Yes, There’s a Difference: On FA, Pro-ana, and Feederism


Before we begin, ladies and gentlemen, I have a very special annoucement.

I have moved up the fat acceptance visibility chain and am now being quoted on virulently anti-fat websites and having blog posts devoted to what a mean censoring queen I am. Two of the most popular search engine queries that have been coming up in the past few days are:

-JoannaDW the big mean censorship queen

-the censoring queen dead of winter

-people who refuse to face the truth

I want to, once again, thank all my lovely troll friends for giving me hits and for ensuring that my heinous, pernicious message of fat acceptance will spread all over the net.

Now, back to business:

I want to eventually make my own FA 101/FAQ page, but I don’t want to do it all at once. I want to do it in installments by questions and the first one I want to do is answer the question of whether FA promotes fat. I have recently been accused, numerous times, of actively trying to make people fat. It is a misconception common to those outside of fat acceptance that FA=feederism/pro-ana, so I thought this was particularly relevant.

Question: Does fat acceptance encourage people to get fatter?

Answer: To those inside the movement, the answer is obvious: NO!

To those outside the movement, an explanation is in order.

Fat acceptance promotes rights, respect, and access for fat people. Promoting respect and rights no more encourage people to get fat than allowing employees to wear Stars of David encourages people to be Jewish. I have yet to hear anyone argue that requiring wheelchair accessibility for public places encourages people to get hit by cars or to not try walking if the disabled person is able and willing to give it a shot. It is there so disabled people can live their lives and have independence. Why shouldn’t people of all sizes have this?

Question: So you don’t want to be fatter, but you don’t want to be thinner either. Do you have something against thin people?

No, people in FA do not hate thinness. It would be hypocritical to be at the mercy of other people’s bigotry and to then inflict it on others. In other words, for people in FA to hate thin people is wrong on principle.

It also does not make sense.

Many of us in fat acceptance used to be thin ourselves, either naturally or because we worked at it.

Thin people are members of fat acceptance. They do it because it is right. They do it because they used to be fat. They do it because they resent the idea that, because they are thin, they must parade their thinness around as a trophy for the admiration of others. Some thin women are tomboys or are actually trans-men and don’t want to reinforce the waif-like feminine ideal because it doesn’t fit who they are. Thin people don’t always follow conventional healthy lifestyle advice, but because they are thin, people think they must. They don’t like living up to that externally imposed expectation and having people comment when they don’t. Thin women are victims of fat bashing. You can be a size 2, have a “pooch,” and have people call you a fat-ass.

Thin people are objectified by fat phobia as well.

While we do not encourage people to alter themselves physically or to want that for themselves as a condition of feeling worthy, it is worth noting that many thin people appreciate fat aesthetically. Many of them wish they were heavier or curvier for their own reasons, i.e. larger breasts. Many like fat on others even if they themselves are content with their body type. For some, an appreciation for fat could lead them into FA.

Thin people who are thin as a result of illness or eating disordered behavior often resent being complimented for their thinness because it embodies everything in their lives that has made them miserable. It encourages them to stay unhealthy and to stay miserable for the positive reinforcement that comes with being thin. Fat acceptance is not about encouraging people to be fat, but it does encourage well-being at all sizes. For people with EDs, part of that is gaining whatever weight they need to gain to be healthy and never dieting again. Even when the diets are “lifestyle changes.” Even if the restoration weight is what some people consider “too fat.”

So, long story short, we love teh thinnies in FA. Don’t be shy!

Question: How does FA feel about feederism? You’re always talking about how great and sexy fat can be, so surely some of you must think gaining weight is sexy. Am I right?

Answer: Some feeding fetishists are into FA, but FA is entirely separate from feederism and runs counter to it in important respects. Namely that people should be accepted at their current weight, not some weight sometime in the future and fat activists feel there is an exploitative element in feederism as well. Any sexual orientation can be healthy or unhealthy, respectful or exploitative depending on how it is practiced. However, and this is just my opinion, feederism bothers me because of the context provided by our fat-hating culture.

Weight gain is humiliating and demoralizing for most people in our culture, especially for women. It is also in vogue for men and women alike to demean women who do not live up to our beauty standards, and (some) men in particular feel entitled to see hot female bods. Basically, my concern is that abusive partners who hate women in general and even moreso fat women are into feederism because it gives them the chance to indulge both their prejudices at once. They get to get a kick out of demeaning their partners and enjoying the humiliation their partners feel. This criticism could apply to just about any sexual practice. Some people could choose homosexuality because they have a grudge against the opposite sex. Some people might like BDSM because they see it as legal battery and rape. Feederism, however, involves something that our culture finds uniquely shameful, and that is what bothers me.

In a different time and place, feederism would be just another personal preference, but it is riddled with contextual implications that make me, and others uneasy. This does not mean that you are one of the people I described above or that you should not do what you want.

Anyway, feederism is not fat acceptance and cannot be fat acceptance. Moving on…

The last Q&A section is devoted to answering why fat acceptance is nothing like pro-ana. This is my all-time favorite anti-fat trope and it is also very long because it is full of implications for fat people’s health, eating disorders, social acceptability, and fat politics.

Question: You know, I have heard of pro-ana. Isn’t FA a lot like pro-ana in that it glorifies an extreme body type?

Answer: No, it is not. We give people of all sizes a chance to feel good about the bodies they have. We do not glorify any particular body type or want people to change their bodies. When we show fat women in bikinis or fat men in white, the purpose is to show the world that fat people are people with normal, fulfilling lives doing what we want, not what others want. Moreover, whereas pro-ana glorifies and aspires to extreme thinness, FA includes a wide range of sizes in its net as representative of fat bodies.

Contrary to popular belief, most fat people aren’t the superfatties that you see on TV. ‘Fat people’ includes people who appear to be normal-weight but whose BMI, waist circumference, etc. indicate overweight or obesity. They include people who are obviously fat, but who are small fats. They include people who are total death fatties. In a fashion context, it includes people who are actually quite thin but who are still “too fat” to be models or have “fat spots.” It might seem silly to have such a broad definition of ‘fat,’ but our culture does, and that puts us all in the path of fat hatred. So I hope this puts in perspective the idea that FA glorifies obesity.

Question: But people in pro-ana promote extreme weight control behaviors. So FA, by definition, promotes extreme weight gain behaviors because it tells people that it’s okay to be fat and not change your lifestyle, right? 

Answer: We do not promote “unhealthy lifestyles” either. Fat is a body type, not a lifestyle. Fat people and thin people both practice a wide range of lifestyles. There are fat people who are 100% organic vegans and thin people who lead stereotypically “fat” lifestyles like eating fast food all the time or passing up gym membership. We posit that “healthy lifestyle” has a meaning unique to each individual.

Ordinarily, we think of “healthy” as being low-salt or low-fat. Low-salt is not healthy for someone with low blood pressure and low-fat is not healthy for people with anorexia. Neither low-fat nor low-salt is healthy for children and teens. We posit that diet cannot prevent any disease and that, at best, it can help manage an illness you already have. In other words, you cannot gorge on sugar and eat your way to diabetes any more than you can gorge on gluten and eat your way to celiac disease. However, being careful about sugar or gluten consumption is invaluable  to the management of these conditions. FA is NOT against healthy eating to manage health conditions. The Fat Acceptance Police will not show up at the house of a person with diabetes and beat you with a hose until you eat your carbs.

Question: Fat people have eating disorders, though, just like extremely thin people. So by saying it’s okay to be extremely fat or extremely thin, you are promoting eating disordered behavior and this  will keep people from getting the help they need, won’t it?

Answer: Not all extremely thin people have eating disorders, nor do all extremely fat people. We believe that you cannot reliably predict a person’s health by their size. You also cannot detect the presence of eating-disordered behavior by a person’s size. You can be a 90-pound sedentary compulsive over-eater or a 400-pound over-exercising anorexic. EDs don’t discriminate. Stereotypes of who has what eating disorder based on a person’s size hurts people because it pathologizes and infringes on the freedom of healthy people. It keeps people who really do have eating disorders from getting the help THEY need.

To anyone who knows anything about FA OR pro-ana, this will be obvious. Type “pro-ana” as a query into the YouTube search engine and see what you find. Videos that advertise themselves as either thinspiration (thinspo) or reverse thinspiration. Thinspiration is anything that promotes extreme thinness as a goal through eating-disordered behaviors. It could be pictures, real or airbrushed, of thin people, quotes, or anything that a person can look at and be reminded of why they should  try to be skinny. Reverse thinspiration seeks to achieve the same goal, except that they show pictures of “fattening” foods, degrading pictures of extremely fat people, or other things designed to disgust people away from fat.

I have yet to see anything (outside of feeder porn) that serves as “fatspiration,” direct or reverse. There are no videos in which fat people post pictures of vegetables and runway models in an attempt to disgust people away from thinness. We do not have quotes along the lines of “Nothing looks as good as fat feels!” People in FA do not post pictures of ourselves gaining weight. We don’t brag about how many McDonald’s value meals we have eaten or cry about weight we’ve lost. The comparison is 100% unadulterated nonsense.

Question: So if you’re not about the glorification of unhealthy lifestyles, what do you call this project?

Answer: At its most basic, what I said from the beginning: rights, respect and access for people regardless of size. Insofar as quality of life and options are concerned, we do have a health aspect to our advocacy.

The general party line of FA is that there are no good or bad foods and that any well-balanced diet will lead to good health. It’s not healthy to only eat chips and cookies but it’s equally unhealthy to subsist on apples and nuts. We do have lifestyle gurus and food activists in  FA, and they will probably contest the “All foods are good foods” mantra, but otherwise, this is the stance taken by people in FA. The one thing we all have in common is that healthy lifestyles should be about diet and exercise that fulfills you as a whole person, not weight loss or meeting some other standard.

We call this approach Health at Every Size, or HAES, as proposed by Linda  Bacon. A healthy lifestyle is accessible to people of all weights, shapes, abilities, disabilities, and every other human variation you can think of. HAES discourages strict food and exercise rules and seeks a holistic version of health-physical, mental, and emotional. We do not eat the way Morgan Spurlock from Supersize Me thinks we eat, nor do we desire that for anyone. Nowhere in FA will you find anyone who can be fairly construed as promoting such a lifestyle for all people to follow.

There are people in FA who complain a lot about something called healthism. So you obviously don’t all believe in healthy lifestyles. That makes you the pro-ana branch of FA, doesn’t it?

No. People, myself very much included, do not oppose healthy lifestyles or education and advocacy of healthy lifestyles. Some of us follow healthy lifestyles ourselves. I, for example, have never smoked and only drink occasionally. I  shop organic sometimes and I like it.

We are, however, anti-healthist. This means that we oppose the use of health as a means to promote stereotypes about people, like fat people, disabled and poor people. We oppose interference in the lives of people who lead politically incorrect lifestyles and painting the pursuit of health as a personal or social virtue.

We don’t oppose people adhering to healthy lifestyles or sharing health advice with others. We oppose denying rights and respect to those that choose not to. Plus, we oppose government programs that promote healthy lifestyles like “Let’s Move” where the intent is to reform a culture so that people are coerced into leading lives and supporting political agendas with which they do not agree. Two very different things.

I know it’s a lot, but I wanted to be thorough. How do you guys feel about this?

ETA: Some  people took issue with my comment about homosexuality, and I want to clarify something. I do not think all or most gays or lesbians have a grudge against anyone. They truly love and are attracted to members of the same sex. My point was that some people, theoretically, engage in gay behaviors for the wrong reasons. Some people, again theoretically, engage in BDSM, have sex, or do all sorts of things for the wrong reasons. This does not make the orientation or the activity bad in itself. Likewise, feederism is not bad in and of itself, nor are the people who practice it. I was commenting on the context in which it happens.

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5 comments

  1. Ashley · August 4, 2011

    Great post! I wish I had more to add but you pretty much summed it up here.

  2. Jerome · August 4, 2011

    > Some people could choose homosexuality because they have
    > a grudge against the opposite sex.

    LOLwut? You might think about changing this part. I’m gay and know a LOT of gay people, and I’m pretty certain that none of us are gay because of a grudge against the opposite sex.

    Otherwise, the rest of this is *fantastic*, loved it.

    • joannadeadwinter · August 4, 2011

      I totally agree. Most gays, lesbians, and bisexuals are genuinely attracted to the people they like and it has nothing to do with a grudge against anyone. That was the point I was trying to make. Some people will do things, like feederism and BDSM, for all the wrong reasons, but that does not mean everyone does or that the thing is inherently bad. Not all feeders are creepy men who want to humiliate fat women. Not all or most people who practice BDSM want to rape and batter and get away with it. Theoretically, some gays or lesbians might engage in gay behavior because they have a grudge against the opposite sex, but even if that were common, and I don’t think it is, this does not make homosexuality an illegitimate orientation. Nor does it reflect on gays as a whole.

      I myself have tendencies that are considered deviant, so I am no stranger to this.

      That said, I will edit for clarification. Thanks.:)

  3. Mulberry · August 6, 2011

    Good post Joanna, and more patient than I might be.
    Here’s how I’d answer some of the questions.

    1) Does fat acceptance encourage people to get fatter?

    If we don’t believe in weight control, why would we encourage weight change in either direction?

    2) So you don’t want to be fatter, but you don’t want to be thinner either. Do you have something against thin people?

    What’s the point of that? Aren’t there enough reasons to dislike some people without their weight (fat, thin or in-between) being a factor?

    3) How does FA feel about feederism? You’re always talking about how great and sexy fat can be, so surely some of you must think gaining weight is sexy. Am I right?

    Sure, some do. There’s bound to be some intersection since fat people are involved in both. Due to the titillation factor, feederism is greatly overrepresented in the media.

    4) You know, I have heard of pro-ana. Isn’t FA a lot like pro-ana in that it glorifies an extreme body type?

    What is extreme about a body type that supposedly 60% of people have to some degree? The headless fat person that you see in the news has an extreme body type because that’s what gets your attention.

    5) But people in pro-ana promote extreme weight control behaviors. So FA, by definition, promotes extreme weight gain behaviors because it tells people that it’s okay to be fat and not change your lifestyle, right?

    No, YOU promote extreme weight-gain behaviors. The best way to gain weight and keep it on is to go on a drastic weight-loss diet. You’re most likely to lose weight temporarily and regain it (plus a little more) permanently. Another thing fat-haters do to encourage people to gain weight is to jeer at fat people who are exercising, even those are just out for a walk. A lot of people gain weight when they’re stressed out, so the more you stress people out, the more likely they are to gain. So if you want to see a fatter country and desire to pay more for health insurance, just keep harassing and/or ostracizing fat people!

    Do you see what these questions have in common? They reflect the black-and-white thinking of the fat-haters, as if the only choice is to prefer thin or fat at the expense of the other. You would think that most people would be in favor of HAES, since it encourages eating well and exercising, but they’re not because if weight loss isn’t involved, they reason, how useful could it be?

  4. Monika · September 5, 2011

    Great answers! I’m one of the “normal” weight people who really need HAES – it’s so easy to think you’re healthy because you have a socially acceptable size and weight.

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