Saturday, February 6, 2010

I debated Meme Roth today!! On TV (sort of)

Tonight was a good FA night for me. I went to the taping of an ABC Nightline sponsored debate. The title of the segment was a bit over the top, "Is it okay to be fat.?"

So Marianne Kirby and Crystal Renn were seated together to the left of moderator Ju Ju Chang. Meme Roth and a women who runs some sort of diet counseling service, her credential being that she has lost and kept weight off for 7 years. (That is all I found out about her. I may be unaware of other credentials she had. She was very passionate about folks trying to loose the weight because of all the health problems they cause.)

I was very apprehensive when I saw the first notice of this event. I didn't want to risk watching the folks that I came to support be ambushed. I was a little fearful that might happen. A producer from ABC contacted me directly through because of the SizeAcceptanceSalon meetup group I organized. After getting an email confirmation from her that I could sit out of camera's shot I decided to go.

Of note here is that I found the moderator fair and unbiased. Also interesting was that all the folks on the panel did not have professional credentials. They were there because their life experience is connected to Fat. We did not have any scientists there for the debate. The one exception to that is a colleague of Ju Ju Chang, a pediatrician was in the audience.

I thought both Meme and Marianne did a good job of expressing their opinions. I got to learn a little bit more about Meme's motivations.

The crux of Meme's argument was the impact on her insurance premiums because of fatty's eating themselves into very expensive health problems. I really wish I had the command of the studies that Linda Bacon or Marylyn Wann had because the studies that she and the Pediatrician pointed to could have been summarily crushed by the kind of deconstruction seen in Dr. Bacon's book.

As the debate went on I noticed how most of what was being expressed was more about the personal experience of the speaker than any actual scientific support of either position.

Every time Meme or the other women spoke about working on getting folks to lose weight, I thought to myself, why doesn't someone mention that diets don't work 95% of the time. Well when question time came I asked the question, I asked Meme if her concern was about health care costs, why would she want to support an intervention with a 95% failure rate. Meme clearly articulated that she has a real problem with people choosing to be victims, that our country accepts a defeatist attitude about this. That everyone should try even though 95% will fail.

The moderator did not allow much time to ask a follow up question about Ms. Roth's flawed thinking about her healthcare costs which would have a 95% statistical likelihood to increase healthcare costs.

But the real fun came after the debate. People were moving around and starting up little conversations with each other. I said hello to a few good friends, I shook Marianne's hand and thanked her. I looked over to Meme Roth and saw her sitting there talking to only one person and I decided to go right up to her and ask her a few questions. What I didn't realize was that the camera men were right behind me.

I shook Meme's hand and introduced myself to her. I told her I have been involved on the Fat Acceptance movement for a little over a year now and then i asked her,why does she think she is so vilified by the Fat Acceptance community. She coyly answered that she is not a part of that community so she couldn't tell me. So then I asked her what is her major issue with the Fat Acceptance movement. She went back into the argument that it is unfair that her insurance premiums and taxes go up for irresponsible behaviors of others.

I then challenged her on her support of dieting in the face of all the evidence that it has a 95% failure rate and supporting anything with a 95% failure rate is illogical. Then Ju Ju Chan came and sat down while Meme spoke about her need to have everyone keep on trying to be one of those 5 out of 100 folks that does keep the weight off .

The way she framed it was on a moral basis. She spoke of the country's defeatism and how it can't be okay for people to stop trying. Meme tried to get me to talk about how many calories I eat and I told her I am not going to discuss that with her and went back to the failure rates. The women next to her (the one with the weight loss business who was on the panel becasue she lost over 100 pounds) said we cant ignore our health. I asked her about her business. I asked her if her success rate with her clients is higher than 5% and she immediately said yes. Then I asked her if she has 5 years of data to support that. She said she doesn't have five years of data. I told her that she can't claim any success yet if she doesn't have conclusive data.

After my little exchange with them, I shook Meme's Hand and thanked her for her time and I walked away. Guess what, a very passionate women who was watching me talk with Meme came right up to me to let me know she has got the solution to my fatness and handed me a cd and her business card. I found out afterwards she did that to several people. I can just picture her talking with business coach and planning to hit the nightline taping and go get 5 new clients for her weight loss business.

I wish I got in her face about the ridiculousness of her offer and the timing of it too. I took her cd and threw it out when I left the building.

Anyway, I went right up to Meme Roth tonight and called her on her ridiculousness in front of cameras from Nightline. This in and of itself is a victory for me. It would be so wicked cool if the footage makes it to the nightline website.

I have said to many of my FA friends, I just want to be happy, life a full and rich life. I am not interested in activism. I still am not sure about that aspect of my FA journey.

I can definitely say it was really cool to stand in front of Meme Roth and question her about the logic of her position on dieting.




  1. Kudos to you Ivan! Well done indeed. Seems the only "argument" she has is about taxes and health insurance. Pretty sad to be devoting so much of your life to something like that isn't it?

  2. Way to go, Ivan! That was very brave of you and I hope it gets people thinking.

  3. Good job! It sounds like you really had your shit together for that.

  4. Bravo, Brave Ivan!

    When people make that arguement about insurance rates, I want to tell them that maybe men should pay less for health insurance, since they don't incur as many costs as women since they don't have GYN exams, don't have pregnancies and children, and don't live as long. They deserve a discount for being male!
    And if it's the behavioral piece she's concerned about, then, anyone who eats more than they "need" (fat or thin) should be charged double! Anyone who drinks more than the recommended amounts should pay those of us who don't drink at all -- I'll take cash, thank you very much.
    I would also like money from people in the following categories:
    - Those with depression who aren't treated for it (whether they can afford treatment or not)
    - People who drive gigantic, gas-guzzling cars (I've driven a car that gets around 40 miles/gallon for the past 6 years)
    - People who have more than one kid or who have no kids, because those who have more kids, I'm subsidizing their kids, and people who have fewer kids, they have more disposable income than me.
    - While we are at it, poor people tend to be in poorer health, so they ought to pay the rich people for the extra costs they are incurring by being poor.
    - Etc.
    I think it's unfair that people like MeMe who cause so much psychological damage by spreading hate are raising the health care costs so much. She ought to be penalized by the word for the costs she's driving up in eating disorders, raising blood pressure, etc.

  5. Awesome. One of the really interesting things about Roth is that she *doesn't* speak from personal experience. That is, she hasn't actually experienced fat people taking money from them. She's speaking, then, from paranoia and a weak grasp of reality, which makes it easy to punch through her testimony.

    The thing that bothers me about the Nightline thing is that, in inviting her, they grant her a legitimacy she hasn't earned, and the moderators of such events never actually require her to provide *evidence* to support her claims. Instead, they just rely on the false equivalency pattern that says, "If we just bring a few competing voices to the fray, the people can decide," and they pretend that all those voices are equal.

  6. Rock ON! Sounds to me like ya had Mrs. MeMe&Me outmaneuvered and cornered. Fortunately she's a little to dim to be personally dangerous, unfortunately she's just rabid enough to be dangerous to a whole community of people. Well struck, Dude.

    I SO, SO, SO wanted to get in for this one, especially being in the NYC area, but prior commitments just HAD to come down at the same time. DANG-IT! Knew Marianne wasn't gonna have too much of a problem with Manic MeMe. MK has dealt, serious intellectual, justice to THAT one on several occasions already, so I figure it must be getting pretty standard by now. But I WOULD have liked to meet her and some of the Folk. Next time, I guess.

  7. /applaud...i dont know if i would have that kind of bravery.....good for you!

  8. Congrats, Ivan! I think Roth has latched onto the whole insurance rates thing because it's a hotbutton issue right now --- anyone perceived as raising insurance rates = BAD! It's just a simple, automatic way to demonize people.

    My argument about the insurance rates isn't Progressive-friendly, but I'll include it anyway: health and people's bodies shouldn't be the public's business, financially or otherwise. If health and bodies aren't the public's business, then there's no argument (i.e., no one is being forced to pay for anyone else's health costs).

  9. Not interested in activism? What you did was something I've never been able to do - come out as 'fat' (in terms of it being a part of your identity rather than just a physical characteristic) on a show with millions of viewers, defend your right to be so, and moreover keep it together enough to skewer the claims of a woman who, as Miriam above said, is only invited onto these shows in the first place not because of her experiences of being fat or her credentials but her capacity to express hate and contribute to fat shame and stigma. If that's not activism, I don't know what is; it's a lot more than I've ever been able to bring myself to do in the five or six years I've been around FA. From one fat guy to another, you have my utmost respect :o)

  10. Ivan it was wonderful seeing you yesterday at the Nightline conversation. I am so impressed that you approached Meme! You are totally awesome and brave.

  11. MeMe is one of the most vocal anti-fat crusaders out there, and unfortunately that's why news shows always turn to her to provide some kind of "fat is bad" expert viewpoint, despite Rachel from The F-Word doing a really great post on her sketchy credentials.

    But I'm glad you went up to her and called her out on some of her far-fetched thinking. I don't think she has enough people questioning her opinions or her educational background. It's one thing to say fat is unhealthy, it's another to treat a whole population as unworthy of respect and dignity. Way to go!

  12. Ivan, you rock! What are you talkin about? Activism is what I call what you did! You were on the front lines, baby!

    You may not have a handle on all the studies like Linda or Marilyn, but you had all the ammunition you needed. She was unable to refute the truth. There is no logic to insisting that 100 people continue to persue a goal KNOWING that 95 of them will fail. There is no logic to insisting that this will drive down healthcare costs when it is common knowledge that yo-yo dieting is a greater health risk than staying fat. You have obviously absorbed more in this last year than you are giving yourself credit for.

    I'm very proud of you. Keep up the good work!

  13. Ivan, you're one of the Fat Activist Heroes.
    Keep up the good work!

  14. The other thing about the MY INSURANCE BLAARGH people that cracks my shit up is that they actually think insurance companies are about passing any savings on to them, if they actually got any. If there actually was money to be saved by reducing people's weight, what's the likelihood they wouldn't just pocket it?

    Furthermore, even IF weight loss actually meant fewer medical costs over a person's lifetime, which is a highly dubious proposition in itself, fewer doctor (or hospital) visits mean that providers will charge more for each one to stay afloat. Therefore, the billings from providers will not decrease, and thus, "health care costs" will not decrease. In a single-payer system with fixed costs per visit and no profit-taking middleman, they would, but that's not our system and probably won't ever be.

    Not to mention the fact that the MY INSURANCE BLAARGH people all seem to think they're going to live to be 100. I'm not sure how that's lower maintenance for one's fellow taxpayers than living to be only 70 or 75, but okay, whatever lulz you to sleep.

    Andee (Meowser)

  15. Go Ivan! What you did was amazing. I could never have been able to behave in such a gracious, polite or articulate manner in the presence of Meme Roth.

  16. Great job, Ivan. It was very brave to take her on directly like that.

  17. Speaking truth directly to an irrational, emotionally motivated, one-note "personality" is a brave, and very "activist" thing to do. It would be great if they include you in the editing of this feature.

  18. Ivan, thank you for stepping up to a bully. You did a fine job and although you likely won't change meme's mind, you may have made some people think.

    Andee, my new favorite phrase is going to be "MY INSURANCE BLAARGH".