There has been a lot of talk lately about whether or not someone can want to lose weight and still be part of Size Acceptance. I’ve received a number of e-mails asking me to write about it. I want to talk about it today but first I want to be clear about a couple of things:
First of all, these are just my opinions – I do not speak for all of fatkind, or all of Size Acceptance. Nobody does.
Next, people are allowed to attempt weight loss. It’s not uncommon for people who are part of a stigmatized group to want to find a way to get out of that group as a way to escape stigma, and people are allowed to do that. People are allowed to try to manipulate their body size as a way to solve social stigma, or to solve issues with lack of accommodation (like finding clothes that fit), or because they believe it will make them healthier, or more mobile, or for whatever reason they choose. People are allowed to believe that there is a size at which they can do everything they want to do in life and they are allowed to try to manipulate their body to that size. They are allowed to try to lose weight even though the research suggests that if they are able to succeed short term they will likely gain it all back (plus likely more). People are allowed to continue trying to lose weight even if they’ve already experienced that kind of weight cycling (yo-yo dieting.) This is 100% Underpants Rule.
People are allowed to try to lose weight, the only question here is how people who want to/try to lose weight do or do not fit into Size Acceptance (SA.) I’ll talk about my thoughs on the theory first, and then about how this plays out in the real world for me.
I think that when we talk about Size Acceptance, especially as it relates to weight loss messages, we are actually talking about two different things: What Size Acceptance is, and how we get it done.
To me, Size Acceptance is a civil rights movement that states that people of all sizes (including fat people) have the right to exist at their current size without appearance-based stigma, bullying, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why they are that size, what being that size means, or if they could be a different size. There are intersectionalities with other Civil Rights movements including the anti-racism, -homophobia, -transphobia, -ageism, and -ableism movements.
I believe that this message can be supported by people who are trying to change their body size, what they are saying is basically “I want to change my size, but I don’t think other people should be discriminated against,or forced to change their size.” That’s ok, in fact everyone can and should support Size Acceptance because it constitutes basic human rights.
Looking at the second part – how we get it done – that’s about the communities, media campaigns, politics, laws, ordinances, and leaders that we create and support, as well as what we model in our own lives. In my Size Acceptance work, this is about creating spaces were we don’t suggest body size manipulation as a positive thing or a solution, and spaces where people can come for refuge from the billion dollar diet industry and the incessant messages that fat bodies are bad and that body size manipulation is the solution to, well, just about everything.
So while I believe that someone can try to lose weight and still support Size Acceptance as a civil rights movement, and while I believe that people can do their best to appreciate the bodies they have now, even while trying to lose weight because they think their bodies would be better if they were thinner, and while I believe that people have the right to do both of those things and that some good can come from that, I don’t think that someone can be trying to lose weight and say that they are practicing Size Acceptance simultaneously, since I don’t believe that saying “I love this body now, but I think it would be better if it was smaller” constitutes acceptance.
I think it’s also worth noting that those who support Size Acceptance for everyone, but talk about wanting to lose weight for themselves do get “good fatty” privilege for doing so (whether they want it or not) and that being part of the Size Acceptance Civil Rights Movement means acknowledging that, and using that privilege to support Size Acceptance. Also, if they use their reason for being fat, or their attempted weight loss as a way to avoid size-based prejudice that is highly problematic and definitely not Size Acceptance. Finally, those who believe in fighting for Size Acceptance for everyone, but want to lose weight for themselves do have the option to simply not discuss their personal weight loss goals publicly since it is a personal decision. But of course that’s just an option and people have every right to tell their stories.
So, how does this play out in the real world? For me, I acknowledge that there are grey areas, and there are things that are incremental. I certainly think that “love the body you have now, even if you want to lose weight” is a far better message than “hate yourself until you get thin.” I think that there are a lot of people who either do not want to, or aren’t ready to, give up the pursuit of a thin body and everything that they believe will come with it, who can resonate with, and be really helped by, a message of body appreciation even while dieting. I’m very happy for the people who are helped by these messages and sometimes I cam involved in projects with people whose platform is those types of messages.
As for my personal Size Acceptance work, I’m done with weight loss. I work to solve social stigma against fat people by fighting social stigma, not by trying to change fat bodies. I work to solve a lack of clothing options for fat people by creating more clothing options for fat people and not by trying to change fat bodies. And I believe in evidence-based medicine which means that I simply can’t engage in, or promote, weight loss as a path to health. I also talk about the evidence, issues, and dangers that come with dieting, weight loss surgery etc., but I focus on the people and institutions that perpetuate them, and not the individuals who choose to participate.
I create spaces that are free from diet talk, weight loss talk, and negative body talk. While people are allowed to do and think whatever they want when it comes to their own bodies, and while it is ok for people to create spaces where those discussion can take place, it is ok to create spaces that are free from those discussions. Especially since weight loss attempts have such wide support in society, and there are so many places to talk about it and receive support for that choice, it is perfectly ok for Size Acceptance spaces to prioritize the needs of people who are practicing Size Acceptance. As a general rule, while I may point out the issues involved with the social obsession with weight loss,and various weight loss messages , I choose to fight people, businesses, and organizations that are blatantly promoting size discrimination, or co-opting Size Acceptance to sell weight loss, rather than fighting those who agree with Size Acceptance as a civil right but choose weight loss for themselves.
Note: I’m being more lenient in what kind of diet talk I allow. I’ve tried to add trigger warnings but if you’re not up for reading about people talking about manipulating their body size, you might want to skip reading through.
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