My blog post yesterday and my talk about the upcoming Fat Activism Conference have drawn some responses from fellow fat people around the idea that “activism” is somehow a bad thing. I received the following e-mail, republished with permission, that echoed sentiments I saw in several conversations online:
You keep talking about “activism” but isn’t it enough just to embrace our own bodies? Why does it always have to be political?
In addition to this sentiment, people confused me talking about activism with me telling them that they have to be involved in activism, others confused the general concept of activism with specific types of activism that they don’t like, and, perhaps most bizarrely, some confused fat activism with feederism. Let’s get some clarity.
First of all, fat activism is an incredibly broad term and can involve everything from posting something body positive to your Facebook page, to signing a petition or writing a letter to a company that isn’t accommodating fat people, to standing in the middle of your town square and getting naked. Regardless of what definition we’re using for fat activism, or what specific type of activism we’re talking about, nobody is ever obligated to participate in activism, or to identify as an activist even if they could be classified as such.
In answer to those asking “isn’t it enough just to embrace our own bodies,” loving our bodies is no small thing and it can absolutely be “enough.” For me personally, I think that in a world where we are inundated with messages that we should hate our bodies, loving them isn’t just activism, it’s an act of revolution.
Loving my own body has been life-changing and it helps me navigate a fatphobic world. But it doesn’t help with other types of oppression that I and other fat people face – fat people are hired less and paid less than our thin counterparts, fat people are mistreated in healthcare settings, governments feel comfortable literally waging war against fat people and encouraging our families, friends, and employers to get involved, clothing companies refuse to accommodate us and then use that as a selling point to prove that they are “cool”, huge online communities have been created with the sole purpose of hating/harassing fat people etc. So fatphobia isn’t just personal, it’s most definitely political. What we choose to do about that is up to each of us.
Fat Activism is about the option, but never the obligation, to embrace our fat bodies AND actively work to change a culture that oppresses people based on our body size, which includes everything from daily aggressions – people commenting on our food/health/bodies – to discrimination in hiring, healthcare etc. There are very real risks and costs to being involved in activism. Many of us face staggering amounts of online bullying and harassment. Many, academics and healthcare professionals in particular, face limitations placed on their careers because they are speaking out against the status quo. Many of us have had to end relationships with family and friends because they refused to treat us with the respect that we deserve, or refused to stop participating in and perpetuating fat oppression.
Nobody is obligated to choose to participate in activism, and nobody should be judged on their choice to participate or not. Those of us who do choose the not-always-easy, sometimes gut-wrenchingly difficult, path of fat activism are part of a proud tradition of people who take public and private action against oppression and discrimination. That’s why I participate in and write about fat activism, provide activism opportunities on this blog, and co-founded the Fat Activism Conference with Jeanette DePatie.
So if you’re interested in learning more about the various types of activism – whether you are looking for help in your personal life with family, friends, healthcare providers etc. or you’re interested in being more public with your activism with blogging, petitions, protest, projects, online activism, or something else, the Fat Activism Conference was created to give you tools and perspectives to support you and your work, and to help you make that work intentionally intersectional and inclusive so that nobody gets left behind. It is a virtual conference so that you can listen in by phone or computer from wherever you are, and we offer a pay-what-you-can-afford option so that it is accessible to as many people as possible. You can find all the details here.
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3 thoughts on “Activism is Not a Dirty Word”
Heck, even if you decide to be an activist, you don’t even have to be an activist every day. On days when you can handle it, you can take some sort of action. On days you can’t, you can just take care of yourself, and maybe cheer on other activists.
WORK IT, GIRL! ❤
You can be an activist by simply incorporating fat acceptance into your daily conversations with family and friends.