4.20.2011

"Good Fatties" is not a self-definition

I still don't really get how to respond to something on Tumblr, so I'm just going to do it here. There is a discussion today about the problems with good fatties and something clicked with me reading it.

Good fatties don't define themselves that way. The term was coined to mock the subject, not valorize them. I'm having trouble taking seriously people who employ this sort of stigmatizing language. Has this gotten lost over the years? The sarcasm of it seems pretty evident to me, but does it not translate? To me, using the term in an attack on the supposed subject strikes me as really bad faith.

I've written about these issues before, but I don't think I went far enough. While there could be a theoretical issue of the so-called "good" fatties bargaining with fat stigmatizers, as the term was created and repeated, it actually endorses the definitions of health used to disenfranchise fat people. We need to remember that those definitions don't provide for ANY of us to be "good". There is no bargaining with it. Fat acceptance isn't arguing for accommodations, but for genuinely radical shifts in what we understand "healthy" to mean. "Health at Every Size" is a contradiction under the status quo definition of health. It is functionally incompatible with those ideas of good and bad. If there are any HAES promoters who do practice it as an effort to justify a few fat people, I'd suggest they reconsider the system the are trying to negotiate with. Because that status quo will not and cannot allow for "good fatties". To me, any "good fattie" example is necessarily an example not to glorify but to disprove. Because its their system that is defining good and bad and that system which is shown to be a lie when any fat person defies it.

I'm not a good fattie. I definitely defy conventional expectations in some ways, but not all. I won't define myself as "bad" or "unhealthy" when I fail to meet the status quo's standards. Those standards are what we are all trying to dismantle. There may come a day when the status quo tries to bargain and allow for HAES so long as its health on their terms. We should reject that bargain when it comes, but we also shouldn't forget that the status quo is NOT bargaining with us at all. It is denying us. Well, screw that.

I'm not going to let the medical status quo tell me I can't have "health" because I have high blood pressure. We shouldn't let it tell us we are bad if we have diabetes or PCOS or headaches or anything else. Good and bad are their concepts, not ours. Not fat acceptance's. Any of us who defies their concepts in any way defies it for us all. Its about finding our own health in our own lives, not adhering to any external standards. Those standards have no room for us and it would be folly to try to bargain with them.

It is also, however, folly to see bargaining where what is actually happening is much more radical. We're reclaiming the very definition of health from those who want to use it as a moralizing cudgel to shame and stigmatize. We are taking it back, and no one should be stigmatized for what that means for them. Not those of us with conditions traditionally blamed on our fat bodies, but also not for those who live in their fat bodies in ways traditionally limited for thin people.

15 comments:

biomechanical923 said...

Thank you for this post, Brian.

Would you say that fat "health apologists" are a prime example of how some fat people express privelege over those who may be more fat than them, and thus stratifying the FA community?

To me, it just looks like they're saying "Well, I may be fat, but at least I'm not THAT fat!"

biomechanical923 said...

Side note: In my opinion, the real core of this issue is the fact that, as Brian said, we can not expect them to bargain with us. We need to realize that there is a huge difference between Health Care: (something to which all human beings are entitled), and Health Insurance: (something which privileged people use to gamble on just how long they will remain privileged).
Saying that fat people who [exercise, have low blood pressure, whatever] should deserve to get health insurance while other people do not is completely beside the point, because you're still trying to bargain your way in to having the right to participate in what is still little more than legalized gambling.

That's just my 2 cents, sorry if I offend anyone.

Brian said...

The crux of my issue is that the people who get smeared as "good fatties" are not people trying to bargain with the status quo. I have seen people advocate that kind of bargaining, but it was always coming from thin allies who I will gladly repudiate for advancing what I do believe is a very hostile and counterproductive strategy. The people who keep getting taken to task, though, are the so-called good fatties who I've just never seen attempt that kind of bargaining.

Likewise, the people who pull the "at least I'm not that fat" nonsense have consistently been individuals appropriating fat acceptance and trying to repurpose it into something actually fat hostile even if it may seem body positive in some kind restrictive manner. A lot of people claim to be for body acceptance but actually only do so for acceptable bodies. I think its worthwhile to call that behavior out as not being body acceptance and actually an effort to subvert the intentions and developed vocabulary of an existing movement. I don't think its useful to take fat activists to task for their attitudes, though.

Make no mistake, I utterly reject any attempt to negotiate an accommodation for a fat hostile status quo. I just don't think the so-called "good fatties" do any such thing and that such of framing tactics just enforce the status quo rather than challenge it. I don't feel it is a fair representation of what HAES argues.

Those labeled as "good fatties" are rarely the platonic ideals they get made out to be when people chastize "good fatties". Am I good fattie because I am a vegetarian or a bad fattie because I enjoy pizza? Am I good for hiking or bad for having high blood pressure? The fact is, the status quo says we are ALL bad. Its not just a matter of not being able to expect the status quo to bargain with us, it can't. There is no room for compromise in their system so we have an easy out. It would be wrong to try to bargain and entrench a moralizing notion of "unhealthy", but not only do I think that's not happening, I believe it can't happen. We're challenging the very understanding of what "healthy" means and advocating for an understanding that is open to everyone regardless of their body or their abilities. What any so-called good fattie is doing is tearing down a culture of valorized "health" in favor of something both with flexibility and without moralized imperatives. We're not just rejecting what "healthy" means to the status quo, but also what "unhealthy" means.

rebecca said...

Thank you for this.

wriggles said...

This is so good, I could quote so many parts of that I would just replicate virtually the whole of it!

The essential bit for me, apart from the title is;

Because that status quo will not and cannot allow for "good fatties".

A 'good fatty' poleaxes their non argument that fatness is the epitomy of all 'unhealthfulness' and we create it because we don't care about our health, according to what they define as care.

Yes there are people who deliberately seek exemption but they are the minority and their problem is they are rampant fat phobes.

A lot of them are don't even meet the definition of 'health' themselves and that is their gambit, some are even PWD and think haters should pity them and exempt them because "it's not their fault".

Yes, that is survival, I'm not blaming them, just stating that this false binary of sell out versus the righteous in FA simply doesn't stack up.

I'm not dismissing fears, I'm saying let's talk this through.

JupiterPluvius said...

I think it's important to highlight that currently able and athletically accomplished people come in all shapes and sizes, and that the group of people who might currently be described as "skilled and dedicated athlete" includes fat people as well as thin people---both as a way to challenge monolithically normative descriptions of athletic people and monolithically normative descriptions of fat people.

The part where that overlooked truth is turned into a stick to beat "bad fatties" with is the weird bit. No, I am not as physically fit as my friend the triathlete, even though she outweighs me by a good 50 pounds. My slender friends aren't as fit as she is, either, but nobody talks about "good skinnies" and "bad skinnies".

JupiterPluvius said...

Shorter version of what I just said: Body weight is not an indication of current levels of health and ability. Current levels of health and ability are not an indication of a person's behaviors, let alone of their moral character or worthiness of respect. Neither of these seem like they would be complicated to grasp, but they elude all kinds of folks from the First Lady of the United States to pretty much every journalist on the planet.

biomechanical923 said...

@ JupiterPluvius: "No, I am not as physically fit as my friend the triathlete, even though she outweighs me by a good 50 pounds. My slender friends aren't as fit as she is, either, but nobody talks about "good skinnies" and "bad skinnies"."

I think this is because there is not an actual social stigma attached to weight, simply to fatness.

There are some professional Football and Basketball players who weight 350-400 lbs or more, and it's accepted because "they're athletes" or "it's mostly muscle" or some other such excuse.

Society as a whole doesn't appear to have a problem with people who weigh a lot, so long as that weight is not comprised of fat.

Brian said...

As always, this is not a place for concern trolling or fat shaming. Fat people with health needs are no more valid a target for shaming than a fat person without current health concerns. Which is to say, NONE AT ALL. Every fat person deserves respect. I don't care if they have hypertension, PCOS, diabetes, or are riding a scooter. Shaming fat people is not something I have any tolerance for.

silentbeep said...

I have found the "good fatty vs. bad fatty" argument to be incredibly hurtful, to the "good" and "bad" fat alike! Because it's a false, stringent binary that shames everyone, by applying moral labels to people, for just living their lives the best way they know how: both "good" and "bad." The "bad" ones are shamed for being "bad" and the "good" ones are shamed for trying to "act acceptable": that's how I have always felt when I've seen those that "good vs bad" argument come up.

Brian said...

Valorizing "good" fatties at the expense of "bad" would be unequivocally wrong, but I think that requires a lot more than appreciating the ways individuals disprove our culture of fat shaming. People do it, but not really fat activists. And I don't think we really push back against what problem does exist by affirming that false binary. I think it's unproductive no matter which side affirms it. What we need is something radically different.

silentbeep said...

"People do it, but not really fat activists."

Well that's the rub right there. People who are invested in body policing do it.

"And I don't think we really push back against what problem does exist by affirming that false binary"

I agree with you, and one of the most hurtful things I see sometimes in the fatosphere is people feeding into this incredibly destructive false binary - I've found it to be really shame based and I wish we could do away with it all together. Affirming both sides of this false equation, the "bad" and the "good" is really harmful, it hurts anyone. I'd LOVE to see the day where we can just smash the "good vs bad fatty" dichotomy all together. Period. Both sides of it equally.

sharpclause said...

I have multiple disabilities and chronic conditions. Outside of the notion that the most privileged people, doctors, get to define health metrics based on their privileges and we call that the mainstream definition of health, and we can redefine health according to our own metrics, there is an identity to claim that says "I don't have health. I don't have a body or mind that functions for me." There are parts of my disabilities that I see as simply my body behaving as it does, and not problems that need to be "cured", and there are parts where I cannot call myself other than broken, damaged, and in serious need of care.

I am very hostile to the idea of health as an identity because it will always be an identity that the most privileged people can claim at the expense of the least. I am an unhealthy person, mentally and physically, and I want a society that doesn't run from the idea that people like me also deserve basic human rights and access to affordable and comprehensive treatment.

I feel that there's an increasing divide in the conversations of Fat Acceptance between those who do not have major disabilities and those who do. We haven't come far from the time when people literally balked at the idea of fatness being classified as a disability, thus erasing those of us who need to use the social model of disability to talk about the accommodations we need for our bodies and our mobility.

There must be room within FA for people to talk about how they are unhealthy, whether it is through personal choice, not fitting in with the health metrics and goals of the medical establishment, or by claiming and discussing their disabilities. I truly feel as if that isn't happening, that the most privileged amongst us are controlling the dialogue and centering themselves at the expense of the rest. Health, even by broadened standards that embraces personal metrics and goals, is a privileged status.

(I won't be further engaging with the discussion or any other on Tumblr. I am no longer interested in writing for free public consumption.)

Brian said...

My position is that "unhealthy" is a term created necessarily as a moral judgment. FA should have room for people to talk about their health concerns, but I feel that defining our health using the limits and demands of a culture which deems us unworthy is not going to challenge that culture to approach us differently. They have created a discussion and vocabulary to exclude us. I won't accept their judgments.

silentbeep said...

One of the other problems about using the "good vs. bad fatty" dichotomy is that it treats "good" health and "bad" health as extreme positions, that not only connotate false moral worth, but are implicitly static too.

Over the course of a lifetime health can change drastically, dramatically or subtly due to a variety of factors that are beyond our control. Even though I am able-bodied today, that can change in a heartbeat when I drive tonight in my car - i have no control over a potential drunk driver crashing into my car (just as one potential example of changed health status) would I then be a "bad" fatty because maybe I wouldn't be able to move for awhile (or at all) due to car accident injuries? My fat mother can no longer drive a car, cannot walk for very long distances, and has many health issues like diabetes - but sometimes she has a good day, and she can do a little bit more movement than the day before, and sometimes she is able to cook her own dinner - does that mean she's doing something "healthy" for herself and therefore is being "healthy" just for the moments she doesn't feel so bad? One day is she a 'bad" fatty or maybe the next day a 'good' one? I'd like to get off that moral seesaw thank you very much!

Like you Brian, I don't think anyone should feel bad for whatever health status there body is in. Period.

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