Fear and Loathing in Los Angeles

THE COVER of the March 2000 issue of Harpers magazine features a photograph of an artwork entitled Sundae 1, by Jeanne Dunning. The photograph is of the head and shoulders of a person of indeterminate gender, lying on his or her back. The person's face is completely smothered by an artfully stacked mound of whipped cream, topped with a cherry. The cover story the photograph is meant to entice readers to sample is Let Them Eat Fat The Heavy Truths About American Obesity, by Greg Critser. This...

The Athlete Within

I'M WATCHING a package of highlights from the 2000 National Football League season. Many of the highlights feature the winner of the league's Most Valuable Player award, St. Louis Rams' running back Marshall Faulk. The NFL's MVP from this season scored twenty-six touchdowns, in part because he is one of the league's fastest players. Time after time, Faulk is shown accelerating away from speedy defensive backs, using his almost world-class sprinter speed to make a shambles of the schemes...

The Last 10 Pounds

IN THE SPRING OF 2001, Denise Austin, one of America's better-known fitness gurus, published a diet and exercise book entitled Lose Those Last Ten Pounds The 28-Day Foolproof Plan to a Healthy Body. As has now become the style in the weight loss industry, the author emphasizes that she hasn't produced a diet book, but rather a guide to making appropriate fitness and lifestyle changes. Apparently a century of consistent failure has finally produced enough public skepticism to require the...

Fat Ideology

Fear and loathing of fat are fueled directly by both bad science and the various forms of denial that interfere with the debunking of the myths this science helps nurture. Nevertheless, these factors by themselves do not explain the depth and intensity of the war on fat. After all, there are many medical research programs whose economic interests would be served by the systematic mischaracterization of the data those programs generate and there are many other areas of life in which people are...

Feminist Accused of Unsightly Weight Gain

AS THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER ATTESTS, this book was born of an investigation into the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal. The deeper I delved into that topic, the more I discovered the extent to which anxieties about food, fat, weight, and body image seemed to play major roles in the lives and actions of the principal actors in that drama. I began to become especially intrigued by the question of weight in America when I encountered some striking examples of the effects of our national obsession at the center...

Anorexia Nervosa and the Spirit of Capitalism

THE AMERICAN WEIGHT LOSS INDUSTRY is a fifty-billion-dollar-per-year con game, which for many decades has provided its customers with totally ineffective cures for an imaginary disease. Such an unusual social and economic situation raises a number of interesting questions. How can an industry whose products have a failure rate of around 95 , and that usually leave those who buy them quite a bit worse off, continue to prosper How does one explain the almost unchallenged power of so many cultural...

Why Do Americans Diet

OF ALL THE MYTHS that surround the issue of fat in America, the one that has reached the most Orwellian proportions is the idea that Americans are (and should be) committed to losing weight because they are concerned about their health. This is an example of an assertion that continues to be treated as true precisely because it is so false that any acknowledgment of the depth of its mendacity would be even more disturbing than the falseness of the assertion itself. It is, in other words, a...

1997 Naafa Cherry Hill Convention Monica

Ernsberger, P. NIH consensus conference on obesity by whom and for what J Nutr. 1987 117 1164-1165. It did so despite presentations . . . Andres, R., Muller, D.C., Sorkin, J.D. Long-term effects of change in body weight on all-cause mortality. A review. Ann Intern Med. 1993 119 737-743. This idea did not catch on at the time . . . NIH Tech Assess Conf Panel. Methods for voluntary weight loss and control. Ann Intern Med. 1993 119 764-770. The fen-phen craze was...

The Kings Two Bodies

THE LEGEND GOES THAT, after hearing Elvis Presley sing, Colonel Tom Parker remarked that he had found a white man who sang like a black man, and that this combination of talents was going to make both Elvis and the Colonel rich. Legend or not, the observation and the prediction both proved to be true enough. Americans have always been fascinated by literal and metaphoric crossings of racial barriers. Toni Morrison's claim that Bill Clinton was America's first black president has a certain ring...

The World Turned Upside Down

FROM a STRICTLY ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVE, the market for the provision of medical care suffers from two almost unavoidable defects. First, effective treatments eliminate demand by curing the customers who purchase them. Second, ineffective treatments also tend to eliminate demand, either because, in the case of fatal diseases, customers who purchase such treatments die off, or because, in the case of nonfatal conditions, customers will normally choose not to treat the condition, once it becomes...

The Feeding of the President

EARLY in 1994, Hillary Rodham Clinton made a little-noted but fateful decision She decided her husband needed to lose weight. This decision was in part a reaction to the seemingly endless series of fat jokes that had marked the first year of the Clinton presidency. Who could forget the Saturday Night Live sketch in which Clinton went on a jog with his Secret Service agents, which lasted about two hundred yards before detouring into a McDonald's Once inside, Bill gobbled up cheeseburgers and...

Lost in the Supermarket

GUSTAVE FLAUBERT is supposed to have remarked that the only way to improve ice cream would be to make it a sin. As usual, American ingenuity has been up to the task. I have before me an advertisement for the Marble Slab Creamery Experience. Below these words is a photograph of a winsome lass, standing in front of a counter laden with bananas and pineapples. A come-hither smile on her face, she is thrusting an enormous ice cream cone straight out toward her audience. Virginal vanilla ice cream...

Gotham Books

Published by Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia Penguin Books Canada Ltd, 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2 Penguin Books (NZ) cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany, Auckland 1310, New Zealand Published by Gotham Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. First electronic...

Fat on Trial

IN THE WINTER OF 2003, as America prepared to go to war with Iraq, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona warned the nation that it faced a far more dangerous threat than Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. Rather than focusing on the danger posed by nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons, Carmona told his audience, Let's look at a threat that is very real, and already here obesity. Carmona went on to recall a recent news conference at which reporters wanted to question him about...