Katie Hopkins and the Just-World Fallacy

Katie’s Hopkin’s error in black and white thinking about weight gain and loss is one that we all share to a certain degree, though not as much as she does nor, hopefully, we aren’t as dogmatic and unaware of the error as she is.

During her “documentary” Hopkins sees a psychologist during the weight loss portion of her experience. The psychologist correctly comments that all her “experiment” has proved is that she, Hopkins, as a slim person, can gain weight and lose it and then confronts Hopkins on the way she sees the world in black and whites “much like a dictator”. Hopkins responds that she is not interested in gray areas.
It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if everything was clear cut and black and white. A person eats less and exercises more; they lose weight. A person works hard at their education; they will get a good job.  A person avoids dark alleys; they won’t be mugged. A person wears modest clothes; they won’t be raped. A person is wise with their money and saves; they will have enough for their needs. A person obeys laws; they won’t get arrested. The problem is that we live in a world full of diversity and grays in every area of life, however our own minds try to hide that fact from us.
The cognitive bias of the just-world fallacy is the idea that a person’s actions are going to have just or fair consequences, with good deeds being rewarded and bad ones being punished. In real life, many times good and bad consequences do occur immediately or eventually. A person works, they get a paycheck, they buy food, they cook dinner, they get to eat. However, because we live in and imperfect world, many times what we would consider the fair or just process is interrupted with no fault of the person doing the action. A person goes to work , gets a paycheck, gets mugged on the way to the store, can’t buy food, and can’t eat.
The just-world fallacy causes people to look at the victim for the explanation to why the bad thing occurred. Perhaps he went the wrong way to the store (I won’t go that way so I won’t get mugged). Perhaps he withdrew the money instead of keeping it in the bank (It won’t happen to me because I always keep my money in the bank, not out in cash). Maybe he had bad Karma because he cheated on his income taxes (I am always honest on my income taxes, so good Karma will happen to me).
When in all actuality, the person was mugged because some jerk decided to mug him, instead of blaming the jerk, we start blaming the victim. This occurs because we are designed to keep ourselves safe in two ways: learning what not to do by studying those around us and protecting our psyche by believing that we have power over our destiny.
This is a similar process to developing superstitions. In the case of the superstitions, no obvious wrong doing or right doing occurred so humans must find something to attribute good and bad luck to (walking under a ladder, carrying a rabbit’s foot, wearing a lucky jersey). It is too terrifying for the human psyche to live in a world where bad and good things sometimes happen at random, yet this is precisely the imperfect world we live in. Natural disasters, crime, sexism, racism, and sometimes what can only be described as bad luck happen to people who work hard and try their best to do the right thing.
Hopkins wants to live in a world where things are fair. Don’t we all? She believes that if a person works at something they must get results. However what she doesn’t realize is the very basic fact that life is not fair. When she works hard to lose weight, she is down to a healthy weight in 10 days. When I put in just as much effort, I lost almost nothing and three months later, was still not down to a healthy weight. Why was this? I was working just as hard. However, I was born with different genes than she was, with a different metabolism, and have a different body. It was the body I was born in. I have no control over what genes I was born with, where I was born, and into what family, just as she doesn’t. Should she feel guilty that she has a fast metabolism? Absolutely not! She can’t control that either. However she should have compassion and empathy for those who do not have the privilege she has.
This applies to all of life. I am extremely lucky. I was born into a stable and loving Caucasian, Protestant Christian family in the United States. I have no physical or mental disabilities, am cisgender, strait, and in my 30’s. I don’t have control over any of those things, however all of which give me a certain level of privilege that for the most part seem to be a normal part of life for me. Just as Hopkins thought it was quite normal that she could eat quite a bit of food per day and keep a reasonable amount of activity and stay fairly thin. The problem lies when we take our experience and expect the same from other people and blame them when it doesn’t happen. Hopkins blamed all overweight people for eating too much and exercising too little, when in fact, they could be eating less than her and exercising more. People blame African American’s in Ferguson for committing more crime so being harassed more by police, when in fact, they were committing less crime. Peolple including Michelle Duggar protested to stop transgender people from using the gender appropriate bathroom since she believed they would be more likely to sexually abuse children, although in fact, transgender people are much more likely to be sexually assaulted than the general population and people who sexually abuse children are much more likely to be straight males (90% are male and 95% are heterosexual like her son, who actually did sexually assault children).
The core idea is the need to realize that life isn’t fair. I may have privileges that you don’t and vice versa. The appropriate response isn’t to feel guilty for things you cannot change, which helps no one, nor to be unaware of your privileges and use them to unfairly judge other people, but rather to acknowledge those privileges you have, acknowledge not everyone has them, and use the ones that you can to help other people rather than hurt them, to build others up, rather than to tear them down. We need each other after all. It’s an unjust, unfair world out there.

Read more about my experiences imitating Katie Hopkin’s weight loss journey and other thought errors in my previous posts below:

Silencing Katie Hopkin’s Voice in My Head

Hopkins has Some Sketchy Arithmetic Skills and No Ability for Empathy

You Can Be Fat* and Happy

Hopkins is Blind to Her Economic Privilege Regarding Weight Loss

Find Your Own Beauty

When it is ONLY About a Number on the Scale

Celebrity and Focusing on Women’s Appearance rather than Achievement

Weight and Health: It’s Complicated

Two Months In

Walking, Walking, Walking

The Results Are In

Realizations

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Realizations

My personal realizations through the past three months are a bit different than I thought they would be. First, I thought running for an hour three times a week would be the most difficult thing about this challenge to accomplish. In fact, it was my favorite thing about this crazy process and the one thing that I will probably keep doing. I always struggled to run in gym class growing up. I was invariably the last kid to complete our ten laps around the gym. I hated it so much because everyone else would be playing dodge ball or basket ball and I would be running laps for ten minutes longer than anyone else. I would try my hardest, but still felt like I never made any gains, so I dreaded running. This time because I could go at my own snail pace without anyone waiting for me or staring at me, the running became such a stress relief for me. I would come home, put in my earbuds, play pumping music and run.  It allowed process everything that I had experienced at work that day. By the end of the run, I was more peaceful and less stressed.

My second realization was that the reason I am not thin is not because I am lazy, eat too much, watch too much TV, or drink too much beer. It’s because of my genetic makeup and metabolism, I would have to work extraordinarily hard at being thin and instead, I prioritize spending time with family and friends. For the first two months when I was only walking 10,000 steps per day, I felt like I could still spend quite a bit of time with the people I loved. An hour walk in the evening isn’t a huge suck on my time, however with walking, eating only 1700 calories and running for an hour three times a week for two months, I lost almost no weight (3 lbs total). For me to lose weight, I had to walk 20,000 steps (ten miles per day) and do the rest. To do that I had to cut out almost all my time with my friends and family and to me, a thin waistline simply isn’t worth it. I felt like I was focusing all my time on my self instead of being able to sit and talk with my family at the dinner table, sit around a bonfire with friends for hours, drink coffee with my family after sleeping in on Saturday morning. Instead, I had to leave people to walk, which felt terrible. I felt like I had no idea what was happening in the people I loved lives and when I did sit for a bit and talk, I felt stressed about my step count. I would much rather be overweight and a good wife, mother, sister, and friend, than skinny and a crappy one.

My third realization was that society’s emphasis on being thin is so strong, that many of my closest friends who read my blog still didn’t understand that my goal wasn’t to lose weight, in fact, it was to prove that it is much harder for some people to lose weight than other’s and society’s emphasis on being thin is wrong. While I try to be clear in my writing, it is something that I constantly struggle with, so part of the fault is probably mine. It was ironic though when people said things like “Are you losing weight” and when I said “No” they said “Don’t worry you’ll get there”, or when people complimented my weight loss by saying “You’ll show her (Hopkins)” or told me to “Do this(weight loss) for yourself not for her”. Don’t feel bad if you were one of those people; it just showed me how strong society’s emphasis on thinness was, even for those people who were rooting for me.

Fourth, this experiment showed me just how wrong Katie Hopkins was. She called overweight people lazy, disgusting, unhealthy, and stated she would never hire one. Here’s where I brag a bit, which is very uncomfortable for me, but I think it is necessary to prove a point.

First, my team at OCS won the Governor’s Denali Peak Award for Excellence in Customer Service. Obviously, just because I am overweight doesn’t mean I am lazy. In fact, I am proud to be part of an incredibly hard working team.

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Photo Credit- Michael Penn of the Juneau Empire

 

Second, here is a picture of me modeling sleepwear for Susan’s Bath and Body Boutique.  I am actually at one of my heaviest weights in this picture, yet I don’t believe if I appeared disgusting, they would have me model for them.

susan's

Photo credit: Joshua Veldstra’s Photography

 

Third, I have no health problems beside an occasional cold. I was able to work up to a full hour run in less than a month and last time I checked, my blood pressure was 120/55.

Fourth, while Hopkins wouldn’t hire me because I am overweight, luckily my new supervisor disagreed. I was promoted to a new position in adoptions and started on June 1, despite being overweight.

While I am not thin, I am a hard worker, healthy, and I feel attractive. Much more important than that, I strive to be a good friend and family member. Now that I am not so focused on walking all the time and counting every calorie, I can go back to that focus, which is what is really important to me.

 

The Results Are In

I finally made it through Katie Hopkin’s three months of her idiotic “anyone can be thin if they weren’t so lazy” diet plan! My results and thoughts will be posted in three posts that I am hopeful will be published this week. The first, this one, will outline my results vs. hers. The second one will cover my personal realizations during the process and the third will cover what I think we as a society and we as human beings can learn from basing our judgments of other people on our own experiences, as Ms. Hopkins unfortunately does, and how that leads to prejudice and stereotyping.

The Results
Here are the hard numbers for comparison:
Katie Hopkins was originally 125 lbs but she gained 43 lbs in three months by eating 6500 calories a day. An average person with a 2000 caloric dietary need to maintain weight should have gained about 100 pounds by eating that much.

Katie Hopkins started her weight loss program at age 39, weighing 168 lbs, and she is 5’7”.

I started mine at age 34, weighing 171 lbs, and I am 5’6”.

10 Days Into Her Plan of Walking 10,000 Steps, Running One Hour Three Times Per Week, and Eating Only When Hungry (1700 Cal per day):
Hopkins lost a total of 11 lbs
Veldstra lost a total .6 lbs

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5 Weeks Into her Plan of Walking 10,000 Steps, Running One Hour Three Times Per Week, and Eating Only When Hungry (1700 Cal per day):
Hopkins lost a total of 21lbs (10 additional pounds in month two)
Veldstra lost a total of 3lbs (2.4 additional pounds in month two)

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Three Months Into her Plan of Walking 10,000 Steps and Eating Only When Hungry (1700 Cal per day), Running One Hour Three Times Per Week, but then Inexplicably Increasing it to an (almost) impossible 20,000 steps (10 miles) per day on the last month when she realizes that she isn’t going to lose all the weight like she said she would but tries to cover it up by saying she looks better this way:
Hopkins lost 32 lbs (11 additional pounds in month three)
Veldstra lost 12 lbs (9 additional pounds in month three)

Hopkins actually made it down to a healthy BMI in 10 days. I still haven’t made it, three months in.
A few disclaimers:
Hopkins states over and over at the beginning of the program that she can lose all the weight that she gained but she still has 11lbs to go at the end of the three months, showing that even for her, gaining the weight is easier than losing it.
I didn’t walk 20,000 steps every day in May (for which I will discuss the reasons to in my next post, however I kept my average up to 20,000 steps with the exceptions of two days: On May 10th, I had a fever and was sick on the couch all day and got 1713 steps and on May 12th I suffered a leg injury and got only 11,517 steps.
I also didn’t eat when I was hungry like Hopkins because I am almost always hungry. Therefore I kept my calories the same average of hers.

Walking, Walking, Walking

As predicted, I haven’t had much time to write this month. It seems like every waking moment is spent working or walking. Although Katie Hopkins said that she set out to prove that losing weight is doable for everyone, 20,000 steps simply is not doable for most people. Unless you have a job that requires you to walk, the 8 to 9 hours a day spent working clocks almost no steps. Add three hours walking every evening and you will have no time to do ANYTHING else.

Then there are days like this:

6:00 am – 7:30 am – Wake up/Shower/Eat breakfast (400 steps)

7:30-7:45 am – commute to work (0 steps)

7:45 am – 5:00 pm (no lunch break- did I mention I work in CPS?) About 3000 steps logged mostly between my desk/the copier and the occasional bathroom break

5:00-6:00 pm commute home/dinner (0 steps)

6:00-6:30 drive to my son’s graduation (0 steps)

6:30-8:30 Graduation (400 from the parking lot to the auditorium and back)

8:30- 10:00 Walk (10,000 steps).

10:00 – Exhausted, fall into bed knowing I didn’t quite make my steps.

Shockingly there has only four days that I haven’t made 20,000 steps, once when I had a fever, once when I had a leg injury, and twice when attending my son’s performances/graduation. I am trying to make sure I at least have an average of 20,000 steps by the end of May, but saying that this type of activity is sustainable is ridiculous, unless, like Hopkins, your job is being a professional troll and anyone can do that while walking.

That is why this blog has been so quiet lately. It’s hard to type and walk at the same time. If you want to catch up with me… I’ll be walking.

Two Months In

Two months into Katie Hopkin’s weight loss plan she has lost 27 of her previously gained 43 pounds but she has 16 pounds yet to lose. When she is weighed in, the doctor comments that he doesn’t think that she can lose that much in a month. At this juncture, Hopkins seems to become frantic and increases her walking to 20,000 steps a day. This move seems counter Hopkin’s goal of making her “move more, eat less” weight loss plan accessible to anyone.  Walking 20,000 steps takes at least three hours of consistent walking. For those of us who have jobs, three hours can be hard to find during a busy life. Between 8 hours of work, time commuting, household chores, and eating, there is barely enough time to walk for three hours, even if you have nothing else in life to do!

Secondly, Hopkins starts to make comments that her friends and family say that she looks better with more weight on her. Her face does look better to me because it is less harsh with its fullness, but she claimed her prejudice against overweight people was all about health, not appearances (which is obviously why she didn’t believe her doctor when he told her she was underweight and had to get a second opinion from a rugby team).  Suddenly, she is talking about keeping a “bit of fat on” so that she looks better, even though her original goal, stated over and over, was to lose ALL the weight she gained.

Meanwhile, I have lost a total of 5 pounds over two full months. Compared to the 1 to 2 lbs per week that is considered healthy amount to lose, 5 lbs over 9 weeks is somewhat pathetic. I am nowhere near the “healthy weight” that Hopkin’s promised if we would all just follow her plan. I have done the same thing as she has done for two months now, but compared to Hopkin’s 27 lb weight loss, my 5 pounds is miniscule. One would almost think we had different metabolisms or something. 🙂

This next month will be quite challenging since I will be trying to get in 20,000 steps per day. I may be blogging somewhat less since it is hard to sit in front of a computer and walk at the same time, but I am hopeful as these months wrap up, to share some correlations between Hopkin’s faulty thinking and the way we think about others.

Weight and Health: It’s Complicated

Katie Hopkins made it crystal clear that her campaign against people who are overweight or obsess was due to her opinion that they would drain the UK’s nationalized health system of funds because of all their health problems that could be easily fixed if overweight people weren’t so lazy.

After all everyone knows that people who have more fat are more likely to die young, right?
Except that is not exactly true. In fact, if statistics pan out, at our starting weights (me at 171lbs and her at 125lbs), I have a higher chance living longer than Hopkins! In a meta-analysis of 97 studies and a massive sample size of 2.88 million people, researchers found that those who are overweight (BMI from 25-29) had significantly lower mortality (6%) and those who were mildly obese (BMI 30- 34) had no increase in mortality. Those who were in the lower end of normal weight, such as Hopkins with her starting point of 19.5 BMI, had a higher mortality rate than those who are heavier. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/791407
This is why the medical field is now encouraging doctors to measure more than just BMI. Studies have found that waist to hip ratio and muscle mass percentages are both better indicators of increased mortality than BMI. Being active, having more muscle, eating more vegetables is a better predictor of health and longevity than being a thinner couch potato who eats junk food.
Equally as important in the health/weight discussion is the fact that often weight gain or weight loss can be a symptom of a health issue rather than the cause of one and it can also be a side effect of drugs that could be treating a health problem and making a person more healthy.
For example, steroids can treat certain auto-immune illnesses, but can cause rapid water retention and weight gain. Children who must takes steroids to treat these illnesses can look obese but it has nothing to do with an unhealthy diet but instead, simply due to the medication. Conversely, weight loss can be a symptom of many diseases, for example cancer, AIDS, or tuberculosis, so may not be a sign of health at all. When working with people with substance addictions like I do, weight gain can often be a sign of the person getting healthy and rapid weight loss, a sign of relapse.
Hopkin’s statement that people should comment on children’s weight and “call them fat” is outrageously offensive when one considers that the child could easily have a serious health condition that a stranger or even acquaintance may know nothing about. Equally as offensive though is the fact that many people with diseases that cause weight loss are often complemented by people stating “You look like you lost weight! How did you do it?” When the answer is “cancer” the questioner has just created an extremely awkward situation.
Because weight gain and loss often a symptom of health issues rather than the cause of them and because people’s bodies belong to themselves, they should not be a topic for comment by those who are not extremely intimate and invested in their lives. If you want to compliment someone, perhaps choose that color of nail polish or that great shirt or gorgeous necklace, or, if you want to be very brave, compliment them on the kindness, courage, or patience you see them show.

Celebrity and Focusing on Women’s Appearance rather than Achievement

“Is fat really the worst thing a human being can be? Is fat worse than vindictive, jealous, shallow, vain, boring, evil or cruel? Not to me.” J.K. Rowling (Author, Philanthropist, President of Gingerbread)

There can be no denying that celebrities heavily influence our culture. They often define for us, especially younger people, what is in fashion, what are important political and social causes, and even what appropriate interactions with others are. In recent years with the development of Twitter and Instagram, non-celebrities can interact with celebrities, and often female celebrities are harassed for their appearance. While there is some expected loss of privacy that goes along with celebrity, negative criticism of appearance seems to be especially prevalent with female celebrities, which, in turn, influences the broader culture’s treatment toward women’s bodies.

This morning while putting on my makeup and listening to the Today Show (one of my guilty pleasures, although I have been known to shout at Matt Lauer for asking yet another successful female how she balances work and home life and at Hoda Kotb for defending catcallers), they presented a story how P!nk responded to body shaming on Twitter after she appeared at an award ceremony for Dr. Maggie DiNome, Chief of General Surgery at Saint John’s Hospital. Instead of lauding Dr. DiNome for her contributions to stopping cancer, or acknowledging P!nk’s support of her, people instead commented that on her weight, even calling her fat. P!nk’s response was awesome:

“I can see that some of you are concerned about me from your comments about my weight. You’re referring to the pictures of me from last night’s cancer benefit that I attended to support my dear friend Dr. Maggie DiNome. She was given the Duke Award for her tireless efforts and stellar contributions to the eradication of cancer. But unfortunately, my weight seems much more important to some of you. While I admit that that dress didn’t photograph as well as it did in my kitchen, I will also admit that I felt very pretty. In fact, I feel beautiful. So, my good and concerned peoples, please don’t worry about me. I’m not worried about me. And I’m not worried about you either:)… I am perfectly fine, perfectly happy, and my healthy, voluptuous and crazy strong body is having some much deserved time off. Thanks for your concern. Love, cheesecake.” P!nk (Singer, Songwriter, Actor, PETA spokesperson, Philanthropist for multiple charities)

If P!nk, who is known for her incredibly athletic and acrobatic feats during her concerts, can be degraded as fat, than anyone one can. The ideal is to be very thin, but not too thin, since Giuliana Rancic recently felt that she had to reveal her health issue to the public because people were harassing her online for being too skinny. This is just a couple of thousands of messages women are bombarded with every week .

“Young women are bombarded by images of perfection which no human being can really achieve”. Emma Watson (Actor, UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, spokesperson for HeForShe)

Women are taught by our culture that to be valued, one must be pretty and thin. The highest a female can aspire to is to be beautiful. We are taught that hard work, education, ambition, kindness, generosity, and courage can be dismissed if one is “fat”. This puts most women in a no win situation. While I can always be kind, have many opportunities to be generous, can read more, or strive harder for that promotion, our appearance is extremely difficult to change and as we age, will be, by our culture’s standards, progressively worse. If our ambition is to fit our culture’s standards of beauty we will be fighting a battle we are guaranteed to eventually lose.

“The conversation about women’s bodies exists largely outside of us, while it is also directed at (and marketed to) us, and used to define and control us. We are described and detailed, our faces and bodies analyzed and picked apart, our worth ascertained and ascribed based on the reduction of personhood to simple physical objectification. Our voices our personhood, our potential, and our accomplishments are regularly minimized and muted. The insanity has to stop.” Ashley Judd (Actor, Global Ambassador for YouthAids, Leadership Council of the International Center for Research on Women)

If instead, we focused on our accomplishments as women, what we do and say, instead of how we looked, we could strive to be progressively better. As I age, I learn more patience, I am less judgmental, I have accomplished more in my career and in my hobbies, and have deepened my relationships.

“You may not agree with a woman, but to criticize her appearance- as opposed to her idea or actions- isn’t doing anyone any favors, least of all you. Insulting a woman’s looks when they have nothing to do with the issue at hand implies a lack of comprehension on your part, and inability to engage with high level thinking. You may think she’s ugly, but everyone thinks you’re an idiot.” – Hilary Clinton, (Attorney, Senator, Secretary of state)

This week, I am challenging myself and my readers, when you find yourself being critical of someone’s appearance, including your own, make conscious effort to instead focus on the person’s accomplishments instead and when you feel the drive to change your own appearance remember you always have the option to be kind, you always have the option to be loving, you always can do something good for someone else. Isn’t that what makes you beautiful?

“Who taught you that the value of a woman is the ratio of her waist to her hips and the circumference of her buttocks and the volume of her lips? Your math is dangerously wrong; her value is nothing less than infinite.” Della Hicks-Wilson (Poet).