One of the interesting responses that I see when people discuss Health at Every Size are rants about how it’s all about justifying fatness and whatever stereotypical behavior the ranter ascribes to fat people. I want to talk about how to deal with this practically, because the more we put ourselves out there and challenge people’s prejudices, the more this is going to happen. But before I get to the practical responses, I hope you’ll allow me a quick rant of my own.
As a pre-rant, let me remind everyone that Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size are two different things, and nobody is obligated to participate in HAES – people get to choose how highly they prioritize their health and the path they take to get there and those choices are nobody else’s business. Now, without further adieu…
How over-exaggerated must these people’s sense of self-importance be to think that we are living our lives as a way to justify ourselves to them? That is some ego run amok right there. We aren’t seeking the approval of anyone – we are giving them the opportunity to see that they are operating under prejudice, bigotry and stereotypes, and to make the choice to stop doing that. If you are one of these people and you are reading this, let me break it down: We are saying “I Stand for myself and others” not “I kneel for your approval”. Where you got the idea that anybody needs to justify anything to you I don’t know, but you’re dead wrong.
So what do we do about it? There are several options that I use to handle this type of thing (if you have others it would be awesome if you would drop them in a comment below.)
Ignore it completely. Often I don’t care enough about the person making the assertion to react in any way. I typically choose this if it’s from some fat hate forum and/or if it’s sent to me privately. From my perspective these people have chosen the path away from intelligent dialog and I’m not interested in trying to be the one to bring them back. I know that other people do choose to engage them and that’s awesome, it’s just usually not for me.
Appeal to humanity: One of the reasons I think there is so much horrible treatment of us on the internet is the double anonymity – they don’t think of us as actual people, and they are hiding behind anonymity to behave in a way that they never would in person. Add to that a world that encourages people to treat fat people as less than human (Biggest Loser, I’m looking at you) and you have a recipe for bullying. Whether or not it changes the mind of the person who made the post, it can help to remind other people who read it that fat people are, in fact, people. I sometimes leave a comment that says something like “Hi, I’m the person in the picture (or the person who wrote the article or whatever)… and then respond in whatever way seems appropriate.
Education: I use this if someone has confused their opinions with facts. I say something like “Hi, I’m the person in the picture. It’s ok if we disagree but I wanted to point out that Health at Every Size is an evidence based health practice. Some places to start are http://www.haescommunity.org/ (created by Dr. Linda Bacon, a Ph.d with three post graduate degrees), http://ije.oxfordjournals.org/content/35/1/55.full (an article written by five experts). Again, I completely respect if you don’t choose HAES for yourself but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a valid choice for anyone else.
Gather Reinforcements: If you see this kind of thing online another option is to let the Rolls not Trolls Facebook group know about it. We are a group who make fat positive comments on fat negative articles and comment threads. The goal isn’t necessarily to change the mind of the person who wrote the article or left the negative comments, but for the people who are reading through and might be affected by seeing another point of view. You are welcome to join the group or you can send the link to me and I’ll post it.
Most of all remember that it’s not you, you are amazing and beautiful and worthy of respect and love – I know that for sure. Whatever their intentions might be, these people are living from prejudice and stereotypes and bigotry that is causing them to be misguided in their actions, but you don’t have to buy into that, and you don’t have to justify yourself to anyone.
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