I’ve seen a lot of talk recently on the internet about Health at Every Size, specifically as to whether HAES is a fat activist movement or a personal health practice. My name has been mentioned in a number of these conversations (and thanks to those who cited me and said nice things!) so I thought I would clarify my position.
I believe that Health at Every Size and Size Acceptance should be two separate things with separate goals, and that’s because I do not think we should involve the concept of individual health in the fight for fat civil rights.
Let’s start with HAES. There are lots of different ideas about what it means to practice HAES. There are people who think there are things you have to do for your lifestyle to be considered “HAES” – some say you have to do intuitive eating, some say you have to exercise in a specific way, or that you aren’t allowed to do any kind of food measurement etc. I think the definition of HAES should be any personal health practice that is health-centric and weight neutral. So health is pursued through healthy habits and without an attempt to manipulate body size. Other than that I think that people’s prioritization of their health and the path they take to get there is up to them and any health care providers they choose to consult.
I think there is activism to be done around HAES, especially as it relates to access. Nobody is required to practice HAES or any other health practice, but if you want to practice healthy habits then there shouldn’t be barriers to that – you should have access to the foods you choose, movement options that you enjoy that are both physically and psychologically safe (so that you can, for example, go swimming at your gym’s pool without any fear of being shamed), and affordable evidence-based healthcare (so your doctor listens to you and gives you interventions proven to help your symptoms and does not bring up weight other than if there are unexplained gains or losses, or to prescribe a proper dose of medication.) There is tons of work and activism to be done around access and it’s really important work.
I don’t think that we should use HAES as a platform to do size acceptance activism because I think that we should avoid even the intimation that some level of health or healthy habits is required for access to basic human respect and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is absolutely NO health requirement to demand your civil rights. You don’t owe anybody “health” or “healthy habits” (especially not by their definition, and not by any definition at all.) You do deserve, and have the right to demand, respect and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the body you have right this minute – whatever your size, health and dis/ability.
I am both a SA and HAES activist, but I approach my activism very differently. I am a Size Acceptance Advocate – everybody deserves basic human respect and rights and I don’t think that should ever be up to show of hands or vote of any kind. There is no valid “other opinions” that for some reason fat people do not deserve these rights. They are not someone else’s to give. SA activism is not about asking someone to confer rights upon us but rather demanding that they stop trying to keep them from us through an inappropriate use of power.
I am a Health at Every Size Practitioner. I practice HAES and talk about it publicly because there are so many people who aren’t even aware that a weight-neutral approach to health exists. I leave room for the fact that others choose different paths to health, and I respect those decisions as I want my decisions respected. I put my fat body on display (and therefore myself up for criticism) because I am a fathlete and I deserve to exist and tell my story; and because so many fat people tell me that they wanted to be athletic but didn’t think they could until they saw someone doing it, because the message they received from society again and again is that it’s not possible. Along with fat fitness professional Jeanette DePatie I created the Fit Fatties Forum (which now has more than 1,000 members) so that people who want to can have a place to talk about fitness from a weight-neutral perspective. But if you read this blog regularly you know that I constantly point out that nobody has to do what I do and that doing what I do doesn’t guarantee that another person will have the same results that I have, or that I will always be healthy and athletic. Nor does it make me better or worse than anyone else. Health is not a moral high ground, it is multi-dimensional, never fully within our control, and our prioritization and health path are personal.
As always, I can only speak for me and this is what I think. There are a lot people who disagree about this, many of whom I hold in the highest esteem. I think it’s a good conversation to be having and I think that we can continue to do the activism work even as we have an ongoing discussion to clarify our beliefs around it, that is the nature of the stage of civil rights activism that our community is in.
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I do size acceptance activism full time. A lot what I do, like answering over 5,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and/or want to support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.
The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post. Thanks for reading! ~Ragen