Fat People's Worth Shouldn't Be The Price Paid For Other People's Healthfulness

People have been refusing me any sort of body dignity for about 30 years because I’m fat.

There’s a woman in reddish-pink shorts and a black shirt. She’s approaching a turnstile, which is sometimes a little bit fraught for the fatter among us. Are we going to fit? The only way to know is to try it. At the turnstile beside her, there’s a very thin man passing through with no trouble.

We see both of them, but only from the knees to below the shoulders. The emphasis, especially given the brightness of her shorts, is on the size of her butt.

This is the image -- an almost painfully apt illustration of the headless fatty trope -- that headed an article I reblogged last week, as a note to myself. The article’s headline was “Obesity research confirms long-term weight loss almost impossible” which isn’t news to most people who’ve been involved in the fat acceptance movement. When I finally got back around to reading it, I sighed and I closed my laptop.

Articles like this, while they at least acknowledge that long-term weight loss is really only possible for about 5% of people, do nothing to ease the stigma of fatness.

In fact, I’d say articles like this actually underscore fat stigma -- and that fills me with exhaustion.

That’s only a little bit of hyperbole. I’ve been made fun of for my body since I got fat as a kid -- and I didn’t even really get fat so much as my body started gearing up for puberty and then all hell (by which I mean disordered eating based on family panic) broke loose. That means people have been refusing me any sort of body dignity for about 30 years because I’m fat.

Even as scientists are quietly admitting that, yup, the data says dieting doesn’t really work and often makes people fatter, the media is reminding us that the most important thing is not to get fat in the first place -- with a hearty dose of “what about the children?” And both groups are at least partially reticent to talk about health instead of weight because they think no one will practice healthful behaviors if they aren’t motivated by weight loss as a phantom goal.

(Note that especially there is no discussion of the diet industry and its billions of dollars that wouldn't exist if people stopped hating their bodies.)

What the media (and probably your doctor) isn’t saying is anything about all of the fat people who have dieted, punished, and hated themselves into not only greater degrees of fatness but who have also participated in their own degradation -- because fat people are taught they deserve ill treatment as the wages of their fatness.

To have participated in your own oppression this way is sometimes humiliating. (I think that’s one reason it can be so hard to reject weight loss as a goal and focus on stuff like blood pressure and activity.)

But the social pressure is the hardest thing -- if you’re fat and you aren’t on a diet, it’s as good as an invitation for other people to comment on your choices. And people feel entitled to comment because of fat stigma, because we’re taught to shorthand weight for health even though there are plenty of unhealthy thin people (sorry, thin people — I’m not trying to hate on you but it’s true that anyone can be unhealthy).

There’s a tyranny of healthfulness in mainstream American culture right now. I love me a green smoothie but there’s nothing inherently virtuous about kale. In fact, once you consider where it’s sourced, that kale might have ethical issues of its own. And this cultural obsession with healthfulness comes in direct contradiction with the behaviors of many of our more hedonistic desires. We’re pretty bad at the middle road.

But even those hedonistic desires seem to often spring from the way we’re told to restrict and forbid and at all times be the masters of our own hungers. We’re fascinated with famous people who appear to live ideal healthful lives (plus we’re often disdainful) and we’re fascinated with famous people who appear to live thoroughly indulgent lives (plus we’re again often indulgent -- you can’t win if you’re famous). Perhaps if we weren’t so fixated on not doing stuff that makes us fat, we’d have more cultural brain space for the stuff that’s just good for us anyway.

Beyond that, I cannot get behind the justification of motivating people to participate in healthful behaviors by sacrificing the well-being of people who just get fatter -- that’s the result of this, after all: keeping fat stigmatized so people stay focused on fat instead of on their own personal health (whatever that might entail for them).

This is usually where someone comes in to tell me how fat I am and how it’s going to kill me. And at this point, to that I will say fine. Even if my fat is the thing that kills me one day, fine. But that is better than actively harming myself while struggling with the phantom goal of weight loss. I would much rather focus on healthful behaviors that work for me so stop making my damn life harder with your fat hate.

Here’s what I care about: good medical treatment that isn’t based on the idea that every ailment is fat-related and all fat patients are just non-compliant, access to the kinds of clothing that fit well and meet my lifestyle needs, for employers not to make assumptions about fat applicants such that fat people have a harder time finding work.

I don’t really care why people are fat. I haven’t spent a lot of time angsting about why my body is the way it is -- especially when there are so many people on the Internet who are willing to tell me without any invitation (not to mention, without knowing anything about me or my life). For a lot of years I did whatever people told me would make me thin and now my body is the body I have today. I’m pretty happy to be living in this body. I’d like for other people to stop making it harder.

The odds of it being any different are, if you’ll excuse the pun that is supported by science, very thin.