Fighting fat-phobia matters. For so many reasons other than body image.

Lately, it seems like fat acceptance has been slowly but surely making headway into our larger cultural consciousness. It’s been about 7 or 8 years since I first became aware of the movement, and I’ve seen a sea change in the general awareness of the fact that fat isn’t a bad thing, that bodies come in all shapes and sizes and they all deserve respect.

But as the messages of FA have become more popular, they’ve also been diluted. So, so much of the cultural discourse about fat bodies focuses on body image: on the personal, interior journeys of fat people (mostly women) to accept themselves.

I’m not denying that body image is important. Accepting one’s body can be life-changing in so many ways, and everyone deserves the chance to begin that journey. Everyone deserves to know that their body is ok just how it is. Developing a good relationship with one’s body–or at least a detente in the war against it–can be an important step in developing the firm emotional grounding needed for further activism.

But body image should be one of many things we work on, not the be-all-and-end-all of fighting fat-phobia. Fat-phobia matters not just because it leads many people to hate, starve, and become alienated from their bodies, but because it enforces structural discrimination that affects fat people regardless of whether they love their bodies.

There are countless ways that this discrimination plays out: everything from charging fat people extra for plane tickets, to a lack of availability of clothing in plus sizes, to prejudice in health care that often has dire consequences. One that I find particularly terrifying, as a fat person partnered with another fat person who might someday have fat children, is the way that governments police parents of fat kids.

I just read an article about a couple in the UK who were arrested on suspicion of child neglect because their 11-year old son weighs 15 stone (210 lb) at 5’1″. This isn’t the first time I’ve read about something like this (caution: not all links are from fat-pos sites, read at your own risk), and it makes me so angry I don’t even have words.

Because of fat hatred, parents can have their children taken away from them. I wish I had words for how fucked-up this is, but all I have right now is a strong urge to scream.

This is one of the many, many reasons why I fight. I want to live in a world where no one has to worry about losing their children for any reason other then actual abuse or neglect. I want to live in a world where fatness is seen not as evidence of bad parenting, but as a natural variation in body shapes (and in some cases, a symptom of underlying medical problems, which are also not the parents’ fault).  I want to live in a world where no one faces discrimination or policing for their body size or their children’s body size.

I will keep shouting from the (virtual) rooftops: fat-phobia has real-life consequences. It harms people in ways that go far beyond body image, and therefore our conversations need to go far beyond body image.

Fat acceptance, fat activism, fat justice–whatever you want to call this movement–isn’t just about body love. It’s about breaking down structures that harm and kill fat people. It’s about working toward a fair and just world for people of all body sizes. Are you in?

Things that made me sad today

I read this piece by Roxane Gay with trepidation; I love her writing, but from following her for a while, I’ve seen she’s conflicted about fatness in a way that’s hard for me to read. She often critiques fat-shaming while still buying into the ideas that fat is unhealthy, that weight loss is good, that thinner is better….and so I try to skip over anything she writes about weight. But then I read her piece about the Biggest Loser anyway.

I’ve read plenty of great critiques of the show, but this one makes it personal. Gay writes about her own struggles with her relationship to her body:

My body is wildly undisciplined and I deny myself nearly everything I desire. I deny myself the right to space when I am public, trying to fold in on myself, to make my body invisible even though it is, in fact, grandly visible. I deny myself the right to a shared armrest because how dare I impose? I deny myself entry into certain spaces I have deemed inappropriate for a body like mine—most spaces inhabited by other people. 

I deny myself bright colors in my clothing choices, sticking to a uniform of denim and dark shirts even though I have a far more diverse wardrobe. I deny myself certain trappings of femininity as if I do not have the right to such expression when my body does not follow society’s dictates for what a woman’s body should look like. I deny myself gentler kinds of affection—to touch or be kindly touched—as if that is a pleasure a body like mine does not deserve. 

It’s just heart-breaking.

It’s heart-breaking that she can so eloquently describe the pain of fat-shaming, both external and internalized, but doesn’t seem to see that there’s a (hard, imperfect, messy, but very real) way out.

To Gay, and to everyone else who is struggling, I want to say:

There is a way out.

There are options beyond hating your body, beyond denying yourself pleasure and beauty and love.

Body love, even body detente, isn’t always easy. It isn’t a linear journey. But it is a journey, one you can choose to take.

There are so many of us fat women–and men, and non-binary folks–over here, on the fat acceptance/fat justice/whatever-you-want-to-call-it-side, living our lives and treating our bodies as well as we can, whatever that means to each of us.

We’re here, having picnics and clothing swaps, dancing, painting our nails bright colors, wearing flowery dresses, practicing Health At Every Size, dating people who see the beauty in us, celebrating our undisciplined bodies and desires, refusing to buy into our culture’s twisted narratives about weight and health and worth.

Come join us.  We saved a seat for you.

What being a fat woman is really like

My glamorous fat life: hanging out on a farm after going to the beach for my birthday last summer

Through this post from Bethany, I found out about a surprisingly fat-positive interview that was recently published in Cosmo (!). Bethany and a bunch of other bloggers decided to answer the same questions, so here are my answers! You can find a roundup of all the participating bloggers here at Charlotte’s blog.

How do you feel when other women around you complain about feeling/being fat?

Luckily, this doesn’t happen to me often–and when it does, it usually involves friends writing about their body image struggles in their own online spaces, which I could choose to stop following if I wanted to.  I feel simultaneously frustrated–because fat is not a bad thing, and I’m usually bigger than the person doing the complaining!–and understanding, because the pull of weight loss culture is so strong, and I remember what it was like to be utterly convinced that I needed to be thin to be attractive and healthy.

How has your body image changed since high school? College?

SO MUCH. In middle school and high school, I hated my body–even though I also enjoyed dressing up, and never had much desire to hide behind baggy or plain clothing. I remember stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office when I was 17, and seeing it hit 201–and that felt like the worst thing ever. In my mind, 200 lbs was hideous, far beyond the realm of normal people, and crossing that line made me officially, terribly, disgustingly fat (which seems funny now, because I weigh about 240 and am much happier with my body!).

I spent most of college dieting on and off before I came across Shapely Prose through the feminist blog-o-sphere, and my mind was blown. It took some time to truly accept everything I was learning, but when I did, it made such a difference. I still have bad body-image days occasionally, but for the most part, I’m happy with how I look. When I was younger, I never could have imagined that!

Have you tried dieting? What happened?

I started dieting fairly late, compared to the experiences of most fat women I know. In eighth grade, I went through a phase where I did ten minutes of crunches a day in hopes of shrinking my stomach–but I didn’t start seriously dieting until senior year of high school, and then I was doing it “for my health.” I never did anything really drastic, but obsessing over the calories in everything and going to the gym constantly just wasn’t sustainable for very long.

In college, I kept falling off the wagon and then starting again, yo-yo-ing up and down within a range of 40 or so pounds–until I learned about fat acceptance and stopped altogether. My weight settled about about 180 then, although a few years later I ended up gaining weight for unrelated reasons, and who knows if that was partly affected by the way dieting can change people’s metabolisms?

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Sunday links, 1/26/14

I love Jill Scott.

Re/Dress’ spring vintage lookbook is fabulous–and it includes their new masculine/butch styles.
-Despite all the hype, European brand Mango’s new plus size line doesn’t have many interesting styles, and has a fairly small size range.
-This year’s Big Thrifty will be on May 3rd, at a new, larger space in Malden.
-And for New York fatties, the Big Fat Flea will be May 4th.
16 things teen girls wore in the winter of 1996, as told by the Delias*s catalog.

Fat Acceptance
-Caitlin Thornton interviews the always awesome Mary Lambert about body image, makeup, and fashion.
Fat and bad knees.
-So much yes to Marilyn Wann’s rant about people who claim to be fat-positive but brag about their weight loss.
-Why it’s important to focus on children’s health, not their weight.
Things that are still a diet.
The tyranny of “the normal”: why the BMI is and has always been a hot ton of oppressive bullshit.

Climate and Sustainability
“We can’t trust capitalism to fix this” global warming mess.
-A conversation with George Monbiot about the great rewilding.
Why, not what: the heart of climate activism.
Solar wins: how sunshine will save the planet (really!)

A beautiful short film about reclaiming our energy and economy from fossil fuel companies:

Our Power Film // Black Mesa Water Coalition from Our Power on Vimeo.

Everything Else
-Nicolette Mason is the best. After Jezebel’s ridiculous stunt of offering $10K for unretouched pictures of Lena Dunham, Nicolette decided to raise the same amount of money for women’s empowerment instead.
Food gentrification and the culinary rebranding of traditional foods.
-If you can, donate to Youngist, which publishes the voices and stories of millenials (and, unlike many outlets, actually pays its authors).
-I like this daring new approach to fighting for a fairer economy.
“Nobody knows my life but me”: an elegy for Dr. V.
Afterthoughts and aftershocks: why a dozen different editors failed Dr. V.
-Sarah Kendzior writes brilliantly about the cruelty of the mainstream media (but unfortunately uses some ableist language to do so).
Reimagining freedom: one student’s take on the Zaptatistas’ Escualita.
Remember that famous about obedience to authority? Here’s how Stanley Milgram got it all wrong.
-Sick of Dan Savage’s asshattery, and want some better advice about sex and relationships? Check out Cardinal Rules.
-Suey Park writes about the importance of community in activism. I love these beautiful words she quotes from Jeff Yang: “These threads won’t weave themselves, nor will these chains break of their own accord, and unless we join hands and swim together, unless we become each others’ sidekicks, the river of memory will sweep us away. “

Friday Links, 11/23/12

-The Fat Nutritionist has a lovely post of advice on dealing with the holidays.
It’s not because I’m fat.
This New Moon article about food and eating is amazing. I hope it reaches many, many girls.
The end of fat people: goodbye, Hostess.
-Lesley writes movingly about her preteen eating disordered years.
-A lovely piece–complete with adorable baby pictures!– by a mother who found that she could no longer hate her chin once she saw the same feature on her daughter.

A new study shows that, despite the growing number of fatshion bloggers, mainstream companies have not responded by making more plus-size clothes. Although that’s disappointing, I agree with Nicolette Mason’s quote in the article. She says that the independent plus-size marketplace is thriving, and gives many examples of indie plus-size lines. Also, how cool is it that there’s a study called “Frustrated Fatshionistas: An Institutional Theory Perspective on Consumer Quests for Greater Choice in Mainstream Markets?”
-Threadless’ TARDamask shirt is back in stock! They only have a few sizes available (and unfortunately no Men’s 2XL, which should fit me according to the size chart), but if you wear one of those sizes, check it out.
These costumes are amazing.
-Who knew that Land’s End made some nice plus size clothing, including this lovely sequined skirt?
The real cost of your clothing.
Smart internet shopping for style lovers.
-This plus size Australian clothing swap sounds like so much fun!

Tuesday was Transgender Day of Remembrance, which should be a day of action for cisgender people.
-Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under Clinton, is working on a film about inequality in the US. He’s amazing–I took a class with him in college, and he’s probably the best lecturer I’ve ever heard. He can make any concept understandable and fascinating, and he’s got a great sense of humor. The inequality in our society right now is a huge, huge issue, and I’m glad he’s trying to bring it to light. I highly recommend donating to his Kickstarter, or at least passing on the word.
-A must-read from Dahlia Lithwick: I didn’t come back to Jerusalem to be in a war.
Cliff mocks the latest issue of Cosmo, which is as ridiculous as usual.
-A beautiful story by an adopted transwoman whose Korean birth mother gave her the courage to transition.
-A great comic from The Oatmeal about creating things for a living.

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