Go to a ball game if you want a cheering section
Trigger warning: Discussion of dieters and obnoxious dieter behavior.
Despite coming of age during an epidemic of obesity, and having deeply sizeist, healthist family members, I have never been on a diet.
Once in a great while, I have contemplated going on a diet while finishing the weight gain associated with puberty. I attempted a diet for a day and then dropped it. Somehow, I could never muster the motivation (that magic word) to do it. When family members tried to restrict my eating or force unwelcome physical activity on me, I found ways around it. Even now that I’m “fat,” I’m highly thin-privileged. On the surface, it seems as though I have escaped fat hatred unscathed.
You would be wrong about that.
It does not seem to matter how thin you are or how active. Any visible weight gain gives others license to lecture you about “letting yourself go.” Weight gain does not even have to be visible. All you have to do is engage in behavior that people assume will cause weight gain (e.g., eating a Big Mac at McDonald’s). Thin privilege is unique in that, while it exists and while it’s powerful in our culture, you never get to fully enjoy it. You are always this (pinches fingers together) close to losing it.
Now let us assume that you are that one perfect person who has never invited someone else’s criticism of your weight or your lifestyle. Or, alternatively, we can assume that you have been greatly blessed to have only the finest, most educated, most respectful people present in your life and, therefore, have no need to fear criticism. You still will not escape fat hatred for two reasons:
- People will assume you got to your thin, healthy, god-like state through fat-hating means and will ask for your advice.
- More commonly, people will ask you to reinforce their own fat hatred.
The second bullet is something I face every day. It does not seem to matter how many times I ask people not to discuss dieting or weight loss around me, or how many times I ask them not to lecture on the subject of health. No one seems to blink an eye when I tell them that my aunt had life-threatening anorexia and that I find diet talk triggering. They simply ignore it or they nod and say “Okay,” but then keep talking about their diet.
They ask me if they’ve lost weight. They ask me if I think their lunches are healthy or if they should skip their daily exercise. They insult themselves with fat-hating taunts, oblivious to the fact that I am several clothing sizes larger than they are. The bottom line is that my position is not respected by these people. Not at all.
As far as I’m concerned, we need to stop falling over ourselves to respect their position.
You are under no obligation to cheer someone on in their diet. You are under no obligation to respond to their fat-hating questions. In real life, staking out your boundaries is tough and you need to do it with some sensitivity, especially in the workplace. When someone asks me a question like that, I tell them I don’t pay attention to that stuff or that I’m not good at that stuff. Which is true. If someone asks me about how they look, I either tell them something positive I can find or I just say I’m neutral and remind them that I’m no fashion queen.
On the other hand, we should be able to stake out our boundaries freely online. We don’t need to reassure dieters that we don’t hate them and that we aren’t criticizing their choice. The truth is that we are doing just that. We aren’t criticizing them as people or telling them what they should do. Yet we ARE criticizing the act of dieting and a culture that so heavily promotes it. We are criticizing those who use their influence to promote it. That is, essentially, what Fat Acceptance is about, and if we cannot challenge people’s thinking on those issues,then where do we go from here?
We don’t need to reassure people of their good intentions any more than we need to personally attack them. I’m sure most of their intentions are good because they don’t know any better. The fact remains that if these people are promoting fat hatred then we need to find some way to challenge it. I feel that focusing on people’s good intentions derails the discussion.
Finally, I don’t think we should be falling over ourselves to find common cause. Some of us may have common cause with those that disagree with us. When you get right down to it, though, these same people are acting in ways that oppress us. The incessant call to find common cause on some issue, like health, workplace discrimination, or whatever, advantages their side of the discussion. What would happen if we had nothing in common with our oppressors? What if there was nothing any of us could offer to soften the blow of our position? What if we were “forced” to offer them pure, undiluted, uncompromising, non-apologetic Fat Acceptance?
We should not have to ask nicely or bargain with our oppressors.
In the end, Fat Acceptance is a movement with values and goals. Anyone is welcome to join in the fight against fat hatred, but we need to lose our fear of being too extreme or offending people. Offending people is exactly what we should be doing.
Dieting does not need a cheering section. Those who promote fat hatred, even if it is inadvertent, should not feel safe in FA spaces. Rather, they should feel challenged. There’s always the ball game if they want a cheering section.