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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88 Comments

  1. Christine
    Posted September 6, 2007 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Chiming in with my personal story:

    For years, my weight hovered in the 220 – 240 range. Depending on which end of the range I was at, I wore 20 – 22, sometimes up to 24.

    Last year, I gave up smoking after almost 25 years of puffing. (Yeah, I’m old.) The weight just packed on. I’m now up to 300, wearing a size 26. I’ll freely go on record and say I hate it and am actively trying to lose weight. Why? Because I don’t have a damn thing that fits. I love clothes. I loved MY clothes. I had a beautiful wardrobe that made me look and feel confident and attractive and now I can’t wear a fucking bit of it. Neither do I have the money to replace it.

    So yeah, I’m trying to lose weight, to fit back into all my beautiful size 20′s and 22′s. I don’t think that in any way alters my belief in HAES or diminishes my credibility when speaking about size acceptance.

  2. admin
    Posted September 6, 2007 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    First of all, congratulations on kicking the smoking habit – that is HARD!

    And I understand your frustration – I was incredibly active for a time and eating with a person with some fairly serious innards issues which meant I was eating primarily pasta and zuchini and I lost a lot of weight and acquired a lot of amazingly cute clothes. I wish like made I could still wear my gold satin flare leg pants because they are complete and total rock star pants.

    But if I were to try to diet my way back into these pants? What credibility would I have when I told other people that dieting is a destructive cycle? Who would believe me when I say that being fat is not a choice for many fat people (we have no idea of actual percentages)? On what kind of seriously shaky ground would I be standing when I spoke up for the rights of people who choose not to engage in an endless rollercoaster of working toward an unattainable goal (the societal ideal of thinness)?

    Yes, being on a diet diminishes your credibility when you are speaking about size acceptance. “Oh, she says xyz but then she does abc.” Actions and stated beliefs have to match.

    You can personally believe in HAES – but HAES and dieting are antithetical to one another. How you reconcile the two is probably totally interesting and would be a discussion worth having.

  3. Simon
    Posted September 6, 2007 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    admin, to your points:

    a. I have no interest in seducing a man to fuck my ass, as I am not thus inclined. And I will not be besieged with offers. Therefore, I would have to pay for that. I do not pay for the kinds of sex I enjoy, as my partners are more than willing to oblige me for free.

    b. Please do not lecture me on how many ways there are to be queer. I am well aware, thank you. My point was about what credentials are necessary to be considered a valid activist within an identity group.

    b, part 2. I do not identify, as the youth say, as an ally. Do not announce to me that I am.

    c. Ms. Blank is clear that her body is *not* “fine the way it is” for health reasons. Being a fat activist, as I understand it, means working toward the idea that it is as lovely to be fat as it is to be any other thing that you are or care to be. She seems abundantly clear on this point.

    d. I am not sure if you realize that you sound as though you have assumed the authority to kick people out of the fat activist club as you see fit. But you do.

  4. Posted September 6, 2007 at 8:31 pm | Permalink

    I just want to pipe up and clarify that I don’t believe people who choose to diet – for whatever reasons – are bad people. I don’t think they have to justify their choices to me or anyone else, and I am sympathetic to all of the many, many, many compelling reasons someone might make that choice.

    I just think that dieting is not the same as fat *or* size acceptance. If I’m dieting, I’m not accepting my size or my fat. I think it’s possible to hold paradoxical beliefs, but – value judgments aside – for me this is pretty black and white.

  5. admin
    Posted September 6, 2007 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    To use your handy lettering systerm:

    a) Fine and dandy. I appreciate the clarification.

    b) One comment does not a lecture entail, dude. Particularly when you have come to MY blog spoiling for a fight. Could I have left it alone? Certainly. But your original comment defined gay as participating in ass fucking and it seems important to state, even if you weren’t really meaning it as an absolute definition, that being gay is not limited to ass fucking.

    b.2) It’s a hypothetical, Simon. You set yourself up as the person in the hypothetical situation, so it got continued in that context.

    c) Blank has definitely stated that she has some health concerns. I’m not about to suggest that she not pursue what makes her a more healthy individual. But, as she herself states, weight is correlated with heath issued but there is no causal link. Losing weight is not guaranteed to clear up her health issues. Her desire to lose weight, as she has stated in her “Why?” entry is not about improving her health. It’s about losing weight and being thinner. Being a fat acceptance activist means, in very large part, helping other people see that there is an alternative to punishing yourself for not having a “perfect” body. If one is actively working to change one’s body then one does not accept one’s body. She can support fat acceptance for other people, but that does not make her a credible fat acceptance activist. Fat activism is not just about “oh, it is just as lovely to be fat as it is to be any other way!” There’s more to it than that and while I don’t doubt for a second that Blank would go to the mat for someone else’s right to live an unpersecuted fat life, she’s also going to be held up, by pro-diet and anti-fat people as a victory – Oh! Even Hanne Blank has seen the light! Everyone should diet! Being an activist is about more than just what happens in individual conversations. It’s about public perception.

    d) In the context of my own blog, in this corner of the internet, and as it regards fat activism as I practice it both online and in person, why, yes, actually, I DO have that authority. And, in the context of the wider discussion as it grows across other blogs, I have the authority to question it if people have a different opinion than do I. They have the authority to not believe me and to say that *I* because I am not accepting and inclusive of dieters as size activists am not an effective size activist. That is the beauty of the world of blogging. It is a conversation.

    Also, in a larger sense, I’m not interesting in kicking anyone out – I’m interesting in defining terms. The Fat Activism community as a distinct entity is ineffective for the most part – this is an ongoing discussion at Big Fat Blog. Part of that is because it is a poorly defined movement. People can dismiss semantics as much as they want but words have meanings and those meanings are important. I’m not operating in a vacuum here – I’m engaging in conversation with a larger community that is also engaged in defining what Fat Activism is and ought to be.

  6. admin
    Posted September 6, 2007 at 8:44 pm | Permalink

    I just want to pipe up and clarify that I don’t believe people who choose to diet – for whatever reasons – are bad people. I don’t think they have to justify their choices to me or anyone else, and I am sympathetic to all of the many, many, many compelling reasons someone might make that choice.

    Absolutely, Tari. Over on Shapely Prose the distinction is being made that being anti-dietING is not the same as being anti-dietERS. It might be important to state that here as well.

    And, as I’ve said many times, each individual is the person most qualified to determine what is best for them as individuals at any given moment. The issue is not whether Blank is a bad person for dieting – I don’t think she is at all. The issue in question is whether or not active dieters can still be considered size activists and, as you said, that seems a fairly clear issue to me.

  7. Posted September 6, 2007 at 8:53 pm | Permalink

    Hmm. Interesting. I’ve been thinking about this stuff for a while, and it’s good to see it being discussed.

    Here’s how I reconcile the ideas of Health At Every Size and trying to lose weight (which may or may not include exercise and dieting — for me, it actually includes trying to eat MORE throughout the day, rather than starving all day and overeating at night):

    I believe people naturally come in all shapes and sizes. One person may feel happy and healthy at a particular weight, while another — even of a similar height and frame — may not.

    I believe people become fat for a variety of reasons. Some are genetically meant to be fat; others become fat through things like eating disorders, disease, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, stress or toxins. For many, myself included, it’s a combination of things.

    I believe there have always been fat people, but I also believe there are a higher percentage of fat people now than in the past.

    See, like Hanne, I’ve been through the ranks of the fat acceptance movement. I’ve read all the books, fought the battles, and know in my heart that fat people deserve just as much respect, dignity, civil rights and love as anyone else.

    But, I’ve also reached a weight, and perhaps age, where my fat has begun to affect my health and my comfort. I don’t believe my body is designed to accommodate as much fat as it does right now. I think my body is meant to have big thighs and a big ass, but probably not such a big belly. I don’t know what I am supposed to weigh, but I suspect it is somewhere between the 145 pounds on the weight charts, and the 290 I’m pushing now.

    I think I am fat for a combination of reasons, including genetics, early dieting, starvation and rebound binging, depression, stress, busyness and laziness.

    So, for me, the struggle is to keep loving and approving of myself even as I try to change myself. I use the tools of fat acceptance — awareness, politics, science, human rights — while I attempt to navigate the very murky waters of weight loss.

    Our bodies contain multitudes. We each have to find our own truths. What is right for me is not necessarily what is right for you. Let’s agree to disagree, to recognize the many complexities and gray areas in occupying a human body in the 21st century, and to support each other in finding our own paths.

  8. Posted September 6, 2007 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    Okay, as I’ve acknowledged on my own blog, I’m on Vicodin right now, so the brain is not as sharp as it might be.

    But the thing that keeps jumping out to me on this thread is that there’s so much, “For me, I’m choosing to lose weight because…” going on. Plenty of perfectly admirable reasons there.

    Problem is, you cannot just choose to lose weight and keep it off permanently.

    You can choose to change your habits. You can choose to work at improving your health. But you cannot choose to become thinner permanently. NO ONE knows how to make that happen.

    And I think that’s the thing that really burns my ass about people advocating dieting in any context, let alone a body acceptance one. It is ignoring the simple, unbelievably well-documented fact that diets do not work in the long term.

    Which means that when someone says, “I’m trying to lose weight because it will have X, Y, and Z positive effects,” as far as I’m concerned, they might as well be saying, “I keep playing the Lotto, because when I’m a multi-millionaire, I plan to do X, Y, and Z.”

    Yeah, somebody’s gotta Lotto. But it probably won’t be you. And the odds of losing weight permanently through determined effort just aren’t much better. Ergo, to my mind, dieting = putting your life on hold in anticipation of a day that will almost certainly never come.

    And that, to me, is the opposite of what fat acceptance is about.

  9. Posted September 6, 2007 at 11:05 pm | Permalink

    Regarding your desire to change to a different drug than Lexapro because it causes weight-gain, there really is *no* conflict between doing that and taking a stand against dieting.

    Say your doctor had given you an antibiotic that caused you to develop a rash. You would undoubtedly ask your doctor to change your medication to one that doesn’t cause a rash. In your situation, the side effect is weight gain – but its not weight gain caused by unhealthy eating habits, it’s an artificial, medically-induced malfunction in your body’s ability to use fuel properly.

    Dieting – as you noted – is altering your eating habits solely for the purpose of losing weight. In your situation, however, I’m assuming you’ve not altered your eating habits since starting on Lexapro, correct? I also assume you won’t alter them if you’re given another drug. If you’re not changing your eating habits, then – by definition – you’re not dieting. Any weight loss that results from a change in medication will come about by correcting that artificial malfunction that the medication is causing.

    There’s really no comparison between the two.

  10. Posted September 6, 2007 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

    Sorry – the above message was in response to Kate’s post over at her own blog. Somehow I got confused by my RSS reader :D

    I’ll copy the comments over there, and you’re welcome to delete them from this thread if you think it’ll be too confusing or anything.

  11. Peanuts
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    Thanks for bringing up this issue, which I’ve been thinking about it a lot, because it’s really upsetting me. I’ve been in the fat acceptance movement for years and I’m very happy with my body being fat, that is who I am and I am very pro-fat acceptance. And yet I find myself in a position where the fat on my body is causing two big problems.

    One is knee problems. My history with knees and exercising makes it clear that the weight they bear is causing a lot of stress on my knee joints. I am now so heavy that I’m very constrained in how I can exercise, the standard “pursuing the improvement of your health or general fitness levels” fat-acceptance line missing the mark, because it’s got to the point that it is very difficult to gently improve the health of my knees without further injury.

    Now okay, maybe there is some way I don’t know about to be the weight I am and not have bad knees (jet packs?), but the next one really is a clincher.

    I am in a position where there’s almost no clothes I can buy for myself any more. The largest sizes available almost all do not fit me. There are one or two mail-order places (in the US, where I do not live) that I can get clothing from, but the clothes are expensive to order and it’s high-risk (very few items that fit me look good on me). Custom tailoring is not risky, but is expensive and time-consuming. I can sew (fortunately), and that’s not expensive, nor high-risk, but it takes a lot of time to construct the clothes so that they fit and look acceptable.

    My job as it is doesn’t allow me a lot of free time. So I am having to face the prospect of going part-time, just so I can have clothes to wear!

    What am I supposed to do?

    The one thing I’m not going to do is go on a diet. That’s because they don’t work. I can’t even manage to not gain weight, let alone stick to a diet for long enough that pounds are lost. I can’t do that.

    Funnily enough though, unlike a lot of people, my body will actually let me lose weight, at least a few pounds. “All” I have to do is spend many days involved in gentle exercise activity (doesn’t necessarily have to involve the knees much). The exercise acts as an appetite suppressant and prevents the various causes of physical food cravings kicking in; about 3 days a week should do it.

    So I am facing going part-time and doing some combination of exercise and sewing. Logically I know that that is what I have to do. I just can’t believe it in my gut though. Nobody else I know of has to give up half their job (and go against all their principles) just to have a decent quality of life. Is this really my last option?

    Opinions and advice welcome.

  12. Christine
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 5:16 am | Permalink

    Kate, I’m going to disagree with you by making a distinction. I think the statement that one “cannot choose to become thinner permanently” should be followed by “than one’s natural, genetically-determined weight range.”

    Based on my entire adult life, I believe my natural, genetically-determined weight-range to be 220 – 240. Circumstances (chiefly quitting smoking, but a few others as well) caused me to gain weight beyond that natural weight range in the past 1.5 years. I think there’s a world of difference in trying to get back to what’s “normal” for me, and trying to ALTER what’s “normal” for me.

  13. dolia
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    The obnoxious behaviour of some dieters that makes them talk incessantly about dieting and expect to be lauded is the result of THIN PRIVELEGE. End thin privelege, by attacking discrimination and cultural norms, but support the right of people to choose to do what they damn well want with their bodies – because after all, that is what we ask for ourselves.

  14. Dame Mel
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 6:23 am | Permalink

    Ok, seriously … hate the dietING, love the dietER? Sounds an awful lot like the ol “Love the sinner, hate the sin” approach the fundies justify against gays.

    Once again, another club I’m not allowed to be a part of. Which is probably best, because in the immortal words of Groucho Marx, I’d never be a member of any club that would have me as a member (or something along those lines).

    So let me get this semi-straight: Any kind of activity/measure that might result in conscious weight loss means one is not a “true” fat activist? So when I gained thirty pounds and my screaming sciatica came back along with compounded hip/leg problems and I’m thinking maybe, just maybe, I should go back to exercising better and eating healthy which might result in a few pounds lost and some stress relief to my joints, that I’m NOT a “fat activist” in the traditional sense? Because I’m making a personal, quiet quest to stop hurting so much, I might as well not bother advocating against size intolerance? Because I’m just a traitor to the “all or nothing” approach.

    I’m pissed because you know what? I’m fat. I will never NOT be fat. I have accepted this and am peace. Wanting to lose a few pounds off my luscious frame to get to a state I KNOW my body can handle comfortably doesn’t make me “one of them.” I have no desire to join the Weight Watchers bandwagon. I know (thank you, Gina Kolata) that one’s general range of weight fluctuates in the 20-lb. range.

    Seriously, if trying to cut everyone off at the knees who doesn’t fit some extremely narrow (pun intended) mold of “fat acceptance” is your bag, there’s nothing I can do to stop you. But I don’t have to accept someone else’s label that I’m not a “fat activist,” simply because of XYZ. I’ve rejected labels all of my life – lazy, ugly, loud (well, the last one is actually true). I’m not going to start accepting this verdict now.

    I truly enjoy this blog, but a lot of the fatter-than-thou attitudes that have cropped up on this post are detrimental and disappointing. If division and lines in the sand are the goal, congratulations.

  15. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 6:39 am | Permalink

    Peanuts, that is a tough place to be. I’m on the cusp of what is available, sizing-wise, in stores and it totally sucks. However, as HAS been proven, intentional weight loss doesn’t work – if I go after that goal I am 95% more likely to wind up heavier than when I started. I have enough metabolic issues! I don’t need to start screwing around with things that are going to reduce that even further.

    Improving your knees may mean exercising in a way that won’t damage them further, allowing them a chance to strengthen and heal – the damage to your knees and the way that curtails your activity might be one of the reasons behind your weight gain. Have you tried water aerobics at all? The resistance of the water will contribute to your exercise but the support of it will provide a no-impact environment for your poor knees!

    And no matter what choices you make, YOU are the person most capable of making those choices. Being a part of the fat acceptance movement, as we’re defining it here, doesn’t preclude dieting – being a fat acceptance activist is a bit of a different story. You are always welcome here.

  16. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Dolia and Dame Mel, no one is challenging the right of dieters to diet. As I have stated numerous times, in the original post and in the comments, I believe in body autonomy and that people are the best people equipped to make decisions for themselves. But dieting is antithetical to the work of fat activism.

    For any social justice organization to be effective, it needs to have a clear set of standards and definitions. Those standards and definitions are probably going to exclude some people. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the people not included in the group.

    I don’t qualify for membership in the Daughters of the American Revolution. Growing up in Atlanta, that was kind of a big deal. Does that mean that the DAR should change its standards so that I don’t feel bad? Of course not! It means I have a vast array of other groups of which I can consider myself a member.

    Perhaps this is a side-effect of the progressive tendancy to be as all-inclusive as possible. But not all groups can meet the needs of all people. Because the act of intentional weight loss is antithetical to the act of fat acceptance, the fat acceptance activism community is not going to be able to validate dieting and the choice to diet.

    And, Dame Mel, you said it yourself – your goal is to eat right and exercise to alleviate your pain and it might result in weight loss. That is a different approach than “if I lose 20 pounds I will be healthy.” We’ve said that time and time again here.

    And, you know, again, dieting is the default state for the majority of women. The radical notion of accepting fat for what it is removes one from that default state. Some people can exist in both places as individuals, I am sure. But their credibility as activists is called into question.

  17. Dame Mel
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    Maybe this is why so many people who are fat don’t do more to speak out against fat oppression … because they’re somehow “conflicted” about themselves and their opinions/actions are just not “authentic” enough. Look, I know I don’t have to be a full-fledged member of the whole paradigm that judges who can and can’t call themselves “fat activists” to do my own advocating. It just kills me (in a laughing way) that here’s another section of life that society is deeming I can’t join … because of my weight issues!! Does anyone else find that hilarious?
    Another not-so-hilarious thing is that if I chose to not try to correct my health problems and “exist in both worlds,” I would have more street cred with the approved fat activists. Which is another head scratcher, for sure.

  18. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 7:17 am | Permalink

    Dame Mel, not taking care of your health issues does NOT give you more credibility as a fat activist. That is a hollow argument when several comments here are about how a large part of fat activism IS encouraging people to pursue their best health.

    The problem is that intentional weight loss rarely works and almost invariably backfires. That’s why “losing weight for my health” isn’t an argument that is going to convince anyone who isn’t looking for a reason to justify their pursuit of weight loss.

    It may well be that your sciatica will be alleviated by weight loss. But it might also be that the healthy foods you eat and exercise and movement that you pursue are what is helping, rather than the weight loss itself. That’s why focusing on improving one’s health is a principle of HAES and why HAES and dieting don’t go together.

    And, you know, maybe sciatica really is just that special exception that proves the rule. If so, I doubly wish you luck as you work to improve your health. I have seen people prostrate from the pain of it and I certainly don’t wish it on anyone.

  19. Dame Mel
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    I understand that for so long, “losing weight for my (your) health” has been a weapon used against fat people. And true, better movement/eating might help alleviate my sciatica. I know for a fact, however, that I have gained weight. And that in the months I have gained that weight, my sciatica has been incredibly painful. My goal is stop from hurting. And I get the feeling (not from you, lovely Ms. Admin!) that if I were to work on doing that with activities that might lead to weight loss (whether or not that was my intention), that I would be a traitor. I’m just at a crossroads right now, feeling mightily confused.

  20. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    I really need to change my display name. *grin* The whole admin label kind of sets up a false authority, I think. When really I’m just putting stuff out there and hoping we can all discuss.

    When weight loss happens as a side effect of changes that are made to improve a person’s health, I can see how even that would make someone who is healthy but has not lost weight feel betrayed. That is an issue for the person to deal with, no matter how much they try to make it your issue. Sweet Machine, a personal friend and a poster at Shapely Prose, has lost 20 pounds due to illness. And I think she IS experiencing some backlash from people who cannot accept that she wasn’t looking to change her body and that these changes are the result of illness. And that backlash sucks!

    I think there has to be a way to work inside the community to address this issue – and I do think it is separate from the anti-diet issue. I am glad you bring it up! It is definitely something that needs addressing.

  21. Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:26 am | Permalink

    I haven’t read every post, so I’m not sure if someone has already made this point.

    People who have lost a lot of weight are usually in a precarious position. Few people lose more than 20 or 30 pounds by making truly heathy changes.

    These “successful dieters” are almost certainly continuing to restrict their eating and/or they’re performing very high levels of physical activity in order to maintain their weight loss. They may tell themselves that this “new lifestyle” is healthy and natural. However, the fact is, they’re trying a lot harder to stay thin than a never-fat person would. One injury that prevented them from exercising, one period of sickness, one new relationship that brings on the urge to enjoy life and throw caution to the wind, and they’re fat again. Even if they continue their food restriction and activity, they may regain.

    Everything that feels good about being an ex-fat person – the social acceptance, the selection of clothing in your size, the greater ease of movement, the lesser stress on joints – is something they have to fight to keep. Everything that feels good about being in your set range – not having to go hungry, not having to micro-manage your diet, being able to exercise in a way and with a frequency that makes you feel good, rather than chiefly to burn off calories, that feeling of sensuality that comes with being heavier – those are things they need to minimize or deny in their minds. Because, staying thin when you used to be fat is very difficult.

    Maybe I’m superimposing my experience onto others, but I know that for me, walking a couple of miles a day and working out 3-4 times a week, plus eating a very healthy diet and moderating portions (though not counting calories) results in me having a BMI that’s still over 30. It puts me 30 pounds below my top weight. And, it takes some energy to maintain. I can’t imagine what I’d have to do to keep my BMI under 25, but it wouldn’t be pleasant or easy. Frankly, when people throw around the fact that they’re lost a lot of weight without mentioning the cost, it strikes me as self righteous and disingenuous.

    You may still be in favor of civil rights for fat people, but please don’t imply that losing 100 pounds and keeping it off is anything short of a constant, major effort. Please don’t imply that we’re lazy or don’t care about our health because we dare to have the same range of eating and exercise habits that naturally thin people have, rather than adopting an extremely restrictive (and in most cases, unsustainable) lifestyle.

  22. Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    I just found fat acceptance blogs a couple of months ago and was very happy to read about women accepting their bodies and loving themselves.

    I definitely understand the need for fat people to get out there and help make the discrimination go away. Society needs to know that not all fat people are unhealthy, not all fat people are lazy. And even if we are, we still deserve jobs, and children, and respect.

    But some people are lazy and unhealthy, including myself. Not in my eating habits, I eat a lot of fresh food, and cook my own meals; but I do not exercise at all. I go home after work and lay on the couch for hours, watching tv or reading. I rarely go outside (well it is over 110 most of the summer here in phoenix) and I have no energy.

    After reading these blogs, I wanted to say, “I’m fat and I love my body, and I will stay this way!” and move full fledgedly into a fat acceptance activist, but that would be resigning myself to this health level and I won’t do that. I need to exercise more and if I lose weight, well thats is a good side-effect (mostly so I can buy cheaper clothes), but I will do it for my health not specifically to lose weight.

    So although I think the fat acceptance movement is a great thing, you have to admit that some people (I was almost one of them) who will get behind it, will just do it so they don’t have to change their unhealthy lifestyle.

    Most of the fat acceptance blogs I read, the authors talk about how they do exercise a moderate amount and don’t eat to major excess. So they seem completely healthy to me, no matter how much they weigh. But not everyone is like that.

    Although I don’t judge fat people right off the bat as being unhealthy, I can’t help myself for looking down on someone who I see eating really unhealthy stuff, whether they be thin or fat.

    Just as smoking has become more and more taxed and looked down upon, I hope that the chemicals and preservatives and shit that people are putting in their bodies, and therefore back into the environment, start to move the same way.

    I think thin people need to be convinced that they may not be healthy just because they are skinny.

    And even the fat acceptance movement, needs to move away from worrying about weight, but more about health.

    Or maybe I should start a Health Movement in which what you weigh is no factor at all? hmmm……

  23. Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:35 am | Permalink

    Dame Mel (and TR, too really): “If division and lines in the sand are the goal, congratulations.”

    I’m not meaning to be totally callous but frankly, we need some fucking lines in the sand at this point. Not everyone can nor should be a fat activist by the definitions we’re hashing out here (and at Kate Harding’s blog).

    This is distinctly different from being “in the fat acceptance movement”. But, crap, having people claim to be fat activists who are dropping weight intentionally makes our message even weaker than it already is.

  24. Peanuts
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    …the damage to your knees and the way that curtails your activity might be one of the reasons behind your weight gain

    The original knee damage done was due to sports, dashing about and changing direction quickly, and when you’re heavy, that does put a great strain on the knees. The weight gain was mostly due to other reasons, but less exercise may have contributed.

    Have you tried water aerobics at all? The resistance of the water will contribute to your exercise but the support of it will provide a no-impact environment for your poor knees!

    I love water aerobics but at the moment there are several problems: my bathing suit is fit to burst, I think there’s a serious chance that I will have too low a strength-to-body-weight ratio to haul myself out of the pool afterwards, and my knees aren’t strong enough to do aqua aerobics safely yet. I can’t even risk going up and down stairs without a hand taking a little amount of my weight on the stair rail (and then surprise, the strain eases considerably!).

    I’m with Dame Mel. I have practised HAES for years and totally gone with the “don’t worry about the weight, focus on the health”, but HAES hasn’t prevented me getting into a position where the only way out (if indeed that way is open, which it probably isn’t) is through the weight loss swamp. I hate swamps. I don’t want to deal with this one, but I’m over here trapped on the other side of it, there is no other way out, and I hate hate HATE the idea that attempting to cross this horrible swamp means that people aren’t going to consider me a “true fat activist” any more.

    I appreciate that someone actively trying to change weight doesn’t have much in the way of credibility when advocating weight acceptance.

    But the fat acceptance movement isn’t offering anything to those of us who truly are really pinioned in some way by our weight (very small numbers of us, admittedly, but still).

    Maybe the whole problem is in the name. Fat acceptance. Acceptance. Why should it be fat acceptance? No wonder we’re getting into conflict, because “accept” conflicts with “change”.

    Maybe we need a whole new concept.

    Never mind fat acceptance – what we want to say is EVERY WEIGHT IS OK!!!! So we are in favour of a weight-neutral society!!!! Wouldn’t this issue just go away then? If we are in favour of every size, then who cares if someone behind the scenes is changing their body size (or trying to), any more than we’d care about them changing their hairstyle? If everyone is passionately in favour of and working towards people finding it as wonderful as possible to live in whatever body size they happen to be, without pressure to be anything different, and if we are all trying to achieve a weight-neutral society…. then doesn’t that include everyone passionate about size activism?

  25. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Hey, Shannon, first of all, one of the things we talk about a lot is that health is not a moral imperative. So fat people, whether or not they meet some arbitrary standard for health, are all encouraged to be self-accepting and fat-accepting. Weight and health are totally not casual – there ARE thin people who are unhealthy and you just don’t hear about it because they are thin. That definitely is something that needs to be broken down, the automatic linkage of health and weight.

    There IS a philosophy/movement that encompasses pursuing health regardless of weight and size: it is the concept of HAES, Health At Every Size and there are, more and more frequently, even doctors who are getting on the HAES bandwagon. HAES is good because it does not set an arbitrary bar for defining health – it’s about personal health and what each individual can both achieve and work toward comfortably.

    Loving your body and wanting to better your heath are not contradictory goals. Wanting to make your body smaller because it is not acceptable at a certain size under the guise of improving your heath IS a contradictory goal to that of fat acceptance. I think accepting your body means wanting to take good care of it and enjoy it and if it is fat, that’s great! If it is thin, that is great! Treat your body well and if that means making changes like being more active because your body feels better when you are active, that is fantastic.

  26. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:41 am | Permalink

    Deeleigh – I am not sure to whom you are responding! Everything you mention is exactly WHY the fat activism community cannot meet the needs of dieters – the focus is just way too different. That doesn’t imply that losing weight is easy – just the opposite!

  27. admin
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Peanuts, that situation just plain sucks and I am so sorry you find yourself in it.

    Here’s where we seem to be parting agreement – I don’t think it is the job of the fat acceptance community to meet your needs when it comes to support for weight loss. It may very well be what is on the other side of that swamp for you and as an individual I can do nothing but support you as you make decisions that will improve your health. But no one community can meet all the needs of everyone and for fat activism as a political concept to gain any momentum and power, it has to be clear in its ideals and its stances on fundamental issues.

    That doesn’t disallow people like you from participating in the community. It doesn’t make any sort of value judgment about your decision. It just means you might need a different community as well that can meet your needs as you find your way through that swamp. That doesn’t mean you have failed the community and I don’t believe it means fat activism has failed you – it means you have a set of goals that is outside of the sphere of fat activism.

    Ideally, we WOULD live in a weight-neutral world. We just don’t yet. I really wish we did but I don’t know how long it will take for that to happen.

  28. Peanuts
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    Paul wrote:
    I’m not meaning to be totally callous but frankly, we need some fucking lines in the sand at this point. Not everyone can nor should be a fat activist by the definitions we’re hashing out here (and at Kate Harding’s blog).

    This is distinctly different from being “in the fat acceptance movement”. But, crap, having people claim to be fat activists who are dropping weight intentionally makes our message even weaker than it already is.

    I hear what you’re saying, but it really seems to lead to some weird conclusions when I apply it to my own life. If I’m understanding you right, Paul, then:

    I’m only allowed to be a fat activist if I put up with bad knees and nakedness? Am I right?

  29. Posted September 7, 2007 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Just responding to to people near the beginning of the thread who had casually mentioned losing a lot of weight; I believe it was Mary and Rose. To me, their posts seemed to imply that they’d gone from fat to thin by adopting healthy, moderate habits. In my observation, that’s not usually how it works.

  30. Peanuts
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    admin wrote:
    Here’s where we seem to be parting agreement – I don’t think it is the job of the fat acceptance community to meet your needs when it comes to support for weight loss.

    We do not differ here. I do not expect the fat acceptance community to meet needs for weight loss support, I am completely opposed to any such idea and I expect it to do the opposite, campaigning as it has always done against dieting and other forms of weight loss which have done so much harm to so many people.

    No no, what I want is different. I don’t want support. What I do want, is that if I do go about trying to lose weight (as my only possible route to some kind of quality of life), and I do it QUIETLY, my business not anyone else’s, me not promoting weight loss at all, then I don’t want to get tossed off the “fat activist” label.

    Why should I? If I continue to love my body at whatever fat weight it is, if I go round pointing out the truth about weight and health, if I promote HAES, if I provide support for those trying to love their body, if I raise awareness of weight discrimination, if I lend my copy of FAT!SO? out to anyone and everyone…. then am I not a fat activist?

  31. Posted September 7, 2007 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Peanuts: “I’m only allowed to be a fat activist if I put up with bad knees and nakedness? Am I right?”

    That’s health, not weight. And that issue has already been discussed in this commentstream more than once. I stand by my original statement.

  32. Dame Mel
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    “No no, what I want is different. I don’t want support. What I do want, is that if I do go about trying to lose weight (as my only possible route to some kind of quality of life), and I do it QUIETLY, my business not anyone else’s, me not promoting weight loss at all, then I don’t want to get tossed off the “fat activist” label.”

    Amen, Peanuts. But I guess you really can’t have your cake and eat it, too.

    Paul: How the hell is having bad knees completely related to “health” and completely divorced from “weight?”

  33. Peanuts
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 11:13 am | Permalink

    Paul:
    Peanuts: “I’m only allowed to be a fat activist if I put up with bad knees and nakedness? Am I right?”

    That’s health, not weight.

    Wrong. Bad knees may vary, but my particular pair of bad knees will ONLY get better if I lose weight. And thus, any “I want to improve my knees’ health” initiative must necessarily include nasty ol’ weight loss.

    As for the nakedness, you are even more wrong. Are you seriously saying that if I improve my health then I will mysteriously find that I can buy clothes to wear? WRONG. The clothes issue has everything to do with circumference, which has a very high correlation with weight but a zero correlation with health.

    Dame Mel, can I join you in NoWoman’s land?

  34. Dame Mel
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Peanuts,
    You’re welcome here in NoWoman’s Land. Feel free to call yourself a Goddess Who Really Wants to See Fat Oppression End, too! ;-)

  35. Posted September 7, 2007 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Holy high heck, Peanuts.

    “Are you seriously saying that if I improve my health then I will mysteriously find that I can buy clothes to wear?”

    No, and putting words in my mouth is unappreciated. Your HEALTH has nothing to do with your CLOTHING in this case, and I haven’t stated otherwise. Ridiculous.

    Steering back to the original topic, I highly suggest everyone reads TR’s latest post for some perspective.

  36. Posted September 7, 2007 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

    Okay, i’m intentionally posting this in several blogs where this has recently come up, as well as my own blog. I want as many opinions on this matter as possible. I’m asking this because the term has been tossed around many times, and it seems like a lot of the recent debates, discussions and misunderstandings come down to this one phrase.

    Fat Activist.

    So tell me:
    1. What is your definition of a Fat Activist?
    2. What qualities give a Fat Activist the capital letters in that title?
    3. How is a Fat Activist different from a Fat-Acceptance Supporter?

    (If you feel i’m totally hijacking your post, please feel free to ignore/delete/whatever – i will not be offended in the slightest, promise. Also, feel free to repost this in your own blogs as a new post, if you so desire.)

  37. Peanuts
    Posted September 7, 2007 at 2:45 pm | Permalink

    No, and putting words in my mouth is unappreciated. Your HEALTH has nothing to do with your CLOTHING in this case, and I haven’t stated otherwise.

    Thanks for the clarification, as that’s exactly what you did appear to state when I mentioned nakedness and you said that that was a matter of health not weight. I guess you were referring to the other part of the sentence.

    But my point still holds. I deduce from what you’ve written that you will not consider me a fat activist if I deliberately choose to try and lose weight, no matter how much fat activism I do, and yet if I do not manage to lose weight, then it will be incredibly difficult for me to avoid nakedness. I thus deduce that it is very likely I would have to take the nakedness option in order to be a fat activist in your eyes.

  38. Loretta
    Posted September 11, 2007 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been pondering this all day, mainly because I’m a lurker in general and NEVER comment. This finally forced me out of hiding.

    The problems that have always lingered for me with the FA movement is not that they rebuke claims that fat is always linked to medical problems. I absolutely agree that is isn’t. We all know too many ‘fat’ people are told they just need to lose weight.

    But you have to admit, sometimes is really, really is. If your have high blood pressure and you never exercise and eat crap, then you have to have a “Come to Jesus” meeting with yourself and ask yourself if your weight is a contributing factor. Maybe it is, and maybe it isn’t. Only that person can know.

    I DO think it’s positive to encourage people to love their bodies as they are so long as they are feeling good and healthy and strong, who cares what size they are.

    But when they AREN’T – and you know what I’m talking about here, those folks at the BBW dances who are immobile, , have labored breathing, and perhaps suffering from some BED- isn’t is also part of any responsible movement to encourage their health no matter what that means, even if by taking care of themselves they in the process – GAH- lose weight? Most FA folks don’t fall into Super Size, but if your’re 700 lbs on a 5’7 frame you’re going to have a heck of a time convincing anyone – including those who believe in FA – that this is healthy and that actively attempting to lose weight won’t improve their quality of life. Leaving the house, for one, would appear to be an improvement.

    Just my meaningless two cents.

5 Trackbacks

  1. By Fat acceptance and dieting « Fat Chick Crafts on September 6, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    [...] debate going on in the cyber-world today about fat acceptance vs. dieting.  Both Kate Harding and the Rotund have had great posts on it [...]

  2. [...] that Hanne Blank has started a new blog about her new project: becoming reduced fat. And lo, the tut-tutting has begun. (Note: I have a fairly strict no-comment-reading policy on most blogs; I took a peek at [...]

  3. [...] a lot of pain, and a lot of examination, in the fat acceptance blogosphere. The thoughtful posts at The Rotund and Shapely Prose both have 85+ comments in their comment threads, which tells you how important [...]

  4. By Defining your terms at Kindly Póg Mo Thóin on September 9, 2007 at 8:44 am

    [...] Here’s an example: 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. [...]

  5. [...] was a big kerfuffle about this in the fatosphere a few weeks ago. In the Big Fat Clubhouse, if they have a discussion [...]

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