No More Hoops

Published January 6, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

Over the past few days there have been loads of pieces from awesome fat activists on fat and health, mostly in response to a couple of studies that reports that fat and fit are not mutually exclusive and that fat is not an instant death sentence.  It has been really heartening to see so many responses from fat activists that highlight how important access to health care is for fat people and the prejudice that fat people face both in the health care industry and because of the myth that fat automatically equals unhealthy.

However, I think we need to stop and reassess what we are doing here.  Yes, conflating weight with health has been a very pervasive myth that many people have used to justify fat hatred and addressing that is important.  But I don’t think that it is going to help fat people in the long run as much as we need it to.  Because no matter how many myths and stereotypes you bust, those who hate fat people are ALWAYS going to find a way to justify their disgusting attitudes.  Be it health, fitness, appearance, the cost of mittens in America… there will always be something used to justify fat hatred.

We need to let go of constantly trying to meet the bar set by fat haters.  If they say it’s because poor health, we spend our time proving that fat does not equal poor health.  If they say it is because we’re lazy, we spend all our time proving that we are not.  If they say it is because we are gluttonous, we spend our time policing and justifying our own choices for eating.  The list goes on and on.  No matter what myth or stereotype we respond to, there will always be another.

It is time we stopped looking to ourselves to be the ones to change to fight fat hatred.  It is time we started demanding that those who hate fat people are named and shamed for what they are – ignorant bigots who sincerely believe that some people are sub-human and do not deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity.  We, as fat people who are the victims of fat hatred have absolutely no obligation at all to modify our lives or our behaviours to suit those who hate us and to justify our existence.

You know who else believed that some people were not human?  Heard of untermensch?  How is it any different that some people believe that fat people are sub-human or inferior because of how they look and their bodies than it was believed that some people were sub-human/inferior because of their skin, hair or eye colour?  Is not the belief that thin people are superior evidence of the belief of a “master race”?  No decent, ethical human being would ever hold this belief.  Honestly, what kind of person would sincerely believe that they or others are somehow superior to other human beings?

That’s what bigotry is, the belief that there is some kind of hierarchy of human value based on those with power and privilege being higher up than those without.  It’s bullshit and we really need to stop buying into it – both externally AND internally.

Not to mention that every time we engage in the health argument, we are not only setting ourselves up to have to meet some kind of arbitrary requirement of health (which we owe NOBODY) but it’s also incredibly ableist.  What about fat people with disabilities or chronic illness?  What about anyone with disabilities or chronic illness?  How about someone in a coma or other incapacitated state?  Do they not get treated with respect and dignity simply because they’re “not healthy”?  How about those thin people when they inevitably get sick or injured?  Do they forfeit their right to dignity and respect at that moment?

Even if we buy into the whole thing that fat people “choose” to be fat (yeah right, like anyone would choose a life full of discrimination and hatred), that still does not justify the mentality that we are sub-human or somehow inferior to thin people.  Lots of people choose to do things that lower their life expectancy – for fuck’s sake merely driving a car statistically drops YEARS off your life, let alone all of the wild and extreme things human beings do to their bodies.  Just because someone smokes or skateboards or jumps out of perfectly good planes doesn’t mark them as lesser human beings, so why should it apply that way to fatness?  Because again, it’s not at all about health.  It’s not at all about life expectancy.  Fat hatred is simply about a fairly young (only about a hundred years) cultural stigmatisation of people based solely on their appearance, because someone, somewhere decided that money could be made by frightening people into trying to control their appearance.  All because someone saw money (and power, let’s not forget the intersectionality of the control of women in fat hatred) in getting people to buy products, diets, gadgets, pills and schemes to change their bodies, we now have a culture that marks fat people as sub-human.

No, this is about creating hoops for fat people to jump through so that we are not allowed to EVER live our lives with the freedom and dignity that is our right as is every human’s right.  And we must stop engaging with it.  We must stop believing that we have an obligation to prove our health, to prove our lives meet some kind of arbitrary standard placed on us to prevent us being marked as inferior.  Instead of arguing that fat people are not unhealthy/lazy/gluttonous/etc, we need to be repeating over and over and over that to label any human being as inferior based on their health, their appearance, their size, their choices in food or physical activity or any other arbitrary measure that is nobody’s business but their own is bigotry.  We need to be naming and shaming people who honestly believe that they have the right to label us as sub-human/inferior.  We need to be reclaiming our right to live our lives in our own bodies without interference or intervention from anyone.

But most of all we need to believe that of ourselves.  We need to be able to walk through this world that is rife with prejudice against us with our heads held high in the knowledge that we are not sub-human, we are not inferior, that we are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on the planet.

YOU are as valuable and worthy as any other human being on this planet.  Your life is yours.  Live it for you, not to prove that you’re not a stereotype.


31 comments on “No More Hoops

  • Wow. Really well written and thoughtful. I myself posted the article in question in a group, and I am very happy that you laid out this teaching point in such a manner. I constantly learn on this journey of self discovery, and I am grateful to those who have been on this path longer when they point out areas where we need to get back on track. Thank you.

    • Thanks Carrie. I shared the articles listed too, because they are of interest. But when I read the comments I had this real moment when I realised that no matter how many ways you give the facts, they don’t matter to fat haters. They don’t care about facts, they will use anything they can to justify their crappy attitudes.

  • Fuck. Yeah. Now this is what I call fat acceptance. There is a place for myth busting in FA, and that used to be most of our focus. But it’s been forty years and it’s time we as a movement moved on. Thank you for this!

    • Absolutely JoannaDW – I believe there is a place for myth busting in fat activism, but not to respond to fat hate. The only response to those who are using it to subjugate fat people is a clear, emphatic NO. No matter what reason they give, no matter what method they take, the response is NO – you do not get to treat us as inferior.

  • Thank you thank you thank you for pointing out how ableist the entire health argument is. As a fat woman who is disabled due to chronic illness, the whole “it’s okay to be fat as long as you’re healthy” argument says to me that I can never be acceptable because I will never be healthy (or thin, for that matter!).

    • Yes Kat, you get the double whammy of bigotry aimed at you. The whole healthist argument is SO out of line. Why should people who are “unhealthy” (and who gets to measure that?) be treated as sub-human?

  • Had to share…but don’t want to rant…..The issue of “fatties” with a disability is an interesting (and increasingly frustrating) one. I’m a bit of a fatty. I also happen to have MS. It drives me bonkers that there are some clever people out there that seem to think that I gave the disease to myself because of my girth. They see me with the mobility aids I have to use to get around and then helpfully suggest that weight loss would find me miraculously cured. ENOUGH!!

    • I felt like saying ‘you are kidding me’ but then I thought about it. Of course weight loss cures MS. It cures lots of things – 9 out of 10 complete strangers can’t be wrong…silly me.

    • You name the illness, injury or disability and there is someone out there claiming that fat people “gave it” to themselves by being fat, and prescribing weight loss as a miracle cure. It’s bullshit lazy medicine!

      • While driving to work, I had a lightbulb moment. Next time someone whips out the tired old saw that type II diabetes is caused by being fat, I’m going to ask them if they think hypothyroidism is caused by being fat as well. There’s some correlation between larger body type and both hypothyroidism and type II diabetes. But correlation does not equal cause.
        A person can’t “make” themselves diabetic any more than they can “make” themselves become hypothyroid. There is a genetic predisposition to both conditions.

  • One of the best posts I have ever read, Kath. There are so many things about the way most fat activists approach fat acceptance which bothers me, & this is, I think, the biggest thing, that most seem to believe that we need to PROVE that we deserve rights, respect, access, & freedom from abuse not just because we are human beings, but because we are GOOD fatties who eat only ‘healthy’ foods in acceptable amounts, get lots of exercise, & have no physical limitations. I spent years trying to live up to that & it makes no real difference to the way others see/think about fat people. The best I have ever done is get that lovely reaction of, “But I don’t mean YOU, I mean those OTHER fat people.” Sorry, that doesn’t cut it.

    As someone who was born with cerebral palsy & so has lived for over 63 years as a disabled person, I am also not crazy about it when some fat activists accept the idea that being able to perform some physical thing is a good measure of health. I have always been remarkably healthy, I am lucky that way, I have spent less time in hospitals & doctors’ offices than most of the thin people I know, I am not on any prescription medications. However, by this new measure of health which even Marilyn Wann, who is definitely fat positive & a very passionate fat activist with whom I agree on many things, thinks is a good measure, I am not healthy, since, because of my disability, serious balance issues & arthritis, it is very difficult for me to get down on the floor & get up again. Why do we accept that that means I am unhealthy? And, as you say, why, if I AM unhealthy, does that mean that I am less than human & less deserving of full rights, respect, & access. All this time & energy spent by fat activists trumpeting about how healthy they are, how fit & athletic, these photos of the naturally athletic & limber turning themselves into pretzels, all of this is extremely ableist. It is indeed a trap & unfair to all of us, but especially to those of us with real physical limitations, to keep trying to prove ourselves to the bigots, to keep struggling to measure up to impossible & constantly raised standards.

    What it seems to me is that many fat activists have lost sight of the fact that fat acceptance is about human rights, it is a civil rights movement. All we need to prove that we deserve rights, respect, access, & an end to bullying & abuse is to prove that we are human beings. We are good enough as we are because we are human…period. How we live in our bodies or how healthy those bodies are or why those bodies are fat is no one else’s business.

    • I had to actually google the whole “get down on the floor and get up again” thing because it sounded so ridiculous. Now I’m just wondering WHAT. THE. FUCK. I suppose now we’re gonna have wannabe internet doctors and concern trolls predicting our dates of death just by watching us get up the floor. DID YOU USE TWO HANDS? You know what that means for you, fatty!

      • I have trouble getting up from a seated position on the floor because of my sciatica. Which happens to have been caused by carrying extremely heavy trays when I was a waitress, not by being fat. I guess by the grimaces on my face when I rise from the floor, using two hands, I should probably be dead already. 😉

    • Health is so bloody arbitrary. What you consider healthy for your body may not match what I consider healthy for mine, or the next person considers healthy for theirs. And the hypocrisy! How many thin people who crap on about fatties and health would not meet the same criteria that they are pushing for us?

      Who cares if someone finds it easy to get up off the floor or not? That doesn’t mean they are any more or less worthy as human beings.

      I got sick of reading blogs about “fit fatties” and “healthy fatties” that completely erase everyone else’s right to live their lives with dignity and respect. I simply stopped reading those that touted how talented they are at yoga, or dancing, or martial arts, or spin classes or some other physical activity. That’s great, they’re good at those things – but what does that make people who aren’t? What does that make people who will never be? Why the hell should anyone have to “prove” they are worthy of their basic human rights?

      If I talk about my own physical activity or my health it is either because I want to encourage other fab fatties to get out there and do fun stuff (like riding a bike or whatever else they’d like to find the confidence to do) and not put their lives on hold, or because my health is relevant in my life. It’s not some yardstick to measure my value nor is it something to compare to others.

      And yes, that’s what it boils down to – each person’s body is NOBODY’S business but their own. I keep coming back to that same mantra:

      If it’s not your body, it’s not your business.

  • I’ve been trying to make the science argument a long time. Heck, I even wrote a book about it. It never works!! That’s because fat stigma isn’t based in science, it’s based in prejudice. I find that the people argument is much more affective! Great post, Kath.

    • Thanks Lonie. It’s so frustrating that actual facts don’t work. I can totally understand why people work with stating facts, but I think we’re all learning that they mean nothing to those who are invested in subjugating us.

    • Closetpuritan nobody is criticising people who choose to write about fat, health and science. What I am calling out is the fact that those who are invested in asserting our inferiority don’t give a damn about the facts about fat and health, and it is pointless in trying to engage in them in that sense. AND I am pointing out that there is inherent ableism in asserting that health is important in the fight for fat rights.

      • Yup, there’s a difference between writing about fat, health, and science (for an audience of other fatties or general interest), and justifying ourselves to fat haters WRT health. I was clarifying that my goal was the former and not the latter. I wasn’t completely sure whether or not you distinguished between the two, but I’m glad to hear that you do. I agree with you that rights should not be affected by health. I think it’s important to distinguish between talking about an interest or goal that’s harder to pursue if you’re fat–the primary focus of things like fatshion sites or Fit Fatties–and talking about how to achieve fat rights or posting a demand for rights.

  • Amazing, amazing, amazing and is everything I’ve been saying for a while. I’ve mentioned the contradiction that I see regarding a lot of so called plus size movement blogs, BBW movements blogs talking about promoting acceptance and beauty in all sizes then posting things that totally contradict their agenda. I just got into a debate with a woman whom I’ve followed for quite a little bit overtime on Facebook, she recently posted a article about how it’s time for resolutions and weight loss if you don’t like how you look in the mirror. Talking about getting healthy, after I called her out she went about well I wanted to be healthier. It’s like mind control because we all know the base behind her intent wasn’t about health to begin with, her interest was about appearance and the health argument seems like the typical apologist argument to make fat people feel like they’re wrong for being fat.

    A lot of these fat activism blogs I had to leave because I got tired of the contradictions but I love this one, and I’m glad I’m finding some though not many that have the message this one has.

  • I think a big thing we can do to fight the anti fat messages coming at us through advertising is to speak through our wallets. The haters shall not see dime one of our money. I know it’s a simple thing, but sometimes I forget. Such as when I realized that the sandwiches I brought to work with me were made by Kellogg’s, they of the “what will you gain when you lose” campaign. Well, no wonder the damn things tasted like the box they came in.
    I don’t want to condemn my father, he certainly struggled enough during the last years of his life. But he had very ableist attitudes, and they did not serve him well after he had a major hemorrhagic stroke. He was constantly berating himself for being unable to run any more. It was tragic.

    • If you can, yes, that is a great way to be heard. But do remember that not everyone has the privilege to pick and choose what they purchase. If someone is struggling financially, their choices have to be out of need, rather than ideology. If someone doesn’t have access to alternative products (say, clothes over size 24), then they don’t have the choice to boycott shitty companies sometimes.

      But definitely, if you can do it, it’s a good place to start.

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