ACADEMICALLY SPEAKING: Anti-health progressives are wrong that America is on the flab-to-fascism track

The left has been enabling unhealthy habits while simultaneously writing off gym and fitness culture as gateways to right-wing extremism.

"Academically Speaking" is a series by Campus Reform Editor in Chief Zachary Marschall that, drawing on his firsthand experience working with other scholars across the globe, reveals how radical ideas originating in academia impact Americans’ daily lives. 

Marschall holds a Ph.D. in Cultural Studies and is an adjunct professor at the University of Kentucky. His research investigates the intersections of democratic political systems, free market economies, and technological innovation in the production of national and cultural identities, as well as the exchange of cultural goods, services, and practices.

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Americans are increasingly inactive due to the upswing in remote work, The Atlantic reported earlier this month.

America’s fitness problem is not new, but this post-pandemic development is even more problematic due to recent messaging from the academic left that celebrates fatness and associates physical fitness with fascism.

In October 2021, Point Park University held a “Plus Size Appreciation Day” on its Pennsylvania campus to celebrate students’ “plus size bodies.”

Five months later, American University Professor Cynthia Miller-Idriss wrote an opinion piece for MSNBC.com in which she argued, “Physical fitness has always been central to the far right.”

“Physical fitness channels dopamine, adrenalin and serotonin in ways that literally feel good,” Miller-Idriss wrote. “Intertwining those feelings with hateful and dehumanizing ideas, while promoting the concept that physical warriors are needed to create the strength and dominance to defend one’s people from a perceived enemy, makes for a dangerous and powerful cocktail of radicalization.”

For a few years now, the left has been enabling unhealthy habits while simultaneously writing off gym and fitness culture as gateways to right-wing extremism.  

“Gym bros are right-wing jerks,” Vice wrote in 2017.

In reality, gym culture has historically had a deep connection to so-called 'gay culture' and still does.

Someone should have told Vice to check out the abs on display at Pride parades. There’s no fat or fascism happening there.

Instead, the two-front assault on fitness is the result of the Fat Studies field in higher education gradually influencing how Americans view health, and as a result, gaslighting this country into feeling guilty for accepting medical facts about weight.  

Fat Studies is an emerging leftist field of research in academia that argues that the concept of obesity is not only wrong but that labeling people obese is an exercise in oppression.

According to the Oxford Handbook of Fat Studies, “Fat studies seeks to remove the negative associations that society has about fat and the fat body. It regards weight, like height, as a human characteristic that varies widely across any population.”

And the Popular Culture Association, an academic organization, states that Fat Studies “confronts and critiques cultural constraints against notions of ‘fatness’ and ‘the fat body’; explores fat bodies as they live in, are shaped by, and remake the world; and creates paradigms for the development of fat acceptance or celebration within mass culture.”

A “Fat Studies: Bodies, Culture, and Politics” course at Southern Oregon University, offered during the 2021-2022 academic year, “interrogate[s] the war on obesity, moral panics around body size, the construct of fitness, health at every size models, and fat-positivity in order to deconstruct the meanings of fatness.”

In addition to studying social class, the course also analyzes “the interrelationships between feminist and queer politics and fat activism.”

Being fat is not about pant size. It’s about feeling queer and wanting to protest.

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It’s physically easier to make people accept the love handles than to pick up the kettlebell.

The preference for collective action over individual work should come as no surprise from the academic left. Individual responsibility, after all, is the hallmark of the capitalist system.

It is from that connection between individual responsibility and capitalism that progressives and leftists in the Fat Studies field draw their erroneous conclusions that dieting and exercise regimes reflect fascist attitudes.

In 2019, St. Olaf College’s Wellness Center, Women's and Gender Studies Department, and Center for Equity and Inclusion sponsored a talk by Fat Sex Therapist Sonalee Rashatwar.

Rashatwar told the crowd that health warnings against obesity amounted to “Nazi science” due to purported similarities with eugenics, Campus Reform reported at the time.

For all the yearly recycled talk of unfair cultural beauty standards, the pleasures of physical fitness are not just about vanity; they are rooted in the scientific reality that hearts, lungs, the digestive system, and skin all benefit from clean diets and regular exercise.

“Being active and choosing healthy foods can help you maintain or achieve a healthy weight, feel more energetic, and decrease your chances of having other health problems,” the National Institute on Aging states on its website.

“Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” supermodel Kate Moss said more accessibly in a 2009 interview before retracting the message in 2018 over fears that it was enabling those with eating disorders.

Inappropriate or not, the fact remains that the decadent and processed foods we consume are not worth their caloric consequences.

There’s never a good reason to have French fries, and dessert does not need to come with every meal.

I say this not as some health guru, but as one eternally grateful that Carvel is equidistant between my gym and the office.

I work out three times a week and eat more than enough fiber, vegetables, and good fats. But I also have very strong opinions on French fry shapes, chocolate sprinkles texture, and how much marbling there should be in a ribeye.

In other words, when it comes to physical fitness, I am pulling the “Gentleman’s C” and accepting full accountability for my actions. Front squats feel awesome, and I’ve never found a cake so perfect as Brooklyn Blackout.

Fitness is as much about personal responsibility as it is about physical prowess.

“The only thing Peloton can’t seem to do is take the cheeseburger out of my f*****g hand,” liberal political podcast host Jon Lovett said in a 2017 promotional message for the bike brand.

I find Lovett’s politics abhorrent but share his sense of personal responsibility when it comes to diet and exercise.

That is not something that progressives in higher education can say. Rather, these anti-health scholars treat obesity like a sexual orientation that needs to be sprung from the closet.  

In 2017, Campus Reform reported that a University of North Carolina-Charlotte professor found that “’coming out as fat’ and ‘flaunting fat’” on social media were positive steps to achieving “fat acceptance” in society.

Accordingly, last month the master’s thesis “Writing Fat: Rejecting the Logics of Anti-Fatness in the Teaching of Writing” was approved by a three-person committee of faculty at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

 “Through the application of feminist theory, queer theory, disability studies, fat studies, and rhetorical theory, I explore who and what is served when anti-fat logics influence first-year writing instruction,” the thesis abstract reads.

This passage unpacks the author’s methodology for studying “anti-fatness” undertones in writing curricula: that, for example, concision breeds anti-fat bias by encouraging drafts to “move from fat to thin.”

This thesis abstract exemplifies the radical nature of Fat Studies in treating ‘being fat’ as a social construct with no basis in biological reality. It also pulls from a constellation of leftist research fields to reject the natural desire for fineness – on paper and in the waistline.

If that last paragraph sounds oddly similar to the current transgender debate in America, it should. Queer theory and transgender ideology were once emergent fields in academia; only those in the ivory tower took them seriously as both valid and practical.

Now that transgender ideology has been served – I mean imposed – on Americans, Fat Studies is the next discipline to trickle down from the ivory tower and gaslight ordinary people.

In this case, the gaslighting works by rhetorically convincing un-critical audiences that being fat is something that simply happens to individuals, rather than something that is (in most cases) actively acquired.

“Living in a fat body can be very healthy and living in a thin body can be very unhealthy, contrary to many people’s understanding,” Wake Forest University’s Counseling Center states on its website.

The phrase “living in a fat body” is nearly identical to anti-racist and Critical Race Theory scholars that talk about living in a Black body.

The latter phrasing is at least fair – despite the false narratives that Critical Race Theory peddles – because no one has control over their birth or the arbitrary genetics that determine skin color.

People do have control, however, over how much they eat and keep active.

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By using phrases such as “living in a fat body,” Fat Studies scholars are shifting blame and responsibility away from individuals who refuse to help themselves.

“I experience diet culture as a form of assault because it impacts the way that I experience my body,” Rashatwar said to the St. Olaf audience in 2019.

She is fat because of racism and capitalism, not her morning donut, this line of reasoning goes.

“[I]s it my fatness that causes my high blood pressure, or is it my experience of weight stigma,” Rashatwar rhetorically asked apparently without any grounding in scientific data.

That same year, a group of Chinese researchers published a study in Nutrition & Metabolism that found a positive correlation between weight loss and improved blood pressure rates in both men and women.

Fat Studies could have real value if it chose to investigate realities that are genuinely detrimental to people’s wellbeing, such as emotional eating or consumption in social settings or leisure.

There is no value, however, in deluding people who struggle with weight into believing they are passive actors in their own health. They deserve the truth as much as the American public deserves to stop being gaslit by radical academics.

Fat Studies research is creating the unfortunate situation in which those who need to lose it the most physically are being ill-served by those who have lost it completely academically.