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Food Fight —

October 18, 2012
by

On Monday, Bree’s post about the impending Wendy’s makeover prompted a comment from a regular reader, Janet, that triggered a rather heated discussion about healthism and judging the behaviors of others.

It’s been a while since we launched Fierce, Freethinking Fatties on February 15, 2010, so maybe it’s worth revisiting my approach personally to “moderating” comments regarding healthism, weight loss and so forth, which is has pretty much how it has worked since the beginning.

My primary goal for this community was to create a tough, but welcoming forum for engaging in rather heated discussions about the more technical side to Fat Acceptance. In the Fatosphere proper, no diet talk is rigidly adhered to in order to preserve a safe haven for those who have spent a lifetime obsessed with losing weight. It’s a critical stage in “deprogramming” the lifetime dieter, many of whom suffer from either symptoms of, or else full blown, eating disorders.

But I never needed deprogramming personally since men are historically immune to the diet fever, so what I was looking for was a place to engage in critical thinking about the science behind weight loss, as well as the cultural implications of living in a society that teaches weight loss as the ultimate evidence of good health. So that immediately meant that Fierce Fatties was explicitly “not safe.” There should be no expectation of safety for those who have triggers relating to weight loss, diet talk, eating disorders, weight loss surgery, or healthism. However, we did develop the rating system to give those who need them an at-a-glance idea of whether the post is safe for them or not.

A blog discussing typically taboo subjects would inevitably lead to rather heated discussions, which is why having thick skin is a vital part of FFFs’ DNA, as explained in our philosophy. But as open as our blog is, we still need to distinguish between weight loss evangelism and legitimate arguments on the science, as well as the personal experience of weight loss. That led to our Diet Talk page.

Because, let’s face it, nobody wants to hear Bob talk about how awesome the Slim4Life program is and how they’ve found a permanent lifestyle plan to help them get thin, and stay thin. Honestly, if that’s what you want to do with your life, hooray for you, but unless somebody specifically asks you, “Hey Bob, who are you paying this month to inspire your permanent reduction?” then you can assume that nobody gives a shit.

And eliminating the evangelism has given us the breathing space to have those difficult discussions, while maintaining a certain degree of safety for those who have heard every Schpiel on the planet. I’m so intensely proud of the community we have built around these ideas, and even more proud that it seems to work.

I may not comment every day, but as Chief Fatty, I proofread every single post (yeah, typos and grammatical nonsense is totally my fault) and I’ve read every single comment on this site. So, I know with absolute certainty that although our commenters can play rough with each other, they also observe the general rules of decorum outlined.

So, when I first read Janet’s comment, I knew what she was talking about when she said, “I’ve found that even here, my opinions are unpopular.” I had seen past comments of hers get shot down by others, but the disagreements seemed par for course on our site. Some opinions are more popular than others. I try not to intervene unless something seems amiss.

This time, I read the first three comments in response to this most recent comment and felt like people were, indeed, being harder on her than was justified. So, I responded with this initial response defending Janet’s comment, which basically said that Janet was entitled to express her opinion that fast food is unhealthy, but others were entitled to challenge her on those points. And in a comment to CC, I said there was no need to attack her personally.

But then Bree’s comment made me wonder if I was mistaken in my initial reading of Janet’s comment. And indeed, I had glossed over the entire first sentence, which read, “I know I’m going to get told off for saying this but I don’t think anyone should eat fried, greasy food that is full of fat and preservatives.” My ability to “set aside” random information in my brain is what often led me to lose points on tests because I would only read, or see, parts of the instructions. It could have something to do with the ADD.

Rereading the “should” in the first sentence made me realize I had been responding based entirely on the arguments made after that sentence.

So, I wrote this second comment, adjusting my stance.

I overlooked Janet’s first sentence, which definitely changed the context of the full comment. To me, everything after that sentence was acceptable by our standards, since this is the place to respectfully state your opinions on obesity, health, nutrition, exercise, diabetes, weight loss surgery, weight stigma, and anything else that affects fat people. But if you preface your opinion by saying “I don’t think anyone should…” or “Everybody should…” then you should expect the Great Fatty Hordes to descend upon your comment like a plague of locusts.

It’s such a small bit of phrasing that can have a huge impact on how others interpret your opinion. If Janet had left off the part about what kinds of food other people should or should not eat, then the rest of her comment would have passed by unnoticed (although it’s generally in poor taste to refer to any food as “poison,” unless, of course, you’re referring to my delicious homemade Strychnine Strudel).

It is one thing to state your opinion on nutrition, but a whole other animal to say that others should follow your personally-established dietary guidelines. Bodily autonomy, the right to make our own decisions without unwanted interference, is vital to my understanding of what makes Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size® really work. The minute you assume another person is unable to make that decision for themselves, you are encroaching upon their bodily autonomy. You can do that other places, but you can’t do that here.

I’m not writing this post to shame Janet. As I said in my original response to her, I personally agree with her opinions on how healthy or unhealthy certain fast food items are. In Janet’s final comment, she expressed frustration that I said she would have to back up her opinions with cold, hard facts.

I don’t have any facts or figures. I only can tell you how eating certain foods makes me feel physically. And relate how others have told me they feel when they eat certain foods.

That statement? That’s what HAES is all about… it’s not about any objective data that says saturated fat is bad and unsaturated fat is good. It’s about your physical response to ingesting saturated fat. If you want to talk about how eating fast food makes you feel personally, that is a fair comment and shouldn’t lead to angry responses. That is sharing an experience. Telling others they “should” believe or behave like you is evangelizing. It’s a subtle difference, but it’s what makes us capable of sharing unpopular opinions without disrespecting each other.

I hope this clarifies our stance on sharing opinions. We don’t want to discourage anyone from commenting, but we do want to keep this space free from the kind of paternalism you can find on plenty of other forums. There is nothing wrong with having an unpopular opinion here, but you will certainly rub our fur the wrong way if you state that your opinion is the one true and right path.

I want to apologize to Janet for this not feeling like a safe place for her. We will always welcome your comments and I will always personally defend your right to express unpopular opinions.

I also want to apologize to CC, Joanna and Ashley, who was a bit of collateral damage from my curmudgeonly mood. Sorry I didn’t see what you saw the first time and responded unjustly. I think Janet is entitled to say she think find fast food healthy, but it needs to be in a less judgmental way. Telling people what they should do is inappropriate for this site and I should have caught it the first time.

And for the rest of you all, sorry for turning today into a boring post, but I felt like our approach should be made clear in light of what happened. Tomorrow we shall return to our regularly scheduled content.

UPDATE

Janet contacted me and was upset about this post because she felt like I villainized her, which was certainly not my intent. I feel like most people who read this site are probably aware of the conversations taking place after posts. So, I explained to her that I stand by this post because I merely wanted to use the fallout to illustrate how to navigate a loaded conversation that is fraught with anxiety over people passing judgment on others. I think an analogous, albeit significantly less controversial concept would be a site that only discusses abortion issues. Unless you lay down some specific ground rules about respectful discourse, then it’s going to be a verbal slaughter 24×7. That’s not what we want here. So, we have to use the issues that arise as teaching moments to keep us off the rocks in the future.

Janet also reminded me that she had apologized for offending others, which was not her intention. And I understand why she’s frustrated. I’ve had plenty of verbal slip-ups for which I’ve been taken to task and felt compelled to apologized, sometimes before really understanding what I had done. In fact, pretty much from the very beginning, I’ve been the social reprobate of the fatosphere. I don’t think Janet is a terrible person or that she meant to sound the way we’ve read her words. And saying something indelicately is not an unforgivable offense. People fuck up, we forgive them, we keep going. That’s what matters. Again, Janet is always welcome, but I know she was pretty hurt by the response to her comments. I hope that we can learn from this experience so that we can all work through our differences in mutually respectful ways when future conflicts arise.

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. vesta44 permalink
    October 18, 2012 10:12 am

    This was a needed post to clear up a disagreement – wording counts, especially when it’s the internet and you have no in-person, face-to-face interaction where you can judge tone of voice, body language, ask “exactly what do you mean by that” right away, etc.
    I read Janet’s comment and it rubbed me the wrong way, but I couldn’t pin down the exact reason why, and without being able to pin down that reason, I didn’t want to respond to it. And I got busy with other things and forgot to check back for further comments, so I missed out on all the brou-ha-ha. But I totally agree, don’t tell me I shouldn’t eat whatever food you happen to think is “unhealthy” because you (general “you” here) don’t have a clue why I’m eating it, how often I eat it, how much of it I eat at any one time, or anything else, and none of that is your business. As Ragen says, we’re each the boss of our own underpants, and that includes what, when, where, and how much we eat.

    • October 18, 2012 11:15 am

      Thanks vesta,
      And I think that you probably did what I did… gloss over and absorbed some of the content, but not all. It’s a terrible habit I have.But Ragen is right, we are each the boss of our own underpants, and we need to respect that.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  2. October 18, 2012 10:22 am

    Semantics is a tricky beast. When I read “I don’t think people should eat”… I interpreted that as: “I am of the opinion that (insert food type here) is not going to provide optimal nutrition requirements for a human animal to achieve peak health benefits”.

    Not… “If you dare to eat these things, you suck”

    “Should” is a difficult word. If I say “I don’t think people should cross the road without looking both ways”… I am not making it a moral judgement of people who step off the curb without looking both ways. I am expressing my opinion that not looking both ways might be detrimental to health.

    BUT!… because of the word “should”… I am, in essence, making it a command. YOU SHOULD LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING…

    I try to avoid “should” and “must” myself. But sometimes one is just dashing off a comment and there you go… “Dogs should not eat chocolate”… (and, it appears, there is some controversy to that one too)… But I don’t CARE if other people feed their dogs chocolate…

    Ugh – this is why activism can be so frustrating. One misplaced word in a comment and it’s flame-city. (As you “should” know, Atchka 😉

    • October 18, 2012 11:14 am

      I can definitely see your interpretation, NCP, but even in that grey area, bodily autonomy trumps good intentions. If I saw someone run across the street without looking and I said to them, “You should look both ways before you cross the street,” that person would tell me to mind my own business. Even if your opinion is factually valid (e.g., “You shouldn’t drink anti-freeze”), telling others what they should or should not do presumes they are too stupid to have come to that conclusion themselves.

      I still make a lot of factual claims about what I believe is or is not healthy, but I have learned that the easiest way to respect bodily autonomy is to preface those opinions by simply saying “if you want to be healthy, then X, Y, Z.” I feel like this changes my comment from “HEAR AND OBEY MY OPINIONS!” into “Here’s my opinions, take them or leave them.”

      Semantics are tricky, but in order to maintain that buffer zone between sharing opinions and evangelizing those opinions, we have to make clear distinctions when possible.

      Peace,
      Shannon

    • October 18, 2012 11:17 am

      If only I had read “you should look both ways before crossing” before I stepped off the curb today. A careless biker ran over my toe. I actually like heated discussions- they prove that everyone is alive, awake and raring to go. What a boring world it would be if everyone just nodded and agreed with statements that were all blandly similar. Sometimes I like fast food, and other times I’m convinced Lucifer is in front of the grill flipping my patties and sprinkling them with coma inducing dust from the third circle of hell.
      It all depends on the day;)

      • October 22, 2012 9:59 pm

        I agree with your sentiment entirely and without struggle. You are wise and all-knowing. All hail, Duffy.

        Peace,
        Shannon

  3. October 18, 2012 11:52 am

    I have to admit that I wished I had just ignored this whole thing, but I didn’t and it caused drama. Anyway, I am much more of a hard-line fat activist and when I read statements that make moral judgments about food, equate food with poison, police personal tastes, and make ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements, I treat them in exactly the same way I would treat “You’re going to die, you gross evil fatties!” type comments. Instant troll status and a date with my delete button.

    I feel that making those kinds of statements and privileging them in a movement of people who have spent their whole lives subject to the diet/exercise/lifestyle police, told that they are self-destructive, immoral, and in need of intervention, is unacceptable in a fat acceptance space. I don’t care if the proponents of said views are themselves fat and aren’t pursuing weight loss. It’s abundantly clear to me that the comment in question was NOT talking about personal choices and indeed contained no personalized information at all about what that person chose. It was an explicit judgment about the choices other people are making. Saying “I’m not telling you what to do, just what I think about it” does not fly with me. If I said “I’m not telling you you have to lose weight, I am just saying that I think you’re disgusting and immoral,” that would rightly lead to my being banned.

    Lastly, I don’t agree that promoting healthy eating or avoidance of fast food is unpopular anywhere, in even in FA spaces. Most people seem to agree, on some level, with that statement. I understand that FFF was intended to be a kind of exploratory fat acceptance space and to go easy on moderation, since we all know the kinds of blowups that happen in the fat blogging community when people are too eager to be language/tone police. People DO have the right to express opinions here, popular or unpopular, and I can choose to do one of two things: not read them or post my own unpopular opinions.

    Here’s to expressing unpopular opinions.:)

    • October 22, 2012 10:01 pm

      Like I said, this is a place for thick skin. Dig it or ditch it… or lurk, I guess. 🙂

      Peace,
      Shannon

  4. Fab@54 permalink
    October 18, 2012 3:44 pm

    I missed the whole damn thing, so I’ll just say “Hi” – and give you all a big, fat, cyber
    {{{{{{{ hug }}}}}}} 🙂

  5. lifeonfats permalink
    October 18, 2012 4:44 pm

    Many in the fat rights community do agree with Janet on fast food and as I said in my original topic, there are a lot of fat people who don’t eat fast food at all, for whatever reason. And that’s perfectly fine. But that doesn’t mean those people should shame those who do choose to eat it, or engage in other personal, non-criminal behavior (had to throw that clarification in there) they don’t agree with.

    I think that because we are told every single day what we need to do with ourselves and so many think of us as having no idea how to function in life, whether it be food, physical activity, dressing ourselves, and existing in general, the last place we want to hear the “tsk, tsk, tsk” is a space where we can talk about exercise and healthy habits without the diet talk. Just say, “I don’t like to eat fast food” and leave it at that. I’ll understand and I know others will too.

    • October 18, 2012 8:27 pm

      Extremely well put.

    • October 22, 2012 10:02 pm

      Two thumbs up. We need a button that does that. That would be awesome.

      Peace,
      Shannon

  6. October 18, 2012 8:26 pm

    I had this long thing written, but suffice it to say, I don’t like bullshit, and I don’t step around people’s feelings if they aren’t stepping around mine. I was offended by the holier-than-thou comment, so I put it in the hypothetical and said that if someone said that to my face, they’d get a very loud fuck off from me. I refuse to apologize for that.

    • October 22, 2012 10:03 pm

      CC,
      You have the thickest skin of all. Armor plating. I love that about you.

      Peace,
      Shannon

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