C’mon guys, please stop arguing and just hug already

Dear Linda Bacon, PhD, and Arya Sharma, MD, PhD,

I’ve heard that a Bacon V. Sharma ideological bout is in the works for 2012.

By Ralf Berger

By Ralf Berger

I hate it when people I respect, admire, and love, fight.

Maybe love seems like a strong word to use with people I’ve never met in person before. But both of you have deeply influenced my life, and I believe you have much in common.

Let me stop here for just a moment and admit that, yes, I grew up in a home with one parent who drunkenly shouted, yelled and harassed the other for hours on end, sometimes all night. This is not to say that my parents didn’t love each other. Or that they didn’t love me. But it was really really awful. Not the most awful thing anyone has ever had to endure. But awful.

So I hate it when people fight publicly. Usually, when those people are politicians, pop music artists, feuding sports enthusiasts or athletes, I don’t pay much mind. But when people I love, respect, and admire, especially people who have had a major influence on my life, fight, it makes me sad.

Which isn’t to say that people can’t disagree, or that they oughtn’t for my sake. But in this case, I think the two of you have a whole lot in common. Here’s a list:

  • You both care about and respect fat people.
  • You don’t blame fat people.
  • You identify multiple environmental factors and systems that contribute to poor health, and that for some people, becoming fatter is a result of those systems and factors.
  • You care about improving health for people who are fat.
  • You promote the idea that fatness and fitness aren’t mutually exclusive.
  • You oppose bias against fat people in all realms.
  • You want to help people who are fat achieve the best possible health for them.
  • You fight against people who want to make money off of fat people through weight-loss scams and schemes.
  • You are scientists.

The biggest difference I see between you really has to do with how poor a person’s health is when they come to see you, and in what regard their health is poor. Dr. Sharma, you see people who are often in poor physical and sometimes also mental health, by their own estimation and by some clinical measures. Dr. Bacon, you see people who have suffered poor mental and and sometimes also physical health, but who come to you to find a different paradigm with which to address their health. You both treat people who are in pain, who are suffering. And you serve them from your own training and research and wisdom.

I don’t expect either of you to be right all, or even most, of the time.

I don’t know if you, Dr. Sharma, have read Dr. Bacon’s book. If you were to, I think you would find that most of the advice in it is extremely sound, and not that different from what you recommend yourself. I recognize, Dr. Sharma, that your blog isn’t written with a “hard-core” fat acceptance audience in mind. And, Dr. Bacon, I recognize that some of the practices that Dr. Sharma endorses are nearly impossible for you to accept.

What I love about both of you is your passion and compassion.

So, if and when you debate, keep the kids in mind. By kids, I mean those of us who look to both of you as parents of your own movements. Keep your end in mind, which isn’t to take down potential allies, but to help people who are suffering.





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13 responses to “C’mon guys, please stop arguing and just hug already

  1. Dee

    I’m looking forward to it, personally. Debates between intelligent and sincere people are great for exposing the strengths and weaknesses in their positions, and they can add nuance to everyone’s understanding of the issues. The most effective systems for problem solving are shaped by respectful debate.

    • Completely agree — I think the two of them would provide a serious and engaging debate. I am hoping they are able to see what they have in common, and then have intelligent and respectful discord.

  2. Brava! Well said! I hope they read it!

  3. I’m looking forward to meeting Arya and having this forum. Sounds like a great opportunity to have different perspectives heard. Thanks for the support.
    Linda Bacon

    • I’m so honored you chose to reply!
      I am looking forward to hearing you both.

      I worry a bit about HAES supporters being cast as “deniers” — a nasty label that is unwarranted — but I do think that at the root of your differences is the definition of the problem. My own definition of the problem might be different from either yours or Arya’s. I do think that each of your definitions of the problem relate to the suffering you observe — and who it is you interact with.

      Arya treats people who have severe health issues. They also are fat. They likely have also bought into the idea that their health issues are caused by their fatness. So, that’s a different group of people from those of us who believe that health issues and fatness might have little to do with one another, or might share a common root cause, or that poor population health is a resu

      Sometimes, when I read Dr. Sharma’s Obesity Notes blog, I think that he is so close to HAES — and then at other times he’s so rooted in the dominant obesity paradigm I want to stop reading it. But I find there’s no other source of the information I want to know that is anywhere near as compassionate.

  4. What an excellent plea. These two people need to work together. Really, I think they are not so far from each other as they feel they are. However, they are both fairly well-known scientists and I suspect there might be a bit of ego getting in the way.

  5. Oh BTW. I met Dr. Sharma recently and had an opportunity to chat with him at length one on one. I was greatly impressed with his humanity and caring. He does indeed deal with very sick people and I think that that colours his views.

    Dr. Sharma sees people once they are very ill (probably in many cases they are the victims of the diet culture–that’s my opinion) while Dr. Bacon wants to help people avoid getting to that point. One comes from a sickness model, the other from a health model. There’s definitely a place for them to come together.

  6. V

    Not being familiar with Sharma’s work, I have only one question (the same I ask of any healthcare expert) – Does Sharma view my fat body as a bad thing, a failure, a sign of something to be prevented or fixed? If Sharma is out to make fat bodies into non-fat bodies or prevent their existence, then he and Bacon have a big huge gap between their worldviews and are already debating. If Sharma, like Bacon, sees fat bodies as part of normal human variation and if he treats health problems without saying that fat bodies should be or could be eliminated from society, then I agree that there seems little reason for pitting them against one another in debate. So my one and only question is – Would Sharma (unlike Bacon) see my fat body as a sign of something wrong?

    • I would say that Dr. Sharma views people as people who come in a variety of sizes. He tends to interact with people who are both fat and sick, but he states that he counsels people who are fat and healthy to not focus on losing weight but rather on maintaining their weight.
      See NewMe’s comment below for more — she has met him in person.

  7. Where is this debate happening? On line? This will be great! I’m with DeeLeigh on this one!

    • No date, time or place has been set yet. But I’ll be sure to advertise it here as soon as I know when and where it will be. I think it will be sponsored by the Canadian Obesity Network.

  8. I think I would make a special effort to attend such a debate, as long as it’s not at the very other end of the country. After all, Canada’s the second largest country in the world!

  9. Pingback: the HAES files: hypocrisy of obesity war exposed; the HAES peace movement makes inroads | healthateverysizeblog

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