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.