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Good and Evil —

July 18, 2014

Halfway-There

Thanks to everyone who has gotten us this far. Please support Casey in improving her mobility while fighting the fat haters by donating whatever you can afford. Read more here or click the image above to donate.

Fat PoliticsFat HealthExerciseMy Boring-Ass Life

I’ve always been hyper-self-conscious. I was a bit of a doofus growing up and simultaneously vigilant about not wanting others to think I was a doofus, which only hastens the downward spiral of doofiness. Personalitywise, I was a spaz wearing an oversized suit and clown shoes trying to play James Bond. If I’ve had one disadvantage in my life, it’s having been socially incompetent to the point of parody.

Me and John

Everybody’s got something to hide, except for me and my monkey.

As a result, I tended to glom onto a single, main friend who became a sort of social conduit for me. After my best friend moved to Georgia in third grade, I went without any social conduit until my sophomore year of high school. At that point, I made friends with two people who I met at rehearsals for a play taking place at one of the many all-girl Catholic schools in St. Louis.

After high school, I had just one person I’d call on to hang out with or rely on for emotional support. The only social events I ever attended were those my best friend went to, and those were the times I found most stressful, unless, of course, alcohol was involved.

But as close as those relationships were, they were nothing like the closeness I share with my wife Veronica. We know all the good, all the bad, and all the ugly about each other, intimately. So it wasn’t until I had that day-to-day closeness with her that I learned how many of the things I had taken for granted my entire life were socially spaztastic.

For example, Veronica informed me that it was in poor form to show up at someone’s house without first calling to ask if it was okay. Because I only had one main friend (and because cell phones were not ubiquitous), they grew accustomed to me showing up unannounced and asking for a glass of milk. I mean, some stuff was preplanned, but often I’d just be driving around and get bored, so I’d head over to Tim’s house or Angie’s house and we’d hang out. Since they never said anything, I never even considered that it was flat-out rude.

So when I suggested that V and I go visit a mutual friend unannounced, I was pretty surprised by her reaction. All these years, I’d been stepping on people’s toes with my big ol’ clown shoes and I didn’t realize it. If you had to give it a name, you could call it the privilege of social cluelessness. I had to be informed that I was fucking up before I understood why and how I could stop being such an obnoxious dick.

When I started writing about Fat Acceptance in 2009, I had to contend with all the real, actual privilege that I had never even considered. I mean, I’m King Privilege: cis, het, able-bodied, middle-class white male. So I’ve spent the past five years going through a very public, very obnoxious education on power and privilege. And that education continues.

Early in the formation of Fierce Fatties, when I seemed to piss someone off on a monthly basis, I wrote a post that I felt pretty nervous about. I wanted to discuss a popular mantra of Fat Acceptance spaces: health is not a moral imperative. So I did. Four years later, I would not have written the exact same post, but I still agree with much of it. In the end, the post sparked a great discussion on the morality of health choices that I followed up on in a personal post.

For a while now, I’ve been sitting with discomfiting thoughts over another concept that is prevalent in Fat Acceptance circles: the Good Fatty/Bad Fatty dynamic. For a great rundown of what I mean, check out this great comic on the 12 Good Fatty Archetypes by Stacy Bias. It’s quite thorough and gives a fascinating categorization of the ways people attempt to seek legitimacy as part of a stigmatized group.

And I certainly recognized myself in several of the archetypes presented, such as Fat Unicorn, The Big Man, and maybe even The Rad Fatty. But the one I probably blog about most is The (f)Athlete (aka the Exceptional Fatty).

Fathlete

In the past year or so, I’ve written repeatedly about training for and performing a 40-flight stairclimb for the American Lung Association. I also enjoy writing about the science of fitness quite a bit, emphasizing the importance of exercise and a balanced diet from a Health at Every Size® (HAES) perspective. Frequently, I frame these discussions from an “if you want to be healthy” perspective because I am a fierce advocate of bodily autonomy and agency. I don’t believe anyone should be judged for the choices they make, as outlined in my “moral imperative” post. Put everyone else’s choices under a microscope and you can easily fall into a “that’s not how I would live my life” mentality that is toxic and self-defeating.

Because of my perpetual, hyper-self-consciousness (aka narcissism), when I read about the Good Fatty conundrum, I wonder how often I am throwing fatties under a bus with my writing and how I should continue with this particular aspect of my activism. In other words, at what point does education become evangelism?

This is where I feel like the “Good Fatty/Bad Fatty” concept begins to get muddy. I mean, I’ve been called a healthist before, despite five years of emphasis on bodily autonomy. Just because I love to learn about HAES and fitness doesn’t mean I expect anyone to actually believe what I say, let alone follow it. It’s a subject I find personally fascinating because of my own personal and family health history. Plus, the evidence is so complicated and I’ve only ever heard one side of the argument. Since I began digging into the research five years ago, I’ve been repeatedly surprised by the breadth of dissent within the research community over things I had long since taken for granted.

Before Fierce Fatties, I explained my approach to Fat Acceptance and HAES as part self-education and part investigation. Right out of the gate, I published a series interviews with some of the unsung heroes of weight-related research, such as Steven Blair and Katherine Flegal and Rebecca Puhl, whose work has been instrumental in shaping our understanding of what modern science actually says about being fat.

Is that research integral to being a fatty? Nope. If you have no interest in research on fatties or health, that don’t make me no nevermind. But if you are curious, then I’m happy to be one of many resources on the subject. Does that make me a healthist? I guess in the eyes of some, it does. Likewise, whether I, or anyone else, is playing the role of the Good Fatty is totally subjective. Do my posts on the stairclimb make me one of the 12 archetypes? I have no idea. But that hyper-self-conscious part of me feels like sharing something fitness related may cross someone’s line for being a “Good Fatty.”

And I would imagine that this is partially the point of Stacy’s comic: to give pause. As a modest-sized blog, our writing reaches a fairly broad audience, so we have a responsibility to remain vigilant as to how our words affect our readers.

At the same time, for fatties who are just starting out on their journey to self-acceptance, I feel like those 12 Good Fatty archetypes offer just a few of the possible identities that they may never have considered are available to them. Perhaps they don’t believe a fat person can dance or walk a marathon or climb 40 flights or lift a bull over their heads — seeing real-life examples of those stereotype-smashing archetypes can open up a world of possibilities that they may never have considered possible.

To see a fat person wearing stylish clothes gives hope to the fat person who believes they always have to dress to conceal their bodies. But how does a fatshionista know if she’s serving as inspiration or serving as a Good Fatty? Stacy provides several questions to consider:

  • How does the acceptability of fatness clad in fashionable clothing contribute to the mainstream beauty politic?
  • What impact does the requirement for fashion for acceptability have on those who cannot afford, have limited access to, or are uninterested in fashionable clothing?
  • Are problematic social hierarchies and exclusions outside activism mirrored here within it?

These are all great questions to consider if you promote fashion, but as Stacy points out, “It’s perfectly OK to love fashion, to be super fit and able-bodied, to be fierce. This blog isn’t meant to criticze, just to ask questions about how we might continue to seek quality without leaveing anyone behind.”

So from the perspective of a fatshionista blogger, I find myself asking questions: how can a blog best reflect a value-neutral approach to size and fashion? How do you contend with the privilege of being able to afford and have access to fashionable clothing, while at the same time sharing your passion for fashion? How does your day-to-day posts on fashion change if you want to avoid being a Good Fatty?

And obviously, I have similar questions for my own writing. I’m personally fascinated by fat health research and the radical possibilities of all bodies, so how do I continue that discussion without negatively impacting others within the community?

Stacy explains the difference: “Where the ‘Good Fatty’ becomes problematic is when it’s used as a justification for social legitimacy — when it says ‘I deserve to be seen as valuable because (insert ‘Good Fatty’ qualifier here).'”

Once again, I find myself in hyper-self-conscious territory. As a social misfit who clearly blows past personal boundaries with nary a care in the world, I wonder whether I have tied social legitimacy to fitness. It certainly isn’t my intention. When I wrote about the stairclimb, I mentioned how my training did not go as planned and that I feared humiliation:

[N]ow, with two weeks before event, there was no way I could finish in less than 20 minutes. I thought about just not saying anything, but there was always the chance that someone from reddit would remember what I wrote last year and ask if I did it, and then I’d have to eat a big plate of crow. I fucking hate eating crow.

In the end, I decided to go for it, damn the torpedoes:

Yeah, I might take 20 minutes to climb 40 flights and reddit might scoff and that might make me feel like shit, but dammit, I’m not going to stop doing what I want to do out of fear of how the haters will predictably respond. I’m not going to limit myself out of fear that my personal best isn’t good enough for the perpetually critical. Hell, if I hit the median of 10 minutes, there would STILL be haters dismissing my accomplishments and talking shit.

At that point in time, I felt hyper-self-conscious about how reddit would respond to me not hitting my goal because I hadn’t trained in the weeks leading up to it. Now I feel hyper-self-conscious about alienating readers by emphasizing fitness as a Good Fatty.

And in the end, this is what makes me wonder what will the focus on Good Fatties achieve. How do I distinguish between sharing that part of my experience and identity and exploiting it to draw closer to social legitimacy? It seems as though the only options in terms of awareness are that I’m either not exploiting it, I’m exploiting it and I know it, or I’m exploiting it and I don’t know it. So even if I believe I’m not consciously writing about it to gain social legitimacy (as I currently believe), there’s a chance that I could still be doing it subconsciously.

What then? Do I stop writing about it all together for fear of being a Good Fatty or do I just keep doing what I’m doing with the faith that I’m doing it for the right reasons? In other words, having been educated on the dangers of being a Good Fatty, what are the pragmatic steps I can take to avoid doing so in the future? Personally, I find the issue incredibly difficult to wrap my brain around because I tend to overthink things and skew toward a neurotic response.

I feel like the only thing I do is reinforce my beliefs by restating that I don’t believe anyone is obligated to behave in a way that is not of their choosing. As Bevin wrote recently about her struggle with Father’s Day, it’s okay to not be okay. Life is a constant assault on all of us, and we are all struggling to manage our own unique struggles. Obviously, I’ve got my own challenges to contend with, so who the fuck am I to judge anyone for the choices they make?

And if anyone, including myself, ever makes you feel as thought you aren’t living your life correctly, you can tell them what George RR Martin recently told an interviewer who concern trolled him on his health on behalf of fans:

[youtube:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nTOrBNCeF1Y%5D

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Twistie permalink
    July 18, 2014 11:10 am

    My two cents? I don’t think your stair climbing saga crossed the line because you didn’t make it about ‘this is what you do to be socially acceptable’ but in terms of ‘I made these choices, which are open to other fat people, too.’ Okay, so there was a small foray into being socially acceptable with the whole ‘but Reddit might laugh at me’ bit, but I felt you made it clear that you made the decision based on what you felt was best for you rather than what others in your position ought to do.

    Obviously a stair climbing challenge isn’t for everyone. People with mobility or lung capacity issues are not going to be able to do it, no matter their size. Many people will look at the concept and say ‘this is not what I want to do’ and they’re absolutely right to make that choice for themselves. We don’t owe anyone our health anymore than I, as a woman, owe a man a boner.

    My feeling is that we in the FA community need to continue to smash social barriers AND to show sensitivity to those who cannot or prefer not to make the same choices we do. It’s not always easy to do both at the same time. But if we consciously continue to remind people that our choices are OUR choices and theirs are also worthy, legitimate choices, the strong message that we HAVE choices becomes the dominant narrative.

    And ultimately, isn’t that the narrative we want to be telling?

    So yeah, we’re going to put things wrong and trip over our own clown shoes repeatedly along the way (I look back at some of the stuff I wrote in my first, faltering steps into FA and cringe in embarrassment), but if we listen when people tell us we fucked up and do our best to improve, I think that’s all we can ask of ourselves.

    We all make mistakes. We all have some sort of unexamined privilege. But if we wait until we’re perfect to say anything, we’ll be silent forever.

    So stay open to criticism, but do your best not to obsess to the point of inaction. Talk about your choices, and the fact that we ALL have choices.

    Because ultimately, FA is about having choices to make.

  2. Isabel permalink
    July 18, 2014 11:13 am

    Ah! What did he say? The video didn’t work. Just loving this site. One of these days I’d like to contribute a post from my perspective as a person a decade post-WLS (& still obese albeit lighter). Forever a good fatty because of a decision made 10 years ago? Find out the astonishing truth in….oh I don’t know the title even…I’ll get to it one of these days.

    • Len permalink
      July 18, 2014 6:09 pm

      Isabel, he said (in response to fans giving him the ol’ Random Future Death Threat) ‘F— you’, accompanied by flipping the bird.

      I’m not his biggest fan due to some issues of his approach to female characters, but his response here made me smile a lot!

      And Shannon, Stacy’s cartoon made me stop and think harder too. I have been guilty of pushing the ‘good fatty’ thing on my own behalf to try and win approval. I have an invisible disability which sometimes is very visible (sometimes I need mobility aids or have bad flares that make me unable to do anything at all) so I am no fathlete, but I am well-off and can afford the money and time to eat very well. When people get on my case for being fat I blather on about my diet and my hydro gym and yoga and blah blah.

      The cartoon made me realise that not only am I setting myself up for trouble on those days when I just can’t achieve anything at all, but I am also throwing other fat people under the bus. Not everybody has my wealth, time, or the resources or inclination that I have. In essence I was distancing myself from not only other fat people, but other people with disabilities.

      I hope I have learned better now. It’s okay to be who I am, and okay for all of us to be who we are, but it’s hard to be an effective activist if I distance myself from others who live differently by choice or otherwise.

  3. Duckie permalink
    July 18, 2014 12:53 pm

    I think the idea of taking down the gf/bf dichotomy is possibly more about the observer in all of us learning to stop being so judgmental either way. The person who is the doer, the action taker – the fathlete/fatshionista/etc. in my experience is rarely the person who is justifying their existence by screaming it from the top of a mountain. Usually it seems, they are just being themselves and celebrating their joys. The exception, of course, would be the person who has not yet learned self acceptance and is trying to legitimize themselves to a judgmental society – in which case, it is the Judgmental Society that is the real problem here. More often, especially in the size acceptance realm, I see it as the observer as the one judging the other person’s actions to fall within the gf/bf dichotomy, and that’s what needs to stop. The truth is that all fatties are good fatties!

  4. July 18, 2014 1:30 pm

    I don’t think you’re judgemental or contributing to the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy. It seems like you are always careful to emphasize that the choices you make are yours and nobody else is obligated to make them.
    This whole HAES/FA thing is a process. None of us came out of the gate with perfect understanding or process.

  5. July 18, 2014 9:06 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I’m reblogging this because it is awesome and everyone should read it. Unfortunately, on my blog, “everyone” consists of about three people.
    I’m horrendously socially awkward. I can “pass for normal” in small talk situations, but I’m really not able to get close to people. I have very superficial relationships because I fear getting hurt. I find it a bit tragic that in a world of nearly seven billion people, it’s well nigh on impossible to find someone who wants to be friends with me.
    That aside, I’ve definitely been guilty of being the “good fatty,” and sometimes I still fall into that trap. I wouldn’t call myself athletic, but I do exercise at a moderate level with fair regularity. Despite all the pain and glitches, I’m still considered able bodied. I’m grateful for HAES, but I’m far from perfect. If it weren’t for diabetes, I’d still drink juice, even though these days everyone thinks its just as bad as soda, because I freaking love juice.
    I guess I’m kind of a dichotomy in general, not just on the “good fatty/bad fatty front.” I also fight the “good crazy/bad crazy” battle. The Good Crazy is a mentally ill person who is positive and upbeat in spite of their psych challenges. The Bad Crazy rants about what a load it is to be stuck with their issues in a society that offers no understanding. I’ve played both sides of the fence. I believe in telling it like it is, and I encourage other people to tell it like it is. But when it comes to me, I’ve taken to hiding how I feel because I know that “no-one wants to hear it,” and even though they’ve come to a blog written by a person who openly lives with mental illness, for some reason they still expect me to blow sunshine up their ass.
    At any rate, I’ve really appreciated the Fierce Fatties blog. It was one of the things that led to me being able to somewhat accept myself, and to respect myself, even if I can never get to the point of loving myself.

  6. Disordry permalink
    July 19, 2014 8:27 am

    Spaz is an abelist slur. Not cool

    • July 21, 2014 9:59 pm

      Hi Disordry,
      I was a little surprised by your comment because “spaz” always meant a person like Kramer from Seinfeld or Tweak from South Park. I did some reading and I understand where you’re coming from. I’m sorry. I won’t use the word again.

      Peace,
      Shannon

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