I can’t read one blog post in the Fatosphere that criticizes healthism, ableism, and fat hatred without the authors tripping all over themselves to assure everyone that they’re not opposed to health-promoting measures. I hear constate reassurances that, of course we want children to learn to cook. Of course we want to build safe playgrounds locally. Of course we want to educate people about nutrition and we go through this laundry list of health promotion measures that I can quote verbatim while unconscious.
Of course! Right?
I feel much the same way about this as I feel about constant reassurances that we’re not attacking dieters. That’s something else I often see that I’m sick of seeing. No one is attacking dieters as people. We attack those that promote a culture of fat hatred. We attack fat hatred itself and its cultural expressions. Yet I still see people falling over themselves to say that they don’t want to tell anyone what to do with their bodies. They are just promoting an alternative (non-sizist) lens through which to view lifestyle.
The problem is that fat acceptance does not have the power to tell anyone anything. We don’t have the power to force or coerce people to do anything against their will. They, however, do have the power and the (intense) desire to make sure fat acceptance is not heard. Likewise, people who challenge the wisdom and the necessity of conventional definitions of health and nutrition, the common beliefs held about these subjects, and especially the idea that health, exercise, and diet must be improved through government intervention are not given any real chance to be heard in our culture. Those of us who bother to speak out spend a great deal of time convincing people that they’re not against health. We aren’t encouraging people to gorge on processed foods or sit on the couch all day. We really share most of your goals; we just want you to ease up on the fat shaming.
Even I spend a lot of time doing this because some of my readers have made such accusations. I have never encouraged anyone to gorge on processed foods all day or spends weeks at a time carving ass grooves in their couches. I have said that being processed does not, de facto, make a food inferior to something that was cooked at home. I view commercially produced, processed foods as being equivalent, morally and nutritionally, to the alternatives in most cases (with many exceptions in both camps). It depends on the food and how it was prepared, as well as individual health needs. I have said that the link between diet, exercise, and health is overstated and that too many other variables exist that are equally responsible for poor health outcomes. I have questioned the idea that low fitness levels is a public health problem that needs to be corrected. In other words, I don’t write 101-type stuff.
Part of this is because I write most of these posts internally, to members of the fat acceptance community. I genuinely want people to know that I’m not attacking them as people. I’m not attacking whatever hobbies that they have or dismissing their personal experiences with issues of lifestyle. I concede that some of their concerns are valid. Not everyone can handle the high salt levels found in many processed foods, while other people might desperately need something with a lot of salt.
Again, the problem is I feel that we as a community spend more time doing this than advancing our message. Maybe you really do care about health promotion in some form or another. Maybe you really do want to include thin and fat alike in these measures.
So what? Why do we keep needing to say that, to reassure people that we aren’t rocking the boat too much?
I’m hardly anti-health in my personal life and I’m not totally opposed to *private* acts of health promotion, but I vehemently reject the idea that I need to concede the need for public health before my message of fat acceptance and anti-healthism can be heard. I don’t give a tinker’s dam if some concern troll thinks that I want all people, fat and thin, to be force-fed Velveeta and pork grinds for the rest of their lives while they are chained to the easy chair in front of the TV. That’s not what I promote. I would never, ever promote that and nothing I say can be fairly construed as promoting that.
I encourage fat activists to take the same approach. The next time you write about the need to end fat shaming, or the need to expand our definition of healthy, or the need to respect bodily autonomy for all, resist the urge to add qualifiers. No “I’m all for health, but for thin and fat people alike.” No “We can all agree that people eat too many processed foods.” No “Fat’s not the problem, but diseases like diabetes are.” None of that. Because it’s irrelevant to fat acceptance. Even if you feel those statements are valid. Even if you are passionate about fixing those problems. Because regardless of the status of our health or our pantries, the bottom line is that my body size, my health, and my lifestyle are none of your business. Full stop.
I truly believe that NO fat acceptance activist wants to tell anyone what to do. No one wants to shame anyone or force them to do anything. That’s utterly beside the point. It doesn’t matter if you, as an individual, are not healthist or sizist. When you agree to make common cause with people that consider healthism a moral virtue and the elimination of fat a priority, for any reason, you contribute to healthism and sizism alike. They are using you for their ends. They are not our friends. They don’t care how reasonable you think your goals are, or how good your intentions may be. When they listen to you, they think, “Look, even the fatties agree with me!” It’s not nice, but it’s the truth.
Another serious problem with health promotion as it is currently practiced is that we make the improvement of the lower classes conditional on their acceptance of health principles. I’m always seeing, even from people that ordinarily are anti-healthist, that if we really want to improve health, why don’t we enable people to work fewer hours so they have time to cook at home? Pay parents more so one parent can stay at home and have time to cook? Give more funding to public schools so they can spend money on more phys ed? Renovate inner city neighborhoods so they can have sidewalks to walk on and playgrounds to play in?
If fat and disease are mostly functions of stigma, poverty, age and genetics, why are we always advocating for lifestyle oriented solutions to these problems? What use are more vegetables and safer neighborhoods to a genetic condition? Somehow that doesn’t compute. Such “solutions” reinforce the prejudice that people who are fat and/or ill became that way because of an unhealthy lifestyle. You cannot, cannot, cannot challenge prejudices while reinforcing ideas that lead to the stigmatization of disadvantaged people.
Why do I never see “Let’s renovate urban neighborhoods, pay workers more, and improve the status of the poor because it’s the right thing to do?” It’s always “Why don’t we do this so they have the option to be healthy?” Making statements like that indirectly concede the idea that a certain definition of health is something we can and should aspire to. It assumes that we all live, that we all used to live, or that we all want to live, a popular vision of a middle-class American lifestyle. Not all cultures or classes share the same dining customs, cooking customs, work values, family values, or mode of living.
Nor should we.
What if I don’t want to live in a household with a stay-at-home mom and a nine-to-five job? What if I don’t want to have family dinners ala Normal Rockwell or live that lifestyle. No one is telling me that I have to, but at the same time, it is prejudiced in and of itself to assume that the majority of people want to live that way or that they should. Improve the well-being of the poor and minorities and let them decide for themselves how they want to live. Don’t assume that a person’s station in life prevents them from living a certain lifestyle. All too often, people make statements like “Well, of course Mom can’t stay at home and cook healthy food! She’s a poor minority and has to work!” This seemingly inocuous statement makes a highly biased assumption, unintentionally, that favors classic middle-class American culture over all other ways of doing things.
Regardless of your beliefs about health, lifestyle, or fat, I encourage you to take this challenge. The next time I write, I will not:
- List all the things we should encourage people to do
- Advocate government involvement in private behavior
- Talk about all the ways that I encourage people to be healthy
- Talk about the things we have in common with people that oppose us
You don’t need to try it, of course, if you don’t want to. But just for the hell of it, why not see what happens? How do people react to pure, undiluted, unapologetic anti-nannyism?
Because, in reality, we have nothing in common with them. Some of us might have superficial things in common, i.e. a love of cooking or gardening, a passion for sports and mentoring young people, a career in a helping or health-oriented profession, etc. but our goals and our orientations are fundamentally different from theirs. A fat- accepting, home-cooking, pro-autonomy vegan might share certain traits and lifestyle goals with vegans that promote sizism, healthism, and politically active. Otherwise? They are worlds apart. Without an explicit openness to change on their part, finding common ground with such people is fruitless and reinforces their agenda moreso than ours and the two agendas simply aren’t compatible. There is no compromise.