The beauty of getting over oneself

During my first month of college, a friend and I were discussing the recent passage of the Defense of Marriage Act. Both of us were squarely against it and thought it was clearly unconstitutional. At the same time, neither of us were necessarily really eager to have gay marriage thrust into the national political discussion. Budding little pragmatist, we thought it wasn't strategically appropriate. We didn't really disagree with gay marriage, we just thought it'd be much better if the gays would not be asking for it just yet. Why, if they just wait a bit, cultural change is on their side. Its going to happen eventually, so why press?

We were wrong. I was wrong.

The simple fact is, I wasn't ready. I wasn't there yet. So I hid behind strategy as I clung to what I thought marriage was since I was a kid. When I was 18, I had a really weird collection of beliefs. I was an avowed agnostic and eager young progressive, but I still had some oddly traditionalist notions about marriage. I was in no danger of being thought a reactionary or anything, but for some reason I thought it was worthwhile to wait to have sex until marriage. For the record, this was 100% due to a lack of opportunity as I would later quickly learn and which frankly I had already violated anyway. I may have known I didn't want my future wife to take my last name, but I still presumed marriage was the natural conclusion of a romantic relationship. Well, for straight people, anyway. I knew it couldn't be justified to deny gays and lesbians the institution of marriage, but I just wasn't there yet.

I'm not sure when I did. At some point in the coming years, I softened on the strategy and then hardened on recognizing the indefensible injustice. I don't think it took very long and I have no reservations now saying that what I believed then was completely wrong. No matter how pragmatic I thought I was being, strategy can't trump injustice. Wrong is wrong.

I may not know when I turned a corner on this, but I can tell you why I did. Its because I kept listening to gays and lesbians making their point about fighting for gay marriage. Which, to be fair, wasn't a settled issue in the gay community then or now, though I quickly recognized that the resistance from gays was entirely on principle with very little of my strategy bullshit. And I respected the points being made about questioning the institution of marriage altogether, but I found myself firmly believing that if there was marriage, there must be equality. There simply was no reasonable compromise. Marriage inequality was not just and it had to end.

I got there because I listened. I also kept my mouth shut about not being there yet. I didn't expect gay rights activists to have to answer to my equivocation. I don't expect them to change course because I wasn't on board yet. It was my own responsibility to get over myself, not theirs. If I did speak up, though, I'd hope I'd have been challenged. I hope people wouldn't have put up with that bullshit in the name of being nice or catering to potential allies. Social justice isn't practiced like a high-class philanthropic fundraiser where the potential donors and wined and dined in the hopes they open their check books. Its practiced by speaking out and standing for something. Allies are gained by challenging them to think differently, not figuring out what they'll stand for. Social justice isn't about the lowest common denominator.

I've struggled on other issues since and I usually keep my mouth shut when I know I just need to get over myself. More importantly, I try to respect when I'm challenged. There has been a lot of talk recently of the "presumption of bad faith" in feminist circles where allies get written off for mistakes. I share a lot of the apprehension about this and its generally speaking not something I agree with, but I still respect it. Bottom line, there are lines that shouldn't be crossed. Maybe I don't draw the lines in the same places as others, but I believe in the principal of what they are doing. I think most in progressive communities would. Even if I'm not with them now, I'm glad they are pushing for what they believe in. Maybe I'll be there with them in a few years. Maybe not. We NEED people pushing the boundaries, though. No matter how much we want to be a big happy family, progressive change doesn't necessarily happen because all progressives find what little they'll agree with. I feel that more often than not, change has happened because people didn't back down from saying things people didn't want to hear. Even if I don't agree with them, I'm absolutely glad these people are taking a stand. Not in some pandering "but I'll defend your right to belief" way, either. I'm not defending their right to be wrong, I'm defending their right to be RIGHT. If someone is pushing me to be MORE progressive and MORE understanding, that's a good thing. We're not talking about people dressing up the status quo in progressive garb, we're talking about people demanding real, radical change and that's not just something I respect its something I celebrate.

An excess of good faith can be pretty hostile to communities, too. When repeated bad behavior is tolerated in the name of playing nice, it pushes people away that progressive communities need in the name of comforting people who keep lobbing spitballs. For me, I find a balance by being willing to write someone off conditionally. I think this is something fat activists do a lot as I don't feel like our community really gets the privilege to take strong stands against "allies" who attack us. When a fellow progressive I generally respect and admire starts getting into anti-fat acceptance, pro-fat shaming garbage, I have no problem just writing them off on the subject. When an "ally" starts lecturing me about what fat acceptance needs to do to get them on board, I just don't care. I have no problem compartmentalizing someone as a total fucking asshole on fat acceptance, but with pretty good ideas otherwise. I've talked in the past about doing this in pop culture, but I practice the same thing with politics. There are some big-name progressive bloggers who I just groan when I see they've decided to offer some reactionary screed about how awful fat people are while demanding recognition for they totally aren't shaming fat people. There are others I know are perpetually half-way there, saying some really spot-on stuff, and then some real bull-shit. I'm fine with that. I'm fine with calling them out as an asshole about fat issues, but otherwise appreciating what they have to say. I hope one day, they can get over themselves on fat issues. Until then, I'm not going to coddle them just because I agree with them otherwise, but I'm also not going to throw out everything else they have to say. If they fashion themselves as some sort of anti-fat acceptance crusader, well, that'll just mean I'll have more to object to. If they something right every once and a while, it still won't excuse it. And if they are right most of the time, but indulge in fat shaming periodically, I may not have to object much, but I still will.

This is my way of dealing with this, though. I don't think its necessarily right, but its the balance that works for me. Some might label this as being forgiving or being an apologist. Good for them. Seriously. If I want to take a stand for what I believe in, I've got to be on board when others do the same. If for them, it works to just write some off completely, that's great. I respect that. Not as in, "I grudgingly tolerate that" but as in "I genuinely admire their conviction". I may not agree. I'm sure I'll find myself getting called out, too. I have to assume there are issues of privilege I have not educated myself on. That's how privilege works. I try, but there are things where I won't have gotten over myself yet. I hope no one ever feels pressured to give me or anyone else a benefit of the doubt they don't care to give. If you call me out in the name of the status quo, don't expect my respect, but if you push me to be more progressive, you absolutely have it. More importantly, I imagine you won't give a fuck about my "respect" if I need to get over myself. I sure wouldn't feel like giving a fuck if the roles were reversed. Expecting someone to get over themselves isn't a lot to ask. It isn't a lot to expect. No one should ever have to apologize or defend themselves for demanding that other people get over themselves. More often than not, its the least we can ask for.


Fat man running

I stepped out of my office building tonight and looked over to the street I would cross and saw the Walk light on. As a walker, its the kind of thing I'm always happy to see for about a second until I realize I'm still half a block away from the cross walk and this may be a very ominous sight.

Since starting a new job last year, I've tried to build a walk into my commute home. I've always had decent sized walks in my commutes but the last few years I've been close to the train on both sides. I've felt frustrating not walking as much. Not to lose weight or as a health chore but because its something I enjoy. I've always loved walking. When I was a kid, I would go on long walks around my neighborhood every night when I got back from school. I like it and its rewarding for my body.

As I look at the walk light, I barely get time to consider my options before it switches off. No time to think now. I'm a half-block away from the street and if I have any chance of getting across before the change, I must decide now and I must run.

I feel in a lot of ways, I have a good sense of what my body is capable of. I think this is an important thing to try to cultivate. Its' valuable to know your body, to respect what it cannot do and to celebrate the possibilities of your body. In that split second, I had to know what my body could do. I knew I could do it.

I have a more mixed relationship with running than I do walking. When I was a thin kid, I knew I liked running, but I also knew it wasn't something I was very capable of. I could build up a quick burst of speed, but running exhausted me very quickly leaving me struggling to breathe. Fine for a sport like baseball, where bursts of speed are needed, but a sport like basketball I struggled with.

But I loved those bursts of speed. When I was in 8th grade, my school had a 1 mile competitive run all of the boys were required to do. I knew I wasn't going to do well. I was aware that I was a gangly, unathletic child. Everyone was. I just wanted to try to make the most of it. So I burst out as the 4-lap race started and after the first lap, me and another kid were way out in front. I knew no one expected this of me. I could only imagine the feeling of the budding jocks looking at this gawky nerd speeding ahead of them. I knew it wouldn't last, but I still loved it. By the end of the race, I had tired out and struggled in the back of the pack. Most would think it a failure, but I still was happy with what I was able to accomplish in my body.

As most 30 year olds, I don't have much cause for running any more. There aren't many good excuses for an adult to just run flat out for a short period. Pretty much just catching trains and making walk lights. I'm also much larger than I was at 14. I know most don't expect fat bodies to be capable of running, and indeed some might not be. That's okay. Every body should be defined by what it can do, not what it can't. This was something I could do. No matter what the sight of a 250lb man darting through the night, I could do this. I wanted to do this. I wanted to push myself instead of being pushed around. I wanted to feel the cold air rush past my face. I wanted to fly.

I took off. I was up to full speed well before I got to the street. This felt good. This felt just like what it felt like to run when I was thin. I owned my body. Maybe I was running slower than others, but all I focused on was how it made me feel. It didn't matter what other people expected of me. It didn't matter what standards others might have. This was my body and it felt right.

I launched off the curb and the traffic light in my direction was still green. I was doing it but I had no room for error. I had to keep going full out straight across the street. It was night so there wasn't much traffic anyone, but that wasn't the point. The point was moving in my body, enjoying what it was capable of. I had to keep moving to make this, but I could make this. The light turned yellow as I was half-way across. It wouldn't change to red until I was 5 feet past the other side. I made it with time to spare. I flew.

I pulled up when I was across the street. It wasn't a long run. Maybe 60 yards. But that doesn't matter. It doesn't matter what someone else's standards are. It invigorated me and that was what was important. It was my body. Not anyone else's. Moving my body was not a chore, not was it an obligation. It does not make me a good person to run or walk. It does not make me a bad person if my subsequent 1 mile walk wasn't enough for some. It was just me being aware of my body and what it could do and what I wanted to do. My fat body flew through the night, and that's good just for itself.


The fantasy of oppressive fat activists

So, tell me, Reddit: how many days in a row will you leap to follow a link just because one obsessed weirdo tells you to? How often will you eagerly make yourselves into foot soldiers and enforcers of one creep's obsession? This is what makes you so proud of your fight against "Social Justice Warriors"? Doing the bidding of any stalker who spams your your little site?

This is just his latest profile. He'll delete it soon just like the last few dozen. Not that you ever notice or care. You'll keep swarming whatever sites people post like angry little lemmings.

Yuval Levental. That is the name of the stalker you are serving. He's from East Lancing, Michigan and his family shipped him off to France for school. He's a white supremacist and a violent misogynist, so I can see why he fits in so snuggly with you assholes.

This is your noble pursuit? Doing whatever Yuval Levental tells you to do? And you're surprised that people look at you as hateful clowns?

No one is telling anyone they are too fat to be in fat acceptance.

I keep feeling like I've talked about these issues before, because, well, I have. Oh, sure, the context then was dieting, but its still a pretty similar dynamic. People with privilege insist they are being discriminated against because they aren't accommodated in the way they are accustomed to. This dynamic was actually just discussed rather eloquently by a video game designer responding to complaints that a game ignored heterosexual men.
And if there is any doubt why such an opinion might be met with hostility, it has to do with privilege. You can write it off as "political correctness" if you wish, but the truth is that privilege always lies with the majority. They're so used to being catered to that they see the lack of catering as an imbalance. They don't see anything wrong with having things set up to suit them, what's everyone's fuss all about? That's the way it should be, any everyone else should be used to not getting what they want.
-David Gaider, BioWare
I know little of the game, but that discussion of privilege is spot on. I think the dynamic is seen in many instances when a privileged group is not being catered to. No one is being told they are too fat for fat acceptance, but they are being told about how thin privilege operates on a spectrum. About how there are unique issues facing larger individuals. About how "exactly like" constructions can erase the experiences of those already disenfranchised. About how there can be spaces for different people to talk about the unique issues they face with others who face those issues. About a need to be mindful of their own privilege when they feel they haven't been constructively responded to by larger people.

Am I saying every fat activist has always been perfectly constructive in dealing with issues with the spectrum of thin privilege? Of course not. Not every feminist has been perfectly constructive in dealing with issues of male privilege. That does not justify someone accusing feminists of being anti-men. As I discussed in that post, I feel it is fair to expect a level of patience and understanding from the privileged. I say that as a person who experiences a lot of privilege. That's not too much to ask and it is not exclusionary. If a fatter person complains that you don't get what they are experiencing, you should always reflect on the fact that on some level, you really don't. If you are a thinner person, you can and should empathize, but you can't know from experience. It may or may not have been constructive to point that out, but instead of defensively taking offense, realize that there is truth in it anyway.

Because there is absolutely nothing constructive about coming from a place of privilege and accusing a disenfranchised group of discriminating against you. No matter how hurt you feel, that is not helpful or valid. Even if an individual did respond unconstructively to you, responding just as unconstructively will only seem to validate their reaction. No one is telling you that you aren't fat enough for fat acceptance. People may perceive that, but the perception is not fair or justified.

I keep saying this, but it really bares repeating. Most people get all of this. Most people who are trying to engage with fat acceptance are understanding about these issues and forge constructive relationships from that understanding. It may not be noticed, but that doesn't mean its too much to expect. Its happening all of the time.


Safe for me, not for thee

I gather that recently an individual has been attacking fat positive spaces for trying to maintaing a safe space for fat people. The argument goes that this is discriminatory against thin people. Which is just plain unfair. I talked about this a little last month when I explored privilege as operating on a spectrum. I believe there is something just inherently wrong about people with privilege accusing those without of discrimination. That's not a license for the stigmatized to abuse the privileged, but that we need to view such disputes with a respect for what it means to have privilege and what it means to be disenfranchised. The fact of the matter is that most people are capable of this respect just fine. Most people don't rush to make things about them when they feel "put upon" by an oppressed group. Most people can find ways to object to genuinely troubling things with a respect and understanding that is warranted and not unwarranted cries of being victimized by the oppressed. Most people can respect safe spaces.

So, what of those who don't? In this case, the person in question has a long history of, well, exactly this. I don't really get the surprise here. Before he insisted that spaces for fat people must be accommodating to thin people, he insisted that fat acceptance spaces didn't have a right to be fat acceptance spaces. I can tell you that after I made that post, he harassed me repeatedly for a couple months. Aggressively emailing me over and over while I made no response. Writing multiple blog posts to attack me for not engaging him in his attempts to start a feud. It was strikingly similar to attacks I got late last year from a Men's Rights Activist who objected to me writing about rape culture. Its actually a pattern that's pretty common among people who object to safe spaces as being "discriminatory" to privileged, dominant views.

I have begun to recognize that for all their insisted opposition to safe spaces, what they actually want is to enforce the "safe space" of privilege. Privilege affords you a "safe space" of everywhere and that is something many privileged people seek to protect. They insist they represent inclusiveness, but this is nothing more than craven appropriation of progressive language. Appropriation of our language is something fat acceptance should be quite sensitive being in a culture where "diets are mean" is a slogan for a diet company. Their brand of inclusion, though, is all about excluding marginalized view points. Ensuring they remain crowded out by their privileged positions. They believe in having a space which is safe to express their views. They just believe that space is everywhere. Safe for me, not for thee.

We can't put up for this. The fact is, there are a lot of people who read fat acceptance blogs who aren't there yet, but they don't think to demand that fat acceptance adapt to them. There are a lot of people who feel shame for their body but recognize that the experience of fat people is not "exactly the same" as what they are seeing. Most people don't feel excluding because some spaces are maybe not all about them. They don't make much noise about being respectful of our spaces because that is how you are respectful of other people's spaces. We should remember that these people are there. We shouldn't expend much concern on the few who can't just respect our views and our communities, but demand we respect them. We shouldn't take seriously those who want to create safety for privilege. Respect isn't too much to ask. Fact is, lots of people are already offering it.


A radical idea

Maybe its, like, okay that some children are fat.

I know that seems like an outrageous suggestion, even to some proported Fat Acceptance allies who still wring their hands at all these little fat kids they hear about, but maybe we can try just being okay with that. Maybe we can all try to give that a shot, because flipping out over fat children hasn't exactly been a very productive strategy. So maybe we can "think of the children" and stop creating a culture that teaches them shame and self-loathing at earlier and earlier ages.

When someone protests that they are fine with fat adults, but fat children are a natural nightmare, I have to suspect that they aren't really fine with fat adults. They've just decided they'll tolerate our fatness through gritted teeth. Gee, thanks. But fat children? Oh, gosh no. We have to stop them while we still have time or else!

Or else, what, exactly?

Maybe we can stop regarding fat children as victims of their bodies. Maybe we can stop teaching that to those children and to the children around them. Maybe we stop having campaigns with militaristic language that send the message that their bodies are wrong and must be changed. Maybe we stop instructing them on shame and encouraging other children to enforce that shame.

Maybe we stop absolving ourselves from these outcomes by medicalizing those childrens' bodies. Maybe we stop flattering ourselves for our good intentions while we subject kids to scorn and resentment, from their families, their peers, and themselves. Maybe we recognize that telling children to stop being so fat will stigmatize fat bodies. Maybe we realize that those bodies are likely to remain fat, so that message will be powerfully destructive.

Maybe we start teaching all children to love their bodies as they are. Maybe we start teaching them that its okay to be fat or thin, short or tall, average or not. Maybe childrens' programming can start reflecting body diversity in their child actors without an intention to scold those with transgressive bodies.

Maybe we encourage children to develop relationships with eating that are unburdened with shame and self-doubt. Maybe we teach children that its okay to eat. Maybe we encourage them to think of all food as being okay. Maybe we don't make broccoli a chore, but let them enjoy it. Maybe we don't make candy something forbidden and wrong, but something that will invigorate their body and spirit in moderation.

Maybe we let all children discover the possibilities of their own bodies instead of defining them all by rigid standards. Maybe they can be guided to find the play and movement that will sustain them for years. Maybe we can teach them that if they can't do something, that its not their fault and it doesn't have to limit them, but rather point the way to new opportunities to have a positive relationship with their bodies.

Maybe we can impart these lessons without telling children the goal is to have thin bodies. Maybe we can develop these behaviors and judge success by positive and healthy attitudes towards their bodies, towards food, towards movement and play. Maybe we can turn away judging progress by having a body that is smaller and more conventionally expected.

Maybe we can seriously respond to bullying and fat shaming both from other children and from adults. Maybe we can renounce rhetoric that blames fat children for economic woes, for the federal budget deficit, for the the state of our national security, and for environmental damage. Maybe we can stop blaming fat children at all and maybe we can stop trying to find things to blame for fat children.

Maybe if a child is fat, that can be okay.

But maybe that's too radical of an idea.

Yeah, but fat is bad.

Hop to it, boys! Some dweeb whose parents shipped him off to school in France because they couldn't stand to be around him says there's an SJW in those hills! Swarm out! If we go even 5 minutes without resenting someone online, who knows what will happen?!? We might accidentally live productive lives with meaning and WE CAN'T HAVE THAT NOW CAN WE?!?

One of the biggest challenges in trying to talk about fat acceptance is that it is so radical of a suggestion that most people just refuse to believe we're making it. They refuse to think we are actually disagreeing them, that we are actually challenging fat stigmatization. Indeed, many backers of fat shaming are so busy flattering their "good intentions", that they just cannot process someone disturbing this moral superiority.

I got this vibe very distinctly from Lindsay Beyerstein's (http://prospect.org/article/preventing-childhood-obesity-not-fat-shaming) article at Tapped responding to Paul Campos speaking out (http://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2011/03/helpful-oppressors) on the fat shaming in Michele Obama's anti-fat children campaign. Campos made the analogy to challenge some people to consider a different perspective on fatness, and Beyerstein's response seems to be "Yeah, but fat is bad, so that doesn't make sense".

That's kind of the point, though. Its not supposed to make sense if you think fat is bad. We're suggesting you stop thinking that. The analogy that Beyerstein counters with about short people misses the point Campos was making that you cannot divorce "obesity" shaming from shaming fat people any more than you can divorce "homosexuality" shaming from the shaming of gays and lesbians. Fat stigmatizers, like gay stigmatizers, want to think there is a difference. That they hate the sin, but not the sinner. For the "sinner", the effect is little different. Its still shaming them. That construction doesn't change the outcome for the target of the shame, it just makes the person shaming feel better about themselves and avoid responsibility for what they are doing.

Beyerstein is aggressively unaware of what fat stigmatization does and I feel this is a product of thin privilege. Her counter analogy about short people just reveals a lack of comprehension of how fat people are treated and how fat people are targeted in "anti-obesity" campaigns. Short people are stigmatized in a lot of the pointless ways fat people are, actually, so there could be a good analogy here. The one Beyerstein makes, though, seems to miss entirely how fat stigmatization operates and the standards it sets for success.

I wouldn't have a problem with a program to encourage good nutrition and moderate activity. Fat shaming apologists always like to think that's all they are defending. Its not. That's what we are trying to tell them. The problem with any "anti-obesity" campaign is precisely that it is an ANTI-"obesity" campaign. Even if does encourage good nutrition and moderate activity, those are not its goals and THAT is the problem. Instead, the goal is the elimination of fat people. A goal which OBVIOUSLY stigmatizes and shames fat people. Also a goal I will not support because it will achieve none of the gains supposedly desired and is unattainable anyway. That last bit is actually very crucial since it means an anti-fat people campaign that isn't destructive in its structure can actually be more harmful by creating a disincentive for good nutrition and moderate activity. If it doesn't make you thin, after all, what's the point? If there was an anti-short people campaign, I'd vigorously oppose that as well as it'd be just as wrong in focus and goal as anti-fat people campaigns are.

We need to move past shame and stigmatization if we really want to improve the health and well-being of fat people and fat children. The health needs of fat people aren't going to be met as long as policy is intended to eliminate or prevent fat people. Those are policies which are ineffective and completely ignore our health needs. I get that people want to think being well intentioned absolves them for responsibility for these failures, but the culture of "well intentioned" fat stigmatization has been hugely harmful for the physical and mental well-being of fat people and it needs to end. We have to get over the knee-jerk, "Yeah, but fat is bad". Its just not the case. Fat is. Trying to eliminate fatness and prevent fatness has a record of consistent abject failure. There is no moral high ground there. We need a change.



Sometimes you see a phrase you've seen a million times and suddenly have a new perspective on it. That happened to me a few days ago. I was looking at my Blogger stats and saw one of the search term referrals:

"massively overweight"

While not quite the go-to as some of the usual scare modifiers used to stigmatize fat people, its hardly rare, either. Its one of those terms people use thinking its somehow scientific and quantified when actually its essentially gibberish. It occurred to me, though, that massive has a couple different meanings. "Forming or consisting of a large mass" is certainly the leading contender, but you actually often hear "massive" used with more positive connotations. Merriam-Webster suggests "imposing in excellence or grandeur," which is certainly a different way of looking at it.

On an elemental level, though, the word can just reference "having mass". In some uses, massive is just something that takes up space. Which really upsets people about fat bodies. So many of the daily slights fat people endure are just related to taking up space. Space others feel entitled to. Space others feel our fat bodies are not entitled to. So much of the common hostility fat people are subject to is because our mass offends people. They imagine our mass as imposing on them, infringing on them. In truth, they often manufacture an imposition in order to justify their offense, but it doesn't matter. Every body has a right to the space it occupies. Every body has a right to mass. We are not an imposition. We are not an inconvenience. Some want mass to be a right of the privileged. They want to scold those with transgressive bodies for occupying space they don't "deserve". Massive isn't just a childish "omgz HUUUUGE!" taunt, its the heart of complaint about fat people. I guess its what we deserve for imposing our excellence and grandeur at them.


A culture of death threats

One of the most effective tools of fat stigmatization are the casual death threats so commonly used to dehumanize and demonize fat people. One of the most effective defenses of fat stigmatization is the way its gotten so many people to accept these tactics as ordinary and even respectful discourse. I'm sure many readers now accept them so implicitly, they are bothered by me calling them death threats. Its part of the way the powerful have framed discussions of fat people to routinely legitimize fat hatred and disenfranchise fat people.

To be sure, direct threats of violence are an insidious part of our cultural discourse for many groups. I know from personal experience that fat activists can be subjected to to this. This is different from the kinds of death threats that are so routine for fat people. Just, its not as different as we may like to think. Its not about a threat of immediate violence to enforce the threat, but its still telling people they will die if they do not do as the powerful wish them to. That is a part of life for many fat people. We are told we will die if we do not lose weight. We are blamed for our own prospective deaths for not doing as we had been told.

It is an empty threat. The science most deferential to the interests of fat hatred finds a difference of only a couple years in the mortality of fat people as opposed to thin people. Studies which "control" for any thin people who die early and which don't consider factors like fitness or dieting history, still only reduces life expectancy by 3 years for most fat people and only 10 years for the fattest. I'm in no way accepting the validity of these numbers, but this is the most generous reading one can make for the kind of death threats fat people are subjected to and it just doesn't add up. Fat people are not threatened with a death in their mid-60's to early 70's. Inevitably, its always a threat coinciding with the next milestone birthday. A fat child is told they will die before 21 if they don't do as they are told. A fat 20 year old is told they will die before they are 30. Then 40.

And who makes these threats matters as well. They are not just made the vitriolic bigots we may accept this from, but by doctors. By parents. Death threats are precisely a tool of those in authority and it is an abuse of that authority. An abuse of that trust. The point of death threats is the perception that they will be followed up on. Whether they are or not is immaterial to their value as a tool of oppression. It is about enforcing authority through fear and that is precisely what happens to fat men and women. To fat boys and girls. They believe they will die if they don't do as they are told. Those in authority have told them so. They have told them they won't live past a couple years unless they do as they are told. It is a threat which fuels a culture of mutilation of healthy bodies in the name of "healing". A threat which supports a multi-billion industry happy to sell self-loathing with a heavy price tag. That it is empty doesn't matter. Indeed, this is very much like many direct death threats when used in political discourse. Its not about the enforcement, its about creating the fear.

A terrible price is paid for this fear. The price is paid in the many who DO die while doing as they are told. In the loss of quality of life for countless others. It is paid by the feelings of hopelessness and despair when you tell someone they will die if they don't so something that is impossible for so many to do. They live their lives expecting death and often make decisions to fulfill that prophecy. Imagine the experience of these people who are desperate to lose weight, certain that they won't live to start their lives. Certain they won't live to see a child grow up. Certain they won't live if they don't do as they are told. Now think of those who have tried to do as they are told but like the vast majority finding these efforts to be in vain. What is done to these people is cruel and inhuman and it must end.

We must reject this violent rhetoric and the false pretense of good intentions which serves as a rampart for those who question it. That those who oppress fat people think they are in the right is immaterial. Oppressors always do. Their death threats are lies. Lies which have harmed the lives of far too many and we must say enough. We must stand the line. The rhetoric of fat stigmatization is about far more that making people feel a little less pretty, as those who demean the purpose of fat acceptance might suggest. This about a life of fear and hopelessness that is imposed upon millions and millions of fat people. Fat acceptance isn't just about reclaiming our beauty, it is about reclaiming our lives from the looming specter of destruction that is considered so ordinary that few even think to question it. Fat acceptance is about a lot of things. Fighting the death threats used to oppress fat people is absolutely one of them.


Satisfactioning Ourselves

As I was walking home from work today, I had something of an "a ha!" moment. No, I didn't find something transitioning from pencil drawing to live videos to to strains of new romantic synthpop. Instead, I made a connection between some fat activism issues I've been ruminating on lately.

After writing my infamous Dialogue, I starting thinking about the profound challenges fat acceptance faces in communicating its message. I gather some were eager to dismiss the dialogue as a straw-man attack, but as those who it resonated with can certainly attest, its actually pretty frighteningly real. This is the way FA is confronted time and again by hostile outsiders. And given the social marginalization of fat activism, there are a LOT of hostile outsiders, even among communities that really should be strong allies of fat acceptance. I was very tapped out on these fights a LONG time ago so I generally focus on in-the-community rebel-rousing, but seeing the reactions to the Savage reminded me of how daunting a task we are facing. As a movement, we need to speak outside ourselves, but what can we say to voices who treat us with such disdain or to the voices who may not do that, but still demand we treat disdainful voices with respect and deference. It often seems like a Catch-22. We can't talk to these people, but we also have to talk to them.

I recognized, though, that this actually relates to a post I made a couple months ago about how Fat Acceptance needs to foster a new conversation about health. The Rotund made a similar point more succinctly but noting that we want a new paradigm, not a shift in the existing one. We cannot have a productive discussion about the issues facing fat people within the current system, because it is a system which predetermines our failure. It is a system constructed with rules which presume us to not only be wrong to be without any valid recourse to suggest otherwise. It is a system built from the ground up in service of fat hate trolling. When we see a troll scolding us, that is the inevitable result of a refusal to process the fact that we are not playing by the rules they want us to play by. We are not engaging in the conversation they are insisting upon and in many ways that just does not compute.

In my post about the new conversation we are trying to have, I tried to see a way through to engaging with people who cannot understand what we are talking about. This is why I'm not against discussing the so-called "good fatties" on a basic level. Because while we fret that this is just shifting paradigms, we need to realize that these are paradigms not designed for movement. The foundations of fat stigmatization are not earthquake proof. They will not bend and sway with new information. There is no room for it. "Good fatties" are a contradiction in terms. We point out inconvenient realities not to plead for a shift in fat stigmatization to allow dispensations for fat people who prove worthy. We do it to show that the paradigm is a lie.

The thing is, this is a very different conversation than what we have when we talk about what will take the place of the systems used to stigmatize fat persons. Refuting the current rules is necessary, but they have no baring on what takes its place. We refute not as an example of the new conversation, but as a response to the old conversation. Refutation is not an end, but rather a means of engaging a paradigm that has no place for our voices. This is a system where the needs and concerns of fat people are only talked about by those who feel fat people must not be and that we must achieve this by any means necessary. A system where the official debate often is between those who feel fat people should have healthy organs amputated, and those who feel fat people should simply have healthy organs strangled permanently. There is no place of us in this debate. As it exists, we have no seat at the table. As it exists, we cannot engage with it. As it exists, our only option is silence and that cannot stand.

What I realized today is that much of the trolling we see is actually an informative example. This is how a paradigm of fat stigmatization processes our nascent conversation. With a lot more aggravation and very little satisfactioning. In its own odd way, its why we need to keep building a new conversation among ourselves while we try to break down the systems outside of ourselves. The cognitive dissonance fat hate trolls experience when trying to process what we are talking emphasizes the need for a two pronged approach. The need to refute their terms in the hopes of finding an opening so we can create the new conversation and one day the action needed to better the lives of all people, fat and thin. That some people don't get it really isn't a problem. Ultimately, that's why we are doing what we are doing. Because within a culture of fat stigmatization, you shouldn't get what we are saying. When we eschew binary constructions of fat vs. thin, people shouldn't know how to respond to us. Because this isn't about those who think fat=bad. Its about getting to a place where no one feels fat is bad. Which isn't a place where everyone feels fat is good. Its a place past that. Where fat just is.