You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

HatersThought Catalog reprinted my response (sadly without the links) to the ridiculous “6 Questions I Have About Fat Activism” piece by Carolyn Hall. You can read my post about it here, but the short version is that the article didn’t so much ask questions as it ranted against fat acceptance using common fallacies (stereotyping, equating body size with behavior and eating disorders and heroin addiction, and generally misconstruing Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size.)   Immediately the haters descended, as I knew that they would because I chose not to mitigate my tone to suit them.

This time they weren’t just upset that I stood up for Fat Acceptance, this time I was also accused of the heinous crime of being angry at being mistreated.  People chose to ignore the long piece I had written to complain about the way that I wrote it (aka Tone Policing) and “for my own good” tell me that I wouldn’t convince anyone to agree with me if I wrote that angrily, saying that I “squandered the opportunity” to respond without anger..  Meanwhile other commenters called me names and said that my committing suicide would be a favor to the world. Why on Earth would I be angry?

A couple of things.  First of all, let’s be clear that what these people are saying is that they want to both oppress fat people, and control our behavior around how we deal with that oppression. How entitled must one be to think that the people who they are oppressing owe them a smile and a kind word? We are not obligated to deal with bullying, stigma, and oppression in a way that makes our bullies, stigmatizers and oppressors comfortable.

Activism can have many different goals.  Sometimes activism is about politely asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing us so much, and sometimes it’s about demanding better treatment.  Sometimes it’s just about standing up for ourselves and giving other fat people an opportunity to see that, thus demonstrating an option they may not have been aware of.

I’ve discussed this before and I’m going to re-post a bit of that here:

I am definitely very, very angry – I am, in fact, pissed.  There is no excuse for the way that fat people are treated by everyone from the government, to strangers that we meet – I’m angry that treatment happens. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy – I’m happy about a great many things, and I’m perfectly capable of holding happiness for some things and anger for others at the same time.

Then there is the argument that if I was really at peace with myself, if I really loved my body I wouldn’t be so angry. I’m at peace with myself – I’m at war with a large part of the world, and not of my choosing.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the “war on obesity?”  That war is against me, and my body. That war tries to convince people (including me) that I, and everyone who looks like me, should be eradicated based on the shaky assumption that it will save society money (as if it’s ok to suggest that a group should be eradicated in order to save society some money.)

Not only am I at peace with myself, I’m at peace with myself despite the fact that I’m being given the message that the way I look is proof that I’m a bad person who deserves shame, stigma and oppression.  It is that peace that makes me want to fight for my body and my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which includes the right to exist in a fat body without having the government wage war on me for how I look. It’s my love for my own body that drives the anger.

Let’s try this – Imagine that you have a best friend, and every single day that best friend is bullied, shamed, stigmatized.  If you become angry about the way your friend is treated, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good relationship with your friend, it means that you are justifiably angry at their mistreatment.

I spend a lot of time smiling politely and asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing me.  I don’t begrudge that and I don’t apologize for it – it’s effective, it gives people the benefit of the doubt (that perhaps they weren’t aware of the consequences of their actions,) and it’s reasonably pleasant.  That doesn’t mean that I’m not angry at a society that condones the behavior and the social constructs that support the behavior.  That anger is because I love my body, because I’m at peace with myself and I’d like some peace with the outside world. Nor does it mean that I give up my right to speak out about my oppression in any tone that suits me for any reason I want.

To try to characterized the anger of people who are oppressed as a sign of deficiency in their relationships with themselves is dangerously dis-empowering – it suggests that to prove that we are happy with ourselves we must not speak out against our mistreatment (not to mention the serious issues with having some obligation to prove anything to anyone about how we feel about ourselves in the first place.) That’s flat out wrong – it’s way out of line, and, perhaps not surprisingly, it makes me very, very angry.

I do want to take a second to thank the Rolls Not Troll Facebook community and everyone who took to the comments to defend, educate, and model Size Acceptance – y’all rock!

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Published in: on April 25, 2014 at 7:21 am  Comments (23)  

Death by Fat

Nothing to proveSome people seem to truly delight in telling me that I’m going to die sooner because I’m fat.  The studies that I’ve seen are deplorable science and maybe I’ll break that down here eventually but that’s not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to talk about what happens if I’m wrong and they are right.

In science, we always have to remember the possibility that we might be wrong. (So if someone isn’t willing to admit that they could be wrong, they aren’t someone I’m interested in talking to about science.) There were times in our history when the best of science “proved” that the Earth was flat, that giving pregnant women thalidomide was a good idea, and that small objects fall more slowly than large objects, and that heroin is a non-addictive substitute for morphine.  Oops.

Speaking of large objects….  I’ve examined a lot of scientific evidence about weight and health, and I’ve decided that a preponderance of the evidence points to habits, rather than manipulation of body size, is the best way to support my health (knowing that health is never a guarantee, is not entirely within our control, and is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness.).  The fact that no study on weight loss has ever been successful for more than a tiny fraction of people, the fact that, statistically the most likely outcome of intentional weight loss attempts is weight gain, Linda Bacon’s work on Health at Every Size and a host of other information has lead me to what I believe is a sound scientific decision that healthy behaviors are a better way to support my health than a lifelong pursuit of a specific height to weight ratio.

But just like I believe all of those people pushing the idea the thin = healthy are wrong, I know that I might be wrong as well.  It’s possible that I would live a longer life if I just kept trying diet after diet in the hopes that I would find one for which I am in the magical 5% who can achieve weight loss.

I also realize that even if I’m not wrong,  thanks to the drivel that passes for science these days, almost everything that you can die from has been correlationally related to being fat at some point, by someone.  (Including swine flu, no seriously…swine flu.)  I’m pretty sure that if I died because a giant flock of geese dropped a piano on my head, the report from the coroner would probably say that I died of fatness.

I digress.  I saw a great interview with Will Smith, of whom I have long been a fan,  in which he said “You have to say…this is what I believe, and I’m willing to die for it.  Period.  It’s that simple… You have to be willing to die for the truth.”  I agree with him 100%.

Here is what I think is true:

  • While many things have been correlated to obesity (with some really questionable science), almost nothing has been successfully causally related (despite numerous attempts)
  • Even if they could prove that obesity caused health problems, there is not a single thing that has been proven to actually succeed at creating long term weight loss (despite even more numerous attempts) so there is no “cure”.
  • The weight cycling (yo-yo dieting) that occurs when the vast majority of people fail at one diet and then move on to the next is being shown to be more harmful than just being fat
  • I just can’t make myself care about the opinions of people who think that they can look at me and judge my health based on nothing more than the size of my body.

But what if I’m wrong?

There is a 100% chance that I’m going to die so I don’t think it’s about that.   I think it’s about how I lived.  I spent almost all of my childhood, all of my teens and a decent chunk of my 20s  buying to the diet industries’ version of truth and I was sick and miserable and still fat.  In fact, I spent years of my life dieting and my weight did nothing but climb.  Only when I started to practice Health at Every Size did my weight level off. I know people who are in their 40′s, 50′s, 60′s and older still living a life of guilt, shame and weight obsession, crippled by their low self-esteem because they buy into the diet culture and believe that they aren’t worthy until they are thin.  They are allowed to do that, I have no judgment about it, I’ve certainly spent time living that way.  Now I live a life of  joy, people tell me that I help them, and if I die immediately after pressing “Publish” on this blog, I will be happy with the life I gave.  I seriously doubt that I’m going to die of fatness, but if I’m wrong then my truth is that when I was trying to be thin my life was miserable and I wouldn’t want three or five extra years of that. If I am wrong then I choose to live a joyful, short life. But I think I’ll stick around to see if they are still VFHT-ing me when I’m 102.

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Published in: on April 24, 2014 at 10:55 am  Comments (36)  

Six Questionable Questions about Fat Acceptance Answered

I can explain it to youA piece appeared in Thought Catalog today [a million trigger warnings] called “6 Things I Don’t Understand About the Fat Acceptance Movement” by Carolyn Hall which was brought to my attention by the Rolls Not Trolls Facebook Community. I’m going to answer the six questions, but I want to start out by pointing out the ways in which this article is problematic by suggesting some possible alternative titles:

6 Things About Fat Acceptance that I Didn’t Bother Researching

6 Ways I Try to Justify Ignoring Fat People’s Request for Basic Respect

6 Ways that I’ve Let My Prejudice and Preconceived Notions Run Wild

6 Ways in Which I’m Being Purposefully Obtuse

6 Things That Aren’t Questions at All, But Are Rants Based on Prejudice, Preconceived Notions, and Stereotypes

Oh yes, the article is chock full of the usual fallacies – the confusion of body size with behavior, the confusion of Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, the (purposeful?) misconstruing of the entire concept of Health at Every Size, the use of “everybody knows statistics” for which the author provides no source, the confusion of eating disorders with body size, and “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children” hand wringing.  Most of my answers will include links to other posts I’ve written because, like so many of us in the movement, I’ve written extensively about all six of these issues, which the author could have read about had she, you know, done a little research.

But don’t worry Carolyn Hall, I’ll hand feed you, baby bird…

(Note:  I’ve included the original text so that people don’t have to give the site traffic, you can skip the indented parts and still completely understand the post.)

1. America is extremely accepting of fat.

I have not lived in many other countries in my life, but I have done it enough to know that America is exceptional in its general permissiveness about obesity and ill health. Though there may be negative stereotypes, staring, bullying, or crude comments, the environment we live in is one that is incredibly tolerant of unhealthy lifestyles. There are enormous portions, extreme levels of convenience, and a low priority put on physical activity (even in our schools). While treating someone differently because of how they look is not okay, with upwards of 60 percent obesity in certain cities, you can’t say that America is not accepting of fat people. We basically ensure that people will be fat, and are tolerant of the lifestyle choices that surround it. If anything, we need to be cracking down on it more.

A theme throughout her piece will be the confusion of body size and behavior.  These are two different things, neither of which are anyone else’s business unless we choose to make them their business.  Even if we believe the whole “enormous portions”, “levels of convenience”, and “low priority on physical activity” cause people to be fat (despite the fact that people of all sizes engage with these things and that body size is not the same thing as behavior)  she is making an argument about what she thinks causes people to be fat.  None of these things indicate any level of acceptance for fat people.

Fat acceptance is a civil rights movement built on the principal that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what it means to be fat, or if we could be thin by any means however easy or difficult.  What we are pointing out is that the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and basic respect are not size, healthy, or healthy habit dependent (including actual or perceived health.) Fat people do indeed deal with oppression because of how we look, and to suggest that the fact that people of all sizes have access to large portions and convenience stores somehow negates the fact that fat people are the unwilling combatants in what is, in the words of the government, a “war” on us with the goal of our eradication (against our wills if necessary), or that we get hired less and paid less etc., is ludicrous.

2. “Body positivity” should include health.

The idea of “body positivity” when used to refer to people who are hundreds of pounds overweight has always confused me. How could you be positive about something when you are, at the same time, actively damaging it? Being positive about the way you look is not enough, you also have to be positive (and proactive) about your health and well-being. And the obvious ill effects of obesity — on organs, joints, energy levels, and mood — go totally against the idea of being positive. There is nothing more negative than treating your body with disregard.

Noooooo.  No no no no no no.  Unless I missed the ceremony, nobody made Carolyn Hall the Boss of How Everyone Should Relate to Their Body.  I hope that job never exists and I certainly hope that someone who clearly can’t tell the difference between body size and behavior would never be elected to such a position.  Ignoring what, at item 2 of 6 is already a tired trope of insisting that body size is behavior (and energy level, mood, and joint health), people of all sizes are allowed to love our bodies – the only bodies we have, the bodies we live in 100% of the time – regardless of our past, current, or future behaviors, health status, dis/ability etc.  Size Acceptance (aka body positivity) and Health (including Health at Every Size) are two very different things.  I don’t see the logic of convincing people to hate their bodies as a path to health, I certainly don’t see it supported by any research, but I notice that Carolyn doesn’t seem to trouble herself with research and facts when she has so much prejudice and so many preconceived notions to get down on the page.

3. “Health at every size” seems physically impossible.

A big part of the Fat Acceptance Movement seems to be the idea of Health At Every Size, which advocates for a focus on healthy living, and not on body image. And in theory, this works, but its application is totally inconsistent. We acknowledge that someone who is anorexic is clearly not healthy at their size, and needs medical intervention, but we perpetuate the idea that a morbidly obese person could pursue an active lifestyle and remain at their size, and that saying otherwise would be “shaming” them. The truth is that weight extremes on either end are not healthy, and using rhetoric to cover up their real danger is not helping anyone. Physically, you cannot be healthy at literally any size, and sparing someone’s feelings on the matter is not going to address their immediate medical concerns.

For those of you playing FA Bullshit Bingo we have our first comparison of being fat (a body size) with anorexia (a mental illness).  Also, we have the idea that “morbidly obese people” couldn’t possibly engage in “healthy behaviors” while remaining fat, despite the lack of a single study in the world where more than a tiny fraction of people were able to maintain weight loss longterm, plenty of people who eat a lot are sedentary and remain thin, and a mountain of evidence that shows that behaviors are a much better predictor of health than body size, finally we have the assertion by someone who literally can’t tell the difference between a body size and a mental illness that she knows best how to treat fat people in a healthcare environment.  If you got BINGO please bring your card to the front.

Health at Every Size is not about saying everybody can be healthy at every size, people of all sizes have health issues, and health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation or barometer of worthiness.  HAES is about allowing people of all sizes to prioritize and choose their path to health, and working to make as many options as possible available.  It’s about public health making information and options available to the public – not making the individual’s health the public’s business.

4. People are allowed to not be attracted to certain body types.

Another weird part of the movement seems to be the idea that not being attracted to, or put off by, a large body is in some way shaming or internalized hatred of fat people. I know that there are many people who aren’t attracted to my body type (I don’t have much in the way of curves), but in the same vein, I’m not attracted to lots of other body types. And the focus on getting obese people to be seen as attractive seems misguided, when everyone has a preference, and whether or not someone is attracted to you shouldn’t mean anything to you. If someone wants to say “no fatties” in their online dating profile, isn’t it just their loss?

Ah, the argument that people aren’t attracted to an entire group of people based on a single physical characteristic and somehow that doesn’t meet the definition of prejudice.  Our preferences don’t take place in a vacuum and the idea of “attraction” isn’t just about okcupid but also about how gets hired for jobs, how we are treated by healthcare practitioners, what opportunities are available to us and more.  While I certainly don’t care if someone doesn’t find me personally attractive, I would like us to examine our very narrow ideal of beauty and the way that enculturation has played a part in that, rather than just shrugging and slapping a “No Fat Chicks” (or No Fat Dudes) bumper sticker on our car.

5. Food addiction is a real medical problem.

Just as much as we would hold an intervention on someone who is suffering from a heroin addiction, or drinking themselves to death, should we not give the same attention to someone who is clearly eating themselves into ill health? Obviously there are going to be exceptions, when it’s caused by a medical condition or extenuating circumstances, but the Fat Acceptance Movement seems to rely too much on these outliers and not focus on the very real problem that a huge number of people in our country overeat in a dangerous way. The constant consumption of junk food, fast food, and preservative-filled snacks (especially if it’s soothing an emotional wound) is putting the body in real danger. And a lot of people are consuming these foods on more than a daily basis, which makes sense, as many of these foods are constructed to make us addicted. Should we not address these underlying issues?

Now, in addition to confusing body size and eating disorders, Carolyn can’t tell the difference between body size and heroin addiction. We’ve been here before. It seems to me that Carolyn really wants to be allowed to run with her prejudices, stereotypes of pre-conceived notions about what fat people do, and her judgments thereof, and the Fat Acceptance movement is getting in the way of that by pointing out that it’s none of her damn business and that if people want her opinion about their health or habits she will be among the first to know.

6. Childhood obesity is something we can’t be accepting of.

Regardless of whether or not a consenting adult wants to participate in the FAM or HAES, we can’t say that it is safe for children. There is a reason people get so upset at seeing obese children, and it’s because it is condemning them to a life of health problems that they are not choosing themselves. Feeding children constant junk food, letting them be sedentary, or giving them sugary sodas instead of water is something that we need to be judging harshly as a society. Choosing to be obese and wanting that acceptance as an adult is one thing, but putting it on a child is another, and some of these movements’ rhetoric edges dangerously into the latter category. Regardless of where you stand politically, seeing a toddler weigh as much as a normal 10-year-old should make us all very angry.

The language around “choosing to be obese” is deeply problematic. We literally don’t know why kids are the size they are.  It’s ok to hypothesize, but when we create and implement interventions based on these hypotheses we are, by definition, experimenting.  On kids.  I don’t understand how people who run gravel through their hair and wail about childhood obesity are perfectly happy experimenting on children, and of course her plan of making fat kids rage-inducing is sure to do wonders for their self-esteem, and definitely won’t lead to a witch hunt that leads to taking away kids whose body size is due to genetic disorders.  And those experiments are having some very dangerous consequences. not to mention being completely unnecessary since we can focus on the health of all children rather than the size of some of them.

So there you go Carolyn, I hope that’s cleared some things up for you, though I think it’s possible that you weren’t so much asking questions as you were trying use the premise to run roughshod over fat people so that you can splash around in a bath of your own bigotry.  Feel free to come over to the Size Acceptance Steam room – there’s plenty of space!

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can help keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on April 23, 2014 at 7:49 am  Comments (34)  

What If You’re REALLY Fat…

DiagnosisI’m producing a show of Plus Size Performers from Los Angeles (details here) and moving this week, plus we’re taking care of a rescue puppy who is severely sick so today is going to be a repost based on a number of conversations that I’ve heard recently about how things should be different if someone is “really fat.”

Often I get comments that say something like “I mean it’s ok to be a little big, but what about people who weigh [some random amount of weight that seems really high to the commenter from 200 pounds to more than 1,000, and/or some life circumstance, illness, or disability that seems like a big issue to them], when people are REALLY fat surely weight loss, including drastic measures (like stomach amputation or an at home stomach pump) should be taken.” or “Studies show that very fat people tend to die younger, what do you say about that?”

Let me start by saying that I am a “REALLY fat person” based on the BMI scale.  I am Class III – Super Obese, as fat as you can get on the BMI charts. When I first found that out, I ran to the mailbox for weeks hoping to receive my cape and secret decoder ring.  I’m still waiting – it turns out that it doesn’t come with a secret identity but it does come with a bunch of shame, stigma, and concern trolling.  I want my  freaking cape, but I digress.

As far as studies that say that very fat people (Class II and Class III) die earlier, that’s not as cut and dried as it sounds.  To clarify some things: this “class system” of obesity is based on BMI and its many, many problems.  Class III Obesity is defined by the World Health Association as a BMI of 40 or above. To use me as an example – I am 5’4 so anything over 232 pounds makes me Class III Obese.  I weigh about 300 lbs. if I weighed 67 pounds less or 3,000 pounds more, regardless of body composition or any actual measure of health, I would be in the same class in study’s conclusions about weight and health, lifespan etc. when they are based on BMI. This does not exactly smack of stringent science.

It also doesn’t take into account that there are health issues and medications that cause weight gain and may also shorten lifespan as a side effect, or treat illnesses that shorten lifespan.  Nor does it take into account that many people who are super fat spent most of their lives dieting and, considering statistics on weight regain and the dangers of weight cycling (aka yo-yo dieting), it’s entirely possible that this lifetime of dieting is the source of their current size, their health problems, and a possibly shorter lifespan.  It doesn’t consider the dangers of being under the stress of constant stigma and shame and how that can affect someone’s health (Peter Muennig out of Columbia found that women who were concerned with their weight had more physical and mental illness that those who were ok with their size, regardless of their size.).

It doesn’t take into account the difficulties super fats can have getting proper healthcare – doctors who don’t listen to a word we say and suggest stomach amputation as a cure for everything from strep throat to near-sightedness, the dangers of being put on drugs for health issues we don’t have based on the idea that we might get them someday (I once had a doctor try to prescribe blood pressure medication before having my blood pressure checked – it was 117/70), and other issues including not being able to get proper treatment because machines aren’t built to fit us.  Then there are people who avoid healthcare because of the shaming, stigmatizing, bullying experiences they’ve had,  the fact that medical students don’t practice on fat bodies in gross anatomy classes and the first time surgeons see the inside of a fat body it will likely be when that body belongs to a patient on their table, the fact that when we are sick, super fat people can be under-medicated because the amount of medication is based on someone much smaller, or over-medicated because the amount of a medication doesn’t necessarily depend on body weight etc.  So acting like body size=early death and the only solution is thinness is a massive oversimplification.

I also think that the larger someone is, the higher the temptation to suggest that whatever issues they are dealing with would be solved if they were just smaller. In truth, neither how fat a person is, nor the abilities and disabilities they may live with, change the fact that weight loss almost never works.  In fact, weight regain is the most common outcome of intentional weight loss attempts, so  even if someone is arguing that high body weight is dangerous, the worst advice they could possibly give is to try to lose weight. In study after study after study weight loss has not been shown to be successful at changing body weight or making people healthier.  In fact, the only thing that weight loss interventions are shown to be highly successful at is causing long term weight gain. Weight loss does not meet the criteria for evidence-based medicine, and a fatter patient doesn’t change that simple fact.  So even if someone thought it would solve all health problems if everyone was thin, we don’t know how to get it done.  But we could stop stigmatizing fat people, thereby solving many of the issues I talked about in the last paragraph, and we could do it today.   We’ll never truly know how much healthier fat people could be without all the shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression until we end it.

As always, people are allowed to make whatever choices they want about their bodies and health.  From my perspective a Health at Every Size approach makes the most sense regardless of size, health issues, or ability, based on the evidence – there are no guarantees and my health is never fully within my control but I think the evidence says that healthy habits give me the best chance to support my body.

To me, Health at Every Size is about each of us prioritizing health for ourselves and then, if we want to set goals, setting them based on health/habits rather than body size.  And it’s about treating health issues with health interventions, not body size interventions.  So no matter what I weigh, I would set my goals based on what I want to be able to do within the parameters of my body’s abilities and disabilities and my situation, and let my body weight do whatever my body weight does.

And no matter what I weigh, I would deal with any health issues using health interventions.  Let’s say I developed joint issues.  I would likely be told that weight loss would “cure” those issues.  You know what else would “cure” them?  Being able to fly – which is about as likely as losing weight, so I’ll start dieting to fix joint pain right after I jump off a roof and flap my arms really hard.  Or I could insist on being treated for my joint issues using interventions that are shown to actually help joint issues.  I know that those interventions exist because thin people get joint issues as well and they aren’t told to lose weight, but they are treated.

People of all sizes deserve to be treated with respect and those of us who are “really fat” are in no more need of concern trolling, stomach amputations, or at home stomach pumps than anyone else.  Everyone deserves access to foods that they choose to eat, safe movement options that they enjoy if they want them, affordable evidence-based wellness care and a life free from bullying, stigma, and oppression. Yes, even if we’re REALLY fat.

Like my blog?   Here’s more of my stuff!

My Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

Become a member: For just ten bucks a month you can help keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details

Dance Classes:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details 

Fit Fatties Virtual Events:  If you’re looking for a fun movement challenge that was created to work just for you, you can check it out here.  There’s still time to get in on Early Bird Rates.

If you are uncomfortable with my selling things on this site, you are invited to check out this post.

Published in: on April 22, 2014 at 8:45 am  Comments (19)  

Experiments with Fat Kids

grade on curveI took part in a panel about childhood obesity tonight.  It went well and I’ll do a full write-up later, but in the meantime I wanted to re-post this just in case anyone from the event is looking at the blog for follow up.

The first thing to know is that all of the interventions being used for “childhood obesity” are experimental.  There is no long term data showing that these interventions lead to more thinner kids, or healthier kids (remember that those are two different things.) The research simply doesn’t exist.

There is definitely evidence that trying to get children to be as weight-obsessed and to see fat bodies as a negative thing is problematic:

Research from the University of Minnesota found that: None of the behaviors being used by adolescents for weight-control purposes predicted weight loss…Of greater concern were the negative outcomes associated with dieting and the use of unhealthful weight-control behaviors, including significant weight gain.

A Canadian study found that eating disorders were more prevalent than type 2 diabetes in kids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reported that hospitalizations of children younger than 12 years for eating disorders rose by 119% from 1999 to 2006. (Children UNDER 12) There was a 15% increase in hospitalizations for eating disorders in all ages across the same time period.

A new study is looking at the effects of “school based healthy-living programs.”  Turns out that these programs are being instituted in lots of schools, despite the fact that, per the researchers,  there is little research on the effectiveness of these programs or any inadvertent harmful effects on children’s mental health.

This study found that these programs are actually triggering eating disorders in kids.  Dr. Leora Pinhas said “The programs present this idea that weight loss is good, that only thin is healthy…We live in a culture that stigmatizes fat people, and we’ve turned it into this kind of moralistic health thing.”

Well said Dr. Pinhas, well said.  But I would say that it goes beyond that.  Fat people have been the unwilling, un-consenting victims of experimental medicine for years.  Now we are moving the experiment to kids.

Though she has since thankfully backed way off her obesity rhetoric, with her assertion that she was going to eradicate all the fat kids in a generation, despite having not a single intervention shown to lead to long-term weight loss in kids (or adults), Michelle Obama helped to usher in an era wherein anyone who says that they have an idea for eradicating fat kids is taken as seriously as if they had actual research backing their idea.

Kids are being subjected to interventions that were created by rectal pull, no evidence necessary. So when someone said”It makes sense to me that if we have kids starting in elementary school focus on their weight, count calories, and think of exercise as punishment for being fat, then they’ll all be thin” authorities, including health professionals, just went ahead and implemented that intervention in schools across the country.

The problem is that someone’s belief – no matter how sincere – does not an evidence-based public health intervention make.   When we consider dart-throwing and rectal pull to be appropriate methods of developing public health initiatives for kids, we open ourselves up to things like what the evidence is uncovering:   the interventions don’t work, they have the exact opposite of the intended effect, and they result in dangerous side effects.

We need to demand that kids not be subjected to a ceaseless barrage of experiments in an attempt to manipulate their body sizes in ways that we don’t have any proof are possible or helpful.  While we’re at it, we might demand the same standard for ourselves.

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Published in: on April 18, 2014 at 7:13 am  Comments (29)  

URGENT! Fat Filmmaker Being Harassed by Haters

fight backLindsey Averill is in the process of co-creating the documentary “Fattitude:  A Body Positive Documentary” which the kickstarter page describes as “A feature-length documentary that exposes how popular culture fosters fat prejudice, and then offers an alternative way of thinking.”  She is working to crowdfund the project and has created the Kickstarter and a trailer on YouTube and then, she told me, this happened:

It all started when I reported a YouTube user, “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” for copyright for posting my trailer verbatim on his youtube channel – I also reported another video of his that featured my film and horrible images of 9/11 hate speech, etc. YouTube pulled down his videos and he and his followers began to torture me. They were calling our house till I changed our number. They are now calling my family, my husband’s business and the have collected all the information on my interviewees and posted it online and they say are going to begin harassing them.

Lindsay has been working with the Rolls Not Trolls community on Facebook to deal with haters as her project has received well deserved publicity, and now we need more help.  This guy is going after Lindsey, her family, the people she interviewed for the film, and her backers with the hope that he can make us afraid of getting involved, thereby keeping this film from being made.

This is a common tactic by oppressors and I say screw that. I posted yesterday about how we are kept out of the media, I’ll be damned if anonymous cowardly haters will keep us from telling our stories. You can help stand against this hate whether you have money to contribute or not:

Activism Opportunity:  Stand up to hate and support Lindsey’s project:

Let people know it’s happening and that they can help (you can use the social media links at the bottom of this page to share this post if it helps.)

Contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.  Let’s get this film funded! You can contribute with a pseudonym if you want to avoid having to deal with the haters’ malicious and grossly inappropriate behavior.  To change your profile settings go to https://www.kickstarter.com/settings/profile

(Full transparency, I’m not currently involved in this project except as a supporter – I donated and have been sharing it on my social media. Lindsey reached out to discuss the possibility of interviewing me, I’m a supporter whether I’m an interviewee or not.)

Report/Block him on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/GodBlessHitler

Join Rolls Not Trolls on Facebook and contribute to our mission of putting body positive messages into body negative spaces.

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Published in: on April 17, 2014 at 3:54 am  Comments (40)  

Hiding the Fat People

Reality and PerceptionMany readers have sent me the story of Amani Terrell who, having become tired of Hollywood’s perfection obsession,  rocked a bikini on Hollywood Avenue.  I love what she did and I congratulate her for her message of body positivity.  That said, every article that covered her that I saw included the phrase “she knows she needs to lose weight.” I find that odd, not “she wants to lose weight” nor “she believes that losing weight will offer [whatever benefits she believes it will offer]”  not even a quote from her about weight loss.  Just the writer saying “She knows she needs to lose weight.”  Like  they might say she knows that she needs oxygen.  Unfortunately, this is all too common.

I think that one of the things that reinforces ideas about fat people hating ourselves and our bodies, is the stories about fat people that the media chooses to tell. The media can be a gatekeeper that decides what stories make it into wide publication.   Fat people who love our bodies and/or who have exchanged dieting for Health at Every Size rarely get to tell our stories, and it’s rarer still that we get to tell them without an opposing view, or a phrase like “she knows she needs to lose weight” or [insert obesity hysteria here] etc. to “balance the story.” The opposite is not true, stories of weight loss, body hatred, and dieting are told as stand-alone stories with no need to “balance” them by providing a Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size perspective, or a story of a fat person who improved their life through a means other than weight loss.

We are sometimes allowed to suggest body positivity, but usually it has to be qualified by admitting that we want to/are trying to lose weight, and it’s helpful if we do it in concert with discussing conditions that might be responsible for our being fat – PCOS, thyroid issues, medication, etc. (Though in the double edged sword that oppression so often is, people with these issues face criticism including being accused of faking it, being told that their condition doesn’t really exist etc.)  It’s not that these stories don’t exist, it’s not the these stories aren’t valid, it’s that they aren’t the only stories, but you wouldn’t know it from the most popular media.  Fat people who are happy, successful (at something other than weight loss), and/or completely disinterested in weight loss are often kept from public view by the media, often under the ridiculous premise of not “promoting obesity.” 

There are fat people who love our bodies and aren’t interested in losing weight.  Most of us had to go searching for (or stumble upon) that as an option because we never once saw it in mainstream media.  There are fat people who choose to pursue health in ways that don’t rest on the manipulation of our body size.  There are fat people who don’t prioritize pursuing health (just as there are thin people who don’t) and are still very happy with their lives.  Fat people are as varied in our behaviors and choices as any group of people who share only a single physical characteristic.  What we do share is the oppression we face which is made worse by the media’s tendency to hide happy fat people at worst and, at best begrudging suggest that it might be ok to love our fat bodies as long as we know that we have to change them.

If you want to go beyond mainstream media messages, I would suggest starting in the the fatosphere.  Some of my favorites are here.  I think it’s always good to remember that there are more options, more nuances, and often more facts than we might see and that, in a world that stigmatizes people based on our size, we might not be getting the whole story.

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Published in: on April 16, 2014 at 7:14 am  Comments (35)  

How to Actually Stop Stigmatizing Obesity

fight backOne of the most interesting conversations I hear occurs when people who are actively and vocally trying to “eliminate obesity,” “fight the war on obesity,” or work on “obesity prevention” etc. discuss how they might be able to do that work without stigmatizing fat people. I suppose in some ways it’s laudable that they are asking the question, but let me suggest this:

It is impossible to avoid stigmatizing a group of people for how they look while simultaneously calling for the eradication of everyone who looks like them.  Suggesting that everyone who looks a certain way should be eradicated, and/or that every future person who might look that way should be prevented is, in fact, a form of stigma.

If effective, the obesity elimination/prevention movement convinces all of us that we should look at every fat person as someone who should be eradicated, at every child as a possible future fat person who should be prevented, and also convinces fat people that we shouldn’t exist.  I don’t think it’s possible to do that and not stigmatize fat people.

The only way to stop stigmatizing fat people is to be clear that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, oppression, or attempts to eradicate us including and especially against our will.

If people are interested in public health then they can work to make sure that everyone has access to the foods they want to eat, safe movement options, and true information, and that their choices are respected.  They can also stop trying to use public health to make individual’s bodies the public’s business, or to suggest that everyone whose weight in pounds times 703 divided by their height in inches squared is not between 18.5 and 24.9  should be eradicated/prevented.

To make this more clear, consider these statements:

I’m not against activists who are trying to do strategic work/coalition building  with groups that do this, but that work is just not for me – I don’t choose to try to find common ground with those who advocate for my eradication.  Regardless, I think that it’s important to see this for what it is – ignorance at best, polite lip service about not stigmatizing fat people while aggressively profiting from attempts to eradicate and prevent fat people at worst. Either way, not something that we have to be happy about, or ok with.

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Published in: on April 15, 2014 at 9:09 am  Comments (15)  

Lies About Size Acceptance

LiesLast week I blogged about Laila Pedro’s stunning mischaracterization of the Fat Acceptance Movement.  I often speak of it as the Size Acceptance movement because I think that fat oppression ends up hurting people of all sizes, and I would prefer to include as many people as possible in the fight against size and weight-based oppression.  Ms. Pedro is not the first, and unfortunately not likely the last, to mischaracterize the movement.  She appears to have done it to bolster an argument, though of course I don’t know if she did it purposefully or because she simply didn’t bother to do her research.  Jess Weiner appears to me to have done it for profit.  Many others do it for many other reasons. Today I thought I would try to clear things up.  As always, the Movement is not a monolith and so these are my beliefs, and they may vary with others in the Movement.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT asking people to please treat us with basic courtesy and give us our rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  What we are saying is that those rights are not size, health, or healthy habit dependent and as such people need to stop trying to keep our rights from us through an inappropriate use of power and privilege including, but not limited to, creating campaigns and wars with the purpose of eradicating us against our will.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT about giving people permission to “ignore their health” by any definitions of ignore and health.  That’s because people don’t need permission to make choices about the prioritization of their health and the path that they choose within their prioritization.  If they did, we would need a “Skeleton Acceptance Movement” to give people permission to travel down an icy shoot at 85 miles an hour on a tiny sled face first in the Olympics, which surely ignores some aspects of health and the prioritization thereof.  People get to make choices for themselves, period, and it doesn’t matter what size they are.  A fat body is not an indication that someone needs policing of their choices or some kind of permission to make them.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT saying that fat bodies are healthy.  The Size Acceptance movement is not about making declarations about health and size at all.  What we are saying is that people of all sizes, including fat people, have the right to exist in bodies of all sizes, including fat bodies, without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression.  And it doesn’t matter why they are that size, what being that size means (including as it may or may not pertain to their health), or if they could be a different size by some means however easy or difficult.  For a discussion of size and health you might want to consider the Health at Every Size paradigm which I give my take on here and here.

The Size Acceptance Movement is NOT telling people not to diet or exercise  That’s because the Size Acceptance Movement isn’t about telling people what to do except as it relates to infringing on the civil rights of others.  We are about demanding basic civil rights for people of all sizes, not telling people what choices to make for themselves.  As a member of the Size Acceptance Movement I believe in fighting against the infrastructure, for example the medical establishment and government’s pesky habit of prescribing (and even attempting to require) treatment that is not evidence based and without informed consent. I’m not, however, about fighting individuals and the choices that they make for themselves because I believe that my rights to make choices for me are predicated on other people’s rights to make choices with which I disagree.

As long as people insist on using size as a reason to withhold the rights and respectful treatement, as long as there are wars in our country with the goal of eradicating everyone of a certain size – against our wills if necessary – there will be a Size Acceptance Movement.  And I imagine that as long as it helps people win arguments and make money, there will be mischaracterizations of the Movement.  As far as I’m concerned all there is to do is to keep telling the truth, calling out the lies, and pushing forward in our demands of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

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Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 9:47 am  Comments (10)  

Laila Pedro Gets Fat and Feminism All Wrong

facepalmIn this blog I often talk about the mistakes of people who confuse requests that they respect other people’s rights and choices with their being oppressed, confusing their values and choices for “the correct” values and choices, and believing that they should get to dictate what constitutes healthy choices for other people (though typically without any interest in being told by others what constitutes healthy choices for them.)

In a recent piece for The Feminist Wire [all the trigger warnings], Laila Pedro makes all of those mistakes on an epic scale, then laments about how horrible and dis-empowering to women it is that everyone won’t just do what she thinks is the right thing to do. Poor Laila.  Let’s break this down. (The indented text is the original text from Laila’s piece, it may very well be triggering, you can skip it and still understand the post if you choose.) I’ll tell you now that this is one of those really long blog posts, I tried to make it shorter but her piece is so completely ridiculous that I wanted to address all of it.

I have been at a weight I was uncomfortable with, and I worked hard — still do, every day — to  change it. I’ve been at the other end, too: at a weight that was unhealthy, unsustainable, draining, and exhausting. I frequently find myself in the position of defending universally reviled, supposed mean-girl types like Gwyneth Paltrow and Maria Kang. And I find myself increasingly bewildered, and a bit depressed, at the responses of otherwise brilliant, driven, confident women to any suggestion that more exercise is good, that dieting becomes increasingly something to be considered as we get older, that, in short, perhaps the standard American body—overfed, under-stimulated, ready for heart failure at any moment — is not inevitable. That it is, in fact, anything but natural.

It sounds like Laila might want to do some research into Size Acceptance.  To be clear I have no problem with Laila’s choices as they pertain to her body (because, hey, underpants rule)  Let me try to un-bewilder her.  Nobody I know is saying that people shouldn’t be allowed to exercise or diet.  What we are saying is that exercise is an option, not an obligation, and different amounts are appropriate for different people for various reasons that are none of anyone else’s business.  As far as dieting, when one looks at the actual research,  there isn’t a single study that shows that more than a tiny fraction of people will succeed, and the research we have says that almost everyone regains the weight, and a majority gain back more than they lost.

Nobody is required to have evidence backing their choice to diet or not, but let’s be clear that what she is suggesting should “become increasingly something to consider as we age”  is not supported by the evidence, so the fact that some people choose to opt out really shouldn’t be that bewildering.  Also, trotting out the tired trope about the “American Body” is simply stereotyping stated as fact.

I don’t know about Laila’s thinking, but sometimes what people who make this argument are actually saying is  “I think that I should do whatever I think will give me a body that looks a certain way, and in order to feel okay about that I need everyone to agree and if they don’t I need their choice to be wrong. I’m completely bewildered that people don’t agree with me because of course I’m right about everything.”

Women of my age and education in America (Lisa Frank folders submitted in lieu of D.O.B.) grew up in a culture of self-help talk and D.A.R.E. programs, of dialogue and interaction cues metered by the Very Special Episode. The Gothic fetish-specter of eating disorders haunts our collective psyche. It is socially acceptable to mention, with beatific concern, the (statistically much lower) possibility that a friend is not eating enough, but beyond the pale to suggest that she is (as the vast majority of Americans are) eating too much.

Lisa Frank has been around for a while so maybe Laila and I are the same general age but I’m not sure. To reduce confusion, rather than use office supplies as reference, I’ll just say that I’m 37 and I would suggest that the comparison of a body size with eating disorders is a serious issue that we need to stop. Eating Disorders are a complex mix of mental and physical illness and symptoms.  Body size is just body size.  These are not comparable and saying “I”m concerned that you have the most deadly mental illness” is not, to me, the same thing as saying “I don’t think you should have another piece of pizza.”

It’s up to each of us to decide if and when we want to intervene in the health and choices of those in our lives, but it’s definitely not up to Laila to make that call. Again, where is she getting this “vast majority of Americans are eating too much”?  She has two “footnotes” to her piece but none of them address the sweeping generalizations that she seems so fond of making about Americans.  When people who, like Laila, are defending doctoral dissertations think it’s ok to throw phrases like this around, it makes me really concerned for our education system.

Let me be clear: I am not into fat shaming. I am not into disparaging people based on their bodies. I am not a fan of Hot-Or-Not, or Best-and-Worst Beach Bodies fashion magazine issues (unless I am on a transcontinental flight, in which case I will do what I want and all bets are off).  My reason for being opposed to these things, however, has nothing to do with fat acceptance. I don’t like fat shaming because I dislike shaming, not because I like fat.

And here we have the crux of the issue. First the idea that she’s not into disparaging people based on their bodies, except when she is, and of course that’s ok.  From my perspective you either think body shaming is ok, or you don’t.  I have been on the record since I started writing this blog that I am anti- body shaming including those with thin bodies.  I don’t think that the road to self-acceptance is paved with hypocrisy, and so I don’t do to others exactly what I don’t want done to me regardless of what privileges society might bestow upon them.  But the idea that it’s ok to be against fat shaming, even though she may be against fat bodies is deeply problematic, as exemplified in the difference between these two phrases:

Thin people have the right to exist in thin bodies without shaming, bullying, stereotyping, or oppression.  It is not ok for the government to have a war against thin people for the purpose of their eradication.

Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shaming, bullying, stereotyping, or oppression.  It is not ok for the government to have a war against fat people for the purpose of their eradication.

More simply, think of the difference between the phrases “I’m proud to be thin” and “I’m proud to be fat.”

Statements that suggest that, while people don’t support shaming fat people, they also don’t condone our existence, draw the need for a Fat Acceptance movement into sharp relief.

A few months ago, the internet lost its collective rage-mind at a woman who posted what was clearly intended to be a provocative photo on her basically run-of-the-mill, midlevel life-and-fitness website. Responses to Maria Kang ranged from the class-based (“She MUST have nannies”) to the quasi-racist (“She’s shaped like that because she’s Asian”). I admit, while I (a veteran of gym culture and long runs and hot yoga and boot-camp style workouts who has benefited tremendously from this type of aggressive motivational language) found it inspiring, badass, hilarious, and delightfully third wave, it was also simplistic, tone deaf, and sure to attract ire.

I discussed the Maria Kang thing here. What I’ll say today is that to discuss the classism inherent in people suggesting that “she must have nannies” without discussing the classism inherent in suggesting that there is “no excuse” for not making the same choices Maria Kang has made (including, for example, working three jobs and taking care of your kids, a lack of access to safe movement options, etc.); and to discuss the racism inherent in assumptions about her as an Asian woman without discussing the racism inherent in holding Women of Color to beauty stereotypes often developed by and for white women is at best irresponsible and at worst a blatant attempt to distract us from the issues that exist with Maria Kang’s original picture and subsequent “defense” thereof.

Part of the problem, I suspect, is in a collision of equally valid but mutually incompatible discourses: the motivational, no-excuses, ONE MORE REP liturgy of traditional gym culture (now resurgent in CrossFit, Tough Mudder, and the like) and the self-accepting, non-judgemental, nominally supportive discourse of progressive, yoga-inflected feminist-ish female friendship. At their worst, the former sees the latter as hopelessly weak and indulgent, while the latter sees the former as sexist and borderline fascistic. So it’s not surprising that these two rhetorical camps, enriched by images of Kang’s six-pack or Gwyneth’s everything, explode in the semantic powder keg of the internet.

These discussions are only “equally valid but mutually exclusive” if we feel that there must be competition between the two, with one eventually “winning”.  If both dialogs exist and women are allowed to choose what works for them, then we have no problem.  Part of the problem, I suspect, is in people’s unwillingness to respect other people’s choices as they want their choices to be respected.

I think that this often comes from a deep lack of confidence which leads people to not feel good about their decisions unless others make the same decisions, ultimately ending up with a piece like Laila has written suggesting that her choices are in fact obviously superior and that she is literally “bewildered” and “befuddled” that anyone could make a different choice. The inability to understand that there are many options, and that it’s ok to choose what works for you regardless of what others choose – the need to be validated in our choices by insisting that everyone must make those choices and that we are somehow superior to those who make different (and therefore obviously incorrect) choices – as Laila perfectly illustrates in her piece – is one of the main things that fosters a culture of body shaming, where women are judged first and foremost based on how we look.

What is surprising, and, to me, disappointing, is the misappropriation of empowering critical inquiry to bully, demean, and hate other women. That, to me, is insidiously, and fatally, anti-feminist. Why then do demonstrably smart, feminist women who are supposedly all for sisterly solidarity so loathe one type of woman? A simple answer is that feminist discourse is a) not monolithic and b) not always as subtle and informative as we might like.  Enough has been written about how troubling much of Jezebel’s approach is that I don’t need to cover it here, but the comments on that site, and others, are hardly paragons of sisterly love. Kang and Gwyneth are seen as a kind of fifth column, as inside traitors in a culture war. This reading is superficially logical but, ultimately insufficient and disappointing. There is a specific dimension having to do with bodies, with our right to do with them what we want, and to participate in the cultural practices that we want to, without invoking feminine ire.

Maria and Gwyneth aren’t being criticized or loathed for their choices as they pertain to their own bodies.  They are being criticized for trying to suggest that everyone should make the choices that they have, and ignoring the fact that many people made the same choices that they did but got different results.  They are being criticized for responding with superiority, condescension and shame to anyone who makes different choices, or who isn’t able to attain what they think we should attain, including those for whom it is outside of their control. They are being criticized for calling themselves oppressed simply because they aren’t able to contribute to the oppression of others without being called out on it.

 Upon inspection, then, the  vitriolic rage seems to me to derive not simply from the fact of being on the “wrong side”, or as the cattier among us might say, simply being luckier, prettier, richer and thinner, but from something much more troubling: the intensely self-loathing, self-defeating, internalized misogyny I see in much of feminine American discourse today.

And that self-loathing, self-defeating, internalized misogyny is most successfully supported by the suggestion that all women should try to look the same way.  It is supported by the ridiculous insistence that we should use body size as a proxy for health and behaviors, and that instead of allowing women to make our own choices out of the options that exist and based on our understanding of the research, we instead need to insist that there is “no excuse” for not looking a certain way, and that not only is our body size completely within our control (and you have to ignore quite a bit of research to believe that) but the only acceptable choice is to seek out the current societal stereotype of beauty at any cost.

More and more, I am fascinated a major question facing women (really, everyone) in America today: Why do we hate those who we perceive to be healthier (and in many cases, more attractive) than we are? Why do we look for excuses and make ourselves complicit in our own physical dis-empowerment?Many of my peers seem much more ready to come up with a dismissal than they are to believe that they have the power to change their bodies and themselves.

I think that the key to the perception displayed in the initial questions can be found in the absolute bias shown throughout the rest of the paragraph.  Note that in her supposed feminism Laila does not ask the question “why aren’t the choice to try to make our bodies look a certain way and the choice not to change them equal options?”  No, she characterizes those who don’t make the same choices as she’s making as looking for “excuses”, “complicit in dis-empowerment” and “ready to come up with a dismissal.”

May I suggest that perhaps what we loathe are not those who are benefiting from deeply flawed, often misogynistic,  views around weight, health, and beauty.  Rather, what we hate are the social constructs that support the notion that body size is the same as health, fitness, and attractiveness and that we have an obligation to be “healthy” and “beautiful” by someone else’s definitions, and that is why we take issue with women, like Laila, who try to perpetuate those constructs and call it feminism.  My question is, why are women perpetuating the oppressive idea that we should be judged based on how we look?

This power — the power to make your body and mind fitter, faster, stronger, to be in charge of yourself — is real power. It is serious power. It is probably scary power. I argue that obesity is more than a disease, that fat is more than a choice, and that we use weapons of misogynistic defensiveness (in the case of Kang) and class (Gwyneth Paltrow looks like that only because she is rich) to remain complacent in a society that is set up to make us weak, lethargic, complacent, and unhealthy.

First of all it shouldn’t even have to be said, but making our bodies and minds fitter, faster, and stronger, does not necessarily mean making them look a certain way.  The incessant  suggestion that it does that runs through Laila’s piece, as well as her need for the things that make her feel powerful (largely the ability to control how she looks) to somehow be the only “true power” are very deeply problematic.

Laila and I make very different choices, but the true difference between us is that I respect her right to make choices for her, and she does not respect mine.   As someone who doesn’t choose to  “work hard every day” to try to manipulate my body size, as someone who doesn’t substitute folder art for my actual age, as someone who feels powerful and complete with my goal of making choices for myself and engaging in activism that gives people information and options rather than suggesting that everyone needs to make the same choices that I do, I celebrate that Laila and I can make different choices and I submit that is where the real power lies.  I suggest that true power is not to be found in  complaining that those women who suggest that their choices are the only valid ones are criticized for doing so.

We turn what should be our most potent weapons — our intelligence and critical thinking skills, our ability to parse precisely the inflections of class, race, and physical power that conspire to occlude and diminish women — against  other women, and, consequently, inevitably, against ourselves.

Fit women are strong women; strong women make demands and change conditions and take on the world. Fit women, in other words, are terrifying.  By hating other women who talk about fitness in a serious way, who reject “fat acceptance” and choose to change, we are really internalizing a cultural, social, and capitalist construct set up to keep us docile, weak, and self-loathing.

Holy false dichotomies Batman!  Talking about fitness in a serious way and being fit is not the same thing as rejecting Fat Acceptance.  There are many, many fathletes who are fat acceptance activists who talk about fitness all the time.  There are Fat Acceptance activists who are also fit women.  There are fit women who don’t make demands and change conditions.

A big part of the issue here may be  Laila’s complete lack of understanding (I imagine perhaps due to a complete lack of research) about the Fat Acceptance movement.  Women like Laila, Maria Kang, and Gwyneth Paltrow are terrifying –  not because they perceive themselves as more fit and attractive, but because they insist that everyone else must perceive them that way, and judge ourselves and everyone else by their standards.  They are terrifying because they actually believe that there are only two choices – succeed at manipulating your body size, or be docile, weak and self-loathing. Meanwhile, those in the Size Acceptance movement make demands, change conditions, and take on the world for the right for people to exist in their bodies of all sizes without being treated the way that Laila, Maria, and Gwyneth would have fat people treated under the guise of feminism.  It seems to me that fat women who insist on our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness on our own terms are the women who Laila represents as being actually terrifying.

We use stereotypically “feminine” weapons — gossip, side-eye, cliques — couched  as “concern” and “critique” to put down other women. Only by seeing each other as role models in a shared struggle do we begin to transcend these issues and empower ourselves. A healthy body, just like a body that is loved and accepted on its own terms, unconditionally, is not an unattainable privilege of the rich or genetically blessed. It is not a weapon to use in judging and diminishing other women. It is a source of empowerment. It is a philosophical statement. It is political. It is a choice. And sometimes, it is — quite literally — all you have.

The idea that the key to empowerment is that we all make the same choices as Laila, Maria, and Gwyneth – that we all buy in to an obligation to health and beauty and that we judge those things based on body size – would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.  The only perspective around bodies that is actually feminist is to respect bodies of all sizes, and to respect the choices of the women who own those bodies.  Health is not entirely within our control, body size is not entirely within our control, but even if they were, it is blatantly anti-feminist and patriarchal to suggest that a woman should conform to a specific idea of the “correct” body size, and that her body size should be seen as a philosophical and political statement.  This serves only to perpetuate the idea that women should be judged not by what we achieve or who we are, but by how we look, and I think that’s about as far from feminism or empowerment as we could possibly get.

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Published in: on April 11, 2014 at 8:45 am  Comments (61)