Higher Standards – The Next Frontier of Fat Activism?

don't want to stigmatize (1)Fat people are taught early and often that we should have low standards, and low expectations. We’re supposed to be ok with a limited selection of clothes that are much more expensive than what thin people can get. We’re supposed to be happy that anyone would hire us over a less-qualified but thinner applicant, and not complain that we’re being paid $19,000 less. We’re supposed to date anyone who will have us, and put up with their fat-shaming bullshit. We’re supposed to accept that many of the people we call fat acceptance “allies” still actively advocate for a world that doesn’t have any fat people in it. It’s that last one that I want to focus on today.

Let’s start with this – I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live. People are allowed to decide that something (however small) is better than nothing. People are allowed to decide that “better alone than in fatphobic company” is not the adage that they want to live by.

When it comes to fat acceptance community, I’m ready for more. I’m ready for better. I believe that if we want to make progress as a movement we need to start having higher standards, and stop spending so much time being apologists for people who are perpetuating messages that harm us, just because the messages could, conceivably, be worse.

I wrote about the issues with James Corden’s recent problematic response to Bill Maher here. To me the worst part of it wasn’t the clips of Maher shamelessly calling for the bullying of fat people, because Bill Maher is a fatphobic bully and that’s what fatphobic bullies do.

The hardest part for me was seeing a fat person who was supposedly “refuting” Bill Maher’s fatphobia actively buy into and perpetuate almost every single premise of Maher’s argument, punctuating it with cheap fat jokes.  It was seeing a fat person, deeply entrenched in internalized fatphobia, say that Bill’s heart was in the right place, that fat people are indeed an epidemic and a problem to be solved. The hardest part was watching a fat person use internalized oppression to perpetuate weight stigma, with fat people cheering him on.

Before we get too far into this, we need to talk about privilege. As someone with a number of privileges including being white, currently able-bodied and neurotypical, I’m talking to people here with similar or more privilege than I have.

Also, my work stands on the shoulders of so many who came before me and have made progress, partly by making these concessions – which is what they had to do to make progress in the culture they were dealing with. I am forever grateful and in their debt for the progress those pioneers made, and continue to make (and I’ve done it too, both as a fat activist and, in particular, as a queer activist in from the mid 90’s in Texas, I made concessions and compromises that I would never make now.) This is not a criticism of the past.

Civil rights movements are a progression, the Fat Acceptance movement is no different, and friends, I think it’s time for us to progress. Especially when it comes to our expectations of those who speak for us or call themselves our allies.

I think it’s time to be clear that someone with a message that amounts to “I don’t want to stigmatize fat people, I just want to eradicate them from the Earth and prevent any more from existing” is not remotely fat positive, and is anything but an ally. With friends who want to eradicate you, who needs enemies?

I know it may be difficult to think about upsetting people – even if they are just people  who want to eradicate us but in a non-stigmatizing way, or upsetting celebrities who are still chanting “body positivity” while cashing checks from weight loss companies, or asking that people do their own work around their internalized fatphobia before going on National Television and speaking for fat people. But hear me out – what if this wishy-washiness, this willingness to call basically anything that isn’t abject oppression “allyship” helped us in the past, but is now what’s holding us back?

What if we started actively, intentionally, pushing the line of acceptable treatment far away from “eradication but with a little less bullying” and toward “total, unequivocal affirmation?”  (Always understanding that while this has become our problem, it was never our fault. That fat people were never the problem – weight stigma, fatphobia, diet culture, and their minions are.) What if, instead of encouraging each other to be more tolerant of the messages that perpetuate our oppression, we encouraged each other to raise our expectations and raise our standards.

What if?

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8 thoughts on “Higher Standards – The Next Frontier of Fat Activism?

  1. I rarely watch the Late Late show but I tuned in the night of James Corden’s speech. I heard the internalized fat phobia spilling out but still cheered. It wasn’t perfect but it was a start. I couldn’t understand why people in the community were being so hard on him. But reading your post, I saw that I’ve been living on crumbs so long, I thought it was a feast. And now… DARE TO WANT MORE.

  2. Brilliant post. I think that people of larger bodies accepted what James said and cheered because we/they are simply not used to fat phobia being directly called out for exactly what it is. Perhaps that takes people like us. Make a stand, take no shit, call bullying out for what it really is. Thank you for this article.

  3. The only way you could have put it more clearly: “We’re mad as hell and we’re not gonna take it anymore!”

    In effect, that’s what you’re saying and well done, you, because it needs to be said again & again & again until it settles into the brain just the way all the fatphobic crap has done over the years.

  4. Spot on again Ragen! I’d rather have these issues than be a Kurd in Syria just now, but for life and death issues, haters know what they are doing. I don’t believe any of them really think they are doing good. Maybe good for them, to not have to see, listen to, deal with things/people/people as things they do not approve of. What ego! Who gives a butt f**k what you think about anything!? Seriously. SO you hate my body, my adipose tissue has you running for cover and throwing all kinds of shade on me as you go. That is YOUR problem. Like racism and sexism and homophobia it BECOMES my problem when it is institutionalized and causes me not to be hired, paid fairly, given the correct medical care when needed. This is SERIOUS!
    How pathetic to have to un-do what you’re doing. Having to place disclaimers on your social equality movement is an anti-movement. It’s like I don’t approve of racism, but. I think sexism is bad, but. Gay people should be treated the same as everyone else, but… That is one place a big butt does not belong! I can understand the if I don’t offend anyone maybe they will kinda sorta let me in a teeny tiny bit. Dude, they want to kill us, there is no point in tiptoeing into the room! Apologizing for existing in “their world”. What the hell for ?! Do they own it?! Who told them?! Yeah, I know, TV, movies, Madison Avenue and junior high school. Fuck them all!
    I’ve lived too long trying to inhale and fill my lungs with fresh air while the world seems determined to stand on my chest! No More! Inhale, Look them right in the eye and smile! Then go about your life!
    If you can’t get there yet, it is OK. You have to learn how to breathe. It was born in you, but taken away before you even knew what it meant.
    Does anyone just get to “BE” in this world anymore? Why ask. Someone is always gonna be telling you to hold your breath.

  5. Good Cops think that by not beating you up and by sternly disapproving when other people beat you up, they’re doing you a favor you owe them your time and compliance for, when all they’ve actually done is meet the same baseline for human decency they give people who are like them by default, without even thinking about it. They’re like… size-flavored Nice Guys.

    1. Way there Lady R. We, who are accused of utter gluttony in all settings, have to live on crumbs and be grateful for them by our “betters”.

  6. Remember back when I said I was curious to know what these guys thought fat stigma was, that they genuinely believed what they were doing didn’t qualify? Unfortunately, I now have an answer.

    According to a press release put out by the Lancet on “World Obesity Day,” they define fat stigma as refusing to view obesity as a disease or support systematic attempts to “treat” it.

    Shorter version: foxes convene to define stigma, reach the conclusion not giving them total and exclusive control over the henhouse is stigma.

    1. OMG and look out for future fat people in the West. Medicalizing a whole group of people in a “If we don’t look like them, we’re are never gonna die” society, the means and will to ‘eliminate’ this scourge, a belief that the “other” ie “Us and Not You” know what is best, the wherewithal financially to carry out the “cure” is gonna create a Fat Holocaust sometime around 2100 I imagine. I’m glad I’ll be dead. Science and those ever trust worthy health professionals will have criminalized “obesity” and be well on the way to their “Fat Free Utopia of Hollywood illusions. We won’t even count as a genocide, no homeland, “Worlds Fattest Cities” doesn’t count.
      The people with the money and assumes authority always end up deciding both the language and the level of hatred on any subject/group of persons etc. I believe the DSM added quite a few things that Feminists were wary of regarding rape and sexual abuse. They too refused to let any “outsiders” (people who disagree with us) in on the selection of said diagnoses.
      Something very 1984 about the whole thing. Wouldn’t matter if it didn’t matter, but these people make life or death decisions for us all. Like judges and juries, we the convicted do not have much of a say in how we are to be punished/dealt with for our “offences”.
      Be afraid, be very afraid. We have met the enemy and they refuse to meet us on any level but condemnation. Controlling both sides of the argument, so to speak. We/I get to decide who You/them are. Now shut up and go sit in the designated “to be dealt with” spot.

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