Fat Acceptance and Health

Published December 29, 2010 by Fat Heffalump

Inspired by this post over on the taking up of space, and some comments on my last post about concern trolls, I want to talk more about health, the various levels of it, and fatness.

One of the things that frustrates me about discussing health and fatness is how absolutely loaded the subject has become.  I am constantly irritated by the fact that if you are a fat person talking about health, or foods that are considered “healthy”, or any form of physical activity, then for some, it is assumed that you are selling yourself as a “good fatty” and therefore denigrating on those perceived as “bad fatties”.  There’s also a perception that if you feel healthy and strong, that you must be “virtuous” when it comes to your eating and exercise.  Health at Every Size, has become the keywords to justifying fatness, which is sad because it detracts from Linda Bacon’s work, and her excellent book (which I am currently reading).   You CAN be healthy and happy and indeed fat without living a HAES lifestyle.  It’s not compulsory to Fat Acceptance.

Now for any of you who haven’t come across the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, may I suggest you read the excellent post, As Fat as I Wanna Be by Tasha Fierce over on Red Vinyl Shoes.  I completely agree with Tasha when she says that any time a fat person is included in any discussion about body shape/size (and not just in the media, but anywhere), she is expected to wave her “I really do have healthy habits” card to prove that she is a “good fatty”.  And I agree that ALL fat people should be able to live their lives with respect, dignity and fairness, whether they have “healthy habits” or not.   There is no such thing as a good fatty or a bad fatty.

But what does bother me, is that the minute you do talk about your own personal health, you are at the risk of others implying that you’re buying into the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy.  And this is from your peers.

This bothers me because if anyone else talks about their health, whether they have it or not, they are not accused by their peers of selling some kind of morality via health.  If anyone else talks about enjoying a sport, or the great salad they ate, or how they went to the doctor and got a clean bill of health, then they’re simply taken at face value.

But for fat people, it is assumed that we’re making excuses for our fatness if we talk about physical wellbeing, physical activity or food that is perceived as “healthy”.  Why is it that when a fat person talks about physical activity, or “healthy” food, or physical wellbeing, it is assumed that they are either making excuses, trying to conform, or are casting negative judgement on those who are otherwise?

Of course, we do need to acknowledge the fact that not everyone has the ability to be physically active, not everyone has access to the same foods, and not everyone has the privilege of being illness free.  It’s important to be conscious of a measure of privilege when talking about health (whether you are fat or thin or somewhere in between) and to acknowledge that the measures of health for one body, are not replicated through all bodies.  We also need to acknowledge that a high number of us are dealing with histories of disordered eating and body image issues.

Not to mention, there’s no rule that says that you can’t live off fast food and get no physical activity at all, yet still feel great.  Getting a clean bill of health from a doctor, or indeed feeling healthy, does not necessarily mean you’re on a macrobiotic diet and exercise for 30 minutes every day.  It can simply mean you’ve found the balance of lifestyle that is right for you.

I feel that as well as smashing the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, and speaking out against food/health as a moral indicator, we need to also be busting open the attitudes that suggest we should not speak about being/feeling physically well, that our bodies can feel good and strong, that we can eat foods that are perceived as healthy without it being suggested that we’re justifying our fatness.  By casting any judgement on fat bodies, regardless of their eating habits, level of activity and real or perceived health, we’re creating more taboos about fatness.  By suggesting that it’s not ok to talk about feeling good/strong/healthy lest we create a good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, we’re actually perpetuating that myth.  Self censoring because of what others project onto us is as damaging as being censored by external sources.

So long as we’re not proselytising anything, and we’re mindful of privilege and body autonomy, then we need to talk about our health, our bodies, what makes us feel good, what doesn’t, and all subjects around bodies.  We need to smash the taboos around fat bodies and food, activity and physical wellbeing.  If it’s good enough for bodies that are not fat, then it should be good enough for those that are.

28 comments on “Fat Acceptance and Health

  • Not to mention, there’s no rule that says that you can’t live off fast food and get no physical activity at all, yet still feel great.

    I think we all know someone who lives off of fast food and rarely exercises and yet never gets sick and seems healthy as a horse. It’s almost like, I don’t know, people vary or something. 😉

    • Don’t we all! And we know people who live highly active lives who carefully monitor what they eat and yet they are still fat, or have some kind of health problems.

      People vary you say? Well I never! 😉

  • It’s such a tough issue. I have been politely advised to tackle something easier when discussing this topic as if I have discussed a taboo and sensitive topic – oh wait it it for those that don’t have to live it daily, I have been outright disagreed with by people who have no health/nutrition/fitness or fat background what-so-ever even though I do because the world continues to perpetuate a message that obesity is EVIL! And then, I have had others stop and think and recognise that there are other ways of thinking and behaving including some professionals. It is for this reason I continue. The awareness is happening one person at a time.

    As a Health at Every Size (HAES) coach I encourage people to get in touch with their own body and be their own best judge of what works and what doesn’t. Being happy and feeling well is a goal that all of us can agree on but none of us can judge what or when that is for another. The more we learn to self manage and allow others the respect and opportunity to do the same, then, the less the world around us and the profit driven messages will impact us. Instead they become water off a ducks back.

    • Personally I really connect with the HAES approach, but as an activist I have to make it clear that nobody is under any obligation to do so, nor does HAES define Fat Acceptance in any way. However, should anyone wish to discuss HAES and their experiences, that’s their right to do so. They shouldn’t be silenced because they happen to fall into what someone believes is the “good fatty” criteria.

      • I don’t see anyone of any size as good or bad. I have never liked labels, boxes or categories for anything and people being put into boxes or catergories even less. I see people as people each one an individual with their own unique talents, gifts and abilities and likewise challenges and struggles. Keep sharing the ideas and thoughts which others are connecting with and this is how the silence will end

  • Me too, and frankly, I don’t even have anything against a little proselytising. I mean, if someone says “I get out of breath going up a flight of stairs and it’s because I’m FAT,” then I am probably going to say “Are you sure it’s not because you’re out of shape? Maybe you should try getting fitter rather than focusing on weight loss.”

    • I even think that’s problematic. Who are we to suggest someone should get fitter? It’s their body, if they ASK for advice is one thing, but I know for myself, it was the unsolicited “advice” I got from people that did the most damage to my self esteem.

      • Depends on how you stand with them and how you usually talk, I think. “…because I’m FAT” already contains some judgement, and I would not be entirely happy to let that slide. I’d probably stick with “No, you’re out of shape”, without giving any advice that the other person could give themselves.

        • Mate if you said “No, you’re out of shape.” to me, I’d tell you to shove it where the sun don’t shine. We don’t get to make that judgement. About anyone, except ourselves. We can share our experience, when invited (or in our own spaces, like blogs, social media etc) and give advice when it’s requested, but nobody gets to make the judgement whether or not someone else is out of shape, or any other factor about their body.

  • This is something I struggle with too. Before I got immersed in the FA community, I always tried to project a “good fatty” image, especially at work, where I was feeling judged by some people that I could not defend myself to easily. One of the first FA things I read was the Tasha Fierce post you linked above, and it really opened my eyes. Now, I’m trying to adjust my lifestyle to a HAES approach (and am planning on participating in Marilyn Wann’s New Year’s Revolution), but I’m still uncomfortable with the whole “good fatty/bad fatty” dichotomy. I feel that it’s damaging to the FA community when we are internally divided. But I don’t want to be telling people to stop arguing either! I guess all I can do is what you do Kath – stand up and say “this is my approach, this is what I believe, I’m not representative of any group and I’m not going to tell you what to do”.

    • For me it’s more important to be able to open it out for all folks to be part of it than it is to express what I personally do in my own case. I think, I hope, by opening up with my experiences, and inviting other people to do the same, with the caveat that we all remember that nobody’s experience is universal, that we can break down any attitudes that fatties have to behave one way or the other. As Living 400lbs says, people vary. And nobody should have to feel that they need to minimise who they are and what their experiences are, providing they’re not proselytising or evangelising their experience as being the “right” one.

      I’m also participating in the New Year’s Revolution, as someone who does get value from HAES, but I’m intending on keeping the focus on letting go of body loathing and the redundancy of dieting, than HAES itself. Because nobody, fat, thin or in between has an obligation to be healthy.

  • Agreed 100% with the post! My blog happens to be focused on my personal fat fitness journey, but I recognize that not everyone wants to or is able to pursue that, and that’s okay! I do it for myself.

    I finished up Bacon’s HAES book and passed it on to my mom, who has been an unsuccessful dieter just about her whole life. I guess for those of us who’ve been around the fatosphere for a while there’s not much new in there, but I’m hoping she’ll get something useful out of the book.

  • I wrote a post about this subject a while back. In it I completely agree with your post, for me it makes me feel like constantly focusing on whether one is a “good or bad fatty” takes away from the true message about fat rights. It allows for our naysayers to jump on us about this issue and not allow us to actually speak about what we as a movement want. Going back to my own post I wrote that this isn’t a health movement but a civil rights movement.

    • Absolutely! Either way you go, someone is just waiting to jump on you, be you not measuring up to the “good fatty” ideal, or being “too good”, and a bad representative of Fat Acceptance.

      So long as we’re focusing on the rights of fat people, regardless of what kind of lifestyle we live, then we’re aiming for a common goal.

  • this times a million billion, such an excellent post! I really believe that if we could all just learn to stop judging others for what they put in their body, what they put on their body, what they do with their body, and on and on, we’d be living in a much happier world. le sigh, if only it was that easy. we’re ALL dealing with (and living in) a society that feeds off of judgment. eff the judgment!

    • “By suggesting that it’s not ok to talk about feeling good/strong/healthy lest we create a good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy, we’re actually perpetuating that myth. ”

      Right on! I’ve been struggling with this a lot in my personal life — this is exactly what I needed to read.

    • EFF it!

      It’s funny, as I type this I’m listening to Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You”. And thinking about all the people who try to tell us how we should live, what expectations we should meet, what is right and wrong. Every one of us is truly individual, and we all have something to bring to the table (oh God, the food puns are coming back!) when our common goal is to advocate for the rights of fat people like ourselves.

  • I just started blogging about the topic and am already getting flack in the wordpress forum that I’m promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. What is so difficult to understand that it’s about acceptance, period. Great post, btw.

    • First off, welcome to the Fatosphere Chickie (cute, cute username). I’m just firing up your blog now for a look-see.

      Don’t let the haters get to you. Spend time in the Fatosphere and know that you have support here.

  • mindful of privilege and body autonomy

    And that’s what I like about this blog! In some ways (blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar etc.) I am very healthy; in others (cancer, chronic vertigo, PCOS, psoriatic arthritis) I am very much not. Most of what I eat is fresh, “healthy” food; some things aren’t. All of this is me.

    • I try lilacsigil. I can’t always guarantee I’ll get it right, and please give me a prod if I stuff up, but I try. And I hope that you’re finding what works for you, and that it works well.

  • I nearly cried. Tears of joy, because I used to feel guilty about being “good enough” and now I feel some of the guilt leaving.

    Thanks for this entry, so much.

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