I was in an interesting conversation on Facebook where people were discussing whether or not, as Size Acceptance activists and/or Health at Every Size practitioners, they buy “diet’ products and why or why not. This is something I’ve thought about a lot.
There is a quote by Anna Lappe that says “Every time you spend money, you’re casting a vote for the kind of world you want.” As an activist, that rings really true for me – the way that I spend my money is a form of activism. I can spend money in a way that supports companies that support me, or I can fund companies that do something between ignoring and outright oppressing me.
First, to be clear I’m not talking about a boycott – boycotts have absolutely proven to be effective tools in the right circumstances, and it’s true that if everyone stopped buying products that attempt to sell things to us by convincing us that we’re not good enough, they would stop doing it, but this is something different than that. This is about making choices for how I spend my money regardless of how anyone else spends theirs. These decisions are rarely cut and dried, and they typically involve sacrifices. They are also personal decisions for each of us, and it’s not anybody’s job to tell us what to spend money on and our choices don’t make us better or worse than anyone else. I’m not trying to tell anyone else how to live, it’s just something I think is worth talking about, so I’ll confine the discussion to me.
A few years ago I made the decision to stop buying or consuming anything sold using a weight-loss or anti-obesity message. It occurred to me that I spend a great deal of time trying to counteract these messages and that giving the people who create the messages money is a bit counter-intuitive. So I decided to stop funding the very thing that I am trying to fight. It has eliminated a lot of drink options, a lot of food options, there are stores where I don’t shop, and items that I don’t buy, but when I make the oatmeal from the brand that took me 10 minutes to find and cost $0.50 more, I feel good that I’m not paying for more oatmeal containers that try to terrify people into eating oatmeal in an effort to prevent them from looking like me.
Of course this leads to all kinds of judgement calls – I don’t want this to become a thing that overtakes my life but I do want my purchases to be in integrity with my beliefs. Sometimes it is easy – “Biggest Loser” branded carrots are right out, I’m not giving money to a show that abuses fat people for profit. Then there are some others that are much more judgment calls – does Sweet and Low count? For me it’s easy to over think, and worry about being perfect and I have to remind myself that, just like the rest of civil rights, it’s not about perfection, it’s about making the next choice and doing the next thing in front of me. Nobody can do everything but we can all do something, and this is one of the things that I try to do.
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21 thoughts on “Paying for Our Own Oppression”
I love this post so much! It’s a great reminder that just because we can’t be/aren’t perfect in our activism 100% of the time, it doesn’t mean that we’re failing at activism.
Well, I drink diet soda because my parents both have diabetes and so I try not to have too much sugar because I don’t want to get diabetes. I also buy low fat ice cream because I’m lactose intolerant and the only lactose-free real ice cream available here is low fat (and it’s way better than the soy stuff). Other than those, I take care not to buy stuff that’s marketed by the diet industry.
Thanks for this post. There are some foods that are marketed as diet foods that I simply cannot eat due to my body’s reaction to them. (I’m allergic to a few of the artificial sweeteners, so I avoid them all to avoid potential allergic reactions.) Others are items that I do not need, so maybe it’s time to consider making a few more sacrifices to stop putting MY money in their pockets to fund their oppression of me and other fat people. We all know they get plenty of it from other sources.
This is an exceptional post! I too believe in promoting my activism through what I spend and what products I buy. I am not only a fat activist, but also a vegetarian and animal activist, so I try my best to buy cruelty-free products Do I always make the right choice? Not by any means, but I truly believe that spending money to promote what I believe, is the right thing to do. Activism is a way of living your life, and for me, that includes where and how I spend my dollars. Thank you Ragen for another amazing post!
So true. After all, Mr. Twistie and I have to balance my activism against his diabetes. And since most things that are naturally low in sugars/artificially sweetened trumpet those things as good ways to Not Look Like Us… well, here and there something that proudly proclaims itself to be the Diet version does make it into our grocery cart.
The funny thing is that sometimes I find myself reassuring him in the middle of the grocery store that I don’t resent his choice to get Diet whatever. But the day he didn’t notice the Biggest Loser logo on the carrots sticks he wanted, I did point it out. Without another word he tossed those suckers right back on the shelf and I quietly got some bulk carrots and told him I’d be more than happy to cut them up for him.
After all, I have a big, honking knife (or three) and I know how to use it.
Buying food has all kinds of issues with it. Availabilty, cost, what your own body needs, and so forth.
I’m so glad you recognize that it has to be everyone’s personal decision, but it is nice when I can avoid giving money to companies I disagree with, or even better, give money to companies I agree with.
I wish everyone had these options.
Reagan–This is a wonderful post. Totally hear you about the decision sometimes being a sacrifice. It’s something I struggle with when it comes to Walmart, and my strong feelings about their business practices. Passing on the cheap and convenient isn’t always easy (and I don’t always resist the temptation), but it’s still a worthwhile effort. Thanks for your thoughtful discussion.
[Note from Ragen – Trigger warning for food morality and food shaming]
I was a vegetarian for twenty years (which still leaves room to eat trash) and became a vegan last year. I’m still awkward with it because I also have allergies to work around. For the first time in my life I love the way I’m eating, I love the colorful fruits and vegetables. I no longer buy “diet” or processed food because it’s unhealthy, possibly lethal, and tastes terrible most of the time. The only concession I’ve made is that I still use Stevia for a sweetener because I’m diabetic. I believe that when I’m more experienced I won’t need that either. As I told the cashier who made a big to do about the four large organic apples I purchased for $11.00, I didn’t have junk food in the cart.
While I’m glad that you are happy with your choices and have found something that works for you, I would appreciate it if, in this space, you didn’t call the food that other people eat trash, junk, unhealthy, or possibly lethal. We each choose different foods for different reasons and they face enough food shaming and food moralization outside of this blog, and part of my activism is to make this a space without food shaming/food moralizing. If you have questions you can always e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org.
Thank you for continuing to make this a safe space, Ragen. I appreciate it so much.
I love supporting local farmers, and am fortunate enough to live in an area with robust CSA programs, so about half of my grocery budget goes to the food co-op. Not much marketing at all there. 🙂
I am knocked out by how fabulous my local farmer’s market produce tastes!
I do buy them, but tend to avoid them if they are too pushy about it. I buy diet pop, because regular just tastes gross to me, and gives me a bit of a sick headachey feeling. I often buy frozen entrees, some regular some “lean” ones. I’m trying to watch counts on this or that thing having nothing to little to do with weight (ie trying to keep sodium low, and protein and fiber high) and sometimes the best option for what I want are those so called diet entrees. I often find myself wishing they could have a line that keeps say, salt and sugar grams in moderation, but still has bigger portions. One of those “diet” entrees rarely going to fill me up all on its own. If i make things homemade of course I can adjust to my tastes but there isn’t always time. If I find two things that to me taste about the same that don’t seem to have much difference in chemicals I often buy light..like sour cream..but never the nonfat blech. But if the “lite” is full of things I can’t pronounce, or I can taste the difference i’ll buy the regular thing. Like butter. Even a small bit makes everything taste better.
Yeah, one of the few “diet” things I buy is the “lean pockets” that have chicken broccoli and cheddar because they didn’t have that flavor in regular. I keep trying to make my own at home but there always turns out to be way too much dough. maybe i should use crescent dough or something.
I buy soups marketed as diet aids and the kind of fruit-juice-based popsicle that puts the calories on the front of the box, because those happen to be the tastiest available. Other than that I avoid buying anything marketed as a skinnyfier.
And I agree on the diet entrees. If both they and the “bad” kind cost $2.50 each and I have to eat two of the “good” kind to get full, I’m not saving anything.
BTW, I’ve noticed that if a frozen dinner has enough dark green vegetable in it that I can see the structure of the plant, it seems to keep me full longer. I don’t know if it’s psychological or what.
The ones with the obvious plant bits may have more fiber, which would help you stay fuller. You might check the package for fiber content, if you are curious.
I have a great quinoa salad recipe that I got from someone who got it from the Biggest Loser. They don’t have any of my money and I didn’t visit their website to get it, and I was given it because it’s tasty and really for no other reason, but sometimes I still feel vaguely weird about it. If I pass it to someone else, it’s on a new printout without their logo and I don’t say where it came from.
Could it maybe be helpful for some to concentrate more on buying body-positive products (and giving companies that do so their business)?
Thank you for blogging about this 8)
I feel ambivalent sometimes, because some of my food choices (made because other foods make me feel sick) include a particular artificial sweetener which my body tolerates better. Making clear to myself that I AM serving my body’s needs rather than imposing standards from outside is an issue with which I still struggle. On my worst days, it feels like having gone on a you-know-what and simultaneously having to give up the old “hope” which felt so real even though it was based on shame and lies.
On the good days I can just choose and reject things because I remember how I felt (sick, satisfied, happy, whatever) after the last time I chose (x). Just knowing that yes I actually CAN trust my body no matter what people outside my body think, is a quantum leap forward 8)
Interesting discussion. I too shy away from obviously “diet-y” foods, though, alas, I’m still a habitual drinker of diet soda. It occurs to me that I’m sending an unintentional message about how I feel about myself when I drink it, though.
I think you wrote about this a long while ago and I can tell I’ve been internalizing it. Yes, I still drink Diet Coke, but now I drink it consciously because for me, yes, the taste is worth the “message.” (remember their 80s ad campaign, “Just for the taste of it”?)
But just the other day I needed to buy cream cheese and I skipped the “low-fat” and “fat-free” varities because a) the “diet” message and b) that one particular Facebook meme that those words are code for “chemical shit storm.”
Thank you for giving me lots of food for thought and yet still letting me wear my own underpants!