One 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 don’t want to stigmatize fat people, I just think that they should be eradicated.
- I don’t want to stigmatize fat people, I just don’t condone their existence.
- I don’t want to stigmatize fat people, I just want to prevent any more of them from existing.
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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