In response to my blogs about Tess Holliday and the importance of fat role models, and a 16 year old’s body positive art, I’m getting a lot of people who say some version of “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re happy with your body” or “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re healthy.” The idea being that if a fat person is not happy with their body, or not healthy (by whatever definition we’re using) then it’s time to try to lose weight.
While of course we are each allowed to make choices for our bodies (Underpants Rule!), I think that this line of “reasoning” deserves a closer look.
First of all, we know that being unhappy with our bodies and having health issues are not exclusive to fat people – there are people of all sizes who hate their bodies, and people of all sizes with health issues, which means that being thin can neither be a sure preventative, nor a sure cure. The idea that if a thin person is unhappy with their body or is not “healthy” then they should focus on things that would make them happier and/or healthier, but that a fat person in the same situation should focus on being thin is sketchy at best.
And that doesn’t even take into account that the most common outcome of intentional weight loss attempts is weight gain, and thus even if someone thinks that being fat is the problem, recommending intentional weight loss is statistically the worst possible advice.
We live in a world where many National governments (including in the US, my home country) suggest that fat people should be singled out, stereotyped, stigmatized, and blamed for everything from global warming to health care costs (actual evidence be damned.) Under those circumstances someone being fat and not liking their body isn’t exactly shocking.
The problem, to me, occurs when people (often the same people perpetuating fat hate and stigma) suggest that fat people should try to solve social stigma and oppression by changing our bodies, rather than by working to end stigma and oppression. This is tantamount to telling a kid to give the bullies their lunch money and hope that they stop beating her up (when we know damn well that the bullies will always find another reason to pick a fight after school, and find more and more that they can take. )
As far as health goes, health is an amorphous concept, it is not an obligation or a barometer of worthiness. Nobody, of any size, owes anybody else “health” or “healthy behaviors” by any definition, Health is also never guaranteed and never entirely within our control. Genetics and the effects of past behaviors (like repeated dieting attempts!) can affect our health. Access plays a major part – that includes many things including the ability to get and afford things like evidence-based healthcare, the food we want to eat, and any types of movement that we would like to do (in ways that are both physically and psychologically safe). Finally, the link between weight and health (yes, including our knees) is more complicated than what is often suggested by the media and even healthcare practitioners, and the idea that becoming thin is the same thing as becoming healthy, and weight loss behaviors are the same thing as healthy behaviors is simply not what the evidence suggests.
It’s ok to be fat, full stop. It doesn’t matter how you currently feel about your body, or your current health status, it’s still ok to be fat and to not try to become thin. If we don’t like our fat bodies, we have the option of working on loving them as they are. If we are having health issues, we can research the options for dealing with those issues (including asking our doctors the magic question – “what do you do for thin people with this issue?”)
Each of us gets to make choices for our bodies, and if we want to do something regarding other people’s bodies or health we can work on creating a world without appearance-based stigma, shame, and oppression, and we can work to make sure that everyone has the food, movement, and healthcare choices that they want available to them. And then we can mind our own business, because public health should be about making information and options available to the public, and not about making the individual’s health the public’s business. Nobody has any right to create qualifications for when it is ok for fat people to exist.
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12 thoughts on “It’s ok to be fat as long as…”
Amazing post! Have you heard about the big party held recently for “Dancing Man” who was body shamed for dancing at a concert and so many kind people organized a dance party for him attended by thousands of celebrities? 🙂
This is so true. The other day I saw a headline saying “women: by 2030 two thirds of them will be obese” and there was a picture of a beautiful fat belly sticking out over some jeans.
It made me think of this site. A couple of years ago this would have really upset me, and made me hate myself. but since I found your site I see everything differently. I see what a moron the writer is, and I feel sorry for him or her for not being able to see the wonders of beautiful fatness. And also I feel sorry for him or her because s.he is just drawn in and swept up with the “fear of obesity” what do they think will happen? The language is so… I don’t know. Basically s.he is saying: in fifteen years, I predict that some people will have gotten fatter. Yay! Which, if you read between the lines, just means: I don’t have any news today.
Also, I notice, it’s sort of funny. In fifteen years the fat will out number the thin, we shall take over the world, Pinky! So perhaps the headline should have been: a lot of people are fat, a lot of people are getting fat. Perhaps we should just accept them. And stop going on about it.
It’s just not news, is it?! Imagine if that headline had said: in 2030, more than two thirds of the population will be blondes. Or have their noses pierced. Can you hear me say: “So?”
ps I love that “Wait. come back. you forgot your bull shit”! It makes me laugh so much!
How to know that your conditions for someone else’s existence are based on prejudice: you set them on someone’s existence.
You know, things like:
It’s okay to be gay as long as you don’t have sex.
It’s okay to be black as long as you straighten your hair and never wear a hoodie.
It’s okay to be Jewish as long as you never wish a happy Hanukkah to someone who has wished you a merry Christmas.
It’s okay to be short as long as you always wear high heels.
It’s okay to be fat as long as you’re trying to get thin.
It’s okay to be gay, black, Jewish, short, fat… period.
Reblogged this on Tessa Can Do IT!.
Thank you for reminding me that “It’s ok to be fat, full stop. It doesn’t matter how you currently feel about your body, or your current health status, it’s still ok to be fat and to not try to become thin.” I’ll be sharing this for sure! xo
In case no one has come across it before, Tasha Fierce’s essay for Jezebel is always worth a read As Fat As I Wanna Be.
If you are unhappy with something, it’s completely okay to try to change it – whether it’s your body size, the color of your hair, or your job. That’s why I don’t mind somebody saying “It’s ok to be fat as long as you’re happy with your body”. They’re not giving you conditions for existence, they’re telling you that if you’re happy with yourself, you’re okay the way you are – but if you’re unhappy, you can make a change in your life in order to be happier.
Of course, the other one is still bullshit. Health totally falls under the underpants rule in my book.
Of course if YOU are unhappy with your body you are allowed to attempt to manipulate its size in hopes that it will make you happier. That’s your underpants.
But if someone ELSE insists that you are allowed to be fat only if you are happy with it, that person is trying to get into someone else’s underpants. That’s the no-no. That actually is giving conditions for your existence. And those conditions are hard to make happen in a world that insists we should be unhappy with our bodies.
There’s also I think a moralizing element that this is getting at — I would like have better physical stamina, so I’ve been taking up running. I’m unsatisfied with my current body and want to change it. But I’m not a *bad person* for being slow and easily tired. It would also be fine if I decided it wasn’t worth the effort, or wasn’t even a problem in the first place.
It’s completely okay to feel offended by stuff people say. In this particular case I just choose not to – and that’s my underpants too 🙂
You know, if someone puts health as a condition for “it’s okay to be fat”, it’s bullshit because health isn’t always under your control. But your happiness is – and people make changes in their lives in order to be happier. When somebody says “it’s okay to be fat as long as you’re happy”, it’s on the same level for me as “it’s okay to work at Starbucks as long as you’re happy”. I just hear a concerned friend who’s looking out for my happiness – not a person who’s giving me conditions. Happiness isn’t a condition, it’s a result.
The distinction you’re trying to make is academic if that. It’s not what is meant.They’re saying if you are unhappy with anything about your body or self, and you are fat-the answer is ‘lose weight’.
Truth is, if I told unhappy slimmer people, lose weight-yeah, it’s possible for slimz to lose weight-I doubt they’d be impressed. They expect you to pay attention to the why of their unhappiness. It’s deliberately cruel and dismissive and is responsible for a lot of fat people’s self disconnection.