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.