Is Anti-Obesity the New Homophobia?

Paul Campos wrote a great article in Salon called “Anti-obesity:  The New Homophobia?” I normally don’t like to compare stigma and oppression between groups because so often it leads to a game of the Oppression Olympics, but I do think it’s an interesting comparison.  Paul’s article talks about how each condition was initially considered a “moral failing” but, at the turn of the century, both were pathologized into medical conditions with “treatments” available.  He also discusses the fact that, as the “cures” failed almost every gay and fat person, those suggesting the cures then insisted that we needed more radical, more dramatic interventions.  Paul’s article is fantastic and I highly recommend that you read it.

As a fat queer woman there are some other parallels that I see.

As a queer woman I’ve often been told that being queer is a choice for me and that if I try hard enough I could be straight, and then I won’t have to deal with bullying, oppression and I can get legally married and get all the government benefits that straight people already get..  I submit that the cure for social stigma is not becoming straight, the cure for social stigma is ending social stigma. Also, I am a better witness to my experience than those who are not me, and so the fact that I do not believe that I made any choice to be queer should be pretty high on the list of things that we consider when contemplating whether or not I made the choice to be queer. That said, I do not need to prove a biological root in order to get my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So it doesn’t matter why I’m queer, I should get the same rights as other citizens, and I should get to live a life free from oppression and bullying.

As a fat woman I’ve often been told that being fat is a choice for me and that if I try hard enough I could be thin, and then I won’t have to deal with bullying, oppression and I can buy one seat on an airplane, find lots of clothes that fit, and get all the benefits that thin people already get.  I submit that the cure for social stigma is not losing weight, the cure for social stigma is ending social stigma. Also, I am a better witness to my experience than those who are not me, and so the fact that I am telling you that I’ve made every effort not to be fat and it didn’t work and I’ve learned through experience and research review that almost nobody who is fat ever becomes thin should be pretty high on the list of things that we consider when contemplating whether or not I should attempt weight loss yet again. That said, I do not need to prove a biological root in order to get my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So it doesn’t matter why I’m fat, I should get the same rights and access as other citizens, and I should get to live a life free from oppression and bullying.

I don’t know if fatphobia is the new homophobia but I do believe that both are about people who have the audacity to believe that they know better than we do about our lives and bodies – that they are a better witness to our experience than we are – and who think that they should be in control of our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that doesn’t work for me.

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21 thoughts on “Is Anti-Obesity the New Homophobia?

  1. Excellent post. One could also make a case for fat sex being a kind of queer sex because it differs from what mainstream media tells us is sexy.

    This post reminds me of a book I read recently: _Seeking the Straight and Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical America_. The book explores similarities and differences between homophobia and fat-hatred.

  2. I went over and read Mr. Campos’s article. While I am not gay, I could see the parallels between homophobia and fat hatred quite clearly. Others didn’t.

    The comment section is always a danger zone for fat readers, but this one is a doozy. Even being ready, I was surprised at how angry the comments were. People did NOT like that the comparison had been made between homosexuality and obesity.

    Many commenters were profoundly upset that anyone would consider homosexuality which is clearly NOT a choice comparable to obesity which clearly is a matter of eat less/move more you damn fatties.

    It was sort of like watching The Oppression Olympics in reverse. People were offended by being having good, deserving, gay people be compared with the lowest of the low: the undeserving fat. It was amusing to me in a sad sort of way that the very vehemence of the denial of the comparison proved it.


    1. This exactly. Oh my god, I had the audacity to post this article on my facebook yesterday and the comments from my friends… just ugh.

    2. I saw the same thing on a size acceptance facebook page when they posted it , I got into the fray and then had to escape .I tried not to get all emotional but after I posted the facts ,and the girl said “being fat takes 12 years off or your life” I know there was no hope. Oh well … I will keep hoping.

  3. I am very emotional today, premenstrual and all, and the comments hit me hard, be warned. Now I’m feeling all sad. I need some big fat hugs.

    1. Stand tall and remember we are Galileo! 🙂 That’s what I do when I just can’t take one more piece of steaming hatred.

  4. I don’t think anti-obesity is the new homophobia, but I do think people have a limited number of patterns of behavior, so similar patterns keep showing up.

    Things that are similar aren’t quite the same. Before some point (the sixties? the seventies?) homosexuals had to struggle to even find out that other homosexuals existed. Fat people have never had that problem, nor have they ever been as generally subject to violence. It’s bad for many fat people as children among children, and in their families, but a general attack by governments hasn’t happened.

    On the other hand, both fat and homosexuality look from the outside as though something a person ought to be able to change, though damned if I can figure out why this ever seemed plausible about homosexuality.

    A mild version, but I’ve occasionally been asked why Jews didn’t convert to avoid anti-Semitism. In case anyone is wondering now, I have a few answers. My original set was that it didn’t work reliably– part of the Spanish Inquisition was finding Jews whose conversion wasn’t sincere and the Nazis ignored conversion– and that anti-Semitic Christians didn’t exactly make their religion look attractive.

    On reflection, the question isn’t why Jews didn’t convert (many did), but why *all* Jews didn’t convert. (I’m wildly envious of languages that have two plurals, one for “more than one” and another for “all”.) In any case, in addition to the other reasons I mentioned, some people believe Judaism is true (I didn’t come up with that one early because I’m not temperamentally religious) and/or that Christianity is false, and that converting would require a tremendous revision of one’s habits and (especially in anti-Semitic cultures) connections to other people.

  5. Did Magic Johnson choose to be tall, did Billy Barty choose to be small? Did I choose to hate veggie (I hate them, wish I liked them) or did George Washington choose to be white? Did I choose to be straight? Did Stevie Wonder choose to be blind? This “choice” thing is really pissing me off. I have tried not to cuss on these blogs but today I am not feeling myself. Im sick of it all. I have no more patients for people who wont use their brains. I can choose my actions in life but I cannot choose how I was born. Neither can anyone else. I agree with you Ragen, that we do not have to prove “why” we are fat to justify our rights to live. Although, I personally feel I would like others to understand the things I understand. Some will learn and change their minds but some will never change. Thats life and I have to accept that as well. Great Blog as usual. Thanks Marla

  6. I’ve always been a little uncomfortable with the “gay is not a choice” argument for allowing gays rights, because gays should have rights whether it’s a choice or not. Because they’re people and they’re making decisions for their own lives that aren’t hurting anybody. Besides that, I do believe there’s a continuum from really gay to really straight which progresses through various levels of “mostly one but a little the other” as well as “you know, I really can go either way.” And those either way people kinda do have a choice and they should be allowed to make that choice. Making that choice should not subject them to hate and bigotry. Though this is probably just a really long way of saying what you said much more briefly–all you need to deserve respect is a pulse.

    1. It is true that it should not matter whether it is a choice, but for me it’s important for people to realize that my bisexuality is not a “lifestyle choice”. It’s not me being greedy or overly sexual or whatever else people always believe about bisexuality. Especially bisexual women. The only CHOICE I make is not ignoring my bisexuality, as a lot of people are. Because, really, it IS a lot easier. It just means ignoring one of the genders you’re potentially interested in and hoping to only fall in love with the “right” gender and you’re set and socially acceptable.

  7. I have always felt that there are parallels between fatphobia and the stigmatization of other groups (gays, women, blacks, elderly, and so forth). Size acceptance activists can learn much by studying other movements.

    I agree with those who feel that oppression of the members of any group cannot be justified by whether or not the person’s group identity is “voluntary.” Whether you can choose to not be gay, or not be fat, is a red herring. Personally, I think people have about as much choice about their sexual preferences or their size as they have over their age or racial identity. Which is to say, none.

  8. You know, I think I am just going to choose to no longer be fat, mentally ill, or heterosexual. That’s right, I don’t want to be heterosexual any more, because I’ve had such bad luck with men. So today I choose to have no mental illness, be thin, and be a lesbian. Because these things are all choices.
    Yeah, right. That’s worked really well in the past. But this time it’s gonna work, damn it! I’m going to pray to Republican Jesus to remove these poor choices from me.

    1. I don’t disagree, but let’s not perpetuate more stereotypes. There are Republicans who are not Christians, or who don’t believe that prayer or reprogramming sexual preferences works, or who are gay, or who accept their fatness. There are Democrats who are Christians, even evangelicals, and some who do believe in reprogramming or prayer to overcome “poor choices” and some who conduct campaigns against “obesity”. You never know.

  9. I can definitely see the parallel between obesity and homosexuality. In my Women’s Studies class, I learned the word “heteronormativity,” which is the assumption that ALL people are straight (even though in reality there are some who are straight, some who are gay, some who are lesbians, some transgendered, and some bisexual). It’s interesting how some people will claim that heterosexuality is genetic i.e. something not chosen, and therefore ok, yet they’ll deny claims from people with alternative sexualities (members of LGBT) that it is genetic. This is similar to when thin people (the American beauty ideal) will justify their body size to genetics and get no objections, yet when fat people claim they are this size due to genetics, some people want to say that they are that size due to gluttony and laziness. I remember Marilyn Wann saying in an interview conducted by Jennifer Jonassen on “Adios Barbie” about the problem with fat people losing weight in order to live in a thin-centric world: “And the majority of people are still going to [have] the natural body shapes that they were born to have. And so it’s kind of a utopian uniformity goal: the world won’t be good until we’re all the same body shape.” She also mentions how the “Let’s Move” Campaign is setting itself for failure by focusing on making fat kids thin: “Now there have always been fat children and there will always be fat children, so by having that goal they’re not changing the reality that fat children exist.” Basically, just as society wants everyone to be straight (heteronormativity), society wants everyone to be thin; instead society should embrace both diversity in sexuality and weight.

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