Coming Out as Fat

Burrage Library at Olivet
Hey, that’s me at beautiful Burrage Library at Olivet! Picture taken by the super fabulous Cea Noyes.

Greetings from Michigan!  I had such a cool day at Olivet College.  I gave a talk about Body Privilege to the Sociology/Anthropology students, then a talk about working with athletes, as well as general populations, of every size to the Health and Human Performance students.  Lunch was originally going to be with students, but ended up being with some of the coaching staff and Olivet faculty, and Cea Noyes who has been my completely fabulous guide through this trip.

Then I gave my Positive Body talk to students, faculty, staff, community members, and some amazing teen girls from a student group that works with at risk high school kids at a nearby juvenile home.

I had people tell me that I helped them see themselves differently and improve their relationships with their bodies.  I had people tell me that I helped them see cultural bias and make the decision to change the way that they are going to treat fat people. I had people who plan to work in fitness tell me that I changed the way they are planning to work with fat people. In an incredibly touching moment, one of the teen girls used the Q&A to tell me that she loved me.  I love her right back!   It was the kind of day that makes me deeply grateful that I get to do this work and reminds me that it’s worth whatever nonsense I have to deal with.

After dinner with Cea and some students, I had the privilege of attending the LBGTQ students Coming Out Monologues.  It was incredibly touching, the students, faculty, and community members who spoke and put the event together were amazing. Several of the speakers tonight reminded me how important it is to come out and keep coming out, because the way that people treat queer people, and the way that they feel about our Civil Rights changes a lot when people know how many of their friends, family, co-workers, heroes etc. are Queer and Trans.  It also reminded me that this applies to being fat.

Obviously I don’t typically have to come out as fat, but coming out as a happy fat person, and a Size Diversity activist, as someone who is not trying to lose weight, is important.  Many cultures – often led by their respective governments – encourage people to make assumptions about fat people based entirely on our body size. Those assumptions include everything from the idea that we hate our bodies, to assuming that we are trying to lose weight, to assuming that we agree with a culture that suggests that fat people should be shamed and stigmatized “for our own good” and that the only “good” body is a thin body.

It’s easier for people to buy into this bullshit if they don’t know (or think they don’t know) any fat people who don’t feel this way about ourselves.  Nobody is obligated to talk about their relationship with their body of course what I’m saying is that every time we come out as fat and happy, as Size Acceptance activists, as unwilling to perpetuate and participate in our own oppression we help people see that what they are hearing about fat people isn’t necessarily what is true about fat people.

Every time we point out the issues with suggesting that fat people should feel obligated to solve social stigma by changing ourselves rather than by fighting social stigma, we give people the opportunity to see the situation with more clarity.  Every time we explain that we’re not “suffering from obesity”, but we are suffering from the way that people treat us for being fat we give people the chance to see the issues with our culture’s treatment of fat people, and become part of the solution.

Every time we tell the world that we love our bodies, that those bodies deserve our full-throated support, and that we refuse to participate in a culture that suggests that our bodies are anything less than the amazing bodies that they are, we make it more difficult for people to replace our actual experiences with their stereotypes and preconceived notions (or profit-creating stories) about what fat people are like and how we feel about ourselves. Of course we can never know how our actions will affect others, but I find that every time I “come out” I reaffirm my gratitude for my body and feel better about myself.

So come out, come out wherever you are!  Or don’t! It is, of course, entirely up to you. But know that you have every right to celebrate, and stand up for, your body!

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8 thoughts on “Coming Out as Fat

  1. This is precisely why I do come out as fat and happy as often as the opportunity presents itself.

    The immediate reaction is usually one of blind reiteration of the standard social assumptions, but I know that this was my very first reaction to the concept, too. I was too brainwashed by society to even hear it at first.

    But the thing about that brainwashing is that while it’s easy to reinforce and difficult to overcome, it’s not impossible to get past. The more we hear the message that it’s possible to be happy in a body that weighs more than considered acceptable, the easier it is to grasp the concept. And the more of us who stand up to be counted as fat and happy, the more people will hear our message.

    Look at it this way: people have been selling weight loss dieting unchallenged since ancient Greece. The formal FA movement has been around since the 1970’s. ‘Everybody knows’ has a massive lead over scientific fact. And yet we do make headway. We will make more headway. The main thing we need to do is keep talking.

  2. I am proud of and love deeply my whole body. I am grateful for Ragen and others’ work that has helped me to love myself on deeper level, and to question the cultural assumptions and corporate profit that feed into body hatred. Thank you Ragen for hitting the nail on the head with your words and for the daily work you do that makes this culture safer for all humans with bodies of all sizes.

  3. It’s hard, but it’s so worth it!

    I wonder, sometimes, if the other members of my family, particularly the younger ones, get tired of hearing me evangelize for body acceptance, but it’s still necessary, because the weight-loss messages don’t stop. And you can’t state your case, and declare the “war” won. The other side is still fighting, and even if you convince someone today, the other side might brainwash them all over again tomorrow.

  4. I still don’t understand what you mean by coming out as fat. People can see your fatness/fat body, so what does it mean to come out as fat? Is it when you do it online?

    1. From Ragen’s column:

      “Obviously I don’t typically have to come out as fat, but coming out as a happy fat person, and a Size Diversity activist, as someone who is not trying to lose weight, is important…”

      FWIW, I have at times “come out” as fat online. I’ve often been hurt and disappointed by the reactions of people who I’d previously felt real rapport with. But I don’t regret telling the truth. I don’t want “friends” (even online) who can only approve of my opinions and ideas so long as they can picture me as looking more or less exactly like them.

  5. I just read some of the page you have with all the horrible things people have said regarding your blog, I was shocked to read such hate, what is wrong with people, Obviously we all have differing opinions about everything in life, but to speak with such venom as some of those people do is unbelievable, I think your work is brilliant, and uplifting, it definitely helps me and gives me more confidence to be myself. If only we lived in a world where we acept each other for who we are, what a brilliant world that would be.

  6. Ragen,
    It was such a pleasure to meet you and spend a few moments talking with you at Olivet. Thank you for changing the climate of body awareness on campus! And for inspiring me, as well.

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