We look back, and we look forward (a post about inter-generational fatness that turned into so much more)

sepia-tinted black and white photo of a family from the 1930s: mother, father, and two boys

This is a picture of my paternal grandfather with his brother and parents in Krakow, Poland sometime around 1930. I came across it while looking through a treasure trove of old family photos at my grandmother’s house.

I know where my body shape comes from.

I mean, I already knew–there are plenty of fat/chubby/in-betweenie people on both sides of my family. But it’s amazing to see visual evidence of how far back it goes, contrary to the popular belief that “obesity” is a newfangled invention of modern society, that everyone was thin in some idealized heyday before TV and fast food.

It’s just amazing to see my own body looking back at me from nearly a century ago.

To see how the threads of history, of family, weave through us and tie us together.

This was my first, uncomplicated reaction when I saw the photo.

What’s harder to tangle with, and to write about–even though I know it in my bones–the fact that my grandfather’s parents didn’t make it out of Europe alive. My grandfather and his Irish-twin brother (born a year apart on the same day) escaped and found each other in America years later.

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What I wish I could tell food justice advocates

Sometimes I wish I could make everyone in the food justice movement read these fat acceptance 101 resources (or any fat acceptance resources).

I’m so sick of reading article after article, interview after interview, holding my breath for the inevitable reference to “obesity.”

The latest one is Feministing’s interview with Saru Jayaraman, the founder of Restaurant Opportunities Center United and a leader of campaigns to establish a living wage, paid sick days, and freedom from sexual harassment for restaurant workers.

She talks about the importance of sustainable labor practices as well as sustainably-grown foods; about the high poverty levels among restaurant workers, especially women and people of color; about the vulnerability to sexual harassment that comes from dependence on tips to make a living; and about the need to organize both in person and online for better wages and working conditions.  I couldn’t agree more….until I got to this part:

The reason for the fact that you have the largest and fastest growing industry in American proliferating the absolute lowest paying jobs is the power of the National Restaurant Association, which we call the Other NRA. They really are, we like to say that they kill more people annual that [sic] the Rifle Association because of obesity.

I just wish I could take Jayaraman aside and tell her:

“Obesity” is not a disease.

It’s just a ratio of height to weight. It was never intended to be used as a measure of individuals’ health, and it doesn’t tell you anything about how healthy a person is.

“Obesity” doesn’t kill people. Fat stigma does.

Restaurants don’t make fat people fat. Fat people have always existed, and always will. There are thin people who eat out regularly, and fat people who hardly ever eat out.

Fat bodies are not a symptom of corporate irresponsibility or unjust food systems. Fat bodies just are, and we’re sick of being used as pawns for pretty much every social justice cause under the sun.

Where does fatness come from? Who cares?

Another day, another article purporting to explain why fat people exist.

Funny how no one ever asks what causes thinness, or tallness, or brown-haired-ness. It’s almost like those traits are rightfully accepted as part of the natural diversity of bodies or something.

I’m sick of so many people, both liberal and conservative, treating the existence of people like me as a mystery to be solved. Conservatives blame the individual, liberals blame societal factors or try to find scientific explanations, but no one stops to think that maybe fatness is not actually a problem that needs solving.

No one stops to think, even though fat activists have been doing their work for decades. Even though the facts are out there for anyone who actually cares to look.

I’m sick of fatness being a marked trait. In her book Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive, Julia Serano describes marked identities as those that are considered artificial, unnatural, subject to questioning, while unmarked ones are seen as natural and unquestionable. For example, people often ask transgender people why they’re trans, but no one thinks to ask a cisgender person why they identify with the gender they were assigned at birth; and people often talk about femininity as unnatural and performative, even though it feels natural and right for many people, like Serano (and myself).

Where do fat bodies come from? I don’t know, but we sure can dance.