Reader Deanna sent me an article (TW: The article has some problematic language) about how her city has purchased ambulances that are created to accommodate fat people. Predictably many people disagreed with the decision, calling medical care for fat people a “waste of taxpayer dollars.”
Obviously it’s horrifying that people feel like that whether or not someone gets life-saving care should be based on how they look (and what stereotypes are associated with that) – the idea being that people like them having ambulances and medical equipment that fits them is a basic right, but fat people having access to the exact same things is a “special right.” Nobody seems to care that items that accommodate fat people also often do a better job accommodating people with disabilities and the elderly, as well as accommodating thin people. (And of course that doesn’t even begin to discuss the ways that racism, ableism, and classism affect the ability to get good medical care.)
The fact that people feel like this is not a surprise to me, it has been made perfectly clear to me that there are people who are happy to “win the war on obesity” by making fat people thin, or dead. I don’t think that this actually represents as many people as it might seem, I just think that people who hate fat people also love making anti-fat comments on the internet.
The thing I want to talk about today is a bit more insidious. Even among the comments that were supportive of the city buying the ambulances there were several that said that they hoped that they found a way for people who need the ambulances to lose weight so that they could live “normal lives.” I’ve heard this before from people who are taking exception to my decision not to diet. This is an extension of the problematic idea that fat people who deal with social stigma should solve it by losing weight, rather than by fighting social stigma. In the “normal life” scenario the idea is that the world is created to suit people of a certain size (and often those who are currently able-bodied, neurotypical, white etc.) and everyone else should do what they can to fit that mold, rather than making the world more accommodating. This puts the responsibility for those who aren’t accommodated on them to change themselves rather than realizing that the issue is the lack of accommodation.
Of course I can’t speak for all fat people, I can only speak for myself, but if you want to help me as a fat person have a “normal life” then I would ask that you focus on the ways that our society currently fails to accommodate fat people. If you’re not fat a good place to start can be looking at things that you get as a matter of course that fat people don’t – ambulances and healthcare items are a really good example, so is something as simple as seating at a restaurant, theater, or on public transportation. Ask yourself what a “normal life” means to you, then ask yourself what could be done to give that to fat people without making fat people thin.
If you are fat and you’re dealing with the idea that your size means that you can’t live a “normal life” it can be helpful to remember that the reason for that is that many things were created by people who ignored the fact that fat people exist. That’s not our fault, though it can become our problem. As with any oppression, the people on the receiving end get to deal with it in whatever way they choose. Those who wish to help dismantle it would do well, as a first step, not to suggest that we should blame people whose lives are affected by a lack of accommodation for that lack. Not being blamed for the oppression I deal with would be a great start to me being able to live a “normal life.”
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