The Good Fatty/Bad Fatty Dichotomy (originally named by the fabulous Kate Harding) happens when people try to divide fat people up into two categories, and suggest that one group deserves to be treated better than the other group. “Good Fatties” are seen as doing the “right” things by the people who think they have a right to judge – it may be what they are seen eating, how they dress, their current health/ability, whether or not they engage in movement, the type of movement they engage in etc. “Bad Fatties” are those who are seen as doing the “wrong” things based on those same criteria.
The GFBFD creates privilege for some fat people. I am someone who is privileged by the GFBFD because I am a fat athlete. Like most privilege, I didn’t ask for it and I can’t give it away, but I can use my privilege to speak out against it and I try to do that whenever I can. The GFBFD blends multiple oppressions including sizeism, healthism, ableism, and racism among others, and it is always bullshit. It’s also insidious and often perpetrated by people who have never really thought it through. It’s been on my mind since I was interviewed recently for the Brave Endurance Podcast by Dr. James Kelley.
I had been recommended to him by Jon Robison (of the workplace culture firm Salveo Partners) who had been discussing the research around weight and health with James for a while. My primary goal in these types of interviews is always to tell/remind those listening that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression, and that it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could (or even want to) become thin. That is a fact, it’s basic civil rights, and it’s non-negotiable – there’s no “agreeing to disagree” that we have the right to exist.
After that, I am happy to talk about what the research says about weight, weight loss and health, but always with the understanding that whether or not we agree about the research and regardless of a fat person’s health/ability/habits etc. fat people should be treated with respect. Being fat does not put you in a special category that requires you to meet some criteria to be treated with basic human respect.
The interview actually went pretty well. James didn’t necessarily agree with me on everything, but he asked reasonable questions and gave me the space to answer them, and considered my answers, which I appreciated. The first half of the interview is about me and my life, during the second half we transitioned to talk about Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size and my IRONMAN and that’s when the GFBFD came up.
I think a lot of people adopt this idea without thinking it through to realize that if you believe that fat people can be divided into “good” and “bad” based on some criteria (and treated “accordingly”), then you have to admit that you can divide any group of people into “good” and “bad” based on those same criteria. There are two kinds of brunettes, two kinds of tall people, two kinds of green-eyed people etc. But we don’t hear anyone suggest that they’re only ok with tall people who “take care of themselves.” Because, whether people realize or not, this isn’t actually about health, or anything else other than a crappy justification for engaging in sizeism (though not as crappy as the “fat people cost me tax dollars“ bullshit.)
There aren’t two kinds of fat people and suggesting that there are is simply sinking one’s self into a pool of stereotypes and bigotry and just soaking in it. Fat people are as varied as any group of people who share a single physical characteristic, and that is as it should be. The Good Fatty Bad Fatty Dichotomy needs to die, if you want to help kill it you can do things like not participating in it, and calling it out when you notice it.
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