Recently, an older post I made regarding AIDS in Africa was included in a Feminism carnival. The Body Impolitic saw fit to take my assesment of the situation to task, and I feel the need to respond to what I believe is a gross mis-representation of my post. Specifically, that it was somehow derogatory to people of size.
My post was this:
As more and more women are acquiring AIDS in South Africa, a new trend is emerging: in order to not look HIV positive, women are becoming obese in large numbers. According to the Independent Online, half of all women in South Africa are overweight, and almost one-third are severely overweight. More than 5 million of South Africa’s 45 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS, and the cultural perception is that if a black woman is thin, she has AIDS.
“When being overweight is seen as a sign of health and wealth, it is extremely difficult to change this perception,” Ms Van der Merwe [of the International Association for the Study of Obesity] said. “We should be convincing black women that weight loss has a markedly helpful effect on health.”
This is really quite a disturbing trend, as women in South Africa may just be harming their health even more by becoming overweight (AIDS or not). In addition, it seems to highlight that the perception of having AIDS, of how one appear to the world, may be as important (if not more) than the actual prevention and treatment of the disease.
The Body Impolitic (TBI) responded thusly:
Under no circumstances can the dangers of fat, which in the very worst junk statistics known to humankind has been said to kill 60 or 70 percent of fat people, compare to the dangers of AIDS, a virtual death sentence without current drugs. And the current drugs are often not available in Africa. The real numbers for fat as a killer, of course, are no more than 1/10 of those inflated numbers, and would be lower still if fat people were not stigmatized by cruel and thoughtless comments like Retrospectacle’s.
At no time did I compare obesity to the dangers of AIDS, and nor would I ever do so. Although I certainly consider the health effects of obesity to be serious, and would never treat them so flippantly as TBI, the point of my post was to comment that 1) the combined effects of obesity and AIDS certainly would do these women no benefit; but most importantly 2) the prevention of the disease, rather than the MASKING of it, is what will contribute to the end of AIDS. Finding a cure for AIDS, which is certianly what I would hope for in the future, does not include bowing to cultural stigma which may mask it, and abet its spread. Also, TBI claims offers no backing as to why she disputes current statistics on obesity (in America as well as Africa). And I’m not certain how my so-called “cruel and thoughless comments” impact the numbers of people who die of obesity-related disorders.
Retrospectacle says she’s opposed to appearance (of not having AIDS) being more important than reality, but this is exactly what she is promoting: She says in so many words that whether or not these women are fat (in other words, how they look) is more important than whether or not they are healthy, and then she turns around in the same sentence and disses them for caring more about how they look than about their health.
This is baffling to me, as this is the exact opposite of what I have said. I can only attribute this to TBI misunderstanding the post, which was most certainly and emphatically stating that the actual health, and actual prevention of disease, should take precedence over the perception of health and lack of disease. How they look, whether they are fat, thin, red, white, or blue makes no difference to me in the scheme of things, except that “fat” is the stigma that follows “a lack or AIDS” rather than thin, red, white, or blue. What I’m stating (and I’ll try to be clear) is that stigmas which may prevent people from receiving help, and cultural pressures which may impact a person’s recovery negatively, are always themselves negative.
I say gaining weight is a very sensible response to risk of exposure to a disease that destroys (among other things) your ability to metabolize calories. When the drugs are scarce, each extra ten pounds increases a woman’s chance of staying alive until the drugs become available. Not to mention that, in impoverished circumstances, being able to marry can be another way to save your life. If African men are looking for assurances that potential wives don’t have AIDS, gaining weight is smart on that axis as well.
Medically speaking, this doesn’t hold water. Obesity is (to some degree) a strain on the body, not an asset, and this will only increase in a disease state. A person who dies of AIDS is very likely to die of an “infection of oppertunity” which attacks the weakened immune system of the AIDS patient rather than inducing starvation. And certainly, playing into the cultural stigma by purposefully gaining weight just to catch a husband (which by no means guarantees an AIDS-free life), only perpetuates the myth of “fat and AIDS-free” rather than addressing the reality that AIDS does not discriminate.
Oh, by the way? Another thing Retrospectacle apparently doesn’t know is that by no means everyone can gain significant weight by eating more.
Another thing that I never stated—in my post I never said anything about eating more. Obesity could be attained by less exercise…..higher caloric intake…..a change in the balance of your diet…..hormones….etc.
I appreciate the sentiment behind TBI post, insofar that a person should not be discriminated against based on their size. I agree. But I also propose that the hope of reducing new cases of AIDS and treating existing cases will not be achieved by denying that one has AIDS, and the issue at the forefront is changing the behavior which might lead to AIDS (promoting safe sex, changing stigmas rather than catering to them, and increasing availability of anti-retros). I am not trying to attack TBI, but must respond when I believe that my words and sentiments are taken out of context.