and what we really need.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Just building off of what you`re saying, the importance of thinking about the lived experience of people moving through the world, with a larger frame, a larger body, and I know you`d prefer me say fat. I`m still not comfortable with it, Aubrey.

  • Aubrey Gordon:

    Totally, you say what you want, I`m here for it.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Is the experience of flying, the very what you describe as a humiliating experience for people to be seated in a plane. Those are things that can tangibly change. Is that what you`re hoping for out of — out of this book and your podcast and all the other things you do in this movement?

  • Aubrey Gordon:

    Yes, absolutely. I would love for things to change. It is, as you mentioned, a profoundly humiliating experience or can be to be a fat person on a plane. It is a part of a process that we become really comfortable with, which is the small talk of being on a plane is often sort of how was your flight? It was terrible. I had to sit next to a fat person.

    And we don`t ever sort of stop to consider what is that person`s experience? And actually, where does responsibility lie? No one is mad at Boeing or Airbus after their flight. They`re upset with me. And that feels misdirected and unproductive to me and like much more a measure of bias than a measure of an interest in solving a problem.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Aubrey Gordon, the author of you just need to lose weight, and 19 other myths about fat people. Thank you so much.

  • Aubrey Gordon:

    Thank you so much for having me. This is a treat.

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