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I’m Ready for Famous People to Promote Body Acceptance that Includes My Fabulous Fat Ass!

January 23, 2014

I incorrectly identified yesterday’s post as the quasi-cross-post. This is the quasi-cross-post and Lindsey’s third submission, which means we will be voting on her inclusion tomorrow.

Recently, Dr. Deah reminded us that Fat is an Adjective not an Insult. In her post she listed some amazing accomplishments and positive actions created and achieved  by fat activists in 2013.  And while I am still relishing in these moments, I know that we must continue to strive for the respect, acceptance and care that fat bodies deserve. It is for this reason that I ended my year by creating a Change.org petition: Kelloggs, Tyra Banks and Jennifer Lawrence – Help Promote Genuine Body Acceptance By Showing the World that “Fat” is Just an Adjective

The petition reads as follows:

In December 2013 we’ve seen some amazing women and a corporation use their means and platforms to raise awareness and attempt to change the mainstream message that perpetuates constant bodily surveillance and bodily hate. Fat Talk

In particular, Tyra Banks has joined forces with Special K cereal (Kellogg Company) to promote the “Fight Fat Talk” Campaign and Jennifer Lawrence told Barbara Walters that “It should be illegal” to call somebody fat on television.

It is clear that both these women and the Kellogg Company have their hearts in the right place, because they are trying to help women shift their critical perspectives about their bodies in world where corporations and the media create powerful consumers by promoting self-hate and then supplying flawed solutions in the form of fashion, beauty and diet products.

This petition asks Kelloggs, Lawrence, and Banks to consider their use of word “fat,” and what it means when we only recognize this term as a disposable insult – particularly for people who are legitimately fat.

Both Lawrence’s comment and the “fight fat talk campaign” consider “fat” and insult. To their credit, it is true, that many in our culture use the word fat as an insult and often this word is hurled at bodies that are not really all that fat. It’s ridiculous to call thin people fat because they’re not, but when someone does call someone thin “fat,” the name caller is trying to insult the thin person – by saying they are fat. In this context “fat” is the thing that we don’t want to be – it is the thing to be avoided at all costs.

Despite this negative use of the word “fat,” it’s just a word, like thin, short and tall. Fat is an adjective. It’s a descriptive word, which has been taken out of context and made an insult – much like the negative use of the word “gay” – to mean uncool.  Clearly, we should stop using both “gay” and “fat” as insults – but we can still call gay people gay and we must continue to call fat people are fat because that’s what they are. We feel bad when people call us fat because we think that being fat is unacceptable and because we have been shamed. Currently, you can’t walk up to a stranger and call them fat because our culture recognizes being fat as a state of shame.

Fat is a word that we must use and love if we are ever going to see fat people as acceptable. If you use other words for a fat person you are being pejorative. For example, euphemisms like chubby, voluptuous, curvy are words that look to hide or make acceptable a reality of fatness. Obesity is a pathological word that ties fatness to disease and plus-size clearly means more than “normal” sized. The word “Fat” is actually the cleanest term and it’s the term that speaks to the reality of a bigger body type.

In this context – supposedly positive ideas, like Jennifer Lawrence’s idea to “outlaw” the use of the word Fat or Kelloggs and Tyra Banks “fight fat campaign” become body acceptance campaigns that exclude people with fat bodies because “fighting” or “outlawing” the use of the word fat, inherently underscores that being fat is shameful and embarrassing.

Some people are fat and that’s okay. Recently, Amber Riley used her fat body to win Dancing With The Stars – proving that bodies of all shapes and sizes can be graceful, powerful, capable and amazing. We can promote body love without continuing to shame the fat body.

Genuine body positivity would mean that even if someone was fat, they wouldn’t have to feel body shame. This petition will raise awareness about the invisible but pervasive nature of fat shaming and help shift perspectives and create a world that accepts people of ALL body types. We can accept all body types and still fight the corporate/media machine that perpetuates messages of body hate.

Please sign this petition to help raise awareness about the negative use of the word “Fat” in campaigns that are attempting to promote body positivity, and to specifically ask Tyra Banks, Kelloggs and Jennifer Lawrence to leverage their celebrity in a way that empowers every body. In particular, we would like to see this change begin by watching Kelloggs make a big deal out of changing the name of the “fight fat talk” campaign.

I was not the first person to bring this up. Other rad fatties voiced their opinions about this issue: The Militant Baker, Sweaters For Days and Fat Body Politics. And as would be expected, we all faced criticism and trolling. In general, my petition has been criticized for two reasons — and I’d like to discuss these critiques here, now

First, people said that Kelloggs clearly didn’t have their heart in the right place because they are a corporation that creates barely-healthy processed food and the product associated with the “fight fat talk” campaign is Special K, which is most often sold as part of a weight loss challenge. Admittedly, this is a valid critique. One worth discussing at length, and I considered this idea when I wrote the petition. It’s possible that I’ve been living in the South too long, but ultimately I decided to trust the old adage that “you catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”

As I see it, Kelloggs is a huge corporation and if this petition grows and manages to convince Kelloggs to join our team (i.e., shift advertising campaigns from fighting fatness to promoting “healthy” lifestyles) then I would see this as a win. I’m not against discussions of what best promotes bodily health, as long as these discussions are based on science rather than fear mongering, prejudice and righteousness. I should also note that both Kelloggs and all of us must make it clear that health is not a mandate — we can define it for ourselves.

The second reason that people were annoyed by this petition was because I chose to direct my action not only at Kelloggs, but also at Jennifer Lawrence and Tyra Banks because they felt that JLAW and Tyra Banks were body positive.

To clarify, I like JLaw and Tyra. I think they are supporters of people accepting their bodies, but as the petitions mentions, both women are still perpetuating fat shame. When Tyra signed on to be the spokeswoman for the “fight fat talk” campaign and when JLaw said we should “outlaw” the word fat — they are clearly addressing the use of the word “fat “ as an insult, but it is my contention that they are doing so without any understanding that there is another way to consider the word.

Using fat as an insult is the same idea as a boy on the playground getting called a pussy: he’s weak, badly performing masculinity and therefore he’s a pussy, a vagina, a woman. The insult is that he is less than a man, a woman — this is clear sexism. When someone calls a thin person fat, they are shaming their body by calling it a less acceptable body — a fat one — this is body-type prejudice or fat hate.

“Outlawing” or “fighting” the use of the word fat doesn’t encourage those of us who are fat to accept our bodies. If I am fat am I also worth outlawing? And really, the fear of fat (the idea that fat is this horrible thing to be avoided) doesn’t help others reach a place of Body Acceptance.  JLaw and Tyra are acknowledging average or thin bodies as healthy, and telling us that these body shouldn’t be condemned. They shouldn’t, but neither should mine.

My body is FAT and you can’t “outlaw” or “fight” the use of the word fat and not at the same time underscore the idea that being fat is a bad thing, a thing I should be ashamed of being.

We need to use the word fat because that’s exactly what we have to work on: normalizing the idea that there are fat bodies and there always will be and that’s okay. One of the ways that we can work on this is to recognize that fat is just a description.

Like I said in the petition, Genuine body positivity would mean that even if someone was fat, they wouldn’t have to feel body shame. Currently in our culture it is perfectly acceptable for people to be cruel to fat people — fat hate is still invisible. This reminds me of Peggy Macintosh’s “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” We live blindly in a thin-privileging world, until we open our eyes and become aware of the prejudice and shame all around us.

In reality, my petition and the blog posts you’re all seeing aren’t about Jaw or Tyra. These women are just a catalyst for a much larger issue — recognizing that Body Acceptance and Fat Acceptance are not always synonymous, but they should be. Basically, I think it’s time that we start demanding that our body image heroes speak up for all bodies, not just the ones that are already experiencing the privilege of being average.

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