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?