Just eat less, right? It's so simple!
August 7, 2017 7:10 PM   Subscribe

"Weight isn't neutral. A woman's body isn't neutral. A woman's body is everyone's business but her own. Even in our attempts to free one another, we were still trying to tell one another what to want and what to do. It is terrible to tell people to try to be thinner; it is also terrible to tell them that wanting to lose weight is hopeless and wrong." Taffy Brodesser-Akner explores the changing stories and conflicting messages around weight loss in Losing It in the Anti-Dieting Age.
posted by Athanassiel (36 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Weight threads have traditionally gone badly here. Please, everyone be gentle with one another.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 7:40 PM on August 7, 2017 [34 favorites]

Probably it would be less horrible for people like OP if doctors didn't feel licensed to openly refuse treatment to her, for which they should lose their jobs, in my opinion.

This has come up in connection with Roxane Gay's new memoir. Some people consider her to be betraying the cause because she is open about wanting to lose weight. But, geez, you don't have to believe every scare story about weight to believe her when she says that her size causes her a lot of physical discomfort even when she's not having to deal with inadequate accommodations. I have a close friend who says that there is a very clear weight after which she finds it a lot harder to deal with various life tasks, and I hardly think criticizing her for being self-hating addresses that. We have to let go of our need to control people's stories around their bodies.
posted by praemunire at 8:59 PM on August 7, 2017 [26 favorites]

I was going to post this as well, but thought the better of it since I know I've offended people in the past when talking about topics like obesity and health.

I really enjoyed this article, I think the author did a great job navigating different sides of the issue. This concept of health vs body image is so slippery. It's one of those things that is so obviously personal that it's very difficult to talk about with hurting people. As SecretAgentSockpuppet said, I hope a meaningful conversation emerges out of this link.

*For some reason spamandkimchi's FPP from last week never really started a conversation. It covers some of the concepts in the above piece. If members are interested in the topic, I think it would be worth reading some of the articles in that resource. As I said, I don't agree with a lot of the points raised in some of those articles, but I think it's important to hear from all sides.
posted by Telf at 8:59 PM on August 7, 2017

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the thread on Roxane Gay's Hunger went, which is the only reason I posted this link at all.

Having also read Hunger recently, I think that Brodesser-Akner and Gay share a certain perspective which is not the easiest or most popular, and is a perspective I share. I feel fiercely protective of my fat body and myself, particularly in the face of microaggressions (or macroaggressions, for that matter). But at the same time I struggle very hard to accept my fat body, and know that at least some of my health problems would be easier if I were carrying less mass.

For me the bit that hit home the hardest was this: "Our bodies deserve our thoughts and our kindness, our acceptance and our striving. Our bodies are what carry our thoughts and our kindness and our acceptance and striving."
posted by Athanassiel at 9:01 PM on August 7, 2017 [25 favorites]

Thanks for posting, it was thoughtfully written and I do think the author captures my personal experience being divided in my efforts to build body positivity while finding a way to lose weight.

For most of my life being heavier was less of a concern than the mental health issues that arose when i tried to lose weight. I'm not sure it's even possible for me to find a balance between the competing health needs of my weight and my mental health while living in this society that hates fat people so much.

I'm not sure weight watchers will be able to find the balance either... It was interesting to read the details of their market driven change and feel both hope they might find a good model, and loathing at the ability to make money out of insecurity.
posted by chapps at 10:02 PM on August 7, 2017 [2 favorites]

I came quite close to dying from anorexia and I can tell you from personal experience that shame and self-hatred is what led me to that point. I wanted to literally disappear from existence. Thinness did not solve my problems or make me like myself any more. That's why nuanced perspectives like these, that separate outward appearance from mental states, appeal to me.

I think it's much easier to get yourself out there for walks or bike rides or hikes with your dog if you don't hate yourself. If you do hate yourself, and attach your self worth to numbers on a scale, sometimes the only pleasure you'll find in a day is the 10 seconds of endorphin rush that you get right after eating too much pizza or sticking your fingers down your throat or getting through one more day after only eating a single apple.

I recently decided to try looking at my body as a machine for the accomplishment of things. Right now I can barely walk due to peripheral neuropathy, eat mostly junk just once a day, and find it impossible to do things that I want to do. Shop, go for walks with my parents' dog, clean my house, cook. My body isn't working for me. The only way to fix it is to exercise it and feed it properly. It has nothing to do with fitting into cute jeans or getting a date or feeling good about my appearance. Somehow, detaching my sense of my body from how physically appealing I am to society is the freest I've ever felt, and I finally feel like I'm ready to do that whole "eat to live" rather than "live to eat" thing I've heard so much about.
posted by xyzzy at 10:50 PM on August 7, 2017 [40 favorites]

I look back and I really wonder how my mother and grandmother thought they were helping, how they actually thought my life would have been in any way improved when I was young by weighing 140 instead of 170. It didn't change anything at all and it was awful. On the other hand, I can say conclusively right now that losing 20 pounds or so will let me comfortably wear my Mal Reynolds shirt again, and that's enough for me to be making some adjustments. It's the first time in my life I haven't felt totally out of my mind the moment I started engaging with that sort of lifestyle change. The reasons why you do or don't do these things don't really matter, as long as they're your own and not things imposed on you.
posted by Sequence at 11:30 PM on August 7, 2017 [9 favorites]

This has come up in connection with Roxane Gay's new memoir. Some people consider her to be betraying the cause because she is open about wanting to lose weight.

That seems so unfair and insane. Its possible for me to be perfectly happy with myself but also want to get in better shape or lose weight or gain muscle or color my hair or fill slightly outside my natural lips. And I assume it's possible for other people to do and feel similar things, up to and including deciding to lose a lot of weight for practical or aesthetic or wholly irrational reasons without it being some kind of performance manifesto about other women.

In conclusion: people are insane and we should all stop listening to them. Especially people on the internet.
posted by fshgrl at 1:52 AM on August 8, 2017 [13 favorites]

I have recently made a list of non-weight body goals because, like xyzzy, it helps me to think of it as a tool I am using to accomplish things. As an example, I want to be able to climb the stairs at the library I go to every week without huffing and puffing as if I'm on the verge of a panic attack because I intend to keep going to the library and I think my body can do me the decency of keeping up with that plan.

I googled to try and find examples of things like this, and the keyword seems to be "non-scale victories". BUT all non-scale victories seem to still be about weight, such as losing inches. It was really hard to find examples of strength and health goals that were 0% weight related. Our cultural thoughts on the two are so intertwined.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:01 AM on August 8, 2017 [9 favorites]

I found the article to be really interesting and meaningful. I'm glad it got posted here.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:58 AM on August 8, 2017

Like xyzzy, I lived an eating disorder (language structure on purpose) for many, many years. Probably 25 without any treatment and another 5 in the disorder and in treatment. I've been ED free-ish for about 6 years.

One of the things I have struggled with throughout recovery has been the issue of figuring out what was real and what was society putting on me. Did I actually want that xx because I genuinely craved it or because it was my ED speaking or because I was feeling spiteful toward anyone who would tell me what to eat or what not to eat. It went the other way as well. Was I not eating that thing because I didn't actually want it or because my ED was telling me that it was bad or because I was restricting or because ??? So if I wasn't eating it because of my ED, did that actually mean I should, in fact, eat it to spite my ED? It was a 24 hour 20 questions in my head for years.

I am finally feeling like I am learning what my body wants and does not want. I am 47. I feel like I've wasted so much life, but it was never about vanity. It was never about fitting in (I never did). It was only about shame over other (completely unrelated) things that I was desperately trying to numb out from, whether that was the binge/purge cycle, which would get me a good 24 hours of binge numbing, purge numbing, sleep numbing and then shame over the cycle that distracted me from all the other shame. When you have an eating disorder, any ED, it's never about the food itself, which is why none of the diets will ever work.
posted by Sophie1 at 6:44 AM on August 8, 2017 [6 favorites]

As a father I did this interesting observation. Since daughter and son decided that tablet/ipod was a better option than having a swim on the local beach or "activity" they put up quite some weight.

Me on the other side, sticking to 2 meals a day when lots of physical activity and skip dinner when office day, I'm still hovering around 75kg for 1.82m (same weight since like 30 years).

Now when I raise the point "you could come down with me for a swim instead of watching youtube and getting fat" heavens forbid I get accusations of "killing self esteem in your daughter" or screams "is not my fault I eat normally" etc (all this while downing a pack of cheeso).

So there seems to me to be a link between the calories intake and the amount of calories spent doing stuff. I mean I see it in front of me. Maybe is my math upbringings but why would a system that gets 10 input and burns 15 ever be able to gain energy (potential energy) ?

Instead I got shoveled all possible reasons from DNA to bacterial things to growing up / stress whatever.

So I came to the conclusion that the only people interested in debunking the food > exercise = fat theory are exactly the Weight Watchers / Diet experts / Psycologist etc.

I Imagine them scouring the reddits / blogs of the world, ready to downvote every user timidly reporting "I lost 10 pounds by eating less" with "WELL I STOPPED EATING FOR A MONTH AND STILL GAINED 30 POUNDS YOU ARE FULL OF BS" or "I TRIED BUT GOT A whatever drama AND THE DOCTOR SAID IT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH FOOD".
posted by elcapitano at 7:26 AM on August 8, 2017 [4 favorites]


I completely agree with you on all points! However, for myself and others, I think we need to keep in mind some important details:

While the equation is DEFINITELY true (you gain weight by eating, lose weight by not eating, adjusted only slightly by activity levels) I am willing to say that it's "not that simple" for the following reasons:

1. Some people have stronger hunger reactions than others.
2. Some people are genetically predisposed to hunger reactions.
3. Education around food is very confusing and compounded by lobbyists promoting anti-fat or anti-sugar.
4. There's a lot of people that are underweight and we need to be careful about them too,
5. Accomplishing goals is a lot more difficult than "just doing it". I don't smoke, I'm not overweight, but in the goals I have set for myself (going to the gym, etc) it's WAY harder than it sounds on paper.
6. Medications, life events, stress, can all impact your hunger reaction in different ways and these confounding efforts are pretty dramatic.

So, again, the equation is completely true. That doesn't mean following it is easy. I've seen some fledgling research about total-fasts (only consuming water for 14 days) and I'm hopeful that public discourse can come around to simplifying weight loss in a way that follows the equation despite confounding situations and variables.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:34 AM on August 8, 2017 [12 favorites]

Oh, and Food > exercise is commonly the perspective because the amount of exercise it takes to offset food is pretty dramatic. One 20oz Coke in the USA would take about 30 minutes of running to offset. Much easier to not drink the coke.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:36 AM on August 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

"you could come down with me for a swim instead of watching youtube and getting fat"

Oh, god, no. Don't fucking do that. Fat-shaming does not work. Unless you consider giving your kid an ED to be a win.
posted by LindsayIrene at 7:57 AM on August 8, 2017 [37 favorites]

> Oh, god, no. Don't fucking do that. Fat-shaming does not work. Unless you consider giving your kid an ED to be a win

And what I should say ?

a) ... it will be better for you (strange look of daughter)
b) ... I order you to raise and follow me (hysteric laughter of daughter)
c) ... I beg you. Come with me. (my-dad-is-insane look)
d) ... I give you 50 Euro for a beach swim of at least 45 minutes (would actually work)

And is not fat-shaming. She bitches around about "getting fat". So here I help. But as soon as I say FAT boom the future of my daughter and the next generations is ruined.

Because - you know - it is always always someone else fault. In this case is not the cheeso she is downing while sitting on her bum on a sunny day - no no daddy used the word FAT.
posted by elcapitano at 8:14 AM on August 8, 2017

I definitely would want to avoid spending time with my father who is obsessed with weight and food, because that's super unpleasant to be around. Go you, if you are happy eating 1-2 meals a day. Most people are not. Maybe your kids will decide they want to lose weight, and maybe they will then be able to do it. Or maybe they won't. But thinking their father's love and respect is conditional on external appearances isn't going to help convince them to be healthy -- if they, like many people, tend to being oppositional, all this does is help convince them to eat more or exercise less in order to spite you. Plus, you know, it's shitty to think your parents love you more or less depending on how attractive they think you are.
posted by jeather at 8:20 AM on August 8, 2017 [37 favorites]

> it's shitty to think your parents love you more or less depending on how attractive they think you are.

Who said that ? Where I say I don' t love my children ? I just said:

a) Daughter complains about getting fat (a fat ass in particular) while sitting on couch and downing cheeso.
b) I offer respite in terms of physical exercise.

That's it. I'm sorry that your father makes his love to you depending on certain standards. I can assure you my kids are well loved.
posted by elcapitano at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2017

Maybe just try not having an opinion about your daughter's weight at all.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:31 AM on August 8, 2017 [19 favorites]

I'm telling you that "You can come swim with me or you can stay here and get fat" makes it really clear, along with your description of how you eat, that you put a premium on being thin, and your kids have noticed it too, and they know perfectly well that your opinions about body weight are also opinions about their bodies. It doesn't mean you don't love them at all.

I know you do not mean this, but "makes his love to you" implies something that you do not want to imply, in English.
posted by jeather at 8:32 AM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

Mod note: elcapitano, go ahead and read the article, which is about something more specific than how to lose weight. And read some other stuff about this; like so many things, the "it's just common sense" solution turns out not to be as easy as it seems.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 8:34 AM on August 8, 2017 [15 favorites]

And what I should say ?

"It sucks that people are making you feel bad about yourself. People can be real assholes. But for what it's worth I think you're strong and cool and awesome and I love you like crazy. "
posted by thivaia at 8:35 AM on August 8, 2017 [18 favorites]

elcapitano, for your kids' sake, I won't just ignore but will respond. If you notice up thread what some people said, feeling shame is a deterrent to health. When you feel like, for example, your own dad thinks you are fat and unattractive and lazy, you do not want to go with him, or leave the house, or do anything at all.

But from a parent who has struggled with her weight, and who has a kid who inherited the same problems (yeah, it is about genes; his dad never had this issue despite eating everything in sight as a kid), here is what we are doing.

1. We never tell our kid that he is fat; we also don't talk about "fat" as a bad thing. Because Shame Doesn't Work.

2. Because we buy the groceries, we don't buy junk. If it's not in the house, he can't eat it and neither can we.

3. We try new recipes..together..because both of us need to eat vegetables but kind of hate them, so we are experimenting with ways to eat them that we can deal with. But we are nice to ourselves, and don't talk about being "bad" or any of that crap for not liking vegetables. Because Shame Doesn't Work. (We discovered last week that we can deal with green vegetables if they are shredded very fine and mixed with rice or meats. So we're doing that now. Progress!)

4. Exercise is a challenge! My kid is not motivated to do it, he likes computers and he also has a minor disability that makes him slower and less coordinated than most kids. Which is bad for his confidence. So we bought an exercise bike and some pedometers. And then I found what motivates him; beating me at something. So every other week or so, we have a competition (pedometer steps, minutes on the bike, laps in the pool) and if he wins, I have to do one of his chores for a week. If I win, he has to do one of mine for a week. So far, he has been beating the pants off me and getting very sweaty doing it. I'm getting stronger too, because I have enough pride that I don't want him to wipe the floor with me.

If you want your kids to exercise, maybe you need something like that; give them a really satisfying reward, make them beat you at something to win it. Set goals that are realistic for them and you but that require a little extra work than their normal. And the reward/punishment is only for a week, so that it's not crushing.

Stop yelling at your kids, spend time with them, try to understand what they care about. You'll do a lot more good.
posted by emjaybee at 9:23 AM on August 8, 2017 [27 favorites]

And what I should say ?

I'd go with "Want to swim with me? The weather's great!" or "It'll be fun!" or "I could use the company!" or pretty much anything but making what could be an enjoyable activity with a beloved family member sound like an unpleasant chore. Though you may have missed the opportunity to sound sincere while using any of those lines.
posted by asperity at 9:26 AM on August 8, 2017 [15 favorites]

Modeling good behaviors (because exercise is good for you regardless of your weight) is better than shaming your children. And constantly commenting on their weight will not improve your future relationships with them.
posted by suelac at 9:30 AM on August 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

What is cheeso and where can I get some?
posted by ian1977 at 9:34 AM on August 8, 2017 [22 favorites]

elcapitano, I wish you could see how, to the eye of a third party who doesn't know you and has no prior opinion of you, the charge and pleasure you are getting from finding a societally-licensed way to be harsh and judgmental towards your child just rolls off your account. I bet this is something you would be really horrified to see if you could see it. I bet you don't want to feel that way towards your child at all. But it's what you're showing the world.

I myself was never even able to seriously tackle my weight until enough time had passed from my childhood that seeking to lose any was no longer a life-or-death referendum on my value as a human being. When people tell you that this kind of shaming has been not only hurtful to them, but actually detrimental to the supposed goal, you should listen.
posted by praemunire at 10:55 AM on August 8, 2017 [11 favorites]

Mod note: One deleted; seriously folks, the thread's not about "should parents force kids to exercise", plenty to talk about in the actual article.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:23 AM on August 8, 2017

Super-weird that derail began "Since daughter and son decided" and then exclusively focused on daughter... oh, wait, not weird at all, ties back perfectly to actual article: A woman's body isn't neutral. A woman's body is everyone's business but her own.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:25 AM on August 8, 2017 [26 favorites]

I'm going to link to this comment from a few months ago from supercrayon because it's really changed how I think about body weight. It was in a previous FPP about body positivity.
posted by tofu_crouton at 11:43 AM on August 8, 2017 [8 favorites]

waitaminute!! Cheesos is a dog treat?
posted by ian1977 at 12:03 PM on August 8, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is a hobby-horse of mine and i would have talked about it regardless, but holy shit, guys: a kid's body handles fat and energy differently from a grown adult. Even pre-puberty, it's normal for kids to gain weight for like six months in preparation for a growth spurt. Puberty will cause even more weird unpredictable swings in weight. Not to say that you should never worry about your child's weight, but it's very very very contingent on context - how old they are, how long they've been putting on weight, and what other health problems they have, INCLUDING MENTAL HEALTH - and you should remember that, contrary to popular thought, a lot of these changes are things they have no control over.

it's also normal for a person who's menstruating to gain and lose five pounds over the course of their cycle.

it breaks my fucking heart to see teenage girls stressing out over five pounds, because that's well within the error-bar of "on my period and just had lunch". Five pounds is not anything to worry about.

while i'm getting angry at popular thought, BMI is not even a good way to measure fat, let alone health. Being fat isn't a fucking death sentence if your other health indicators are good. Thank you for patience. end of comment.
posted by Rainbo Vagrant at 12:57 PM on August 8, 2017 [12 favorites]

Now when I raise the point "you could come down with me for a swim instead of watching youtube and getting fat"

Why are you framing it around being fat? Seriously - I want you to think about why you look at your children being sedintary and it only became a problem when they didn't look the way you want them too.

Why isn't it about spending time together? Or doing something fun? Or keeping active? Or having a variety of experiences in your day? Or even just limiting screen time? Why did you make this all about you judging your children for making different choices than you instead about encouraging them to be healthy by setting reasonable expectations?

Young women in particular are pressured by almost all of society to solely view our bodies as objects for other people to enjoy. Our fathers often participate by insulting our appearance and justifying it by saying it's for our own good. All it does is add to he immense amount of self-hatred an astonishingly large number of women carry around but hide from others via an extra helping of even more shame. Seriously think about what insulting your daughter will really do to her.

You're meant to be her father. What does it teach her when her own father hates her body and tells her so and tells her that his insults toward her are for her own good? What does that teach her about what love is supposed to look like? Do you really want your children seeking out people who will insult them because they think that's what love looks like?
posted by Deoridhe at 1:26 PM on August 8, 2017 [19 favorites]

Stepping into a parents' shoes, I recognize that a child being overweight can be concerning because at the end of the day, parents want their children to be as healthy as possible for their own good. But keep in mind that "overweight" is based on a quantified standard, and as the article said, we're starting to realize that the health factor cannot always be determined by weight as a number, because there are various reasons for the sizes of two perfectly healthy people to be completely different.

With this societal standard of looking thin implying healthy and fit, children have so many reasons to feel insecure about their body as it is. When natural body functions such as puberty cause them to temporarily gain weight, parents telling them that they need to lose weight gets them angry; they may very well feel like they're trying their best, but as a growing child, puberty and constant hunger makes it incredibly hard, and they resent parents for not being sympathetic about that.

Bottom line is that children (and everyone, of course) should maintain good health regardless of natural body changes, and parents should encourage that not by bringing body shape and weight into the picture because that comes across as insensitive. I've been body shamed in my high school and college years - honestly, I wasn't even overweight, but I just had some excess fat that made my body look less than ideal (I say ideal in reference to societal standards) - and I hated that those who were passing comments did not recognize that it was hard to eat healthy in college when studying took up so much time, and the most conveniently accessible food was far from healthy...plus, who knows what other factors besides food consumption resulted in a slightly less than ideal body? And the encouragement to lead a more active lifestyle could have been better. I would have been more motivated if I heard, "Hey let's go for a walk, it's a nice day", instead of "Hey let's go for a walk, it will be good for you to shed some pounds."

When I started living on my own after college, I made my own efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle, along with the occasional indulgence in delicious but unhealthy foods, for which I would have been shamed before. I still ended up losing enough weight and I'm pretty fit now, even though my intention was just to stay healthy and I didn't actually set weight loss goals. My point is not that people will just naturally lose weight and we shouldn't have to worry about it...rather, if someone cared enough about their own health and they have access to the resources (gym, healthy food, doctor's appointments, etc.), they'll do what they think is beneficial for them, but getting criticism from other people about their weight is not the most effective way for that to happen.

Weight gain is certainly a concerning side effect from kids being on their smartphones/tablets constantly, but there are many other reasons why that habit should be moderated, and when it is, health-related improvements will come naturally. Other benefits to getting off our screens are feeling energized, soaking up good weather, more socialization, diversifying activities, etc. These are probably better angles to use when encouraging a child to be active without making them feel ashamed and resentful towards parents. Even educating people from a young age about the health angle (talking about maintaining lower cholesterol, blood sugar, combating fatigue, mental and emotional health) would be a good way to get through, rather than focusing on body image or weight. Basically, if you want your child to care about their health, don't try to get them to care about how their body looks. It's too superficial, and also fuels more insecurity than "Eating this or doing [insert physical activity] will help keep your cholesterol levels healthy so that you don't suffer in the long run, and make sure you're not tired all the time."
posted by cocoaviolet at 2:18 PM on August 9, 2017 [5 favorites]

So, I've written before about the joys of aging out of the male gaze, and what a wonderful time it is to be alive when it happens. I am firmly in the camp of Toddler Grandma style, and have ceased trying to apologize for being a size 1 or 2. (X that is.)

I'm off to visit my parents next week. They are in their 70s, and my mother is one of the Ladies Who Lunch set, and has been horrified by my sartorial choices since I was old enough to buy my own clothes. For instance, if I dare to bare my fat arms, she'll rush to find me a sweater. In the swamp of the South. In summer. All my life, I've changed my style to meet her approval, but now? Na. Fuck that. I'm over 50, I'm wearing this octopus dress and high tops when I get off the plane, and I have a whole bag packed full of cowcow dresses.

(Just saying, sometimes oppositional disorder never stops. Heh.)
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 2:21 PM on August 9, 2017 [7 favorites]

elcapitano, why don't you try offering your daughter (and son!) a healthy snack so they don't resort to "cheesos"? You could try buying your family's groceries yourself so there are only healthy snacks around. Some people have no problems with two meals a day, others go crazy and prefer to have smaller meals throughout the day. "It works for me" is rarely the right approach to any problem.

And instead of focusing on fat, focus on health and exercise and strength. For example, girls start losing their upper body strength around puberty. Swimming would be excellent upper body exercise. But if your daughter thinks she has a fat ass (and you as her father agree with her), she's much less likely to put on a swimsuit and expose what looks to her like a horribly fat figure, to everyone else at the swimming pool/beach.

As a father, you're modeling relationships with men your daughter will have in the future. Would you want your daughter's future husband to tell her she has a fat ass? To tell her she gained too much weight when she's pregnant? That her figure is no longer pleasing after childbirth? I suggest you sit down and think about these things.
posted by gakiko at 12:57 AM on August 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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