Fat Acceptance Primer

Okay, the trolls are rolling in after yesterday’s post got me over 500 800 hits (normally I might hit 15-20!), so I’m going to do a very brief primer on FA and then leave it at that. This is not principally a FA blog, although it is an issue I care about a great deal. But the blogosphere is full of focused FA blogs where people have already addressed and continue to address every one of these arguments every day. So I’m not usually going to focus here on knocking down every single one of your fat-hating bingo points. (As the bingo cards should demonstrate, though, we have heard most of it before.) But still, I’ll give a little background and a few links.

The idea that being fat might possibly be acceptable is clearly just shocking to people who have had nothing but the opposite message bombarding them for their entire lives. Fair enough – it can be very, very hard to step outside that box and consider another viewpoint. But there is a growing group of people of all sizes who are saying exactly that: it is and should be acceptable to have a body of any shape or size without inviting intrusion, condemnation, vilification, disrespect, abuse, or a lack of dignity. The “scientific” data (I say as a scientist, though not a medical biologist) that are presented in mainstream news articles and magazines and diet books are generally distorted in one way or another, in part because one goal of those media is to sell a product (I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but it can’t be denied that the weight loss industry is a huge part of our economy). Other reasons have to do with the fact that we like to police each other, we like a good scapegoat, and we have a tendency to vilify anything we associate (wrongly or rightly) with unabashedly living and enjoying life without self-deprivation and Puritan asceticism.

I encourage you to read Kate Harding’s sum-up of some major FA points. There have been some newer studies since it was written, but it’s a good start. There are also a large number of linked studies in this open thread, including links to some other 101-type posts. So before you start wailing about the OBESITY CRISIS BOOGA BOOGA, please just read those. I have no interest in arguing about basics with the entire internet, when you could read up yourself and then we can have a more informed and respectful discussion about all sides of this issue.

If my suggestion that long-term weight loss isn’t possible OR necessary is really deeply upsetting to you, because you or someone you care about wants to lose weight or has lost weight recently, please please read the Fantasy of Being Thin. It is a brilliant post that might turn your brain inside out a little.

A few major points worth repeating here:

  • Diets don’t work, including diet-and-exercise, “lifestyle changes” with the goal of weight loss, any of it.
  • Correlation does not mean causation. Causation might be worth exploring, but it’s not automatic. Or dictated by gut feelings (“But I just KNOW fat people eat more! It has to be true!!”).
  • Attractiveness is not a requirement of living. Certainly no one owes it to you to look better.
  • People find different things attractive, anyway.
  • You are going to die. Someday. We all are.
  • Evo psych is crap. So are “caveman” arguments.
  • You can’t tell anything about a person’s habits or health just by looking at them. No, really.
  • If you aren’t a specialist in biomechanics, please don’t try to make arguments about thermodynamics or how human joints work. It’s actually not simple physics. Your body is not a bunsen burner, as they say (who first said that, anyway?). And your skeleton is a complex thing.
  • It’s generally a good rule to stay out of other people’s business, even if you disapprove of whatever they’re doing. Unless they’re beating another person in front of you, or asking for help, it’s not your problem.

Please read and consider the comment policy before posting. Disagreement and dialog are just fine. Trolling is not.

On thin privilege

ETA: Please read the comment policy. I will not approve hateful comments. This includes fat-hating ones. And no, being fat isn’t a choice, and overweight people live the longest.

In the general blogosphere concerned with social justice issues, there’s a lot of discussion about what is privilege, how it manifests, and how it should be approached. There is not a lot of talk, however, about fat politics and fat acceptance, and how that plays out in a society that highly privileges thin people over fatter ones. That is, except for fat acceptance blogs, and the occasional feminist blog with an appreciation for FA (looking at you, Shakes!). When Fillyjonk at Shapely Prose, my favorite FA blog, asked me to write a post about thin privilege, I took up the challenge.

So, Fillyjonk recently asked me to write a guest post about thin privilege.

What’s interesting is that at first, it was really hard for me to know what to say. My first, reflexive thought was that I could just tell my own story! I mean, I’m thin and all. But I quickly shot that down. Talking about my experiences as a thin person, on a FA blog, would be an excellent demonstration of thin privilege, but it wouldn’t accomplish much else. Fat acceptance is fundamentally not ABOUT the thin experience. It’s really not about me, at all. In fact, that’s really what I should be talking about.

But I’m going to take a minute to ward off as much of the anticipated defensiveness as I can right off the bat, even though I hate feeling like I’m placating the WATM-style whining (this time with Thin!). After all, it’s not like the FA community needs a lecture on thin privilege (HEY GUESS WHAT FATTIES I GET IT NOW CAN I HAVE A COOKIEDOUGHNUT): this is really for thin people out there who haven’t really considered their own privilege.

So, do some thin people get shit for being thin? Of course! People’s bodies – especially women’s bodies – are treated like public property all the time. And standing out in any way, especially in a physical way, often just seems to invite additional ridicule and mistreatment. Maybe that’s why some thin people posit that they are the same, the fat experience and the thin experience. Getting teased and bullied for the shape and even the existence of your body, something you fundamentally can’t change, and in many cases (for both the thin and the fat) something you might try to change about yourself in hopeless and self-damaging ways – well, that shit hurts, and it’s a deeply personal, formative experience. So I think that for some thin people, there’s resentment when they hear a fat person complaining, like the fat person is trying to invalidate or one-up their own painful, skinny past. For others, there can be this pull to try to identify with the painful experiences of a fat person: to think you understand, to find a comrade who was also pushed around by the kids on the playground. I admit that I think, at first, the latter is the perspective I came from more often when I would talk with my fat friends.

Both of those reactions are, I think, understandable. But they’re rooted in privilege for one major reason: those experiences were not the same. The similarities I listed above, well, that’s probably about where the commonality ends. (There are other similar, small details, like being sized out of some clothes, but I think that covers most of it.) Sure, the thin kid and the fat kid both got teased/beat up/ridiculed/targeted through school, and that’s horrible. Both probably still get at least occasional public insults as adults. But there is a fundamental difference in the way society as a whole treats, envisions, pictures those two types of bodies. That teasing didn’t happen in the same social context, so it didn’t have the same tone or impact. And if you haven’t lived in a fat body, you simply can’t know what that experience was, or how much worse it was than your own.

Again, don’t get me wrong; bodies in public and especially all women’s bodies face an impossible catch-22. The line between not-thin-enough and too-thin is impossibly narrow (ha!), and a moving target, besides. That size six is wayyyyy too fat to be a model, ew so gross, but OMG, did you see how disgustingly thin those runway models are??? You either have to diet (to finally become either that really hot thin person, or at least just incrementally less-fat and therefore more acceptable), or you’re far too thin. Everybody loses. But there’s a fundamental question of degree here. In social discourse there may be pretty frequent complaints about those women who are too skinny, but it simply does not compare to the scale of fat stigma. (And I think a great deal of that discourse comes from resentment, felt entirely fairly by the vast majority of the population that doesn’t have one of those idealized bodies and has been practically disappeared from the public eye. Blaming that on thin women is, however, misdirected.) When every image of a woman in every magazine, on every tv show, in every movie and billboard and annoying Facebook ad, is not only thin but impossibly-Photoshopped-thin; when half of the reality shows on TV these days seem to be weight-loss contests; when every women’s magazine cover is screaming about diets and weight loss; when the assumed audience for every news article about health issues is universally thin, and doctors are berating and even blatantly neglecting their patients because all they can see is their own fat-hatred – well, there’s simply no comparison.

Example: Last week, I finally got around to getting a physical at my new doctor’s office. I’m not crazy about her, but she was the only doctor in my area accepting new patients when I moved here, and she’s brusque but does the job. It bothered me from the beginning that there are ads for drugs literally papering the office walls, including distorted weight loss statistics on posters advertising weight loss drugs. There is even one of those hanging from the scale (I mean, seriously?? HEY FATTIES DON’T FORGET YOU’RE A FATTY). But as a very thin person, though I hate it, that really doesn’t impact me, and I need a doctor. So at this visit, my first physical there, they measured my waist circumference, I shit you not. The nurse took the measurement and then said, “Good girl!” while she wrote it down on the chart, like I had accomplished something by having thin parents (and deserved a doggie treat for it, no less). And then the doctor, when she looked at my chart, said she was concerned that I am underweight. I said, “Yes, and so is my whole family, and I couldn’t gain weight if I tried,” and she shrugged and said, “Okay!” Based on everything else that goes on in that office, I can pretty much guarantee that if I had been fat (hell, probably even a BMI of 26) I would have been walking out of there 1) with a prescription for WW (there were ads for that, too!), 2) with an admonition to cut out the cough drops, and 3) fighting back tears.

So apparently, if you’re “too thin?” (to live? Clearly not!) – oh well! We know there’s nothing you can do about it (because for some reason, THAT has entered public awareness, but the futility and harmfulness of weight loss programs have not), and at least you aren’t fat (because while my BMI category may have the highest mortality rate, at least the movies say I’m sexy!). And while “Put some meat on your bones!” may make me want to break a window with my bare hands, it doesn’t even compare with repeated, hateful catcalls of “Whale!” or “Cow!”

When FJ asked me to write this post, she mentioned that it might mean more for people to see a post about thin privilege written by a thin person. I don’t think she meant that for the SP community (hi, choir!), but the certainly for the broader, more fatphobic internet-public that might stumble in from Salon. It makes me angry (at the world, not FJ) that because I’m not one of those fat fat fatties, I can bring some cred to this whole FA thing: look, a skinny girl who cares about fat people!! hey, what was this post about, again? Yeah, I have automatic credibility on the subject of fat prejudice, despite never having experienced it firsthand, while actual fat people are just wrong/deluded/lying. THAT makes sense.

So that fucking sucks. But maybe if enough allies write posts like this one, people will just start listening to what fat people are saying about their own lives in the first place.

(Cross-posted at Shapely Prose.)

February Scientiae

Okay, so at least the Scientiae posts mean I have to write about SOMETHING every month! (I promise I have another weighty post in the works, but I need to think about it some more.)

This month’s Carnival topic is about what a better, more equitable society should look like, my dreams for my life and others, and whether or not those dreams are achievable. It’s a weighty topic! Also, it’s so closely related to almost everything I read on blogs these days that I don’t really know where to start. There are just so MANY things that seem to need improvement. But it’s good to get back to the big picture and think about this question.

I feel like my vision of a perfect, truly equal society is a fairyland. It’s a necessary goal, but something we may never really attain, and certaily not in my lifetime. But a better society, well, that might be doable. I hope it is. Hell, it has to be. In the context of science, I would like to see, for example, frank and open discussions among faculty of all genders and colors and backgrounds and shapes and sizes, about how to (for instance) make sure we are being sensitive to the needs of all groups, without anyone getting defensive over their own privilege. In fact, I’d like to see that everywhere. In my magical fairyworld, of course, there would be no inequity, so privilege wouldn’t exist. But in the real world, it would feel like a grand step forward if people would simply recognize their own privilege, so that we could stop arguing about it. It’s something I need to work on myself. So does everyone else.

So that’s a dream of mine for a more equitable society, particularly in science. Is it achievable? Not really – it’s kind of an impossible end goal, too. But it’s something we have to work towards nonetheless. Because even incremental improvement is real improvement, and it can really impact people’s lives in positive ways.

Apologies to my fans

I am aware that my blogging lapse has gotten very long. My many, many fans are surely disappointed. I have some thoughts rolling around in my head but nothing has coalesced into an interesting post yet, and although I want to blog, I am having some post-dissertation writing burn-out. Plus the semester is about to start and I need to be prepared. SO. I promise posts of substance. Just not quite yet.

In the meantime, here is a kitty:

No legs!

No legs!

And something important that I learned at the Field Museum on a recent visit to Chicago:

Egypt is in Africa

A small note at the end here to whine about the fact that my pipes have frozen and my apartment is frigid. I am huddling in my coat and hat by the space heater. Brr!!

Quick Friday Hit

So I completely missed this Target Women from a month ago, and I think it might be one of the funniest yet, so I’m going to link to it for you. Enjoy!

A brief diversion

Okay, just a little break from working on my spring term classes to post this non-geo science news link about massive runaway stars. Because it’s pretty damn awesome.

This makes me want to say that I’m glad I live on the outskirts of the galaxy instead of in the center of it, since it seems like the chances of getting hit with something like this is lower out here. Not to mention the black holes. But then, these crazy stars happened a gazillion years ago, so it’s more that I’m glad I don’t live in the center of the galaxy a gazillion years ago. fwiw.

Back to work!

Well, I had a very eventful holiday. I saw my family, I put the finishing touches on my dissertation and mailed off the final copies and paperwork, and I visited an old friend for a fun-filled week of real vacation. I worked on zero things for a whole week!! It was amazing. And now I have a lot of work to do before the semester starts!

As the January Scientiae post showed, I have had a year full of opening and closing doors. That it all wrapped up right around the holidays is giving 2009 an even exaggerated fresh-start feeling, which is exciting and kind of intimidating all at once!

The first things on my plate are to get ready to teach two classes in the spring (one new, one new for me), and to look into writing an internal research grant proposal for faculty. I’ve only ever worked on NSF proposals before, so that’s completely new to me. I’m a bit nervous about it. I also need to recover from rather severe holiday jetlag, which is barely related to the one-hour time difference of my travels and was really mostly caused by staying up late partying and sleeping in until mid-morning every day. It was a tough week!

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