Is “Obesity” an Insult?

I remember when I was 4 years old, waiting in line at the supermarket with my mom, a large man came up behind us. He was huge. I had just learned the official word for people of this shape: fat. I took one look at him, and blurted out: “Mommy look! That man is fat!” I’ll always remember the embarrassed expression on my mom’s face as she apologized to the man, who simply chuckled and said it’s alright. As an innocent child, I was only making word associations with reality, I meant no harm.

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The author of the above post, Jordan Lien, a member of the recently defeated Progressive Conservatives (oxymoron) in Alberta, has come under HEAVY fire. Let’s calm the fuck down and look at what he said, but more importantly, what the media is saying.

Let’s save the first line for the next paragraph. Everything below it is a very straightforward conservative rebuttal to the notion of banning a type of cigarettes. Conservatives want less government/government controls (or so they claim to their voters), and so the logical response to a ban on one apparently more dangerous kind of cigarette is to compare the ban to a ban on soda or chips. It’s a logical line to draw, from the conservative stand-point.

The first line seems to be where the real hoopla is coming from. He calls recently appointed health & seniors minister Sarah Hoffman “morbidly obese.” Before we go any further, let’s understand what this term means:

An individual is considered morbidly obese if he or she is 100 pounds over his/her ideal body weight, has a BMI of 40 or more, or 35 or more and experiencing obesity-related health conditions, such as high blood pressure or diabetes. Source

Now, I’m no expert, but from the pictures I have seen of Mrs. Hoffman, I think it’s safe to say that if she falls short of the morbid category, she definitely still fits the obese one. Regardless of how offensive it may be for someone to hear this statement of fact about their weight, it does not deny its truth. Now let’s look at what the media is saying; I first read a CBC article about this and then a National Post one which was virtually the exact same.

The CBC title is what REALLY caught my attention. Before I had even read the first line I knew something was up. “Sarah Hoffman weight insults show sexism still an issue in politics, expert says.” Really now! A single expert said this, and that becomes your title! Great, let’s see this horrible sexism!

Cristina Stasia, a gender studies instructor at the University of Alberta who ran for the Alberta Party in the last election, called Lien’s insult “disgusting.”

Stasia said past male health ministers who weren’t in the best physical shape were never criticized about their weight. (CBC)

“Were never criticized about their weight.” So here we have a universal statement. Not a single overweight male health minister was ever criticized? That’s false because I have started several discussions about this, one on reddit’s /r/ChangeMyView subreddit, in which I tried to maintain the position that an overweight/morbidly obese health minister (Gaetan Barrette, our current morbidly obese health minister) is a clear sign that these positions and titles are truly meaningless and that anyone can fill the role of health minister without even being healthy themselves. I was met with responses saying that being health minister has nothing to do with your own health, and I find myself too unqualified about the duties of these ministers to truly have an answer to that, so we won’t go into this any further.

Regardless of my own statements about male or female obese health ministers, a petition calling for Barrette to lose weight got over 9,500 signatures before being removed. Let’s not forget all the comments about Rob Ford’s weight, although he wasn’t a health minister.

But we can’t let what Stasia said slip. Let’s assume, for her sake, that she meant no active party members in Canada have made statements about Overweight Male Health Ministers (OMHM for short, for they fairly common now). Does this immediately make the original post sexist? Let’s use philosophy to find out. I hope we all agree her statement must be deductively valid to hold any merit. So let’s say that: If Lien would NOT make these statements about an OMHM, but WOULD make the same statements if it was an OW(women)HM, then we can conclude he is sexist. However, the first premise is not provable! Therefore, her statement is this:

Other people have NOT publicly said something. Lien said something. That thing was sexist.

The valid argument that I put forward was the simple: If P then Q — P, therefore = Q

What she put forth was similar to: If X, then Y — Z, therefore = Misogynist.

It blows my mind that not only can this “expert” get away with saying something so absurd, but that IT GETS PUBLISHED IN EVERY SINGLE “IMPORTANT” PAPER. From the National Post:

“The comments that were made were totally inappropriate and the person who made them should resign,” she said. “It’s misogynist. It’s inappropriate. … Since when has appearance had anything to do with legitimacy in terms of your intelligence and ability to be a legislator?”  – Clare Beckton, executive director of the Ottawa-based Centre for Women in Politics and Public Leadership

As I said, I can’t argue against the last part, but how can she just casually throw the word misogynist in there? That, in my opinion, IS MUCH WORSE THAN CALLING AN OBESE PERSON OBESE. I can factually prove that Hoffman is at the very least obese, quite possibly morbidly. Can any of these “experts on women” prove Lien is a sexist misogynist? I would find an argument saying he is a sore loser much more compelling than him being a sexist.

Before my final note, I also want to mention that Ric McIver, the interim leader of Lien’s party, said:

“All Albertans must be respected. All Albertans must be treated with dignity.”

I think this is a great time to tell YOU, the reader, not to make statements like this. Replace the word Albertan with human. Read it again. See how it makes the world a better place, unlike any of these politicians are doing?

Do I think politicians should be pointing out each other’s body weight? No, I don’t, it seems like a waste of time, not only politically but in a personal sense, I am positive that Hoffman and 99.9%+ of all morbidly obese people will not make a change in their life after statements like that. I want nothing more than for Mrs. Hoffman and all other morbidly obese people and politicians to get in shape and feel better about themselves. And I don’t think Lien did a very good job in helping her onto this path.

That being said, I think it is appalling that the media and professional students of female trends are turning this into a gender issue instead of what is OBVIOUSLY a simple comment pertaining to reality. Here in Quebec, and now in Alberta too, our leaders have chosen someone who can’t take care of their own health to be the people making important public decisions about our collective health. I think that we the people have the right to discuss the logic of this. Even Lien deserves a say, even if it comes with consequences.

Mrs. Hoffman, if you’re googling yourself a lot and you happen to see this, I, a citizen, would really appreciate it if you started running and stretching and eating healthy and getting in shape. You guys all have facebook and twitter now, you could post pictures of it and people would respect you. I think it’s appropriate seeing as my money is being stolen to pay your salary and lavish government expenses. You represent Canada, you represent health ministers, it would be nice if you looked healthy.

Find more of my articles at my personal website, Where The World Is Going