4.25.2011

Fat acceptance is for all fat people

Fat acceptance is for all fat people.

I'm hoping most of my readers find that an utterly mundane thing to say but we shouldn't lose sight of how provocative it is. Or how important it is to stress it. Fat acceptance is for ALL fat people. If you think fat acceptance needs to be withheld from anyone, then you are not talking about fat acceptance. If you think fat acceptance is only for the acceptably fat, then you are not talking about fat acceptance.

I recognize that this isn't something that will come easy for many people, but it is important that fat acceptance challenge people to think differently. It is not enough to carve out some sort of narrowly defined exemption to allow yourself to be fat while continuing to fat shame others. I would also question the inverse, where you allow for others to be fat, but not people like you. I get that it may take some time for people to get there, but we need to challenge them to get there. We need to challenge people to think about fat differently.

Fat acceptance is for fat people with health concerns like hypertension, diabetes, PCOS, and the like that are typical a focus of fat shaming. Fat acceptance was not created to champion fat people without these health concerns at the expense of those who do have them. It was created for all of us. Fat people with health needs are often the most vulnerable to our culture of fat stigmatization and we must be committed to fighting for them. For us. I was diagnosed with hypertension about two years ago. I'm not going to be ashamed because of this. I'm not going to apologize. I'm not going to justify myself. What I will demand is weight neutral treatment. Shaming me does no good, not that this will stop people. I know why fat people with diabetes are reluctant to speak out in fat acceptance circles. I know why fat people with sleep apnea may avoid talking about it. We shouldn't. Anyone who tries to withhold fat acceptance from us is wrong. Fat shaming is not a fair response to our health concerns. It is not a productive response. It is no response at all. It is a distraction and we must not be told that we don't deserve respect because we don't meet an external standard of health. We can be healthy. Not by a standard which will deny us health no matter what, but we should not let that standard define us.

Fat acceptance is for fat people with health concerns not typically blamed on fatness. Both because when you are fat, ANYTHING will be blamed on fatness, and because no health concern is a moral failing. No health care need should exempt someone from pursuing a healthy relationship with their body. Not in the stigmatizing way health is defined for us, but in a way which focuses on what we are capable of and not defining us by perceived limitations. I think we have to be even more radical than saying that health is not a moral obligation and question the very definition of "health" which is only used to shame and stigmatize people for being "sick". We can live our lives and pursue our health right now. With diabetes, with hypertension, with whatever. "Health" as a tool for shame has nothing to offer us. This is about something different. About enriching our lives instead of defining us by what we are not.

Fat acceptance is for fat people with mobility issues. It is for fat people who use wheelchairs, canes, and scooters. It is not okay to rationalize that some people "need" to lose weight. That is not productive or helpful. Fat stigmatization does not magically start to work because someone "needs" it. All it has done is fail us. We need to start challenging these attitudes in our culture and in ourselves. Shaming fat people who are differently abled is one of the most perverse and horrendous instances of fat stigmatization. For working with the needs of their bodies they are subject to all manner of scorn and hostility. They deserve our respect. Period. Fat shame never has a time and a place.

Fat acceptance is for fat people who weigh more than 300 lbs. And more than 400lbs, 500lbs, or whatever arbitrary line someone wants to draw. If you want to try to justify walling off fat acceptance for people who are too fat, remember that what we are told is that we are ALL too fat. No matter how much you think it makes sense to stigmatize fat people at whatever point you've decided is "too much", remember that the "common sense" of fat stigmatization makes no such distinctions. We are ALL collectivized by this fat shaming. There is no distinction between someone who is 250lbs and someone who is 500lbs. If you don't think that makes sense for you, why are you so quick to presume it makes sense for someone larger? Your line is arbitrary. There is NO point when fat stigmatization starts showing "results". There is no point where fat shaming "works".

Fat acceptance is also for the person who weighs 200lbs. It is also for the fat person who is currently able bodied. It is for the fat person without immediate health concerns. It is for the fat people who are not so easily categorized (which is to say, all of us). I don't earn fat acceptance when I go hiking through rocky forests. I don't lose fat acceptance when I monitor my blood pressure. It is about sharing all of our experiences to show what a rich and diverse tapestry of potential fat people have. It brings together our collective strength through our unique experiences. All of our experiences are okay. All of our lives deserve respect. None of us deserve shame or moral judgment.

Fat acceptance is for all fat people.

17 comments:

Mazarine said...

I agree!

Have you heard of Bevin Brandlandingham? The Queer Fat Femme? She rocks so hard!

Twistie said...

A-freaking-men! Preach it, sibling!

I'm fat with textbook perfect blood pressure, no diabetes, no heart issues, no mobility issues... I'm in great health. I'm married to a man who is fat, has type II diabetes, extreme hypertension, heart problems, and severe sleep apnea. His best friend is fat with significant mobility issues due to a really bad knee injury some years ago.

Male or female, heart problems or no, mobility issues or no, we have one thing in common: we are all human beings deserving of respect and deserving of being treated with dignity.

The current atmosphere of fatphobia hurts us all. We need to battle it any way we can, and we need to do it right out loud.

Samantha C. said...

one of the early things that really clicked when I was discovering FA was the idea that even if, even in the rare cases where all it would take was weight loss to improve a person's quality of life - we still don't know how. We don't know how to make a fat person permanently thin. We do know how to put them on a diet, but not how to prevent them from re-gaining whatever weight their body wants. We know how to do bariatric surgeries but not without horrifying side effects and not with the magical weight-loss effects promised.

There's a lot of things that would make a lot of people a lot healthier. Things that it'd be wonderful if we could just flip a switch and get on a program and change. But if there is no switch, if there just isn't a solution, then working toward accommodation and demanding respect work a thousand times better than just pretending there were something we could do.

Brian said...

@Mazarine I have heard of her. One of many fatties who rock!

@Twistie I've been reminded how radical it is to say it is okay to be a person with health concerns, but in many ways this is what FA has always said. It is okay to be fat. Extending to be okay to be person with diabetes, sleep apnea, etc. is a pretty small step but an absolutely vital one. We all should be free of moralizing judgments.

@Samantha C. There is no safe, reliable, sustainable means of making a fat person into a not fat person. The respect we deserve is not contingent on this, but I don't think we should lose sight of it, either, because so much of the culture of fat bigotry is premised on fat being a choice and weight loss being a companion choice. It shouldn't matter, but the bigotry of the status quo does a lot of things it shouldn't do. I think there is a difference between responding to the status quo's misrepresentations and bargaining with it. Certainly, we don't want a debate to be about what fat people are okay, which is why I think FA should firmly be for all fat people. There is no point where we can accept exempting persons from fat acceptance.

notblueatall said...

"We need to challenge people to think about fat differently." is exactly how I define fat acceptance! Thank you for putting it so well, sir.
=0)

Brian said...

Just realized The Rotund made a similar post 3 years ago...

deeleigh said...

Thanks. It can never be stressed enough.

But, a lot of people want to except themselves from fat acceptance. They'll say it's easy for someone smaller than they are (or someone healthy, or whatever) to accept themselves, but that they themselves couldn't possibly. And all you can do is hope that they find peace somehow, because you can't argue with that. All you can do is say 'it's here if you someday decide you want it.'

JupiterPluvius said...

When doctors say "The best way to treat this is weight loss," my response is always "Really? That's all you got? A treatment with a 95% failure rate?"

zaftigzeitgeist said...

Thank you so much. I needed to hear this. I've been struggling with feeling like I'm somehow Not Fat Enough for FA. So yes, thanks.

sanabituranima said...

I'd just like to add that FA is also for fat people with Binge Eating Disorder.

B.E.D can kill you and people who have it need to recover, but FAT ACCEPTANCE IS OFTEN A NECESSARY PART OF RECOVERY. I am bulimic and I attend a support group for people with all types of EDs (anorexia, bulimia, EDNOS, binge eating, food-related OCD) and a lot of the people who have achieved long-term recovery from binge eating have only been able to do it by accepting that they will always be fat, even if they stop bingeing.

Brian said...

That's a very good point, sanabituranima. It can be a sensitive issue because all fat people are deemed binge eaters culturally and many fat people internalize these judgments and these are all problems that need to be addressed, but fat acceptance is for ALL fat people recovering from disordered eating. I have very close friends who have dealt with EDNOS (anorexic while fat in their cases) and FA has been a major part of their recovery.

Anonymous said...

I wanted to ask an opinion question. Is it fat acceptance if you are fat, but enjoy it?

A few of my friends and I involved in fat fetishism (though I believe preference is a better word than fetishism) have been getting an insane amount of backlash from the FA community for admitting that we have a sexual preference for ourselves being fat and/or fat partners. We've been told time and time again from major players in the FA community that we do not align with their standards (though we do... we just have a little extra on our side).

I'd just like to get your opinion on it. Love the blog, by the way! :)

Mina

Brian said...

Fat acceptance is fighting for all fat people, whether they support fat acceptance or not. It is also fighting for all fat people, no matter what unrelated interests they might have. What it does not do, and cannot do, is fight for unrelated interests. That is what feederism is. Its not fat acceptance. Its unrelated. Just being related by fatness doesn't make those two interests necessarily related. And while one's feederist interests may inform their fat acceptance, it is still functionally and entirely different.

I would suggest that you learn more about the history of feederism's interactions with fat acceptance and you would understand why so many fat activists push back against it. Feederist promoters have a long history of using gender and wealth privileges to force their agenda on fat acceptance. With a rather lengthy record of success, at that. Through these individuals, many fat activists faced a good deal of disempowerment. You may not have done that, but that doesn't mean this history of oppression doesn't exist. As a feminist man, I may strive to not be a part of the problem with sexism, but I cannot deny what my gender has done. Trying to be better means recognizing what harm has been done by my communities. That history informs the apprehension many fat activists have towards feederists just as misogynistic culture informs the attitudes many feminists have towards men. I can't just say "but that's not me". That's not enough.

Most of the interactions fat activists have had with feederists have been individuals eager to co-opt the movement for their own agenda. Its a dynamic we see with many diet promoters as well. Both groups have a long history of coming to FA with the purpose of twisting it for their own purposes and fat activists are right to be wary of that kind of influence. Both act as means to silence fat activists.

What I'd suggest is that feederists respect a strong line between fat activism and feederist interests. They are different issues and deserve the respect of separation. The message of fat acceptance is often incompatible with feederism and FA must not become a movement of the lowest common denominator. Conflating the two ultimately harms both communities. I'd likewise urge no mixed messages between fat admiration and feederism. Again, there is a long history of that line being blurred in a way which served to erase the identity and experience of fat admirers for the benefit of feederists. Likewise, feederists shouldn't face a backlash for identifying as such. What's important is the nature of their interaction with fat activism. If one can support and fight for it instead of fighting against it to promote their own agenda, that should be welcomed. If one can even just make common cause while respecting fat acceptance communities to not try to focus discussions on differences and disagreements, they should be welcomed. What I want to see is that this play out on FA's terms. What has happened far too often in the past, from feederists and dieters alike, is a demand that FA become less to appease outside agendas. As many dieters find common cause with FA without demanding it endorse dieting, so too can feederists. But there must be respect for the distinctions and an awareness of why fat activists resist feederist influences.

Anonymous said...

"Likewise, feederists shouldn't face a backlash for identifying as such. What's important is the nature of their interaction with fat activism. If one can support and fight for it instead of fighting against it to promote their own agenda, that should be welcomed."

If FA and Feederism are as unrelated as you say, which I do understand and I can agree with you, the certain members of FA outright rejecting friends who happen to be into feedersim is unjustified.

Most of the people into feederism do support FA without integrating their sexual preferences into it. We want to help FA, and as much as we try to clear up the all too common misconceptions that surround feederism they still see us as "OMG THEY'RE GOING TO FORCEFEED HER UNTIL SHE'S IMMOBILE! THAT'S DISGUSTING!" when the vast majority of us are NOT like that at all! I would never promote feederism to someone who wasn't already interested/involved in it. Nor would I want to see people who aren't into it being told that our way is the right way (because it's not right to do that).

We want don't want to fight with the FA movement, we want to help, they just don't seem to see past the fact that we're into feederism and that it may not be as terrible of a thing as they percieve.

Brian said...

You are assuming fat activists are wary of feederists because of the mechanics of feederism. I again submit that much of that hostility is born out of the politics of members of the feederist community. Politics that exploited gender and class privilege to silence fat activists unwilling to allow the movement to be hijacked by white men with deep pockets. The fact is, the feederist community has a long history of erasing other identities to benefit theirs. You might not have done that, but its still a reality you have to respect. Just as I, as a fat admirer, have to respect that the hostility many fat women feel towards fa's has been very much earned. I don't get to feel slighted because I wasn't one of the fat admirers contributing to that attitude. I have to respect and acknowledge the fair apprehension they have and work within that framework to express my point of view.

To that end, consider the example you raised as something that doesn't represent most feederists. It does, however, represent a lot. And those individuals have a history of trying to push their perspective onto others. The number of feederists who talk about coersing others into feederism either by emotionally pressuring them or outright denying them consent may be a small portion of the whole, but its uncomfortably common and rarely stigmatized. To the degree that it is, I can assure you it wasn't at all just 5 or 10 years ago. "Not me" isn't enough when those people are out there imposing themselves on others with little social sanction within feederist communities. Same goes for fat admirers. The creeps who stalk any fat woman with an internet presence to catalog their statistics and cull their private photos are a reality. I'm not comfortable with that behavior and I'm not comfortable with the degree to which it is coddled in fat admirer communities. But I have to respect that those who have had interactions with them have a learned apprehension of fat admirers. Its not fair or reasonable of me to tell them they are wrong to have that reaction, because its not. If I want to point the way to a better impression of fat admirers, I have to take some responsibility for the reputation that's been earned. I can't just deny it or shout "No True Scotsman". What I really need to do is confront the troubling behavior from my community and respect how that has fairly impacted the level of trust others may be willing to have in me. Trust is earned, not demanded and in these cases, a lack of trust is what's been earned. I can't tell you how to confront that because its not my community. I can just tell you that assuming people are just disgusted with the mechanics of feederism is not respecting the earned mistrust. That even goes when that mistrust is vocalized as some kind of disgust. I can appreciate feeling upset by it. I've seen discussions of fat admirers recently that I felt really misrepresented and demeaned my sexuality. I can appreciate feeling really angry and wanting to push back hard. I had to step back and remind myself that my frustration and offense isn't with those fat women who think poorly of fat admirers. Its with the fat admirers who have taught them to think that way.

Colleen Smith said...

I guess my question is simple- I'm not part of the FA camp, but I devote a lot of time to trying to understand it. I agree that to a great extent, size is irrelevant. What seems most important to me is leading an active life and managing stress in a healthy way. Even the biggest people who have that down are just as fit as a thin person who does that.

My question is, what about the few health issues that /are/ directly due to the presence of excess fat, like sleep apnea? Do FA people suggest people with sleep apnea get surgery, use oxygen tanks, anything to avoid losing weight? I mean, this has nothing to do with stigma. These people deserve to have energy and good sleep.

Brian said...

With all due respect, I don't think you are demonstrating much effort to understand FA if you think fat acceptance is about doing everything possible to avoid losing weight. FA isn't about hating thin people. It does suggest that we stop acting like weight loss is a meaningful demand to make of fat people, no matter what their health needs are. Sleep apnea isn't caused by fat, even if you consider the fat "excess". All fat people don't have sleep apnea, not all persons with sleep apnea are fat. We know how to treat sleep apnea without weight loss. What fat people deserve is access to those treatments. They deserve treatments that will work, not ones that don't. Its not about avoiding incidental weight loss, but avoiding "treatments" with no proven record of sustainable success.

You seem to be stigmatizing sleep apnea treatments that have been proven successful in favor of promoting fat shaming, a treatment that has been shown to be overwhelmingly likely to fail. I know a lot of fat people whose lives have been enormously helped with CPAP machines. Maybe you want to shame fat people for using them to improve their well-being, but I want no part in that. If you are struggling to understand why FA would want to reject these kinds of shaming, I'd advocate trying to devote more time to understanding fat acceptance. Fat people don't deserve to be stigmatized for their health needs or their body size.

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