Fat Activism and the Moveable Middle

Amazing Fat Activists Julianne Wotasik and Jeanette DePatie are going to be on the Dr. Drew show tomorrow night.  They already did a piece for Fox News and they were amazing,  and it has me thinking about working with the moveable middle.

The Dr. Drew show posted a Facebook discussion (Trigger Warning:  Horrible) asking “Is it okay to be fat?”

We know that the answer to that question is an unequivocal yes.  (If you’re confused about that, head to this post.

As an activist, the idea that a National television show hosted by a medical doctor thinks it’s ok to ask if people have a right to exist tells me a lot about where we are.

The posts in response to the question on Facebook are all over the place – there are the crazy fat haters, the misinformed who are spouting all kinds of numbers that they know nothing about, people who are suggesting that we all need to lose weight “for our own good“, and of course the activists representing for the Fat Side.

Whenever I have the chance to talk about fat activism I try to focus on the “moveable middle” (I can’t remember who I stole this phrase from – if it was you please remind me so that I can thank you properly.)  These are the people who are capable of rational discussion and able to listen and think about what they’ve heard.  Whether you are giving a public talk, commenting on Facebook, or talking about this with friends, here are some techniques that I’ve found successful in working with the moveable middle (of course none of these are a one size fits all and there is room for all kinds of activists, these are just ideas):

  • Be calm, rational, and pleasant – especially in the face of shrieking, hysterical fear mongers and bigots
  • State your case without equivocation
  • State particularly obvious things like they are obvious – like “Of course fat people have a right to exist” – stated with an unspoken tinge of  “of course, obviously, or duh” at the end.
  • Be clear about the difference between Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size.  Every person of every size has the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness whether or not they choose to prioritize or pursue health, and regardless of what path they might choose to meet any health goals. Other people’s body size and their health is none of anyone else’s business.
  • Give people lots of simple things in the hopes that one of them catches in their mind and starts to create doubt.  Things like “Fat people have a right to exist,” “There are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people,” “Healthy habits have the best chance of making a healthy body,” “Other people’s health is none of our business,” “People engage in all kinds of activities that don’t prioritize their health – singling out fat people is just bigotry” etc.
  • Be ready with evidence
  • In addition to evidence, be ready with your personal story  – whether it’s about how fat hate affected you, your HAES journey, or your SA journey, telling your story gives people something they can relate to
  • Remind people of the dangers of “everyone knows”.  Good examples are Galileo, Thalidomide, Heroin as a cough suppressant, etc.
  • Be ready for the “But your fat is your fault” argument
  • Remember that it’s not your responsibility to change people’s minds – in fact that’s impossible.  All you can do is give people access to information and options, they are the only ones who can change their minds.
  • Remember that you’re not just talking to the people who speak up, in fact sometimes those are the most likely to be the haters.  Remember the fat person who is sitting at home or in the audience listening to you – you are giving them the option for a whole other life and as far as I’m concerned that is why every single chance we get to talk about this is so important

Huge thanks to Julianne and Jeanette for being willing to put themselves out there for the good of all of us.  Kick some big fat ass ladies!

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14 thoughts on “Fat Activism and the Moveable Middle

  1. As a trainee counsellor, I have learned that one of the most difficult to achieve but mentally healthy things in life is self acceptance. I am STUNNED that a medical doctor thinks it is okay to ask, “These people have self acceptance. Is that acceptable to the rest of us?” (with the unspoken idea that perhaps it is not and something needs to be done about it).

    It boggles my mind to see people attacking others not only for their physical image (and their assumptions about what it means for their habits and health), but their (healthy) mental self image too.

    (I’m not sure I’m expressing myself very well here, I hope this makes sense.)

    1. It makes a lot of sense to me! I think you’ve boiled the issue down to its essence, which is that some people think they have somehow earned the right to determine whether others deserve self-esteem. How is that EVER okay?

  2. My comment (on FB and CNN): My being fat is okay with me. Hating my body will never make me even one ounce lighter. As for other people’s bodies…”We might all try minding our own business.” (C.S. Lewis)

    I was not as polite as I might have been…just this once. I’m afraid Jeanette and Julianne are about to be ambushed big time, and I’m really not okay with that. Dr. Drew is / was an addiction specialist, not likely to be receptive. I’d be relieved to be wrong.

  3. I’ve heard the term moveable middle many times and it’s perfect. What I like about this post is that rather than suggest manipulation or aggression in order to convert someone it suggests that the people you are talking to might be logical, well-meaning people who just need information in order to see things differently. I’d like to think MOST people fall into that category rather than real haters.

  4. I wish I had this post a couple of days ago! I was called a fat pig while shopping at the grocery store (yes, to my face) then posted about my outrage on Facebook. I’m glad though, that in the face of “you just have to ignore it until you lose weight” and “portion control and exercise works for me!” I was able to maintain my point that it’s still not ok, regardless of whether weight loss is possible. I don’t think I changed anyone’s mind, but I put a lot of information out there and got them thinking.
    ~RR from Flying Pig Apparel

    1. The other day I was watching Monique’s “Phat Girlz” with my (petite/lithe) best friend. She really loved the movie, but at one point she turned to me and said, “People don’t really say things like that to fat people! Right?” I told her that that particular comment was pretty tame.

  5. Ragen, I was alerted to the Dr. Drew post when it popped up in my timeline that you had commented on it. I was absolutely furious and commented before I could stop myself. This is unusual for me because I generally stay out of these kinds of “debates” for my own mental health. But I left my comment up and then was so happy when I got up to find that people had “liked” my comment, even you!

    Okay, to be honest, I fangirled a little bit when I saw that you had “liked” my comment. LOL

    1. I wish those studies would account for confounding factors (low income, stigma, frequent dieting), but where would you find a control group?

  6. Oh goodness! I needed this. I may have to have gall bladder surgery in the near future. My mom says, “oh have them do lipo while they’re in there.” I said, “ugh, no! I’d rather be fat than have an unnecessary surgery.” (I’ve had full-term twins & I have an “ugly” stretch-marked belly that looks 6 mo pg even after 5 yrs.) I don’t think she got it & it’ll probably come up again.

    1. I have never been pregnant, but I’ve had stretch marks all over my body (especially near my belly, hips and shoulders) since I hit puberty. My peers used to ask me what they were (seriously? yeah). Maybe it’s just because I’ve lived with them for so long, but at some point they became little badges of honor. And I think of Regina Spector’s song about tracing the “braille” on your body, and it makes me smile.

      In short: It’s your beautiful body and you get to decorate and landscape however you want! Would you let your Mom pick the drapes? 😉

  7. As someone who was in the moveable middle with regards to fat acceptance not too long ago, I can tell you that these strategies are working.
    Until l about two years ago, I was definitely part of the group of people who thought that weight was something one could control; that fat was equated with being unhealthy (although I can eat three cans of nutella a day and not gain weight… hmmmmm…. LOGIC FAIL) and that the “obesity epidemic” was something we all needed to be very, very worried about. I also thought diets worked (…again: LOGIC FAIL)

    …yeah, I was not in a good place. Sadly, I had bought the societal myths about weight and health and appearance hook, line and sinker. I wasn’t even aware of how unaware I was.
    And then I started reading Melissa McEwan of Shakesville (who, in addition to her general awesomeness as a feminist, also writes about fat activism). And even though it took me a couple of months to wrap my head around it (because I was being an idiot), I finally saw the light. I got it. I’m sure I haven’t gotten it perfectly yet, but I’m committed to keeping on…well, being less of a dolt.
    So yes. Your strategies are working. You are winning. It’s slow going, but it’s going to work. The extremists may never come to you, but the moveable middle? They’re going to be convinced. Hopefully sooner rather than later.

    1. I am just going to check out Meslissa’s blog, so thanks for that mention. I am in a similar place to how you described yourself. I feel like Ragen has made a massive impact on my way of thinking. As someone who has struggled with their weight since around puberty and who has associated weight with health and worth… it’s been extemely beneficial to me to be able to see things for what they are – the truth about studies/weight/food – and to slowly change my thinking. I am a work in progress.

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