I received an e-mail from a reader today that I think sums up a situation that a lot of fat people face [trigger warning for weight loss talk – you can skip the quote if you don’t want to be triggered]:
I want to be smaller. I want to be able to sit in any damn chair I want and to not worry that a seatbelt won’t fit. I want to fly economy class, dammit! …But I know that diets do not work the vast majority of the time…What I do not know is how to reconcile my desire to be smaller with my very strong view that there is nothing wrong with being fat … I am absolutely fine with being me I would just like to be a bit smaller. And I do mean a bit – I don’t want to be thin, just comfortable in more situations.
This is a difficult situation and one faced by many oppressed populations – it’s not uncommon to wish that you could change yourself to be in the non-oppressed group, even just a little bit. This desire can be especially strong in oppressed groups who are told that they can move into the non-oppressed group if they just try hard enough. Personally, as a queer woman I’ve been told that if I would just try harder to be straight my life would be easier. As a fat woman I’ve been told that if I would just try harder to lose weight my life would be easier. In both situations I am told that I should support the system of social stigma by working to change myself rather than working to change system of social stigma. In both cases I refuse to do that.
I think the reason we ponder this at all is the illusion that weight loss is possible even though studies show that the vast majority of those who diet will gain back their weight and many will gain back more than they lost. If we were having trouble trouble fitting into the world because we were very tall or very short, we might curse our fate but we would not be trying to change our bodies. As fat people we are encouraged to believe that the solution to all of our problems is just a diet away.
Even if weight loss was possible this would be an invalid argument. I do not believe that the cure for social stigma and oppression (including not being accommodated at our size) is for us to be required to change our bodies. I think the cure for social stigma is ending social stigma.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t attempt weight loss or that I’ll judge you if you do (and of course you are under absolutely no obligation to care what I think anyway) you are the boss of your underpants and you have the right to try for smaller panties. All I care about is that everyone has access to all the information, what choices they make for their bodies are up to them and I respect those choices as I want my choices to be respected (and I will never understand people who can’t get that).
I do think the reality is that this attitude impedes the fight for fat civil rights – including the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in the bodies we have now without having our government waging war on us for how we look. If you believe the media, fat people make up almost 70% of the US population. We control the vote, you’d think we could get some freaking comfortable chairs.
But every time we say “I just want to lose enough weight to fit into a chair/fit into economy class/not be stigmatized anymore” what we are NOT saying is “There is nothing wrong with my body and I demand that you stop stigmatizing me and start accommodating me and I’m willing to fight for that”.
I think the biggest challenge faced by the Fat Civil Rights Movement at the moment is that so many fat people don’t believe they deserve civil rights and a world that accommodates their bodies. Of course nobody is obligated to believe that or to become a fat activist, but the truth is that civil rights are historically the result of a critical mass of the oppressed population deciding that they deserve to be treated better, and then demanding that despite the fact that it’s a long, difficult, uncomfortable fight.
The good news is that once we decide that we’ve had about enough of being treated like crap, we have the resources to fight back if we will just re-purpose them. Imagine if we put as much time, energy and money into fighting for a world without weight stigma, oppression and that accommodates people of all sizes as we have put into dieting. That, my friends, would be a game changer. That would give us the ability fight back against the government-sponsored war on fat people, stop saying “I just want to lose enough weight to be treated better” cut out the middle man and simply demand to be treated better.
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