What Is a Fat Activist?

If you were following the comments on Wednesday’s post, then you probably saw this one coming. If you weren’t, the basic background is that a reader suggested that I post a food log.  I said:

No.  I don’t try to prove things to people any more.  I understand that you are well intentioned and where you’re coming from with this, but I’m not going to do it. I’ll post my food log and then I’ll have to deal with 1,000 comments and e-mails where people call me a liar, or tell me what I SHOULD be eating to lose weight, or offer to let me try their weight loss plan for free etc.  I don’t feel like dealing with it and I don’t owe anyone an explanation.

A reader named Barbara made the following comments:

Ragen is an Activist. And unfortunately being an activist has to come with a certain amount of disclosure. You can’t say ” take my word for it”…You can’t say ” I am a fit, healthy, proud fat person who has nothing to hide, and wants to share with the world that you can be fat and healthy” And then say ” No body will believe me if I put the information out there, so I’m not going to” You either believe that you are helping the cause, or you believe there is no changing peoples minds and you are wasting your time.

Barbara is well-intentioned, but from my perspective she is way too into telling me what I can and can’t do.  You are welcome to read my response to that comment on that post but today I want to talk about one phrase in particular:

“an activist has to…”

Personally I don’t feel that those words should be put together in that order, ever. There was room for Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.,  Harvey Milk and Larry Kramer, Gloria Steinem and Betty Ford.  I am IN NO WAY comparing myself to any of these people but they are all heroes of mine in one way or another and they had very different styles of activism so I feel comfortable that there is room for fat activists who post food logs, and for those of us who do not.

In fact, I think that this is particularly true for fat activists. When we live in a world that constantly pummels us with messages that we are not healthy, not attractive, and not worthy of love, just getting out of bed in the morning and not hating ourselves is a revolutionary act.  When so many fat people think that they deserve to be shamed and stigmatized, standing up for our basic rights to be treated with respect and dignity constitutes activism.

If it seems like I’m picking on Barbara, I’m not.  I believe that she had the best of intentions and I wanted to talk about this because her comments are just representative of things I hear all the time from lots of people – what I’m obligated to do and who I’m obligated to be so that I can meet their definition of an activist. For me, activism is about what we want to be and how we want to be it, not about trying to fit our picture into someone else’s frame.

You be the boss of your fat activist underpants, and I’ll be the boss of mine. I think that we could use a whole lot more fat activism of all kinds and a whole lot less people telling us how we have to do it.

47 thoughts on “What Is a Fat Activist?

  1. Seriously? I should not longer be shocked by what people presume to tell me I must and must not do. But every once in a while, someone will come up with something new and absurd.

    Do gay rights activists have to disclose their sexual partners? Of course not.

    But the error in that way of thinking goes even beyond that. You don’t have to DO something to promote it. i don’t have to have had an abortion to advocate for a woman’s right to do so. And I certainly wouldn’t feel obligated to disclose that information if I had.

    It seems like people just make shit up and decide it’s what everyone ought to do.

    1. Do gay rights activists have to disclose their sexual partners? Of course not.

      Sometimes we are asked to, yes. It’s ridiculous and I don’t do it, but I’ve more than once been asked to do so in order to prove I am sufficiently queer.

      1. Which is silly, because why do you have to be queer to be a gay rights activist? You can be GLBT, or you can be straight. It’s just a matter of believing in equal rights for GLBT people, and fighting for their rights.

    2. See, I clicked through to say something like this but Cassandra, you said it first and said it better. Besides which, food diaries and all that sort of business totally miss the point really which is (as I see it) ‘Take your dirty judgement off my body’.

  2. You’re a lot more generous than I would be. I tend to assume that anyone who asks me to prove myself by posting the intimate daily details of how I choose to nourish my body is doing so for the purely prurient thrill of “proving” how much of a sinner I am and how much of a saint they are by comparison.

    Depending who asks and how, I have two answers. A firm get bent, and agreement on one condition. First they must provide me with a detailed log of their every sexual act, thought, or desire for the same length of time. Down to every salacious detail. Which I will then proceed to rip apart and inform them of every last iota of information that I feel is perverse, obscene, or disgusting. And if there isn’t any, I will accuse them of lying. And then I will gleefully detail my boring vanilla sex life and inform them that if they were “good people” they would be exactly like me.

    Strangely enough, I’ve never had a single person take me up on that offer. You would think someone who wants every detail of another person’s diet for the express purpose of tearing it apart and gloating over every single moral failing they assume me to have based on that information would be perfectly ok with the same thing being done with any aspect of their personal private lives that I would have no business examining.

  3. I always liked the gay rights chant “We’re here, We’re Queer”. Now if I could only find a word that rhymed with fat and communicate a proper message. Anyway as a fat person I just want strangers, my doctor and anyone else to that I am fat and I am here for the duration.

    1. Just a thought

      :”I am fat, and I’m all that”

      Grotty rhyme, but

      “Fat or thin, we’re all human”.

      Hmmm. Back to the day job!

      1. How about:

        We’re fat! That’s that! Get used to it!

        Or, more confrontational:

        We’re fat! And fit! And we’re not going to take your shit!


        Whether you’re skinny or whether you’re fat, healthy activity is where it’s at!

        Hey, this is fun. I might have to keep working on these. How inclusive and how in-your-face can they be?

  4. I think you are being far too generous & giving credit where it is not due. However ‘polite’ a person may be in a case like this, she is still a troll, trying, politely, to PROVE that fat people are all the things the world says we are & that we ARE lying about our eating/exercise, &, morever, that is everyone’s business what & how much we eat or exercise, etc. The lady may be termed a ‘concern troll’, but a troll she remains. That, I guess, is the kind of fat activist I am; I refuse to engage with trolls in any guise or give them the benefit of the doubt.

  5. Actually, I should also say that my type of fat activist is one who believes fat acceptance is a human rights issue…period. I believe that fat people are entitled to dignity, respect, full access & opportunity, protection under the law, to a life without discrimination (I am also disabled, so I know a few things about these issues on multiple fronts) because we are HUMAN BEINGS. We do not need to PROVE to anyone how ‘good’ we are, that we live blameless lives, that being fat is not our ‘fault’, or anything else. Our bodies..our business. Our lives…our business. I am no less worthy of respect & rights when I eat a banana split than I am when I eat a salad. Everyone is entitled to human rights, everyone is entitled to own his/her own life & body. Everyone, as you yourself say, is the ‘boss of his own underpants.’ I have been around fat acceptance for over 31 years & am nearly 62 years old & I am fed up with so many of us seeming to scramble to ‘prove’ our worth. We don’t need to prove anything & to those who are determined to hate us, we CAN prove nothing.

  6. To give small credit to Barbara’s point (and I see where she’s coming from): an activist is only going to gain credibility and support if they say, “I am an activist for this, I feel passionately about, and here’s why…” listing examples. It gives people who are supporting your cause a place to connect, a personal side, a way to become emotionally involved, and the best way to do that is to list details of a common struggle. It’s how to persuade people to your side, by giving common ground.

    However, the amount of detail you reveal is up to you, and it’s not like you’re here every day saying, I’m fat and fit, so suck it (although I think that would make a fantastic t-shirt). Personally I don’t see what posting a food log would prove…it’d be like posting how many times you visit the loo and what your…erm…stuff looked like to prove how much fiber you’re getting. Pretty *$#*ing personal, if you ask me, and nobody’s business.

    If you’re going to be an activist and one with a wide following, people are going to want to know personal details, and the more you reveal, the frothier people will become. Be prepared for haters. I don’t think Barbara is a hater, just one who requires more information. If you’re not giving her what she wants, then that’s the way it is. It’s the INTERNET: if you don’t like what you find, go cast your net somewheres else. Basic rule of life, really…

    1. Here’s the thing: Barbara was basically saying that since Ragen could be considered a fat-acceptance activist, she should also be a case study/guinea pig. I don’t know if you read the comment thread in question, but the first real gem of a statement is that if Ragen eats (arbitrary “healthy” of calories), is physically active, and doesn’t fall into a particular weight range, then she should be trooping off to the doctor and demanding a “diagnosis”. Concern-trolling – now with 120% more wtf! First off, there’s the assumption that it’s more important to focus on calorie counting than on getting optimum nutrition and enjoyment from meals. There’s a lot more to healthy eating than mere energy content. Secondly, there’s the idea that a person who deviates from some random norm needs to be labelled and fixed. Remember trying to cure left-handedness and homosexuality? Is individualism a disease? Thirdly, there’s the idea that the public is entitled to details of an individual’s life, whether that person is a politician, an artist, an activist, or anyone else who shares a bit of their life with the world. What Ragen or any other blogger chooses to post is completely her decision, and we should respect it.

  7. I had a boiled egg and a half cup of ice cream (heat wave in nyc) for breakfast. I consider this perfectly appropriate because it’s what my body wanted. this would of course be considered innapropriate by the self-appointed food police.

    i tried keeping diaries back in the old dieting days, and it made me crazy. imagine a woman harranguing the owner of a campus cafeteria for not posting ingredients and/or serving sizes. my need for detailed info became the responsibility of everybody else, and i became intolerable to myself and others. i dont ever want to do that again.

    i will simply let it stand that i avoid trans and saturated fats, probably eat more fat (unsaturated) than the average person, and have all but eradicated hfcs from my diet (except the occasional coke – i love coke and try to enjoy it in moderation. oh, and i drink diet coke sometimes because i like it, weird, right?) i love whole grains and eat them every day and i love pizza which i eat once a week. and ever since i went haes, broccoli and oatmeal have become my new close friends. there are no bad foods but there are many especially good ones and i try to bulk up on them.

    but if you want to eat nothing but bacon (i cant blame you!) it’s nobody’s business. i only share this because, well mostly i am just too chatty. 😛

    1. love it. And besides, your body often tells you what you need through cravings and food moods. How is some random diet-nut going to know what my body needs at any given moment?

  8. hmm, I guess when I see a book entitled ” how to stay young forever” or similiar, written by a woman, Where she claims to be healthy/young well into her late 90’s, I do want to know things like if she has regular cycles, and why exactly I’m paying 36 dollars for her book. I guess it really comes down to how much you believe food choices play into health.

    1. I was brought up to eat healthy food back in the days when Wonder Bread was the norm. I still gravitate towards all the things that are “good for you” (whole grains, fruit, veg, butter rather than margarine, less red meat, etc. etc.).

      However, the older I get, the more I question to what extent this actually has a major effect on our overall health.

      My late MIL believed in the major food groups: nicotine, caffeine, sugar, salt, fat. She was a naturally thin person until she reached her 50s. Then she gained some weight due to the stress of her husband’s early death. After that, she lost, though she never returned to her original toothpick frame. This woman ate one “balanced” meal a day, around 5 p.m. Morning was maybe a bowl of cereal. Lunch often didn’t happen. In the evening, she nibbled on junk food. She denied herself nothing and gorged on nothing. She was, I suppose, a model of intuitive eating.

      She died of a massive heart attack, sitting on the edge of her bed, at age 82. Bang and she was gone. It was probably the smoking that did her in, but who knows. Now, 82 isn’t that old, but it isn’t that young either.

      A good friend of mine died in her early 40s from cancer. She was fanatical about eating clean, wouldn’t take a cab if it smelled of cigarette smoke, was very slim and active–in short, she did all the right things and still, she died way too young.

      The leader of the Official Opposition of Canada, Jack Layton, is currently fighting cancer. When he appeared on TV to announce his decision to step down from his position as leader for a few weeks to concentrate on his health, he already looked like he had a foot in the grave. Again, this man is the model of healthy eating and exercise. Before his cancer, he had nary an ounce of excess fat on his body. Now, he looks like a skeleton.

      So, food choices and health? I personally continue to make what I consider good choices but whether or not that really improves my health…not so sure.

  9. This is so beautifully and compassionately said. Thank you, as always, for sharing your ideas.

    I would like to add a “woohoo!” and “hoorah!” to Patsy’s (above) contention that we fat folks are simply people of various body sizes and as such deserve to be treated humanely. What I eat, how often I exercise, and my preference for salty versus sweet foods is no one’s business but mine.

    I’d also like to make a bumper sticker that says, “You be the boss of your fat activist underpants, and I’ll be the boss of mine.” Heh heh.

    Finally, I couldn’t agree more with this statement: “I think that we could use a whole lot more fat activism of all kinds and a whole lot less people telling us how we have to do it.” Yeah! I love the idea of celebrating various approaches to activism rather than splintering off or hating one another because we vary on one point or another. Some folks wanna promote HAES — great! Some folks wanna focus on lobbying and changing laws — awesome! Others wanna have public “eat ins” and force peeps to acknowledge their terror of rad fatties — yay! I love the idea of a multitude of mini-movements within the overarching umbrella of fat rights.

  10. Well if anything, the number of haters showing up at your blog is a great indication of the wide audience you’re reaching!

    When you post pictures of yourself dancing or on Pilates machines, it’s a simple message… to the people who say “You can’t be fat and fit,” you say “You are wrong. See all the things I can do?”

    But the difference in posting a food log is that a food log would be there to demonstrate if you could or couldn’t lose weight– when what you’re trying to demonstrate is it’s *not about weight at all*. So someone who would ask you to do that completely misses the point.

    1. Yay! I knew someone would say this before I got to it! HAES isn’t “the last resort of someone who can’t lose weight no matter how hard they try”, it’s a personal choice. Not, “I can’t be thin, so at least I can be healthy!” But, “I do not consider size an aspect of health.”

      A food log is a personal tool that can help you change your eating habits, if that’s what you choose to do. It is not proof that someone is eating “well”, or “better” or “worse” than anybody else, and so is meaningless to anyone but the food logger.

      1. Ditto! Am glad other people said what I wanted to say (and much more eloquently than I could have!)

        The point is not what you eat, how many calories, etc., but the fact that you are fat and the fact that you are by every measurable indicator healthy and the fact that you can do *amazing* things with your body. Facts.

        If that’s not enough to “prove” someone can be fat and healthy, nothing will suffice.

        And if all of the above facts are true for you and your diet consists entirely of twinkies and soda, you will have proven that you can live on twinkies and soda and still be healthy.

        For anyone to ask you to change your diet under those circumstances would be an admission that they want you to be thin not for health reasons, but for aesthetic ones.

  11. This is my first time happening upon your blog (it was referenced in an article that a friend shared on GoogleReader), and I can’t stop reading your entries.

    My body type is on the larger side but not large enough to be deemed obese. Like every woman however, I’ve struggled with self-esteem, weight, health, fitness, and the relationship between them. I consider myself a pretty smart cookie, pretty independent, and pretty happy with myself. And yet reading your entries, I can still see how much self hate is still lurking around the corners of my thoughts about body size. Thank you for a clear, generous, loving perspective on caring for one another and ourselves.

    I have always been a fit overweight person, but it wasn’t until I started running long distances that I came to view myself as an athlete. I’m approaching a half marathon this fall and after reading your blog, realized I’d been doing some subtle body-hate talkin’ in my mind. How easily it starts, right?

    Thanks for posting, and for making this blog a place where all people can find a way towards healthy, strong, capable bodies that they love to live in.

  12. Thank you for constantly helping me to readjust my thinking. I appreciate your courage and your transparency. I agreed with your first response to a food log–there WOULD be 1,000 responses “telling” you what you did wrong, should do in the future, etc. I love that you’re an “activist” encouraging folks to love themselves, no matter size.

  13. I totally support you in saying no to posting a food log… it just feeds into the idea that other people can judge what your body needs and what type of food you should and shouldn’t be eating. It’s misguided for people to think that however “perfect” your eating habits are that “everyone” is going to agree that they are right (or wrong). As Americans we can’t even agree whether the put the toilet paper roll facing out or towards the wall. We’re certainly not going to agree on whether or not Ragen’s diet is okay. But it’s not up to us, is it? You go, Ragen. The only “proof” you need is how you feel in your own body. Enjoy.

  14. Here’s my fattie food log for Barbara:

    1. Breakfast: The prospect of feeding myself for a day without shame.
    2. Lunch: Taking a break and getting rid of hunger pains instead of ‘powering through it’ with coffee and Fiber-One until 4pm.
    3. Snack: The thing that gets me from lunch until dinner, not the desperate cucumbers-and-fat-free-Italian-dressing-binge because I starved my way from a Nutrigrain-bar breakfast until 4pm.
    4. Dinner: The knowledge that I fed myself for a day without shame.


    BigLiberty (a fit fat-fatty super-obese who is training to run a 5K)

    1. There are times that I have only a cup of coffee for breakfast and eat nothing but a piece of fruit at lunch time. I think diet varies from day to day. There are days when I eat close to nothing and days that I eat more than the average person and anywhere in between. I think that is part of not dieting.

      When I was going to WW, I would tell people there that I would forget to eat and would realize at nine pm that I hadn’t eaten a thing all day. The people there would act like they couldn’t imagine being so busy that they forgot to eat. Not all fat people eat the same diet. There is no reason to assume that we do.

      I lost the weight when I went to WW. I’m a lifetime member. I put the weight back on about ten years later, not that I care or intend to give that organization my money another time.

  15. Another good reason not to post a food log is there is a danger that people will think “Oh no! I ate more than Ragen! No wonder I’m fat!” And then start restricting without even realising it. Every body is different and requires different amounts of different foods, and comparing is meaningless.

  16. ‘You need to…’ or ‘you should be doing’, are phrases that we all probably would benefit from if they were never used again.

    I’ve been slowly coming to terms with the idea that no matter how I change myself, I will always be unacceptable to someone out there. I could stop doing all the nerdy things I enjoy to make myself fit in with the non-nerdy people out there, but then I wouldn’t fit in with the nerdy people.
    But now I’m starting to realize that by doing all of this, I’m not as acceptable to myself as I should be. I’m much happier if I step up and proudly proclaim my nerdy interests. And if I go ahead and wear that cute sundress rather than my more typical jeans and a t-shirt, I’m gonna feel great about it. Even if it means I stand out among my usual company.

    And even better? ‘Because I want to’ and ‘because I like it’ are perfectly valid reasons for doing, or not doing, things.

    1. @halimede – seconded! ‘Should’ and ‘must’ are words I am trying to excise from my personal vocabulary. If it really is something I ‘should’ or ‘must’ then I try and do it, if not then… why the shaming words? 😉

      Your whole comment is fab and I applaud it. 🙂

  17. Keeping food logs is a product of the calories in/out kind’s obsession with eating. It is solely their fixation, how many times are they asked to list what they eat.

    FA’s don’t tend to give a flying fig what they do or don’t eat, do or don’t do and what they do or don’t think about when they are eating/doing not eating/doing it.

    Fat acceptance is not defined by anti, it’s pro something else, it’s an alternative point of view formed from fat people’s actual experience, rather than what we are told we are experiencing.

    The latter habit is shown by “Barbara’s” tone of giving you orders as if you are a child requiring instructions on the meaning of things.

    FA’s are consistently instructed in this tone of utter condescention, as if we don’t come from the same planet.

    Screw Barabara and his/her ilk.

  18. I was off today and was amazed (horrified) by how much fat hate comes out through day time talk shows. There was so much exaltation of people for losing weight and encouragement for those that need to. 98% of it had nothing to do with health. Troubling.

  19. This is a great post. I really loved, “just getting out of bed in the morning and not hating ourselves is a revolutionary act.” I think a lot of people, especially in the West, can say that about themselves.

    I also really, really appreciate Ragen doing something that I think is one of the great powers of the activist: embodying and modeling the behavior she would like to see in the world. She doesn’t want anyone else to have to post food logs in order to get respect, so she doesn’t herself. Brava, chica!

  20. If activists were only concerned with setting an example and proving their qualifications, they wouldn’t be activists. They’d be martyrs. Let the politicians and the celebrities worry about being role models. Activists have more important things to address than approval ratings, like, I don’t know, changing things. Actively. And without worrying about conflicts of interest.

    One of the most important rules in an environment prone to disordered eating: Don’t discuss numbers. Not calories, not weight, nothing that could be used as a comparison. If people get off on food logs, tell them to go watch Supersize vs. Superskinny. Personally, it has never even occurred to me what you eat, because I assume that, like most humans, you have your own preferences and cravings, which you work in around a generally balanced diet.

    Unless I’m getting the opportunity to eat it, I’m not really interested in someone else’s food.

      1. Michelle Obama has put herself in the position of “Health Advocate General” (or whatever she’s actually calling herself. The reason she got so much flack for that hamburger was because of timing. She went from a speaking engagement where she was pushing “a healthy diet” (ie. restricted) to eating a splurge meal. If she did not tell other people what they should and shouldn’t eat, she wouldn’t be criticized for violating the rules she tries to impose on others.

        It’s a case of people calling her on “do as I say, not as I do” behavior.

      2. I disagree with some of the underlying messages to the Let’s Move campaign, but overall it is well-intentioned, and maybe I’ve missed this but I’ve never heard her dictate what anyone should eat apart from discussing balanced diets and cutting back on certain foods (which can sometimes be interpreted as restriction, as in the case of the low-fat/fat-free obsession, or as moderation, as in the case of snack food). She’s talked about loving french fries and other foods and how they just shouldn’t make up a substantial part of your diet. I wouldn’t call that a splurge meal. When you rarely eat fast food, it becomes an occasion. It’s like eating ice cream and cake at a birthday party. I think she would be criticized for it regardless of what she said because she’s a public figure. The fact that she tries to stand for something just makes people feel that their hostility is justified. She is active, she obviously doesn’t make weekly fast food runs or this wouldn’t be “news,” and she talks about moderation even if there is often an air of restriction around it. I don’t see any reason why anyone deserves this kind of invasive criticism, which brings me back to my initial point that being an example weakens your ability to contribute – you end up being crucified for every misstep.

  21. There is a place in the world for every kind of fat activism, and everything contributes in it’s own way, and speaks to it’s own audience. We often intersect, but not always. We don’t gotta DO, we gotta BE!

  22. Ragen,

    So much love for this post…

    I know you have a million things to do, but is there any chance you can add a “like” button to the comments section? There are just so many awesome posts that I want to say “damn skippy” to.

    If not, everyone, please consider this a cyberhug!


    1. Thanks Diane (sorry for the initial typo I edited it as quickly as I could!) – here’s a cyberhug right back atcha 🙂 I don’t know that it’s possible to add a “like” button but I’ll give it a shot.


  23. I’d say the true definition of an activist is someone who is congruent. Someone that knows who they are, what they are passionate about, what feels right to them, and finds a way to inspire change from this combination.

    No matter how important, current, or well intentioned an activist’s topic may be, the message gets lost if it doesn’t come from a person speaking from their authentic self. It elicits debate instead of inspiration. It feels like a lecture instead of dialog. It triggers shame instead of open-mindedness.

    This, speaking from your authentic self, is what you do beautifully, Ragen! This is why people actually feel better about themselves when they read your work. This is people relate to you and your experiences.

    You, Ragen, are the very definition of an activist! Don’t let anyone put you in the corner! 😉 (OK, pretty sure you never do, just felt like a little Dirty Dancing inspiration would fit in nicely here!)

  24. @DeAun, it won’t let me reply right under your comment so:
    “My girlfriend suggested:

    “We’re fat, live with that!””

    That’s a good one! 🙂

  25. (possibly triggering discussion of restrictive eating)

    I lived with the Food Journal routine for years as I swung in and out of disordered eating. The anorexic people I knew were thin — I didn’t know it was possible to be fat and anorexic. Keeping a food journal meant that I was afraid of eating, and being afraid of eating meant that my caloric intake would dip down to 800 calories a day for months at a time. As a 200-pound person doing an hour or two of aerobic exercise every day, that’s not nearly enough food. The food journal aided and abetted some of the worst disordered eating I’ve ever done.

    And that’s my problem with food journals.

    Today I wore a bathing suit into one of our local take-away eating establishments. Me, still my 200-pound fatty self. In a bathing suit. And I felt like that was an act of fat activism. I felt as though I was saying “F*ck all of you and your nasty judgments.” It felt good.

  26. I can appreciate people challenging you; however, when it comes down to it — this blog is a reflection of your thoughts and passions. If they choose to read in disbelief, then they shouldn’t follow.

    and I am a fan of “I am fat, get over it.” lol

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