The Truth is Radical


When you’re first exposed to fat acceptance in a culture like ours, it feels so wrong. It is too extreme. We have been conditioned our whole lives to think that weight and health are inextricably linked. Others believe that, even if weight is not particularly relevant to health, diet and exercise are, to a large extent.

Suffice it to say I do not think that people eat nearly as badly as everyone thinks they do, nor is there an epidemic of inactivity, in young people or any other age group. I think that the “epidemics” of junk diets and sloth are every bit as fictitious as the obesity epidemic.* Many of you will take exception to that claim, and that is TOTALLY okay. I am not going to promote my point of view or argue yours. I will, however, bring it up for illustrative purposes later on.

I see it all the time, even among FA activists. Sometimes we feel the need to concede that being fat does exacerbate some health problems, or that fat people are at higher risk for certain health conditions because of their fat. The idea that maybe, just maybe, being fat is no different from being gay, Jewish, black, or some other natural variation in the human condition is too much to bear.

When I first was exposed to fat acceptance in 2008 through Junkfood Science, I was one of those people. I had never insulted or hated fat people for being fat, but I still held on to the belief that fat was a disease and that it was largely controllable with the right lifestyle. My response was to pity them instead of hate them. I felt that being overweight or moderately fat was okay, but obvious obesity was not, could not be okay. I read blog post after blog post that insisted that fatness, even superfatness, is not a disease and that correlated health risks have nothing to do with fat, but with dieting, genetics, and lower social status. Still, I thought to myself, “Well, she totally has a point, but I think she is being a bit extreme here. Of course being a superfat isn’t okay. Of course diet and exercise impact weight and a person’s health. They have to.”

Instead of feeling liberated with the knowledge that I was not a failure or defective because of my weight, my health, or my lifestyle, I insisted on holding onto my prejudices, not just against others, but myself.

Why would someone do this?

The reason is two-fold: One is that we still want to hold on to “The Fantasy of Being Thin” that Kate Harding discusses. The other, more subtle, one is that we can’t bear to face it. To face it would be to realize just how thoroughly people hate us and how pervasive fat hatred is, inserting itself in every area of life, held by virtually all people in our culture, and knowing there is no escape for it. It’s hard to face by its very nature, knowing how hated you really are and being almost powerless to stop it, through advocacy or failed attempted after attempted at weight reduction.

Over time, it sunk in. The obesity epidemic was fictional. Fat is genetic. Health is largely a function of stress, class, and genetics. The reason it is so popular to believe truisms about weight, health, and fitness is because there is a cultural and financial payoff for keeping us down. I overcame my initial shock at the real nature of all these “epidemics,” I stopped being sad and started getting angry.

I had been radicalized by the truth.

Something I keep seeing is the refusal to fully embrace the message of fat acceptance because it is too radical. We must tone down our rhetoric, even if doing so means diluting the message down to nothing, ignoring scientific fact, and the real cultural forces at work. Here is my message to you:

Forget about being “too radical.” The truth is radical. The truth is not determined by, and does not care for, what is moderate vs. what is radical. Those are cultural constructions. The truth is what it is, and to deny it because it does not adhere to the dictate of our culture is to deny the very nature and purpose of science.

Speaking of radical, maybe it is not the truth, but our culture, that is radical. The truth is that health, weight, and fitness are somewhat influenced by lifestyle, but it is far more influenced by factors outside of our control. Furthermore, healthy is a fluid concept and it is not limited to those with the right bodies or perfect health indices. Lastly, your health should not reflect your worth as a person.

Those pronouncements don’t sound radical to me. They sound like common sense. We cannot isolate ourselves in bubbles in our homes. Injury and illness are an annoying but manageable part of life. People are worthy because they are people and a singular trait-like fat or health-should not define them. Is that really all that radical?

No. It is our anti-fat, healthist culture that is radical. It refuses to acknowledge any factor in health, fitness, or weight besides lifestyle. It refuses to allow people with socially stigmatized bodies and lifestyles to exist. It refuses to allow them any measure of worth, intelligence, or morality. It seeks to deny basic rights and social support.

Believe what you want over good foods vs. bad foods, health, exercise, weight, or whatever topic you like to focus on. You may be right or wrong, I may or may not agree with you, but promise at least this:

Believe what you do because, in your heart of hearts, you believe it and can find some support for it. Don’t let it be because the alternative is too radical.

*If you want to recommend that I read Michael Pollan or Eric Schlosser, watch Morgan Spurlock, or some other health/lifestyle 101 reference, please don’t. I’m not stupid, I don’t live in a cave, and I know very well what’s being said by these people. Guess what, I take issue with it anyway.

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27 comments

  1. BigLiberty · July 31, 2011

    God damn this is an awesome post.

    Fuck yeah. Old school FA! I’m right there with you on this. Every fucking word.

    Oh and this:

    The other, more subtle, one is that we can’t bear to face it. To face it would be to realize just how thoroughly people hate us and how pervasive fat hatred is, inserting itself in every area of life, held by virtually all people in our culture, and knowing there is no escape for it.

    Can I get a DING DING DING?

    And holy awesome, Batman:

    No. It is our anti-fat, healthist culture that is radical. It refuses to acknowledge any factor in health, fitness, or weight besides lifestyle. It refuses to allow people with socially stigmatized bodies and lifestyles to exist. It refuses to allow them any measure of worth, intelligence, or morality. It seeks to deny basic rights and social support.

    This post is on fucking FIRE. Love it. You basically just wrote the post I’ve been wanting to write for about a year, now. As such I’ll be quoting it all over the fucking place.

    • JoannaDW · July 31, 2011

      Wow, thank you! It is such an honor to have you reading and quoting me.:) Anyway, I have wanted to write this for a while but have not found the words until now. All of a sudden, I just got annoyed with all the concessions that were being made by fat activists. I decided it was time for a dose of radicalism.:)

  2. Pingback: The Fucking Awesome Truth « Big Liberty
  3. jenincanada · July 31, 2011

    You win one internets. Would you like that gift-wrapped?

    • JoannaDW · July 31, 2011

      Yes, please! Can I get mine in silver paper with glitter and confetti?:)

  4. Emerald · July 31, 2011

    You are Made. Of. Win.

    The truth is that health, weight, and fitness are somewhat influenced by lifestyle, but it is far more influenced by factors outside of our control. Furthermore, healthy is a fluid concept and it is not limited to those with the right bodies or perfect health indices. Lastly, your health should not reflect your worth as a person.

    Working in the healthcare field, this more or less sums up my views on the subject. Pity that for many doctors this is still uncommon sense. Need to keep spreading the word until more of them get it.

  5. Alexa · July 31, 2011

    THIS, totally.

    Also, I think another reason why people may be unable to let themselves believe this despite any amount of reason or scientific evidence is because so many of them have spent decades of their lives dieting and overexercising themselves into misery in the belief that thinner is better and it will make them healthier, and they cannot face the fact that all that time and effort was essentially a meaningless waste and possibly even damaged their health.

    • Tori · August 1, 2011

      This is what I was thinking as well.

      In one sense, the realization that one doesn’t have to be thin in order to be healthy can be incredibly freeing.

      In another, though, it can come with the cost of, “WTF was I doing with all those years of my life?” Both for the fat-hate projected inward and also the body-shame and concern trolling dealt out to other people.

  6. Five Hundred Pound peep · July 31, 2011

    I find some of your points interesting…I agree that the fat person turning into a thin one stuff is the stuff of fantasy for now, it makes them a lot of money. I also agree fat hatred is out of control…. But being fat can ravage the health even if it is the outcome of disease. Being healthy at 500lbs just does not happen. That is where I am at. While size acceptance folks tell me to go “accept” it. I would like a real cure beyond what doesn’t work, or where the main goal is more torture or degradation. What is radical about being told you have to “accept it”?
    But on that score maybe the radical truth, is really not giving in, but understanding our society is a toxic one with poison to sell on both sides of the equation not just in the food but in people’s minds. The whole culture seems to be centered more and more around superficial ideas of perfection in all matters of life, who can be the best worker bee drone and best looking one too? Maybe as we watch people get fatter, we should examine the true cause beyond the hyper-personal responsibility condemnation answers that have led to fatter and fatter people. For me given what I have suffered, size acceptance’s answer beyond the standing up for one’s rights and not being discriminated against doesn’t work either.

    http://fivehundredpoundpeeps.blogspot.com/2010/07/goodbye-naafa-and-rest-why-i-left-size.html

  7. JoannaDW · July 31, 2011

    This was aimed at the general population, not at every single possible instance there is. I beg to differ that some people are too fat for fat acceptance or that you cannot be healthy at every size (depending on your definition of health.) Indeed, that was my point-I used to think this way until I was radicalized.

    Even if fat did cause or exacerbated health problems, we still cannot be made permanently thin in a safe way and doctors should stop prescribing weight loss as the cure.

    It may not be radical to you to be told to accept what is before you, and it really isn’t, another point I made in my post.It’s radical to ask to be treated with basic respect. However, it’s radical in our culture of fat hate to say, “I’m fat, get used to it” and stop making concessions that grant fat phobics their arguments. We’re under pressure to make the larger fat phobic culture feel good instead of challenging them with the best we have and our message gets watered down in the process.

    Society has a toxic potion to sell at both ends of the spectrum? Sorry, but I find the idea of society promoting fat to any degree laughable.

    Oh, and have Americans really gotten fatter? Or is that just the BMI talking? Most people that get labeled “fat” are either only slightly fat or not visibly fat at all. We wouldn’t have as many fat people as we do if the BMI charts did not change to include more people in the fat category.

    No, we don’t support a cure for obesity because…we’re fat acceptance. Pretty straightforward really.

    My post still stands. You are certainly welcome to comment on whatever you like here, but this is not the place to win converts away from fat acceptance and to hash out your issues with it.

  8. vitty10 · July 31, 2011

    Beautiful.

  9. Patsy Nevins · July 31, 2011

    Amen. And I know of quite a few ‘superfat’ (fat superheroes, doncha know?) who are a good deal healthier than a lot of fat people. Do you think that the king of Tonga, for instance, who weighed between 380 & 475 his entire adult life, must have been ‘unhealthy’ & had a terrible quality of life, or had his life severely shortened, when he died at 88?

    You are so right…all they have to do is change classifications with the stroke of a pen & more people are fat without ever gaining a pound. And fat does not need to be ‘cured’…it is not a disease.

    You have asserted here what I have been trying for the past 5 years, since I myself got my eyes fully opened & gave up my previous healthist ‘good fats’ beliefs, to make people understand. Genetics & dumb luck play the biggest part in determing how long we live, what kind of health problems we have, etc. ‘LIfetsyle’ doesn’t really count for a whole hell of a lot. If you doubt it, think about the superfit thin people, sometimes vegetarians, who drop dead in their 40’s or 50’s, maybe younger, sometimes while running. Then think as I, living in Maine don’t have a stretch to do, of all the cantankerous, independent old people who do everything supposedly ‘wrong’…drink, smoke maybe, eat all the ‘bad’ foods, either from taste/choice or because of poverty or a combination of those things….who live well into their 80’s & 90’s, sometimes past 100. I know these people, I have been related to these people. I am ‘weird’ among most of my family, have been since I was a kid, because I went out for a walk whether I had anyplace to go or not.

    You also said what I was trying to say the other day in a comment on Fierce, Free-thinking Fatties…that we deserve rights, respect, dignity, access, because we are human beings…period. I believe with all my heart that fat rights/liberation/acceptance…call it what you will…is a human rights issue. Access & respect for ALL of us; equal opportunity in employee, education, etc. Respectful, competent medical care for all who need it. And an end to nannying, recognition & acceptance of the fact that human beings own their bodies & lives & that how we live is no one’s business but our own. I have been working on this for over 31 years, & after playing along with the ‘make nice, show them how ‘normal we are, be polite & beg for rights & try to be a ‘good fatty'” attitudes I see so much in fat acceptance, I decided to stop begging, stop feeling I had to prove myself, & assert that I am as good as anyone else, as deserving of all life has to offer, & I do not need to apologize for being me. No one does.

  10. Patsy Nevins · July 31, 2011

    Obviously, I meant many very fat people are healthier than a lot of thin people..need to proofread better.

  11. franniez · July 31, 2011

    Just..yes!

  12. sleepydumpling · July 31, 2011

    SLOW. CLAP.

    Awesome post. Seriously awesome.

    Just living in a fat body is a radical act. Living, getting on with our lives and doing everything we can to the best and fullest is the absolute most radical thing when it comes to someone who is fat. Particularly if they are superfat/deathfat/megafat – those who fall outside of the “fat is ok… but if you’re obese…” bracket.

    Embrace the radical. Question the mainstream. Live your life to the fullest you can.

  13. Anna · August 1, 2011

    Awesome post!

  14. lisarutland · August 1, 2011

    Fantastic post; congrats.

    I totally agree that fat is not a disease. It’s just … fat, and, like food, it’s neither good nor bad. It irritates me that so many people are looking for a cure. It’s like trying to find a cure for blonde hair. Completely pointless and seriously who wants everyone to be the same size anyway. How boring would that be.

  15. Marilyn Wann · August 1, 2011

    Brilliantly argued and supported! I also refuse to agree with any sort of weight horizon. I believe that defining anything in life based on weight is harmful, never helpful. Each one of us, living in our bodies, can seek our own best possible health and happiness in a weight-neutral manner. There are also no guarantees for any of us that we’ll be able to avoid pain or illness or injury or unhappiness. What sort of brittle, unhuman standard is it that would devalue people who experience the inevitable downsides of embodiment?

    • joannadeadwinter · August 1, 2011

      Wow, a visit from you? I’m a real FA blogger now? Awesome!

      Yeah, I always wondered that, even before I was fat accepting. If fat people had a disease, why do we hate them so much? We don’t hate other people (usually) for having diseases, do we? (Unless they are related to fat, of course!) What happened to compassion for the sick, fat OR thin?

      • Marilyn Wann · August 2, 2011

        Yes, people with diseases are also targets for hate. Remember AIDS in the late 80s and early 90s? I imagine that disease becomes another excuse for hate when people already carry prejudice toward a group of people. Perhaps we can also make the argument that our society blames poor people for their own health problems (which are caused or exacerbated by conditions related to poverty) because we don’t want to address class inequities.

      • joannadeadwinter · August 2, 2011

        Marilyn Wann,

        This is very true. Thanks for pointing this out. The disadvantage for fat people especially is that unlike a lot of other conditions, fat is easily visible. That doesn’t stop people from being hateful once they DO know. And people who “look” like they might be gay are deemed targets for hate for “spreading” AIDS or whatever other illness is allegedly caused by being what you are.

        Again, thanks for pointing that out.:) I totally forgot.

  16. thesadassassin · August 2, 2011

    I can’t explain how wonderful and truly beautiful it is to hear someone say, “People are worthy because they are people and a singular trait-like fat or health-should not define them.”

    I also want to point out that health is so much more about how you FEEL than how you look or how much you weigh! If you feel vibrant, sexy, confident, and full of life while also being overweight, then you’re a lot better off than being miserable and sickly while being stick-skinny. Instead of focusing on being thin, I focus on the fact that I feel much better when I eat fresher foods and maintain an active lifestyle.

    I also find that women tend to disconnect with their bodies by talking about them like they are somehow separate from who we are. Our bodies ARE who we are just as much as our personalities are. We can no more say, “I should be skinnier” than we can say, “I should be more outgoing.” It only serves to reinforce the idea that our ways of existing in the world are incorrect or undesirable. With that mentality, it’s all too easy to shut off and hate the “undesired” part of us. If we listen to our bodies and remember that our bodies are not an “it”, they are US, we can get over our disconnection to ourselves and truly connect with what makes our bodies (and consequently, our minds) feel healthy.

    • Marilyn Wann · August 2, 2011

      Great point! I always wish I could find non-objectifying/distancing words to talk about embodiment. I tend to say “embodiment” whenever possible, makes it sounds like one is less divisible.

  17. Sin City Siren · August 8, 2011

    Really thought-provoking post! And as the mom of a little girl, I really appreciate this food for thought!

  18. Pingback: Some stuff that makes you go hmmm… « The Sin City Siren
  19. La · October 19, 2011

    YOU ARE AWESOME!!!! Positively brilliant post. After spending 45+ years ramming my head into a brick wall, trying to be something that I would never be, I finally ran across FA on the internet. I cannot tell you how much this has all meant to me.

    I can now give up the picture I’ve had in my head of myself since I was less than 10 years old – white shorts, navy blue shirt, thin body, full head of hair (I have VERY thin hair). I am what I was born to be. I have so hurt myself trying not to be – I have double knee replacements as a reward for extreme exercise. (Maybe, to be completely radical, I’ll try not to cringe so much when I see a photo of myself).

    You are so young! Girl, you’ve got major things ahead of you. Please press on. Whatever is in your future, it’s shining very brightly!!

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