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who gets to be considered a fat activist

I distrust most conversations about who gets to be in [whatever] camp and who doesn't, and what's the "real" way of doing something and what isn't. Mostly I think they cause more harm than good. So I feel uncomfortable with the comments I'm going to make, but I'm going to make them anyway.

http://www.ficklefingeroffat.com/ is a new blog by a person who was a famous spokesperson for fat acceptance. The person is now blogging about her attempts to lose weight. This has caused some controversy at shapelyprose and among some other fat-acceptance bloggers.

There are various takes on the subject, and I'm not going to list them all here. I'm going to discuss just one of them that came up in a friend's locked post. It was said that size-acceptance is about "live and let live," and suggested that it was hypocritical for size-acceptance advocates to criticize "a personal decision."

My comment was:
Thing is, it's not just "a personal decision" when it's undertaken in a public blog by a famous spokesperson for fat-acceptance.

The person has every right to do what they are doing, but writing a blog about their deliberate weight loss attempts discredits them as a spokesperson for fat-acceptance, in my mind.
therotund put it better here (emphasis mine):
A lot of the comments I have seen, both here and at Shapely Prose, seem to want to define Fat Activism as doing whatever the hell you want to do with your body. But that isn’t Fat Activism. That is body autonomy, which is a component of Fat Activism.
and
Does this mean [people who are dieting] cannot work toward changing social perceptions of fat people? No. But if you are a fat person who is publicly dieting, that is going to inform your message and reinforce the idea that fat people can and should lose weight by just trying hard enough. Does this mean you cannot appreciate and love other fat people? No. But it does send a message of “fat is okay for you but not for me” which kind of undermines the message of acceptance.

Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
ailbhe
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:02 pm (UTC)
FWIW I agree with you, which is one reason I don't post as much about female body size stuff as I want to. I do worry about Linnea - even if she's never fat she's always going to be big - but really, as a small, short, often underweight woman, it's not my front to fight on; I'll stick in the rear and hand up ammo.
firecat
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:36 pm (UTC)
I think you're a great ally, FWIW.
(Deleted comment)
janetmiles
Sep. 7th, 2007 10:32 pm (UTC)
Y'know, that way of putting it makes sense in my head. I have another friend who is a fat woman, and who is going to the gym regularly because she wants to improve her flexibility and stamina. And that doesn't make me twitch in the same way that "because she wants to lose weight" would do.

I also know four women who have had gastric bypass surgery and one who's going to, and I just want to scream every time one of them says something like, "I was so sick and in so much pain, and I almost died from the infection, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat because it was the only way I could lose weight."

And there were several years when I didn't eat sugar at all, even fresh fruit, because any kind of sugar reacted really badly with my antidepressant and made me terribly sick and caused lots of pain. And hearing my doctor say things like, "You've lost weight! Good for you!" was really unhelpful.

And I want to start exercising regularly again, but I'm pretty convinced that it has to be yoga, because in 40 years yoga is the only form of exercise I've found that doesn't fuck with my head and make me crazy in bad and ugly ways. Well, okay, that and mall-walking, but even there I have to be careful (mentally and emotionally, I mean).

I'm rambling here, aren't I. Weight and size and fat and diet and nutrition and exercise and body image are so goddamn fraught.
(no subject) - redbird - Sep. 8th, 2007 12:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Sep. 7th, 2007 10:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
An odd thought - imnotandrei - Sep. 7th, 2007 11:00 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: An odd thought - firecat - Sep. 7th, 2007 11:42 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: An odd thought - cassidyrose - Sep. 8th, 2007 07:27 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: An odd thought - jillzilla - Sep. 8th, 2007 10:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(Deleted comment)
Re: An odd thought - firecat - Sep. 9th, 2007 02:05 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: An odd thought - mjlayman - Sep. 8th, 2007 07:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - therealjae - Sep. 8th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC) - Expand
ex_serenejo
Sep. 8th, 2007 12:59 am (UTC)
I'm more disappointed than I thought I'd be when I didn't know who it was. (Took me a few seconds to figure it out from the blog entries.) I have to process this for a bit, but I may have stuff to say about it, here and elsewhere.
vito_excalibur
Sep. 8th, 2007 02:44 am (UTC)
Oh. Oh.

Yes, I see what you mean.
(no subject) - cassidyrose - Sep. 8th, 2007 05:24 am (UTC) - Expand
vito_excalibur
Sep. 8th, 2007 02:35 am (UTC)
Yes. There is just no way around this.

People don't go to great efforts to stop being things that they think there's nothing wrong with. What the hell would be the point?
pir_anha
Sep. 8th, 2007 06:15 pm (UTC)
the point is personal
but just because something feels all kinds of wrong FOR ME doesn't mean i think the same thing is wrong for others. i don't ever think that way. i am a unique and special snowflake, you see? the rest of you are likely completely different from me. :)

  • traditional marriage is wrong for me; it seems to work fine for millions of others.
  • BDSM is wrong for me, but more power to ya if it turns your crank.
  • taking a daily shower is wrong for me, but if you feel you need one, or two, go right ahead.
  • eating food that gives me gas is wrong for me, but i am happy you can eat it without distending your bowels painfully.
  • my body feels all kinds of wrong when i weigh more than ~200 lbs, but if yours doesn't, yay! note that i actually weigh quite a bit more than 200 lbs now, and don't even know how much more, and that i am not attempting to lose weight at this time -- this is just my accumulated wisdom over the years. note also that at 200 lbs with my height and bone structure i'm still considered plenty fat by anyone who sorts people like that, so it's not like i'd be escaping censure if i managed to lose the extra poundage. i have no, zip, zero, zilch problems with people who weigh much more (or much less); i don't think there is anything wrong with them per se. i don't consider people's weight an issue that's any of my business, and i don't think about it unless it gets brought up in a discussion like this. no, i am not a fat activist (beyond supporting measures to stop discrimination), but i am fat accepting.

p.s. please nobody argue with me that it's not the weight. trust that i've heard it all, and that i know myself better than you. i don't feel "uncomfortable in my skin" (well, i do, but that's because i have gender dysphoria *wry grin*; the weight isn't the issue).

that said, i don't think somebody who is trying to lose weight by dieting can remain a very public spokesperson for fat acceptance. not in this climate. it's gonna feel like a betrayal. i don't even know who it is, but man, i feel sorry for the crap she's gonna get.
fattest
Sep. 8th, 2007 03:20 am (UTC)
sigh.
keryx
Sep. 8th, 2007 07:23 am (UTC)
Oh. Drat.

So, her explanation of why is perfectly reasonable, in the sense that she gives a nod at the end to its irrational, I feel uncomfortable in my skin nature. Gaining weight screws with people's self image in a way that losing weight doesn't quite do (though the latter is also weird when it sneaks up on you). I started that same project at the same time as I joined the movement, and I think for a lot of us, the "get healthier / please let me lose weight" thing is a necessary step to resituating us in our bodies. Yes, it's problematic from a public figure in the movement - but if the most public figures are completely inaccessible to the rest of the struggling-with-weight-and-image people, they also make the movement inaccessible.

The comments, however, make me cry. They're. Ugh. They're just misinformed and "give the movement the finger" and upsetting. I'd hate to be in a position where the people who "agreed" with me said so many things I disagree with.
firecat
Sep. 8th, 2007 03:36 pm (UTC)
I understand "I feel uncomfortable in my skin," since I've gained a lot of weight in the past few years, and I'm getting middle-aged, which I think causes "I'm uncomfortable in my skin" by itself for a lot of people.

That's a big part of why I'm disappointed, actually - I guess I incorrectly thought that most serious fat-acceptance advocates understood that the mapping of "I'm uncomfortable in my skin" to "I should lose weight" (as opposed to "I want to work toward enjoying movement more etc.") is a product of a society that works hard to blame everything on being fat.

I guess I'm feeling afraid that I've been naive and that no one but me is actually paying attention to the "don't focus on weight loss" message of fat-acceptance if they feel the slightest bit uncomfortable about their size.

I haven't read any of the comments on her blog. I'm sorry but unfortunately not surprised that they are so negative.
redbird
Sep. 8th, 2007 12:09 pm (UTC)
I think it's more accurate, and more useful, to say that body autonomy overlaps fat acceptance (Venn diagram style). My friend refusing to have her hair treated with lye so it will look more like white people's hair is also doing body autonomy, and would be regardless of how much or little she weighed. Tattoos and piercings may or may not fit into that piece of the Venn diagram, but rejecting the idea that to look good, or respectable, requires white people's hair definitely fits.
firecat
Sep. 8th, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
I agree with you.
auntysocial
Sep. 8th, 2007 07:12 pm (UTC)
There would be one way to try to lose weight and still call yourself a fat activist. Do it in a spirit of inquiry rather than faith. Don't say, I'm going to lose weight and then I will feel better. Say, I'm going to see whether this weight loss thing works. I'm going to find out what it takes to do it and whether I can maintain a lower weight and still be able to do and think about other things rather than become obsessed. I'm going to find out whether this really improves my health, or whether I'm just happy to bask in all the societal approval. Maybe it will improve my health in one way, but make it worse in another way. Maybe the societal approval is more important than my health, after all. Maybe the fat stigma I carried was more dangerous to my health than the fat itself.

Maybe this would be impossible. Maybe you can't lose a significant amount of weight unless you're convinced that you are going to feel better for it. Could a skeptical dieter stick with it long enough to lose much weight? I'd love to see a skeptics diet club, where instead of congratulating the participants on weight loss, you asked them how they really felt about it.
firecat
Sep. 9th, 2007 02:37 am (UTC)
Back in the mid-80s I lost weight in a spirit of inquiry (executive summary: I could do more kinds of exercise and buy less expensive clothes, but I wasn't happier or any more well-liked), but I wasn't a fat activist or playing one on TV at the time.
(no subject) - auntysocial - Sep. 9th, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Sep. 9th, 2007 05:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
i am not exactly a fat activist, but... - pir_anha - Sep. 9th, 2007 06:03 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: i am not exactly a fat activist, but... - pir_anha - Sep. 9th, 2007 07:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: i am not exactly a fat activist, but... - mjlayman - Sep. 9th, 2007 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
aekai
Sep. 8th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
I see a difference in Fat Acceptance and Fat Advocacy.

To use a religious metaphor, if I was a leader of a Wiccan/Muslim acceptance group that encouraged tolerance for Wiccian/Muslims and I had a crisis of faith and was not sure anymore if the Wiccian/Muslim beliefs were valid, this would not change my feelings for Wiccian/Muslim acceptance and tolerance.

On the other hand if I was a Wiccian/Muslim evangelist and had the same crisis of faith, it would be hypocritical for me to keep proselytizing Wiccian/Muslim beliefs when I no longer held them myself.

Would the other Wiccian/Muslims feel betrayed? Perhaps, but that is the price we pay for putting faith in leaders.
firecat
Sep. 9th, 2007 02:00 am (UTC)
Very well said.

In fat-acceptance/fat-activism, things might be a bit more complicated when you get to the evangelist, because the issues of "faith" are not really binary.
jonquil
Sep. 10th, 2007 02:03 pm (UTC)
But that isn’t Fat Activism. That is body autonomy, which is a component of Fat Activism.

Your logic seems to be that if you are a Fat Activist, you are no longer allowed to practice body autonomy for fear of losing your activist credentials.

There is a difference between "I'd like to lose some weight to lower my risk of diabetes" and "I'd like to lose all my fat so that I will be beautiful and people will love me and I'll have a good life."
firecat
Sep. 10th, 2007 06:48 pm (UTC)
Your logic seems to be that if you are a Fat Activist, you are no longer allowed to practice body autonomy for fear of losing your activist credentials.

You aren't "allowed"? Oh please. No one is coming to any blogger's house with handcuffs. I also see plenty of people in this larger discussion who think weight loss blogging is completely in line with being a fat activist, so it's apparent that a "fat activist weight loss blogger" will continue to have plenty of fans.

But as far as I am concerned, a fat activist who blogs about weight loss has lost credibility, at least for the important component of fat activism that says "weight is is the wrong thing to focus on."

There is a difference between "I'd like to lose some weight to lower my risk of diabetes" and "I'd like to lose all my fat so that I will be beautiful and people will love me and I'll have a good life."

Sure, but in these senses there is no difference: (1) It matters not at all whether a person would "like" to lose weight. In this society, almost everyone would at some point "like" to lose weight. It matters what you *do*. (2) If you study the research, you learn that your risk of diabetes depends a lot more on genetics and exercise habits than on whether you try to lose weight. (I even know people who got diabetes after they lost weight, because losing weight can be stressful on the body, and stress increases your risk of developing diabetes, if you are genetically prone to it.) If you observe life, you understand that being thin doesn't guarantee being beautiful, loved, and having a good life.
baratron
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:15 pm (UTC)
But it does send a message of “fat is okay for you but not for me” which kind of undermines the message of acceptance.

Hmmm. I hear what you're saying, but I think that people can honestly believe that fat is ok for others but not themselves while still being generally accepting. I am perfectly happy for any other human being on the planet to be whatever size or shape is right for them. At the same time, I reject the idea that anyone other than me has the right to say what size or shape I should be. The two things do go together perfectly well in my head:
* Other people should be the size&shape that is right for them - I have no right to say what that is.
* I should be the size&shape that is right for me - no one else has the right to say what that is.

I do understand that it feels like a sort of betrayal for someone who was previously a very active Fat Activist to now be writing about attempting to lose weight, though :/
firecat
Sep. 10th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)
I agree completely with what you are saying; I'm not trying to dictate anyone else's size and shape.

My problem is this. 99.98% of the people who publicly state that they are pursuing size change for themselves (whether or not they have different size standards for themselves than for others) are saying "I am trying to get smaller." Every individual person who says/does that has every right to do so. But when there are thousands of people doing weight-loss blogs, and virtually no one doing weight-gain blogs, and very few people doing weight-doesn't-matter blogs, the overall message I get (and I don't think I'm alone here) is: "putting effort into getting smaller is really important in this society."

Now add in all the people who say outright fat-hating things. The overall message I get is "If you are fat, then maybe you have a right to exist if you are trying to get smaller. But otherwise you should not exist."

Feminists talk about how sexual harrassment is multiply problematic if there's a whole lot of it and not enough support for people who are emotionally affected by it. Let's say I go to a bar and one man hits on me, one man calls me a bitch, and a bunch of other people treat me with liking and respect. That's overall a positive experience. But if 1,000 men hit on me and 1,000 men call me a bitch, and two people treat me with liking and respect, I feel overwhelmed and threatened.

Likewise, if one person says "I'm trying to get smaller," I might regard it as an interesting experiment or a curious hobby. If 1,000 people say "I'm trying to get smaller," and 1,000 people say "Big people are disgusting and unhealthy," I feel threatened.
(no subject) - ailbhe - Sep. 19th, 2007 09:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Sep. 19th, 2007 10:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 38 comments — Leave a comment )

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