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.

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Prescribing Exercise

Earlier today I saw an article on Facebook about doctors prescribing exercise to treat various conditions. While I’m not exactly opposed to the idea of discussing exercise as a way to maintain long term health, I’m concerned about what implications the idea of prescription could have. 

I’m wondering about the classism, ableism, and sizeism that could emerge in this. If someone has a chronic condition (mental or physical) that makes it hard to move, prescribed exercise might not be possible. And I know a doctor SHOULD be able to adjust for a patient’s specific needs, but there are too many misunderstood conditions and too many doctors that don’t want to put forth the effort or time to figure that out.

Even if someone is physically and mentally healthy, if they are living in poverty that can throw up more barriers. Someone working three jobs doesn’t exactly have time to go for an evening jog. Low-pay jobs are already more often physically taxing, will physicians count that as exercise or still demand more, which someone might be too busy and exhausted to do?

And of course, this could have horrific implications for fat people. There’s no control on applying this prescription equally. I would be unsurprised if doctors “prescribed” exercise at higher levels and frequencies in fat patients, or even accused them of lying regardless of hard data to back it up. I’m not saying exercise can’t be helpful in maintaining health for people of all sizes, but I don’t trust doctors to not be discriminatory in the application. 

For example, I had a doctor ask me about my exercise, which, fine, that’s something she could be asking everyone. But then the second I started explaining it she interrupted me to tell me how exercise works and how you can’t just stop when you get tired and how you have to gradually increase the amount. All basic stuff that she assumed I wouldn’t know, AFTER she hassled me about not wanting to be weighed. It was clear from her words and demeanor that she was reacting to my being fat. If a thin patient had said the same things she probably would have listened and believed them. 

(The kicker is that I grew up with a certified aerobics instructor/personal trainer for a mother so I probably learned more about exercise just sitting in the back of a class after school than she could imagine.)

So I’m not convinced that this is a workable thing. There’s nothing wrong with recommending exercise for long-term health, but there are too many variables for unequal application and discriminatory behavior to make prescribing it a good idea. 

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. 

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. 

I Will Not Watch “Dear Fat People”

There is a hateful, bigoted video going around right now called “Dear Fat People.” It was created by some no-name YouTube woman who is apparently using abuse to grasp at popularity, and it has been popping up (with responses) around the fat realm. 

I will not watch it. 

For one, I don’t intend to give that bigot any more legitimacy or clicks than she has already gotten. People who use bullying to gain popularity don’t deserve it. So I will not view it or link to it here. 

Additionally, I can pretty much already guess what it says. Fat haters are among the most boring and unoriginal people around, and no matter how they repackage it, they never say anything new. It’s always some variation on how we’ve done this to ourselves, we need to eat less and exercise more, how we’re gross and unhealthy and a burden, and how fat-shaming isn’t bigotry it’s just tough love meant to inspire us because health. There is literally nothing original to say. 

So why should I waste the mental spoons to watch something that has nothing unique to say and will serve only to make me angry? The woman behind this is not worthy of my time and energy (beyond the short amount necessary to write this quick post). 

I’d rather devote my brain space to people who deserve my admiration and respect. I’ll keep my eye out for NOLOSE conference updates or cute new fat fashion lines. Things that lift people up instead of tearing them down. Because no one needs to listen to that. 

Cutthroat Fat-Hate

Alton Brown is at it again. By “it” I mean being a self-important, smarmy fat-shamer.

In the New York Times, he decided to lay in on fatties by using the highly unoriginal stereotype that we’re all throwing back Big Macs every day.

Obesity is not a disease…the second that our society starts thinking that shoveling Big Macs into our face is a disease then we’re done, we’re done as a culture.

Had he stopped after the first five words, we’d have been on the same page. “Obesity” is a made-up medical condition that means nothing other than that you carry a bit more adipose tissue than average. It’s based off the BMI system, which was never intended to measure health. It’s not a disease. He’s right about that.

But then the rest. It’s hateful as well as boring. Using McDonald’s as a jab against fat people is tired and old. It’s like a fallback for people with no originality. The topless woman in Times Square just used it as well. It’s an easy scapegoat for bigots. As an aside, if you DO eat Big Macs or other fast food every day, that’s OK. In this space there is no judgment about anyone’s eating habits or other lifestyle choices.

And apparently, a bigot is exactly what Brown is. According to this account, at a reading in Iowa a few years ago he managed to insult Black people and gay people, plus advocate for being unbelievable rude to restaurant workers. Plus, this is not the first time that Brown has made anti-fat statements. He is a typical formerly fat person who believes he has all the answers and that everyone should strive to be former fatties as well, despite the fact that this is not attainable in the long term for nearly everyone.

I had been enjoying watching Cutthroat Kitchen, Brown’s current hosting gig. I don’t have cable at home, but every chance I get I have watched it. It’s a good combination of competition and fun evil. But I’m sick of supporting this man and his hateful words. So I won’t be watching it anymore. Nor will I buy any of Brown’s books or other merchandise.

I Was Rooting For You, Topless Lady

If you’ve been watching news sources over the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably noticed that here in NYC, there has been an inordinate amount of time spent talking about boobs. Specifically, about women who wear paint on their boobs and pose for photos in Times Square.

Of course, this is ridiculous. It’s legal for women to be topless in public in NYC, and there are far worse offenses out there (hey, remember how our police force murdered someone last year?). It’s another way to police women’s bodies and create public shame.

So I want to be on the side of these women. But then I read a quote from one of them:

In the newspaper, instead of reporting the nice things that people say about us, despite the fact that maybe 95 out of 100 people that walk past me smile at me or look happy or start laughing, or say hello, no, there’s just one or two people that say, “Oh, it’s disgusting” or “It’s horrible.” It’s usually—and I hate to be rude about this—overweight women. They’re the ones that are rude to us the whole day. To be honest, men don’t harass us that often. I feel like men are a little bit nervous about us.

It’s the women that come past who are overweight and have their kids around and they’re perpetuating this negative view that their children should be afraid of their own bodies. It makes me really angry because I feel like the naked human body is a beautiful thing and nobody should be afraid of it. These ghetto fat women walk past us with their children and go, “That’s disgusting. Put some clothes on.” I feel like saying to them, “Stop feeding your children McDonalds. Tell your girls that they have beautiful bodies and raise them as strong women to understand that their body is their body and they have control over it. They don’t have to be afraid of being harassed or feeling belittled because they have a beautiful woman’s body.”

So. Yeah. There is no longer anyone in this situation that I feel like I can get behind. I get that these women are trying to do their thing and are getting disproportionately shamed for it, but why bring sizeism and racism into it? How does being fatphobic make people sympathetic to you? It doesn’t. But I also strongly disagree with the powers that be who want to further sterilize the city, or the people who attach shame and ridicule to women’s bodies.

Getting rid of pedestrian plazas is not a good solution. Being topless is NYC is legal, whether you like it or not. Yes, people peddling photos or whatever in Times Square are annoying, but they come with the territory. Ignore them, or, you know, visit some other part of the city, though I can’t guarantee you won’t encounter annoying people or bare boobs anywhere else. But maybe don’t use hatred when trying to get people on your side. Or ever, really.