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An old friend found me on FaceBook recently. She has a blog - http://stillmorerandommutterings.blogspot.com - and she wrote here about being conflicted because she believes in fat acceptance (prejudice against fat people is unacceptable) but is unable to accept her own body when it is fat, and she is on a weight loss program. Does that make her a traitor or a bad feminist?

When I have encountered such statements from strangers, I've tended to feel judgemental and/or threatened, and sometimes I have acted publicly on those feelings. I've said or supported other people's assertions "If you're losing weight, you aren't part of the fat-acceptance movement." But I had a more, um, compassionate? inclusive? reaction to her statement. I gave some thought to whether I was making an exception for her or whether my thinking had shifted in general. I think it's some of both. I wrote the following comment (edited slightly).



The first time I encountered the fat acceptance movement was when I came across Shadow on a Tightrope. I read essays by women who said they weighed over 300 pounds. I had two responses to this book. I felt glad that someone was finally saying that it was OK to be fat and that fat people should be treated as human beings. Also, I went on the only major diet I've ever been on in my life. (When I got to my lowest adult weight, I felt pretty sick and undernourished. But I was still overweight according to BMI.)

You and I are not the only people who have combined fat acceptance and losing weight. So did Paul Campos, the author of The Obesity Myth. So did Susan Bordo, the author of Unbearable Weight, one of the first books to compare the language of fat-hatred with the language used to describe Jews in Nazi Germany. (She also stated that she felt bad about herself for making that personal choice.)

If accepting your body -- fat or not -- is a requirement for being a proper feminist, then there are very few proper feminists, because most women (and some men) frequently feel unhappy about their bodies, and one of the most common reasons is feeling that your body is too fat.

I prefer to think that feminism is the radical notion that women are people, and that the actions which show someone to be a feminist are actions that support women. Since women are unfairly judged by our appearance (including our weight), publicly stating that fat prejudice is wrong is a good feminist action. It's also a feminist principle that what you do with your body is your own business.

People who can successfully lose weight over the long term are rare, but they do exist. If you are one of them and feel better with a smaller body, then I think you are fortunate in this, and I don't see harm being done. I would like to have a smaller body too. But that seems incompatible with my sanity and other health needs, so I need to focus on health goals other than weight loss ("Health at Every Size" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_at_Every_Size ).

Unfortunately there isn't any way to change your weight without other people having opinions about it and likely expressing those opinions publicly. But that's part of society's mistreatment of women. Women's bodies are considered public property and that means people think they get to make assumptions about what the size of your body means and what it means when your body changes size.

What I'm writing here is somewhat different from other things I've said in my LiveJournal. For much of my life post-fat-acceptance I felt personally threatened by people who lost weight. That's not rational because people's personal choices aren't about me.

I do think it's rational for me to be concerned that the vast majority of people who want to change their weight want to lose weight rather than gain weight. I think that shows evidence of social pressure. But that's a problem with society, not individuals.

Also in the past I've said stuff like, "OK, if you lose weight, fine, but don't talk about it in public at all." I still think I would *prefer* if people didn't talk about it -- especially as a casual female-bonding type conversation topic -- but I suspect I'm one or two sigmas over at the "reserved" end of the bell curve about certain personal stuff, and a lot of other people have different ways of handling what to share and what not to share.

I do feel angry/betrayed when someone who is a leader in the fat acceptance movement or is a celebrity who has publicly declared "I'm OK with being fat" then decides to lose weight -- and to be even more public about losing weight than they were about their fat-acceptance.



The following was not part of the comment I posted.

I still really value the idea of spaces (virtual or meatspace) where there is no promotion of weight loss. (Promotion = talking about weight loss as a good thing or a necessary thing in some circumstances.) I feel like those spaces are harder to find than they used to be, and I am very sad about that. For example, I thought I could rely on there not being weight loss promotion at a NAAFA convention, but I was wrong—it came up in multiple panels I attended, and there were events I had to stay away from because I knew they would include such messages. I have also stayed away from NOLOSE in part because I've heard there's some weight loss promotion there.

Lately I am wondering if WLP-free spaces maybe never really existed (except as understandings that develop among specific people who hang out socially) and I am actually mourning my belief in them.

Whether or not they exist (any more) I need to remind myself that there are a lot of places I can go to hang out with fat people, and with people who think fat people are hot, and with people who think prejudice against fat people is wrong. There are a lot more people and places like that in my life than there once were, and that's good for me.

Comments

( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
betonica
Nov. 11th, 2008 12:58 pm (UTC)
re: firecat ponders her opinions about fat-acceptance...
Thank you for writing this. I need to think about it for a while, because I want to respond but don't know quite how to craft my response (I also haven't been getting enough sleep, which might have something to do with the delay). But thanks. I like it.
on_reserve
Nov. 11th, 2008 01:45 pm (UTC)
I have also stayed away from NOLOSE in part because I've heard there's some weight loss promotion there.

Curious where you heard this from -- some people are "out" about having had WLS and there was *one* panel two years ago focused on how WLS affects the fat rights movement but I would not say that there is WLP at NOLOSE.
firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 06:45 pm (UTC)
I have heard it from several people who have been active in NOLOSE. I am glad for the contrary datapoint.
cakmpls
Nov. 11th, 2008 01:57 pm (UTC)
Some people find that some aspect of their health is better when they weigh less. Accepting that is not the same as accepting ideas such as "Fat people are responsible for the soaring cost of health care." I see no reason that someone might not accept their body as it is, but decide to lose weight to see whether some health aspect would improve.
firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 06:52 pm (UTC)
I agree. And I am also disturbed that in this society I hear so much more about "lose weight for your health" than I hear about "gain weight for your health." (In my own life, there are examples of both.)
(no subject) - leback - Nov. 15th, 2008 02:24 am (UTC) - Expand
starcat_jewel
Nov. 11th, 2008 04:53 pm (UTC)
I'm looking at this as similar to the "housewife" issue. My opinion about that is that it's as sexist to tell a woman that she shouldn't stay home and cook/clean/take care of the kids as it is to tell her she should. And that's true whether I agree with her reasons for doing so or not; it's her life, and her decision to make. I might, in a low-key way, present data that I think she should be aware of, but I'm not going to put any pressure on her to change.

By the same token, it's as wrong to tell a fat woman that she shouldn't lose weight as it is to tell her she should. And this is true whether I agree with her reasons for doing so or not; it's her life, her body, HER decision to make. Not mine.

I do feel angry/betrayed when someone who is a leader in the fat acceptance movement or is a celebrity who has publicly declared "I'm OK with being fat" then decides to lose weight -- and to be even more public about losing weight than they were about their fat-acceptance.

That's perfectly understandable, but IMO it's about the betrayal and hypocrisy more than it is about the fact of losing weight. And even there, I see an issue of, "isn't it all right for a woman to change her mind?" The "flip-flop" campaign against Kerry had a profound effect on our society which will take decades to undo.
firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 07:06 pm (UTC)
I think it's sexist to issue a blanket statement about what women ought, but it's not automatically sexist to give advice to an individual woman, if you have a relationship with her that includes advice-giving.

Thinking more about movement leaders/celebrities who lose weight, it's not "I changed my mind" that bothers me. What bothers me is people who try to continue as leaders/examples of FA while publicly losing weight, especially if they become spokespeople for a weight loss product. (I'm thinking of Queen Latifah here. She is a spokesperson for Jennie Craig and saying "I'm still big! I'm just a little less big!" That doesn't work for me.)

It's partly about hypocrisy and it's partly because by doing so they are trying to change the movement in a direction I don't agree with. That is, I agree that people losing weight can be meaningfully supportive of FA, but I don't think weight loss promotion is meaingfully supportive of FA.
(no subject) - ex_serenejo - Nov. 11th, 2008 08:27 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - starcat_jewel - Nov. 11th, 2008 08:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
ataventure
Nov. 11th, 2008 06:44 pm (UTC)
I was there once.

I was offended when people talked about losing weight because I didn't want to lose weight. I was happy with where I was. I was healthy, I was in a relationship, I was in a good place in my life. And I felt threatened by the discussion of weight loss, as if people were trying to imply that I needed to lose weight because they were.

I don't feel that way anymore.

The fact that I'm losing weight has nothing to do with anything or anyone else. I mean sure, I'm losing weight and I feel prettier, and I feel prettier because of social implications on feminine beauty. But I also feel happier-happier to be in control of my life and this aspect of it.

I very rarely discuss my weight loss in real space/time, except when someone else brings up my achievements (wow, you look great! comments are always awesome), or when I'm with my absolute closest friends (all two of them). It isn't really a part of my regular vocabulary. Similarly, I don't really bring it up too often in my journal (particularly now that I'm puttering along on my goal and over the initial shock).

I think the people who do bring it up on every occasion (no one I know) are trying to hint at something that they aren't expressing straight out. They're trying to plant something in the brain that I don't want to be planted. That's not cool. If you're happy with who you are and what you look like, THAT is the bottom line.

Obviously, weight loss has nothing to do with being a feminist or rejecting fat people. Being a feminist means being in control of yourself and not projecting your ideas or your laws or your impressions on anyone else. There are plenty of fat and thin feminists out there, feminists with big and small breasts, feminists with tied tubes or a parcel of babies, feminists with jobs or moms who stay at home or non-moms who stay at home, and the list goes on and on.

I think the worst thing I can do is feel threatened by another woman just trying to sort out her own life.
firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 07:19 pm (UTC)
I appreciate your comments. One of them jumped out at me as examples of how one of my social paradigms around weight change is very different from a lot of people's.

wow, you look great! comments are always awesome

The one time I lost a great deal of weight, I was both flattered by and uncomfortable with such comments on my weight change. I didn't like what the comments implied about what the person thought of me before I lost the weight. I wasn't sure the weight loss would stick (and it didn't), and I also didn't like what the comments implied about what the person would think of me if I gained the weight back.

Since then, I occasionally get "you've lost weight" comments, and whether or not I have lost weight, I really dislike the comments. Apparently I want weight change to be a private thing. And if someone (who isn't close to me) comments on it, I feel they've done something invasive.
(no subject) - submarine_bells - Nov. 11th, 2008 09:53 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Nov. 11th, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - innerdoggie - Nov. 13th, 2008 08:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - leback - Nov. 15th, 2008 02:39 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Nov. 15th, 2008 02:42 am (UTC) - Expand
iceblink
Nov. 11th, 2008 09:25 pm (UTC)
I had a lot of self-conflict and doubt
I am one of those people who has been an advocate for "try to be happy as who you are today". I gave up the the right to moderate on the Chubbychicks LJ community, because I felt that it was inappropriate for me to moderate when I had committed myself to WLS for health reasons. Leaving that community behind was a difficult decision, but I think it was the correct decision for that group of women.

I am still plus-size, but I personally have gained a lot of health benefits from making that decision. I am still just fine with being a bigger person for the rest of my life. I do try to keep any weight loss posts behind a cut to respect those who don't want to read it. I don't judge people by their size since I know what it is like to be a size 32 and still be active, go out dancing, and enjoying my life. And I don't ask people about their losing or gaining weight as I understand what that feels like. If my friends want to talk about it, I am willing to listen; but I am not going to volunteer on the comments.

firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 09:34 pm (UTC)
Re: I had a lot of self-conflict and doubt
Thanks for your comments.
aquaeri
Nov. 11th, 2008 10:14 pm (UTC)
I've found that the idea of weight loss is now so entrenched among women that it's almost like a shared religious symbol - a striving for virtue, a penance for sins. And moreover, by the nature of it, an assumed shared experience and therefore a suitable subject for women bonding with each other.

I'm horrified that food, weight and appearance have taken on this symbolic role for women, but I find it hard to ignore the factual experience. It doesn't surprise me that it is hard for you to find genuinely WLP-free spaces, because I think the "entry requirement" is quite high - the women in it need to be, pretty universally, heretics, and thoughtful, practised heretics - because it is so easy to just soak up the cultural assumptions about weight, the same way I have been an atheist all my life but still had very Christian assumptions about religion until I started doing some research on my own.


firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 10:19 pm (UTC)
Yes, when I encounter the fact that my ideas about weight/attractiveness/the appropriateness of talking about weight are different from the norm it does kind of feel like I belong to a different religion than the people I'm interacting with.
living400lbs
Nov. 11th, 2008 10:20 pm (UTC)
Different journeys, different experiences
I came to fat acceptance by reading BBW magazine and noticing that every time I lost weight, I would regain all that I had lost, plus more. Dieting makes me gain weight in the long term. I don't want to gain more weight, so I quit dieting.

It was later that I noticed my first depressive episode corresponded with a long-term diet. It was later that I began to wonder if I really was a "binge" eater, since my binges only occurred when I was dieting - and were still much less than what other teenagers ate for lunch every single day.

This was a very internal, personal path into fat acceptance, where "I need to quit this now" was my focus.

But there are other paths into fat acceptance. There's knowing people who are fat, who aren't trying to lose weight, and being okay with their choice over their body. Or there's reading statistics that show that dieting doesn't work for most people or for more losing than 5% of starting body weight, but if you only want to lose about 5% anyway, well, that 5% can seem pretty doable.

This is a more external path, where it's about letting other people make their own choices, and much less about one's own situation. Kind of a "pro-choice" kind of stance, where one deplores discrimination and pressuring people to diet, but are okay with dieting oneself. (And maybe your fat-accepting friends are okay with this, as long as one diets it private and washes one's hands afterward. Who knows?)

I've mostly encountered the latter sort in my day-to-day life. They don't seek out fat acceptance blogs much, or at least, they didn't until I showed them mine :) It's a different mindset, but I don't think it's a necessarily invalid one.
firecat
Nov. 11th, 2008 10:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Different journeys, different experiences
Kind of a "pro-choice" kind of stance, where one deplores discrimination and pressuring people to diet, but are okay with dieting oneself.

That's a good analogy.
Re: Different journeys, different experiences - firecat - Nov. 12th, 2008 01:00 am (UTC) - Expand
mjlayman
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:32 am (UTC)
Did it bother you that I lost weight without intention? I've been stable for a few months now and the kidney labs are worse again.

I was pleased that the physical therapist I saw last Wednesday never mentioned my weight (she was surprised at how flexible I am, but I think I'm more flexible than most 53-year-olds of any size or gender). I obliquely brought it up when during one exercise on the raised table-thing, she asked me if I felt okay, and I told her that having my breasts fall on my face was uncomfortable. She laughed and said "I can't do anything about that!"
firecat
Nov. 12th, 2008 12:40 am (UTC)
It wasn't clear to me before this that your weight loss was unintentional. I felt a tiny bit bothered when you mentioned it and I thought it was on purpose, but I also felt like you have a very unusual situation healthwise and I don't have a right to an opinion because it wouldn't be an informed opinion.

I'm sorry your kidney labs are worse.

Unintentional weight loss doesn't bother me, except that I worry about a person's health when it happens. And unintentional weight gain doesn't bother me, except when it happens to me.

I'm glad your PT didn't mention weight.

I think flexibility is strongly influenced by genetics.
(no subject) - mjlayman - Nov. 12th, 2008 01:15 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Nov. 12th, 2008 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mjlayman - Nov. 12th, 2008 01:40 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - aquaeri - Nov. 12th, 2008 01:56 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mjlayman - Nov. 12th, 2008 02:13 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Nov. 12th, 2008 02:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - mjlayman - Nov. 12th, 2008 02:18 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Nov. 12th, 2008 02:19 am (UTC) - Expand
naafapeg
Nov. 13th, 2008 09:01 pm (UTC)
Weight loss promotion
Hi Steph,

When I read the following, "For example, I thought I could rely on there not being weight loss promotion at a NAAFA convention, but I was wrong—it came up in multiple panels I attended, and there were events I had to stay away from because I knew they would include such messages" it caused me great concerned. Why? Because I'm on the BOD of NAAFA, I work to help organize the convention and it is NEVER our intention to have anyone promoting dieting for the purpose of weight loss at our convention. (This does not include special needs eating programs for diabetes, etc.)

We believe in and promote HAES. We don't endorse or encourage diets for the purpose of losing weight or WLS. Our presenters for the most part came from ASDAH. If you could write me and let me know which workshops you are aware of where dieting/weight loss was promoted, I'd really appreciate that. I want to take steps to insure it doesn't happen again because that is definitely not what we are all about! Thanks.

Looking forward, Peggy
firecat
Nov. 13th, 2008 09:19 pm (UTC)
Re: Weight loss promotion
Hi Peggy,

Thanks for giving me an opportunity to clarify my statement.

NAAFA as an organization does not promote weight loss. I experience no workshop leaders at the convention promoting weight loss.

But some of the participants in workshops were talking about their weight loss experiences in ways that sounded promotional to me. I'm not blaming the workshop leaders for failing to control the participants either....or at least I can't do so without blaming myself. I ran one of those workshops and couldn't figure out a way to address the issue one participant was bringing up without WLP coming into it. I could have criticized the WLP but it would have taken the workshop in an entirely different and off-topic direction.

I don't think the NAAFA BOD can control everything that comes out of the mouths of attendees. I guess you could put notices in the bulletin that dieting/weight loss promotion is not an acceptable topic, but I don't know if that would prevent people bringing it up.

The event I was thinking of was the showing of disFIGURED. There was a disclaimer in the program that made it sound like the film might have some weight loss promotion language. The disclaimer made it clear that NAAFA did not agree with some of the messages of the film. I appreciated the disclaimer because it made me understand I should not go to the film.

The choice to show the film at a NAAFA convention has been debated elsewhere -- I think it was on the fatstudies yahoo group.
Re: Weight loss promotion - naafapeg - Nov. 13th, 2008 11:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
leback
Nov. 15th, 2008 02:21 am (UTC)
Thank you for sharing this.

I think I am fortunate to have had enough exposure to fat-acceptance norms that it feels socially unacceptable to publicly embrace a desire to lose weight, or to admit to any pleasure when medication side-effects occasionally cause me to temporarily drop a few pounds. I am not free of those desires or pleasures, but a social context that makes them *guilty* desires/pleasures certainly limits their power over me. That context is created by fat-acceptance activists, you included, who manage to balance condemnation with understanding in a way that is enlightening without being alienating. Thank you.

Meanwhile, though, I struggle with how best to do my own part in reproducing a like context for other people. As a person who is only marginally fatter than the mainstream ideal, I feel *very* ill-equipped to judge the ways in which people fatter than me respond to how society judges them. I also feel ill-equipped to judge people who lack other privileges (e.g., those relating to race and class) that for me mitigate the impact of body-type norms. So often I take a weaker stance than the one that has most benefitted me -- if somebody wants me to be supportive of their weight-loss efforts, I'll often acquiesce, and just try to project a belief that not trying to lose weight is *also* acceptable and desirable.

As to what makes someone a good or a bad feminist, I have long been of the view that nearly all of us collaborate with patriarchy in one way or another, and that the best I can ask of anyone -- including myself -- is that we be conscious of what choices we're making and why, and that we take those opportunities for resistance that are most open to us. If weight-loss efforts are on somebody's "can't give up" list (even if it's somebody thinner and otherwise more privileged than I am!), that doesn't necessarily make her a failure as a feminist, any more than I hope my numerous forms of collaboration do for me. If I'm not going to automatically kick somebody out of the feminist club for having a traditional wedding, or for spending time and money on her makeup, or for quitting her job to spend time with her kid, I'm certainly not going to do it for dieting. People can do all of those things and still be engaged in plenty of totally badass feminist activism and resistance in other ways.
firecat
Nov. 15th, 2008 02:25 am (UTC)
So often I take a weaker stance than the one that has most benefitted me -- if somebody wants me to be supportive of their weight-loss efforts, I'll often acquiesce, and just try to project a belief that not trying to lose weight is *also* acceptable and desirable.

That makes sense.

And/or that whatever healthy actions that are accompanying the weight loss are good for their own sake (e.g., exercise)

And/or that one can congratulate a person for achieving their goal without necessarily congratulating the goal itself.

(If those work for you.)

I have long been of the view that nearly all of us collaborate with patriarchy in one way or another, and that the best I can ask of anyone -- including myself -- is that we be conscious of what choices we're making and why, and that we take those opportunities for resistance that are most open to us.

Well said.
(no subject) - leback - Nov. 15th, 2008 02:46 am (UTC) - Expand
firecat
Nov. 16th, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
Comment from the OH, who doesn't do LJ:

Another problem with public conversation about weight-loss is that it
frequently is associated with promotion of calorie-restricted diets, and
I believe that promotion of such diets is a Bad Thing. Moreover, it
drives out discussion of healthy eating and most of all, it deflects
discussion of exercise, which has been shown to have more positive
effects on health than weight-loss.

And to the extent that we *do* have discussion about exercise, it mostly
revolves around finger-wagging without discussion about how our society
makes it difficult to exercise (lack of public transit and bike paths and
...), which goes double when it comes to people who are not TAB
(swimming is one of the best exercises for many non-TAB, but getting to
a swimming pool is often difficult at best).

If public conversation shifted to living healthy, without condemnation of
people who choose to behave in ways perceived as less healthy (because,
if nothing else, what is considered "healthy" has changed so frequently
nobody really has a good answer), I think that would solve much of the
problem with weight-loss conversations.

Oh, and don't get me started about normative standards for
attractiveness, which is a large part of what drives the problem...

--Aahz
( 45 comments — Leave a comment )

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