I came to a realisation last night. Thanks to discussions on Twitter and Facebook, I realised that I no longer consider myself aligned to either fat acceptance or body acceptance.
Don’t be too alarmed, I’m still the same rad fat feminist I was before yesterday, I’m not about to start pushing diets and fat hate at you and change the direction of this blog. I’m still a fat activist, and a proud one at that. I just no longer wish to be aligned with the concepts of fat acceptance or body acceptance.
The epiphany was twofold. Firstly, I came to the realisation that I have a problem with the concept of mere acceptance of fat people. I think we deserve more than to be merely accepted into society. We should be valued members of society, not merely accepted ones. In the discussion we had on Twitter, someone mentioned that in some queer communities, the word “tolerance” is considered the weakest form of homophobia, and suggested that in fat communities, perhaps “acceptance” is the weakest form of fat phobia.
I tend to agree. I think acceptance implies a begrudging kind of acknowledgement that we exist. It says to me “Yes, ok, fat people exist, I accept that.” and no more. I think as activists for fat rights, we need to demand more than that. We need to realise that just being acknowledged as existing is not meeting our rights as human beings.
It is my belief that we more than simply exist on this planet. We have value. We contribute. We are as worthy of our place on the planet as any other human being. Fat people are as precious and worthy as any other human being. We are not damaged goods that need repair. Nor are we “too big” and need to be made smaller to “fit in”. The world is big enough for all of us, from the very largest person down to the tiniest. We are not vermin to be eradicated, diseases to be cured or crimes to be prevented. We are people who hold as much value as any other human being on the planet.
The word “acceptance” makes me feel like I have to compromise my value, because as a fat person I am devalued. And I want no part of that.
The second reason I realised that I no longer identify with fat/body acceptance are the constant calls for us to accommodate reductionism. By reductionism, I mean the practice of forcing ones body to lose weight. I’m not referring to the incidental weight loss that comes due to illness, environmental change or through the changes ones body goes through with age. I’m referring to reductive weight loss – diets (including diet products, diet foods, diet camps or clubs, diet books or any other tools of dieting), “lifestyle changes”, medications, appetite suppressants, weight loss gadgets, weight loss companies, “medical interventions” and surgical procedures. This also includes eating and exercise disorders.
Every time I speak out against any of these damaging practices (many of which I partook in myself in my past), someone crops up and says “But what if people choose/chose to do these things, is there space for them in fat acceptance?” My answer is usually “yes”, with the caveat that they not promote or advocate these practices in FA spaces. Of course, then comes the argument that I am somehow “excluding” or “silencing” them because they’re fat people too and they deserve to be heard.
However, this to me, is a derailment – in that the whole world is a space for diet promotion and weight loss advocacy. Reductionism is the dominant paradigm – and FA should not have to “make space” for something that already takes up ALL of the space. I had believed fat/body acceptance to be about breaking down dominant paradigms and being a space where fat people could have some respite from that constant harassment to lose weight, but more and more often I feel that I’m being pushed into being accommodating to a world that has refused to accommodate me. I want no part of that either.
Some will call this absolutist, some will label it “militant”. Others will suggest that “it’s not black and white, there are shades of grey”. No. Not in my fight there is not. Perhaps there is in your fight, perhaps there is in fat/body acceptance. There is no grey of “acceptable” weight reductionism for me. You get the rest of the world to celebrate/promote/advocate/have pride in your weight loss agenda. I get this tiny space to say no, and to make clear my stance on forced weight loss. One only has to look at just how vast the chasm is between the amount of Google mentions/information on the terms “weight loss” and “fat acceptance” to see how loud the voice is for weight loss, and how fat acceptance is a mere whisper against that tide. Try doing the same for “weight loss” and terms like fat liberation, anti-diet, fat pride – the latter terms don’t even register. How dare anyone suggest we have to “make room” for weight loss talk?
I know we talk a lot about body autonomy in fat/body acceptance, but I feel that there is rarely a voice that declares that they are against reductionism that isn’t shouted down by how we “must be accommodating” to the dominant paradigm, which in doing so immediately removes my body autonomy. To me, if Fat/Body Acceptance must be a space that includes the dominant paradigm, then now is the time for me to distance myself from it. I want more than to have to be accommodating to people who already have the lion’s share of the space in the world. I want to be able to completely and utterly reject reductionism from my life. If I cannot do that within Fat Acceptance, then I am happy to walk away from it.
Part of me felt bereft at this realisation. I felt a sense of loss in discovering that there is yet another space that I cannot find respite from the dominant paradigm around fatness. But then I remembered the Fat Liberation Manifesto, authored almost 40 years ago by Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran as part of The Fat Underground, and I found solace. This manifesto sums up exactly how I feel about my fat activism and what I want from the world with regard to how fat people are treated.
I want liberation from the dominant paradigm, not to “make room” for it. Somewhere I heard the saying “We don’t want a piece of the pie, we want a new pie.” which is a brilliant way to express it.
So I share the Fat Liberation Manifesto with you all here, and I honour the foremothers/sisters of The Fat Underground for paving the way for me to claim my own liberation.
FAT LIBERATION MANIFESTO
1. WE believe that fat people are fully entitled to human respect and recognition.
2. WE are angry at mistreatment by commercial and sexist interests. These have exploited our bodies as objects of ridicule, thereby creating an immensely profitable market selling the false promise of avoidance of, or relief from, that ridicule.
3. WE see our struggle as allied with the struggles of other oppressed groups against classism, racism, sexism, ageism, financial exploitation, imperialism and the like.
4. WE demand equal rights for fat people in all aspects of life, as promised in the Constitution of the United States. We demand equal access to goods and services in the public domain, and an end to discrimination against us in the areas of employment, education, public facilities and health services.
5. WE single out as our special enemies the so-called “reducing” industries. These include diet clubs, reducing salons, fat farms, diet doctors, diet books, diet foods and food supplements, surgical procedures, appetite suppressants, drugs and gadgetry such as wraps and “reducing machines”.
WE demand that they take responsibility for their false claims, acknowledge that their products are harmful to the public health, and publish long-term studies proving any statistical efficacy of their products. We make this demand knowing that over 99% of all weight loss programs, when evaluated over a five-year period, fail utterly, and also knowing the extreme proven harmfulness of frequent large changes in weight.
6. WE repudiate the mystified “science” which falsely claims that we are unfit. It has both caused and upheld discrimination against us, in collusion with the financial interests of insurance companies, the fashion and garment industries, reducing industries, the food and drug industries, and the medical and psychiatric establishment.
7. WE refuse to be subjugated to the interests of our enemies. We fully intend to reclaim power over our bodies and our lives. We commit ourselves to pursue these goals together.
FAT PEOPLE OF THE WORLD, UNITE! YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE ….
By Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran
Copyright The Fat Underground
(Unfortunately I was unable to find anywhere I could link back to for The Fat Liberation Manifesto, but if someone knows of one please let me know and I will amend this post.)