(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?