Where’s the Intersectionality in Fat Acceptance?


September 12, 2010 by panicpony

A recent guest post by Monica on Feministe on the sometimes usefulness of the BMI index caused a comment cyclone unlike any I’ve ever seen on a feminist blog. It got ugly, it got vitriolic, it got irrational, and I’m sure for many, it got painful. (Granted, she made a donut joke….but still….I must be a bad feminist ‘cause I was not offended AT ALL…..) I feel really bummed out that my first real education on the Fat Acceptance movement was this litany of what I can only call rants by people who have obviously been very very hurt by the lack of fat acceptance in our society but who don’t want to move beyond that, and are mad when other people have. What I don’t get is, who ISN’T being hurt by this lack of acceptance? And why does a movement towards acceptance of our own bodies and those of others seem to be so polarizing? I don’t know anyone whose own body image isn’t hugely weighted (er, sorry) by so many issues that they couldn’t really be compartmentalized into too skinny, too fat, etc. Everyone I know who has “body issues” is busy trying to keep their head from exploding from just….too…much….EVERYTHING.
So what do you have to do to turn someone who will probably spend their entire life in recovery from what was once an out of control eating disorder off from a supposedly body-positive movement? I hope you take some time to hop on over to Feministe to read Monica’s guest blog, and the ensuing comments if you can stomach them (eh, sorry again), and she and her crew at her home blog had a great response to this situation. In the meantime, I’m going to try to make a few points about why I was so offended by the majority of comments, and why I just can’t seem to get behind this movement in general yet.
No matter which way I look at it, it comes down to PRIVELIGE. Privilege, privilege, privilege. Yay, one of my favorite things to complain about! And with good reason. My first thoughts were, am I just so super privileged (in spite of being overweight at the moment, my height pretty much hides that, and I am white appearing) that I’ve never had a doctor berate me for being almost morbidly obese or blaming it on the on the statistics for my personal skin color? I think it’s a real easy (and often true) argument to throw at another feminist when they don’t agree with you: you are privileged so you don’t get it. Privilege is a real problem in the feminist movement, but in my case (and unfortunately a ton of other women), in this situation, it isn’t. After thinking about this for a while it dawned on me that I have the misfortune to LACK privilege in this instance. For one, I HAVE been berated by doctors for my weight. For being too thin and being too heavy. And guess what, I was so deep into the mindset of disordered eating that I just thought they were right. The truth was, I was both too thin and too heavy. (Anyone whose had anorexia and or bulimia knows that its evil twin is compulsive eating.) But it wasn’t my body that was sick, it was my mind and my heart.
And actually, I have been berated only during the few times I could FREAKIN AFFORD A DOCTOR. I have had a rupturing cyst for six months at a time before I could justify spending fifty bucks at a low income clinic to get it checked out, that’s how impossible medical care is for me. And almost always has been. Not only have I lacked the privilege to consistent, adequate medical care, but mental health care has basically been out of the question. And I’m not even that bad off compared to many of my fellow American ladies. From what I could gather, many proponents of the fat acceptance movement who have been fat-shamed by (often several) doctors just don’t go to the doctor now. I wish I had the option of saying, well, I don’t like what they have to say so the several doctors I can afford to see (!!!???) can just fuck off. (Not only is this privileged, it’s also dangerous). I also wish I could have gotten my teeth cleaned in the last 12 years but that has also been off the table. Maybe there’s a bad teeth acceptance movement out there? Or just a shout out to our low income sisters? Anywhere? Anybody out there?
It is also a privilege to ignore this point, which is: SCIENCE. I’ll try to say this another way: when you know that there are women out there living in poor communities, urban and rural, women of color, women on reservations, women of SO MANY demographics who do not have the privilege to get medical information about how what they put in their bodies and how they move their bodies may negatively affect their health, why would you start a movement that says the science behind that doesn’t really matter? How can you not see the privilege that allows you to just decide you aren’t going to agree with certain scientific studies? The fact is it only gets to be a debate for some women, while others die without even knowing the debate existed. I’m referring to the statement after statement I have read during all my trolling through Fat Acceptance literature that people “haven’t really , themselves, personally,” seen or heard anything saying obesity will kill you, or hey, I’m fat but I exercise and I’m healthy so who cares about science? If that science doesn’t apply to you, well, ok. Congratulations on getting that option. But like most statistics, I guess obesity stats are just about the people who can’t afford to take care of themselves so they die all the time making it real easy for us create studies for privileged white people to deny on blogs.
Ok, I admit, this whole issue really made me angry. I think the thing that makes me the most angry is that it is so unnecessary. The same people saying stay away from my fat, it’s my body, seem to be the same folks saying don’t learn about your own body in such and such a way cause we said so and if you want to be a part of our movement don’t cross us. I know plenty of women who aren’t fat, and then I realize that “society” probably thinks they are. Someone will always think each one of us is fat. I know many have it way worse than others, and I really do want to support them in their healing and their actions against fat-shaming behavior. We just have to acknowledge that this may mean different things for each of us. We don’t all have to say, no matter what fat is great and healthy! I know for me fat means loneliness and a complete lack of confidence, ‘cause that’s when I over eat (and that’s when I barfed up every meal). No way do I accept that. I am trying to learn how not to accept that while also finding out who I am supposed to be, in no one else’s context but my own.
Words like fat mean something and have power because their meaning is often so ambiguous. They simply translate into shame for most of us without the shamer knowing where that shame comes from. Most of the time we don’t know where the shame comes from ourselves. So shouldn’t that be the point? Shouldn’t a body acceptance movement be focusing not only on whether a certain body size is just OK as it is or not, but also on finding the reset button that allows us ALL to explore our own shames and our own self-images? Shouldn’t we be open to combating an epidemic that is not just obesity but is comsumerism, classism, and racism?
There is a place to share and heal the pain that being a woman in this culture has inflicted on all of us in all of our sizes. But if it loses touch with reality and stays in that support-group like mentality, then that’s all it is: a place of support, not a solution. And unfortunately, support doesn’t always mean positive action or even health.
I realize that I am relatively uneducated about the Fat Acceptance movement. I am sure that everything I said most definitely does not describe every single member of it. My research into it seems to support what I’ve said though, and I would welcome any CIVIL rebuttals and/or references to anything that would show me how this is a healthy, non-polarizing movement.


6 thoughts on “Where’s the Intersectionality in Fat Acceptance?

  1. panicpony says:

    Um, WOW! Did google ads have to put “Fat Women Pics” as their advertisement beneath my post?! That is NOT FROM ME!!!

  2. kitri says:

    fantastic post!

  3. Heidi says:

    For me, FA has not been about any kind of denial that there are correlations between weight and health. I don’t know any FA bloggers that say that a fat person can’t be unhealthy or that constantly overeating is a GOOD health choice.

    What FA asks is…why is it automatically assumed that weight causes the ill health? I have PCOS and hypothyroidism. I’m also a recovering compulsive eater. I’ve eaten a lot of food for unhealthy, disordered reasons, and part of that is why I’m fat. That said, I also have two conditions that are known to slow metabolism. Yo-yo dieting, part of my compulsive eating disorder, also damages the metabolism. So, I’m fat because I have (and still occasionally do) overeat. I’m also almost certainly fat because I have health conditions contributing to that weight and damaged metabolism.

    People who view themselves as fat are more likely to diet. Dieting damages the metabolism. People who frequently diet are more likely to have slower metabolisms and gain back the weight they originally lost, plus more. Yo-yo dieting is also responsible for a fair few health issues that, funnily enough, correlate with fatness. If fat people are more likely to have a diet history, is it at all surprising that diet-associated health problems might be more prevalent in fat people?

    However, the fat would NOT be responsible for those issues.

    I’m not saying I would claim that fat does not contribute to ANY health issues – what I, and most fat activists are saying, is that correlation does not automatically equal causation…and when most studies of fatness/obesity are funded by organizations and companies that have a vested interest in fat equalling ill health, is it at all surprising that FA questions the complete truthfulness/accuracy of their results?

    Linda Bacon, in her book “Health At Every Size,” explains precisely how hard it is to get funding for a weight-related study that doesn’t come from the diet industry or other organizations with an interest in proving that weight is bad. What we *do* know is that, if health is the end result, a HAES-based approach is far more likely to produce long-term health improvement, versus dieting.

    I don’t know any FA advocates, at least not the mainstream ones, that say that fat automatically equals healthy. All of them say that fitness is a far better indicator of overall health than fatness and that, because we do not have any reliable way to make a fat person thin, and keep them that way, if health is the end goal, then we need to be steering toward discussions of fitness, of providing access to ample amounts of nutritious food to people of ALL income levels, and education about eating well to everyone also.

    FA does, however, also say that my health is none of anyone else’s business. I have the right to choose to make “bad” decisions regarding my food intake and fitness, because it’s my body. I deserve not to face discrimination in society because of my size, whether my lifestyle is healthy or unhealthy.

    I hope that’s a respectful enough interpretation of how I view FA? You’re more than welcome to read my blog, and those entries that deal with FA issues, and ask me more questions there.

    • panicpony says:

      Heidi-I really appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts and for your very helpful and informative response. Your own explanation of FA is very clear and gives me a lot of good perspective. I have listened to and read other similar explanations and personal experiences that I really understand and can definitely support, and which I don’t think seem that different from my own personal body-acceptance goals.
      I realize that what I wrote could be taken as an argument against FA. I hope I made it at least kind of clear that I was making some points based on my personal experience, and I should have made it more clear that my hope is for more dialogue, rather than an either-or, one right way for everyone situation. Unfortunately, I have experienced all the negative things I described, and so have several women I have had a chance to discuss my post with.
      I think what happens is this is such an individual, personal experience for some people that certain dialogues can be misunderstood as an invasion into one’s personal space, health, or whatever. I fully understand that all the points about inadequate medical care, civil rights issues, stigmas, etc. absolutely happen. I have no real interest in convincing anyone about how to deal with this in their own life. What I am interested in is when I am approached with the FA subject I don’t get shouted down when I bring up valid intersects within the FA movement. My main concern is I personally as a low income woman with mixed race family have felt alienated when I try to bring up what I see as real race/class privilege issues (just based on what I’ve seen of the FA movement so far). I have some real criticisms, but ultimately I’m always more interested in constructive dialogue that can help me grow and help other women in any way THEY want to be helped. I think right now in our culture even being a part of FA is a privilege, and there may be some legitimate concerns some women need help with way before that can be a part of their lives. (See, this is one intersect I’ve been thinking about: you FINALLY get to see a doctor for the first time in years and they just blame everything on your weight. That bias isn’t helping low income women any either.)
      None of this will stop me from educating myself and supporting individuals with body acceptance. I plan on reading Linda Bacon’s book, and I will most definitely check out your blog!
      Again, thanks for the response.

    • April says:

      FA does, however, also say that my health is none of anyone else’s business. I have the right to choose to make “bad” decisions regarding my food intake and fitness, because it’s my body. I deserve not to face discrimination in society because of my size, whether my lifestyle is healthy or unhealthy.

      I think this is where things get contentious. While I feel it is wholly inappropriate to harass people because of their weight, not least because you can’t determine health solely on appearance, I don’t think the matter of obesity and health is a completely personal issue. Our health care system is extremely overburdened. If folks are cavalier about their health, it’s not just on them; it’s on all of us, in terms of increased costs, backlogs, etc. Just like smokers’ cigarette habits don’t only affect them–the secondhand smoke affects everyone in the vicinity–the issue of weight and health is a communal one.

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