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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8 thoughts on “So What If I Do?”
Great article! There’s no need for fat people to justify themselves all the time just in order to try to appear like a “good fattie” in the eyes of the others.
I love this. I often say, “So what if they are?” when someone says disparagingly that someone we know is fat, has gotten fat, etc. However, I’m stymied about what to say to the people whom I care about who reply with concern-trolling phrases like, “They need to change because of their health.”
The reason I don’t always feel comfortable citing the underpants rule is that I feel hypocritical saying, “Their weight is none of our business” when we’re right in the middle of sharing other (truly caring) none-of-our-business opinions about our friends’ lives, such as how they act, their relationships, how they treat others, their jobs, whether they’re being kind enough to themselves, etc..
My friends and I often speak about our mutual friends (and I don’t mind that they surely talk about me, too) without being critical or condemning. We do it because it’s a mutually interesting subject, we’re a little worried, or we’re trying to decide whether we should be worried, or we want to figure out whether we can help in any way, or we’re tickled about something good that happened to them or that they did. We do it because it helps us know ourselves and each other.
I suppose no aspect of anyone’s lives is really anyone else’s business, but how can I express my distaste for comments about appearance or assumptions about health when meanwhile I’m busy discussing other aspects of people’s lives that might be considered personal?
Maybe you could just say that health and weight are two different subjects? They are. If someone says they are worried about a friend who is fat, has weight issues etc… perhaps gently let them know this- separation of weight and health is like separation of Church and State…. these two issues are not the same and should not be treated as the same. Maybe share a few of these blog posts with them if they are really concerned. Just an idea. Best of luck, you sound like a very caring person!!!
This is one of the things I finally stopped feeling shame about. Yeah, I am kinda lazy. So what? Watching TV is fun, and there’s a lot of really awesome TV shows these days. You [hypothetical fat-shamer] got a problem with that? And hey, I do really like potato chips. They are delicious and make me happy. Maybe you [hypothetical fat-shamer] should eat more potato chips instead of being mean to people?
Agree, agree , agree- I love my salty snacks too!!!!!
Thank you for this excellent article and I think saying- “So what if I am/do” is perfect. Another great article!
In a sense, it’s like those of us with disabilities who avail ourselves to accommodations or programs. As long as you are legally qualified and it will benefit…why shouldn’t you? Why should we be shamed? It’s there for a reason!
When I got my half-fare (disability) bus pass, I felt kinda wrong at first. I hold a valid driver’s license, can drive to campus, and am capable of using the mass transit system independently. I had to remind myself- I’m legally qualified by reason of disability, and (kinda because of the disability) I function far better using the bus instead of driving to campus, and being a college student…yeah I certainly benefit from paying less to use the bus.
I’ve been using assistive technology (word processor and now laptop) since grade 6. In addition to ADHD and Asperger’s, I have dysgraphia (which pretty much means writing problems… aka chicken scratch handwriting). When I typed, it was much easier, faster, I could focus on content, not appearance, and teachers could accurately assess my writing. Sometimes I get people who think if I just worked a bit harder at writing by hand, I’d be all set. Certainly I could (and did) receive occupational therapy (I can write short messages), but in the end, I need to be able to keep up with the demands of everyday life. Would we ask a paraplegic to get out of the wheelchair and crawl until they could master walking? Yeah, didn’t think so.
So if a scooter or a computer allow you to better go about everyday life….so be it! So what if I’m part of the “doomed millennials” generation that won’t have perfect, beautiful script! Here’s to giving haters a big old “one finger salute”. 😉