My mother started me on diets when I was 7 years old. There were nutritionists, doctor visits, numerous diet plans, even Weight Watchers, and I hated every moment of it. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a WW meeting and being literally applauded for losing 9lbs in one week and being baffled by why something so irrelevant deserved applause and annoyed at being put on the spot.
By the time I was 14 I had had enough. Not only had I not lost weight, I had in fact gained weight -- which made sense to me since I was still growing through puberty. So I refused to diet anymore. Needless to say, my mother wasn’t happy about it. I figured that if she really loved me she would accept me the way I was. I didn’t have a problem with my body, she did. I didn’t see why her problem had to be my problem anymore, so I put my foot down, and that was that. I’m now 38 years old and my mother has more or less accepted and respected my personal truth: conversations about my weight are off limits. And, yes, I’m going to eat that.
It was also about that time that I discovered there was a whole movement dedicated to the way I was feeling about my body and I embraced it. Thus a size acceptance (SA) activist was born. I spent those early years thinking deeply and critically about healthism, the diet industry, unrealistic beauty standards, gender expression relative to fat bodies, and blatant discrimination and stigma. I was grateful for those outspoken voices who reflected my experiences, my beliefs, and most importantly, my body.
“Riots, not diets” were words to live by and even as a Black woman who weighs 350lbs I felt very much a part of it. I had several blogs that I tended to forget to update and that fell by the wayside, I participated in Substantia Jone’s Adipositivity project (NSFW), and I even helped publish Lesley Kinzel’s book Two Whole Cakes. You can thank me for the subtitle and the fact that the cover doesn’t contain an obvious and cliche fat font. I still regret that the Feminist Press didn’t get to publish The Fat Studies Reader when I worked there, but the book is out in the world and that’s what matters.
Over the past twenty odd years the movement has spawned several sub-movements: Health At Every Size, an overall Body Love/Anti-diet approach, one that is focused on Fatshion, and another that is not much acknowledged by the other groups but that shouldn’t be ignored and is focused on fat sexuality/dating while fat, and one that is not necessarily a sub-group but is more of a vague and diffuse collection of random voices who go on social media to laud any and every public/celebrity/artistic representation of fatness regardless of what that representation actually is or how deeply thought out it is (yeah, no, I’m really not “All About That Bass”). All of this is fine and good, but as this fragmentation happens I feel we are moving away from solidarity and towards an exclusionary “good fatty” and “bad fatty” paradigm. I don’t feel a “riots, not diets” way so much anymore.
What’s more, a lot of these sub-movements focus on SA 101 ideas: eat healthy, exercise regularly, don’t gain/lose weight, don’t have/stop struggling with an eating disorder, love your body, resist stigma and shame, wear what you want, date who you like, and only flaunt your sexuality if your body is under a size 20. What happens when you move past SA 101 ideas? What exactly does SA 201 look like? I’m not sure and I’ve never been able to form a coherent SA 201 playlist or even start much constructive discussion about it because none of the loudest voices in the movement focus on that. Presumably because so many people still need SA 101. And that’s all fine, but I need SA 201.
I think quite a few of us do. And what alienates me most is the fact that none of those voices look like me and I’m left to wonder, “Where do I fit in now?” For the record, I’m Black and weigh about 355lbs, have chronic conditions, and while I’m educated, I’m more lower middle class than upper. I’d probably be considered a bad fatty and so would a lot of other fatties I know. Those SA 101 ideas begin to seem oppressive to me when you can’t afford to eat healthy, when you gain/lose weight for any reason, when you have had or are considering weight loss surgery, when you have chronic health conditions or are not able bodied, when you think there is such a thing as clothes that fat people shouldn’t wear, or when all those people/artistic endeavors who are lauded look nothing like you or represent ideas you think are flawed. It seems like there is in fact a wrong way to have a body. Your underpants are not actually your own. And, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!
I'm particularly disheartened by the way straight white women's needs seem to be prioritized over POC, LGBTQ, men or people who are masculine of center, and people who are visibly not able bodied even though I think we probably do the most subtle everyday activism around the subject just from being so visibly othered. There just aren't any women who look like me who can speak for me in this movement. There never really have been -- but now that I’m in an SA 201 place I need people who look like me. I need voices who are not so thoroughly represented. This movement is especially lacking fat male voices. This lack of diverse representation is especially true regarding the different way fat bodies are read. Fat Black bodies are not read the same way as fat White bodies. They just aren’t. Period. And if one more White person tells me that Black people are generally more accepting of fat bodies I will scream. This isn’t true and I’m tired of saying so. The racially charged events of the past summer are a stark reminder of this.
I really don’t care what other people do with their bodies. Gain weight, lose weight, exercise, don’t exercise, eat whatever the eff you want. Wear whatever, but if you are fat and you dress loudly and then make a sweeping statement about how people stare at you (and by extension all other fat people) only because you are fat rather than how you are dressed or what you are doing in public with a camera on a tripod on crowded city streets, I’m going to call you on it.
Instead of making room for everyone's voice, I feel like only one collective voice gets recognized as valid. It's all made me not want to be involved anymore. Lack of solidarity is killing the movement. The call to all fat people to be the same is limiting progress. I don’t have any ready answers for where to go next. I just know that I want to feel represented. I want the people who do look like me to talk loudly and say more. I’d like to have conversations about fatness, fat stigma, and intersectionality -- which is integral to moving forward constructively -- that don’t devolve into casual racism, or ablist rhetoric, or be told by someone who weighs 200lbs less than me that our struggles are the same. They really aren’t. I’d rather for someone who looks nothing like me to acknowledge and respect our differences, than insist we are all the same. We’re really not and that should be okay.
Just make some room for me at the big girls table and listen to what I have to say.