And Size Acceptance for All

One of the most pervasive myths about Size Acceptance is that it is about fat people “justifying our fatness.”  Not only is this untrue, it derails a conversation that I think should be happening about why Size Acceptance is important for everyone.

First, let’s address the idea that Size Acceptance is about justifying fatness. The truth is that it’s about just the opposite. Size Acceptance is a civil rights movement – it’s about the fact that nobody, of any size, needs to justify their body to anyone ever.  Size Acceptance practitioners and activists aren’t seeking anyone’s approval  – we are demanding our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which include the right to live in the bodies we have without shame, stigma or oppression.  We are saying “I stand for myself and others” not “I kneel for your approval”.  (Anyone who wants to make a “but my tax dollars pay for blah blah blah argument is welcome to head over here and find out why that argument doesn’t hold water.)

So to understand why Size Acceptance is for people of all sizes, let’s examine the current situation.  Currently we are told hundreds of thousands of times a year that fat bodies wrong (often by industries like the diet industry which makes money to the tune of sixty billion dollars a year peddling this message.)  As a society, we are encouraged not only to stereotype fat people based on how we look, but to attempt to calculate our “cost” on society and then try to blame things on us, all because we share a physical characteristic.  Unbelievably, we haven’t figured out through our history that this is an astronomically bad idea.  The truth is that the only thing you can tell from looking at someone’s body size  is what size they are and what your personal prejudices about that size are.

This obviously harms fat people. Living in a constant barrage of shame, stigma, and oppression is not great for you and it turns out that if you bombard people with the message that they should hate their bodies, they will often do exactly that. People don’t take good care of things that they hate and that includes their bodies so attempting to shame and hate people healthy defies all logic and, as we’ll see in a moment, research.

But it’s not just fat people who are affected. It is estimated that the current beauty ideal is attainable by only 1-5% of women, and studies have shown that up to eight out of ten women are dissatisfied with their bodies (and again, body hatred is not the path to happiness and health.) Those who don’t spend their lives hating their bodies can end up spending them obsessed with not getting fat. Women start dieting earlier (4 years old!) and stop later (or never). Some develop disordered eating. Some develop an unhealthy relationship with exercise.  Some lose their lives on the operating table getting fat sucked out of them for nothing more than a nearly unattainable cultural stereotype of beauty.

Not only does logic tell us that a world full of body judgment and shaming is a mistake, the research tells us as well.  Peter Muennig of Columbia found that satisfaction with body weight was a better predictor of health than actual body size. Even those people who think (incorrectly)  that other people’s health is their business are out of touch with the research when they choose actions that make people feel shamed and stigmatized- Rebecca Puhl’s research out of Yale found that:

People feel much more motivated and empowered to make healthy lifestyle changes when campaign messages are supportive and encourage specific health behaviors.  But when campaign messages communicate shame or blame or stigma, people report much less motivation, and lower intentions to improve their health behaviors.

A mountain of research shows us that there are healthy fat people and unhealthy thin people and that habits and not body size are the best determinants of health.

Health, including prioritization and path, is a very personal decision and it is not a personal, societal, or moral obligation.  So if someone truly wants to support public health then I would suggest that they support things that make health accessible and then respect other people’s decisions as they want their decisions to be respected. Working for access includes access to the foods that people would choose to eat, safe movement options that people enjoy (including physical and psychological safety), and access to affordable evidence -based health care.
It also includes ending body shame, stigma, and judgment to give people the opportunity to like their bodies and consider them worthy of care which is what Size Acceptance is all about.

Ending all the body shaming and stigma isn’t just about making fat people’s lives better (although that alone is absolutely a worthy goal), it’s about making everyone’s lives better.  Imagine a world where we could all approach our relationships with our bodies purely from a place of love and appreciation.  A world where we don’t waste time and energy hating ourselves, where we celebrate the diversity of body sizes. A world where people can make choices about their health and happiness rather than making choices based on the terror of facing massive social stigma.

We all deserve to live in that world. And we can all do things, right this minute to get us there.  For example:

1.  Stop body snarking.  All of it. Right now.  There is just no reason in the world for you to comment negatively on someone else’s body.  Get your self-esteem elsewhere (how about intrinsically?)

2.  Interrupt body snarking and fat stigma whenever you hear and see them – whether it’s in your own mind or in public about your body or someone else’s.

3.  Consider approaching your own body from a place of love and appreciation.

4. Understand that almost everyone in our society is hurting because of unceasing body shame and stigma. Even that person who you might think has “everything” – the perfect body, the perfect face –  may be living his or her life in terror of losing that.  Look for ways to support other people and lift them up.  It can absolutely be little things:  at the bank I saw a woman with beautiful long, curly silver hair (exactly the kind of hair I plan to have someday).  I told her that I thought her hair was awesome and she started crying.  CRYING. At. The. Bank.  She hugged me and told me that her friends said that you can’t have long gray hair and that she should cut it.

We can do better. Let’s.

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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.

So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, I would ask that you consider becoming a member or supporting my work with a  one-time contribution.

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

11 thoughts on “And Size Acceptance for All

  1. The more I get “plugged in” to the Size Acceptance movement, the more I note how terribly snarky we Americans have become as a society. That a woman with beautiful, long, curly, silver hair was brought to tears for receiving a positive comment on her hair just isn’t right! That she is receiving so much negative feedback about her hair is appalling.

    But I have to admit, I am a “recovering” critic of myself and others. The self criticism is still hard to push aside. And although I like to believe that I never bullied anyone, I did used to giggle about how others wore clothes I felt inappropriate for whatever reason. Just the other night at the mall my husband pointed out a lady wearing stretch pants I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing. I acknowledged that I felt they didn’t fit my sensibilities, but hey, if they make her happy, rock on.

    We are both “un-learning” years of bad behavior. It’s not going to happen overnight. Thank you for continuing to support this movement and for becoming a voice in my head that helps me choose a better path.

    1. As an aside… I mentioned that I believed I’d never bullied for I had been bullied as a child. I was bullied for being fat, for being poor, for being the daughter of the “town drunk,” etc. Not excusing my behavior, but as far as I remember, I limited my snarky comments about others to the immediate circle of friends/relatives with whom I was conversing.

      I cannot unring the bell, but I fervently hope that those whom I criticized (besides myself) did not overhear my comments or cried because of them. I am forever ashamed by them. I am working to be a better person and do educate others, especially the young people in my life.

    2. I am quite snarky and in the past made unpleasant comments about people, though never to their face (not that saying secretly is okay) and I certainly said some horrible things about myself to myself. I found that when I see someone I want to think negative things about, I’ll stop and find something positive to say instead. YMMV, of course, but even though at first it felt very forced and fake, now it’s second nature. (I will say there are exceptions, mostly for political figures who’s views I find absolutely appalling, that’s more of an ugly from the inside out kind of thing.)

  2. Brilliant post, sums it up very nicely.

    I’d like to go further and talk about “body acceptance” because it’s not just about size. People of all sizes can feel bad about, and be bullied and stigmatised over all kinds of aspects of their bodies and their physical appearance, and it is all wrong, and all damaging.

  3. again, you’ve written a column I love. This one goes in my permanent file, and then I’m backing up my system.

    I appreciate this blog so much. I’ve dreamed of you!

  4. Thank you for more support than I knew was even out there. You are giving me the motive and ammo to take on my parents and let them know that their “concern” is often hurtful. They are reasonable people, and I can take your info and show them that encouragement and acceptance are gifts they give me, and that I can give back. It has been 50 years, but we all may come out winners in the end. Thanks and much love, Cam

  5. Ugh!! That poor woman! Her friends are jealous. They’re jealous of her awesome hair. Why tell anyone to cut their hair? Who says someone can’t have long grey hair?

    Sorry to focus on that bit, but it completely upset me. I’m so happy you said something to her!

  6. it’s appalling that especially women have to put up with comments from other people regarding what they look like. Why does a persons value have to be based on what they look like?

  7. Thank you for your views and how unafraid you are to share them! I have spent too much of my life worried about other peoples bodies and even more worry about my own. U Ragen are a blessing for many many lives and a breath of fresh air

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