Many readers have sent me the story of Amani Terrell who, having become tired of Hollywood’s perfection obsession, rocked a bikini on Hollywood Avenue. I love what she did and I congratulate her for her message of body positivity. That said, every article that covered her that I saw included the phrase “she knows she needs to lose weight.” I find that odd, not “she wants to lose weight” nor “she believes that losing weight will offer [whatever benefits she believes it will offer]” not even a quote from her about weight loss. Just the writer saying “She knows she needs to lose weight.” Like they might say she knows that she needs oxygen. Unfortunately, this is all too common.
I think that one of the things that reinforces ideas about fat people hating ourselves and our bodies, is the stories about fat people that the media chooses to tell. The media can be a gatekeeper that decides what stories make it into wide publication. Fat people who love our bodies and/or who have exchanged dieting for Health at Every Size rarely get to tell our stories, and it’s rarer still that we get to tell them without an opposing view, or a phrase like “she knows she needs to lose weight” or [insert obesity hysteria here] etc. to “balance the story.” The opposite is not true, stories of weight loss, body hatred, and dieting are told as stand-alone stories with no need to “balance” them by providing a Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size perspective, or a story of a fat person who improved their life through a means other than weight loss.
We are sometimes allowed to suggest body positivity, but usually it has to be qualified by admitting that we want to/are trying to lose weight, and it’s helpful if we do it in concert with discussing conditions that might be responsible for our being fat – PCOS, thyroid issues, medication, etc. (Though in the double edged sword that oppression so often is, people with these issues face criticism including being accused of faking it, being told that their condition doesn’t really exist etc.) It’s not that these stories don’t exist, it’s not the these stories aren’t valid, it’s that they aren’t the only stories, but you wouldn’t know it from the most popular media. Fat people who are happy, successful (at something other than weight loss), and/or completely disinterested in weight loss are often kept from public view by the media, often under the ridiculous premise of not “promoting obesity.”
There are fat people who love our bodies and aren’t interested in losing weight. Most of us had to go searching for (or stumble upon) that as an option because we never once saw it in mainstream media. There are fat people who choose to pursue health in ways that don’t rest on the manipulation of our body size. There are fat people who don’t prioritize pursuing health (just as there are thin people who don’t) and are still very happy with their lives. Fat people are as varied in our behaviors and choices as any group of people who share only a single physical characteristic. What we do share is the oppression we face which is made worse by the media’s tendency to hide happy fat people at worst and, at best begrudging suggest that it might be ok to love our fat bodies as long as we know that we have to change them.
If you want to go beyond mainstream media messages, I would suggest starting in the the fatosphere. Some of my favorites are here. I think it’s always good to remember that there are more options, more nuances, and often more facts than we might see and that, in a world that stigmatizes people based on our size, we might not be getting the whole story.
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