“Facts” and Obesity as a Construction

Hello everyone! Something has been next level riling me up recently. Following the Lush Instagram debacle I have been all over the place in my head. Now, for those of you who didn’t see this first hand or read anything about it later on and have just clicked on that link, you might not see any immediate problem with the content. Lush is promoting a screening of the film What The Health.  And here are all my problems with this.

The material they’re using to promote it are several [poorly chosen] stats. The stats are in a kind of confusing order. The first and last are US specific, one of them uses the World Health Organisation (so, that’s an international stat .. right, ya might think?), and the other three don’t have any kind of location info. And this is from Lush UK. Now, the stats go in this order: cancer, weight, food, lifestyle, cardiovascular disease, fatty arteries. Given the order, I went through it and went oh cancer, then weight wight weight weight weight. This is what is commonly thought about weight. And I say ‘commonly’ based on what I see on the internet, how people (including friends and family) talk, the way policy is head, the way the media and TV and magazines and eHealth and apps all play with and use the concept of weight: weight is your choice. You – yes, you, only you, an individual – are in control of this. Weight becomes symbolic of who you are. Your body is your physical manifestation, an artifact that you have the power to alter and construct in order to reflect your values, your successes, your failures, your goals. The choices that you make are reflected by your body.

“Choice” comes with baggage. You have good choices and you have bad choices; ones that effect you and only you, and ones that can effect others. Some choices are hard, some are easy, and some are meant to be easy but aren’t at all. Now, there are a couple fun concepts about how members of a society have the responsibility to be healthy (and to be healthy in order to be productive, a la capitalism) – health governance, biosociality, and so on. Good health is important, it’s the best, it’s what you are meant to aim for. It is your responsibility, as a member of a functioning society, to be in control of your body and health. This is peak neoliberalism, and what we are currently experiencing with the way health is managed and promoted by our NHS. When everything boils down to the words “lifestyle” and “choice” it screams YOU, INDIVIDUAL. If I do things that are known to be bad for me – smoke, drink, do drugs, run onto motorways – this is my own fault, and the repercussions are my own fault yet paid for by society as a whole. Most obviously when stats like “obesity costs the NHS X million a year” or whatever. So, why do we seem to care so, so much more when it’s obesity? Continue reading