Tess Holliday is a 5’5, size 22 model who is on the cover of People Magazine (like many models before her) for being rocking awesome at her job, which is to let fat women see the clothes that are being sold to us on a body that looks like us.
But heaven forbid we let a woman believe that her achievements are more important than random people’s judgments. So queue hand-wringing about the completely ridiculous notion of “promoting obesity,” the armchair psychic doctors who can tell someone’s health just by looking at their picture, and the won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children nonsense about who should and shouldn’t be a role model.
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. We deserve to be treated with respect and we have the right to exist in our fat bodies without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression. it is completely ok for us to be fat. Yes, even if we weigh [insert random number of pounds that seems like a lot to you here]. Yes even if you think our weight is “our fault.” Yes, even if you would never ever want to be “that fat”. Yes, even if you can’t understand how we do …whatever you can’t understand how we do. Yes, even if we have problems that can be correlated with being fat. Yes, even if people say that we cost society more. Yes, even if we 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.
Even if someone believes that all fat people engage in behavior that doesn’t prioritize our health, this doesn’t hold up. People get to make choices about their personal health. That means that they are allowed to drink like fish, jump out of helicopters wearing skis, be cast members on Jackass, take stressful jobs, not get enough sleep, eat what they choose, be sedentary, etc. at whatever weight they happen to be. Anything else quickly becomes an very steep slippery slope.
In order to agree with the idea that fat people make poor role models because we are unhealthy you have to believe a couple of things. First, that you can tell someone’s health based on their weight, and second, that people who aren’t healthy shouldn’t be role models. Both of these are totally wrong.
First of all, you cannot tell how healthy someone is based on their size. There are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes, for lots of different reasons, none of which is anybody else’s business. But even if someone is so misguided as to believe that body size is a reliable indicator of health, this “bad role model” idea is still bullshit.
Health is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness, it’s not entirely within our control or guaranteed in any circumstance, and “health,” by whatever definition, should not be a prerequisite for being a role model or to be acknowledged for one’s achievements. The idea that someone, of any size, should have to meet some level of “health” in order to be appreciated for their talent or be a role model is horrifying, and is the definition of healthism. Not to mention that, as it plays out in reality, the double standard on this could not be more clear.
I don’t think that people who suggest that fat people shouldn’t be role models because they think we’re unhealthy actually care about our health, I think that they are trying to use healthism as a cover for their fatphobia.
Again, even if people believe that fat people are fat because we engage in behaviors that are unhealthy, or that we could be not fat if we tried and that would be healthier, that still doesn’t justify this. We can look up to people for their achievements, appreciate their talents, we make them our role models based on their accomplishments, even if we don’t agree with every choice they make about their personal health – because those choices are between them and the people they choose to include. (And let’s not forget that many people’s choices are limited by lack of access due to factors including oppression -racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, ableism, sizeism etc. – as well as socioeconomic factors.)
So every time you see someone comment on an article about a fat person like Tess being celebrated for their achievements with some crap about their health, or how it’s promoting obesity, or how they shouldn’t be a role model etc. you can choose to acknowledge to yourself that this is sizeist, healthist, and total, unadulterated, bullshit. If you want to go a step further, you can leave a comment saying so.
Just so there is no confusion, I am saying that it is totally, entirely, completely ok to be fat, and it’s totally, entirely, completely ok to have fat role models.
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