When Challenging Stereotypes Becomes Oppression

What Will you DefendThere is a video making the rounds that people keep sending me enthusiastically. It’s a video of people saying “I’m fat but…”  and “I’m fat and….”

I think that the people who made it were well intentions, and some of the things are very cool – like reminding people (because sadly some people need to be reminded) the we are fat and human.  Or reminding people that saying we love our fat bodies doesn’t mean that we are putting down bodies of other sizes (like saying “I love Salmon Nigiri” is not the same thing as saying “Fuck all the sushi except Salmon Nigiri.”)

But a lot of the video, and particularly the beginning, has some real issues (which is why I’m not linking to it). It’s a lot of Good Fatty/Bad Fatty dichotomy stuff – I’m fat but I’m not lazy, I’m fat but I actually like going to the gym etc. Speaking out against stereotypes can be an important part of activism, but I think we must take care to do so in a way that doesn’t throw those who happen to embody the stereotype under the bus, because at the end of the day, the issue isn’t whether or not we happen to embody a stereotype, it’s the fact that stereotypes exist that’s the problem.

That’s why I think it’s important to separate Fat Activism/Size Acceptance from Health at Every Size/health in general.  When we are talking about why we deserve to be treated with basic human respect and we start talking about what we eat and whether we go to the gym, we are going down a bad road, because we are suggesting that only fat people who “eat healthy” by whatever definition, or exercise, or have a certain health status deserve to be treated well and that’s totally bullshit.

Pointing out that stereotyping fat people is crappy behavior is important, but that doesn’t mean that we have to engage in the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy to get it done. When we’re talking about fat people deserving to be treated with basic human respect, the only reason we need is because we’re human.  It doesn’t matter what someone’s stereotypes of us are, nor do our health, or eating or exercise habits come into play.

Fat people have the right to exist in fat bodies without bullying, stigma, and oppression and it doesn’t matter why we’re fat, what being fat means, or if we could be thin.

In separate conversations we can point out that fat people are as diverse as any group of individuals who share only a single physical characteristic.  We can point out that there are people all sizes who engage in the behaviors stereotypically associated with fat people and that everybody deserves to be treated with respect, including thin people who don’t exercise or “eat healthy”

Fat people who are interested in fitness face tons of ill treatment, but when speaking out against that, it’s important to do so without throwing fat people who aren’t interested in fitness/sports/movement under the bus. So, for example, when I talk about being involved in fitness, I try to always point out that nobody is ever obligated to participate in fitness, and participating in movement/sport/fitness doesn’t make someone better than those who don’t, but everybody of every size should be able to engage in the fitness world without shame, stigma, bullying or harassment. When I speak out against lies that celebrity trainers tell about me, I try to make it clear that even if those lies were true I would still be a complete and worthy person deserving accommodation and being treated with respect, and, still, it is not ok to use a position of celebrity to tell lies about me, or all fat people.

When someone shames a fat person, we can insist that what they did was wrong, without some ridiculous made up narrative about how they used to be fatter.  We can speak out against stereotyping without oppressing others in the process, and I think we should!

In a few hours I’ll be on a plane to Iceland.  There’s still time to register and see me and a bunch of amazing speakers (Is there a group noun for amazing speakers?  There should be…) at the Weight Stigma Conference on Friday, and/or to join me in London on September 23rd with the amazing Lucy Aphramor, Havva Mustafa, and Amy Godfrey. And speaking of conferences:

The Fat Activism Conference Is Back 

This is a virtual conference so you can listen to the talks by phone and/or computer wherever you are. Whether you are looking for support 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, this conference will 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. Click here to get all the info and register!

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4 thoughts on “When Challenging Stereotypes Becomes Oppression

  1. “at the end of the day, the issue isn’t whether or not we happen to embody a stereotype, it’s the fact that stereotypes exist that’s the problem.” Amen! Thanks for writing and posting this. XO – M

  2. I haven’t seen the video, and I think busting stereotypes without sounding like you’re pillorying anyone who fits them can be a difficult balance to strike… but I agree the problem here is that fat people are held to a standard thin people aren’t, not the specifics of that standard. Society thinks a thin person who loves cake is cute and a fat person who loves cake is disgusting, and the *double standard* – the idea that a behavior that’s fine and dandy for thin people becomes repulsive and immoral once a fat person decides to engage in it – is where the bigotry comes in, not the cake. The cake is a… neutral variable in this equation.

    (What did you *think* I was going to say? ;))

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