What Fat Acceptance Doesn’t Mean

Lies Sorry for the lapse in blogging, More Cabaret hosted our first all plus-size variety show in Los Angeles and it was awesome. Then we moved, that was less awesome but is more awesome now that we’re actually in the new house. Anyway, I’m back and I’ve missed you all!

I’m not sure why, but recently I’ve been receiving lots of e-mails and comments discussing one of the arguments that I often hear “against” the concept of Fat Acceptance.  Here are a couple examples from the e-mails I got (I tried to pick from each end of the spectrum):

 I just can’t get behind accepting fatness.  I like my body as it is, I don’t want to be fat and I will do whatever it takes not to be fat.

Fuck you fat acceptor fucks and your fat acceptance.  You will never make me be a fat fuck like you!

I used to think that people only made this argument to try to derail the actual conversation around Fat Acceptance, but just in case there are people who are really concerned about this, let me try to provide some clarity:

The Fat Acceptance/Size Acceptance movement is not a monolith and there are various perspectives as to what exactly FA/SA means.  Nobody speaks for the entire movement including me, we can each only speak to our own perspective.  That said, I’ve never heard anyone in any FA/SA space anywhere suggest that Fat Acceptance is about compulsory fatness for everyone.  I cannot imagine how people got the idea that if Fat Acceptance/Size Acceptance proponents get “our way” everyone will be forced to become fat.

This is about civil rights – life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and being treated with basic human respect – for people of all sizes.  With that in mind, here are some things that will and will not happen to people who disagree with me if I get “my way” as a Size Acceptance Activist:

Things that WILL NOT happen to those who disagree with FA/SA if I get “my way”:

  • They will be forced to become fat
  • They will be forced to give up their prejudices and stereotypes about fat people (don’t get me wrong, I think it would be just dandy if they did but I’m not trying to control people’s thoughts)

Things that WILL happen to those who disagree with FA/SA if I get “my way”:

  • They will get to make choices for themselves and their own bodies, but not for others (For example:  public health will be about making options and information available to the public, not about making the individual’s body the public’s business)
  • They will no longer be allowed to turn their personal prejudices into public policy (for example, they will have to stop waging wars that aim to eradicate everyone of a certain size.)

How about a short video to help answer the question – Does Fat Acceptance mean that everyone will be forced to become fat?

So to sum up, Fat Acceptance:  Yes to respecting body diversity, no to forced fatness.  I hope that clears some things up.

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21 thoughts on “What Fat Acceptance Doesn’t Mean

  1. Welcome back Ragen! I think example #1 may be due in part to some people trying to reverse fat shaming into thin shaming: I do remember reading an interview with a thin but large-busted actress who claimed that women with small breasts had character flaws(!).
    But it’s very rare, and certainly you never do anything of the kind: in fact, I’m impressed how strongly you are committed to accepting everyone’s body shape and size, including bodies very different from yours.
    I started reading your blog while illness drove me into (dangerously) underweight territory, and I you kept me sane through many “It’s so easy, just eat more!” until I finally found a doctor who treated me instead of scolding me. Now I’m back to my natural body shape and feel much better.
    We need more activists like you.

    1. *nod*. i think there is an aspect of that present, though to me this particular email doesn’t sound like it. but shaming of skinny people definitely exists, and i loathe sentiments like “real women have curves”. i think the feminist explanation has it right: too much of our society gets off on censuring women no matter what they do. too fat, too skinny, dressing up, dressing down, working outside of the home, being a stay-at-home mother — women can’t win unless they refuse the messages altogether. a real woman is and does whatever a woman, any woman, is and does, not what others try to shame her about in order to control her. the same goes for men, of course. and genderqueers. 😉

      shaming is a powerful motivator, and we should reserve it for non-consensual actions instead of directing it at everyone who dares to diverge from the herd. it’s important to discern when herd behaviour actually works to protect as opposed to stifle, and we have the big lobes in order to use them to call our primitive hindbrain to order when it overreacts.

  2. Doing Whatever It Takes Not To Be Fat Says A Lot About That Person So I Wouldn’t Put Much Stock In Their Opinion. WHATEVER It Takes. We All Know What That Means. Ruining The Body In Other Means Such As Eating Disorders To Avoid A Few Pounds. As If Being Fat Is The Worst Thing Anyone Could Be. I Can’t Respect Someone Who Would Put Themselves Through That Type Of Pain So That They’ll Be Free To Make Fun Of Other Body Types.

  3. For some reason, Fat Acceptance (or whatever it is one wishes to call it) immediately translates to something negative in the public mind, probably because being fat is still viewed as a moral downfall:

    “If you’re fat it’s because you sit around eating crap, don’t exercise, and expect society to buy you wheelchairs and motorised scooters. Eat a damn salad and go for a walk, jerkwad, and quit complaining about your diabetes and high BP.”

    I’m sure everyone has their own interpretation of what FAT is…this is just my loose definition based purely on anecdotal evidence and a crap tonne of reading. Plus it’s 7.30 in the morning.

    What I try to stress when I speak of this is that no, I’m not advocating an unhealthy life-style on any level (and that includes everyone who engages in one, with any body type). I just try to get people to stop hating their bodies and punishing them by strict dieting or something else. But even with that, I never initiate the discussion or force my opinion on someone because Underpants Rule Prime Directive.

    Being a student around much older students around me all the time, I hear a LOT of diet talk, and if I’m part of the discussion, I’ll throw my buck fifty in. Mostly though, I say encouraging things or very neutral comments unless someone asks for more.

  4. Reblogged this on Luscious Words and commented:
    There are days when I’m not sure I can continue pushing against the tide of fat shaming and consider giving in to behavior and a mindset that I know (from personal experience) do not work. Then I find a post like this that reminds me that it’s worth sticking to my fat acceptance guns. It’s not easy, but I believe it’s worth it.

  5. these people are so terrified of getting fat that they believe that if you eradicate fat hate and fear that they’ll just blow up to 500 pounds because they have no incentive not to.

    they are so filled with low self esteem that they can’t see straight.

    its like the rabid public homophobes who are later discovered snorting coke off of male prostitutes ass.

    or the ones who think that legalizing same sex marriage will force everybody to get same sex marriage.

    because they believe that removing the societal restrictions will cause them to lose control. Because they believe that they have absolutely no control over themselves without it.

    1. Exactly! I was going to say the same thing but you said it much better! There is an irrational fear behind the hate. This is what I hear: “Shaming keeps me under control – if I turned down the shaming, I’m afraid of what would happen. I don’t have any internal guides for my behavior, so I need society to make rules for me. I am inherently bad and so is everyone else. We need to fight every minute not to let ourselves give in to our worst selves. I can’t trust myself and your freedom to be who you are threatens me.” Isn’t this the attitude underneath so many of these kinds of comments? They are hurting because when they see someone else choose freedom and trusting themselves, it reminds them how free they could be, how they could love themselves unconditionally, and yet they don’t and it hurts.  You’d have to be terrified and in so much pain to lash out like that, like the Fred Phelpses of the world.

      I’m still learning to trust myself at 44 years old.

    2. yes, this. i think it virtually oozes out between all the hatred in that email. and i think it’s even stronger than the homophobic hatred from people who’re afraid they might not be 100% heterosexual, because to be honest, the majority of people actually ARE heterosexual and have nothing to “worry” about in that regard. but fat? fat can happen to anyone, happens naturally as people get older, and really, in this society it takes some effort to keep it off because we have both a riches of foods, and we are becoming ever more sedentary. if there were fewer societal strictures those people who’re barely holding on now would likely get fatter (for a while at least — my own anecdotal evidence shows that if we laid off the constant shaming and stress most people would find some equilibrium that is far from their greatest fears).

      it’s actually very sad. just look at those words: “i would do anything”. what a dismal way to think about one’s own body — and how woefully unprepared to deal with adversity that stems from the fact that we do not actually have particularly much control over our own health, and such adversity could strike them at any time. they’re living in a prison they’ve created themselves, and are fearful and at the same time jealous of those of us who find the inner strength to refuse the shaming. how dare fat people be happy, when skinny people aren’t because they stress out over their weight and looks!

      1. I don’t know how true it is that everyone has the potential to get fat… though I suppose since I was first labeled fat at like 70lbs… sure. Maybe, if your definition of fat is REALLY liberal (as introspection tells me many people’s are).
        I think that our world would be a whole lot more happy if we could get out the idea that naturally thin people who are denying themselves food they want to eat in fear that they will balloon out are basically having miniscule influence on their weight, and are just harming their mental health for the effort… That they could eat what they want, gain maybe 4 lbs and stop being freaked out. That is something I want people to understand. That there are naturally thin people and naturally fat people, and you should just eat, and see what you are, and then be okay with it, whatever it is. I don’t want to force it to happen (okay, maybe I do, but I won’t) but I want that information available.

  6. This is what happens when the media starts parroting that BS line about fat being contagious.

    You are not going to “catch” fat from me. It is not possible. Also, as someone who believes people should not be obligated to manipulate their body size to be treated humanely even in the rare cases that manipulation can be done long-term, I consider it unethical to try to force a naturally thin person to gain weight. So spare me the propaganda from scaremongers who benefit fiscally and politically from fooling you into believing I’m some kind of Cenobite. I don’t want to “turn” you. I don’t even want you to like me. I want society’s misinformed abuse and cruelty towards fat people to end. I have absolutely no sights to show you.

  7. Glad you’re back, Ragen!

    I feel about Fat Acceptance like I feel about gay marriage and a score of other things: it’s all about being able to recognize that other people’s lives are a big, steaming pile of not your business. If someone were trying to make it mandatory, I’d have a problem with it. But no one is trying to make being fat mandatory any more than anyone is trying to force anyone into a same-sex union.

    Normally I don’t care for the line of reasoning that if you hate/oppress x group it’s because you’re afraid you’re one of them. But when confronted with statements like “I don’t want to be fat and I will do whatever it takes not to be fat,” you have to wonder if they’re afraid they’re only staying thin because they’re afraid of what society will do to them if they live the way they want to.

  8. Glad you had an awesome time, Ragen :o)

    It takes a special variety of mental obtuseness to make the jump from, “I accept my fat and I would like society to accept my fat and treat me like a human being,” to, “If I had my way, everyone would be obliged to be fat,” instead of, “I’m the size I am, you’re the size you are, let’s all be OK together.”

    And I’d shout out loud for anyone’s right to make active decisions about their body size, but someone saying they’ll do ANYTHING not to get fat is a seriously warped perspective on life. Is being fat really the worst thing that can happen? Because a whole lot of people seem to be coping very well with it.

  9. That email reminds me a bit of some of the reactions gay people get when seeking acceptance and basic civil rights. Accepting is neither agreeing nor becoming. There are some ignorant people out there who just don’t get it.

  10. I used to think this was just about bigotry… that people were just using the silly idea/example that me petitioning for acceptance for bodies ALL sizes, but yeah, because I’m fat, especially fat bodies (since no one’s waging a “war” on thin bodies), meant I was campaigning in favor of everyone being fat. Which, for the record, couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m campaigning for the right of every single person to simply be who they are, in the body they have today, without feeling less than because they don’t fit into some antiquated paradigm of what’s socially acceptable.

    Then I realized that it’s worse than bigotry, in its own way. It’s this deeply held fear that fat is basically “contagious” somehow. If I accept my body – in all its fat glory – what is to stop the person in question from accepting his or her body exactly how it is? And these people I’ve met who are like this are utterly and completely terrified of being fat. Which is honestly kind of sad for them, in my personal opinion, but when you get right down to it, they get to choose to not want to become fat or to FEAR becoming fat. I may not understand that choice, but I respect their right to it.

    It becomes a problem because these are people who won’t respect MY choice to not subject my body to, what is for me, an unhealthy obsession with trying to make it what it’s not and never really has been (for more than a very short time as a child on a highly controlled diet that triggered my eating disorder). No, I will grant these people the right to believe whatever they want/need/feel… but not if they’re going to try to take that right from me. Then we have a problem.

    But while yeah, some of it is just classic bullying from people whom you can never reach because, to be honest, they just enjoy being bullies (and the internet makes that so much easier!). But some of it is about this pervasive cultural fear of fat, which just to add to all the social stigmas associated with fat, has become a fear of near instant death or disease triggered by the way the media and irresponsible doctors discuss weight gain and correlations.

    Those people, some of them, may still yet be reached. They just have a lot of obstacles to overcome, and they have to want it. Not just because it’s better for our culture to not be one consumed with so much hate, but they have to want it for their own bodies… and the latter? That’s the scariest part of it all.

  11. Sometimes it seems to be projection-“I want to do x, so everybody wants to do x”. There are, unfortunately, people who really do want to make everyone live their way, and they think everybody wants to do that. They can’t accept that anyone would really believe The Underpants principle.

  12. I think its the same fear that all oppressors have. “If we give them power, they’ll treat us the way we treated them.” So in the case of thin people, they assume we’ll try to force them all to be fat the way they push thiness on us.

    1. I wish there was some way to assure them that I really don’t have enough free time for a new hobby like trolling diet boards with endless close-ups of mocha chip cheesecake, etc. 😉

  13. And as an addendum to what I wrote before…

    …in a world where workplaces try to force fat people to become thin, politicians wage a ‘war on obesity’ attempting to force fat people to become thin, bullies harp on/attack fat people trying to force them to become thin, doctors break their oaths to do no harm and put theri patients on “diets” that will KILL them if maintained trying to force fat people to become thin, people are driven to suicide/bariatric surgery/eating disorders because everyone is trying to force them to become thin…

    …fatphobes might want to take a serious look at who is obsessed with forcing whom to have the same body type as them. I’ve *never* met a fat person who thinks thin people on the whole are a problem to be solved. Meanwhile, mainstream society is encouraged by no less than both the public and the private sectors to think about fat people that way.

  14. I said similar in a reply but I want to say it outright in its own post. I think there is a pervasive misunderstanding where the majority of people think that EVERYONE’s default is fat and they are paragons of restraint and morality for not becoming fat. These comments “I’m not going to let you make me fat with your fat acceptance” seem to come from that sort of thinking. If you think that your willpower and self-discipline have kept you from being fat your entire life, when in fact it was your genes and metabolism, then sure, you would think that not dieting would equal weighing a bajillion BMIs.
    I would love to be able to demonstrate to people that there are definite thin people who tend toward leanness and people who tend toward fatness (of varying degrees) and eating a packet of crackers that has more than 100 calories as a thin person is not going to make you have the deathfatz, so we could stop all this silliness. In that way, I wish I could force everyone to stop dieting… but not so they could be fat… but so they could shut up about how they are so awesome for not catching the fats.

  15. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    “I just can’t get behind accepting fatness. I like my body as it is, I don’t want to be fat and I will do whatever it takes not to be fat.”
    Seems that some people can’t brain today. They’re deliberately obtuse. THINKING!!!! AGH!!!!! NO!!!!!! IT HURTS!!!!!!
    Since when does the word “acceptance” equate with “be forcibly made to become?”
    This is like the asinine argument that some make which postulates that if one accepts gays, teh gayz will force everybody into doing gay stuff.
    The ignorance is making my brain hurt. Fallacious arguments give me a nasty headache.

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