How Can Thin People Promote Fat Acceptance? 

It’s a question you see a lot — how can someone who is not fat be a good ally to fat people?

There are a few basic things you can do, some easier than others.

First, stop engaging in diet talk, body hatred, food moralizing, and so on. Stop telling fat jokes and equating eating a lot or being lazy with being fat. Even if there are no fat people around. Even if you only mean it in a self-directed way.

Every time you say something negative about bodies, including your own, you are enforcing the hierarchy that makes thin more socially acceptable than fat. So even if you don’t say this in the presence of fat people, the not-fat people who may be around are hearing this and their own prejudices are being legitimized. Additionally, even if someone doesn’t appear fat to you, they may still struggle with body image or an eating disorder, may have fat people in their lives that they don’t want to hear being insulted, and so on. Also, it’s just a rude and nasty way to be and you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life.

This sort of talk includes moralization of food. Referring to things as good or bad, talking about how you need to “work off” something you ate, or discussing whether someone “needs to” or “should” eat something all enforce the same fatphobia. People do all of these things because of a fear of becoming fat. They may claim it’s because of “health” but if that were the case there would be no talk of working off food, there would be talk of vitamin content or eating for joy (because mental health is health, too!).

Stop using the term “flattering” when talking about clothes. That word just means making someone’s body appear to conform to ideals (meaning, making it look smaller). If someone is wearing something that isn’t “flattering,” that’s OK! They probably want to be wearing it, and it probably makes them happy, which is what matters. Or maybe it’s all they can afford, so laughing at them makes you twice the jerk.

Saying “get fat” when you mean “eat lots of delicious foods” is harmful as well. It reinforces stereotypes. People of all sizes have lazy days or go to events where they eat a ton of rich dessert.

Second, speak up when you hear others doing these things. Tell people you don’t want to hear about diets and that what someone else eats is their own business. Tell people that it’s not cool to make fun of someone’s clothes, even if they are wearing something that’s not normally shown on their body type (fat girls in mini skirts and crop tops? Rock on). Point out that eating a lot doesn’t equal getting fat, and that it’s not OK to make that false equivalence. Don’t let people get away with casually reinforcing stereotypes.

Third, speak up when you see a fat person being bullied. Confront people who are making fun of someone and tell them it’s not cool. Obviously, be mindful of safety, but if something feels unsafe to you imagine what it must feel like for the victim. If you can’t directly intervene, go up to the victim and ask if they’re OK.

(If they get mad and brush you off, or even if they are outright rude to you, don’t retort. They’re not actually angry with you, they’re mad at the situation and probably extremely embarrassed.)

If you CAN intervene, shame the bully as strongly as possible, but do so without relying on stereotypes. Things like “that’s not cool” or “her/his body/health/outfit/meal/etc is none of your business” or simply “leave him/her alone” are fine. If in public, don’t be afraid to be loud (unless it would make things worse for the victim).

Bullies don’t react well to being embarrassed or to having the tables turned on them, but they’re also cowards. Most of the time they’ll slink away. When I loudly shamed the douche on the subway who told me to go running every morning, it didn’t take much to get him to slink away. Once attention was turning to him, and people were giving HIM the stink eye, he lost his power.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where members of the socially dominant group’s opinions are valued more than members of the oppressed group. This means if you are privileged, it’s your duty to speak up. Thin people need to call out fat-shaming, similar to how white people should call out racism, straight people should call out homophobia, men should call out sexism, and so on. It will mean so much to the victim, and it makes the world just a tiny bit more pleasant.

Advertisements

Bullies Gonna Bully on Project Runway

Spoilers!

By now you’ve probably seen the news that Ashley Nell Tipton won season 14 of Project Runway. Yay! 

Her collection was absolutely gorgeous, full of looks that I would love to wear, and I hope she goes far as a designer. But that’s not what I want to talk about right now.

What I want to discuss is the horror show that was the Project Runway reunion episode. (Note: if you haven’t read Melissa McEwan’s piece about the episode over at Shakesville, please do so.)

Awhile back, I talked about the way other designers were treating Ashley, and how I felt that was rooted in fatphobia. 

And during the reunion, these same people doubled down and acted like awful bullies. 

First, there were the not-so-subtle assertions that Ashley only won because she did a plus collection (because plus designers have it so easy in the sizeist fashion world?). Obviously this is ridiculous. If you look at all four collections, hers was the most beautiful and innovative regardless of size. She could have made it for straight size models and it still would have been head and shoulders above the others. Ashley won because she produced the best collection. Full stop. 

Then they brought up the horrific paintball episode and the bullying that Ashley endured. This is where things got really, really bad. The designers who had been so mistreating Ashley showed no self-awareness or remorse for their actions. They didn’t even seem to realize that there was anything to feel remorse for. That’s how out of touch and self-centered they were. What’s worse, beyond just doubling down on their mistreatment, they gaslit Ashley and turned the blame onto her. Suddenly, they made t out like Ashley had done something wrong by not coming to their defense when they were (rightly) called out on their behavior. 

This is so often what happens to fat people when we call out bullying. (To be honest, it probably happens to any marginalized group, but I’m not going to speak for experiences I don’t have.) The onus is on the fat person to somehow prove the bullying was weight-based, which means unless someone explicitly mentions fat the victim won’t be believed. Thin people will search for any possible reason other than fatphobia for the reason someone was mistreated, even if it means blaming the victim. Instances of “should” abound — the fat person should have done this or that to mitigate the bullying. 

This is not ok. 

If you are not fat, when someone who is fat says they were abused in a sizeist or fatphobic way, it’s your duty to believe them (same goes for race, sexuality, or gender based harassment). They know their experience better than you. People know the difference between rudeness and weight-based bullying. We’ve lived it. Contrary to popular stereotypes, we are smart and savvy and can read what is happening around us. 

And Tim Gunn: I am disappointed in you. You are unafraid to let people know in the workroom when they aren’t performing up to standards, but you let these women run all over the season’s winner? You could have, should have, done a lot more to call them out. They needed someone to step in and put them in their place, and you failed. 

But you know what? Ashley won, and those sanctimonious bullies did not. 

When Ex-Fatties Are the Worst

TW: this post will contain discussion of a specific and extreme diet

I had a professor a few semesters ago who would constantly say “confession is good for the soul” before he said anything personal. I’m going to borrow that for a moment and confess something. 

Six or so years ago, I was briefly an ex-fatty. Technically I was still fat, but I was starved down to in-betweenie sizes. And I was terrible. 

I’m sure I was an absolute chore to be around. My favorite topic of conversation was my diet, and I’d police what others ate freely and uninvited. 

What did I do to get this way? A “doctor” was selling a liquid diet from his office, and I fell for it. So I consumed minute quantities of powdered milkshakes and soups peppered with the occasional granola bar type thing (solids!). When I complained that I was too hungry to function, this “doctor” prescribed me Phentermine. If you aren’t familiar, it’s half of Fen-Phen — remember that stuff that had to be pulled because it killed people? Yeah, I took one of its components. 

It “worked” I guess. I lost something like 70 pounds, getting down to a size 16 from a 22/24. And guess what? That wasn’t good enough for me. I still hated myself. And it made me The Worst. 

See, when you do something like that, it’s all-consuming. You are literally starving yourself. It becomes all you can think about. Did I eat too much? Not eat enough? Should I drink extra water so I pee a lot before my next weigh-in? So it’s the only thing you can talk about. 

And now that I’m on the other side, I recognize how incredibly boring that must have been for everyone around me. 

When an ex-fatty is horrible toward fat people, that’s got to be a part of it. Also, you feel slighted — I did all this awful stuff to become smaller and I still hate myself, why does his fat chick get to love herself without the pain? It’s a prime example of Jes Baker’s idea of body currency, which you should read about if you haven’t. 

I’m not making excuses, because there are none. No one should be a douche about your body. Ever. I feel terrible that I was ever like that, and I now dedicate myself to never acting that way again. 

When you’re an ex-fatty you think you have an answer, that you’ve solved fatness. Of course, you don’t. There is no solution (not that there needs to be). Weight loss is temporary. But when you’re in the process, it’s like you’ve found a new religion or something — you have to proselytize. 

So how can we, current fatties, shut up ex-fatties? It’s difficult to say. If you remind people that weight loss is temporary you will probably be treated like you’re mean and stupid, which is not fun. I tend to stick with something aong the lines of, “if you feel good then I’m happy for you but that is not how I wish to live my life so please don’t bring it up around me.” You have to set boundaries and follow through. If they persist, leave the conversation (if possible). In the future if it comes up, leave again. If you can’t leave, redirect. Every time they bring up their starvation, talk about the weather or the Yankees or the new crochet technique you learned. 

Just because I understand their mentality doesn’t make it ok. No one gets to make you feel lousy in your own skin. 

Can’t Stop Us

I know I just wrote about Ragen Chastain’s stalker-like trolls last week, but she continues to deal with issues so I’m going to keep talking. 

Yesterday she posted a picture to Facebook from outside one of her talks. She was outside because someone had pulled the fire alarm to prevent her from speaking. 

You read that right. The same thing annoying kids do to get out of taking tests. An adult did that to try and keep another adult from giving a speech. 

Of course, it didn’t stop her. The talk went on, just a bit later than planned. But let’s seriously think about what is happening here. People are so fixated on her that they obsessively follow and try to sabotage her events. They are threatened by this fat woman who loves herself teaching other fat people to love themselves. That’s it. They are disrupting events and following a person in her life because her message of self-love is just too much for them to bear. 

If someone is speaking and you don’t like them, don’t go to the talk. It’s that simple. Bill O’Reilly spoke at my school a couple of years ago and the most I did was gripe about it to people in my cohort (I happen to think someone who promotes racism, sexism, and homophobia should stay away from universities, but maybe that’s just me). 

I don’t know what else I can say about this that hasn’t been said already by me or someone else. But we need to pay attention to this. It’s approaching GamerGate-esque levels of harassment and stalking, and it needs to be addressed. Take this seriously. Don’t say to “ignore the trolls” because these are no longer just annoying haters in the comments sections; these are real people disrupting real lives and threatening real safety. They aren’t trolls; now they’re criminals. 

Whole New Levels of Creepy

If anyone reading this (either of you?) is familiar with Ragen over at Dances with Fat, you probably know that she has been training for an IRONMAN triathlon. This past weekend she did a test run, an IRONMAN 70.3 (which is half the distance of the main race), on the same course she’ll be on next year. 

Why am I writing about someone else’s endeavors? Two reasons: first, it didn’t go well, and second, trolls. 

The first point, that it didn’t go well, is an important one. It’s ok to fail. It’s even ok to fail at a physical endeavor when you’re fat. Really! I will let you read Ragen’s own words on the race at her blog, but I wanted to say that there is no shame in trying something new and having it go badly. Anyone who tries something new and challenges themselves is still a rock star in my eyes. 

To the second point: trolls. Ragen has been dealing with them for years, but they have gotten virulently awful since she started training for the IRONMAN. They are sending the usual threats and nasty remarks, but it has gotten more personal. They have threatened to show up while she’s training or racing and physically hurt her. 

And they did show up. Fortunately they didn’t harm her, but someone actually came to the race and took pictures of her, only to gleefully post them later and announce her DNF status. 

I would assume most reasonable people would understand how this is not ok, and how it’s a level of creepy. Actually, creepy isn’t strong enough. This is harassment, plain and simple. Even if they did not engage with her there, and even if it was an event that’s open to the public, the fact remains that at least one person went there simply because she, a fat person who does not hate herself, was competing. Their intent was to belittle and humiliate her. Online after the fact, of course. I’m sure they don’t have the courage to face the consequences that come from doing anything in person. 

But it only takes one deluded creature to carry something out IRL. 
I’m not sure what the solution is. When all they do is mock and take photos, two legal activities, there isn’t really any recourse. I wouldn’t want people blocked from photographing their friends or family in a race because of these losers. But we need to make sure the world is aware that this happens, and that it is a direct result of a culture that prizes thinness and hates fat. 

These people will lose eventually. Fat bodies will be normalized, people will accept that we don’t need to change, and we will triumph. But until then, we need to keep calling out scumbags, blocking them from interacting with us, and making sure our fellow fats are ok. 

No, It’s Not Like Smoking 

Sigh. And ugh. I was on Facebook recently and made the mistake of reading comments on a post relating to fat. 

I know, when will I learn?

The post was from Everyday Feminism, asking readers what topics they’d like to see covered relating to fat acceptance. Many of the comments were actually not bad — they were legit suggestions and ideas. But then there were the d-bags accusing them of promoting ill health or ugliness or demonic possession or whatever it is we’re blaming on fat these days.

One that struck me was along the lines of “what’s next, we’re gonna write about smoking acceptance?” Insert dumb frat boy-esque mock laugh here. 

Fat is not like smoking. Repeat. FAT IS NOT LIKE SMOKING.

First of all, you can pretty directly blame health problems like cancer and emphysema on smoking. You cannot blame health problems causally on fat. If we are going with the health angle (which is problematic, since it carries the implication that health status matters when deciding if you should treat someone like a person), there are distinct differences. 

But more importantly, smoking is an addiction and habit while fat is a state of being. They are not close to equal. 

If you are making the false equivalence between fat and diet, first of all, you’re a douche, second of all, you are wrong. Smoking and diet are not the same. Smoking is not necessary to live. Eating is. You can eliminate cigarettes completely from your life and continue to live (you will feel a lot better and save money, too). You cannot eliminate food if you want to survive very long. It may be difficult to quit smoking, but it is impossible to quit eating. 

Plus, cigarettes are harmful to the people around you. If you smoke around others they cannot avoid the harmful secondhand smoke. If you eat around other people you are not hurting them. Food smells cannot kill someone. 

I know there are a lot of people who don’t like looking at fat humans as we exist. There are also a lot of people who don’t want to be around the stench of cigarettes. However, these are still not equal. If you don’t like looking at someone for any reason you can simply look away (you can also get the hell over yourself). There is no lingering effect. If I have to walk through a cloud of smoke, I cannot avoid it. I breathe it in against my will and it clings to my clothes and hair. 

But more importantly, disliking someone’s bad habit is not the same as disliking their entire state of existence. That is the main point here. All other arguments aside, you are comparing someone’s body to an addiction. Something people can choose to quit doing with the way someone is made. That’s unconscionable. 

You Don’t Need to Be Changing to Demand Respect 

More and more often, we’ve been seeing pieces written by individuals who are calling out bigots for their horrible words or actions. This is great, but all too often the ones aimed at fat-shaming include some caveat about how the author has lost weight, is trying to lose weight, or has some condition that has made them fat. 

Posts that do this, in their attempt to call out sizeist behavior, are actually perpetuating it. 

It doesn’t matter why someone is fat. It doesn’t matter if someone’s weight has changed in any direction. People don’t deserve to be bullied. 

If you run a 10K every weekend and live on kale and beans, great. If the only marathon that interests you involves episodes of Star Trek on Netflix, also great. If you’re fat because of thyroid or PCOS or some medication, fine. If you’re fat because you don’t like exercise, also fine. If you don’t know why you’re fat and it’s just the way you are, cool. Again, it doesn’t matter.

We don’t need to perpetuate the good vs bad fatty dichotomy to call out bigots. People deserve dignity simply because they are people. And changing to satisfy a bully never works. They just want more, or they find something else to focus on. 

So please, keep letting people know it’s not ok to fat-shame. But don’t do it at the expense of others.