Six Questionable Questions about Fat Acceptance Answered

I can explain it to youA piece appeared in Thought Catalog today [a million trigger warnings] called “6 Things I Don’t Understand About the Fat Acceptance Movement” by Carolyn Hall which was brought to my attention by the Rolls Not Trolls Facebook Community. I’m going to answer the six questions, but I want to start out by pointing out the ways in which this article is problematic by suggesting some possible alternative titles:

6 Things About Fat Acceptance that I Didn’t Bother Researching

6 Ways I Try to Justify Ignoring Fat People’s Request for Basic Respect

6 Ways that I’ve Let My Prejudice and Preconceived Notions Run Wild

6 Ways in Which I’m Being Purposefully Obtuse

6 Things That Aren’t Questions at All, But Are Rants Based on Prejudice, Preconceived Notions, and Stereotypes

Oh yes, the article is chock full of the usual fallacies – the confusion of body size with behavior, the confusion of Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, the (purposeful?) misconstruing of the entire concept of Health at Every Size, the use of “everybody knows statistics” for which the author provides no source, the confusion of eating disorders with body size, and “Won’t Somebody Think of the Children” hand wringing.  Most of my answers will include links to other posts I’ve written because, like so many of us in the movement, I’ve written extensively about all six of these issues, which the author could have read about had she, you know, done a little research.

But don’t worry Carolyn Hall, I’ll hand feed you, baby bird…

(Note:  I’ve included the original text so that people don’t have to give the site traffic, you can skip the indented parts and still completely understand the post.)

1. America is extremely accepting of fat.

I have not lived in many other countries in my life, but I have done it enough to know that America is exceptional in its general permissiveness about obesity and ill health. Though there may be negative stereotypes, staring, bullying, or crude comments, the environment we live in is one that is incredibly tolerant of unhealthy lifestyles. There are enormous portions, extreme levels of convenience, and a low priority put on physical activity (even in our schools). While treating someone differently because of how they look is not okay, with upwards of 60 percent obesity in certain cities, you can’t say that America is not accepting of fat people. We basically ensure that people will be fat, and are tolerant of the lifestyle choices that surround it. If anything, we need to be cracking down on it more.

A theme throughout her piece will be the confusion of body size and behavior.  These are two different things, neither of which are anyone else’s business unless we choose to make them their business.  Even if we believe the whole “enormous portions”, “levels of convenience”, and “low priority on physical activity” cause people to be fat (despite the fact that people of all sizes engage with these things and that body size is not the same thing as behavior)  she is making an argument about what she thinks causes people to be fat.  None of these things indicate any level of acceptance for fat people.

Fat acceptance is a civil rights movement built on the principal that fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what it means to be fat, or if we could be thin by any means however easy or difficult.  What we are pointing out is that the rights to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness and basic respect are not size, healthy, or healthy habit dependent (including actual or perceived health.) Fat people do indeed deal with oppression because of how we look, and to suggest that the fact that people of all sizes have access to large portions and convenience stores somehow negates the fact that fat people are the unwilling combatants in what is, in the words of the government, a “war” on us with the goal of our eradication (against our wills if necessary), or that we get hired less and paid less etc., is ludicrous.

2. “Body positivity” should include health.

The idea of “body positivity” when used to refer to people who are hundreds of pounds overweight has always confused me. How could you be positive about something when you are, at the same time, actively damaging it? Being positive about the way you look is not enough, you also have to be positive (and proactive) about your health and well-being. And the obvious ill effects of obesity — on organs, joints, energy levels, and mood — go totally against the idea of being positive. There is nothing more negative than treating your body with disregard.

Noooooo.  No no no no no no.  Unless I missed the ceremony, nobody made Carolyn Hall the Boss of How Everyone Should Relate to Their Body.  I hope that job never exists and I certainly hope that someone who clearly can’t tell the difference between body size and behavior would never be elected to such a position.  Ignoring what, at item 2 of 6 is already a tired trope of insisting that body size is behavior (and energy level, mood, and joint health), people of all sizes are allowed to love our bodies – the only bodies we have, the bodies we live in 100% of the time – regardless of our past, current, or future behaviors, health status, dis/ability etc.  Size Acceptance (aka body positivity) and Health (including Health at Every Size) are two very different things.  I don’t see the logic of convincing people to hate their bodies as a path to health, I certainly don’t see it supported by any research, but I notice that Carolyn doesn’t seem to trouble herself with research and facts when she has so much prejudice and so many preconceived notions to get down on the page.

3. “Health at every size” seems physically impossible.

A big part of the Fat Acceptance Movement seems to be the idea of Health At Every Size, which advocates for a focus on healthy living, and not on body image. And in theory, this works, but its application is totally inconsistent. We acknowledge that someone who is anorexic is clearly not healthy at their size, and needs medical intervention, but we perpetuate the idea that a morbidly obese person could pursue an active lifestyle and remain at their size, and that saying otherwise would be “shaming” them. The truth is that weight extremes on either end are not healthy, and using rhetoric to cover up their real danger is not helping anyone. Physically, you cannot be healthy at literally any size, and sparing someone’s feelings on the matter is not going to address their immediate medical concerns.

For those of you playing FA Bullshit Bingo we have our first comparison of being fat (a body size) with anorexia (a mental illness).  Also, we have the idea that “morbidly obese people” couldn’t possibly engage in “healthy behaviors” while remaining fat, despite the lack of a single study in the world where more than a tiny fraction of people were able to maintain weight loss longterm, plenty of people who eat a lot are sedentary and remain thin, and a mountain of evidence that shows that behaviors are a much better predictor of health than body size, finally we have the assertion by someone who literally can’t tell the difference between a body size and a mental illness that she knows best how to treat fat people in a healthcare environment.  If you got BINGO please bring your card to the front.

Health at Every Size is not about saying everybody can be healthy at every size, people of all sizes have health issues, and health is not entirely within our control, nor is it an obligation or barometer of worthiness.  HAES is about allowing people of all sizes to prioritize and choose their path to health, and working to make as many options as possible available.  It’s about public health making information and options available to the public – not making the individual’s health the public’s business.

4. People are allowed to not be attracted to certain body types.

Another weird part of the movement seems to be the idea that not being attracted to, or put off by, a large body is in some way shaming or internalized hatred of fat people. I know that there are many people who aren’t attracted to my body type (I don’t have much in the way of curves), but in the same vein, I’m not attracted to lots of other body types. And the focus on getting obese people to be seen as attractive seems misguided, when everyone has a preference, and whether or not someone is attracted to you shouldn’t mean anything to you. If someone wants to say “no fatties” in their online dating profile, isn’t it just their loss?

Ah, the argument that people aren’t attracted to an entire group of people based on a single physical characteristic and somehow that doesn’t meet the definition of prejudice.  Our preferences don’t take place in a vacuum and the idea of “attraction” isn’t just about okcupid but also about how gets hired for jobs, how we are treated by healthcare practitioners, what opportunities are available to us and more.  While I certainly don’t care if someone doesn’t find me personally attractive, I would like us to examine our very narrow ideal of beauty and the way that enculturation has played a part in that, rather than just shrugging and slapping a “No Fat Chicks” (or No Fat Dudes) bumper sticker on our car.

5. Food addiction is a real medical problem.

Just as much as we would hold an intervention on someone who is suffering from a heroin addiction, or drinking themselves to death, should we not give the same attention to someone who is clearly eating themselves into ill health? Obviously there are going to be exceptions, when it’s caused by a medical condition or extenuating circumstances, but the Fat Acceptance Movement seems to rely too much on these outliers and not focus on the very real problem that a huge number of people in our country overeat in a dangerous way. The constant consumption of junk food, fast food, and preservative-filled snacks (especially if it’s soothing an emotional wound) is putting the body in real danger. And a lot of people are consuming these foods on more than a daily basis, which makes sense, as many of these foods are constructed to make us addicted. Should we not address these underlying issues?

Now, in addition to confusing body size and eating disorders, Carolyn can’t tell the difference between body size and heroin addiction. We’ve been here before. It seems to me that Carolyn really wants to be allowed to run with her prejudices, stereotypes of pre-conceived notions about what fat people do, and her judgments thereof, and the Fat Acceptance movement is getting in the way of that by pointing out that it’s none of her damn business and that if people want her opinion about their health or habits she will be among the first to know.

6. Childhood obesity is something we can’t be accepting of.

Regardless of whether or not a consenting adult wants to participate in the FAM or HAES, we can’t say that it is safe for children. There is a reason people get so upset at seeing obese children, and it’s because it is condemning them to a life of health problems that they are not choosing themselves. Feeding children constant junk food, letting them be sedentary, or giving them sugary sodas instead of water is something that we need to be judging harshly as a society. Choosing to be obese and wanting that acceptance as an adult is one thing, but putting it on a child is another, and some of these movements’ rhetoric edges dangerously into the latter category. Regardless of where you stand politically, seeing a toddler weigh as much as a normal 10-year-old should make us all very angry.

The language around “choosing to be obese” is deeply problematic. We literally don’t know why kids are the size they are.  It’s ok to hypothesize, but when we create and implement interventions based on these hypotheses we are, by definition, experimenting.  On kids.  I don’t understand how people who run gravel through their hair and wail about childhood obesity are perfectly happy experimenting on children, and of course her plan of making fat kids rage-inducing is sure to do wonders for their self-esteem, and definitely won’t lead to a witch hunt that leads to taking away kids whose body size is due to genetic disorders.  And those experiments are having some very dangerous consequences. not to mention being completely unnecessary since we can focus on the health of all children rather than the size of some of them.

So there you go Carolyn, I hope that’s cleared some things up for you, though I think it’s possible that you weren’t so much asking questions as you were trying use the premise to run roughshod over fat people so that you can splash around in a bath of your own bigotry.  Feel free to come over to the Size Acceptance Steam room – there’s plenty of space!

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35 thoughts on “Six Questionable Questions about Fat Acceptance Answered

  1. Specifically in regards to #4… I don’t want everyone to find me attractive. What I do want it to be able to contact people I find attractive on a dating site without receiving horribly insulting replies. A simple “I’m not interested” or “you’re not really what I’m looking for” is perfectly fine. Getting all huffy and ‘how-dare-you-approach-me-you-evil-fatty’ and insulting me is not. In short, everyone is allowed their personal preferences in dating, but all people have a right to be treated with a basic amount of social courtesy when interacting.

    1. When I read number 4 I got annoyed, I don’t care if lots of random people don’t fancy me (as long as my partner does) but I’d kinda like to be able to go out and not have some assholes loudly daring each other to ask out the ‘fat slag’, or approaching me at the end of the night ’cause nobody else will have then and ‘everybody knows fat chicks are desperate’.

      But the one that really pisses me off (but thankfully doesn’t happen too often) is the guys that pass me in the street and feel the need to loudly proclaim they wouldn’t fuck me on a bet, if they were paid, etc. Took me a very long time to realise why they do this. I have huge boobs, not just ’cause I’m fat but I’d be stacked if I were thin, these guys see the boobs and pop a boner, then they are so paranoid that their (supposedly) straight friends spend a lot of time watching their groins looking for boners that they must immediately reassure their friends that they aren’t having lustful thoughts about a fat chick. These apparently straight guys are more interested in what their apparently straight friend’s penis is doing than most gay men I’ve know (your mileage may vary wildly on this one).

      This is of course just conjecture as I cannot study this under laboratory conditions, but it’s a viable hypothesis as far as I’m concerned.

      1. It’s a lot more scientifically valid than pretty much every single nugget of truthiness Carolyn Hall wrote in that excrement storm of loathing she called a hard-hitting article.

      2. That blows my mind, too — both from random guys and from nitwits like Carolyn Hall.

        I mean, jeez. There are tons of people I find unattractive, too. Doesn’t mean I feel the need to toss aside all pretense of civilized behavior and go around telling them so.

  2. I just made a big mistake and went and read some of the comments on Carolyn Hall’s article. The stupid, it burns.

  3. So glad I didn’t run across this article without my friendly blog translation! Makes life and feelings much better.

  4. The whole thing just makes me want to curl up in a ball and not leave my house. You have a lot more patience than I do. Thanks for all your hard work.

  5. “so that you can splash around in a bath of your own bigotry”

    You win the internet today! The mental images I get when I think of that phrase will have me LOLing all day.

    As for Carolyn, bless her heart.

  6. Here we go again… she starts outwith “treating someone differently because of how they look is not okay” and follows it with:

    1. But we need to “crack down on” how you look.

    2. But how you look means you trash your body.

    3. But you need to be told that how you look means you’re unhealthy, and it’s my job to intervene because how you look also apparently means you’re stupid.

    4. But how you look authorizes people to insult you rather than just STFU if they don’t find you attractive.

    5. But the way you look means you’re sick in the head. And apparently too stupid to know it, so it’s my job to tell you.

    6. But the way you look should inspire rage in others, and if we can catch you at a younger age, all the better.

    Here’s a pro-tip for Carolyn Hall — and I concur with Amanda’s “bless her heart” — if you at all meant the part about not treating people differently because of how they look, you wouldn’t have had one “but”, much less six “buts”.

    And honey, your hypocritical “buts” are far more offensive than my big, fat butt.

    The stupid really, really does burn.

    1. “And honey, your hypocritical “buts” are far more offensive than my big, fat butt.”

      FTW! 🙂

  7. Oh, and as far as “If someone wants to say “no fatties” in their online dating profile, isn’t it just their loss?” goes…

    What if it said “no blacks”? Or “no homos”? Is that okay if that’s just not whom you’re attracted to? Their loss, right? Or would it be prejudiced and wrong and entirely unnecessary to say out loud?

    (Although I have to admit, I have no problem with statements like that on a dating profile. Most assclowns you wouldn’t want to date aren’t kind enough to self-identify that quickly or clearly.)

  8. Carol isn’t as unique as she thinks she is. The fat-haters have launched an aggressive campaign these past few months to put us all back in what they believe our place to be… and I’m happy, because it wouldn’t be happening if they didn’t think we were leaving that place.

    I heard the phrase “fat-shaming” used in a negative way on the mainstream news. I saw a 300-lb dancer on a mainstream entertainment program, and annoying as it was they kept stressing she had an endocrin disorder as if to say that was the only reason they were being so nice, I can’t help but think that even a few years ago we wouldn’t have seen her at all. I’m seeing Nick cartoons with fat heroes, I can think of at least two bestselling trade-published romance novels with fat heroines (who don’t undergo, to paraphrase author Nudemuse, “moral redemption through weight loss”).

    Don’t get me wrong. I know mainstream FA and real physical safety/good medical care for fat people is far away and probably won’t happen in my lifetime. I also realize that as someone new to FA, I didn’t see some of these things previously because they were actively hidden from me. I ALSO also realize there’s always an upswing of fat panicmongering this time of year because “THREE-WEEK BIKINI BODY TURBO PALEO CRASH!” season is upon us, and they have to whip the populace into an unthinking horrified frenzy to purchase their wares. But this is still a lot more pushback than the Cult of Dieting is used to getting from fat people. They can’t keep information like The Cooper Institute’s study or the Women’s Health Initiative hidden forever; fat people are finding them and waking up, and they want us to go back to sleep.

    And the thing they don’t seem to realize is, screaming, “STOP WAKING UP AND GO BACK TO SLEEP RIGHT NOW YOU FAT LAZY *&$%#ING COWS!” is not, in fact, going to put us back to sleep but instead wake us up further. The louder they scream, the more they wring their hands and beat their chests, the more they draw attention to themselves, the more both mainstream fat people AND mainstream thin people see exactly what emotional place fatphobia comes from, who benefits from it, and why.

    For instance, they might notice the author of this article proudly proclaims her anger and disgust at seeing an Othered toddler and doesn’t stop for a moment to wonder how much more that says about her than that toddler, who’s probably too busy pretending he’s Captain America to care about her politics or “drain her tax dollars” or whatever she thinks makes it okay for her to hate and unload all that blame and vitriol onto him. In an infuriating-the-way-through article, that stuck in my craw as the absolute most revolting part. I was that fat child she doesn’t need to know to hate, and in spite of a lifetime of experimental medicine and rigorous indoctrination from the Cult of Dieting, I still grew into that fat adult she doesn’t need to know to hate.

    That said, as someone who’s suffered levels of physical violence that would curdle your blood because of my weight (including but not limited to sexual assault)… where’s this alternate-world America she lives in where everyone’s okay with fat people? I want to move there so I won’t have to a) deal with fatphobic assholes so frequently, and b) have EACH ONE believe they’re telling me something I haven’t heard before and that this new and exciting “tough love” secret will “save” me and then I’ll totally thank them and adore them for abusing me.

    You aren’t telling me anything I haven’t heard before, Carol. Nor was Laila. Nor was Gwenyth. Nor was Michelle. And I’m never going back to sleep.

  9. On 1–Well, America is more tolerant of fat than some other countries. Unlike Japan, we don’t yet impose taxes on companies that hire men above a size 34 waist. But this is like saying that there’s no sexism in America because we don’t require women to be veiled on pain of stoning. It’s a non-sequitur.

  10. The thing that drops my jaw about no. 6 is that right alongside the “OH NOEZ FAT IS AAAAWFULLLLLL PUT YER FETUS ON A DIET 2 EXTRA SQUARE INCHES OF PIZZA WILL MAKE YER SECOND GRADER EXPLODEANDDIE” hand-wringing, there are doctors who still understand that the completely normal and apparently universal pattern of human growth is sideways, then up, then sideways, then up, and so on. I am very lucky that the same practice that flips out about my pants size is completely accepting of my round-faced, pudgy children because–what do you know!–six months later they’ll be ribby, and six months after that they’ll have bellies again, because that is how children’s bodies actually work.

    I expect the first medical freakout about my daughters’ “impeding obesity OMGZ, look at the mom she’s so hyoooooge” about the time they are getting ready to grow breasts. :/

  11. Every part of that article made my head spin and I think I was raging by the time I got to the end (and glad I didn’t leave any comment of any sort since it would have gotten me in futile conversations).

    It’s not so much about the author or the article as it is that hey, this is what people really think! And this is what I also thought a few years ago but didn’t spread the ignorance…

    The most disheartening part has to be the last part about children…it saddens me to remember my own childhood and that there are kids right now who will be treated badly and feel guilty about their bodies. They will take full responsibility (in their minds) and not know any better because if adults say so then it’s the truth. Adults in my life used to make fun of me all the time for being fat .

    Another ignorant article written by someone who has no idea what’s like to be oppressed. Thank you for taking the time to clear these up!

  12. “Though there may be negative stereotypes, staring, bullying, or crude comments, the environment we live in is one that is incredibly tolerant of unhealthy lifestyles.”

    So…there’s bullying, crude comments, gawking, and people presuming awful things about fat people based solely on appearance–but really we’re very tolerant? She keeps using that word. I do not think it means what she thinks it means.

    The “attractiveness” bit kills me. Do people really think there’s a movement inspired by how upset we are that certain wags don’t find us attractive? She sounds a little full of herself. I’d tell her to kiss my ass, but she’d probably think I was coming on to her.

  13. She lost all credibility when she started talking about attraction. **sigh** Size acceptance is about fat people being treated like “HUMAN BEINGS”. Too much stereotyping and contradiction.

  14. It amazes me that ppl think it’s all about getting dates and having sex. They get baffled when we tell them no. It means it’s a superficial analysis with no insight.

  15. Ragen I just read the original article and if you and Shaunta Grimes hadn’t written so eloquently in response, I believe I may have blown a gasket! I only wish that the person who wrote the original article could read both of your responses and really really hear what you have to say. Thank you for your wonderful response!!!

  16. Today is one of those days where I simply do not have enough sanity points to go near the original article. Thankfully, Ragen, you’ve broken down the important bits and I can get the gist of the article without putting myself through the original.

  17. Just found this article and I love it. At the end of the day Ms.Hall can say that she was was just trying to to say that she wants everyone to be healthy and she wasn’t being judgmental about body size….but then where is her article on “the dangers of smoking cigarettes”…or better yet, where is her article on “the dangers of being normal sized and eating an unhealthy diet”?

    She is simply targeting larger people. Most people often don’t sympathize with fat people because they believe in the power of will. “If you had enough willpower you wouldn’t be fat, because you don’t have that will, you don’t deserve my respect”. This disregards people with various disorders (thyroid/gland problems, PCOS, etc.) These things have nothing to do with willpower but simply what we were born with.

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