Later today (at 6pm Eastern) I’m doing a talk as part of Golda Poretsky’s HAES Masterclass (click here to register) called “But But But…Answering HAES Critics and Questions.” Sometimes people ask why we should answer these questions and critics at all – why not just say that our health is our business, and every body of every size and ability deserves respect? That’s an absolutely valid response. It’s a response that I use sometimes. For me it’s also important to answer these questions sometimes for a number of reasons.
First, because there are people who are genuinely misinformed (by a media machine driven by the 60 billion dollar a year diet industry) and giving well meaning people true information can change their minds and present new options. People come up to me after my talks all the time and tell me that they had no idea about the evidence that I presented and that it’s made them rethink health and the way that fat people are treated. When this much of the world is being actively and constantly misinformed, it’s important that someone gives correct information. I believe that’s why Galileo stood up and said that the earth revolves around the sun.
One of the reasons that people suggest that we not try to challenge stereotypes is that it can hurt those who happen to be the stereotype and are seen as “living down” to the stereotype. So if someone says that fat people can’t be athletes, there is a school that suggests that a fat athlete should say “it doesn’t matter if there are fat athletes or not, every body deserves to be treated with respect.” Again, that’s a valid response. It’s also valid for a fat athlete to point out that the stereotype doesn’t apply to them. Research shows that challenging stereotypes is effective in civil rights activism, and here is an example of it in real life. Plus, dismantling the stereotype and pointing out that there are people of all sizes at, for example, all levels of athleticism or health, means that there is no stereotype to “live down to” and so can benefit everyone. I think it’s important to combine the two – challenge stereotypes while asserting that whether people are the stereotype or not, that doesn’t make them better or worse, they still have a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness including being treated with respect.
Next, fat people are told constantly that what we have to say is not valuable, that we are not the best witnesses to our experiences, and that we should allow thin people to speak for us. So it is crucial that we be empowered to stand up to those who try to speak for us and who suggest that we not speak for ourselves. Each of us can only ever speak for ourselves and fat people who practice Health at Every Size and those who choose to be athletes are allowed, and should be encouraged, to tell our stories. Much of the most-often referenced writing about HAES is done by Linda Bacon, Lucy Aphramor, Paul Campos, Sandy Szwarc, and Gina Kolata. These are all great writers producing important work. (I’ve had the honor to meet Lucy Aphramor and spend time with Linda Bacon and they are both fantastic.) They are also all, as far as I can tell, “normal weight”/thin individuals. This in no way negates their fantastic work, but when it comes to being a fat athlete or a fat HAES practitioner it’s important that we also make space for the experiences of people who are fat athletes and fat HAES practitioners to tell their stories in the first person. This does not demean or negate the experiences of fat people who aren’t athletes or HAES practitioners, there is nothing wrong with being fat and not choosing HAES or athletics, and everybody of every size, health, age, and ability does deserve respect and the world should hear the full depth and breadth of our stories.
Finally, I think it’s important to answer questions and critics because there are fat people out there who have only heard the stereotypes and the critics. If someone suggests that it’s impossible to be fat and healthy and the only answer we ever give is that it doesn’t matter if fat people are healthy or not because every body deserves respect, then what those fat people never hear is that it IS possible to pursue health/healthy habits without pursuing weight loss. Of course healthy habits don’t guarantee health for anyone at any size since health is multidimensional and not entirely within our control but at least once a week I get an e-mail from someone who believed that since they couldn’t get thin there was no chance of being healthy. You don’t have to want to prioritize your health but I think it’s important that people know all of their options, be allowed to make choices for themselves, and then have those choices respected.
Each of us gets to choose if/how we answer the critics and questions that come at us, and we may choose different answers in different situations for different reasons and that’s just fine.
Remember there’s still time to sign the petition to tell Disney and Barney’s that Minnie Mouse doesn’t need to be made into a 5’11 size 0 just to “look good” in a dress.
Like the blog? Check this stuff out:
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Check Out the Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual. The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here to order
I’m excited to say that my book was just endorsed by Linda Bacon: Whether you are fat or thin, Fat: The Owner’s Manual will educate you about life in a fat body. It includes top notch information, solid science, support, and general inspiration to help all of us navigate a world rife with size prejudice and weight stigma. Ragen’s style is to provide ideas, without moralizing – and she does a particularly good job of separating the civil rights movement of Fat Acceptance from the health practice of Health at Every Size. Highly recommended! Dr. Linda Bacon, professor, researcher, and author of Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth about Your Weight.
Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses
I do size acceptance activism full time. A lot what I do, like answering over 5,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and/or want to support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.
The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post. Thanks for reading! ~Ragen