I’m not fat. I know this in the logical part of my brain. And yet, when I gained ten pounds, I freaked out and tried really hard to lose it. First I tried eating healthier foods and exercising a moderate amount, but that didn’t “work.” (It probably worked to make me healthier, but who cares about that?) Then I tried counting calories, limiting myself to 1200-1300 calories per day (more if I exercised), which is something I didn’t write about here because honestly, I felt conflicted about it. I try to model healthy behavior. Maybe if I feel good about my 5’4″, 140 lb body, I keep on thinking, other people will feel good about their perfectly normal bodies, too? Even if it’s a lie, sometimes? (This was a large part of my impetus to do nude modeling.)
I did this for a couple months, and it did not result in any weight loss at all. (Okay, I lost a pound, which is well within the margin for error.) It did, however, make me hungry and cranky all the time, and pretty much all my roommate (who was doing it with me) and I talked about was how much it sucked to be on a diet. I got drunk and stomach achey off one drink (vodka soda, ‘natch) because I didn’t have enough food in my stomach to absorb the alcohol. As someone who covers nightlife for a living and has never had a problem with alcohol (no, really! I can’t have all the vices), I was annoyed by this. I didn’t have as much energy to exercise. Again, I lost essentially no weight.
When I went away to Europe, I decided to stop doing this to myself because there was a lot of new food there I wished to try, and I wasn’t going to be there forever. The guilt I felt over this (as if all non-skinny women have some moral obligation to diet) followed me like a goddamn albatross. I’m not dumb, but I was, and am, unable to shake that pernicious and pervasive societal message that I must be the same weight I was in college in order to be allowed to walk around in a bikini. And I deconstruct that shit on here every day.
“If it’s like this for me, and pretty much every woman I know,” I wondered, “what’s it like for a person who is actually fat? How much must they hate themselves all the time? It’s almost like we need some sort of counter-movement to, well, counter all the bullshit fed (lol) to us by society.”
It was at this point that I got more into reading about fat acceptance, and thinking that parts of it made a whole lot of sense. I’m not sure I’m on board with all the science, but that matters less to me than how we treat ourselves and each other. And I’m sorry if I’m co-opting a movement designed with fat people in mind, but considering how ridiculous things have gotten, I think it could benefit us all. And I’m not alone in this belief, either.
Photo: Stocky Bodies
What is Fat Acceptance?
There are many different definitions of fat acceptance, but the basic idea is that fat people do not deserve to be discriminated against, bullied or shamed because of the shape of their bodies. It also has a lot to do with combatting the negative stereotypes associated with fat. The association of fat with moral decrepitude is baseless and absurd, and does nothing but hurt people. Do you want to hurt people?
The fat-o-sphere is vast and diverse, and not everyone agrees on everything, but here’s a definition I like from fat acceptance blogger Spilt Milk:
- All people, regardless of shape or size, deserve to be treated with respect. No one body type is inherently better than another.
- The relationship between fat and health is complex and nuanced. You cannot tell if someone is healthy by looking at them, or by weighing them. The health risks of being fat have been exaggerated in the media whilst any neutral or beneficial aspects are ignored. Media rhetoric around the ‘obesity epidemic’ does little to promote healthful behaviours in the community but does fuel fat-hatred and fat-phobia. It is important to think critically about the messages the media conveys about fat bodies and about health. Fat people have the right to be critical of what is being said about us; we have the right to be consulted on public health policy that concerns us.
- Stereotyping fat people as lazy, gluttonous, smelly, stupid etc. is harmful and actively damages the mental and physical health of people in the community. Discrimination and hate-speech is never okay. Fat people face discrimination in health care settings, employment, fashion and many other aspects of every-day life. This is unacceptable.
- Body positivity means honouring diversity: telling a thin person to ‘go eat a sandwich’ is no better than telling a fat person to ‘stop eating doughnuts’.
- Weight loss diets or ‘lifestyle changes’ do not work in the long term (only a tiny minority of dieters ever maintain weight loss for five years or more: the vast majority, around 95%, gain back their weight and then some within a year or two). The diet industry is harmful and exists to make a profit, not to promote good health. A Health At Every Size approach to wellness is not only more body-positive, but more effective too.
- Health is subjective, and health status should never be grounds for discrimination, prejudice or bullying. Regardless of whether people are ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’, thin or fat, disabled or currently not disabled, they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Good health or a particular type of body is not a marker of superiority or moral virtue.
- All human beings deserve bodily autonomy. Fat people have the right to make decisions about our own bodies. My body (including my eating and exercise habits) is not your business.
But it’s not healthy to be overweight!
People say this a lot in response to fat acceptance. Scientists disagree with each other on this, actually. But even if it is unhealthy to be fat, that does not mean you get to hate someone for being fat. Health is not a moral imperative, especially when trying to get to a “healthy” weight (and failing over and over again, as most dieters do) can cause more health problems than the original fat. And contrary to what society tells you, most fat people aren’t fat because they are gluttonous and lazy. Some people are just naturally fat. Some have eating disorders that cause them to overeat. And sure, some lead unhealthy lifestyles, just like some thin people do. You cannot hate or shame someone for their own good, because “mental health” is a part of “health.” Hating yourself is never, ever good for your health.
Here’s some of what FA writer Kate Harding has to say about it:
Poor nutrition and a sedentary lifestyle do cause health problems, in people of all sizes. This is why it’s so fucking crucial to separate the concept of “obesity” from “eating crap and not exercising.” The two are simply not synonymous — not even close — and it’s not only incredibly offensive but dangerous for thin people to keep pretending that they are. There are thin people who eat crap and don’t exercise — and are thus putting their health at risk — and there are fat people who treat their bodies very well but remain fat. Really truly.
I would also like to take a moment to call bullshit on all the people who claim to be shaming fat people “for their health”, but turn around and glamorize people like Kate “I do tons of coke” Moss, and smoke cigarettes, and go on crash diets, and do all manner of unhealthy stuff. You do not care about health at all!
If fat acceptance opposes dieting on the grounds that it’s ineffective, what’s a better way to be healthy?
Health At Every Size, yo.
What is HAES?
Health At Every Size principles seek to de-couple notions of weight from notions of health, and emphasizes eating healthy foods and exercising because it’s good for us, not because we are trying to lose weight.
Health at Every Size encourages:
- Accepting and respecting the natural diversity of body sizes and shapes.
- Eating in a flexible manner that values pleasure and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite.
- Finding the joy in moving one’s body and becoming more physically vital.
Okay, so I’m not sure I believe “finding the joy in moving one’s body” is always a realistic goal when you just really, really hate exercise. (I hate everything that is not bike riding. Preferably somewhere flat.) And I’m not sure it’s possible for everyone to learn to eat “intuitively,” either…some people just plain do not like vegetables. But the point is, it’s possible for a fat person to adopt a healthier lifestyle without losing a significant amount of weight. Considering the rate at which diets fail, and the health concerns involved with that, I don’t think the answer is “find some magical way to make diets suddenly work in the longterm for people.” The answer is to eat a well-balanced diet and exercise. As many fat people already do.
In the end, I’m not sure I agree with every part of fat acceptance. I think it ignores a lot of the socioeconomic factors that go into making people gain weight for lifestyle-related reasons; the fact that poor people are obese at vastly higher rates than rick people is not a coincidence. I also think it unfairly demonizes people like Jamie Oliver and Michelle Obama, who could perhaps use a little linguistic tweaking in how they talk about “the obesity crisis” (these are human beings, after all, not some evil cloud descending on our country), but whose hearts are very much in the right place in terms of wanting to help people make positive lifestyle changes. And the claims that being fat is not necessarily bad for your health do seem to fly in the face of the mainstream medical community.
All that said, I think it’s a very useful tool for confronting anti-fat bias in society and in ourselves, and finding a less crazy-making solution to our body issues than constantly having empty stomach breath. I can’t say my battles with my inner fat-shaming demons are over, but that’s the great thing about FA: wherever you’re at in the process, it accepts you. Personally, I think I’m going to go back to my non-diet of wholesome, healthy foods and try not to let the fear of fat police my life anymore. I sincerely hope you’ll do the same.