I've Only Got 1 Thing To Say To Folks Who Don't Understand Fat Acceptance

Sometimes a shallow and facile understanding of a complex movement is just fine. And sometimes you need to spend some more time on Wikipedia reading up.
Publish date:
April 24, 2014
haes, body acceptance, body politics, fat acceptance, size acceptance

So, there's a lot of talk about that recent Thought Catalog article, the "6 Things I Don't Understand About The Fat Acceptance Movement" one (illustrated by a stock photo of a double chin without a face to go with it). And there's beena lotof responses, people taking each point and answering Carolyn Hall's questions, because a lot of people roll like that, like this is an opportunity for education. (Those three articles I linked are either also illustrated with headless fatties or with a curvy woman who may not even ID as fat. One is a deliberate response, but the other two are just Thought Catalog stock photography choices. So, issues.)

And it probably is -- so more power to those people, though I have my doubts about Carolyn Hall's interest in being educated, particularly in a conversational fashion. Her shallow and facile understanding of a radical and complex movement could have been pretty easily remedied by talking to some of the actual fat people involved in the movement, most of whom are easily engaged on Twitter, Tumblr, and various other social media, were she actually interested in understanding.

I used to blog about body stuff a whole lot. It was kind of my thing and some of you might remember it. My goal was to talk to other fat people, so that together we could make up the tools we needed to feel good about ourselves in a social setting that is still hostile to our bodies. I certainly had my share of arguments, but I was never very focused on lobbying thin people to accept my fatness. Thin people weren't the point.

Even so, I found myself talking to a lot of thin people -- because compulsory diet culture is hard shit to weather regardless of your pants size and everyone could, I think benefit from alternatives to hating themselves. I did a lot of radio and television, and I found myself engaged in that conversation, that educational moment. I believed that it was important work and I still believe that even though I don't have the patience with it that I used to.

Still, it means I spent more time talking to people who weren't fat, who didn't understand fat acceptance, who thought my body was a crime against their insurance premiums (never mind that fat people pay insurance premiums, too) and airplane seat space. And it means I have heard, so many times over, the misconceptions and misunderstandings that Hall writes about in her piece.

The big thing that burns me out about it is that none of the misconceptions and objections ever change. And because we are stuck responding to the oft-repeated chorus of "But You Can't Make Me Be Sexually Attracted To Fat People" (and, you know, it needs to be done), we don't really get to talk about what articles like Hall's mean for the big cultural picture.

I like talking about the big cultural picture because I think it's important to recognize pervasive social systems if we want to do something about them.

Here's the deal: Hall's article is about her own lack of fundamental understanding. But it's also about her discomfort with a tool (that'd be fat acceptance) lots of fat people use to feel good about themselves -- or even to just not hate themselves 24/7, which is -- honestly and tragically -- a very real challenge for many fat folks. She doesn't understand it because she can't conceive of fat people who don't hate themselves. And she probably wishes we'd stop with the self-esteem and get back to loathing ourselves for our own good.

That's not generous in the slightest, I know. But I don't have to be generous to people who threaten me. And, make no mistake, when Hall unexaminedly equates being fat to having some sort of eating addiction (without any acknowledgment that there are lots of reasons people may be fat including plain old variation in bodies), she threatens me. She threatens all fat people and tries to make us into medical conditions. She portrays us as being sick and addicted and out of control and she does so with no acknowledgment that bodies are sometimes just different. She even throws in a little "What About The Children?" song at the end, when, all hell and seriously, where's the great nationwide concern for kids who are starving, neglected, and/or abused?

I am pretty sure someone is going to object to me saying she's threatening fat people -- because, yeah, it's not a direct and immediate physical threat. She's not holding a literal gun to any fat person's head and demanding they feel like shit about their bodies. But she doesn't have to. She just has to undermine and discredit one of the only alternatives to waking up and wanting to disappear that many fat people have.

This is my problem with concern trolling as a general concept -- if people really cared about the health of fat people, they wouldn't be suggesting self-harm via starving, guilt, and self-hatred as some sort of penance for fatness. They'd be supporting a movement that has reconnected fat people with their bodies and their own health, both mental and physical, whatever the state of their health might be.

Because being healthy, especially in alignment with any one person's arbitrary definition of health, is not actually a moral issue, nor should it be a cultural yard stick of whether or not someone deserves quality healthcare or to be treated like a human being.

Hall asserts, in her first paragraph, before she even gets into the problematic body of her article, that she's "normal"-sized and interested in health. She thus distances herself from people who have fat bodies (which she obviously doesn't consider normal), people who may or may not have an interest in what Hall deems health because it's been used as a metaphorical bludgeon against them. She'd be insulted, it seems, if someone were to assume she was fat.

Because she still believes, quite firmly, that fat is a bad thing always and forever and ever amen.

I'm not super interested in changing her mind about that -- I have better things to do and not enough time in which to do all of them. But I do object to the idea that her lack of understanding gets to call into question a movement that saved my life. Her lack of understanding is more important to her than fat people feeling good about themselves, making choices about their own bodies. And her lack of understanding reads very much to me as though she has no idea why I feel good about myself, why I don't hate myself, and that this bothers her -- she'd be much happier if I hated myself for what she perceives as my own good.

Listen, I don't know why people feel better after eating a pint of ice cream and watching, like, Ryan Gosling films. But I don't have to understand it to support that it gets results. And fat acceptance gets results -- it is hard as hell but it's so much more rewarding in life to live than it is to put all your energy into punishing yourself. What fat acceptance doesn't do, by and large, is make people thinner.

Hall has 6 points that she raises, and so many people have answered those points. But I only have one response: Fat acceptance does not have to be for Carolyn Hall. She does not have to understand it for it to have value. Her inability to process why fat people might need something to help them leave the house and go out in public doesn't change that fat acceptance does help and it helps people of all sizes who are looking for a way to have some hope of loving themselves.

Not everything has to be for every person. And perhaps this movement simply isn't for her at this point. That's fine. I hope she's very happy. But I am tired as anything of people who want me to be miserable in my own physical form. Her article is nothing new; it's old and played out. Move along, Carolyn Hall. If you ever need it, fat acceptance will still be here. And you'll be welcome then. But for now? There is nothing for you here.