Weight Loss and Size Acceptance

What Will you DefendThere has been a lot of talk lately about whether or not someone can want to lose weight and still be part of Size Acceptance.  I’ve received a number of e-mails asking me to write about it.  I want to talk about it today but first I want to be clear about a couple of things:

First of all, these are just my opinions – I do not speak for all of fatkind, or all of Size Acceptance. Nobody does.

Next, people are allowed to attempt weight loss.  It’s not uncommon for people who are part of a stigmatized group to want to find a way to get out of that group as a way to escape stigma, and people are allowed to do that. People are allowed to try to manipulate their body size as a way to solve social stigma, or to solve issues with lack of accommodation (like finding clothes that fit), or because they believe it will make them healthier, or more mobile, or for whatever reason they choose. People are allowed to believe that there is a size at which they can do everything they want to do in life and they are allowed to try to manipulate their body to that size.  They are allowed to try to lose weight even though the research suggests that if they are able to succeed short term they will likely gain it all back (plus likely more). People are allowed to continue trying to lose weight even if they’ve already experienced that kind of weight cycling (yo-yo dieting.) This is 100% Underpants Rule.

People are allowed to try to lose weight, the only question here is how people who want to/try to lose weight do or do not fit into Size Acceptance (SA.)  I’ll talk about my thoughs on the theory first, and then about how this plays out in the real world for me.

I think that when we talk about Size Acceptance, especially as it relates to weight loss messages, we are actually talking about two different things: What Size Acceptance is, and how we get it done.

To me, Size Acceptance is a civil rights movement that states that people of all sizes (including fat people) have the right to exist at their current size without appearance-based stigma, bullying, or oppression and it doesn’t matter why they are that size, what being that size means, or if they could be a different size. There are intersectionalities with other Civil Rights movements including the anti-racism, -homophobia, -transphobia, -ageism, and -ableism movements.

I believe that this message can be supported by people who are trying to change their body size, what they are saying is basically “I want to change my size, but I don’t think other people should be discriminated against,or forced to change their size.”   That’s ok, in fact everyone can and should support Size Acceptance because it constitutes basic human rights.

Looking at the second part – how we get it done – that’s about the communities, media campaigns, politics, laws, ordinances, and leaders that we create and support, as well as what we model in our own lives.  In my Size Acceptance work, this is about creating spaces were we don’t suggest body size manipulation as a positive thing or a solution, and spaces where people can come for refuge from the billion dollar diet industry and the incessant messages that fat bodies are bad and that body size manipulation is the solution to, well, just about everything.

So while I believe that someone can try to lose weight and still support Size Acceptance as a civil rights movement, and while I believe that people can do their best to appreciate the bodies they have now, even while trying to lose weight because they think their bodies would be better if they were thinner, and while I believe that people have the right to do both of those things and that some good can come from that,  I don’t think that someone can be trying to lose weight and say that they are practicing Size Acceptance simultaneously, since I don’t believe that saying “I love this body now, but I think it would be better if it was smaller” constitutes acceptance.

I think it’s also worth noting that those who support Size Acceptance for everyone, but talk about wanting to lose weight for themselves do get “good fatty” privilege for doing so (whether they want it or not) and that being part of the Size Acceptance Civil Rights Movement means acknowledging that,  and using that privilege to support Size Acceptance.  Also, if they use their reason for being fat, or their attempted weight loss as a way to avoid size-based prejudice that is highly problematic and definitely not Size Acceptance.  Finally, those who believe in fighting for Size Acceptance for everyone, but want to lose weight for themselves do have the option to simply not discuss their personal weight loss goals publicly since it is a personal decision.  But of course that’s just an option and people have every right to tell their stories.

So, how does this play out in the real world?  For me, I acknowledge that there are grey areas, and there are things that are incremental.  I certainly think that “love the body you have now, even if you want to lose weight” is a far better message than “hate yourself until you get thin.”  I think that there are a lot of people who either do not want to, or aren’t ready to, give up the pursuit of a thin body and everything that they believe will come with it, who can resonate with, and be really helped by, a message of body appreciation even while dieting. I’m very happy for the people who are helped by these messages and sometimes I cam involved in projects with people whose platform is those types of messages.

As for my personal Size Acceptance work, I’m done with weight loss. I work to solve social stigma against fat people by fighting social stigma, not by trying to change fat bodies.  I work to solve a lack of clothing options for fat people by creating more clothing options for fat people and not by trying to change fat bodies.  And I believe in evidence-based medicine which means that I simply can’t engage in, or promote, weight loss as a path to health. I also talk about the evidence, issues, and dangers that come with dieting, weight loss surgery etc., but I focus on the people and institutions that perpetuate them, and not the individuals who choose to participate.

I create spaces that are free from diet talk, weight loss talk, and negative body talk. While people are allowed to do and think whatever they want when it comes to their own bodies, and while it is ok for people to create spaces where those discussion can take place, it is ok to create spaces that are free from those discussions.  Especially since weight loss attempts have such wide support in society, and there are so many places to talk about it and receive support for that choice, it is perfectly ok for Size Acceptance spaces to prioritize the needs of people who are practicing Size Acceptance.  As a general rule, while I may point out the issues involved with the social obsession with weight loss,and various weight loss messages , I choose to fight people, businesses, and organizations that are blatantly promoting size discrimination, or co-opting Size Acceptance to sell weight loss, rather than fighting those who agree with Size Acceptance as a civil right but choose weight loss for themselves.

Note:  I’m being more lenient in what kind of diet talk I allow.  I’ve tried to add trigger warnings but if you’re not up for reading about people talking about manipulating their body size, you might want to skip reading through.

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20 thoughts on “Weight Loss and Size Acceptance

  1. I strongly believe im Body or Size Acceptance. I am a bigger sized body myself and Im not ashamed or plagued by it. I love my body. Regardless of what anyone else might think or say about it. I find that many people of a socially acceptable size think my size is something to be fixed. Its quite an annoyance. If somebody has a problem with their own body size I very much resent that it is then projected on me. I know my body. I know that at their size, my body doesnt like me which is actually a much bigger problem then when I didnt like my body.
    I am also attempting to get healthier. By bealthier I dont mean attempting to change my size but it may be an unevitable consequence. My definition of healthier is not feeling like crap. Being in better health, not better shape. Being able to do the things I want to do, without struggle. My struggles come from an autoimmune disease that plagues my body. My size does not plague my body. In order to fight this plague, it means improving my overall cardiovascular and mental health for endurance. Exercise, or movement of any kind that I actually enjoy, like dancing, having sex, etc usually has the effect of weight loss strictly based on an energy in vs energy basis. Usually. So to me, based on my circumstances, I do not feel that two are related.
    Also, I have several friends that are not of socially acceptable size on the other end of the spectrum. Ive witnessed firsthand the judgment, looks and comments (Eat a cheeseburger) that go along with that and their ill effecf. Many people are just of great ignorance where these things are concerned. It does need to change and activism is the best remedy.

  2. How about Size Acceptance and having an eating disorder? One of the reasons, why i support this movement is that i strongly believe size discrimination and fat hatred are strongly related to the number of people suffering from eating disorders. Since I look fit, I know first hand that body size does not give you a true indication of an individual’s health. But I can acknowledge that my personal mental health issues make me look like a massive hypocrite.

    1. I can tell you from comments here and on other SA/FA blogs/sites as well as the writings of many SA activists, you are far from alone in this movement. Many SA activists know ED intimately. In fact, some of the essays and comments lead me to believe that learning about and joining in the SA movement has helped quite a few of these people save their own lives by giving them a new, healthier, supportive script to read.

      Obviously it isn’t anywhere near as simple as ‘discover SA, lose your ED’ because we’re talking about a deadly mental illness that is eagerly supported by common ‘wisdom’ and a sixty billion dollar a year weight loss industry. But it’s a hell of a lot easier to find the path to recovery when you know there is one.

      Best of luck to you on your path to recovery. I think I can guarantee that everyone here wants you to be well, and nobody here will think that struggling against an illness in any way disqualifies you from being here.

  3. I get in a lot of trouble for interpreting SA as body autonomy *in service* of basic human rights. In the same breath, people who tell me that discussing weight loss behaviors are not tolerated in SA spaces (even critically) will then “admit” that that lots of people in these communities who engage in these behaviors privately. So, basically, I get slammed for talking about it publicly. I’ve removed myself from a lot of SA spaces out of respect for creating a weight loss-free zone, but still think that in the right contexts it’s important to interrogate the power of weight loss as a metaphor (because that’s what it is). To me, the assertion that there’s a “right” way to do SA activism by refusing forms of body modification is an argument in a similar vein as “you can’t be a feminist and wear makeup.” As with other kinds of oppression, its about examining subject positions and considering how privileges and access influence decisions.

    1. There is a “right way” to do SA and that’s what some do not understand. This is not a movement in defense of “anything” you want to do with your body. It is a movement strictly in defense of body SIZE and the acceptance thereof. The definition of feminism is not “women who do not wear makeup” therefore you can wear makeup and be a feminist. The definition of SA however does include “not changing the shape of your body” (in order to be treated with basic human rights) therefor by practicing weight loss you are trying to change the shape of your body which directly goes agianst it. Make sense? I know I’m using very broad terms and sentences but I hope the point is getting across. You of course have the right to do WHATEVER YOU WANT with your body (underpants rule), but just not in SA spaces.

      1. “This is not a movement in defense of ‘anything’ you want to do with your body.” Yep. You’re right. And I didn’t understand that when I first started getting involved. I thought SA was a political movement that offers a critical interpretation of and countertactics for dealing with compulsory weight loss and narratives of “acceptable” size. I didn’t know you could do it wrong. It’s the same reason I don’t buy “feminist” as a noun–to me, it’s a way of thinking and interpreting the world that influences action, not the other way around. But I can’t get over the hypocrisy of telling people there is a correct way to live as a fat person within a political movement that is based on the incredibly oppressive message that there is a correct way to live as a fat person. And, to be super, super clear–I am not an advocate for compulsory weight loss, nor would I argue that it’s okay that weight loss talk get a carte blanche in every space.

        It has been more difficult for me to admit that I can’t be involved in SA because of my interpretation of bodily autonomy than it was to reject compulsory weight loss ideology in the first place. It’s so hard to accept that I’m not allowed to be involved with a movement that completely changed my worldview and gave me such useful tools to deal with the constant onslaught of stigma. So now I have both sides telling me that how I want to deal with my fat body is wrong.

  4. I remember when I first discovered FA. It was amazing. And I remember vividly that I went through a period which I believe is quite common where I thought FA was a great idea… but I should still lose weight.

    That disconnect can be quite powerful, and can take a long time to overcome. I’ve had it on several other subjects as well. After all, it took me a couple years to get from understanding and accepting atheism in others before I was ready to accept in my own heart that I was an atheist. I’m more than happy to accept and respect the religious beliefs of others, but when I’m honest with me, I just don’t believe in any form of god.

    Now I consider atheism and SA to be simply part of the Twistie package, but it didn’t happen overnight.

    1. I too was stuck in the weight loss rut when I discovered these blogs.

      You worded it perfectly, I don’t have anything more to add.

  5. I am a bit new to the SA movement, though I have had the attitude that my size was nobody else’s business for a long while. I have learned in recent years that I have Lipedema, and that my massive legs are never going to change. I work on keeping them healthy.

    In reading today’s blog, I get where you are coming from about how one can hardly be 100% for Size Acceptance if you are trying to change your body size. But your assumption is that someone trying to lose weight is trying to get “skinny,” and that is where we see things differently. You are very mobile and able at this time. Some of us are not so much so. For me, my belly fat has usually been some of the first fat I lose when I am losing weight. My belly fat is also the fat that is most “in my way.” It prevents me from being able to tie my shoes in public, or from being able to wrap my lower legs. It makes wearing certain clothes uncomfortable. If I decide to try to lose a few pounds to be more able and comfortable by reducing my belly fat, does that make me a traitor to SA? Gee, I would hope not! I fully understand that I should not talk or write about it in certain spaces. Wanting to lose a few pounds like this does not equate with wanting to be skinny, and I do not think it should be considered to be in conflict with SA.

    I also know that weight loss is a personal decision and do feel uncomfortable if skinny friends comment on weight loss if they notice it. I have had the experience of being praised for weight gain by these friends in the past, who see a smaller discrepancy between my large lower body and small upper body and assume I have lost weight. No, for a Lippy Lady, it often means we have gained weight in the upper body and now look “more balanced.” Decades ago I had massive weight loss, which did not last, of course, but I did spend several years at socially acceptable sizes and so I know the hypocrisy of size discrimination first hand. I know that size means nothing in the long run. I am the same person at every size, and if you can’t see that, then you are not my friend.

    1. I don’t know if you are a regular blog reader, but when you talk about wanting to lose weight for mobility reasons, you are operating under the belief that this is actually possible, when in reality it not not possible 95% of the time- which means you will most likely not only put the weight back on, but a good chance of putting ADDITIONAL weight on as well thus further exacerbating the problem. That’s why SA is so much about size ACCEPTENCE- because not only is a persons size IRRELEVENT to how one should treated, but it also something that we have no idea how to change. You can do whatever you want with your body (underpants rule), howveer not all things you do fall under the SA umbrella.

      1. [Edit: Trigger Warning: positive Weight loss talk, conflation of weight loss with “healthy behaviors]

        Hi Jessie,
        Actually, I have had a steadily decreasing trend for the past four years, since I had a small heart attack. I have slowly lost about 50 lbs. Some of that is due to my chronic illness, some to exercise, some to decreased swelling since I stopped working and keep my legs up now. But I just cannot eat much at one time anymore. I am not sure if that is age or part of my illness.

        I think of Size Acceptance as not caring about what others think about my body size and shape. Being able to go to the pool and wear what is comfortable for me and not worry about stares is one way of practicing that. Buying a pretty dress from Holy Clothing that is super feminine and helps me feel all dressed up for my husband’s holiday work party is another part.

        I think the difference for me is that I am no longer going on protein fasting diets to lose weight, I am simply eating healthier food. I am not setting goals, I am just reducing weight as a consequence of other changes I have made in my lifestyle. I am not going to hate my body if I do not reduce weight. I, as a Lippy Lady, know that lipedema fat does not come off. Being glad when non-lippy fat responds to lifestyle changes does not mean I hate my body, though. I believe I can accept my body as it is, yet be happy if it changes to be more comfortable to live in. That’s all my point is all about. You don’t have to be “against” yourself to be happy for change in your shape that makes your life easier. Yes, weight may come back on. I understand and accept that. Believe it or not, with Lipedema, my arms are actually increasing in size while my overall mass, as reflected in the numbers on the scale, goes down. That is how Lipedema works! A Lippy Lady without a sense of humor is an angry Lippy Lady!

  6. I think there’s a bit of a semantics problem, too. To me “fat acceptance” and “size acceptance” are two different things, and one incorporates the other (meaning that “fat acceptance” is a part of “size acceptance).

    I think this is a valid distinction, especially when discussing the manipulation of body size, since in the SA community you may very well have recovering anorexics who NEED to try to regain weight to become healthier, so manipulating their body size is a part of their recovery process. This is not the same as dieting to lose weight, even IF a doctor has claimed omgdeathfat because the research demonstrates very clearly how deadly anorexia is, versus what they *correlate* with obesity.

    And I think this is important for two reasons. One, it’s important to recognize that there are two ends of this spectrum, and though I understand that FA is about giving a voice to a marginalized group, to me SA is about the acceptance of ALL body sizes. It’s standing up and saying “fuck you, world. I love my body, with all its flaws and faults, and you can’t stop me from that.” Now some people may prefer not to say “flaws and faults,” but I live in a body that has caused me so much grief (infertility) and pain (fibromyalgia, endometriosis) that it is hard to NOT see the flaws or faults. But furthermore, just as my husband & I regularly acknowledge that neither of us is perfect, I think it’s important to be able to say, “hey, I see this particular negative thing about you, but I don’t care… I love you anyway.” For ME, that’s a far more powerful statement than pretending my definitely NOT perfect body is perfect. At the end of the day, it is the only body I get… so I am done hating it, done resenting it for not looking how I thought it should, and done beating it up over being flawed (now if only I could get IT to stop beating me up, hah).

    And the second reason I think it is important to acknowledge that people from all different walks are advocating and participating and seeking safe haven in SA is that this is another cause to avoid discussions of dieting in such communities. Some people in SA are in a very fragile place of recovery from ED, and diet talk is not conducive to that. So I do think places where discussions of weight loss don’t happen is a necessity, too. Yes, you can work on SA and be actively trying to manipulate your body size, particularly in the examples Ragen gives here, but… that doesn’t mean you need to discuss your attempts in those forums. There absolutely are enough forums for discussing weight loss. And if you are someone who wants to find a way to discuss it without all the judgment one tends to find in those forums, by all means be a trailblazer and create such a forum for yourself and others like you.

    Finally, there is absolutely a culture where we can’t win, and this is why though I am primarily active where FA is concerned, I also participate in, and promote SA in general. While this “can’t win” mentality has traditionally been a problem more for women, it’s definitely becoming a bigger issue for men, too. Basically, what I mean is, whether we’re perceived as too fat, or too thin, we will be ridiculed and criticized and belittled and made to feel badly about ourselves. Yes, there is NO denying this is a far bigger issue with those of us who are fat… and yes, a lot of “thin bashing” has been born out of resentment, jealousy or just a need to counter attack from people who are not so thin (for example, the “real women have curves” movement, such as it is)… but it’s hardly isolated to this, not when you see the tabloid headlines presuming that an actress or other celeb who has lost a lot of weight must have an eating disorder, be ill or on drugs. And perhaps that’s the media pandering to those of us about whom such speculation has never happened (in other words, people who are, or believe they are, fat).

    The bottom line is, I draw a very clear distinction between FA and SA, and see FA as a sort of subset of SA… I think both are important, for different reasons, and because of the fact that I, as a fat person, have a government waged war on my body, I will always do more for FA in general. But both are important, and both are needed… because honestly, I don’t think we can get to a place of true FA without reaching true SA… and maybe it’s incredibly idealistic to think either is ever possible, but not very long ago I’d never have imagined I’d see my gay friends get legally married, and while that is a movement with plenty more work to be done, it demonstrates to me that massive, widespread change IS possible.

    There will always be haters… of everything. But if we can get to a place where they are the minority, and not the majority, that is a definite win.

  7. Hi there,

    This was a really good one that resonated for me! I’ve been struggling with this topic myself, since I’ll be hosting a mindful eating workshop next month and I really want it to be a weight-neutral discussion, but I admit I am one of those people who still wants to lose a little bit of weight myself if I can (through mindful eating only – no diets!). I didn’t know how not to come across as a hypocrite. You’ve given me some great ideas about how to create a size-acceptance space in my workshop. Revolutionary stuff here, my lovely! And, I see you are far more flexible than I am and I’m a friggin’ yoga teacher. That’s OK – I’ve got body flexibility acceptance!


    http://www.livingbeingmindfulness.weebly.com http://www.facebook.com/livingbeingmindfulness

  8. I’ve said this before but I guess this is a good place to say it again- I discovered fat acceptance way back in high school. Through most of my time following fat acceptance blogs and learning to be ok with being fat, I was actually still trying to lose weight.
    First off, fat acceptance was still very helpful for me even when I was trying to lose weight.
    Also though, even when I was losing weight I always appreciated that talking about trying to lose weight was not allowed on certain blogs. I had other places that were all about trying to lose weight to talk about that, even when I was trying to lose weight it was a relief sometimes to be in a space (even when talking virtually/online) where discussions were not taken over by weight loss talk.
    I think there is sometimes a fine line to walk there between people talking about pressure to lose weight, histories with weight loss, and similar issues that are very often relevant to discussions about fat acceptance/size acceptance, and feeling the need to justify one’s weight with “but I’m trying to lose weight”, and encouraging weight loss. But overall I think most places with a rule against weight loss discussion balance this well.

    1. Actually taking care of yourself is not connected to weight loss and you’ve perfectly illustrated my point when I talk about the issues with weight loss talk in Size Acceptance spaces. When you say that “taking care of yourself is usually connected to weight loss”, what you are saying is that you can tell that fat people don’t take care of ourselves because if we did we would usually lose weight, which is not supported by the research, and is not, to me, a Size Acceptance message. I’m deleting your comment because I don’t allow the promotion of weight loss in this space.


  9. Thank you for saying all this, Ragen. This is obviously a fraught topic that elicits a lot of defensiveness, gratitude, and, thank goodness, thoughtful conversation.

    I support folks’ right to do whatever they need or want to do with their bodies. I also support my own right to make my life and the social space around me a diet-free zone. It’s too painful and exclusionary for me to do otherwise.

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