Good Fatty Conundrum

The seedling for this post came from this post, whose seedling was my previous post.  Weee, fun for everyone!

I say seedling because the author of that post, which I really liked by the way, has a different definition of “good fatty” than I do, and despite the semantic difference it really got me thinking.

To me a “Good Fatty” is a fat person who is viewed (by the faction of our society who have decided that they are Judgey McJudgersons of health) as taking “appropriate steps” to lose weight or, at the very least, “struggling” with their weight, thereby earning a modicum of very contingent respect from someone who would otherwise be a fat hater.

If you read this blog regularly you know that I support and respect other people’s decisions about their bodies and health just as I require respect for my decisions.  This is not about bashing people who have chosen weight loss.  The “Good Fatty” title as I understand it is not a self-identity, but rather a conferred title indicating that the the fat person is behaving as the fat hater thinks they should.

There was a comment on my post about all of the fat hatred that was spewed at me from some fitness forums:

…we are not really “fat hating”, in fact, if we see someone who asks for help how to lose weight etc we will cheer them on etc and help…

This is classic “Good Fatty” language.  What this person is really saying is:  You deserve the abuse and bullying that you are receiving because you won’t do what I think you should.  You are a bad fatty.  If you just behave in ways that make me happy, then I will declare you a good fatty and I will stop abusing you.  However, if you tell me that you eat healthy and exercise but you don’t achieve the body size I expect, I’ll call you a liar to your face and turn the abuse faucet right back on.

This is where my Good Fatty conundrum comes in:

If my blog gets a message about health out there I hope is it that health is not the same as weight.  It is multi-dimensional and there are some aspects within our control and some aspects outside of our control, and that if you want to be healthy then focusing on healthy habits rather than the size of your body is a completely legitimate option.

My conundrum is that I also write about the life that I choose as an athlete/dancer.  I try to be clear that my lifestyle is driven by my dancing –  I workout far more than is necessary for just maintaining health –  but I think sometimes people get confused and think that I’m trying to prove I’m a “good fatty” or that I’m trying to say that I think people should choose the same thing that I do, or that I think I’m better than people who make different choices. That’s definitely not what I’m about.

The truth is that I don’t write for people who want to tell me that they think I’m a liar, or that I can’t possibly be healthy, or that I’m a Bad Fatty.  I don’t write to try to convince anyone of anything.   I write what I think is true and I hope that I reach people who have been let down by the weight loss industry that lies to people so that they can make  60 Billion Dollars a year with a product that only succeeds in weight loss only 5% of the time and often actually DECREASES people’s health as they yo-yo diet and destroy their metabolisms. I write for people who get stigmatized by a society that confuses weight and health and has turned fat people into everything from metaphors to scapegoats.  I write for people who want to be hear a different voice, new ideas, or be supported int their choices about their own bodies.

People may try to label us as good fatties, bad fatties, or whatever they want. They may try to convince us that we must gain their approval in order to avoid their abuse.  I think that we always have the option to decide that we aren’t Tinkerbell and we don’t need anyone’s applause to live, opt out of the labeling system for ourselves and each other, and demand (and give) human respect that is not contingent on anyone’s weight, or the choices they make for their bodies and their health,  even if they aren’t what we would choose.

13 thoughts on “Good Fatty Conundrum

  1. Good/bad fatty is somewhat differently defined in the context of FA/SA, just as an FYI (you might know this already). There’s a long-standing inter-FA conflict between those perceived as promulgating their statuses as “good fatties” and hence worthy of acceptance, and those who are “bad fatties” and don’t believe our diet/exercise regimes should be the linchpin of whether or not we are accepted by greater society.

    Here’s an old post of mine on the subject:

    “Good fatties” are defined in this context as those who rush to defend their exercise and eating habits, and list their health numbers (BP, cholesterol, etc) in a manner that’s a bit more than simple myth-busting. They might argue that since we are being oppressed in the name of health, we need to myth-bust in order to be freed from the ties of pseudoscience.

    The “bad fatties” question whether or not the movement should turn on matters of health. For instance, some would argue (I’m one of them) that the issue of health in relation to size discrimination is more of a red herring than not. “Being healthy” and requisite concern trolls merely use the question of health as a vehicle for the fatphobic moral panic. That is, fat people are modern folk devils and the best science in the world isn’t going to convince fatphobics otherwise: the change must come elsewhere, perhaps in the realm of tolerance or subjective aesthetics, or by exposing that this is indeed a moral panic and hence not rationally based (kind of how I’m going at it).

    Have I been known to do the good fatty health-by-numbers dance to mythbust on occasion? Yes. Because I think it’s important to mythbust, that there are a knot of individuals out there who are taken in by the health myths concerning fat and could be convinced otherwise when those myths are shown to be untrue. Bloggers and writers who make it their goal to attack fatphobia from this angle primarily are very important to the movement. But it can’t be all that the movement is about, because then it tends to exclude people who present as the stereotypical over-eating, under-exercising, chronic-disease-having fatty. Fact is that there are a whole load of thin people who are over-eating, under-exercising, and chronic-disease-having that don’t get hated on like their fat brethren. And we can’t exclude those people from feeling like they have a part in FA. At bottom none of us is going to be healthy forever, and so FA/SA can’t be all about health.

    (This of course in no way suggests you’re making it all about health or that your voice isn’t important — it’s extremely important and I enjoy your blog very much — I just wanted to clarify how the good/bad fatty debate has been framed in the context of FA/SA.)

    1. I say yes, yes, yes to this post and your reply. I think it’s very tempting for those fats who have have healthy stats to justify themselves by those stats. After all, fat hatred really is accusing us of something: laziness, greed, sloth, etc. and when you know that’s not true of yourself and others in the fat community you want to defend yourself and them from those lies. Not a bad thing but it does kind of have the side effect of leaving unhealthy fats hanging out to dry because making the debate all about health leaves them less ammo to use in their own defense. It also distracts from the issue of basic respect and human rights that everyone deserves no matter what their health is or their lifestyle. That’s one of the things I love about this blog, Ragen always stands up for everyone’s right to be treated with basic human dignity and to choose how to live their own lives.

      1. Just read your bad-fatty-revolutionary post. Wow, you hit the nail on the head with that one. I hadn’t heard the term “healthism” before, nice to have a name to put with that. I agree that we really do need to focus on getting basic respect first, but of course we also have to watch out for the increasing ways in which the powersthatbe keep trying to fiscally punish us for being fat, for which they typically use healthism as justification.

      2. Thanks for the kudos. I thought I coined Healthism a few years ago but it turned out it was already a Thing (I also thought I coined ‘obesity epi-panic,’ but I think that was already a Thing, too).

        I agree that real oppression is being done in the name of Healthistic attitudes and misinformation, which is why exploding those myths is so important. But it needs to be done hand-in-hand with diffusing the more general moral panic (might have even evolved into a moral crusade at this point).

    2. YES. Excellent post, Ragen, and excellent comment, BL. I’m a FA noob and I’m trying to figure out how to walk this line, too — to make healthy choices for myself without making it a moral issue, to include others in FA regardless of their choices, and (especially, right now anyway) to not condemn myself when I make choices that don’t conform to healthist, “good fatty” behaviors. Good, insightful, thought-provoking writing, both of you.

  2. And then there’s the issue of those who have no right to speak about being a fatty because they are not fat ENOUGH. I think the takeaway here should be JUST STOP JUDGING FER CRYIN OUT LOUD. No one knows what really goes on in anyone else’s life or brain, and people of ALL sizes are engaged in healthy and unhealthy behaviors and NO ONE KNOWS ANYTHING SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP.

    (Not you.)

  3. Recently a friend conceded to me the point that a person could be fat and healthy. Then he said, “I just don’t find it attractive.”

    I would never suggest that anyone change how they live to suit anyone else’s opinion; in fact, I doubt the fat bicyclist we were looking at gives a bullcrap whether or not he thinks she’s attractive. However, it does illustrate what I think this is all about; aesthetics. They can pretend it’s about health, but strip that away and it’s one group discriminating against another because of the way they look.

  4. For what it’s worth, in 1970, Lew Louderback, author of Fat Power, stated that in our society, it’s perfectly OK to be fat provided that you appear to be trying to do something about it.

    Lew was a co-founder of NAAFA in 1969.

  5. In all of the different “alternative” circles I run in it seems like we’re always trying to justify our actions. “I’m fat, but I’m healthy.” “I’m a nudist, but I believe in ‘chaste’ nudity.” “I’m kinky, but I follow the safe,sane, consensual model.” (note: none of those are my exact words…just heard repeatedly). Why should we have to justify who we are or who we love or how we choose to live? We should dole out respect to others freely and we should get it in return. That’s how it should be. It might not be that way right now, but if we keep working on mutual respect and education maybe we will get there.

  6. I think it probably all boils down to people who don’t “get” fat activism thinking that by sharing your own experiences, you’re saying that they are the only valid experiences. Which is something that we all dispute over and over – no two fat experiences are alike.

    To me, the “good fatty/bad fatty” dichotomy is a ridiculous measure that is imposed on us by others, not by ourselves.

    1. Hey there,

      As usual I think that you hit the nail on the head. There are so many people who think that their experience is everyone’s experience and so they assume that I feel the same way. More’s the pity.


  7. This is the issue I keep getting stuck on in my fat-acceptance journey. My mother recently decided she had to lose weight before having a procedure done to correct chronic atrial fibrillation and she lost 40 pounds in a couple of months with a combination of dieting and daily aquafit classes. I praised her for doing the aquafit because exercise is good for everybody and didn’t lecture her about the dieting because she’s a grown-up and can make up her own mind about what she wants to eat.

    However, when she starts in with the diet talk (which is pretty much all the time now) I’m mostly non-committal and there’s tension growing between us because I refuse to praise her for starving herself and won’t follow her example. On my side there’s also a lingering anger because she was always pushing me to diet when I didn’t need to (I went to my first Weight Watchers meeting at age 11 and spent my teenage years and twenties yo-yo dieting, skirting the edge of eating- disordered behaviour and hating my body) and I often wonder how much I’d weigh now if I’d just left well enough alone. But what’s done is done – and I am done with body hate and disordered eating (otherwise known as dieting!)

    The more immediate issue is that Mom is now in diet-brain judgey mode about other people’s weight and went full-on “bad fatty” against one of my aunts the other day. (Note: this was said to me, not to my aunt – mom never confronts anyone directly with these kinds of opinions, she just concern-trolls about it to other people.) Said aunt is a very large woman and diabetic, and had the nerve to tell mom straight out she was never going on another diet instead of praising her for her weight loss. I don’t have the nerve yet to say out loud that I agree with my aunt but I’m trying to get there, and what’s standing in my way is the good fatty/bad fatty conundrum.

    I always feel like I have no defense for refusing to diet because I do have high blood pressure (it’s actually in what’s now called the “pre-hypertensive” stage). I suspect this is mainly due to stress rather than my weight – working mom with a small child, main breadwinner, time-consuming hobby, recovering from a low grade depression that lasted years and caused a lot of friction in my marriage (she doesn’t know about that, I didn’t tell anyone in the family about it or that I started taking anti-depressants a few months ago.)

    Sorry to take up so much space in your comment thread but as you can see this hit a nerve with me. My family doctor knows about all my issues and hasn’t pressured me to diet, and yet I still feel defensive that I’m not “doing something” about my weight because I’m not in perfect health. On the other hand, I feel a lot better now than I have in a while and I know from experience that dieting will make me feel worse – anxious, depressed, obsessed with food and clothing sizes, craving junk food, etc. I guess I’ll just keep telling myself this a journey and I’ve made a lot of progress so far. Reading your blog has been a big help.

    1. Hi Meredith,

      I’m sorry that you are struggling with this, it sounds like you are doing a really good job of negotiating a difficult path. You might be interested to know that in all my research I’m never found a study that proves that weight causes higher blood pressure. Also, since 95% of people who diet gain their weight back within 5 years, it seems to me that even if weight loss would help, science has no proven successful method for long-term weight loss so I always think it’s better to focus on things that you can control, practice healthy habits, eliminate guilt since that has never helped anyone be healthy, and see what happens.

      For me, boundary setting is a really big thing. People can say whatever they want but my stance is that I don’t have to allow them to say it around me, know what I mean? I blogged about it here in case it’s helpful:

      Good luck!


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