Fat People and Personal Responsibility

I joined a gang – a blog gang.  We are all posting on the same day about the same subject.  You can find the links to the rest of my gang’s (I love saying that) posts at the end. This time our topic is Personal Responsibility. If you know me or read my blog, you know that this is a topic that is near and dear to my heart.  Let me just dive right in.

To me personal responsibility is owning that while I can’t always control my circumstances, I can always control my reactions to them and how I allow them to affect me going forward.  Thus I may not be able to control if someone breaks into my house, but once the break-in is over I choose to take responsibility for how I react to it and how I allow it to affect me in the future. Personal Responsibility doesn’t mean that I think that I can do everything alone.  It means that I take responsibility for asking for help when I need it.  If I find that having my house broken into has left me feeling unsafe, then I take responsibility for feeling that way and, if I want to feel differently, I take responsibility for figuring out what it will take (alarm system, therapy, starting a neighborhood watch etc.) to feel the way that I want to feel, and then making that happen.  That doesn’t mean that what the thief did was ok, or that they shouldn’t be punished – it wasn’t and they should; but that’s a separate thing from how I choose to react and be affected in my life.

To be clear, this is a conscious choice.  I could always just feel unsafe in my home and blame the thief for making me feel that way. That’s a perfectly viable life choice.  If my goal is to justify why I live in fear so that other people will blame someone else and not me for my situation, then it seems like that kind of attitude would be just what I need.   If my goal is to live in my house without fear, I’m just not sure how blaming someone else for the way I reacted to my circumstances and throwing up my hands will get me there.

If I’m not responsible for how my circumstances have affected me, then who the hell is?  And more to the point, how can I change my circumstances?  Do I just have to hope that a group of awesome people shows up at my house to protect me and make me feel safe again? So, what about fat people?  One of the things I hear a lot is that obesity is caused by a “lack of personal responsibility”.  People have said that in comments on this blog. But I don’t think that people really mean that I don’t take personal responsibility. If they read the blog they are well aware that I take complete responsibility for my health and well being, I just don’t happen to buy into the idea that I have to be thin to be healthy. I’ve done tons of research, drawn conclusions, created a strategy, implemented it in my life, and had fantastic outcomes in terms of my health (mental and physical), self-esteem, and body image, and now I offer the option that worked for me to other people.

I think that what people mean to say is that my idea of health doesn’t match theirs and so their definition of personal responsibility is that I am personally responsible for doing what is necessary to make them happy with who I am and how I look.  That doesn’t work for me. I am not the boss of anyone else’s underpants – I get to make choices for me, you get to make choices for you.  The thing that makes being fat different is that people feel that by looking at me they can ascertain that I’ve made “bad choices”  and not been “personally responsible” and therefore they feel that they have right to judge me and say rude, cruel and accusatory things to me about my health and its impact on our society.  Since their guesses are grossly erroneous, I suggest that their assumption is flawed.  You cannot look at someone and tell their level of health, or how much personal responsibility they are taking for it.  Even if you could, it’s absolutely not your business if someone is making healthy choices for themselves – that’s why it’s called personal responsibility.  I can’t stop people from smoking or drinking or being bad drivers or crossing the street without looking or a million other things that  may have to be paid for with my tax dollars.  That’s just life.

I see this blog as an exercise in personal responsibility.  Personal responsibility means that I speak my truth honestly and authentically, or I don’t speak at all.  It also means that I understand that it’s MY truth, not everyone’s truth, and that I could be wrong and I’m responsible for that, too.  I seem to have something that a lot of people want (high self-esteem, great health, great body image, great life), it wasn’t always this way and so I share the things that got me here in case it’s helpful to someone.  The only goal of my sharing is to give  people an option and then respect whatever they choose.  To me that’s true personal responsibility and I hope that it catches on.

17 thoughts on “Fat People and Personal Responsibility

  1. HURRAH! Not much else to say. Well done. Incredibly well done. Can I be like you when I grow up? 😉


    1. Thanks! I’m so glad that you liked it. Be careful what you wish for on the being me thing… 😉 ~Ragen

  2. Awesome, fantastic post. Loved every word – so very true.

    “The thing that makes being fat different is that people feel that by looking at me they can ascertain that I’ve made “bad choices” and not been “personally responsible” and therefore they feel that they have right to judge me and say rude, cruel and accusatory things to me about my health and its impact on our society. Since their guesses are grossly erroneous, I suggest that their assumption is flawed. You cannot look at someone and tell their level of health, or how much personal responsibility they are taking for it.”

    I just want to wallpaper this passage around the world.

  3. I like what you have written. I like that it is honest, and forthright. I really like it is very similar to my take on personal responsibility.

    I have also enjoyed reading everyone’s take on personal responsibility. It has been eye opening, and education. Thank you for sharing a part of yourself with us.

  4. You are so right… we may not be able to control certain things that happen to us… but we CAN control our reactions to it. I’ve been learning how to do that a lot in my “old age”. We can’t be responsible for other people’s choices or actions, only our own.

  5. Hi Ragen,

    I’ve been reading your blog for some months now and I really enjoy your writing. I think you are really spot on about what a lot of people say about being fat and what the reality of it. I experience this a lot too.

    That said, I felt a little disturbed by this post and how you likened personal responsibility to feeling safe after, for example, your house got broken into in.

    A few years ago, I have dealt with a minor case of PTSD and I can’t tell you from experience that when something bad happens to you and control gets snatched away, it is sometimes not possible, at least not in a short while after, to control your reactions and emotions to the aftermath of it.

    I had a flood of sudden and unwanted reactions triggered by certain sounds, or smells or sights in the months after the event. I could not control it and it happened before I was even aware of what exactly triggered the reactions. These effects did subside after some months, but initially my emotions seems to have a mind of their own. It is just not as easy to make your own choices when dealing with intense pain or fear. It can actually prevent you from acting and reacting the way you want to.

    The same thing is with taking personal responsibility for our health, whether fat or thin. In my job I deal with people who are in a wheelchair and their options for exercise and improving their health is limited. Also those people who do engage in what is considered “healthy” behavior may still get sick or develop long term health problems.

    There is also a double standard when people talk about “personal responsibility regarding our own health”. Fat people seem to get blamed for their health problems while thin people may be pitied for situations beyond their control. I just don’t think the issue is as simple as lots of people saying “if you get sick it is your own fault.”

    Sorry about being so critical of this one post. I love your blog and I am definitely going to keep reading.

    Feminist at Sea

    1. Hi there,

      Thanks for taking the time to write, I’m so sorry that you were disturbed by the post. You brought up some really good points that I want to address.

      First and foremost, I should have made it clear that what I’m talking about will not work if someone has a mental illness that interferes with their ability to make decisions and ask for help. In that case it’s completely beyond my purview of knowledge.

      As for the wheelchair example I’m a bit less clear. People with disabilities may have limitations on their ability to exercise, but if their goals include movement then I would say that they are the only ones who can take responsibility to find movement that they enjoy within the realm of their possibilities. It’s certainly within their rights not to move if that is their preference.

      I’ve worked with people who have a number of disabilities. Some people decided what they wanted, took charge and found a way to get it. Some people complained that they couldn’t have what they wanted because their disabilities precluded it. I’m not judging either option, just pointing out the difference in outcome of the two attitudes.

      For me, people who engage in healthy behaviors and still become ill fall into the “I couldn’t control the circumstance (illness) but I can control my reaction to it (treatment plan etc.)”.

      If I’m reading your response correctly, it sounds like you believe that I am saying that all illness can be prevented through healthy behaviors and therefore if you are sick it’s your own fault.

      I apologize if I wasn’t clear but that is absolutely not what intended to convey at all. All I’m saying is that we are the only people who can control how we react to our circumstances.

      I do feel that there are many people who would prefer to justify their negative situation by blaming it on something or someone rather than do what it takes to change it. Of course it’s perfectly within their rights to choose that path, I just prefer that they take responsibility for it.

      Thanks again for reading, I’m glad that you like the blog!


      1. **Sorry if this post triggers, confuses or upsets anyone. I once again made the dubious attempt to condense about 5 pages worth of thoughts and feeling into a somewhat shorter coherent post which may have led to oversimplification. I also wasn’t presuming to speak for everyone or any group of people, just sharing my thoughts based on my own experience.**

        Ragen –

        I understand where F.a.S is coming from with the PTSD, but as a trauma survivor myself I had to put my two cents in. As I was reading this blog entry, I understood that you were not talking about an oversimplified “mind over matter” issue. People with mental illness are often very sensitive too, and hurt by, the idea that if they just tried hard enough they could will themselves better and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, and that not magically doing so reflects a moral failing or is a sign of a weak character. Sadly, I know this attitude probably sounds familiar to a lot of overweight people too doesn’t it? Both groups are stigmatized, told to “get over it” and to ‘fix’ themselves. But neither are ‘broken.’

        If you are a trauma survivor with PTSD, you are often trapped in reactions and behavior that feel out of your control. But the human psyche was not meant to function like this indefinitely, and I think many people reach a point where they realize they want their control back and try and do what they can to get it back. I was tired of feeling scared and helpless so I found a therapist to help me fight the impulses that were taking my emotional control away. There is a universe of difference between not having control and *feeling* like you don’t have control. The important thing to a) recognize whether you really have no control or only feel that way and b) understanding that feeling that way is no less valid or important and does not have to be justified. You feel how you feel.

        We cannot make other people’s choices, we can only make our own choices. And we must deal with our thoughts and emotions as they affect our perception of our choices. Often I think we struggle not because we have limited choices but because we think we do, or we don’t know what our choices are. I love the HAES and Acceptance work you put on this blog, because it helps people see they have more choices than they may have believed. I think when it comes to responsibility, our first responsibility is to ourselves.

  6. You can be the boss of my underpants any day! *wink*

    But seriously though, I absolutely get you on the perception that we are personally responsible for doing what is necessary to make them happy with who we are and how we look. Those who find fat abhorrent, distasteful, offensive etc aren’t willing to take their own personal responsibility to change their attitude, so they charge us with changing who we are to please them.

    It just don’t work like that, does it?

    1. Soon I will be underpants OverLord!!!! 🙂

      I’m glad you agree – the idea of “personal responsibility” meaning that we make changes to please someone else just does not seem like a clear path to happiness and mental health to me.

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