Wednesday, January 04, 2006

God Damn Those Fat Teenage Moms

Yahoo, as usual, has the scoop on how teenage girls who have babies can now benefit from a study designed to find out why they're not rushing right out after having said babies and getting their lithe teenage bodies back. Because, really, how is it possible that people who don't have access to nannies and personal trainers and vast amounts of coke have such a hard time looking ready to prance down the catwalk in their underwear a mere ten weeks after giving birth? Do you suppose that girls who have a baby to attend to and school to attend might have other things on their minds besides how big their asses have gotten? Oh, you fat teenage moms. Your priorities are so out of whack. Not only are you slutty and impoverished burdens on society, now you're no fun to look at. Damn you, teenage moms. Damn you.

28 Comments:

Blogger All The Unknown said...

I'm thankful I will never be a teenage mom, and whoever is one should read your article!

1/04/2006 07:20:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

If you're going to be an impoverished burden on society, the least you can do is be decent eye candy for the dirty middle-aged men.

1/04/2006 08:06:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Oh, yeah, like I want the competition. They owe it to me, a god-fearing taxpayer, to not compete with me for the dirty middle-aged men.

1/04/2006 08:08:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

I think you're a little hard on the yahoo/AP article. From my reading of it, it's merely pointing out that girls that get fat after pregnancy wish they weren't -- well, shocker. But there's a difference between the aesthetic and the health ramifications of obesity, and the article seems to be focusing on the latter. As the article points out, post-pregnancy weight retention is an indicator for long-term obesity, and obesity is not healthy. What it doesn't address is what the numbers are like -- i.e. is there an epidemic of fat teen moms or is this just a random human interest story?

Though, were I to make an educated guess (something I'm usually loathe to do) as to whether or not there is a spike in post-pregnancy obesity, I would guess that there is -- mainly as a subset of the increase in obesity in this country in general. Compounding this problem could be that the cultural Common Wisdom about diet during pregnancy might be particularly dangerous in an age of affluence -- for example, the common wisdom that it's okay to gorge while you're pregnant because you're "eating for two". That was certainly true, say, in the 19th century, but these days, the types of and abundance of food make it dangerous. With the amount and type of junk food available to the common American, you can "eat for two" and quickly find yourself "eating for 10". You can put on a lot of weight in 9 months, and being overweight is a risk factor for you and your baby during delivery. Anyways, my point here is that there seems to be a cultural assumption that pregnancy is a health free-for-all, and it's really not the case. Being overweight during and after pregnancy is not good.

I also think the Slate article is being too hard on Heidi Klum. It makes a lot of great points about the fashion industry and the disconnect between "woman as fashion model" and "woman as bearer of child", but I think they went a little overboard by personally attacking her as if she were to be despised (and calling her baby ugly? wtf?)

I know that if I looked like Heidi Klum and could make the bank she can by looking her best, and if I could afford the personal trainers and nannies that make it possible, you better believe I'd do the same thing, so I am not inclined to judge her in that respect. Don't hate the playa, hate the game.

1/04/2006 08:11:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

Wow, that was a long comment. I should have used it for fodder as a post of my own. Curse you for stealing my thought exertion for YOUR blog!!

1/04/2006 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Ha, ha, it's all a part of my secret plan to horde all the creative energy in Nashville and hold it for ransom.

Oops. Well, so much for the "secret" part.

I have to say, I honestly don't think I was hard enough on the Yahoo article. Of all of the problems teenage mothers have, is being fat really at the top of the list? What about adequate schooling? Job opportunities? Access to healthy foods? Time for nursing? Access to afforable health care?

You don't find it the least bit funny that the people conducting the study are all like "Oh, we have to help these poor girls lose weight or they'll have problems in the future."? Well, fuck me, they have problems now. And they're the kinds of problems that aren't going to go away if all these girls suddenly lose 80 pounds.

It just reminds me of all those Chicago society ladies from the Hull House going into the ghettos trying to teach the immigrants how to cook eggs until one of them said, "I know how to cook eggs. I have no money to buy eggs."

Often, what we think people need are shaped by our own prejudices about what we think they lack.

It seems to me that even a fifteen year old mother knows she needs to eat healthy and exercise, but if she's living in a neighborhood that's not safe to walk in and her mom's the one deciding what's going on the table, all the weight-loss incentives in the world don't change that.

1/04/2006 10:23:00 PM  
Blogger _Summer_ said...

Good thing I was a smokin' hot teenage mom.

Wa-ha.

1/04/2006 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger the Professor said...

B., you forgot to explain to Chris Wage, and all the readers, that obesity is not an illness. It might, in some cases, be a symptom of other problems, but is not an illness. Weight and health just do not correlate as the shallow news reports and diet product commercials would indicate. ALL the studies prove it. Bad eating habits and a sedintary lifestyle are serious health problems. Obesity is an aesthetic problem and an excuse for rich over-consumers to shift the attention and blame for the ills and immorality of over-comsumption to the poor (and other apparently ugly people).

sorry for the typos, but I am commenting drunk, as Aunt B likes.

1/05/2006 12:03:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

Certainly I don't think obesity is the largest of a pregnant teenage woman's problems -- at least not short term ones, though I wouldn't want to make the leap from there to concluding that it's not a problem at all. But in the longer-range scope of things, you know, if I was an obese teenage mother, "dying of diabetes-related complications in 10 years" would rank pretty high on my list of concerns -- for myself and my kid.

Your objection seems to be rooted in an implication that there's a condemnation of the women for not "just losing weight", as if it were that simple. I don't find that implication in the article, however it certainly exists in this country. It's wrong, of course, and these teenager mothers that are overweight (a preponderance of which are lower-class, something the article hints at in its profiles) have little recourse to address their weight problems because not only are they poor, but they have a kid, so it's not going tobe very high on their radar. That doesn't mean it's not a problem, though. Poor people are pretty fucked in general -- it sucks.

I don't think the Yahoo article stated that it was their biggest problem, either -- except perhaps by implying it, vis-a-vis its existence at all (which is why I was wondering whether or not there's really an epidemic or not -- i.e., what is the motivation for the story).

There's absolutely a heinous focus on aesthetics in this country that deplores and dehumanizes obese people.

But it's dangerous to reject the real and dangerous health problems with obesity in the process of rejecting the aforementioned societal defect. You don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

And I am so not even going to respond to the Professor's comment except to say that it's just totally and completely wrong. But arguing with a drunk comment is like fighting a drunk guy at a bar -- it's sadistic and unfair.

But I do feel a blog post of my own brewing on this topic. (This is my escape plan from B's diabolical plan.)

1/05/2006 02:19:00 AM  
Blogger the Professor said...

My point is FAR FAR from completely wrong. Do the research (Paul Campos and Michael Gard are just the tip of the iceberg)!! Obesity and ill health do not correlate as much as you think. Okay, it's true that if there is any health problem that correlates clearly with obesity, it is diabities. But that is it. Blood pressure. Heart problems. whatever else. NO. And, obesity is still a symptom, not the illness itself. Getting on a better diet will help the problem, even if a person loses only 5% of their body weight no matter what weight they start at. 5% is indicative of poor habits, not obesity. Being underweight is a greater health concern than being overweight, until one is morbidly obsese (BMI (whatever that is) of over 50, which none of the girls in the Yahoo article even came clsoe to). I think they just want to get to ugly obesity and body image shit at earlier ages, and if these girls are mothers, than we can (mis)treat them like adults at much younger ages. I am all for caring about peoples' health, but dieting to lose weight - espeically unsuccessful dieting, which is 90% of all diets - is significantly more dangerous than being healthy and stable at a BMI of 35 or even 40.

1/05/2006 02:53:00 AM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

I've only read interviews with Campos and excerpts from his book, but I find what I've read to be grade A conspiracy-mongering tripe.. Though I do want to actually read his book (and Greg Critser's, maybe). To deny that obesity carries serious health risks, much less isolate it as a conspiracy of evil diet product marketers is to turn your back on reality, plug your ears and yell "LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU" into the void of inanity. Surely there's an industry built around exploiting the problem, but that doesn't mean the problem doesn't exist. It's like claiming that because we're inundated with V1agra spam that erectile dysfunction doesn't exist.

But that is it. Blood pressure. Heart problems. whatever else. NO.

I don't know what numbers you're relying on for this, but there's a fairly strong correlation between obesity and hypertension -- the correlation varies depending on how "obesity" is measured, i.e. BMI, waist-hip ratio, etc etc, but the data is there. (For example, this study, which notes "Body size and obesity had significant independent effects on different types of blood pressure: body size correlated most highly with systolic blood pressure, while obesity correlated most highly with sitting diastolic blood pressure measurements."

Cardiovascular disease, this study notes, is also a risk factor: "CONCLUSION: Considerable association was seen between measures of abdominal obesity and blood pressure and plasma lipid levels. WC (waist-circumference) is the measure of abdominal obesity most highly correlated with these cardiovascular disease risk factors."

Anyways, those are just a few examples of a phenomenally huge body of research into this. From what I understand the flaw in Campos' work is that he drew heavily on one study that focused on the relative healthiness of a sample of "fit obese people" versus "unfit skinny people". This of course is meaningless to ascertain the actual risk factors that obesity alone carries, since obese people that qualify as "fit" are certainly few and far between.

1/05/2006 03:30:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'll teach your grandmother to cook eggs!

1/05/2006 03:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huhhuh..."phenomenally huge body"

1/05/2006 03:45:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

I'm just popping in to say that I'm buying drinks for whichever anonymous this is. Anyone who can pull out the Ren & Stimpy deserves to get drunk on my dime.

1/05/2006 06:56:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The whole thing seems akin to giving the cop that pulls you over for speeding a hard time because he should be out fighting 'real crime'. Or criticizing people for trying to help pet victims of Katrina when lots of humans needed help too.

The fact that their are bigger problems doesn't give license to ignore the smaller ones.

W

1/05/2006 07:09:00 AM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

I so want to just let Wage & The Professor duke it out over this. But my fat ass just can't.

My one question--regardless of who in the debate is correct--is this:

Why is it anyone else's business?

I hate Nannystateitis. I don't care if smoking causes disease, obesity causes disease or drinking wine causes disease. Every Person In The World makes bad choices that will reflect negatively on their health. Using the "it makes my insurace premiums higher" rationale for sticking your nose in someone else's business is crap.

As a life-long Fat Woman (BMI 34) I tend to agree with the Professor that all of this handwringing concern seems more designed to stigmatise than to help. Yes, my risk of diabetes is higher than yours. I'm not thrilled about it. But I exercise, try to eat right and have lost/gained/lost more of this weight than many skinny people ever will.

Yep. You read that right. By my calculations, lovingly tracked on obsessively detailed spreadsheets, I've lost 890lbs. I know how to lose weight. I also know that my genes, metabolism and social choices lead to gaining it all back. Funnily enough many studies have shown that this yoyo dieting is worse for you than just plain being fat. So actually society's pressure to conform is killing me faster than the Cobb Salad at TGIFriday's. So thanks for minding my business for me. It's turned out remarkably well.

1/05/2006 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger the Professor said...

But Kat, your rugged individualism plays right into the myth. We should all be concerned with our health - I'll leave alone group health - and weight is just not the best or first or last indicator of that. If you and a thin woman both go to your doctor for a routine physical, you should not get different tests because of your shape. If the doctor wants to know your blood pressure or the condition of your heart, s/he should use actual diagnotic tests. And they usually will.

Even if there are only a few healthy fat people and a few unhealthy skinny people (not sure about the number's, but I also don't know why Chris thinks he is), none of us can tell whether or not we are looking at those people all around us. It's gross and mean to assume that the skinny people are all healthy and the fat people are all sick and lazy. And, when doctors and others continue to insist on using weight as such a good indicator, then it legitimizes everday people's disgust toward and hurtful treatment of fat people.

It will not be that hard to shift the discussion to healthy eating and exercise while leaving out body size. It will be better for medicine and society.

1/05/2006 10:38:00 AM  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

I am concerned about my health. Very much. But I don't like it when other people feign concern about my health in order to pass judgement on my lifestyle.

(I don't mean you , Prof. I mean The Great Society in general.)

What's wierd--did you read my comment on the Veteran's med? It almost echoes what you just wrote here.

1/05/2006 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

I turn my back for a minute and the Professor and Miss Kitty are finding common ground? Has the world gone mad?

Anyway, I just want to reiterate that I think this concern about "obesity" is a little like putting siding on a house infested with termites. Putting pressure on people to be thin (as if those girls aren't already under an enormous amount of pressure to be thin) doesn't address any of the underlying reasons they aren't thin in the first place.

It's an aesthetic concern masquerading as a short-hand way of talking about health and until we as a society unpack that, I'm going to continue to mock it.

1/05/2006 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Here's what I don't get: if the problem is women gain weight during pregnancy --> women don't have time/resources/knowledge after having babies to lose weight --> excess weight is unhealthy, then why are they focusing specifically on teenage mothers. Is this less of a problem for overweight mothers who are 20, 25, or 30? Why not focus on all women of lower socioeconomic status? Or all women, period? Is there something special about teens and weight loss, physically or psychologically? What is the difference in future disease risk for an overweight postpartum teen vs a 20-something? Why not do a study on nutrition/fitness education in at risk teens to head off the problem to begin with? Why is postpartum status so important? These are questions I'd like to have answered before really commenting on the study, although I agree with B that these girls have other knowledge/economic/resource issues to deal with.

1/05/2006 12:19:00 PM  
Blogger Exador said...

Rachel, to answer your question, I think it is because it is a man-bites-dog news story. Older mothers have been overweight for eons. Also, older women in general are more often overweight as compared 19 year olds. Therefore, an increase in the number of overweight teens, whether post pregnancy or not, is more of a story.

Or, maybe it's because of the virginmother/whore complex. It's a story because teen girls are "supposed" to be in the whore category, and therefore thin and attractive. But they're also mothers.....

I'll let all you feminists and psych majors wrestle with that one.

1/05/2006 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

Anyway, I just want to reiterate that I think this concern about "obesity" is a little like putting siding on a house infested with termites. Putting pressure on people to be thin (as if those girls aren't already under an enormous amount of pressure to be thin) doesn't address any of the underlying reasons they aren't thin in the first place.

I don't think it's necessarily about "pressure" to be thin. There are compelling reasons to not be obese that everyone would do well to acknowledge, though I will concede that there's a good chance these teenage mothers have aesthetics in mind instead, which is not good. I absolutely agree with you that there are many ways in which solving the problem is out of their control. But it's still important that they know and acknowledge that it's a problem -- that they realize their health is in jeopardy.

An analogy if you will: A preponderance of poor people live with a false-consciousness that if they work hard, they can "pull themselves up by their bootstraps" and achieve the Great American Dream (i.e. the Republican mythos). Your average poor person may not stand a very good chance of overcoming the immense structural forces bearing down on them, but that doesn't mean they should be ignorant of their plight. Consciousness of a problem or situation enables some level of action -- if not on a personal level, then a collective one (i.e. not voting for Republicans).

Here's what I don't get: if the problem is women gain weight during pregnancy --> women don't have time/resources/knowledge after having babies to lose weight --> excess weight is unhealthy, then why are they focusing specifically on teenage mothers. Is this "/* for overweight mothers who are 20, 25, or 30? Why not focus on all women of lower socioeconomic status?

Here you've hit on a good question, and I think the answer is that they focused on teen mothers because teen mothers are probably more at risk for obesity by virtue of being of a lower socioeconomic status, but openly acknowledging the correlation between obesity and socioeconomic status is basically verboten in mainstream common wisdom in this country. It's just not acknowledged or accepted.

So this article's focus is on a real problem, but the problem is indeed the symptom of a disease which is not kosher to bring up in polite society.

(Is there some kind of vernacular dissonance award I can win for using both "verboten" and "not kosher" in the span of 2 paragraphs?)

1/05/2006 12:50:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

See the real problem here is that overweight teenage moms can't get married so their bastards won't have a daddy, which will lower their socioeconomic status even further, sending them into a shame spiral and into the loving arms of the Twinkie Kid, or whatever it is that these fatties gorge themselve on when they've got the blues, whereas, if they were thin, they could find some man who doesn't mind carrying for the get of another, so long as his wife is thin. It's a cruel world, I know.

OK, but seriously, part of the problem is that these women are young and overweight. Typically, if you are overweight when you are young, you are more likely to be obese as an adult. Notice I said typically, not everyone's experience is the same.

Further, there are health risks that come with excess baggage and there are emotional costs that come with being overweight, (coupled with those already borne as a single mother)which predispose to further weight gain and other attendant problems. Again, not everyone faces the same risks, but they are there. While there is not a 100% correlation between excess weight and an unhealthy lifestyle there is a statistically significant one, such that the discussion of one cannot be entirely uncoupled from mentioning the other.

These women are at a point when with intervention they can be healthy for a very long time and hopefully at a time when poor eating/living/exercising habits are not entirely ingrained and uncorrectable. I am surprised that you would be so against any attempts to better the lives of these poor sadsacks.

LE

1/05/2006 03:40:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

Oh, Boy Scout, when you start talking about leaving things to the feminists, it's all I can do not to drive down there and show you my appreciation.

And, yes, Chris, I see what you're saying and I'm really not trying to be petulent, but people do things that put their health at risk every day. We drive around in big gas powered metal death traps. We smoke. We drink too much. We don't watch where we're going. We eat and drink a lot of corn syrup.

But fatness, especially fatness in females, is up for public discussion in a way that all those other things are not. And, so, of course, that's what bothers me. Not just the decontextualized focus on obesity, but the ways in which everything about this study reinforces the idea that women have some social obligation to look a certain way.

How many times have you seen Yahoo or Slate or Salon write about obesity in a way that isn't, really, once you scratch the surface, about obesity in women. Let me tell you, it's almost every story. And, boy, do they love to talk about obesity in young women.

But another truth that we've not touched on is that obesity (until it reaches extreme proportions) is actually much more dangerous for men, who tend to carry their extra weight around their chests and stomachs, than for women, who carry it in their hips and butts.

So, why all this focus on a group of people who are, percentage-wise, both healthier than men in general (women), and healthier than obese men (obese women), instead of on the people actually at the greatest risk?

Because women's bodies belong to the whole viewing public in a way that men's don't.

You know, probably this is a great example of how misogyny hurts men and women. We get held up to public scrutiny and y'all don't ever hear about the ways you risk your health.

And, also, I just have to reiterate again, if you think those girls don't know all the reasons they shouldn't be fat--both aesthetically and healthily--you obvioulsy have never been a teenage girl in this culture. Coming up with one more way to shame them for not meeting societal standards is really gross in my opinion.

1/05/2006 03:50:00 PM  
Blogger Aunt B said...

LE, I thought it was obvious that I'm all for helping these girls be healthy (as are Kitty and the Professor). What we object to is the idea that losing weight is the whole answer or even part of the answer. Why not focus on healthy eating and exercise?

If they lose weight, good for them. If they don't, who cares? Let's get some healthy lifestyles and leave worrying about whether folks are pretty to the gossips.

1/05/2006 03:54:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Wage said...

But fatness, especially fatness in females, is up for public discussion in a way that all those other things are not. And, so, of course, that's what bothers me. Not just the decontextualized focus on obesity, but the ways in which everything about this study reinforces the idea that women have some social obligation to look a certain way.

How many times have you seen Yahoo or Slate or Salon write about obesity in a way that isn't, really, once you scratch the surface, about obesity in women. Let me tell you, it's almost every story. And, boy, do they love to talk about obesity in young women.


This isn't petulant, it's a good point, and I think we're in agreement.

I think you're justifiably pissed that women are being unfairly targetted for a problem, while I am just tickled pink that a news story is talking about it at all, much less in a way that comes very close to acknowledging socioeconomic predisposition to it.

You'll note that I originally mentioned that I was curious about the motivation for the story, which is definitely suspect, but I wouldn't fault the facts of the story itself by virtue of that.

An interesting thought exercise is to take that Yahoo/AP article and leave everything the same except replace teenage mothers with black or hispanic people. It would certainly be true that african americans or hispanic people have higher rates of obesity, and it would still be observing a very valid problem, but the subject of the article (black people/hispanics) would be suspect, because of course the higher rates of obesity has nothing to do with being black or hispanic, but rather with being poor. So why wouldn't they just focus on that?

In the case of pregnant teenage women, however, there may be an answer. There are two excuses for focusing on them exclusively. One is that women are unfairly targetted to conform to an increasingly impractical ideal of cultural beauty, and two is that obesity in pregnant women is a slightly bigger deal than a normal woman or man, because as LE pointed out, obesity in youth is an indicator for long-term obesity, and also that obesity during actual pregnancy and delivery is a health risk for the woman and the baby.

In this case, I think it's likely a little of both.

1/05/2006 05:23:00 PM  
Anonymous Sarcastro said...

So the bottom line of this study is that most fat chicks wish they weren't fat?

Got it. Way to spend that grant money. Thanks.

1/06/2006 11:48:00 AM  
Blogger Jon said...

Perhaps googling for some other stories by the same AP writer may be revealing:

"Male Mice Sing When Females Near"

"Study: Lonely seniors prefer exclusive, not shared, time with dog"

"Inmates say Training Dogs to Help Disabled Helps their Self-esteem"

This isn't to pick on Ms. Wittenauer, she's just someone trying to do her job. But the moral seems to be that our news media have a whole lot of back-page space to fill and often are not too picky about how they fill it, so it probably doesn't pay to get too worked up about it.

1/10/2006 02:27:00 PM  

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