When People Don’t Get Fat Oppression/Thin Privilege

Reality and PerceptionAn interesting discussion came up in the Rolls Not Trolls community the other day.  One of the members posted about a situation where she was expressing to her friend how frustrating it was that stores don’t carry plus sizes and her petite straight-sized friend immediately brought up how she has to hem every pair of pants that she buys because they are too long.

This is something that I hear and see happen a lot  Almost anytime a main stream publication has a piece about fat oppression, thin people insist that they deal with size discrimination as well.  Or I talk about how body size disqualifies dancers from almost every mainstream gig and someone who is currently dancing in three shows tells me that they understand exactly what I mean because once they didn’t get a show because they only wanted girls between 5’6 and 5’8.

The urge to yell “IT’S NOT THE FUCKING SAME!!” is really strong for me in these situations.  Sometimes it’s exactly what I say, sometimes not.  I think it’s important to think about what my goals are before I decide how to deal with this.   Do I want them to understand/acknowledge that they have privilege that I don’t have, or do I want them to be moved to want to improve the situation that I’m bringing to their attention, or is it something else? I think that this is absolutely a personal decision for each of us and that these are all valid goals.

I think that one of the things that happens here is people’s desire to empathize as a way of sympathizing.  I’m not saying it’s the right thing to do, but I think that there is a societal tendency to look for how we’ve been in a similar situation when someone tells us something bad that they are experience.

I’ve written before about why I don’t often discuss thin privilege There are lots of reasons for that but none of the reasons is that thin privilege doesn’t exist – it absolutely does.  If I’m in a situation where I want someone to “get it” – to understand that the world is different for me than them because of my size – it’s typically a close friend.   I find that if they give me push back or try to empathize in a way that I feel is minimizing my experience, it works best for me to acknowledge that our society’s obsession with a single stereotype of beauty actually hurts us all, but that in this moment I would appreciate it if they could see how fat people have a very different experience.  I think that one of the things that is tricky about privilege is that, when you have it, you just assume that everyone else has the same experience that you do so it can help to point out some examples.  Someone might feel that it sucks to “feel fat” but even if that is their experience (and I would not question that it is) those who are actually fat have a very different experience regardless of how we feel about our bodies.  I have been in huge malls where not a single piece of clothing would fit me – I ask them to see how that’s not the same as having to hem some pants.

When I am asking people to understand fat oppression/thin privilege, I often request that they consider doing something to make the situation better.  For example, if I’m speaking to a group of people I say that it would be amazingly cool if those in the group who find themselves accommodated most of the time – for example, if they are able to go to restaurants, on planes and public transportation and out to theaters and not stress that they won’t be able to find a seat that is comfortable – would start to ask those establishments why everyone doesn’t get that same experience, and start refusing to give their money to places that accommodate them but not their friends.

Still, I often leave the discussion of thin privilege out of it based on my goals and what I have found works for me (of course your mileage may vary.)  I’m typically hoping to get someone to choose to try to improve the situation, and I think that their ability to empathize can be really valuable. I’ll bring up fat oppression/thin privilege and if they say “Oh, I understand because I have to hem pants” I can say – “That sucks! I’m short so I might have that problem if I could actually find pants that fit in the first place. How can we get the fashion world to make clothes that work for people of all sizes?”

To be clear, it can still be super frustrating that they don’t fully “get it”, but I’m at least getting the action that I want in the situation and not provoking a defensive response that includes them spending all of their time trying to explain why the fact that they have had bad experiences negates the existence of thin privilege.  Of course their defensiveness is not my fault but it becomes my problem if it makes them less likely to become involved in size diversity activism and that’s something that I take into account.

Regardless of how you decide to handle this, I suggest keeping in mind that it’s not you – the world is effed up, that you can explain thin privilege to people but you can’t understand it for them, and it’s not on you if they don’t get it.  As always I encourage everyone to find what makes them feel the most empowered (though. from my perspective, hopefully not by doing exactly what they don’t want done to them to someone else) in a seriously effed up society.

UPDATE!

The Fit Fatties Across America project is a huge success so far.  We’ve walked, shimmied, swum, cycled and moved across the US for a total of over 2,500 miles!  And it’s only just March.   Help us hit the west coast this week by entering your minutes or miles of movement at www.fitfatties.com while you’re there check out the photo and video galleries (and consider adding your own) and the forum and groups!

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs for Every Body Dance Now! Click here for the details

Become a Member, Support My Projects, and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and 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.

HAES Side Effects

news liesWe’ve all seen the tag line at the bottom of a diet ad “Results not Typical” or “The average client loses .25 pounds in 5 years” or whatever. As a result of successful deceptive trade practices lawsuits brought against the industry by the Federal Trade Commission they are required to  to say that because their product fails most of the time, and it is considered deceptive advertising to tout a statistical anomaly as your typical outcome.

So what would a Health at Every Size disclaimer look like? It could also read “results not typical” since people who practice HAES typically don’t experience the diet failure, weight cycling, body image issues and lack of long-term health benefits that plague the dieting majority.

Or what about a side effects warning (you know, like how Alli tells us to wear dark pants to work and bring an extra pair because of possible anal leakage?)

How about this on the side of the HAES box:

Side effects may include – improved metabolic health markers, improved self-esteem, elimination of delusions of impossible thinness,  and lifting of the mass psychosis conflating weight and health.  No extra pants necessary – does not cause anal leakage.

Health is complicated and not entirely within our control.  Our current thin = healthy paradigm makes things even more complicated because it uses weight as a proxy for health and weight loss as a proxy for healthy behaviors, making body size and dieting middle men where none are necessary. A Health at Every Size paradigm makes much more sense to me since it uses health and healthy behaviors, there is no need for a proxy since we can actually focus on health and behavior.  So there is no need to continue with the charade that we can tell how healthy people are by looking at them, or by doing a simple calculation of the ratio of their weight and height. Who thinks that it’s time for a paradigm shift?!

UPDATE!

The Fit Fatties Across America project is a huge success so far.  We’ve walked, shimmied, swum, cycled and moved across the US for a total of over 2,500 miles!  And it’s only just March.   Help us hit the west coast this week by entering your minutes or miles of movement at www.fitfatties.com while you’re there check out the photo and video galleries (and consider adding your own) and the forum and groups!

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs for Every Body Dance Now! Click here for the details

Become a Member, Support My Projects, and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and 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.

Weight-Free Public Health Messages

Public HealthIt’s become popular in recent years to act as if “public health” means making fat people’s heath the public’s business, or at least that most public health messaging should include some kind of fat=bad element.  When I talk to people who are healthcare providers they often insist that it’s impossible to talk about public health without talking about obesity.  I disagree.  I think that we can have a complete discussion of public health without ever discussing weight, and I think it would be far superior to what we are doing now.

There are times when a discussion about weight might be indicated – like if there are large fluctuations in weight without explanation, or if a prescription is dosed by weight.  I don’t think there is any need to discuss weight in general public health messaging at all, but I get a lot of push-back on this.

Before I get too far into this, the usual disclaimers apply about health and size acceptance.

The first argument that I typically get is that weight loss makes people healthier and we need to get the word out.  Since public health messaging needs to be evidence-based, there are a couple of problems with this.  The first is that, based on the evidence that exists, there isn’t any reason to believe that more than a tiny fraction of people can achieve long term weight loss.  And the fact that some people survive jumping out of a plane without a working parachute does not make “Don’t use a parachute” a responsible public health message.   In fact, by far the most likely outcome of a weight loss attempt is weight gain so even if someone believes that being thinner will make people healthier, the fact that we don’t know how to get that done means that “lose weight” is not an appropriate public health message. Similarly, even though levitating would be help people with knee issues (since floating will take the pressure right off the knees) suggesting that people jump off their roof and flap their arms really hard isn’t an appropriate public health message because – much like weight loss – we have no evidence to suggest that it will work.   And let’s remember that there’s only about a 5% greater chance of losing weight than of successfully levitating. Also, there is no study that shows that those who maintain weight loss long term are healthier than they would have been – the idea that losing weight makes you healthier long term is a hypothesis, not a conclusion.

Another common argument  I get is that companies are specifically manufacturing processed food that manipulates our brains into always wanting more food and never being satisfied without giving us nutrition, and that it’s important  to let people know that those foods exist and may promote obesity.

I think that you can tell people the truth about foods without tagging on the “fat bogey man” message, and that it would be both more ethical and more effective.  Suggesting that part of the population should make choices in an effort not to look like another part of the population is highly problematic and creates an environment where people are encouraged to stereotype and shame others for how they look which isn’t super healthy for anyone.  Also, there aren’t separate healthy and unhealthy foods for fat people and thin people.  If someone believes that a food is not healthy, then it’s not healthy for anyone. It’s not as if highly processed chemically manipulative foods are healthier for people who can eat tons of it and not gain weight.  I think that an effective public health message would be to let people know that companies are trying to manipulate their brain chemistry to make them buy more food, and let them decide if that’s ok with them, not tell them not to eat this food because it might put them into a class of people who are being actively stigmatized and oppressed, thereby reinforcing that stigma and oppression.

Finally is the notion that fat people aren’t aware that they are fat and/or aren’t concerned enough about being fat so we have to tell people to worry about their weight.

To this I can only ask “What in the hell are these people talking about?”  All of this FAT IS BAD EVERYBODY PANIC public health messaging has done one thing well – it has successfully stigmatized fat bodies.  Not only isn’t this supported by the evidence, it’s actually contraindicated by it.  Peter Muennig from Columbia has found that “The difference between actual and desired body weight was a stronger predictor than was body mass index (BMI) of mental and physical health.”  The truth is that we will never know how much healthier fat people could be if we weren’t constantly shamed and stigmatized, until society stops shaming and stigmatizing us.  So how about we roll the OMGDEATHFAT messaging back and try something else?

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs for Every Body Dance Now! Click here for the details

Become a Member, Support My Projects, and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and 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.

My Super Secret Magic Phrase

I can explain it to youI’m finally back and settled from my Massachusetts trip, I had a wonderful time at the 5 colleges and I hope to see y’all again soon.  One question that I got a lot from the people at my talks was how to deal with the criticism and concern trolling that come at me.  There is a phrase that I have found to be truly useful in dealing with all kinds of situation.  The phrase is “Help me understand…”

Some examples:

A doctor tells me that I should lose weight to be healthier (or cure strep throat, a broken toe, or a separated shoulder).  I say “Can you help me understand what research you are basing this recommendation on?”

Someone comments on what I’m eating.  I say “Please help me understand what made you think I wanted your opinion about my food choices.”

Someone says something hateful  (blah blah blah landwhale blah blah blah). I say “Help me understand what makes you think that I want to hear what you think of me.” (though what I really want to ask is why they can’t just call me a fat animal that actually lives on land rather than making up an animal, but whatever.)

Someone insists that I should stop talking about what a massive failure Weight Watchers is because they did it 6 times and it worked every time. I say “help me understand your definition of ‘worked'”

Obviously, this isn’t for all situations, or for all people – you get to decide what works for you. I like it because it puts the onus on the person who began the interaction.  It can also have a number of different connotations depending on what tone of voice I use.  In situations where I’m actually interested in an answer (like with the doctor) it can be a conversation starter and be less combative than, for example, saying “I don’t think that weight loss meets the requirements of evidence-based medicine.”  In the case where someone has just been inappropriate it gives them the opportunity to make that determination on their own and apologize, which I have found often happens.

If you’re going to do this I think it helps to understand that you are inviting conversation – the person who commented on my food may come back with “your body shows me that you need somebody’s advice” and so I don’t use this unless I feel like I’m prepared to engage.  Also, please be clear that nobody is under any obligation to engage in these conversations.  It’s perfectly ok to say “I’m not taking unsolicited opinions about my food” in a way that does not invite conversation. Being fat in a society where people are encouraged to participate in stereotyping, bullying, and oppressing people based on their sizes leads to a lot of effed up situations.  So to me, it’s all about empowerment and whatever makes each of us feel the most empowered in an effed up situation. If you have suggestions – super secret and magic or otherwise – I, as always, hope you’ll put them in the comments.

Like the blog?  Here’s more of my stuff:

The Book:  Fat:  The Owner’s Manual  The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details

The Dance Class DVDs:  Buy the Dance Class DVDs for Every Body Dance Now! Click here for the details

Become a Member, Support My Projects, and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses

I do size acceptance activism full time.  I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and 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.