Yes, It’s Okay To Be Fat

One of my blog fans wrote a post trying to work out some things that came up for her when reading my blog.  I thought that she asked good questions so I decided to answer it here.

Her blog said:

Now, here’s my beef, if you even want to call it that.  I still can’t decide if I think Ragen is encouraging people to stay overweight.  Okay, not encouraging but maybe giving people a reason to say, “hey, it’s okay that I am fat” (mostly, because I catch myself doing that).  I’m not even saying it’s not okay to be fat (I’m fat!).  I just know that there are so many health problems related to obesity.

First of all, I want to be very clear in this blog that it is my goal to give people information and options, and that I’m not interested in telling other people how to live. I’ve already covered the myth of promoting obesity.

Today I want to talk about the idea that it’s not ok to be fat, whether it’s because of “health reasons”, or aesthetic reasons, or the costs of being fat or whatever other reasons people come up with.

Let’s begin with the bottom line:  It doesn’t matter how fat someone is, or why they are that fat, or what the outcomes of being that fat may or may not be.  They deserve to be treated with respect and it is completely ok for them to be that size. Yes, even if they weigh 2000 pounds. Yes even if you think their weight is “their fault.” Yes, even if you would never ever want to be that fat.  Yes, even if you can’t understand how they live. Yes, even if they have problems that can be correlated with being fat.  Yes, even if they have problems that can be causally related to being fat.  Yes, even if studies show that they cost society more.  Yes, even if they actually cost society more.  It is totally, completely 100% ok for someone to be fat.  Nobody needs anyone’s encouragement, justification or permission to live in their body.  Period. This is true whether or not people are able to achieve permanent weight loss – it is a matter of civil rights.

It is wrong to find a group of people who are identifiable based on how they look, calculate their supposed cost on society, suggest that it’s not okay for them to exist, and then declare war and attempt to rid the world of them.

We have got to get this together as a community because there is a war actively being waged against fat people and every time we say “I’m not sure if it’s ok to be fat” regardless of our reasons or intentions, we are fighting on the wrong side and we are making more fat people into casualties. It does not matter if you are fat or thin, if you’re happy with your weight or if you are trying to change it – we have to stop asking whether or not fat people have the right to exist, and start demanding the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for people of every size – which for me includes the right to live my life, in my body, without having the government and private interests waging a war against me because of how I look.

Let’s talk about health a bit:

We must stop conflating weight and health right now, and we must stop regurgitating the phrase “there are so many health problems related to obesity.”  It only serves to discourage fat people who are told the lie that if their healthy habits don’t make them thin then they aren’t making them healthier, and it misinforms thin people that they are healthy by virtue of their weight regardless of their habits.

Other people’s body size is not anybody else’s business.  If we are interested in the health of other people then I think that the only appropriate thing to do is to work for access – ensuring that people have access to the foods that they would choose to eat, safe movement options that they would choose (which means both physically safe and mentally safe – so someone can walk around their gym in a bathing suit with no fear of negative comments etc.), affordable (or free) evidence-based health care, and true information. Then we let people make their own decisions regardless of their size.

Each person is allowed to choose to attempt weight loss, that is their decision. Each person is also allowed to choose NOT to attempt weight loss.   One person’s decision to attempt weight loss does not invalidate another person’s decision to live in a fat body.

People get to prioritize their own health. That means that they are allowed to drink like fish, jump out of helicopters wearing skis, be on the show Jackass, take stressful jobs, not get enough sleep, eat what they choose, be sedentary, etc. at whatever weight they happen to be.  Let’s not forget that there are people of various weights who have the same diet and exercise routine, and people of the same weight who have very different diet and exercise routines. Acting as if all fat people engage in unhealthy behaviors and are unhealthy, and that all thin people engage in healthy habits and are healthy is not supported by the evidence. It is stereotyping and bigotry, pure and simple.

Studies show that obese people who participate in healthy habits have far better outcomes than thin people who do not participate in healthy habits, yet we continue to be sold the lie that weight loss is the only path to health.  There are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people and you cannot look at someone and know anything except what size they are, and what your own prejudices about people that size are.

Health and weight are two separate things.  We are not obligated to pursue health, and we are not obligated to pursue thinness.

We have every right to exist in the body we have now. Just so there is no confusion, I am saying that it is totally, entirely, completely ok to be fat.

Join the Club, Support My Work!

I do HAES and SA activism, speaking and writing full time, and I don’t believe in putting corporate ads on my blog and making my readers a commodity. So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free. If you’re curious about this policy, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on May 14, 2012 at 8:26 am  Comments (32)  

32 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you. It’s so right.

  2. “It is stereotyping and bigotry, pure and simple.”

    Thanks so much for your insights and continuing writing about and support for ALL of us. There are so many forms of bigotry. It’s a strong word, but a good one.

  3. In sort of the Same vein on the Opposite side, Regan, I was wondering if you are aware for the 4 part HBO “Special” Called “The Weight of the Nation”
    I saw the commercial for it last night and was DISGUSTED! It’s basically all the things that people that are Fat and Fit, or even just knowledgeable about the fact that bodies come in different sizes. It’s all about the “Obesity Epidemic” And how it is destroying the nation with lots of fat people saying how miserable they are and blah blah….

    I have half a mind to try and writ a letter or something to HBO and complain about their “Special Biased Programming”

    Oh and they even have a LINK to give feedback
    http://theweightofthenation.hbo.com/ that is the official site right there..Enjoy!

  4. “It is wrong to find a group of people who are identifiable based on how they look, calculate their supposed cost on society, suggest that it’s not okay for them to exist, and then declare war and attempt to rid the world of them.”

    This is ABSOLUTELY profound and at the same time scary to read because you know, it doesn’t take much to connect the dots and see that what we’re seeing is eerily similar to Adolf Hitler and his ideas about the Jews, and their supposed cost to society (German losing the war), suggest that it’s not okay to exist (because Jews were the problem, the solution was to get rid of them), and then declare war and attempt to rid the world of them (which is what he did, to the cost of 6 million lives!).

    I was running in my head an idea not long ago for a story kind of in those lines, where someone gets it in his head that the world really DID need to be rid of the fat people in a even more drastic way and of these dark times where this campaign happened but then the ironic twist would be that after getting the population low enough, the end results would become clear when first famine, then a plague hit. Since people were judged on appearances only and not health, many would perish since they were never really that healthy to begin with. I had more of an idea of a place where people were sent to, not actually killed though. Again, sort of a story idea that hit my head one time.

  5. Ragen, you are awesome. I loved this post. I am a psychotherapist with a private practice, and almost every woman that I see worries about her size, and nearly inevitably says something along the lines of “it’s about wanting to be healthy”…at which point I break out the HAES speech. I think I’ve had a few converts, but mostly their eyes sort of glaze over and I can practically see them thinking “if this means I’m going to end up looking like you, I’m not buying it”. Anyway, I just wanted to say that you are an inspiration, and you give me the courage to keep fighting the good fight.

  6. Thank you for your response. I appreciate everything you said. One of your fans left a comment on my page. I think she felt like I didn’t understand where you were coming from, and I admit that I am new to your blog and still reading old posts. I didn’t mean for my post to come across as hating on fatties. But as I told your fan, I grew up the only fat kid in a large family. And I was never, at any point in my childhood, made to feel like how I looked was okay. So I’m battling very old demons. I’ve been fatter and skinnier and I have battled depression on both ends so I know that skinny doesn’t equal healthy OR happy. So I am working on accepting myself however I am. My physical being should not affect my mental well-being. But again, that’s something I am working on. 🙂

  7. This post is timely & important. My family is currently going through an extremely stressful period, one of my children is having a very hard time & we are all affected emotionally & psychologically. My husband & I are taking on more care of our granddaughter & also, where we used to get a ride to her home in the early morning, then walk home once she is on the bus, we now must walk both ways. I am 62 years old, I have cerebral palsy & arthritis, as well as PTSD from a lifetime of abuse. I have always walked & want to continue to do so, but I tire faster, have more chronic pain, & cannot walk as far as I once could. The emotional stress & anxiety seems to also cause more pain. My husband & I had a few rough moments this morning because he, who understands NOTHING about fat acceptance or fat & health or any related subject, concluded that I would be able to walk further without pain (& I should also point out that much of my worst pain is in my hands) if I lost weight. I just need to ‘stop eating so much’ & I will be okay. “People stop drinking & smoking, you can stop eating. It sure seems like you eat a lot to me.” Whatever is going on, however much stress there is, however many problems to handle, the answer is, because he is a person who believes implicitly in the messages of our culture & media (he LIVES for tv, it is always on if he is not asleep & often when he is), is for me to lose weight. Apparently, if I just lost weight, I would be 30 years & able-bodied, even though I NEVER was able-bodied, & all our problems & stresses would be resolved.

    So, yes, the message that fat is ‘not okay’ is constant & widespread. Some people do want to wipe us off the face of the earth, though of course not really the ones who make money by selling all those weight loss products & programs. They want to shame & stigmatize & scare us, but they do not want us to go away or become permanently thin.

    • I’m so sorry you have to live with that. *hug*

    • Frankly, I can’t see why you would marry somebody like that in the first place. It would be the same as if my spouse suggested that I needed to gain weight (I am naturally very thin, and variably happy or unhappy with it,) to be healthy. I mean, neither anorexia nor really unhealthy food binges are good, but people at either extreme are stereotyped. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do anything about the jokes people make because people will be confused that I’m not always happy about being the social “ideal.” I mean, after a while it looks similar… what with the uncomfortable comments… I know it probably isn’t as bad as what fat people go through, but is it so hard for people to believe I’m not always happy being thin?

      I really hope I didn’t just make a huge idiot of myself. I am in no way saying that I in any way have a harder time… just that there are more problems than people think, and people online in non-bigoted groups are really the only people I can say this kinda thing to. I really did just go hugely off-topic, didn’t I…

  8. The main problem that I see is that getting the message across is going to take time. The battle is uphill against an entrenched, well-armed force, which makes it that much harder. “Common knowledge” is hard to dislodge because it is so common that people don’t even think about facts or supporting evidence, they just KNOW that it is!

    It is made even harder because those who fight the battle against this common knowledge have to fight the battle within themselves first, which takes even more time. I admit that there are times when I still wish that I were smaller. There are things that I would like to do that I just can’t because of my size, and it has nothing to do with my willingness to do them, it has to do with the fact that I don’t FIT in the seats of most roller coasters, and that I have to buy two seats on an airplane if I travel, and that some of the places I would like to visit just don’t have accomodations for someone of my size (such as the majority of Japan, where taking up space is almost a crime against society because there is so little room and there are so many people).

    So even though we know in our heads that HAES is the way to go, it takes a much longer time to get through to our emotions. So we lose time in the battle, and then we have to spend the same time convincing others to get the information into THEIR heads and then again into THEIR hearts.

    Uphill. Firmly entrenched. Well armed (money – the armament of the Weight Loss Industry). A tough battle indeed, but one worth continuing.

    • “So even though we know in our heads that HAES is the way to go, it takes a much longer time to get through to our emotions.”

      This. Sigh, I wish I could look at myself in the mirror and say “You look awesome.” Loving yourself and accepting yourself is the hardest part, in my opinion.

      • I agree. I don’t really understand how people are able to look in the mirror and be okay with themselves. I see my husband get out of the shower and he does this little dance while he dries off and he watches himself in the mirror. He’s fat and he’s not particularly graceful, but he’s having fun and feels good about himself and I’m in awe and I’m so jealous. I just want to yell at him and tell him he’s fat and uncoordinated and he’s not supposed to love himself (I never, ever, ever would, even if I was really, really mad at him) but mostly I’m so angry that I don’t have that and I don’t know how to get that.

  9. Here is my response…thank you again for responding to me, Ragen: http://lolorashel.blogspot.com/2012/05/dances-with-fat-responds-to-my-rant-it.html

    • Thanks for the dialog, I really appreciate the opportunity to talk about this stuff!

      ~Ragen

  10. Yes and yes!!

  11. You are the first person to ever tell me it’s okay to be fat. Thank you.

  12. And this is exactly why i love you so, Ragen. You just cut through the bullshit and tell it precisely as it is.

    It is, as Lys says, an uphill battle against an entrenched and well-armed enemy. It’s hard, sometimes to keep fighting. But then I read your battle cries and my energy is renewed.

    Once more unto the breach, dear friends!

  13. Another great post as usual. When you have 150 years of fat is bad, it will take a little time to change. As more information about thin=healthy and fat=unhealthy is proven to be false more will accept that everyone has the right to be whatever size they choose. When you blog about the myth of fat people costing millions…some will see the truth and will change their minds. It is going to take a lot of work like you said. We all have to keep the information coming. Mostly, standing up for our rights to exsist as we are, can change peoples minds. It will be on going. I was a teen in the 60’s and have seen a lot of things change for the better and accepting people for who they are etc. It isnt perfect but it is happening. Keep up the good work.

  14. This is just so many layers of brilliant. And you know, I struggle with the knowledge that people don’t GET this…. I mean it just seems so obvious!

  15. Indeed.
    I don’t smoke, I don’t drink to excess, I don’t do drugs, I don’t jump out of airplanes, I don’t drive a car at all and when I am (rarely) a passenger I wear a seatbelt. Yet the only thing people need to know about me – or so they claim – when looking at me is my size to decide I am “living an unhealthy lifestyle”, and they judge me then on this. This is further frustrating since I have serious underlying health problems that make it nearly impossible for me to lose weight even though everyone close to me eventually realizes I eat half of what they do yet I weigh more than most of my friends.
    People I know blow off or excuse every other kind of unhealthy thing others do, including drug use and smoking which are WAY more dangerous than even my supposed hidden gluttony. Yet I and others my size or larger are sneered at behind or back or even fairly often to our face. And the excuse, if I have the mental energy to call them on it, is always the faux health concerns. “Don’t you know how UNHEALTHY fat is?”
    As they have a pack of cigarettes in their pocket that they would be enraged with me for lecturing them about.
    Amazing.

  16. Thank you for being my daily dose of sanity, Ragen.

  17. And guess what? We all die. We all die in the end- fat, thin, “attractive” or “ugly”. I think that the main motivator behind all of this is FEAR. Fear that if you don’t look a certain way, you’ll be erased, basically dead even though you’re still walking around- or worse- made into the poster child of the Worst Person Ever In The World. Fear that if you don’t look a certain way, you WILL die. Fear that perhaps at some point, discrimination will get bad enough that someone will KILL YOU because of how you look or act (imagine a group of angry people stoning a fat woman to death because she DARED to eat a cheeseburger in public). For years, black people and homosexuals were constantly minimized, ignored, disappeared and killed simply for existing in a manner that “outraged” those in power.

    How many millions of dollars have been made by industries that “straighten” nappy hair and “whitify” skin through toxic bleaching methods?

    How many millions of dollars have been made by “straight camps” that abuse and “reprogram” gay youth?

    And how many millions of dollars have been made because someone decided that hell, if you don’t hate yourself, you’re JUST NOT TRYING so here, have this mutilative surgery, this diet pill that will give you a brain hemorrhage, this starvation diet that will keep you malnourished and dehydrated and weak?

    The more that I see this kind of propaganda, the more I realize the gendered nature of most of the rhetoric- it is the job of a woman to be heterosexual, quiet, submissive and NOT TAKE UP ANY SPACE (thin). By virtue of not taking up space, of being easily moved around by bigger, stronger men (who, ya know, are obviously superior), a woman becomes the absolute opposite- a completely non-threatening, powerless THING that men can then use as status markers in their own weird pecking order. And thinnness becomes this weird unattainable goal that signifies a woman’s worth through her inferiority as a gendered individual. Which, as far as I’m concerned, is bullshit.

    We need to be loud.

    And present in our bodies.

    And loving of all biodiversity.

    And appreciative of what our bodies can do NOW regardless of the limitations that they bring.

    Yep. I encourage fat people to love being fat, to refuse to change their bodies. Because, you know what? We have the right to be as we are. The pursuit of happiness is even in our basic Bill of Rights as USians.

    And in all the years I hurt myself and hated myself and strived my best to be quiet and small and feminine and NOT TAKE UP SO MUCH SPACE? There was no happiness in that, even when I did reach that smaller pants size.

    So love who you are, lumps and hollows and funny moles and all. Because it’s the most radical act of activism to denounce that fear and step into the world with a righteous acceptance of all that you are.

  18. I don’t think she was trying to say it’s not ok to be fat, she was saying she doesn’t feel it’s ok for her to be fat due to the fact that her body hurts when she carries the extra weight. Weight and health may be two different things, but they can and do affect each other. Nutrition, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, physical activity are all different things but they are all factors of our overall heath.

  19. @Ashley- it might not be her weight that is causing her pain, though.

    I have Hashimoto’s Disease (my thyroid does not work at all). When I am getting enough gelatin, my joints don’t hurt or crack. But when I am not eating enough of it, it hurts to go down the stairs and my knees sound like firecrackers. For awhile, I thought it was my weight alone, but I realized that it was actually a nutritional deficiency and since adding a cup of Jello to my daily food intake, I largely never have to deal with that pain/noise.

    A lot of people attribute pain and suffering to their weight, when often it is some other underlying problem that they spend YEARS not getting treated properly because they think that if they just “get thin” or “lose 10 pounds” that it will go away. And sometimes the consequences of not getting properly treated (as a person of normal size would be) can be dangerous and fatal.

    But that’s not because of their weight- that’s because the medical community sees fat people as “not worthy” of evidence based medical care UNTIL they lose X amount of weight. So what’s easier- punishing yourself and hurting your body until it looks “good enough” to be treated like a “normal sized” person (which may actually exacerbate or worsen the condition), or simply having the medical community check their bigotry at the door and actually DO THEIR JOB to treat said person for what ACTUALLY AILS THEM?

    The idea that a fat person is not strong enough to carry their own fat is silly. Muscled people are able to carry their muscle. Barring the very very tiny .1% anomalous mega-obese who can’t get out of bed, most fat people who are otherwise able can lift their own bodies because the weight came on gradually, which built the muscle to carry it. It is only when a fat person starves themselves and loses muscle and organ tissue (the first to go in any diet) that they become higher in fat percentage and lower in muscle. It is possible that dieting for weight loss may actually CAUSE a lot of the problems that you describe.

    So yeah, I think that we need to stop looking at this as a weight issue. Most people are strong enough to carry their own bodies (and believe me, bone and muscle and organs are heavy in and of themselves). To use a patronizing tone to refer to fat people as “unable” to do so is ridiculous and insulting. After all, fat actually doesn’t weigh nearly as much as you might think.

    • I suppose it’s possible that her pain could not be related to her weight. It may or may not be. Some people may be able to carry around access weight but some people may not. To suggest that all bodies adapt to weight gain well is something I can’t get behind. I’m not saying I think her fat is the problem for sure, but I’m not going to say it’s not a possibility because she is the only one who knows her body best, right?

  20. Ragen, I think what I love most about your readers is that every single one of them came with loving and supportive messages. I know some of the words I used could have come across as negative or not supporting you and yet no one attacked me. I really appreciate that. Because I really am just trying to find my way in life. As for my pain, no one knows what’s causing it. They’ve done MRI’s and see nothing. They thought maybe bursitis in the hip, gave me a cortisone shot and nothing. So I keep moving and see a bodyworks specialist and he keeps me walking. Perhaps if I lost weight, the pain would still be just as great! I don’t even know. But you are right in that so many doctors just say “lose some weight” and then dismiss you. It’s frustrating.

  21. Thank you so much for this post, and for all the work you do. I read your articles every day. Your voice is to be reckoned with and I am grateful that you are shouting for all of what is right, sane, equal, and true. Your work is priceless. Thank you for you.

  22. Hello Ragen, I am a newby here, via my granddaughter. I think you are doing a great service to the entire human community. I hate that people are judged on how closely they compare to some too skinny star in Hollywood! I, too, am fat. I’ve actively lost weight 3 times in my life and just as soon as I stop being vigilant (for me that means tracking the caloric amount of everything I eat during the day AND keeping a written diary of how much I exercise and how I feel – can you say OCD??) my weight starts to rise again. I have decided it’s just not worth the battle to meet someone else’s definition of ‘good’. Having stomach surgery is not something I want to pursue either, mostly because I keep hearing and seeing how many people re-gain the weight again anyway. I also don’t want to limit my daily food intake to spoonfuls to avoid throwing up or suffering from esophageal pain. I LIKE to eat and I LIKE sweet things, especially most anything chocolate. I don’t WANT to stop eating them! Recently I was diagnosed with Celiac Disease which means I have had to stop eating everything with Gluten in it. Gluten is found in wheat, rye and barley and those 3 items are used in a huge amount of food as thickeners or to add flavor to food. They are even in OTC and prescriptions meds! Dealing with this is very intense and has made me even less willing to work on losing weight. My body is what it is and I love it, no matter what!

    I just wanted to share what I found a few days ago in an article. People whose body mass index is over 35 are not likely to be able to donate organs due to the increased risks to both the donor and the receiver. Somehow, that doesn’t make sense to me. But, I just wanted to share it with you all. Thanks for all the hard work you do, Ragen.

  23. An amazing dialogue. Thank you! What I learned has now been posted for others to learn from: http://ascendingslowly.wordpress.com/2012/05/18/is-it-ok-to-be-fat/

  24. Yes exactly! I agree 100%, it is so important to get the message out that no matter what body size someone is, it is not ok to put them down because of it, everyone deserves the right to be respected, its ridiculous that people don’t get respect and are so prejudged just because they’re fat. I love this article. thank you.

  25. Absolutely, succinctly the points people need to hear on this subject. I’ve been meaning to blog about fatphobia against people with disabilities, and I’ll definitely be linking this post when I do. Thank you for writing this.

  26. Thank you for reiterating these common sense factors that bigots often stick their head in the sand about! The more we speak up, the more chance we have of changing another person’s perceptions.


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