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: Continue reading

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?

Backlash against fat acceptance means we’re making progress

necklace that says

Backlash is never pretty, but it’s inescapable for social justice movements.

This is what I thought about when I read Carolyn Hall’s aggressively clueless Thought Catalog piece about fat acceptance (to which Ragen, Jes, Shaunta, and Marianne have responded wonderfully.) Reading pieces like hers (and Laila Pedro’s) is immensely frustrating and blood-pressure-raising, but I see them as a sign of a positive cultural shift–a sign that FA is gaining traction in the popular imagination. That it’s becoming well-known enough to get its own ignorant detractors.

The fat acceptance movement has come so far, even in the last seven years since I discovered it when I happened upon Shapely Prose. Back then, FA was practically unheard of; now, it’s everywhere. Now, we live in a world where a fat girl dancing can go viral, where plus-size model Tess Munster has 266,000 Facebook fans, where the trailer for a documentary about fat-shaming makes it to Upworthy, where two major figures of the fat acceptance movement are, respectively, an editor and a writer for a mainstream women’s website. (Unfortunately, although the movement itself is diverse, the members who get the most media attention tend to be young-ish, feminine white women…*sigh*)

There are still plenty of people who haven’t heard of fat acceptance, but it’s making major inroads in the collective consciousness, especially thanks to social media. Tumblr in particular has become a hotbed of fatshion and fat activism, which makes FA much easier to access for young people now than when I was a teenager (when dinosaurs roamed the earth and we had to listen to that annoying dial-up sound every time we went online).

These days, people know enough about FA to have ridiculous misconceptions about us–and that means that for every Carolyn Hall out there, there are countless more fat people who have learned that there’s an alternative to hating their bodies. For every ignoramus whining about the dangers of fat acceptance, there are countless more fat people who are working together with the knowledge that society, not our bodies, is the problem.

We still have a long way to go, but we’ve come so far–it’s pretty amazing to step back and realize that.

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.

Things that pissed me off today

Ok, just one thing–this piece from the Feminist Wire. To be honest, I only skimmed it, because it pissed me off too much to read closely.

Fat hatred from fellow feminists, people who are supposedly committed to justice, is so much worse than fat hatred from random people who can be written off as ignorant jerks.

It’s extreme bullshit to question the legitimacy of fat acceptance–with scare quotes, even.

It’s extreme bullshit to claim that fat people are the bullies, that body-policing douchenozzles like Maria Kang are the ones being oppressed.

It’s extreme bullshit to conflate fitness and health with thinness, to conflate speaking out against fat-hatred with jealousy and misogyny.

It’s such extreme, extreme bullshit that I have very little ability to craft an eloquent response. If any of you want to write one, I’d love to read it. I’m just angry.

And every time I read a fellow feminist being so painfully, aggressively, pathetically clueless about fat politics, it makes me more committed to exposing the lie of weight loss culture. More committed to celebrating fat bodies in the face of a society that considers us inherently unhealthy, unattractive, unworthy.

Fuck that shit.

That’s all I have to say.

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?

Continue reading

Sunday links, 12/29/13

A purple doorknob in Brooklyn, where I spent Christmas with Steve and his family

Fa(t)shion
-In tutu news, Kiyonna has a tulle skirt that comes in black and dark red, and Tanesha of Girl With Curves is selling black and cream tutus (although sadly they’re both sold out at the moment).
-Philly fatshionistas, check out this clothing swap!
-Marianne reviews the plus size clothing rental company Gwynnie Bee, which I’ll also be reviewing soon, as I recently did a free monthlong trial.
Floral blazers for men = hell yes.
-Two interesting posts on the politics of looking “sloppy.”
Color of the year 2014: radiant orchid.
Fashioning fashion: the pink top.

Fat Acceptance
French women and thinness: “If you are fat, you won’t get that job.”
-Ragen writes about crap she’s sick of hearing. I especially like this point from the comments: “People who whip out the old ‘tax dollars unfairness!’ saw never care that fat people’s tax dollars go to pay for public goods and services they then have no access to because they were only made to accomodate [sic] thin people, or how unfair THAT is.”
The violent side of fat shaming and denying body acceptance.

Climate and Sustainability
-Scary shit: Are we falling off the climate precipice? Scientists consider extinction.
All I want for Christmas is for the youth climate justice movement to seize its full potential.
The fossil fuel divestment movement can succeed where politics failed. This piece also makes the important point that we need to avoid demonizing the working-class people who dig up fossil fuels.
How to build a permaculture suburb. This might not work quite as well in a colder climate, but it’s inspiring nonetheless.

Continue reading