I began noticing the fat acceptance movement in recent years – I’m not sure if it became more mainstream or if I was just hanging out in the right circles to notice it. I rather liked the message: that fat people can be beautiful and that acceptance, not judgement, is important.
I strongly believe that discrimination and insults because of someone’s weight is just as bad as discrimination because of sexual orientation or race. For sure, fat can be changed (most of the time), while the other things can’t be. But I don’t see that as a valid reason to treat anyone as sub-human, as fat people often are treated.
And I do see beauty in fat people. In general, I think it’s possible to see beauty in all shapes and sizes, and not just those bodies approximating the tall, sleek model ideal.
I’m an attractive person – or so I hear – and I have been with both very thin people and really quite fat people. In my head, I don’t make much of a distinction between them. Their weight made them different, and sexy in different ways, but not as far as I could tell much more or less sexy. Just different.
Another observation I’d like to make is that I like the movement’s reclaiming of the word “fat”. I think it’s pointless to make up euphemisms like “big boned” or “plump” or “a little extra” to describe what is basically just being fat. I also think it’s possible to own that word and not feel bad because of it. I think an appropriate response to being called fat (if it is true) would be, “Yeah, so what?”
As a little tangent, stupid people have the same issue – there have been historically many politically neutral words that were invented for them. Idiot, moron, imbecile and retarded were all originally medical terms, but they all got turned into insults. Rather than create more terms, I think the best way of taking away their sting would be to own them. As Forrest Gump said, “My mama told me that stupid is as stupid does.” I think he’s a great example for us all, whatever our discrimination category might be.
There are some areas in which I don’t agree with a lot of the precepts of the fat acceptance movement, though.
The movement tends to affirm that for many people, it is not possible to lose weight.
I don’t like that. For one thing, I think it is just wrong.
For sure, many people may have tried for years and years and not succeeded. I think it is certainly possible for that to happen. And indeed, perhaps they would keep on trying until they died, in which case it was pretty much “impossible” for them.
But I have the sense that many if not most of these people – perhaps even all though I hesitate to be so black and white about it – would succeed if only they tried a different approach.
And sure, they may have tried many approaches. But I think if they kept looking, and kept adapting, they might find something.
Perhaps giving up for some people would be the most empowering option. Perhaps for some it would be the best use of their energy. But I don’t like to say that losing weight is impossible.
So I think this precept is wrong. But also, here is the second, and I think more important reason why I don’t like it:
You don’t need to not be able to change something, for it to be OK.
A lot of gay people insist that being gay is impossible to change, in order to get others off their case. I do wonder if that is completely true, but in general I would agree with them. But I think that misses the point. It makes their sexuality sound like something bad which they are just saddled with, which others should accept because there is no other choice.
On the contrary, I think someone’s sexuality should be celebrated and embraced, not grudgingly accepted. And people should put no conditions on their acceptance: not whether you can change it or not, and not any other condition.
In general, I think that this mistake for both gay and fat people stems from a basic fallacy: that you need to judge or reject something in order to be able to change it. You don’t. Not at all.
And so I think that fat people may be empowered by fat acceptance, especially initially, because it gives them a chance to stop judging themselves. I like that. In fact, when I first read about the movement, it helped me. I decided to give up losing weight for a while (My weight fluctuates but I’m often overweight) until I had felt like I accepted myself unconditionally in this area.
But I never decided that losing weight was impossible or undesirable for me. I just decided I wanted to approach it – when I did approach it – from a different angle.
I like the “fat is beautiful” message. I like the message that some people may find it very hard to lose weight and that that is okay. I like that people consider consciously choosing not to try to lose weight. I think all of these are empowering.
But I don’t like them when they disempower someone. I think better ways of losing weight are out there, and that a person could benefit a lot from hearing about them, rather than flat out denying they exist.
Particularly, while I find fat people beautiful, I personally have decided that I want to lose some weight, at least when I feel ready to. In particular, I prefer my face when I’m thinner; it’s more defined. I have a round face that changes in appearance quite fast with a little extra weight.
There is also the health aspect. According to a quick Google search I’ve just made, an obese person is 40% more likely to suffer from heart-related disease. Any degree of excess weight indicates a proportional increase in the chance of all of these conditions, too: stroke, heart disease, certain types of cancer, diabetes, gallbladder disease, sleep apnoea, gout and osteoarthritis. (Source)
Apart from my personal aesthetic preferences – not for everyone but for myself – I also find myself rather convinced by the argument that being 20kg (~40lb) overweight is like carrying a 20kg sack around with you everywhere you go. Apart from the fact that that sounds like a strain on the body, I can see how it could make exercise harder and just generally be a nuisance. I personally enjoy the feeling of being lighter when I am more trim.
The bottom line is that losing weight – or attempting to lose weight – is a choice. I love the fat acceptance movement when it’s advocating for choice. I don’t like it so much when it’s advocating for a new sort of restriction.
It reminds me of prescriptive feminism which says that everyone should be androgynous. While I think a lot of people could benefit from discovering gender aspects which society normally prohibits them, I do not believe that there is anything wrong with women – or men – wearing, for example, dresses and makeup. Empowering is letting everyone have that choice, as well as the choice not to do so. Disempowering is replacing one restriction with another.
So in balance, I definitely agree that fat discrimination is an issue and we should fight it. I think people should advocate for their choice to attempt to lose weight, or not, as they see fit in any given moment. I think all people should be accepted, and considered beautiful even, whatever their weight.
I don’t believe that no-one should decide that they personally would appreciate their own looks more when they are thinner. I think it’s a personal choice and we should define it as such. I don’t think people shouldn’t be allowed to care at all.
I also think there are valid reasons linked with health and vitality for wanting to be thin.
That’s my considered perspective on losing weight and the fat acceptance movement. Tell me what you think 🙂
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