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.