First a tiny bit of housekeeping – thank you so much to all of those who have donated so far to my GoFundMe to get to Sydney for the Cyberhate Symposium. Your support means so much to me! If you’d like to know more about that, please click here.
Now, on to the topic of the day.
Yesterday I posted this to Instagram, and it struck some really strong chords with people:
I posted this because yet another high profile, supposed fat positive person in the public eye has cropped up in the mainstream media trumpeting about their weight loss surgery and how they are only doing it for themselves, their own health, their own happiness. In a huge article in a mainstream publication where they were likely paid for the piece, if not they are going to get commercial benefit from doing so. Simply because there is massive societal benefit in publicly trying to not be a fat person.
I am not going to talk here about personal choice, the pressures fat women face and I am not going to to recite the litany of evidence that shows that weight loss surgery (gastric mutilation) does not cure any illness long time, does not cure depression and has vast detrimental health risks including a high death rate. I’ve done that before and other people have done it time and time again and it’s all easily retrievable with some simple Google searches.
What I want to talk about today is the damage that these “personal journeys” in the mainstream media do to fat people in general and secondly, the sheer hypocrisy of people who have been in the mainstream media and big business arenas selling themselves as fat positive role models, only to turn around shortly afterwards and in the same media, throw fat people under the bus with their narratives of “personal choice”.
There comes a responsibility with public visibility. That responsibility is that you are to do your best not to do any harm to those out there that don’t have the platform that you do – be they people you have privilege over, or those you share marginalised identity with. I take that very seriously with my small platform, and while I will inevitably fuck up, I am always working to do my best to avoid doing so, and I will do my best to own it and fix it when I do fuck up. I take the time to think about what I am saying, to ask myself who I am leaving out, and who I might be doing harm to.
Personal narratives are important, yes. But there is always a time and a place that must be carefully chosen. It is not OK to just jump out into the mainstream media or major business platform with your personal narrative when that narrative is going to do damage to other people. Having a mainstream media or business platform is a position of power that most marginalised people simply do not have, so there is little to no reply or rebuttal to damaging narratives that are given air time.
Put simply, it’s in no way a big risk to put yourself in the media and parrot the dominant paradigm about fatness. It’s a safe bet that is going to get you support from the majority, because the majority actually do believe that fat is bad, and that one must go to any length to not be fat. This is not a brave step, or one that has never been heard before. It’s a safe bet that to do so you are going to have people patting your back and telling you “You go girl, good on you.”
But what is also a safe bet is that people are going to read/see your story, and regardless of whether or not you’ve put any caveats in that it’s your own personal story, they’re going to see it as a reassurance that they are right, that all fat people are unhealthy, sad, depressed, gross, sickly and miserable – you are simply reinforcing the existing narratives.
The other problem I have with these types of stories is that they are so often coming from someone who has made themselves a name, a business, a career, money and fame from other fat women – as the post that Virgie Tovar shared on her Facebook page this morning says:
Meaghan O’Malley is so right when she says this. It is a deep hypocrisy to have stood up and said “I love my fat body and I’m here for you, my fellow fat women!” to build a career and platform, only to throw them under the bus down the track by using the same coded language to declare in a highly public platform that you are taking drastic steps to not be a fat person. Particularly galling is that some of this was in a HUGE media campaign for a major department store less than a year ago. It’s all well and good to jump on the bandwagon to sell yourself as radical self love, build a career, align yourself with several brands using the language and works of decades of fat activists, and in fact getting several very prominent fat activists to stand beside you, only to turn up in a major tabloid magazine not even a year later saying that all of those things you said are not true. Particularly having launched a major new product line aimed at fat women mere days beforehand.
Of course, this is only one example of a prominent fat person declaring publicly the opposite to the very things they were saying and riding to their fame after gastric mutilation (or any other type of intentional size reduction). We’ve seen it from singers, actors, models, writers, all kinds of very public people.
Every time this happens, there are those who have absolutely nothing to do with fat activism at any other time who get themselves in the media and start screaming for the “mean fatties to leave [insert famous ex-fat person] alone”. When we critique the messages these very public people are putting out on their sizeable platforms, we are accused of being “mean” towards the person or being “bitter and angry because we’re still fat”. It’s fucking exhausting to constantly have to argue straw man arguments from people who refuse to listen to what we are saying. The other particularly galling argument is that by somehow critiquing the messages put out by these narratives that fat activists lack compassion or empathy. Fuck that bullshit – nobody wants to have compassion or empathy for the fat people they are pummelling into the dirt with their lies about health and happiness being unattainable to fat people, or their faux-moralising to hide their open loathing of us, but the minute we raise valid questions about the damage being done by those who are suddenly pro-weight loss after having built careers off our backs, we’re the ones lacking compassion and empathy.
There is no shame in feeling disappointment and hurt that yet another of the people you believed were on your team is in the media very publicly trying not to be like you.
Nobody is saying that your body is not your own to do with what you will. What we are saying is that if you have a highly public platform, perhaps you should examine the rhetoric you are spewing out and how it harms people who don’t have the same platforms. It’s not like you’re saying anything new with these narratives that fat = miserable/unhealthy/disgusting. You’re saying the same thing the world has been saying about you all along, now you’ve jumped the fence and are saying them about other more vulnerable people. You have become one of the bullies.
How anyone can wear that on their conscience, I don’t know.