I’m going to talk about another recurring theme of the kind of comments we see on (and in) articles about fatness (whether they be in the mainstream media as “obesity” articles or here in the fatosphere ), and that is the theme that fat people should not, or cannot advocate for themselves. That somehow, by measure of our fatness, we render ourselves incapable of making decisions as an adult about our own lives.
There is a common sentiment that fat people need intervention in their lives. Be it from those in the medical profession, our families and friends, or complete strangers, either on the internet or in public. Entire conferences are held by medical professionals into “obesity interventions and prevention”, without any input from actual fat people. Doctors prescribe restrictive diets, food substitutes, weight loss therapy and at the most extreme, surgical gastric mutilation, without any further investigation than measuring a patients BMI, which in itself is a flawed system of measurement. Our friends, families and even colleagues feel it is acceptable to “let us know” that we are fat and that we should “do something about it”. And strangers, be they on the street or online, feel free to advise us, without invitation, without knowing anything about us, and often despite our protests, on what we should be doing with our bodies and our lives.
This of course is presented to fat people as “concern for your health“, but what it really is, at it’s core, is the infantilisation of fat people and stripping of the basic adult right to make ones own decisions.
It reduces fat people to a child-like state of requiring management to function in the basics like eating and physical activity. It says “You’re not capable of taking care of yourself, so we need to step in and do it for you.” Usually, it is done without any consultation at all with the fat person in question, and even if the fat person does attempt to explain that they do not require management or intervention, they are often dismissed as being overly emotional or in denial. No matter what argument a fat person presents to advocate for themselves, the response is dismissive and patronising.
The other main outcome of this kind of behaviour is the othering of fat people. It reduces fat people to sub-normal beings, as less-than-human others, as though they are animals that require husbandry, a kind of domestic management. It strips fat people of the fundamental human right to advocate for themselves and make their own life decisions. This is the kind of personal reduction that we have seen with other marginalised people throughout history and in our current time. It is the act of reducing fat people (and other marginalised people) as somehow less than the normative.
One of the first things I think we need to be focusing on as a movement is the basic right to advocate for ourselves as adults. It’s not easy, I know all too well. Even now I still have trouble standing up for myself, particularly to medical professionals and saying “This is not what I want.” or “That is not my experience.” or even “You are not listening to me.” Even now, as I get more and more bolshy about my fat activism, I still find myself daunted in the face of the kind of dismissive responses we often get. Mostly it is born of frustration for me, that even at almost 38 years of age, I am unable to be heard as the capable adult that I am while people only focus on my fatness, rather than the facts, my experiences and my own wishes.
That’s it really. The problem does not lie with our communication of these things, but with other people hearing them.
But that said, I know I have to keep doing it. I have to keep pushing, keep challenging, keep demanding. Because, like any other human being, we have the right to advocate for ourselves as adults.
No matter what size our bodies are, no matter what status our health is.