The fatosphere has a problem. Put simply, it’s too nice.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud to be part of the fatosphere, and I think amazing work is being done. But too many fat people are being left behind.
We spend far too much time trying to accommodate people who hold us back from our rights. We make space for people who refuse to acknowledge that fat stigma exists. We allow diet and weight loss rhetoric in our spaces, despite the fact that both are the product of fat hate. We fold the minute a thin person says “But what about skinny shaming?!” as though they’ve ever been there for us while were dealing with people who would eliminate us altogether, the same people whose silence in the face of the hate and bullying fat people receive is deafening. We rush to prove that fat people can be healthy, pretty, fit, fashionable, successful, which on the surface is stereotype-busting, but is only a thin veneer over the stigmatisation of less privileged fat people. We don’t have to be health, fit, pretty, fashionable, successful etc to earn our rights as human beings.
We have rights by default. They are not something that has to be earned.
There needs to be room for more than just young, white, affluent, able-bodied, straight, smaller-fat, femme presenting, cis-women showing how beautiful they can be and how they’re “valuable” to others. Because by focusing on the “acceptable fats”, we are inadvertently drawing a line that creates “unacceptable fats”. And there is something important you all must know…
There are no fat people who are unacceptable. Not a one.
Not the sick.
Not the disabled.
Not the queer.
Not the trans.
Not the poor.
Not the people of colour.
Not the old.
Not the weird.
Not the ugly.
Not the mentally ill.
Not the extremely fat.
Not the masculine presenting.
No fat person is unacceptable in fat activism. It is important that when we take up the challenge of demanding dignity and respect for fat people, we need to include ALL fat people, especially those people who aren’t considered “valuable” to society. Because human value isn’t about being pretty or fashionable or worthy. All humans, by right of their existence, are valid, valuable people. Fat people shouldn’t have to prove that they “contribute to society” to be included in fat activism.
I’m not saying that we have to open up the floor to every fat person who wants to have an opinion – plenty of fat people are chock full of internalised fat hate. Fat liberation to me has no place for diet talk, proselytising weight loss, or any other form of anti-fat rhetoric. But we need to be making sure that the people who don’t meet the standard of the cute fashion fatty have a seat at the table.
How do we do that? Well, mostly we do it by watching our own behaviour and making sure we’re not building standards and barriers that exclude and de-value certain people.
We need to stop entertaining those who throw health questions at us. Firstly it’s none of their business, nobody’s health is their business but their own and secondly rushing to declare that we are healthy throws those fat people with health or disability issues under the bus. Not to mention that no human being is 100% healthy, all of the time. We all age, go through illness and injury, and most of us will be subject to disability at some point – it’s called age. I’m sure many people mean well when they respond to the health policing with “But my blood sugar levels are fine!” or “I exercise every day!” But that implies that there is something wrong with people who do have illness, or who are not active. Again, health and physical activity are nobody’s business but your own. The answer to the fat hating “But it’s bad for your health!” is not “My health is great!”, the answer is “Other people’s health is none of your business, and my human rights are not affected by my health or lack of it.”
We need to talk about more than access to fashion when it comes to clothes. That doesn’t mean that we should never talk about plus-size fashion, it means that we need to open up the other issues around clothing for fat people. When we squee over a new range, do we take notice whether or not that range is accessible to larger fats? Or is affordably priced for fats on a lower income?
We need to talk about access to comfortable clothes and how fat people wearing comfortable clothing are stigmatised as “sloppy”. We need to talk about access to work uniforms for fat people, and how without that access fat people are held back from employment opportunities. We need to talk about access to surgical gowns, wound dressings and medical supports that fit our bodies, and how we are already humiliated in medical settings, without the embarrassment of ill-fitting hospital garments and discomfort of too small dressings/supports.
We need to talk about how larger fats (myself included) are routinely excluded from all of the “exciting” new fatshion collections and ranges, and why this is about more than just business. We need to talk about how the plus-size clothing industry is terrified of the word fat, or acknowledging that their customers are fat people at all, and how this further stigmatises fat people. We need to talk about how plus-size customers are treated with shame in retail, both by shaming us and by being ashamed of us.
When it comes to fat activism, we need to make sure we’re not walking over other fat people to raise ourselves and our own needs higher. We need to examine our own preferences and tastes – why do we share the things we share, and follow the people we follow? Do we uphold the very prejudices that we’re supposedly fighting against, because we have internalised the same societal bullshit as everyone else? Are we making sure we represent a diverse range of fat people in all of our work?
What are we doing for the older fatties? The fatties of colour? The super fatties? The ones that don’t care about fatshion? The ones that can’t afford fatshion, or basic things like medical care and food? The disabled or chronically ill (physically or mentally) fatties? The queer fatties? The trans* fatties?
We need to move beyond focusing on just the cuties, the fatshionable, the young, the social butterflies in the fatosphere. We need to make it clear that fat rights are for all fat people. There will be no real valuable social change until we do.