One of the things that fat people deal with all the time is people’s preconceived notions about us. Sometimes it’s from people who probably don’t intend to be rude (like when when people make assumptions about our food and/or exercise habits), sometimes they do intend to be rude, like when people from hate sites post on my Facebook (completely non sequitur of course) that I probably start wheezing after 25 feet of walking, or that I use a scooter, or that I need assistance devices for self care.
In the activism toolbox, fighting stereotypes is definitely a tool that we can use, not necessarily for the people doing the stereotyping (though people are allowed to do activism for that reason) but also for fat people who have been inundated with the stereotype and are living based on it,. One of the reasons I talk about being a fathlete and co-founded the Fit Fatties Forum is that I get e-mails everyday from fat people who have wanted to pursue movement/athletics in some way but, because of the messages they get from society, thought it was literally impossible for someone their size to do so.
Fat people who are successful at anything other than weight loss often have to deal with being purposefully ignored, kept out of view, and publicly attacked because of fat bigotry, and there are definitely times when I utilize a stereotype fighting approach to activism as a way to overcome that.
But that’s just one tool in my toolbox and it has downsides – especially that it can, intentionally or not, add to the Good Fatty/Bad Fatty dichotomy. (The idea that fat people who do the “right” thing in the eyes of the people judging are “good fatties” who deserve to be treated better than the “bad fatties” who don’t do the right thing.) So I think it’s important to find ways to mitigate those issues. It’s one of the reasons that I try (though I’m sure sometimes I fail) not to talk about health or movement without being clear that they’re not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control.
There’s also another option. When we’re faced with questions and “accusations” like these one response can be to avoid the knee jerk response of denying or justifying and answer with “So what if I do?” or “So what if I am?” This can avoid creating a good fatty/bad fatty dynamic and also avoid giving people the idea that we owe them a justification for our existence.
To be clear each of us gets to decide how we deal with our oppression. My goal here is to give an option for responding to a world where body size is a source of stigma, shame and bullying. I’m not trying to dictate a “right” and a “wrong” way to deal with these things – I’m saying that there are different ways and as always your mileage may vary.
If someone says that I probably start wheezing after 25 minutes of walking, instead of coming back with some statement about my athletic ability I can also choose to just look at them and say “So what if I do?”
If someone bullies us for being fat, and we have a “reason” for being fat, instead of saying “I’m fat because of [insert medication/condition/etc.]” we can say “So what if I am fat? Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without shame, stigma bullying and oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could or want to be thinner.” That way we avoid (even unintentionally) indicating that we are the “good fatty” who has a “reason” for being fat, unlike those “bad fatties” who don’t.
When we are talking about Size Acceptance or against Weight Stigma and bullying, we can avoid starting out with a list of our “good fatty” qualifications ie: “Let me start by saying that I do hot yoga and drink green juice etc.” as if we should have to do these things to deserve basic human respect.
Those who believe in Size Acceptance but want to lose weight for whatever reason can choose not to respond to weight bullying by trying to appease the bully by saying that they want to lose weight (which can make it seem like they think that they don’t deserve to be bullied but those other bad fatties who aren’t attempting weight loss d0.) Instead they can say “so what if I am fat” or “other people’s weight are none of your business.”
I think one of the most egregious examples of this is when they try to make self-care shameful. When someone says that I must need a scooter to get around, or a sealtbelt extender to fit on a plane, or a device to help with wiping myself as if those things are accusations of which I should be embarrassed, I can say “So what if I do?” I think it should be a crime to try to make self-care a source of shame and if someone is engaging in trying to make us too ashamed to do what we need to do to be mobile, or travel, or take care of ourselves, then they better not also be trying to use the “it’s for your health” line because, even more clearly than usual, that’s bullshit. People of every size should have every option available to them for mobility, self-care, and navigating the world. with absolutely no shame or blame.
Speaking of activism toolboxes, have you checked out the Fat Activism Conference? Three days, 38 amazing speakers and panelists, teleconference style so that you can listen from wherever you are by phone or computer, and downloads of the workshops so that you can listen live, or on your own time, and/or listen to favorite talks again. Only $39 bucks with a pay-what-you-can option to make it affordable for everyone! Tools to help people who are interested in fighting fat stigma, oppression and bullying from an intersectional perspective whether you want to work with your family and friends and/or take on the world! Check it out!
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Here’s more cool stuff:
My Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
Dance Classes: Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details