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March 15, 2013

The Fat Acceptance Movement

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.

What I Don’t Agree With In The Fat Acceptance Movement

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.

You Don’t Need To Not Be Able To Change Something

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.

Why You Might Want To Lose Weight

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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  1. Kat says:

    Well-written piece. I have been on the fence with the fat activist movement for the reasons you mentioned above. I hope that like feminism it eventually has sub-movements that allow for some weight-loss or at least for the choice of it.

  2. Lily says:

    I have to say, sometimes it is impossible to lose weight, because of a clinical reason which has not been identified. I spent over a decade trying very hard to lose weight. I did Weight Watchers, I went to the gym daily, I tracked food and exercise, I tried South Beach, I tried low fat, I tried a lot of ways to lose weight healthily. I wasn’t looking to do a crash diet, I was doing everything right, according to what is considering a healthy way to lose weight. With each attempt I’d get down about ten pounds and grind to a halt, then start gaining again. I asked my doctor about it, and she said I must be eating too much. Even after I showed her my food diary, and explained I was exercising with and eating the same as my college roommate, who had lost twenty pounds by that point, and was continuing to lose, she assumed I was doing something wrong. I told my endocrinologist, who changed my meds for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and PCOS (both of which were blamed for my weight) and then refused to believe I was actually exercising.

    Finally, after reading an article on various symptoms of celiac disease, I went on a gluten free diet. For the first time in my life I feel really well, I have energy, and I am able to lose weight. It is still really, really hard, but it is happening. For me, with undiagnosed celiac’s, giving up gluten was the key to fixing a host of health problems, from menstrual pain to a painful rash to chronic fatigue and migraines.

    No doctor considered I had celiac’s, though. I was fat, I couldn’t be malnourished! But I was. My body was not getting the nutrients it needed, and I was hungry. All. The. Time. It was a constant struggle to stop eating, and it was miserable. Doctors can be horribly dismissive of fat people, assuming our size is our fault, that we are lazy. So yes, probably most people could lose weight if they just tried something else, but knowing what to try often isn’t possible! It certainly isn’t easy. I stumbled upon my underlying problem, no doctor (GP, or any of the five endocrinologists I visited looking for one who saw me as something other than a bad number on a scale, to be slotted in to the PCOS slot, or the allergist I visited when I started getting a constant cough from post nasal drip) thought to test me for gluten sensitivity. If I had presented with autoimmune thyroid problems, a vitamin d deficiency, high cholesterol, intermittent diarrhea, and an unexplained rash . . . and was underweight, they’d have tested for celiac immediately.

    I am obese, according to the sketchy BMI scale, and I am perfectly healthy. My cholesterol, blood pressure, pulse, blood sugar, and hormones are perfect. I can lift heavy loads and walk for miles without tiring. I can walk up eight flights of stairs to my studio without stopping to catch my breath. I am fat. And I am healthy. I am in the process of losing weight, but without the fat acceptance movement I don’t think I’d have the strength to focus on myself enough to lose weight. I’ve never found FA people angry that I’m losing weight. If I tried to make them make the same decision I’m making, they should be angry. But I’m not. FA is about letting people make their own decisions, and embracing the love we all can feel for ourselves, no matter our appearance. It’s hard enough being fat in this society without people saying “I love the idea of fat acceptance, but . . . ” and showing that they really don’t appreciate fat people loving being fat after all.

    It’s my body, and no one has any right to judge anything about it. Not my doctor, not my employer, and certainly not a complete stranger. No one I know in the Fat Acceptance movement would force me to stay at the weight I am now. Maybe I’m just interacting with the sane ones, or the nice ones, but in my experience the most important part of fat acceptance is acceptance. Fat is relative, after all. But once you’re in the habit of acceptance, it’s a hard one to break.

  3. Sophia Gubb says:

    Hey there Lily. Thanks for the well-written comment.

    I don’t have much experience with the Fat Acceptance movement. But I did encounter one or two radical voices trying to say that for many people, losing weight is absolutely, absolutely impossible and also probably undesirable. I didn’t like that at all.

    I’m sure most people are more moderate than this. I guess what turns up in Facebook and a few other places won’t be representative of the movement as a whole.


  4. Lily says:


    It is an unfortunate truth that within any movement there will be radicals, people who push a philosophy past an appropriate extreme. With FA, I can empathize with those who say weight loss is absolutely impossible for some people. That was my point, really. For me, weight loss was impossible. It’s just a fluke that I figured out what was causing my slow but steady weight gain. For other people, the underlying cause may be more complicated, or less fixable, than mine. For those people I do think accepting being fat, and embracing it, is healthier than trying and failing over and over to change.

    What is important for me, and what I think you agree with, is to accept people at all sizes. I prefer the terms health at any size and body positivity, rather than fat acceptance. I don’t want to exclude thin or otherwise identifying people from a loving, understanding, and non judgmental community. When anyone judges people based on appearance they are in the wrong. Insulting thin people is no better than insulting fat people, and most FA people do get that. It would be nice to have more support from people who don’t identify as fat, but that will come.

    Thank you for a well written and thought provoking article, and for your response to my comment! It’s refreshing to interact with people who take time to understand what they are reading on the Internet before charging in to a response.

  5. I believe the reason people subscribe to the belief that weight loss is impossible is because they make too many changes at once and it completely overwhelms them, thus causing them to give up. Extreme diets are 1 example and they don’t work.

    What works are incremental changes or baby step. Change just 1 thing like giving up 1 or 2 sodas a day in exchange for water, unsweetened tea or a small latte. Once enough time has passed for the change to become routine and habitual and the person starts seeing results, he/she is then more motivated to make another change.

    Swapping fries for a baked potato, halving the mac and cheese by replacing them with potatoes and having scrambled eggs with bacon and sauteed mushrooms instead of pancakes or waffles with syrup are some changes that can be introduced gradually.

    For snacks, replace cake, cookies and potato chips with fresh fruit, nuts, roasted garlic peas and cheese slices.

    Again, slow baby steps. This gives the body enough time to adapt to the changes and there’s a higher chance of success.

    I wish all who’re trying to lose weight and get healthy all the best.

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