I came to fat acceptance through a feminist lens. I know I’ve mentioned Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight before – it was a turning point in my self-awareness of body politics; reading it is when I really started to give serious theoretical thought to body issues and empowerment.

From the beginning, my conceptualization of fat acceptance has been hand in hand with a great idea of… let’s call it body rebellion.

The rebellious body is a nonconforming body, a body that does not play by the rules as established in our dominant mainstream culture. Because the narrow path to acceptability is actually an impossible path, there is no model (and I don’t know if this is true in all other cultures) of how to have a healthful relationship with one’s own body, especially if you are a woman. This is true regardless of size. It receives extra emphasis if you are living and experiencing intersections of oppression – if you are disabled, if you are queer, if you are trans, if you are a person of color, and so on. It receives extra emphasis if you are fat.

And it becomes, I think, very easy to forget that even if we dealt with no other oppressions, that narrow path would still be too narrow, more of a tight rope that it’s impossible for us to walk. It isn’t in the patriarchy’s – or the kyriarchy’s – best interest for women to be satisfied with their bodies, after all.

That’s why body acceptance, as a general concept, is hugely important. But I don’t think body acceptance is as focused or radical an activist movement. That’s why I think everyone can benefit from fat acceptance, fat politics. There is no lower size limit on who ought to be getting involved in fat politics because we all live in this culture that is seeking to control our rebellious bodies, this culture that will be satisfied, truly, if we just devote all of our time and energy to attempting to conform.

Fat acceptance is for everyone.

The thing about fat acceptance, though, is that it IS an activist-based movement; it’s founded by heaps of different people doing different things. There are so many different kinds of fat acceptance spaces that it can be kind of boggling, in a good way, to think about it. And we want, in each of those spaces, to be inclusive because, like all good anti-oppression activists, we want to be as inclusive as possible.

I want a fat acceptance that is an actively welcoming environment for people of all sizes, for people of color, for people across classes, for people who are not in the US. I want a fat acceptance that is an actively welcoming environment for transpeople, for queer people, for people of all ages.

This big metaphorical room full of people living their own experiences is so incredibly powerful. And when we all share our stories, it strengthens and enriches us as a community. This big metaphorical room, though, is only the beginning of what a fat acceptance community needs to be.

Just to be clear, I don’t believe in safe space. I don’t think it’s possible once you’ve got more than two people in a room, especially online. But I do think some spaces are safer than others and we all have to negotiate our own acceptable level of risk. That level can vary wildly depending on the day and our current experiences and state of mind and emotional needs. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about that.

This overarching community is vital to the work we do as activists – but also the work we do on the personal level. I think finding community is one of the most amazing things you can do when it comes to doing the work of accepting your own body.

This community is one way in which we oppose fat hatred – and body oppression in general. But it’s also not the end of the conversation. One of the reasons it is so easy to burn out on fat acceptance blogging is because you must have the 101 conversations over and over again. That’s because new people keep finding the movement. But the people who are part of fat acceptance also need to keep having conversation, need to keep working out within the movement the different nuances of fat hate and body oppression, dealing with internalized issues, and realizing new strategies for dealing with all of this shit that keeps getting thrown at us.

What this means is that there are going to be disagreements within the overarching community. This doesn’t bother me all that much – it bothers me because conflict is difficult and uncomfortable but that is no reason to avoid conflict entirely. We won’t ever grow without it.

Growth is not comfortable.

One of the things that seems really difficult, within the overarching fat acceptance community, is the issue of different experiences based on size. “Fat is fat,” people assert – and they do so because they want to bind the group together more tightly, because it seems like a way to keep us all aligned with each. They say this because that way everyone can continue to be part of the big overarching group.

The problem with this is that it runs directly counter to reality.

I want to interject a quick discussion about the cultural perception and definition of fat: it’s malleable. There is the definition of fat that includes BMI, that includes people getting lectured by their doctor. But there is also the definition that gets applied to people who just aren’t conforming as much as viewers wish they would – that’s why Jessica Simpson and Jennifer Love Hewitt and Tyra Banks get called fat (and we can talk about the elements of race in there, too, when people call Tyra fat). That’s why our friends and loved ones who sit well below the BMI category for even overweight call themselves fat or describe themselves as feeling fat – because “fat” is a physical descriptor but it is also a cultural codeword for bodies that don’t follow the rules.

When we talk about fat experience, we are obligated to contrast it with thin experience – we talk about thin privilege a lot when we’re trying to illustrate a point. But part of thin experience encompasses that more euphemistic definition of fat because that’s the scare word our culture uses to try to keep people dedicated to the pursuit of an unattainable ideal.

That’s the framework within which people come to fat acceptance, a place where fat is no longer the worst thing you can be called. The relief of that is incredible. It’s like being able to breathe again.

Fat acceptance, under the big overarching umbrella of it, is for everyone because we all need to breathe. We all need that feeling of clear relief – it isn’t that we’re breaking unspeakable rules, it’s that the rules are abusive and impossible.

But what comes next? How do we continue to have the conversations we must have, especially the difficult ones, the scary ones, the ones that make us recoil in remembered shame? How do we do that in the big group?

That’s where safer spaces come in. Not out of any desire to fragment the larger whole, because we all need that too much. But because we need the reassurance of common experience in order to get our heads around things sometimes.

“Fat is fat” is a desperately well-intended plea not to break up the band. But it disappears experience, washes us all out of ourselves and into this bland grey of commonality – which can be excruciatingly isolating and alienating when our own experiences don’t match up with the rest of that grey soup.

Erasing difference of experience is not an intersectional approach and I reject it whole heartedly. Not having the same experience does not lessen my connection to the shared community. It’s a chance to learn something and stretch to better examine my own privilege.

This is just as true of differences in size as it is of anything else. The experiences of an inbetweenie and the experience of a deathfat and the experience of someone who is larger than that (I really don’t like the term supersized) are not to be hierarchized – there is no hierarchy of oppression and rating human experience that way is profoundly flawed. But they are also not to be homogenized. While one might imagine identical feelings in an effort to be empathetic, the physical realities of the world also dictate differences.

I want to say, as plainly as possible: this is okay. To have unique experiences is how we share knowledge and power with each other. To have unique experiences is how the boundaries of our greater world are determined.

It is because our experiences are different that I talk to people – if everyone had my same experience, we wouldn’t have much to learn from each other, would we?

It is, I suspect, emotionally easier to a significant degree, to accept our differences when we are all sitting around in a big group talking about them. It’s when a smaller group within the group wants to go off and talk about a shared experience that things start to feel tense. We don’t want to exclude anyone – but at the same time, we have to have that safer space to have some of the conversations we really have to have to get better.

Fat acceptance is not a big same-same group; that’s amazing and fantastic. Fat acceptance cannot be a faceless mass of the similar. And sometimes we’re going to need to form spaces that are smaller, that are not quite as inclusive, so that we can go to the larger group with greater confidence and say, hey, it took me a little while to work that out but I’m doing okay now. How are you? We have to recognize, as individuals in this movement, that there are nuances of experience, of need, of comfort.

Sometimes, as I inhabit this body of mine, 5’4″, 300+ pounds, even within fat acceptance circles I feel incredibly alone because I do not see other bodies like mine. Sometimes, though I love the work that we are doing for all bodies, though I love the diversity of bodies I get to see, what I really want is the comfort of seeing other bodies that look like me so I have some externalized reassurance of what my body looks like.

These discussions are not “just semantics.” I’ve actually never understood that as a dismissal since semantics are wholely and solely about determining meaning and, well, that’s how I frame our task – changing the meaning of the visual symbology of bodies. If we don’t have these semantic discussions, we lose our own terminology before we’ve even fully developed it.

Over the past week and this weekend, I’ve been thinking about ways to break things down – bodily experiences of fat and emotional experiences of fat and all of the nuances that come with size and with intersectionality. I think if we insist on the entirety of fat acceptance remaining as a homogenized group then we will forever remain on that 101 level. I’m not calling for existing groups to become more socialized – I’m just asking that if some people you know are, in a defined space, having a conversation that does not necessarily apply to you, that you leave them to it, secure in the knowledge that you aren’t being kicked out of the group as a whole – and that the results of that conversation will get shared around. I’m asking for us to respect the realities of different experiences.

Our bodies are rebels, on the wrong side of the dominant paradigm. I want to be able to fight back, all of us, together at full strength. That means we’re going to have to keep doing work on our community, on strengthening our ties – sometimes that will mean respecting boundaries (good fences make good neighbors, anyone?) and sometimes that will mean trying to understand other definitions of fat and sometimes that will mean discomfort. I think we can do it, though. I think we have to if we’re truly going to make fat acceptance a place for everyone.


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42 Comments

  1. Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I have a problem to accept that I’m fat. And the last month, I gain another 4 pounds…….

  2. Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree that everyone should have the right to create a space in which they feel safe and are able to talk to other people who have similar experiences. I also understand the other side of feeling like you are being put into question for being part of the movement, although this is not what having smaller groups of people with similar experiences intends to do, it does sometimes create that issue. I have had my own understanding of oppression (and title of fat activist) put in question due to the fact that I weigh 220 pounds. There are many times that people try to act like you don’t understand, or should not be involved in a movement that defines fat bodies as different or bigger than the one you live in. I despise having to give my own personal resume of oppression just so that people understand that I too am qualified to speak about fat hatred etc.

    I will never say I know what it is like to live in a body other than my own, but I can listen and offer support if someone needs to work through something for finding their own personal acceptance. I find it hard sometimes to be in a movement that I want to help others stop feeling like they need to justify their body for society while the online community of FA sometimes does the same thing.

    Also, since starting Love Your Body Detroit, the whole group setting off the internet and face to face has made this movement easier to be in. I like seeing bodies in person it has helped immensely.

    • TR
      Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      The question becomes why is it more important for the needs of one group to be met than the needs of the other. The trick – the thing we MUST figure out how to do as the community continues to develop – is to figure out how to both make it emphatically explicit that there is no purity test for fatness AND to give groups the room they need to connect to discuss more narrowly focused issues, even if it’s just commiseration.

      • Posted February 7, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

        Totally agree. It is something that all social movements still need to figure out. There is always going to be a issue, but I do think acknowledging it is always a good step in the right direction.

  3. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    “Sometimes, as I inhabit this body of mine, 5’4″, 300+ pounds, even within fat acceptance circles I feel incredibly alone because I do not see other bodies like mine. Sometimes, though I love the work that we are doing for all bodies, though I love the diversity of bodies I get to see, what I really want is the comfort of seeing other bodies that look like me so I have some externalized reassurance of what my body looks like.”

    As 5’5″ and 300+ pounds (I’m assuming, since I haven’t weighed myself in, what, seven years?) I agree. It means so much to me to see you post pictures of yourself! I wish I had the confidence to do the same.

    I missed the big debate this weekend, as I’ve been fighting off the weird plague of weirdness but I think your post expresses my feelings also – that I occasionally need to be in community with people who understand what it’s like to truly panic that I won’t fit in an airline seat, or who can’t fit into Lane Bryant clothes either, doesn’t mean that I cannot be in community with people who are much smaller than I am.

    It’s just that, sometimes, although I remember the woe of being a size 18, I cannot bear the triggering effect that seeing people complain about being a size 18 and having nothing fit can have, when I’m least expecting it – I remember being a size 18 and thinking that a size 26 must be BIG AS A HOUSE AND I WOULD NEVER LET MYSELF GET THAT FAT! Now that I am, sometimes I can look at it in an objective way and sometimes it just hurts too much and I need to NOT be around those people or those issues, because even though I have sympathy, I cannot deal with it at that specific time.

    I don’t think that asking for my own space, or recognition for the issues I face (which are different again from those of people who absolutely DO need to buy two airline seats, or who need assistance to meet their needs in a way that I do not) at times is so outrageous. There’s a difference between saying “right now, I need to be with other people who fundamentally understand what I’m going through” and saying “I never want to be with you because I don’t consider you fat.” The two are not equal in any way.

    You’ve put it so much more eloquently than I can and I thank you for it!

    • Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:37 am | Permalink

      “I remember being a size 18 and thinking that a size 26 must be BIG AS A HOUSE AND I WOULD NEVER LET MYSELF GET THAT FAT!”

      Oh yeah, I hear you. I’m 5’6″ 300+ ( I think-haven’t weight myself in over a year, but pretty sure I’m hovering around that weight). And yeah, I’m big enough to fear not fitting into an airline seat, scared I’ll get kicked off a plane. The discomfort of restaurant booths too and certain seats.

      • Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

        Oh yes! I never, ever understood, until I reached this size, when people would talk about scoping out a restaurant/waiting room/etc. for a seat without arms, so that they knew they would fit.

        It’s funny…that’s one of the lesser issues of my weight for me but it has a particularly vicious jab to it. Too big for her seat!

  4. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

    While one might imagine identical feelings in an effort to be empathetic, the physical realities of the world also dictate differences.

    Thank you for saying this, and giving it all the necessary complexity it needs in order to be said properly.

    This can be such a hard topic, but as someone who is 5’5″ and nearing 300 lbs, yes, there is a difference in what I’ve experienced compared to what one of my friends who gained 20 lbs and is dieting for the first time in her life has experienced. I was really hurt when she recently compared her experience to mine — which surprised the shit out of me, because I genuinely believe and KNOW that we both experience a lot of the same pressures and disadvantages. But there is more to it than that.

    I don’t normally run into these problems. I’ve been lots of different sizes in my life, and experienced size oppression at all of them. And my blog is very inclusive since we all tend to come together around the universal experience of eating, fat and thin, but when it comes to discrimination, accessibility, physical and social experience…yes. Size makes a difference.

    Not that one size group has it all universally worse or better than another, but each has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes people will feel vulnerable about airing those in front of others who don’t share the same set, and it’s understandable that they’d want a space to discuss with others who do.

    Diversity in a movement is a good thing. Diversity in any organization — whether it’s a society, or a species, or a business — is always a good thing. It makes us more adaptable, broader-reaching in our messages, and able to make better collective decisions. But diversity cannot be preserved when everyone is expected to exist communally 100% of the time.

    There are things we all share, and that is why we came together in the first place. We are always going to share those things, and there will always be spaces for us to come together around those shared experiences. But, within that, I think there need to be pockets of space for the salient-but-not-universal experiences.

  5. Posted February 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    This is so well written and I agree with everything you said.

  6. Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

    “These discussions are not “just semantics.” I’ve actually never understood that as a dismissal since semantics are wholely and solely about determining meaning and, well, that’s how I frame our task – changing the meaning of the visual symbology of bodies.”

    Yes! Brilliantly put.

    I am also approaching 300 lbs. I’m fairly new to Tumblr and one thing that I’ve noticed is that there are a lot of smaller fats out there doing the fatshion thing. And that’s great (no, really!), but I absolutely gravitate towards images that more closely resemble my own body. It is so reassuring on an almost visceral level to see oneself represented, acknowledged, validated.

    I think about this a lot in terms of discourses about ‘the obesity epidemic’. I think when the ‘general public’ hear about obesity and how it is killing us all, they think of people my size and larger as increasing in number and approaching certain death. (Not least because headless fatties are generally my size or larger). Smaller fats, who may well be ‘obese’, are the ones who are told ‘oh, you’re not fat, I don’t mean you, I mean those fatties over there who are costing the health care system all that money, blah blah blah’. I think this is a form of erasure (people with a BMI around 32 being told they are not part of the ‘obesity epidemic’ when actually they are!) but it’s also a point where experiences diverge. People absolutely do look at me and see me as part of the problem. It’s not just about judging me as aesthetically displeasing (although there is that, too) but as completely and utter unacceptable as an occupier of space. I’m rambling a bit here… What I really want to say is, great post!

    • Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

      Smaller fats, who may well be ‘obese’, are the ones who are told ‘oh, you’re not fat, I don’t mean you, I mean those fatties over there who are costing the health care system all that money, blah blah blah’. I think this is a form of erasure (people with a BMI around 32 being told they are not part of the ‘obesity epidemic’ when actually they are!)

      Not to mention that the number of people who actually do weigh over 300lbs is actually a very small portion of the population. The US numbers (last published in 2008 – http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr010.pdf) show that 95% of adult women weigh 250lbs or below; 95% of adult men weigh 270lbs or below.

      Yes, my size means that I am NOT a typical fatty. The typical fat person has a BMI of 32 or so! The typical fat person can buy clothing in most department stores!

  7. Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Marianne, I just love you SO MUCH. The end.

  8. Posted February 7, 2011 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    Oh how I adore you Marianne.

  9. Posted February 7, 2011 at 7:22 pm | Permalink

    I <3 this so much.

    Sometimes, as I inhabit this body of mine, 5’4″, 300+ pounds, even within fat acceptance circles I feel incredibly alone because I do not see other bodies like mine. Sometimes, though I love the work that we are doing for all bodies, though I love the diversity of bodies I get to see, what I really want is the comfort of seeing other bodies that look like me so I have some externalized reassurance of what my body looks like.

    Lately I’ve realized I can more easily see unclothed images of bodies like mine than clothed — because of Adipositivity and Women En Large. It’s…strange.

    (I will also say the man of the house enjoyed me wearing my new scarf as a stole. Or maybe he enjoyed that I was wearing nothing else. ;)

  10. Regina T
    Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm | Permalink

    Sometimes, the FA 101 stuff can really get to me because of the defensiveness of the “new to FA” poster. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a large family. Maybe it’s my social work training/education. Maybe I’m just a special snowflake (ha!). But it’s difficult to see someone new to the movement get snarky, defensive, regurgitate falsities, ask a million questions, or even say they just don’t feel welcome because they aren’t XXX lbs. When I am learning about something new and making changes in my thinking, I take the time to read as much as I can, formulate an opinion, look for clarity of confusing concepts, or just let it all sink in. I do this before I speak (post) and decide for myself how active and involved in the movement I can or will be. But it’s definitely a process that involves individual steps and occasional slip ups.
    In my view, the core values of the FA/BA movement should always be that all bodies are worthy of respect and dignity, all bodies are human beings, and all bodies deserve to be treated as such. The subculture that develops within the FA/BA world depends a lot on personality, interests, and the desire to seek out those that face similar issues (i.e. bodies shaped like your own, shared histories, similar backgrounds, etc.). It’s ok to realize and know that someone’s post/reply/experience is difficult for you to understand and that you have a hard time relating to it. I just remind myself that human suffering is universal, irregardless of the details of that suffering, and that all emotions are valid. They just don’t have to always pertain to me, but they might be helpful and relatable to someone else…and that’s what keeps the dialogue going.

    • Fran
      Posted February 9, 2011 at 7:49 am | Permalink

      I am 5′ 7 and 168 pounds. I definately don’t fall into the category people think of when they think of fat, or obese. I came to FA through a desire to break free of dieting, to break free of never being good enough, to come to a safe place where I could simply be, and listen to what others had to say who had seen a very pointy end of the stick that was also poking me.

      I agree with Regina- I feel that we (I resisted typing ‘we’ there, in case I was claiming too much!) need to keep in mind that “It’s ok to realize and know that someone’s post/reply/experience is difficult for you to understand and that you have a hard time relating to it.”

      I want to still be able to come back to FA/BA and feel included, known, supported, even if it’s just sitting quietly and listening. It’s incredible how important it’s become to me, in the morass of ‘You’re not fat!’ that I’m wallowing in in the wider world.

      I am FA/BA. But I’m not fat.

  11. Posted February 7, 2011 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    Thank you so much for all the work you do in this area. As a smaller fat, I have experienced the sort of knee-jerk “…but I’m fat too!” reaction in the past, but it didn’t take long for me to learn and to look outside of my selfishness in that matter and to come to the realizations that you so wonderfully outlined above.

    I know you’ve made mention of how tired and possibly burned out you’ve been feeling while dealing with all of this, and I just want to say thanks for all the hard work you do. Your writing and your passion are totally inspirational.

  12. Posted February 7, 2011 at 10:18 pm | Permalink

    Hi

    Some people in FA feel that by some right they have a ownership of Fat Acceptance and take things very personal and become very agitated if someone dares to question their approach to subjects in FA.

    I know this is a cross I have had to bear many times in Fat Acceptance.

    William

  13. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

    Oh my gawd. This is just so, so good. Thank you!

  14. Posted February 7, 2011 at 11:41 pm | Permalink

    A magnificent piece Marianne. As someone who is 5’6″ and 300+lbs myself, it’s important to me to have a voice, and hear voices that understand my experiences. It’s important to me to see bodies like mine, which give me the strength to make mine visible too. And it’s important not to have my experiences erased as being, as you so eloquently put it, part of that grey soup, when they are so markedly different to so many others.

    That doesn’t mean I don’t want to see those who are different to me, that I don’t want to engage with people whose experiences are different to mine. It just means I want to be able to relate to SOMEBODY out there.

    Thank you.

  15. Posted February 8, 2011 at 12:35 am | Permalink

    I got smacked in the face a bit with my thin privilege when I went up to a size 18. Yes, I know, I know. But I was coming from a 14/16, where I COULD ‘make it work’ and I could buy bras on sale (for the first time in so many years, it was lovely). Back to an 18, where I often just missed out on the nice clothes, or I could get into them but they did not fit at all nicely.

    I don’t mean that I think that THAT new experience was like being a size 26. It’s just that the physical reality of it hit me. The experiential difference was incredible. I can’t say that I truly understand larger fat’s different experiences, because I am not them, but I can listen to them talk about them, and I can extrapolate from my own experience. How upsetting it is to find that I cannot buy underwear, because I am just too fat. How much more upsetting to find that I can’t buy underwear,or tshirts, or anything else, because supposedly people as big as me don’t exist.

    I feel highly sceptical of safe space too. My last job was a social justice organisation, and I am still a bit traumatised by their ‘safe spaces’. They where not what I felt safe space should mean – a space where people assume that things are said in good intentions. Where we are free to question each other, but by asking for clarification rather than denouncing and shouting right away. It cuts both ways, and I know that it’s hard to find space to think about someone else’s comments in a positive way – especially if they are delivered thoughtlessly. But I think in general the FA community does a pretty great job.

    I hate that we need conflict to grow. Conflict is SCARY. People shout, and sometimes they’re mean! But we do. Differences and disagreements make us stronger! It helps us distil and define the things that are important to us.

    (PS, I’m sorry if my tumblr post sounded like I was disagreeing with your stance. It wasn’t, I was totally agreeing, but in a not very articulate way, and out of the context of the FF, which I had missed.)

  16. Elusis
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    Love your brains, my darling.

    (And yay, the feed updated! Win!)

  17. Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:28 am | Permalink

    I sometimes get frustrated when I discuss my chronic illness with friends because as much as they care about me and sympathise, I usually have to explain over and over and occasionally, in an effort to understand, they’ll make really poor comparisons with their own experiences. I think what it comes down to is a need to engage with people who know what you’re talking about and you don’t have to explain because they’ve lived it too.

    • Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

      I think this is an excellent way to explain it, Amie. I have a dear friend who’s had to have lung transplants twice and will probably be on oxygen for the rest of her life (she’s in her early thirties, like me). I want to know, as best I can, what she’s going through but I can’t claim that I will ever know what that feels like unless a similar thing happens to me. I very much hope that she has support from people who are/have been where she is and can know her experience far more fundamentally and personally than I can, even in the deepest of my sympathy for her.

      I don’t think it’s wrong for us to want support from people who know what we’re going through (not trying to compare her challenges with my size in any way, mind you!).

  18. Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:42 am | Permalink

    I’m with you: it’s o.k. to have a nuanced, complex movement and to recognize and appreciate the diversity WITHIN the FA community

  19. Tanja
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 7:58 am | Permalink

    As much as I understand your latest post, I do not see which conclusion to draw from it in practice.
    Shall I open a space of discussion for people that have exactly my range of BMI, my skin color, my status in society, because I am not heavy enough to take part in the discussions here? This seems to compromise the original idea of the FA movement.

    • TR
      Posted February 8, 2011 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      Tanja, I think I was pretty clear about what I particularly want people to do from here:

      I’m just asking that if some people you know are, in a defined space, having a conversation that does not necessarily apply to you, that you leave them to it, secure in the knowledge that you aren’t being kicked out of the group as a whole – and that the results of that conversation will get shared around. I’m asking for us to respect the realities of different experiences.

      I’m not expecting people to run around creating spaces. And I have not defined this space as being exclusive in any fashion. Instead, I’ve been pretty darn explicit time and again about wanting this space to be diverse and inclusive – and I STILL wind up spending a lot of time reassuring people I don’t want them to go anywhere when I so much as discuss the concept that sometimes discussions and spaces might need to be for certain groups.

      Identity-based groups are liminal things anyway – and size is only one example. I am not disabled – it’s ridiculous for me to pitch a fit about inclusion when disabled fats need a space to talk about their experiences. What I need to do in that situation is sit down and LISTEN to what they want to share. I don’t feel any need to run off and start a group of able-bodied fats in response. My able body is a privileged position in that scenario and it costs me nothing to respect the needs and boundaries of those with different experiences.

      For the record, though, the “original idea” of the FA movement was not “fat is fat” – it was that fat hate is bullshit and we need to work to end it. Sometimes that means everyone working together and sometimes that means a smaller, safer discussion.

      Every single time I say “everyone is welcome in FA but sometimes a smaller group might want to have a specific conversation” people seem to respond with “I AM NOT WELCOME IN FA ANYMORE BECAUSE I AM NOT FAT ENOUGH”. That’s not what anyone is saying. It’s the exact opposite of what is being said. I am kind of amazed at the levels of insecurity being displayed by some people in this discussion, frankly (and I don’t mean here so much as on Tumblr). Wanting to see bodies my size does not mean I don’t want to see any other bodies. We really need to move away from that sort of harmful binarism, people.

    • Posted February 8, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

      This comment is…I’m not even sure where you are coming from. Let me give you an example: I fucking love Kate Harding. Of course, TR knows how awesome she ;) But you know what, I outweigh Kate by like 100 lbs. Kate has written about what it’s like being a smaller fat – such as being in the strange position of sometimes people telling her “oh you aren’t fat!” I simply do not know what that is like; I am fat enough to worry about being kicked off a plane, no one is going to tell me I’m “not fat” at 5’6″ 300+ lbs. And you know what? Kate writing about her experience is absolutely o.k. – its more than o.k. it’s needed.

      Just because I can’t relate to precesily to all of Kate Harding’s experiences as a smaller fat, doesn’t mean she’s telling ANYONE “you are too fat for FA” or some such thing. We do not share all of our fat experiences in exactly the same precise way. There absolutely needs to be room to recognize the variations of fat. I see this post as advocating for the recognition that if people want to have conversations around fat size variation that’s a valid convo. its not about “kicking” anyone out of FA.

  20. Megan
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

    This is a lovely post.

    At 5’4″ and 175 pounds, I am an in-betweenie. I wear between a size 10 and size 16, depending on who’s doing the sizing. Is there shit that comes with looking the way I do? Hells yeah. Is it cool to talk about that in general? Yup. Is it cool to find other people who look like me and talk about it? Yup.

    Then, there’s folk who way 100 or 125 or 150 or whatever pounds more than I do. Is there shit that comes from being that weight/looking that way? HELLS YEAH. Is it cool to talk about that in general? Yup. Is it cool to find other people who look like them and talk about it? Yup.

    Because, you know, I will sit and I will listen to heavier women than I tell me their stories. These women are my friends, my mother, my aunts, my grandmother. I will listen, but I cannot say, “I’ve been 5’4″ 300 pounds, and this is the shit I have gotten.” I think it makes serious sense that sometimes you just need to find the people who do know exactly how it feels to walk down the street or stand in line at the grocery or get on an airplane at that weight and talk to them about it. Without folk like me going, “well, I went to such and such store, and their 12 is too small and their 14 is too big.” I can definitely see where people who can’t even shop at that store because that store refuses to acknowledge they exist are going to be like, “well, boo-hoo”. That is a valid reaction.

    • fran
      Posted February 9, 2011 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      Exactly , its about respectful listening and peaceful thought. I wish I had put it as well as you have here!

  21. Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

    Why don’t we agree to identify with each others experiences and not compare. I average about 300 lbs, 289-310 lbs, but I identify with fat men far larger than me because I have some fat rolls and lots of Moobs. Keeping it real I never forget that I do not have all the issues of a 500lb man or woman.

    I think that I would lose something if I was not part of their conversation for the same reason I share on Fat Transgender areas, I identify with their experiences.

    William

    • TR
      Posted February 8, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      Because, quite quite frankly, it isn’t necessarily about you and your benefit at all times. It’s great that you acknowledge you don’t share all the same experiences – what you also need to keep in mind is that sometimes people need to feel safe. And as friendly and wonderful as people who don’t share the same experiences are, what is needed is a safer space for sharing. Yes, you may very well benefit from being included in conversations and that’s why we have the big overarching community. But the conversations of focused-interest groups, for lack of a better way to put it, don’t actually exist for your benefit.

  22. Posted February 8, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

    Hi

    I do not think that it would ever become so specialized that people would not talk across the size range of Fat Acceptance. I am sure that there are many some people who would like to converse with all fat people.

    What we do have now is a lot of comparing and quantifying others instead of supporting each other and sharing.

    When I say identify that is 100% agreeable with letting a subgroup carry on their conversation if they are talking about their issues.

    When this post started, I thought it was about making all Fat People feel welcome in FA, not segregating them?

    How about having more Blogs dedicated to specific groups and others that are more generalists?

    William

  23. Staci
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

    I am always blown away by your mind, Ms. Kirby. Amazing article. I’m 5’4″ and about 300 lbs, and I often feel like an outlier even in the FA community. Seeing your photos and reading your words has been like a lifeline to me. Someone who looks like me! Someone who is my size! I have been inspired by people of all sizes in this movement, but I feel a special connection with people who seem to best represent what I’m going through. Thank you. :)

  24. lilacsigil
    Posted February 8, 2011 at 8:18 pm | Permalink

    The worst, fat-phobic treatment I have ever received (medical in nature) was when I was barely in the “overweight” category, and extremely fit. I’ve been through a lot of medical stuff this year at about 350 pounds (I think?) but have been treated with respect and kindness. As you say, “fat” is culturally defined, highly variable, and different for everyone. I enjoy having places to share these experiences with people of various fattitudes; I also enjoy seeing other people about my size, even though the differences in body shape, height and access to clothing/healthcare/jobs/everything is just as variable across the world of the fatosphere!

  25. Posted February 9, 2011 at 5:08 am | Permalink

    Hey Marianne,

    Thanks for such a great post – your writing inspires as always.

    I actually used this post as a bit of a springboard for my own blog (it was slightly tangential in a few ways and waaaay too long for a comment here). If you’d like to read it, the post is here: http://bouncebig.blogspot.com/2011/02/intersecting-identities.html

    Thanks again for writing, I’m a big fan :)

    SoyShake

  26. Poppy
    Posted February 9, 2011 at 5:52 pm | Permalink

    This was a great post as always. I also hope that more thin people should realize that when people snark at your thinness, that’s not “the opposite” of fat shaming, it’s part of the same body shaming culture.

    It took me quite some time to come to this simple realization. I don’t get these kind of comments any longer, but when I was thinner than I am now (still within the “normal” BMI range, but that did nothing to protect me from snarkiness!) I got lots of contemptuos comments about my body, usually from overweight people. Like, for instance “How come the hospital let you donate blood? Aren’t you TOO THIN to donate blood?” or “Men want a real woman with curves” etc. And I used to be like “oh, people think it’s difficult to be overweight, if only they knew how difficult it is to be thin”, you know.

    But it’s all part of the same body-shaming culture, which says you’re the wrong shape no matter what shape you’re in. And it’s not hard to see either that for an overweight person who gets fat-shamed all the time, thin-shaming will come easily…

    I’m so grateful to both your blog, Kate Harding’s and the Fat Nutritionists, they’ve been real eye-openers.

  27. Posted February 13, 2011 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    I think that one of the best examples of why having separate dialogues in Fat Acceptance is bad is Feminism, the Patriarchy and Fat Men.

    From the start of Fat Acceptance’s association with NAAFA and most of the history of Fat Acceptance after that, Fat Men have been told that they had little or even no need for Fat Acceptance. I know this because I saw it said in NAAFA’s old forums many times by many different members.

    In recent years Fat Acceptance has turn over a new leaf and there has been a lot of inclusion in Fat Acceptance of Fat Men and other groups. This has been a great for the Fat Community.

    Now you have more Feminist conversations going on in Fat Acceptance and I often hear people say things like Fat Males Issues are merely a collateral effect of the Patriarchy’s oppression of women. In a passive aggressive way this is just as bad or worse than the mindset of the old NAAFA.

    Fat Men have their issues period and it is undermining to have their history hijacked by others. I do not think that there is any malice in this theory; it is simply Fat Feminists looking to explain things in a special interest dialogue without input from Fat Men.

    If Fat Acceptance is going to be about helping all fat people then the ideology of Fat Acceptance must be inclusive and not a bunch of separate ideologies custom made for certain groups in Fat Acceptance.

    William

  28. Posted February 15, 2011 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    Oh hells yeah. I’m an in-betweenie death fat. I’m fat enough that no one’s ever going to say that I’m not fat. But I’m on the smaller side of death fat (~250 lbs, but only 5’2). And the attempted identification is…awkward at best. A few weeks ago, I was walking with a friend and talking about starting to sew. Because I hate buying clothes online and there are almost no clothing stores in my geographic area that serve me. This friend is quite thin. But she said something, like, “Yes, I understand. I mean, neither of us are what you would call small girls…” And I just didn’t know what to say. This friend is probably ~120 lbs soaking wet. If I hadn’t seen her eat a bunch of times before, I would worry about anorexia. But I think she was just trying to commiserate.

    I don’t know, this is long and complainy, but I feel like feminists are always having to reassure men that they exist and matter and fat acceptance folks are always having to reassure thin folks that they exist and matter and it takes SO MUCH TIME and SO MUCH ENERGY and I’m just tired of it.

  29. MeanDean
    Posted February 21, 2011 at 10:16 pm | Permalink

    This weekend in Atlanta I found myself in an uncomfortable situation. I was a guest at someone’s home so I did not want to rock the boat when my host made a rude statement at dinner. Her comment was, “OMG she should not be here, she should go home and eat a salad.” This was not something I could let go. So in my calm voice I said. “You don’t pay her bills, make love to her and she is not your friend so how is she bothering you?” I am not a defender of fat women but I do believe everyone has the right to pursue happiness. I don’t believe I changed her mind but at least I can live with myself for speaking up. Revolution seems to be the new black this year but it won’t happen with the fat cause if we let the insults keep on being acceptable. It bothers me to read that some people here look for acceptance and are happy to read but are still unhappy with themselves. Ladies, come out that closet and don’t be afraid. I felt wonderful when I came out the closet with being an atheist. My wife did not leave me and I can still say O MY GOD IM GONG TO blank without feeling guilty. In closing, revolutions start with one voice and that was already provided for you. Keep it rolling and give it momentum.

  30. kmd
    Posted March 9, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Ok, Marianne, I came here because I am battered and bruised from a discussion on a listserv in which the very idea of thin privilege was treated as though it were a hatebomb launched at thin people, and at all of the fat people who aren’t fat enough and and and.

    I came here because by posting pictures of yourself you have (as another commenter wrote earlier) helped me to stop hating my body. Because your body is like mine (5’3″ 350ish) And because I just needed to connect to someone who Gets It without dealing with a whole raft of shit from people who, for reasons that I do not fully understand, have very different experiences yet have a need to conflate their experience with mine.

    And I found this post. So I want you to know I am crying now, because sometimes the universe really does offer what you need. And thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for being part of that generous universe.

  31. Naomi
    Posted March 31, 2011 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

    You are an amazing writer, and one thing that you wrote about, “external reassurance,” wanting to see someone who looks like you, put into words my own feelings of growing up the “wrong race” and continuing to be so.

One Trackback

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Marianne Kirby, kathleen dillon rdms. kathleen dillon rdms said: RT @TheRotund: The Body Rebellious; Nonconformance and Intersecting Identities in a Movement: http://www.therotund.com/?p=1109 [...]

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