If I had a dollar for every time someone emailed me with some form of “But.. but… HEALTH!!” message in response to my fat activism, I would be a very wealthy woman indeed. I’ve heard it all when it comes to people trying to use health, either private or public, as a stick to beat fat people over the head with. To me it just boils down to one thing… no matter what a person’s appearance, weight, shape, level of health or physical ability, every human being deserves to live their lives in dignity and peace, without fear of discrimination or vilification based on their appearance, size, shape, body or health/physical ability.
Of course, to the essentialists out there who want to claim that fat activists are somehow anti-health, the idea of EVERYBODY deserving the same rights regardless of their appearance or physical state-of-being gets them into a right lather of outrage. There is this attitude that “public health” must somehow trump basic human rights for some kind of greater good. Of course, this is borne of decade after decade of big pharma, the media and the “beauty” industry carefully constructing a culture that equates health with attractiveness and thinness, and manoevering those measures of health to unattainable levels that very, very few people in the world actually come close to meeting, ie thin, white, able-bodied, heterosexual, cis-gendered, affluent, etc.
Fat activism, even those of us who actively call out healthism, is not an anti-health message by any means. In fact, it is quite the opposite. I believe that everyone, yes EVERYONE, deserves access to the same healthful resources. Clean water. Clean air. Safe spaces to engage in physical activity that is enjoyable and inclusive. Abundant, fresh, affordable, nutritious food. Compassionate medical care. Vaccinations against communicable diseases. Fair pay and working conditions. Comprehensive education for all. Mental health care. Accessible public spaces for all bodies. Affordable housing. Affordable and suitable clothing. All of these things contribute to improving the general health and quality of life of all people.
What I do not support is the idea that public health renders some people’s bodies as public property. Public health is important in our society, and I am all for universal health care (an imperfect version of which we are lucky to have in Australia). I am all for public health ensuring that our water is clean, that everyone has access to the medication and treatment they need, that people are aware of the importance of vaccination, that all people are encouraged and enabled to get outside into a clean, safe environment and enjoy moving their bodies, that public funding goes into curing disease and providing those treatments to all human beings and so on.
What I do not support from public health is the marking of non-normative bodies as “diseased” or “defective”. I do not support the removal of agency and self-advocacy from people with non-normative bodies. I do not support intervention into our bodies and health by public health organisations. I do not support the vilification of human beings based on their appearance. I do not support public health being driven by the diet, beauty and pharmacy industries, or the mainstream media, all of which have financial gain to be made in the othering of people based on their appearance. I do not support public health campaigns that mark some bodies as inferior, immoral or defective. I do not support public health campaigns that encourage friends, family, schools or other groups to intervene in to other people’s health. None of these things actually help improve individual health or quality of life, in fact they all impact both health and quality of life negatively.
Anything that renders human beings as vulnerable to any of the above is public shaming and public stigmatisation, not public health.
Part of living in a society is that we can all contribute to that society for the general betterment of all. Some people will need different resources and levels of care to others, because like any other living species, human beings are diverse. That does not make those people beholden to society in general to try to change themselves to meet the narrow band of “average” that is classed as “normal”. Instead, the responsibility is on society as a whole to include all people, rather than just the lucky few that meet some ridiculous arbitrary standards.