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.


Anonymous said...

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.

This. I didn't choose my weight. It wasn't, hey, I want to be fat. I accepted that trying to change my size didn't work, and especially that losing weight in the short term meant I would, in the long run, weigh more. It's not that I wanted to be fat; at first, it's that I didn't want to be fatter. I didn't want to keep fighting the yo-you game.

Mostly I've made my peace with it. But it's hard to get a place where it doesn't matter, where fat just is, in a society that emphatically does not view fat as neutral.

Brian said...

That's a good example of the refute/new conversation dichotomy, living. Should it matter whether we choose to be fat? Probably not. But it matters to the people oppressing us. It matters because their world-view assumes virtually all fat people have chosen their weight. It unmistakably colors how they view all fat people. That's something we have to confront. Not to shift the paradigm, but to tear it down. These are systems not built to confront information contrary to its rules. It won't compute. We're basically breaking an evil computer with a logic problem it can't solve.

Fat people choose to be fat. But fat people don't choose to be fat. But fat people choose to be fat.

The paradigm breaks, and then we can try to talk about something new. It will take time, though, so we can't wait for those who disrespect us to come around before we start having the new conversation.

Anonymous said...

I agree. It always seems like we are just playing a game that the other team rigged. I'm sick of talking about health. When I go out and talk about oppression and fat rights, people always return with questions about health. Like the health of a person can justify discrimination. The comment I get the most is 'as long as you are not advocating an unhealthy lifestyle,' which I then turn that back on them and explain how discriminatory that statement is.

Anonymous said...

This is such an important conversation and set of thoughts to lay out.
Thank you.
I think that the paradigm we are trying to smash contains so many assumptions that have to do not only with fatness, but also class and race and gender and ideas of health and choice.
I think the Surgeon General has been such a lightening rod exactly because of that. You could hear the sputtering cognitive dissonance and the barely contained racism and sexism and classism. But what was stated by the haters was she can't do the job because she's fat.
I have much more to say but I have to go!

Mab said...

I am privileged to not deal with a lot of crap about my size. And I notice that, when I use the word fat to describe myself, it makes people uncomfortable. In fact, I very often get the "You're not fat" response. The implication being that yes, fat is awful, but since they like me and don't want me to feel awful, I shouldn't think of myself (or perhaps advertise myself?) as fat. They don't realize that I simply see it as a neutral descriptor. The automatic assumption is that I'm being down on myself and that they need to rescue me from despair.

Which is nice of them. But a backhanded sort of nice and a perfect example of the stigmatization of fat.

notblueatall said...

I have nothing to say except what a fantastic post! Wow! I have so much to think about on this. Thank you!

Leashley said...

This really hits home for me in my greater struggle to push back against the kyriarchy. I find it so much easier for me to push back in other areas of discrimination, like the ones around gender, race, sexual orientation, disabled status, or economic status. I am even getting better at addressing the problems when fat intersects and modifies those existing issues. But defending fat for fat's sake? I still clam up. It's just not O.K. I can't call out someone for diet promoting because the wall of back lash. I also feel there is still very little social support for those turning against the current. At lest we have each other here in the Fat-o-Sphere, and maybe together we can work to create that new narrative to push back with. If we can do it with enough voices as one, we might then start to see change.

Sleepydumpling said...

fatwaitress has hit the nail on the head for me. I am sick of talking about health, I am sick of talking about "lifestyle" and the "choices" fat people make.

I want to talk about the basic human right to live a life free of discrimination and prejudice.

Thanks for this post Brian, it's giving me a lot to chew on.

Bilt4cmfrt said...

Very nice analysis. I think one of the stumbling blocks, especially for people within the movement, is the time factor. Changing minds takes time. Getting people to a place where Fat =/= bad, AND Fat =/= good; Fat = fat full-stop? This, if it is at all possible, will take longer.  

Not pleasant to think about in a results driven society that wants everything Right Now. 

The Long View isn't all that appealing when the changes we want to see may not occurre soon enough for us to take advantage of them however, that doesn't mean we should stop trying to make them. Ironically, that would be doing exactly what many who DON'T understand Fat Acceptance accuse us of already; quitting. 

In order to keep momentum up we need to acknowledge the small victories, the gradual changes that DO occur. 6 years ago I never would have imagined the uproar that the Kevin Smith Incident provoked or the backlash against Maura Kelly's comments that were generated by the mainstream. This is progress. 

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