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thindeath, fatdeath, and deathcorn

June 6, 2010

I thought I’d spend some time talking about my body, given that this is the internet, something primarily designed to enable discussions about bodies and celebrities. Or both! More on Amy Winehouse later.

So. After examining chest x-rays for an unrelated roller derby non-injury, my doctor told me she suspected emphysema (or COPD, basically the pharmaceutical industry’s non-threatening acronym for emphysema and/or bronchitis). An initial round of tests appear to support my doctor’s inference.

There are more tests to come, and plenty of conditions to rule out (including pulmonary excellence). Frankly, society isn’t particularly invested in my body, either. At least not my lungs. *ahem* However, after scouring the internet for fun facts, I have a couple of observations.

First, just as deathfat! isn’t necessarily as deadly as some would have you believe, thinhealthwhoooooo!!!! isn’t axiomatic, either.

Some people are just thin. In the absence of eating disorders. Not only are there plenty of health conditions (I dare say most of them) that can afflict otherwise healthy-seeming and thin individuals, but sometimes thinness in-and-of itself can present problems. Those of us who are really tall and really thin may have weak spots in the tops of our lungs, which may rupture as a result of air pressure changes, violent yawning, whichever. Collapsed lungs aren’t the worst thing in the world, but they’re hardly pleasant.

Y’all knew that, though.

A second observation (or proposition) is that the cultural dialogue about lung impairment shares a lot of space with fat hatred.

Emphysema is almost entirely preventable.
Emphysema is a result of your bad life choices. Ms. Winehouse?
Your lungs are ugly and unglamorous, and you’ve brought this upon yourself. Ms. Turlington?

Yes, smoking is bad for you (more on this later). However, regardless of my situation, it’s entirely possible for otherwise fit, athletic, young people to develop chronic pulmonary issues. There are conditions (Alpha-1, and Marfan syndrome) that often lead to emphysema or other pulmonary unpleasantness in previously healthy young people.

And of course, smoking matters. So does exposure to toxic chemicals at work, at home, and in the air in one’s neighborhood. Sadly, breathing clean air is privilege correlated to having other privilege. Patterns of asthma incidence, for example, bear this out.

And about smoking. It’s bad for you. And most smokers know this. I suspect all of the horrifying information out there about emphysema (thank you, BTW) is a crude attempt to encourage smokers to quit (or never start). While smoking cessation is a laudable goal (and my lungs thank you), it would behoove the medical community to acknowledge that smoking exists within a cultural context. The American Heart Association contends (with evidence!) that the tobacco industry disproportionately targets minorities and women. In the US, LGBTQ people are substantially more likely to smoke than their straight counterparts.

Smokers are not infants in need of teaching, they’re people targeted by corporations that wish to sell an addictive and deadly product. Fat people aren’t infants either (although ZOMG!!!!11!). And they don’t necessarily make bad choices, either. They may eat well. They may exercise regularly. They may have quit smoking. Yet you wouldn’t know it from OMFGDEATHFAT!!!!!11!!1!!!1!

But what about those folks who do eat horrifying processed food? There’s a huge industry that manufactures HFCS-laden food, which is eaten by plenty of smart people. Kraft Foods, for example, at one point had an interest in keeping folks’ stomachs filled with Velveeta, KD, Jell-O, and Kool-Aid, with perhaps a Marlboro cigarette for after dinner. The consumers of these empty calories, are disproportionately poor, and otherwise otherwise are disproportionately unlikely to have access to healthier alternatives. In other words, the manufactured food industry and the tobacco industry target the same populations.

Meanwhile, HFCS is taking its tool on our lungs, the oil required for industrial corn farming migrating across the gulf, trucks and trains filled with well-traveled food rumbling past our homes.

One Comment leave one →
  1. June 7, 2010 1:43 am

    Farmers are trying to do their part by producing ethanol so that we can stop those oil imports. The problem is that Americans are in love with their Hummers, SUV’s and fast cars. They all use a lot more fuel than farms do. If we could all drive fuel efficient vehicles or use public transport we could really make a dent in oil imports.
    Really now, if you were not using sweeteners made here in the US, you would be importing them from other countries. HFCS is an American produced sweetener. Cane sugar is not. Check your science. HFCS is not as horrifying as you want to believe, it’s just another sweetener.
    While we’re at it we need to cut back on our consumption of all sugars.

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