BADD 2011 – Fat and Disablism

Published May 1, 2011 by sleepydumpling

Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2011

This is my first every foray into BADD, or Blogging Against Disablism Day.  I heard about it on Twitter a couple of weeks ago and thought it would be an excellent way for me to bring the topic of disablism to my blog, to begin a discussion over here.  I firmly believe that as a social justice movement, Fat Acceptance has a responsibility to address disablism within our sphere, which then I would hope, leads to further discussion about culture-wide disablism.

Please let me state very clearly that I very much consider myself a person of privilege in this area, and feel that I am constantly in a state of learning about the issues that surround disability discrimination, disablism or ableism.  I hope that in talking about this here, an opening up the discussion, I too can learn from those who live the experience.  I particularly look forward to reading as much as I can from the many other posts for BADD, and I urge you to read as many as you can too.

What I particularly wanted to talk about tonight is disablism in context of fatness, and how people with disabilities are often ignored or excluded by Fat Acceptance.  I think all too often we spend so much time trying to bust open the stereotypes of fat people being mobility impaired, suffering chronic illness and other health issues, that we completely ignore the experience of fat people who DO live with disabilities and illness.

As Brian over at Red No. 3 says, Fat Acceptance is for ALL Fat People, or at least it should be.  That includes those who happen to be within the range of the stereotypes placed upon fat people.  As far as I’m concerned, the fact that those who loathe and fear fat use people with disabilities or illness to heap their scorn upon all fat people is doubly insulting to those who live those experiences.  Not only are they reviled for their fatness, but they are then used yet again as cautionary tales, threats and ridicule for all other fat people as well.  If anything, we need to be standing up against that bullshit even more now than ever.

One of the things that I believe Fat Acceptance absolutely has to be about is the basic, fundamental human right of all people to live their lives with dignity and respect and without fear of being vilified for simply being who they are.  That’s why I believe that Fat Acceptance needs to benefit ALL fat people and that we have a responsibility to acknowledge those who regularly have their experiences erased because society has deemed that they embody what happens to fat people who don’t “take care of themselves”.

I think we need to call that shit out for what it actually is, which is double prejudice.  Instead of just defending our own health and ability, I think we need to call out the disablism as well.  When we get those threats of “Yeah well you’re gonna get diabetes/heart disease/end up with damaged knees/hips!” and so on from fat haters, we need to point out the sheer douchiness of using disability and illness as some kind of punishment for fatness, when people of all body shapes and sizes actually live with disability and illness, and should never be treated like they must have done something to “earn” it.

Besides, even if someone’s fatness somehow does contribute to illness or disability, this should never strip them of their right to live their lives with dignity and respect.

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35 comments on “BADD 2011 – Fat and Disablism

  • And of course, skinny people wind up with heart disease, diabetes, and damaged hips & knees all the time. For some reason THEY get told, “Oh, it’s just genetics” or “It just happens to some people.”

    Bah.

    • Uh-huh. For some people, even if they ARE thin and have health/physical issues themselves, in their mind, only fat people get sick, have physical issues or even die.

  • I was actually talking about this last night, with no idea that today was Blogging Against Disablism Day! As a not particularly healthy fat person (“unhealthy” in the sense of both having some chronic health problems and in not making “a healthy lifestyle” a priority at the moment, although I don’t always think of myself as having a disability) I can feel alienated by Health At Every Size at times because it feels like the unspoken subtext is that if it’s okay to be fat because you can be fat and still be healthy then it’s ONLY okay to be fat if you are healthy (and who gets to be arbiter of what that word means?). It leaves the door wide open for fat-hating people and institutions to say HAES is all very well, but sick or disabled fat people still deserve hate and discrimination. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely see the value of HAES and the power of pointing out that body size is not the be-all-and-end-all of good health (including that thin people are not automatically healthy or immune to “fat-related” conditions). But I am also very much a believer in bodily autonomy, and the importance of remembering that different ways of being in the world and different embodied experiences can be equally valid and worthy and enjoyable. I think we have a responsibility to make disabilities less disabling for people by making our social environments more accessible for people with different ways of being in the world. In other words, my life isn’t a less-good life because I have several chronic illnesses. Furthermore being “as healthy as I can be” *isn’t* a priority for me all the time, even if it is for other fat people and/or other people with disabilities, and I think that should be okay.

    • I agree Sarah. I was actually talking about this with Marilyn Wann a few months back, how I believe that while HAES is actually in principle a great beginning, there is no moral imperative to “good health” and it also fails to acknowledge that the measure of health is entirely subjective. What is healthy for you is not necessarily the same as what is healthy for me. I was saying that I think we should be striving for doing the best with what we’ve got, when we’ve got it, when it comes to health.

      But I also think we need to remind people that Fat Acceptance and HAES are not one and the same. Yes, they do work in conjunction with each other, but there is no rule that says that Fat Acceptance has to have a HAES base. Fat Acceptance, to me at least, is about the quality of life of fat people, not just the one aspect of that, which is health.

  • Yes, I agree. I guess the short version of my comment is, as you said in your post, Fat Acceptance is for ALL fat people, and not just currently able-bodied fat people, or fat people who are marathon runners, or fat people who prefer broccoli to donuts, etc. etc. Quality of life is a good way of putting it, whatever that means for each of us; it’s still a completely subjective thing, but it doesn’t seem to have the moralising overtones that “health” has (especially since good health is a concept that has been co-opted by anti-fat folks to reframe fat hatred as concern!)

  • Thank you for this. As a very overweight person, I have been struggling to learn to “accept” myself for who I am. I am currently 48 years old and I have yo-yo dieted for several decades and have just been diagnosed with diabetes, PCOS, etc., etc. I also have had double knee replacements. Of course, people who don’t know me assume that I have them because I am so fat, however, I really have them because of exercising to such an extreme that I completely wore the cartiledge out of both knees. No other choice but to replace them. I can’t tell you how many people find that completely hard to believe. Even people who do know me don’t believe me sometimes. I have stopped justifying myself and my existence. Let them think whatever they want. I don’t have to explain. Thanks for this post – I have a hard time accepting that I now have physical limitations and still try to do too much. I am much better at stopping myself before I go too far now, but it’s quite a process and has taken me a long time to come to a point of moderation. It feels SO GOOD!

    • Thank you Ruth, it’s been lovely to broaden my sphere too, and I think it’s so beneficial that we all work together in stamping out stigma and discrimination.

  • Hey Kath – I know you won’t post this right away because it’s got a link in it. You might not want to post it in this comment section, but I couldn’t figure out how to email you directly.

    You have got to read this one: http://health.msn.com/health-topics/sexual-health/mens-sexual-health/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100272093&gt1=31028

    What a load of crap – especially the part where doctors create a “nice, warm environment” so we fatties will open up about our sex issues. The 200+ people that filled out these questionnaires are now going to be a representation of how all fat people feel about their sex lives. This irritated me!!!!

    • And I think the photo included at the top of the story pissed me off more than the article itself.

    • La did you see Lesley Kinzel’s breakdown of this study? The most telling part is that the participants were ALL about to take part in a weight loss programme. Clearly they felt unhappy with their bodies, and people who feel unhappy with their bodies do not have the good sexy-times!

  • We are who we are, and have the right to be who we are.

    This is a statement that resonates with me and one that I try to live my life by.
    When I initially came across fat acceptance sphere I wondered if I was a good fit due to my very, very large body that has numerous health problems that means I can not do many things I used to do. The words above allow me to feel free to exist, without the need to explain to others who may want to decide on my worth as a member of society.
    This post has come at a time when I have been thinking about this very subject, thanks Kath. :)

    • How are you doing Jan? I’ve been thinking about you!

      It’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it? We are agents for ourselves, and should be able to decide what works for our own lives. It is human nature to survive, to strive for happiness and comfort, to make our own decisions. But there are SO many out there who seem to think that they need to intervene, that they know us better than we do.

      It’s a pretty conceited attitude to have, that you know someone else’s body and life better than they do!

      • Hi Kath I am doing very well thank you. :)
        Your posts seem to come at just the right time for me Kath and at first my thought is that Kath can read my mind, scary thought that is. lol
        I have had some wonderful experinces recently and will blog about them soon, in the next few days.

  • Conversely, someone who is otherwise perfectly abled getting so big that their knees and hips are affected could be seen as an insult to those who have disabilities for which they cannot control (no matter their weight) could it not? If managing your weight meant you could avoid chronic pain, would you?

    I always take the stairs, not because I’m virtuous, but because I am deeply grateful for my ability to do so. There are people that would give anything to walk up stairs but cannot.

    • “Conversely” nothing. Sounds to me like you think you have a right to step in and judge other people based on what their bodies can or cannot do, or what they look like. Not to mention making a whole lot of very ignorant assumptions about fat people AND people with disablities. How virtuous you are, being deeply grateful for being able bodied. Isn’t that what you want? To appear more virtuous than the lazy fatties and poor disabled folk who don’t take the stairs because they don’t “look after themselves”? Hmm Katie?

      You will not be seen as virtuous in this space. Just sanctimonious, ignorant and rude for flaunting your privilege around as if you’re something to be celebrated.

      Here’s the thing. You cannot tell a single thing about a person’s health or physical ability by simply looking at the size and shape of their body.

      It’s very simple – your body is your business. Everyone else’s body is their own. No matter their weight, physical abilities, illnesses or anything else. Mind your own business, and keep your ignorance to yourself.

  • Kate – what you’re obviously not understanding about fat acceptance (disabled or not) is that we are struggling to accept who God made us to be. If we could be thin just by walking up the stairs (grateful or no), don’t you think we would do that? Most of us have fought this fight for so long with over-exercise, starvation, rapid weight loss, weight bouncing back, etc., in order to “fit in” that we have destroyed our metabolism, our joints, ligaments and, in some ways, our minds. What you posted above is very insulting to those of us who have struggled so hard, only to find ourselves fatter than ever before.

    • Even if someone’s weight does contribute to ill-health or physical issues, that doesn’t mean that they’re to be treated as pariahs because they “let themselves get that way”. Nobody “lets” themselves get ill, not even fat people. Everyone naturally wants the best they can do for their body, but no two bodies are the same and each body processes all the factors of life differently. Some cannot walk up stairs no matter their weight. Some of us walk all the stairs we like, and stay fat. Some people never look twice at a set of stairs and still stay thin.

      All bodies, regardless of their size, shape, ability or level of health have the right to go through life without being stigmatised as lazy, sloppy, or not “taking care of themselves” just because someone else is blessed with an able body, or a thin body.

      A person’s worth is not measured by how thin or how healthy are. No matter how “virtuous” they like to see themselves for their gratitude for being thin/healthy.

  • Exactly Kath. Some people really can’t see what they are saying. They are really stuck in the old groove and no matter what they read they are not going to be disuaded from their view. It clealy serves them a purpose so they will probably continue with their tired old views.

    Thanks

  • So interesting! I have never heard of fat “disabalism” before but I agree 100% with this: “the basic, fundamental human right of all people to live their lives with dignity and respect and without fear of being vilified for simply being who they are.” Thanks for blogging about this! I’ll be thinking about it for awhile.

  • I didn’t read the responses, so if I’m saying something that has already been said forgive my redundancy.

    I don’t see “fatness” as being terribly different from “disability.” When someone is defined as “disabled,” what this means is that they’re seen as veering from some socially constructed normative standard — whether physically, cognitively, emotionally, socially, psychologically, etc. The point is that “ability” in these categories is a constructed norm; it doesn’t acknowledge a plurality of abilities. Think about all of the different ways a body could get through a door, or move in space. However, there are “normal” ways to move in social space, and there are ways that are considered atypical. There’s also accepted standards for cognition, social interaction, etc. If one either doesn’t conform to these, or cannot conform for whatever reason, they’re labeled by power structures and society as disabled.

    “Fatness” is the same story. There are ideal, constructed normative standards for what a body should look like. If you veer from this bracket, you might be considered “fat.” “Fat” people face similar marginalization and oppression as those who are deemed “disabled.” In this model of disability — whether you call it the radical model, or the social model, in which both “ability” and “disability” are socially constructed — we would probably include “fatness” under the umbrella of disability. Here’s a good piece on the subject from a website anyone interested in critical perspectives on the subject of disability should check out: http://still.my.revolution.tao.ca/node/76

    This piece made me think about the subject at hand in a more critical manner.

    • Thanks for your comment Alex. I have seen this comparison raised by others, particularly by Fat Studies academics, and I can see the similarities/commonalities myself. I will see if I can find the piece written by Margitte of Riots Not Diets to share with you here when I get home tonight. She raised some similar points to your own.

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