Sabrina, Victoria, Mccoy discussed on Short Wave

Short Wave
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As a teen Sabrina strings loved getting to hang out with her grandma even when her grandma was obsessing over one of her soap operas I remember one time. She called me into the living room and she's like Sabrina look at Victoria. McCoy's kept on young and the restless. Victoria is killing herself to him. Why are white women dying to be thin? Fast forward to one three adult Sabrina was working at an HIV medication adherence clinic in San, Francisco, where she witnessed real life, examples of women sacrificing their health to be thin nights, spoken to a couple of women both HIV positive who refused to take their HIV medications for fear of gaining weight, and that blew my mind, and immediately took me back to conversations I've been having with my grandma like gosh onto something so important you know when she was talking about it, she saw it as largely a white phenomenon, but the women I interviewed that day. We're both color. Why were these women dying to be thin and did race have anything to do with? Him. Sabrina went on to become a sociologist at the University of California Irvine and wrote a whole book investigating these questions. If you're like me, you might have assumed that. There was some moment in between Marilyn Monroe. TWIGGY EH in which. Suddenly we'll. We suddenly became fat-phobic in those three years, but Sabrina started digging looking at nineteenth century magazines like Harper's bazaar in what she found was troubling articles warning American women well middle class and upper class white women. They needed to watch what they eat, and they were unapologetic, and stating that this was the proper form for. Jackson Protestant women, and so it was important that women eight as little as necessary in order to show their Christian nature and also their racial superiority. Today on the show we go all the way back to the transatlantic slave trade to understand the racial origins of fat phobia, and how black people are still dealing with the consequences today? I mattie Safai and this is shortwave the daily science podcast from NPR. So Sabrina. Let's let's get into what you discovered about the history of fat phobia a little bit you. You did a ton of research and you started the story several centuries back in Europe definitely in the ethos that like Renaissance Women. <hes> you know we're full figured. And that was absolutely a thing that was valued, and then there was a big shift explain what was going on back then so it turns out that the growth of the slave trade, especially by the eighteenth century led to new articulations of what types of appearance we could expect of people by different races, and also what types of behaviors. Such that by the middle of Eighteenth Century, a lot of French philosophers in particular were arguing that you know what when we're in the colonies, we're noticing that Africans are sensuous. They love sex and they love food, and for this reason they tend to be too fat. Europeans have rational self control. This is what makes us the premier race of the world, so in terms of body. Body size, we should be slender, and we should watch what we eat so okay Sabrina. Are you telling me that? When the slave trade started and European saw that African women were essentially curvy much like European women at the time at that point, they decided that being fat being thicker wasn't ideal anymore, and they built a system of oppression around this idea of needing to be. Thinned to prove racial superiority is at eight am I close. It's not quite as intentional as that. Effectively what they determined was that. You know we want it to be able to have a mechanism for ensuring that we could recognize who was slave, and it was free right, and it was easy in the beginning of the was simply skin color. What did you might imagine? After two hundred years of living in close proximity skin color really no longer works has a mechanism right, because now we have all of these people who are <hes>. We would consider them today to be by racial, and so what they did was they decided to articulate new aspects of racial identity and so eating and body size became of the characteristics that were being used to suggest that these are people who do not deserve freedom. The trans, Atlantic slave trade eventually ended, but argues that we are still absolutely living with these racist attitudes about body size today. And in her book, she also traces how these anti-fat attitudes worked their way into modern medicine for somewhat arbitrarily, reasons for example take BMI or body mass index. That equation actually wasn't intended to be used to measure individual fatness. Though of course doctors did and still do today, can you? Can you explain the problem with using am I as a measure for obesity especially when it comes to black women, who I know have been told that they have the highest rates of obesity according to that measurement to be am I. Yes, so am. I is a measure of the ratio of a person's weight to their height. And what this does not account for is bone density. Muscular already any other type of genetic influences in your way or cultural environmental influences in your weight, and so, what ended up happening? As many people pointed out is that you might have to people with the same BMI, but vastly different life experiences embody compositions outside of the simple reality of their weight to height ratio, right, and the problem of applying this to them in particular, is that African American populations as studies have shown for literal decades since at least the eighties tends to be healthier at heavier weights than white populations. And so that already is an indication that cross racially. This is not a very useful tool, not to mention the fact that even within race there are going to be vastly different experiences, <hes> of an individual body between like their weight and their health profile so surreal this message from the medical establishment that excess weight is the biggest you know reason for black women's health problems or a very central <hes> of it. Why do you see it as so damaging? For Black Women, ultimately, the main advice that people are given when they so called obese is to lose weight, and there are so many problems with this. We have been telling people to lose weight for decades. What ends up happening is that they either don't lose the weight <hes> or they sometimes do lose the weight, and then frequently gain it back so first off. It could be more harmful to tell people to lose weight <hes> in the long run, and then in addition to that there are the psychological effects of telling people that their bodies are wrong. Right at their bodies are inherently unhealthy <hes>. This type of fat stigma also leads to health outcomes right right right, so let's talk about this. In the context of covid nineteen I'm thinking about the recent New York Times op Ed you wrote about how cove nineteen is disproportionately impacting. Impacting people of Color specifically black people, and how you took issue with obesity, gaining traction as a leading explanation for that disparity, so talked me a little bit about that. This piece was actually motivated by something that I felt was very troubling, which was I had been seeing so many report, suggesting that the disparities in <hes> Colbert outcomes between white populations and black populations. They would say things like well. You know there's already the pre existing factor of obesity, and somehow that was one of the first things that come up and I thought there is very little evidence that disparities in quote unquote obesity are what's contributing to these negative outcomes, but there's plenty of evidence to suggest that Kobe. Fatalities or maybe even serious complications with Kobe nineteen are being influenced by people's environments. Are they essential workers? Do they have access to enough soap and water hand sanitizer, and so of course might imagine that the ability to socially distance to shelter in place to have access to healthy foods under Corinthian, all of this is very much being structured by a person's social location and black people tend to live in communities without access. Access to a lot of different healthy and life giving resources. Yeah, in in Sabrina, I'll tell you that as a person that reads a lot of the literature on Kovin prisoner biologists I am seeing a lot of papers coming out that are associating with the obesity without with health outcomes of COVID, but those links tend to be correlated right, but even if we were to find out that there's absolutely a causal link. Link between covert and obesity which I think you're arguing. There isn't one especially right now. At least the rates of obesity and white and black populations aren't actually that different right like it wouldn't necessarily be the thing that made it. So can you tell me a little bit about those rates <hes> versus the actual percentage of disparities? We're seeing so according to the CDC, the Obesity Twain. African, American and white populations are. Are Forty two point, two percent for white populations and forty nine point, seven percents for black populations are about that <hes>, and so we're looking at effectively a seven percentage point disparity between white and black populations in terms of rates of obesity, however, when we're looking at serious complications with covert nineteen. What we're seeing is that black people are dying at rates of two point four to seven times that of white populations. How that's seven percentage point differential is leading to two point four to seven times the disparity in serious complications. Death. No one's really being able to explain that. This is the problem with the kind of cords of studies, which is that they lead people to believe that somehow. Is One of the drivers when in fact it could simply be a confounding in these studies, but we're so used to studying obesity and treating these correlations as if they are evidence of causal link that people are frequently not being very critical when they're seeing studies that show these relationships. Sabrina, you've obviously spent years by now working to understand this issue and to educate folks about it I'm wondering you know like why why this. Why have you specifically taken this on one of the reasons? Why continue to do it? Is I've seen what a difference? It's made to people's lives. I mean I've had so many people reach out and tell me that they felt for the longest time like something was wrong, but no one was talking about it or that I have spoken to their personal experience. I couldn't have imagined when I started doing this work. That could have possibly had the impact that it's had you know I'm standing on the shoulders of giants <hes> people who have been feminist scholars medical scholars journalists who've been doing this work at least since the nineteen seventies, but we're at a moment right now where there's a critical mass of people who are aware that the discourse surrounding fatness that we've long accepted really is baseless, and we think about a new way of allowing people to have a positive relationship to their bodies, and to cultivate health within themselves and their communities that does not rely on that stigma. Okay Sabrina I appreciate you. Thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your life and your work with us. I really appreciate it. Thank you so much. It's been a pleasure. Sabrina strings. Her book is called fearing the black body the racial origins

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