The Fat Activism Basics, BMI part 1-- Transcript

BMI series- Introduction- Part 1

Hi, everyone, it’s Ali from Ok2BeFat! And it’s time for some fat activism basics.

In this series of videos, I’ll be talking about BMI, the body mass index.

I wasn’t originally going to cover this topic. Because it’s almost too basic.

Because everyone knows that BMI is a bad tool that is misused to stigmatize people. Because we all know that BMI is garbage. Right?

Well, it turns out — not everyone does know that. And talking about the problems with BMI is a foundation we need to build on, so that later we can get into more complicated topics.

We have to talk about BMI, because BMI is a critical part of the framework used to dehumanize fat people. The BMI formula plays an important role in claims that fat people have to be harmed and discriminated against because Science!

One of the most important things I’ve learned as a fat activist is that framing is key to talking about any issue. The current framework for fat people positions us as subhuman. And it’s important to never accept that a framework that dehumanizes you.

What do I mean by framing? I mean the baseline assumptions we all agree to before engaging in a dialogue.

The current mainstream dialogue around fatness is that fat people are morally degraded and that anything that makes a fat person thinner is worth it, no matter the cost. And like all dialogues, this one is based on a number of unquestioned assumptions.

Assumptions like being fat is inherently bad. That it’s possible to make fat people permanently thin. That when society holds up one end of the body size spectrum as good and the other as bad — that there are good reasons for this, rather than just outright discrimination.

I don’t accept any of these assumptions. When factual claims are made against fat people — that for example, fatness causes early death or that it is possible to make all fat people permanently thin — those claims don’t actually hold up when they are


Without their dubious claims of scientific backing, all that fatphobic people are left with is a mish-mash of weird moralizing and transparent bigotry.

So let’s start digging into these so-called facts and see what we can find.

Starting with BMI.

In this video I will be discussing weight and weight loss. I will also be using the words “obesity” and “overweight” in the context of discussing and quoting scientific studies, even though these are not a words I would normally use.

Body size is not a disease. The word “obesity” treats larger bodies as though their very existence is a problem that needs solving.

A side note —

Somehow it seems like thin people got this idea that “obese” was a more polite term that fat, and it just isn’t. Most fat or plus size people have a real cringe response to that word. It would be super cool if you could listen to us when we explain how we’d like to be referred to. Thanks.

Just thought you might want to know.

This series about BMI is broken into 3 parts — The introduction, which is the video you’re watching right now, the history of BMI, and the research and evidence against BMI.

BMI- What is it?

BMI stands for body mass index. It is a formula originally authored by in 1832 by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician.

The equation used for BMI is weight in pounds, divided by height in inches squared, times 703, where the 703 calculation is used to convert the imperial measurements into metric ones.

When you do this calculation, you get a nice round number that you can place on a graph. At current guidelines, a number over 25 falls into the category of overweight and a number over 30 is considered obese. Obese being defined a level of overweight considered medically dangerous.

And it all seems so very scientific. Why, there’s even math involved!

How could you argue with that? I mean, it’s not like anyone has ever used math or statistics to lie before.

Am I saying BMI is used to lie? Yes. That’s exactly what I’m saying.

For starters, this neat round number doesn’t take race, gender, or activity levels into consideration, or income levels, disability, and other factors.

BMI is currently an arbitrary number that we use to separate people into Worthy and Unworthy, Good and Bad, Moral and Immoral categories. But BMI gives us no useful information about individual people.

BMI is even worse than simply being useless, because it actively promotes incorrect assumptions that can lead to poor medical outcomes and the advance of fat stigma.

BMI prevents us from using the real medical tools that would tell us something about people’s actual health by tricking doctors and other authority figures into thinking they have information about people that they actually… don’t.

I’m not sure why in the 21st century, we are still relying on “that person looks weird” as a medical diagnostic tool, rather than something like a blood test or an X-ray, or looking in people’s ears with that weird pointy ear thing.

Why should we be using a formula from 1832 as a medical tool? A tool proposed by a man who wasn’t a doctor, from a time before people accepted that germs exist, and from before we knew about viruses. In the 1830s people were taking cocaine for their allergies and using heroin in their cough syrups.

You would think we’d really advanced in the years since, but the way we look at fat people is stuck with a pre-modern equation that basically amounts to asking a magic 8-ball to tell you who the bad people are.

When you can measure people’s blood pressure, you don’t have to assume what it is by looking at them. That seems like it should be the point of having machines and tests that measure things.

As we look into the history of how the BMI equation was formed, we are going to find even more reasons to question its validity as a measurement, because it wasn’t arrived at in a very scientific manner. And it continues to be upheld against mountains of evidence that it should be dropped.

Part 2 will be an exploration of the history of BMI throughout the years since it was first proposed in 1832 up through the present day.

Part 3 will be an exploration of the evidence that BMI doesn’t match up to the premature deaths that fat people are always threatened with.

Studies, did you say? We’ve got studies.

And that’s the end of Part 1, an introduction to BMI.

Please see the notes for a list of the sources I consulted for this series.

Always and forever, I have to thank all the fat activists who came before me and those who will come after.

And thank you also to my supporters on Patreon, especially the ones scrolling by now.

See you soon for part 2.

Sources— Adolphe Quetelet and the Evolution of Body Mass Index (BMI)— by Sylvia R. Karasu M.D.

Beyond BMI— by Jeremy Singer-Vine

Commentary: Origins and evolution of body mass index (BMI): continuing saga—by Henry Blackburn and David Jacobs, Jr

NIH statement- “Health Implications of Obesity”

Implicit anti-fat bias among health professionals: is anyone immune?— by B A Teachman and K D Brownell

Implicit and Explicit Anti-Fat Bias among a Large Sample of Medical Doctors by BMI, Race/Ethnicity and Gender—by Janice A. Sabin, Maddalena Marini, and Brian A. Nosek

First, Do No Harm- Real Stories of Fat Prejudice in Health Care

The big fat truth—by Virginia Hughes

Body of Truth by Harriet Brown

Losing It by Laura Fraser

Big Fat Lies: The Truth about Your Weight and Your Health by Glenn A Gaesser, PhD

The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos

The Great Starvation Experiment by Todd Tucker

Fat History by Peter N. Stearns

Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD

Ok2BeFat logo art by Jen Lightfoot (