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6 Answers To Your Questions About The Fat Acceptance Movement

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A piece appeared on Thought Catalog titled, 6 Things I Don’t Understand About The Fat Acceptance Movement by Carolyn Hall. I’m going to answer the six questions, but I want to start out by pointing out the ways in which this article is problematic by suggesting some possible alternative titles:

  • 6 Things About Fat Acceptance that I Didn’t Bother Researching
  • 6 Ways I Try to Justify Ignoring Fat People’s Request for Basic Respect
  • 6 Ways that I’ve Let My Prejudice and Preconceived Notions Run Wild
  • 6 Ways in Which I’m Being Purposefully Obtuse
  • 6 Things That Aren’t Questions at All, But Are Rants Based on Prejudice, Preconceived Notions, and Stereotypes

Oh yes, the article is chock full of the usual fallacies – the confusion of body size with behavior, the confusion of Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, the (purposeful?) misconstruing of the entire concept of Health at Every Size, the use of “everybody knows statistics” for which the author provides no source, the confusion of eating disorders with body size, and “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children” hand wringing.  Most of my answers will include links to posts I’ve written on my blog because, like so many of us in the movement, I’ve written extensively about all six of these issues, which the author could have read about had she, you know, done a little research.

But don’t worry Carolyn Hall, I’ll hand feed you baby bird…

1. America is extremely accepting of fat.

I have not lived in many other countries in my life, but I have done it enough to know that America is exceptional in its general permissiveness about obesity and ill health. Though there may be negative stereotypes, staring, bullying, or crude comments, the environment we live in is one that is incredibly tolerant of unhealthy lifestyles. There are enormous portions, extreme levels of convenience, and a low priority put on physical activity (even in our schools). While treating someone differently because of how they look is not okay, with upwards of 60 percent obesity in certain cities, you can’t say that America is not accepting of fat people. We basically ensure that people will be fat, and are tolerant of the lifestyle choices that surround it. If anything, we need to be cracking down on it more.

A theme throughout her piece will be the confusion of body size and behavior.  These are two different things, neither of which are anyone else’s business unless we choose to make them their business.  Even if we believe the whole “enormous portions”, “levels of convenience”, and “low priority on physical activity” cause people to be fat (despite the fact that people of all sizes engage with these things and that body size is not the same thing as behavior)  she is making an argument about what causes people to be fat.  None of these things indicate any level of acceptance for fat people.

Fat acceptance is a civil rights movement built on the principal that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what it means to be fat, or if we could be thin by any means however easy or difficult.  What we are pointing out is that the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and basic respect are not size, healthy, or healthy habit dependent (including actual or perceived health.) Fat people do indeed deal with oppression because of how we look, and to suggest that the fact that people of all sizes have access to large portions and convenience stores somehow negates the fact that fat people are the unwilling combatants in what is, in the words of the government, a “war” on us with the goal of our eradication (against our wills if necessary), or that we get hired less and paid less etc., is ludicrous.

2. “Body positivity” should include health.

The idea of “body positivity” when used to refer to people who are hundreds of pounds overweight has always confused me. How could you be positive about something when you are, at the same time, actively damaging it? Being positive about the way you look is not enough, you also have to be positive (and proactive) about your health and well-being. And the obvious ill effects of obesity — on organs, joints, energy levels, and mood — go totally against the idea of being positive. There is nothing more negative than treating your body with disregard.

Noooooo.  No no no no no no.  Unless I missed the ceremony, nobody made Carolyn Hall the Boss of How Everyone Should Relate to Their Body.  I hope that job never exists and I certainly hope that someone who clearly can’t tell the difference between body size and behavior would never be elected to such a position.  Ignoring what, at item 2 of 6 is already a tired trope of insisting that body size is behavior (and energy level, mood, and joint health), people of all sizes are allowed to love our bodies – the only bodies we have, the bodies we live in 100% of the time – regardless of our past, current, or future behaviors, health status, dis/ability etc.  Size Acceptance (aka body positivity) and Health (including Health at Every Size) are two very different things.  I don’t see the logic of convincing people to hate their bodies as a path to health, I certainly don’t see it supported by any research, but I notice that Carolyn doesn’t seem to trouble herself with research and facts when she has so much prejudice and so many preconceived notions to get down on the page.

3. “Health at every size” seems physically impossible.

A big part of the Fat Acceptance Movement seems to be the idea of Health At Every Size, which advocates for a focus on healthy living, and not on body image. And in theory, this works, but its application is totally inconsistent. We acknowledge that someone who is anorexic is clearly not healthy at their size, and needs medical intervention, but we perpetuate the idea that a morbidly obese person could pursue an active lifestyle and remain at their size, and that saying otherwise would be “shaming” them. The truth is that weight extremes on either end are not healthy, and using rhetoric to cover up their real danger is not helping anyone. Physically, you cannot be healthy at literally any size, and sparing someone’s feelings on the matter is not going to address their immediate medical concerns.

For those of you playing FA Bullshit Bingo we have our first comparison of being fat (a body size) with anorexia (a mental illness).  Also, we have the idea that “morbidly obese people” couldn’t possibly engage in “healthy behaviors” while remaining fat, despite the lack of a single study in the world where more than a tiny fraction of people were able to maintain weight loss long term, plenty of people who eat a lot are sedentary and remain thin, and a mountain of evidence that shows that behaviors are a much better predictor of health than body size, finally we have the assertion by someone who literally can’t tell the difference between a body size and a mental illness that she knows best how to treat fat people in a healthcare environment.  If you got BINGO please bring your card to the front.

Health at Every Size is not about saying everybody can be healthy at every size.  It’s about allowing people of all sizes to prioritize and choose their path to health and working to make as many options as possible available.  It’s about public health making information and accessories available to the public – not making the individual’s health the public’s business.

4. People are allowed to not be attracted to certain body types.

Another weird part of the movement seems to be the idea that not being attracted to, or put off by, a large body is in some way shaming or internalized hatred of fat people. I know that there are many people who aren’t attracted to my body type (I don’t have much in the way of curves), but in the same vein, I’m not attracted to lots of other body types. And the focus on getting obese people to be seen as attractive seems misguided, when everyone has a preference, and whether or not someone is attracted to you shouldn’t mean anything to you. If someone wants to say “no fatties” in their online dating profile, isn’t it just their loss?

Ah, the argument that people aren’t attracted to an entire group of people based on a single physical characteristic and somehow that doesn’t meet the definition of prejudice.  Our preferences don’t take place in a vacuum and the idea of “attraction” isn’t just about okcupid but also about how gets hired for jobs, how we are treated by healthcare practitioners, what opportunities are available to us and more.  While I certainly don’t care if someone doesn’t find me personally attractive, I would like us to examine our very narrow ideal of beauty and the way that enculturation has played a part in that, rather than just shrugging and slapping a “No Fat Chicks” (or No Fat Dudes) bumper sticker on our cars.

5. Food addiction is a real medical problem.

Just as much as we would hold an intervention on someone who is suffering from a heroin addiction, or drinking themselves to death, should we not give the same attention to someone who is clearly eating themselves into ill health? Obviously there are going to be exceptions, when it’s caused by a medical condition or extenuating circumstances, but the Fat Acceptance Movement seems to rely too much on these outliers and not focus on the very real problem that a huge number of people in our country overeat in a dangerous way. The constant consumption of junk food, fast food, and preservative-filled snacks (especially if it’s soothing an emotional wound) is putting the body in real danger. And a lot of people are consuming these foods on more than a daily basis, which makes sense, as many of these foods are constructed to make us addicted. Should we not address these underlying issues?

Now, in addition to confusing body size and eating disorders, Carolyn can’t tell the difference between body size and heroin addiction. We’ve been here before. It seems to me that Carolyn really wants to be allowed to run with her prejudices, stereotypes of pre-conceived notions about what fat people do, and her judgments thereof, and the Fat Acceptance movement is getting in the way of that by pointing out that it’s none of her damn business and that if people want her opinion about their health or habits she will be among the first to know.

6. Childhood obesity is something we can’t be accepting of.

Regardless of whether or not a consenting adult wants to participate in the FAM or HAES, we can’t say that it is safe for children. There is a reason people get so upset at seeing obese children, and it’s because it is condemning them to a life of health problems that they are not choosing themselves. Feeding children constant junk food, letting them be sedentary, or giving them sugary sodas instead of water is something that we need to be judging harshly as a society. Choosing to be obese and wanting that acceptance as an adult is one thing, but putting it on a child is another, and some of these movements’ rhetoric edges dangerously into the latter category. Regardless of where you stand politically, seeing a toddler weigh as much as a normal 10-year-old should make us all very angry.

The language around “choosing to be obese” is deeply problematic. We literally don’t know why kids are the size they are.  It’s ok to hypothesize, but when we create and implement interventions based on these hypotheses we are, by definition, experimenting.  On kids.  I don’t understand how people who run gravel through their hair and wail about childhood obesity are perfectly happy experimenting on children, and of course her plan of make fat kids rage-inducing is sure to do wonders for their self-esteem, and definitely won’t lead to a witch hunt that leads to taking away kids whose body size is due to genetic disorders.  And those experiments are having some very dangerous consequences. not to mention being completely unnecessary since we can focus on the health of all children rather than the size of some of them.

So there you go Carolyn, I hope that’s cleared some things up for you, though I think it’s possible that you weren’t so much asking questions as you were trying use the premise to run roughshod over fat people so that you can splash around in a bath of your own bigotry.  Feel free to come over to the Size Acceptance Steam room – there’s plenty of space! TC mark

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