Its increasingly clear to me that the greatest threat facing fat acceptance isn’t the multi-billion dollar diet industry or the multi-billion dollar related industries that also profit on promoting the fat=evil message. Rather, the real danger comes from the people who’ve been sold that bill of goods. Because they will keep angrily fighting without any financial motive. Having been coddled with a vacuum that supports their way of thinking, they have been made to become violently angry when someone suggests that we look at fat people differently.
To be sure, many are now personally indebted to the cult of dieting. They are probably the most aggressive unpaid foot soldiers against fat acceptance because they see it as a real threat to their world view. Their perspective simply cannot condone any disagreement. Because if someone doesn’t agree, it can sow doubt as to whether they are doing the right thing. Dieting up and down, again and again, increasingly culminating in radical surgery as a means of punishing their bodies for not being thin. This can only be justified by an extreme view of the evils of fatness that has never been supported by research or even honest anecdote (the favored proof of the fat bashers; though try some in return and watch it be instantly dismissed as meaningless anecdotal evidence). Many of these people have heard of fat acceptance but rejected it. That’s their right, of course, but their response is to insist that fat acceptance change to support their world view. They’ve perverted the term “size acceptance” which was always an expansion of fat acceptance ideas, into a means of turning the movement into yet another diet support group. It’s not about accepting the size you are. It’s about accepting the size you think you should be. And since this effectively shuts up people are advocating for the idea that being fat can be okay, the size everyone thinks they should be is the size Big Diet tells them they should be.
But this goes further than just dieters aggressively protecting their viewpoint from any disagreement. Even people with no stake in the matter whatsoever express the same rabid support for the diet industry. Their message has been allowed to be promoted with such protection that many people find the notion of disagreement to be inconceivable and will react with just as much passion on learning of the fat acceptance movement as they would if they found out people claimed gravity doesn’t exist or that the oceans are made of jell-o. The media has allowed the fat=evil message to be promoted with so little challenge that virtually everyone sees it as a given. As so obvious that you simply cannot disagree with them.
Fat acceptance faces a major challenge in confronting these attitudes. Inevitably, even well meaning people will treat the movement as the stuff of tin-foil hats. They’ve been so successfully trained to do so precisely because they were never told there was another side to the story of fat. While no article on fat acceptance can go without being challenged by fat detractors, no article on dieting will ever be challenged by anything more threatening than a different approach to dieting. Even the statistics of dieting’s failures have been largely co-opted by the diet industry to promote their wares, thus neutering them of their true force.
I’m unsure how fat acceptance can get beyond this problem, though I’m deeply concerned that the movement has a pattern of simply giving into to their critics and endorsing their attacks. We cannot affect change if we cannot even argue for our right to believe differently. Yet this is the current state of affairs. As fat acceptance started to grow more prominent, it drew more active condemnation and subversion from the ant-fat folks, and I’m sad to say its working. For some time, fat acceptance optimists though we were on the verge of a tipping point in cultural attitudes, but I think its clear this has not been born out. Indeed, the backlash from those indebted to diet culture has possible pushed the movement backwards. Places where it is safe to believe fat acceptance are increasingly scarce and we find ourselves waging the same basic debate over and over and over to every single critic who cannot conceive of people who feel this way. A couple people are open-minded enough to be converted, but so many are just incredulous to anything said against fat=evil that you just can make any headway. These aren’t all bad people, either. Not every critic of fat acceptance is the type to indulge in the sort of extreme hatred that is easy to ignore.
So what to do? How do you counter cultural attitudes so entrenched as to be seen as self-evident? Is this similar to the early years of the gay rights movement? While many have come to the side of tolerance on gay issues, I have to imagine they started from a place no different than fat people. I suspect I’m sometimes fooled into seeing Stonewall riots as being the start of the gay rights movement, but that may not be fair. Stonewall happened the same year NAAFA was founded, so one could look and wonder why our two movements have seen such different advancement. But the groundwork for Stonewall no doubt stretched much further back, while the real philosophical grounding fat acceptance wouldn’t really start to develop until the Fat Underground was formed in the early 70’s. And even that grow out of radical lesbian philosophy, so clearly gay rights had a solid head start and quite likely an extreme one. Also, while many people are personally indebted to homophobia (and often respond to the notion of gay rights with the exact kind of mocking condescension fat activists are treated to), no one is making serious money off of gay hate.
So, is there another comparison to make? Gay/fat comparisons are easy because both involve things commonly assumed by the opposition to be choices but which are biological. But is there something that has had to fight powerful and monied opposition that makes money by specifically promoting anti-fat attitudes? I know some movements face well-funded opposition. Environmentalists, for instance, go up against powerful industries. But those industries don’t actually make their money by promoting anti-environmentalism. They spend money to promote it, but it’s not something that they can expect to directly make money from. Is there something to look to for ideas or is fat acceptance on its own here?