Let’s talk about something a little bit difficult today. Let’s talk about people who claim they are pro-body acceptance working, as a specific goal, toward weight loss.
This is a really tricky and sticky topic. It hits a lot of buttons, both health-wise and emotionally. Hell, the topic of weight loss in general is a hot issue, as demonstrated by Sweet Machine over Shapely Prose and her two recent posts. She didn’t even lose weight on purpose and people are misreading her left and right.
This morning someone forwarded me a link to Hanne Blank’s new blog, Fickle Finger of Fat. I was all kinds of a-squee because, frankly, I love Hanne Blank and her books and her letter to her doctor. I think she is an amazing reminder that we must demand good care for ourselves, that ensuring we receive adequate care is, in part, our own responsibility.
But then I started reading. And Hanne Blank is trying to lose weight.
It felt kind of like a betrayal, a real kick in the teeth. It always does, when someone who has spoken out in support of fat bodies makes an effort that can be perceived as distancing the person from being fat. And Blank’s statement that she isn’t trying to be thin doesn’t really help, doesn’t do anything to lessen the blow. Because she’s still equating life improvement with weight loss.
This is, I think, an important thing to discuss. That so many people, even people who have worked for years to abolish the stigma associated with being fat, equate an improvement in quality of life with weight loss instead of, for example, becoming more fit or limber or any number of other life improving goals. It bothers me and it bothers me because there is an unspoken truth to it that none of us discuss.
Life IS better, by certain definitions, for fat people who have lost weight, even small amounts, because society rewards you for what is considered proper behavior. Life is better because you are more socially acceptable. You face fewer stares, fewer milkshakes thrown from cars, fewer frat boys trying to take you down a peg. You face more clothing options, more people willing to take you seriously/find you attractive, more approval from the people who surround you.
It’s an ugly truth, but there it is.
Does that make life better for EVERYONE? Are we all deluded, with our fat acceptance, and ought we be pursuing weight loss so our lives will be better?
Oh, not just no but hell no.
Because that sort of acceptance rings hollow for me and it would make my life better in some ways but infinitely worse in others – for example, I’d sacrifice a great deal of my self-respect for letting the opinions of strangers get to me to that degree.
Does that mean no one should pursue weight loss?
As much as I and other fat bloggers might be tempted to say yes, well, no.
Because situations like this come down to agency. And I don’t mean agency in the sense that Blank has used it in one of her entries. Her use is in specific relation to the degree to which people can control their bodies. I disagree most vehemently with her usage (weasel wordy as it may be) of “most” and her assertion that we KNOW there is an element of choice in regards to how fat a person is (or how fat SOME people or MOST people are).
No, I mean agency in the sense of body autonomy. I get to make my body choices, and determine what is right for me and my body and my mental state, and you get to make your choices regarding same.
I get to think it is total and complete crap that quality of life is improved by weight loss. You get to believe it, if you choose to do so. And, maybe, just maybe, you can still be size positive.
Not size positive in a HAES sense, though. The specific goal of losing weight is antithetical to HAES. And, frankly, that’s okay because not everyone has to bear the HAES standard but I do think it’s important to say, you know what? That isn’t this.
And I don’t think you can maintain credibility as a size positive activist if you are working towards a weight loss goal.
That isn’t to say you can’t lose weight and still be an activist – I think Sweet Machine is a perfect example of this. But there is a lot of damage done to the idea that you, as an activist, accept yourself when you are working specifically to lose weight.
I hate to say that. I hate to sound in the least bit exclusionary. And I’m not voting to kick anyone out of the Team Fat club. I think people who are trying to lose weight should absolutely be involved in reading fat blogs and talking to people in the size acceptance community. But there is, rightfully so, I feel, a stigma associated with that choice to lose weight. It runs counter to the very idea that fat activists are working so hard to promote: that being fat is not a statement of morality, is not a personal failing, is not a sign that a person doesn’t care about their own body or the feelings of those around them. That being fat is, simply, being fat.
I don’t think anyone wants to say, “Hey, I reject fat positivity! I am going on a diet, screw you guys!” Especially not people who have worked really hard to promote fat activism as a social justice cause. I don’t believe Hanne Blank wants fat people to be legislated against. I don’t believe Hanne Blank thinks stigmatizing fat is a healthy societal measure.
But I also don’t believe, if Blank is working toward weight loss as a goal, that I can include her without reservation in my mental list of fat-positive bloggers.
That’s not to turn my back on her – she’s done some amazing work and will, I am sure, continue to do amazing work. But it does change the context in which I view her work, the way everything filters out. She is not writing a fat activism blog. She is writing a diet blog. I am looking forward to reading her blog because I love her writing, but I will not read it for any sort of support nor any sort of body positivity. I will not read it to look for habits I want to emulate.
This does not make her choice wrong. Because she has to make the choices that are right for her as an individual at this time and she is the only one who can adequately judge what is best for her. And her choice does not, as near as I can tell, come with any implication that she is implying her choice should be the choice that everyone makes. It’s really easy to read it as that because, let’s be honest about our cultural construction here, that’s what we are expecting because that is what almost every instance of people working towards weight loss winds up implying. But she doesn’t seem to be assigning a value judgment to my choice to not pursue weight loss so I am working hard to not assign a value judgment to her choice either.
None of this means she needs to be ostracized from the size acceptance community – I wouldn’t be linking to her blog if I thought it did. She is smart and well-written and a pretty amazing person. The urge to cut her out of the community will be, I am sure, quite strong in some circles. It’s an emotional response to what really does seem like a betrayal of everything she has been working for all these years.
I am not anti-dieters. But, as a person who supports the concept of HAES and who actively works towards size acceptance, I cannot support and/or suggest actively pursuing weight loss as a healthy thing to do. I don’t think someone who is purposefully working to lose weight can be considered pro-fat. It reeks too much of, “Well, being fat is okay FOR YOU, but not for me.”
It’s a nasty, sticky issue. As people working for social justice, I think our instinct is to include as many people as possible, to bar no one from claiming membership in our community. I think this is a good urge. But I do think there are some lines in the sand. Weight loss as a goal is one of those lines. It doesn’t mean you can’t play with us and it doesn’t mean you are making a bad or wrong decision for you as an individual. It DOES mean that you are a member of a different team.
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