There Are Two Kinds of Fat People

Reality and PerceptionSorry for the lapse in blogging, I’ve been traveling and out of WIFI range (a blog about my experience at the incredibly awesome Hottie Hoop Camp coming soon!) Thanks to everyone who sent me e-mails to make sure that I was ok!  Now back to our regularly scheduled blog.

“There are two kinds of fat people…” I hear this all the time, most recently when I was on the fabulous Substantia Jones’ radio show (archive available here). The story always goes something like this “There are two kinds of fat people, those who eat healthy and exercise, and those who just sit around eating fast food on the couch.” Typically I’m supposed to be happy because the speaker is putting me in category one. But I’m not happy. Not even a little tiny bit. I have no interest in being categorized in this way.

This is often called the “Good Fatty, Bad Fatty Dichotomy” (I don’t know who came up with the wording, if anyone does know feel free to let me know so that I can credit them.) We’ll call it the GFBFD for short. The idea is that fat people who do the “right” things in the estimation of the person doing the judging deserve to be treated better than fat people who aren’t doing the “right” things. I think that the GFBFD needs to die and I want to actively help kill it.

First let’s pretend it’s true. If that’s the case, it’s not just fat people – you could divide any group of people into these two categories. One could claim that there are two kinds of brunettes, two kinds of people who live on their street, two kinds of thin people. In that case the person who wants to use the GFBFD would be left to explain why, even though there are people of every shape and size who can be divided into their two categories, they only think that those who are both in category two and fat should be punished (otherwise what is the sense in discussing the dichotomy in terms of fat people?)

Luckily we don’t have to travel that winding road because the whole thing is bullshit. There aren’t just two types of fat people (or two types of any people), there is a huge spectrum in terms of choices people make around food and movement, and there are a huge number of reasons for those choices – including some that are out of our control.  What they have in common is that none of them are any of our damn business unless they are our choices, or someone asks us to chime in on theirs. If someone likes to run (or walk!) marathons, that’s no more laudable than if they want to crochet a badass purse out of plarn (I’m looking at you Suzi!) or watch every episode of Star Trek ever aired.

What I find is that this is often about someone trying to justify their bigotry by suggesting that that it’s ok for them to shame and stigmatize, if not all fat people, then at least some of them! Again we have a big steaming pile of bull poo. I notice that people who insist that they should get to decide how fat people should prioritize our health and the path that we choose to get there are none too keen on others making those choices for them. It’s like many people’s view of driving (a group which may or may not include me…) Everyone who drives slower than them is a slowpoke, everyone who drives faster is a dangerous menace, and their driving is juuuuuuuust riiiiiight. So it often seems to be with those who want to stick their nose into other people’s health (a group which most definitely does not include me.) Everyone who they perceive as doing less than them is lazy and wasting their tax dollars, everyone who does more than them is some kind of health nut, and what they do is juuuuuuust riiiiiiight.

It is by this reasoning that we find ourselves on a treacherously slippery slope. They claim that the “bad fatties” deserve poor treatment because they aren’t doing the healthy things that they need to do for the good of society. But where does that end? If people have studies that show that everyone going raw foods vegan and doing hot yoga will save on healthcare costs and be better for the “good of society” do we all have to eat cashew cheez while sweating our asses off in downward dog? (For the record I had cashew cheez for the first time at Hottie Hoop Camp this weekend and it was delicious, thanks Ruby!)

If people have studies that say that everyone going paleo and doing crossfit will save on healthcare costs and be better for the “good of society” do we all have to eat a steak while we flip tires in a garage with no air conditioning? The only good answer to this is that each of us gets to choose how highly we prioritize our health and what path we choose to get there. Public health should be about making information and options available to the public, not making individual bodies the public’s business. If people want to flip tires in an air conditioned gym while eating Kraft singles and wearing a plarn backpack that’s totally their deal, I say rock on.

There aren’t two kinds of fat people and suggesting that there are is simply sinking one’s self into a pool of stereotypes and bigotry and just soaking in it. Fat people are as varied as any group of people who share a single physical characteristic, and that is as it should be. The Good Fatty Bad Fatty Dichotomy needs to die, if you want to help kill it you can do things like not participating in it, and calling it out when you see it. Have other ideas? Feel free to put those in the comments!

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47 thoughts on “There Are Two Kinds of Fat People

  1. I’m neither athletic nor completely sedentary. According to public discourse (and not just about fat people), I don’t seem to exist.

  2. I must say, I’ve never come across this. What people (and help care professionals) around me seem to think is that you can’t be fat if you’re doing “right” things.

    I was advised (more like “pushed”) to see a dietitian about a year ago and her opinion was straight-forward “You’re fat, because you’re clueless about nutrition and are doing everything wrong. And don’t have strong enough motivation”. Basically, the usual dieting industry bullshit.

    At the last appointment (it was my incentive and determination that it’d be the LAST one), I told her that I was not interested in seeing her anymore, because all the appointments were repetitive (Eat this, not that. Exercise this many times a week. Blah Blah. Over and over again.) and I already knew plenty about healthy lifestyle. She got really pissed and told me “If you KNEW about nutrition and healthy lifestyle, you wouldn’t weigh this much”.

    Granted, I think she was not quite alright, she had this air of extreme levels of anxiety about her. She wouldn’t look straight at me, she’d twitch and wiggle all the time. She was obsessed with numbers. Current weight, previous weight, ideal weight, BMI, you name it. So probably not the best example of a qualified dietitian, but she shaped my idea of what medical professionals really want from us. To be certain size to fit into their “healthy weight” criteria, above everything else. Healthy LIFESTYLE is only really worth it and means anything, as long as it gives you weight loss results. And if you’re not losing weight, then you’re either ignorant about your actions, or you’re not doing the right things, or you’re simply lying.

    1. Honestly, there are times when I wonder if it’s POSSIBLE to attempt to control one’s weight (number) with exercise (number of minutes exercised, number of steps taken, number of calories burned) and calorie counting (OMG NUMBERS) WITHOUT becoming obsessed with numbers.

      1. This is why I hate to count calories and I won’t do it. I have to count carbs because of my diabetes, but if it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t count those either. At least it’s simpler math!
        Unfortunately I do have to weigh myself because my kidney function was “off,” but it’s gotten better and now I only have to do it a couple times a week instead of every day.

    2. If I wanted to be skinny, I’d not only have to eat very little but I’d have to stop exercising as well. Exercising doesn’t make me skinny, it’s makes me “bulkier” or more muscular (heaven forbid!!!).

  3. Well said! For me it is also not just “fat people” its the “fat person” too. Some days I get up at 7am and go for a cycle and eat porridge, other days I lie around watching reruns of the Gilmore girls in my pajamas because its raining. I don’t have to be just one “type”, It took a lot of years to realise my “good days” and “bad days” are both me and shouldn’t be held as a example of the “whole me”. I really hate when I am judged by either. Sometimes I bake with wholewheat, sometimes I microwave something with e-numbers in it. I own it all. Please don’t judge me on one day and don’t decide fatties you meet are good or bad (you might have picked the wrong day!)

    1. Absolutely, Felicity! I spent the other day lolling on the sofa watching Hawaii 5-0 (The original with Jack Lord!) and munching idly on a selection of candies given to us for Passover (No, we’re not actually Jewish, but we were given it all the same and Mr. Twistie can’t eat it with his diabetes, so I must take that bullet, WOEZ!). Today I’m going to be marching all over downtown handing in resumes looking for work (wish me luck!). One day I’ll spend sitting in the park around the corner from my house reading, and another I’ll be a whirlwind doing household chores or running errands. And some days (GASP!) I do a bit of each.

      And while I love my veggies and I adore cooking (and baking) from scratch, I, too, have days when nuking a convenience store burrito is all I have the energy and will to manage… and I will not be guilted about that.

  4. The whole “good fatty” is a fig leaf. The people who use it don’t actually believe there’s such a thing as a good fatty. As Olga Kay said, they have a hardline black-and-white world view in which good people are thin and fat people are bad, period. However, since they also want to believe they’re judging people as unworthy based on behavior they can control instead of appearance they can’t, they’re willing to “generously” claim they’d exempt a fatty who eats right and exercises from their cruelty… only to insist every fatty who does is lying/not doing enough/doing the “wrong” kind of diet and exercise/otherwise exempt from their exemption. It’s an easily-moved goalpost; size bullies decide on this (they think) unlikely ideal fat person that they would deign to treat as an equal, but whenever they encounter a real fat person who meets that ideal, they change it.

  5. First, thanks for the Star Trek reference… you hit home with that one!
    Second, I agree that depending on the day, I may be quite active or slothlike.
    Third, and what really chaps my hiney.. I’m doing exactly what I’m told to do in order to manage my blood sugars so my foot can heal, but the side effect of so much insulin is weight gain. Couple that with forced lethargy after surgery and then limited mobility due to the wound on my foot and I’m nearing a size that I’m unprepared to manage. I don’t have the budget to upscale my work clothing yet again. My bp meds have become so ‘required’ by my system, that even missing two days I fill up with fluids and my legs are tight and painful. I understand some of my meds will be lifelong… but seriously…. seems like the cure/remedy is causing as much issue as the ailments.

    1. ….and the nosey Nellie’s out there want to lecture me about being fat caused my troubles….. NO… being in a high stress job caused the blood pressure stuff….. damaging my pancrease through radical dieting in the 70/s and 80’s brought on my diabetes and the freakin’ irradiation treatment for RINGWORM at 8 years old screwed up my thyroid… thank you very much!!!! I’ve always been big… but this last 70 pounds is not something I earned through oreos and ice cream after a greasy meal of deep fried meat and taters.

      And the worst of it!?… someone I like and trust actually told another person (while lecturing her on her diabetic issues and eating) to come look at my foot so she could see what was in store for her.


      1. If you’d like, I can send my Virtual Minion, Guido, over to thwap her in the kisser with a moldy mackerel.

      2. Ugh, horrible people! I’m sorry you’re going through on this. I also have a zombie thyroid and zombie pancreas. I’m type 2 and not insulin dependent (yet), but of course the fact that I got the disease is blamed on the fact that I’m fat, not on the fact that I was genetically vulnerable to it.
        My thyroid was first diagnosed as wonky when I was 16. The thyroid meds drive up my blood pressure, so I have to take blood pressure meds. I have to take lithium for my bipolar disorder, which also screws with my thyroid.
        I hate my endocrine system and look forward to the day when such lousy organs can be replaced with working ones! I doubt it will happen in our lifetime, but hopefully it will happen one day.
        I hope your foot heals.

  6. I spent the weekend at Emerald City ComiCon and enjoyed seeing people of all sizes, shapes, ages and physical ability enjoying their favorite things and dressing in lovely costumes. I hope none of them got any crap for how they looked or for what they enjoyed. I certainly had fun! 🙂

  7. Excellent article and I love the comments here! I personally believe in personal autonomy with everything that does not harm another being. That includes understanding that people have the right to chose who to love, what to eat, how to be healthy/or not healthy, if they want to smoke, drink, dance, live out loud, live quietly- it is not any of my business, unless asked for help or advice. period. I love all of your Blog posts Ragen, they inspire and they make me think. Thank you!

  8. It was this sort of thinking that led me to YEARS of my life “justifying” myself in the eyes of others. “I’m fat, but I’m working on it!” – that would excuse the space my body took up and I could gain approval in the eyes of others. What a waste of time and energy! EVERY body is a good body. Look at the things they do!

  9. I’ve been fat for most of my life. Didn’t matter when I was a fit-fatty or a sit-on-my-ass fatty, I’ve been treated with the same disdain for most of my life. When I was a young and a fit-fatty; I was mucking out horse stalls and lugging bales of hay or sack of grain, or lifting potato bins and pushing large wheel barrels full of manure, I was conveniently called “horse ass” by my classmates. My own “dad” would tell me that I was a fat ass nobody, not worthy of love. And since I’ve been an adult and mother and breastfeeding, I’m still fat. Breastfeeding might take a TON of calories, but try telling my ass, thighs, and arms that! The only time I’ve ever lost weight has been while pregnant. And adults are just as judgmental as the classmates from my past. I’ve been turned down for jobs because of being fat, offered more food during dinner because they were sure I was still hungry “go ahead” the fatty MUST be hungry…she’s only had one plate! My family and I eat healthy foods, mostly organic and we cook from scratch much of the time. I don’t usually eat seconds and because of my little ones, they take food off my plate…for that I should be thinner, but I’m not. I’ve hovered around the current weight since my early 20’s no matter how much I’ve worked out or dieted. I don’t know if my fat issues are from hormonal issues or just because when I do indulged the container is the serving size. But either way, I’m here, I’m fat…and I’ve learned to love what I’ve got…and everyone else can go to hell!

  10. “there are a huge number of reasons for those choices”… most of which are SOCIETAL. Why pick on the individual? Peh.

  11. “Public health should be about making information and options available to the public…”

    In reality “Public Health” has made it a practice to keep people as ignorant as they can, so they can SELL them all sorts of crap. they are part of the SOCIETAL problem.

    1. Thanks! Your blog is great (and thanks for the link!) I’m so behind on all of my blog reading, I can’t believe what a week without internet will do!


  12. Hi! I do remember reading something related to the dichotomy you mention but in a totally different context. It was in a text by Claude Fischler, a French social scientist, in an essay about the perception of male obesity and he did make a distintion between what is perceived as “good fat”, and “bad fat”, but not in a prescriptive manner, like shoulds and shouldn’ts. In your example, as in any other dichotomy, it is a way to reduce and limit people. Anyway, I just read that one text, so, I’m no specialist, but it did help me to understand the machinery behind this kind of perception. Basically, he addresses the ways in which our bodies (and its size) convey a deep social meaning. He then explores the stereotypes behind these labels (“good fat” and “bad fat”). In the end, he points that larger bodies have always been around, and will always be, but there are cultural aspects that change the way they are perceived.

    Other than that, I’m totally with you about the way people tend to patronize others about their bodies. It is really hard to deal with a totally prejudiced view about health management. I’m always impressed by how people are foolled into thinking they really know how what is wrong with other people and how they have a simple solution to their problems.

    Ps: I love your blog, and I’m also a hooper, so, I’m glad to hear you had a hoop camp experience and I’m looking forward to hearing about it! \o/

  13. I’m a knitter, but I never heard of plarn. Have to look it up.
    And I have watched every episode of every version of Star Trek, some more than once, and own the original on DVDs.
    Add to that, in my younger days i was quite a hiker. Currently my exercise – when I do it – is indoor. Some days I do it and some days I don’t. Some days I make healthy food and some days I hit Taco Bell. Most people are like that: so I guess instead of Fatty Hell or Fatty Heaven I’ll be going to Fatty Purgatory!

    1. Plarn is plastic yarn. Sometimes people will take old shopping bags, cut them in strips, and use them to knit or crochet. If you can’t re-cycle it, repurpose it!

      However, I do not recommend using this for sweaters or socks. It does not have the same moisture-wicking properties as wool. Just sayin’.

      1. Shoot, wouldn’t wear that! Can’t even stand polyester. Thanks! Might make good shopping bags. Hmm.

  14. Once again my spirit is enlightened. I didn’t realize that I had this affliction. But I did. I had no idea that I thought thin people who are sedentary and eat Kraft singles-wrapped bon bons were not in the same category as fat people who do the same. The extent to which I have categorized people astonishes me daily. I feel like Neo when he finally got that there was no spoon.

    What other people eat/yogacize/tump tires is none of my business, and mine is none of theirs.

    I am less shamed and less shaming today for having read this blog. Many thanks.

  15. Also, when is the last time anyone on board the shame train has stopped to ask “Wait, are you one of those good fatties or bad fatties?” before they’ve opened their mouths to say something disparaging? Or is this another dichotomy? The “good shame-er” vs the “Bad shame-er”? *insert eye roll here* Just another reason why this doesn’t work especially when there’s no way to tell them apart aside from knowing their habits.

    1. Anyone who ruins someone else’s day by steam rolling them with the Concern Troll Train is an unforgivable douche canoe.
      Nobody knows what battles anyone else is fighting unless that person chooses to tell them. It’s in bad form to “should” on other people.

      1. No disagreement here. Just the thought hit me when reading the whole dichotomy thing. What’s the point of categories when that won’t stop anyone dead set on shaming/concerning? It’s only used as a cop-out when caught.

  16. So, yeah, I’ve often wondered why skinny meant happy and fat meant unhappy, because I was neither of these. I am not skinny nor am I fat, I am happy and unhappy on various occasions regardless of what my weight is. However, sneaky media, as it is, loves to integrate its unrealistic marketing power to elude us into feeling like we must certainly be missing out on something if we are not following the latest trend, diet or new exercise program. I’ve fallen into this trap several times before because it was soooo compelling. Guess what, people, that is the media’s job to make it be compelling and important to you to do what? Spend your money to feel better. Ugh, if only it really did make us feel better. How simple, right? When I was unhappy it had nothing to do with my weight, but the media told me different. Obviously, I was not exercising properly, eating the right thing, or taking the right supplements to fulfill my unhappy state. The fact of the matter is that these feelings exist no matter the size or content of our bodies. We are human with human emotions that fluctuate daily, hourly even moment to moment. In a nutshell, its hard to see it sometimes because we feel like we should be in an utter state of bliss at all times, once again a media driven concept, but our size is not the determining factor of our emotions, it is what our perception of life and how we react to it that determines our feelings. Trust me, even though I am a relatively positive person and look for the best in people and situations, I can feel dark and depressed, too. Understanding that it is a cycle of my perceptions of what my reality is helps me to get a handle on it and not reach for the next best supplement or exercise fad that guarantees me success and happiness. Listening more to what my body says is good helps me to feel better, but it still doesn’t determine my happiness. it is still just a perception of my reality.

    Kudos to my friend, Regan for speaking out on a controversial subject! This is important, listen to you and what your body is saying to you.

    Not ashamed to be who I am……Kim Patty.

  17. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I’ve been being the good fatty/good diabetic for the last couple of months. Today I’m depressed because I have to go back to work tonight and I’ve been dissatisfied with my job for quite a while. Don’t anybody even give me the old “just change jobs” schpiel. Believe me, I’ve tried.
    The point being that today, I wish I could just sit around eating a bag of those “Simply Cheetos” (the ones without the preservatives or MSG and watching some sort of entertainment, and maybe then I’d have some cake. Is that good for me? No, and I’m not going to do it because I don’t want to blow up my blood sugar meter or give myself blurred vision or hyperuresis, or screw my kidney function up again. Do I want to do it? Yes, I do, and anyone who wants to tell me that I’m a bad person for feeling this way can, as my dear old dad used to say, go piss up a rope.

  18. There really are two kinds of fat people in this world: those who have met me, and those who have not.

    Note: I did not say, “Those who know me,” because many people have met me, but don’t know me, and there are plenty of times when I’m not even sure I know myself.

    Also, there are two kinds of fat people in this world: those who are currently alive, and those who are not.

    There are two kinds of Drazi in this universe: those who wear green and those who wear purple.


    Pick a dichotomy that truly has no spectrum. It’s surprisingly difficult, when it comes to people. Also, it’s surprisingly meaningless. Truly, green vs. purple makes more sense in the grand scheme of things. But somehow, it makes some people feel warm and fuzzy. I don’t get it.

    Great article. Thanks!

  19. When I was younger and had no self-esteem at all, I had a circle of friends who used to tell me all about how I was a good fattie (my athleticism, my sense of style and my food choices). It would help me feel a little better about myself, but a little uneasy. Yet, I could not articulate why… until I found FA and realized that not only was I so much like other really fat people but that being a “good” fattie was truly judgmental. One of the same friends tried to recently explain why I was a good diabetic and got really frustrated at me when I tried to explain that I manage my disease to fit my choices and not the other way around, when she was judging someone who chose differently than me. It happens in so many facets of life that we divide people into those categories.

  20. I’m interested in what you think of the GFBD Dichotomy as perpetuated by fatties themselves! I’ve heard fatty activists say that “good fatties” are apologists and hurting the cause. I think it’s intended as an empowering thing, like I’m gonna eat cakes and it doesn’t mean I don’t deserve respect and rights (obviously), but it just felt rejecting of fatties participating in activities that are often conflated with weight loss (IE, fitness and eating for nutrition). When I read about the “bad fatty” movement on Tumblr and stuff I felt upset because it felt like my own fatty people were rejecting me because I like yoga and try to eat healthy because it makes me feel good, not because I want to lose weight.

  21. I also hate the idea some folks have that you can’t be legitimately disabled and also fat. Eg if you are obese and need a scooter, its “because you are fat”. The reality is disability occurs in fat people just as it does in thin people. We can have Dystonia, Fibromyalgia, ME/CFS, cancer, Lupus etc just like any skinny person. Yet if we are seen in public with a stick or scooter our disability is considered weight related

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