Thoughts on the state of the fat community

close-up of gold mirrored "fat" necklace
(Note: in this piece, I refer to the movement in question mainly as fat acceptance, or FA, since that’s how I first came to know it. Other people may prefer to call it size acceptance, fat justice, fat activism, etc. Like most movements, it’s more a series of overlapping movements than one cohesive community, which I think is a good thing.)

I recently read a piece on XOJane titled, Why I’m Over The Size Acceptance Movement or Hey, SA, What Have You Done For Me Lately? Like many XOJane pieces, it’s scattered and confusingly written (and could have benefited greatly from the hand of a skilled editor). It’s especially confusing that the author, Cary Webb, calls for more 201-level discussions within the fat acceptance movement, yet doesn’t seem to grasp some of the 101-level basics of the movement: like the fact that discussions about considering weight loss surgery support fat-negative narratives, and therefore don’t belong in FA spaces. People who want to talk about weight loss can go literally anywhere else on the internet–or in the world–and have those discussions supported, but those of us who want a break from hearing about it have only a few spaces where we can do so. It’s the height of entitlement to demand that such spaces include weight loss talk.

Webb brings up important issues like racism, healthism, poverty, and ableism in the same sentence as wanting to be allowed to say that “there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear”–umm, what? Policing what other fat people wear is neither FA 201 nor 101–it’s just more of the same oppressive shit we get from the rest of the world. And like weight loss talk, it has no place in our movement.

Even though I have some major issues with the piece, I’m glad that it has sparked discussion across multiple FA spaces about the state of the movement. Here are a few of my thoughts, in no particular order:

– I don’t think it’s a bad thing that the movement centers women’s voices. I’m interested in hearing about the experiences of fat men and masculine people, and they definitely shouldn’t be excluded, but there’s a good reason that the FA movement consists mainly of women and feminine people. Fat hatred is incredibly gendered, and is directed at women more often, more harshly, and at a much lower weight threshold than it is at men. As just one example, women face far more weight discrimination in the workplace.

-I would love to have more FA 201 discussions, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing that there’s a lot of 101 going on–I think that’s because our movement is growing so rapidly, and reaching so many new people, that widespread 101 conversations are necessary. That’s awesome, you guys. That’s progress, even though it can be frustrating to wade through 101-level conversations in search of something more nuanced. As a place to start, I put together an FA 201 reading list in one of my comments on the original post, which I will work on expanding into its own post.

-Racism, classism, ableism, healthism, and sizeism are definitely a problem both within and outside the movement. We can’t choose which FA figures the mainstream media decides to highlight, but we can work on doing better within our own communities. For example, although people often think of FA as a mainly white movement, there are a ton of people of color doing great work–Juicy D. Light, Virgie Tovar, Tigress Osborn, Pia Schiavo-Campo, Sonya Renee Taylor, Vanessa Leigh, Irene McCalphin (Magnoliah Black), Jessica Wilson, Etang Inyang and Tammy Johnson of Your Body Raks, and the It Gets Fatter Project, to name a few. Those of us who are white should make an effort to support and signal-boost their work.

As I’ve written about before, I think that the FA movement tends to focus too much on body image issues, and not enough on the many other ways that fat-phobia and weight loss culture cause harm. I understand that body image is an easy entry point to FA–it’s something that nearly everyone can relate to. But at the same time, it’s frustrating to see so many conversations that never move beyond body image/body love, so many big flashy projects dedicated to it, and relatively fewer conversations and projects about working toward fat justice. I’d like to see more discussions like #DiagnosisFat, more exploration of fat as a reproductive rights issue, more talk about social determinants of health, more brainstorming new forms of activism, and so on.

-Much of the recent conversation I’ve seen conflates plus size fashion communities with the fat acceptance movement. But although they overlap, they are not the same thing. Fatshion blogging has grown exponentially, which is great–but it’s also moved farther and farther away from its radical roots, and many new people in the scene are not even aware of those roots. I am reminded of this every time I see plus size fashion bloggers talking about wanting to lose weight (which is unfortunately pretty often, sigh). The relationship between plus size fashion and fat acceptance is so complex that it would take multiple posts to even scratch the surface.

-In one discussion thread, someone mentioned that they’d like to see more in-person fat activism, as so much FA organizing currently takes place online. (I’d link to the comment, but I can’t find where I read it.) I think this is a good point, and I would be curious to see what more in-person fat activism would look like–as long as it doesn’t denigrate the very real power of online organizing, and as long as it respects that fact that many people aren’t able to join in-person actions due to disability, chronic illness, social anxiety, being exhausted from work, or other reasons.

I’m also curious where in-person fat community-building, like what I’ve been doing with my local group (e.g. clothing swaps, fat brunches, thrifting excursions, etc.) fits in. What’s the end game of fat community building–are we building community in order to do something specific? Or do we even need an end game? Is connecting with other fat people and supporting each other reason enough?

What are your thoughts? What would you change about our movement if you could? What does the future of fat acceptance look like to you?

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14 thoughts on “Thoughts on the state of the fat community

  1. I also wonder if SA 101 feels less and less daring as smaller size fat women’s bodies become more generally acceptable. (My sister once told me that I wasn’t fat by today’s standards but that I was “90’s fat.” I had to LOL.) I feel like most civil rights movements often contain a real mix of people who are trying to say “Respect us because we’re just like you!” and others who consider themselves radical and want to stay that way. We see that in Martin Luther King vs. the Black Panthers. It also shows up in the gay community both in the arguments for and against gay marriage (is gay marriage essentially embracing the heteronormative?) and in the prejudice that some gays have historically had against transsexuals (“we look normal, you do not”). You could argue that HAES is similar (“fat people are healthy too! We can do everything you can do!”). But in trying to gain acceptance by the larger community by pointing out the ways in which we are “normal” , the ways that we DO conform, we exclude the people who are more radical. As movements gain acceptance, this phenomenon happens more and more, resulting in major inter-movement conflict. That article is kinda pointing out the “radicals” in SA and how they are sometimes shut out.

    Personally, what I find most off-putting about SA is how sometimes members who are trying to express the real health problems they are facing get shut down. Now, my mother has been obese her whole life and I have seen doctors try to blame all her many health issues on her weight. It’s clearly BS. One time a doctor actually told her she was in pain because she was too fat-when she actually had a cancerous tumor eating into her colon. (She’s fine now. :-D) But if someone comes into a SA forum saying “I’m considering weight loss surgery because I can’t get my health under control” or “My weight is affecting my walking ability and I can’t take it anymore” I wince when someone tells them to take their fat shaming elsewhere. Maybe weight loss is the answer for them and maybe it isn’t-but shouldn’t we accept and support these people? Where else are they supposed to go to talk about their experiences? Acting like fat is always A-Ok, no matter what, and anyone who challenges that needs to hush, seems forced and unfair to me.

    • I think that this (weight loss=fat shaming) is because so many people conflate Fat Acceptance with Body Positivity. This may just be my take on the two movements, but my take on FA is the same as Laura’s, and therefore “discussions about considering weight loss surgery support fat-negative narratives, and therefore don’t belong in FA spaces.” However, I consider BP to be about loving your body as it is while making healthy choices about your body. I think that when someone enters the FA community and discusses their desired weight loss, they should just be redirected to Body Positivity spaces rather than hushed and likely berated, and they should go quietly. Both movements need to be respectful of each other, because while there are differences, they both aim to remove the societal stigma of being fat.

  2. With loose inspiration from the freedom riders, what if a bunch of us super fatties, including bloggers, journalists, and photographers, fully booked up a particular plane flight and waited for the airlines to do what they do? could be interesting. What if we did this once a week until the airlines got the point?

    • That’s an interesting idea, although I don’t think it would be very practical–I don’t know many people who would have the money or time to book a flight every week. (Not to mention the logistics of all trying to book the same flight, when airline scheduling is so complicated.) But maybe something similar that doesn’t cost money could work.

    • Unfortunately Fancy Lady Industries no longer sells them, but there are a bunch of other shops that make similar necklaces! I’ve been meaning to do a roundup of fat-pos jewelry and accessories, and should try to get to it soon.

  3. I don’t need an end goal, because just like life evolves so will the FA movement, but if I had to pick a goal, right now, I would say my goal is for FA to be common. When I talk to people about FA most of the information I am sharing is surprising to them, new to them, or they think of a Dove commercial (which are awesome and beautiful, but FA is SO much more than that) or, on the opposite spectrum they think it’s total bullshit that I am making it up to make my fat self feel better. I want Jan 1st not to be time to get skinny day and I want men and women to embrace the home of their souls (their bodies) and I want more fat fabulous people in the spotlight so I (we) can have (honest and not stereotypical) representation other than all the cookie cutter current stars (beautiful, yes, but not a lot of variety). I want doctors and laws working with me and not shaming me and I don’t want it to be radical!! That’s my goal. When I can look out into the world and see the beauty and not the shame being reflected back, in all the fabulous bodies of men and women out there, how inspiring and liberating and AWESOME would that be?!?! That’s what I want and that’s what I am working for everyday.

    AND I wholeheartedly want a physical community to interact with outside of the internet. 🙂

    All Bodies. All Beautiful. All Equal. PERIOD.

  4. I like LadyT’s comment about an end goal of FA as “common.” I’m not sure why treating all bodies and people with respect is seen as radical. So I too would like an end goal of respecting all bodies and all people, but that’s a much broader issue than FA alone.

    I think the goal of so many social justice movements it to simple be who we are in peace. I think it’s about broadening norms or doing away with them altogether. And I do think the FA movement is exploding, particularly outside of the FA community because it’s something that I’m hearing sisters and friends talk about who have previously had no connection to FA.

    I always appreciate your essays because they get me thinking. I often wonder if I should be tackling more FA topics on my blog, or if it’s “enough” to simply be myself and share my fatshionable life.

    I think that FA and plus size fashion going mainstream is a good move, even if it does open up the community to criticism. It’s also giving the community more of a presence where more people can identify with it and join in.

    ❤ Liz
    http://www.withwonderandwhimsy.com

    • Thanks for your thoughts. I actually find bullet points really useful for when I have multiple, loosely connected thoughts, but I will see if I can think of alternative ways to convey the same thing. For what it’s worth, when I criticize editing of other pieces, I’m not talking about stuff like punctuation or formatting so much as the overall flow of ideas.

    • Also, for what it’s worth, I don’t hold personal blogs to the same standards as major media websites that have paid editors. If the author of the piece in question had been writing on a personal blog, I never would have mentioned the editing, because I don’t expect personal blogs to have well-edited writing. I do expect better from sites like XOJane, although I probably shouldn’t because they’ve made it clear that they care more about getting clicks than anything else.

  5. As a fat guy I think that even though fat women are on the forefront of fat bias, that fat men may internalize their fat bias more. Aside of gay fat male porno and feeder/fetish areas you hardly see photos of fat men disrobed or even in form fitting clothes.

    The areas that I feel that Fat Acceptance fails for me are fat male issues, fat people of color issues and the way Fat Acceptance has a unofficial standard where every fat women is curvy, sexy and feminine. Fat Acceptance does not look at the other groups of the fat community through similar Rose Colored Glasses.

    I also feel that it is wrong for Fat Acceptance to write so much about the lives and experiences of fat men without input from fat men. I know that fat men are a absentee group, but it does not help when fat men who do decide to participate have to argue over something said in “behalf” of fat men.

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