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The Fickle Finger of Fat Acceptance

Debbie says:

What happens when a fat acceptance activist decides to try to lose some weight? She might decide to do so in secret, and (should she succeed, even in the short term) look puzzled and surprised if she is asked if she’s lost weight. Or she might decide to go public. Going public is risky in at least two ways: first, she would know how low the probability was that she could lose any significant amount of weight and keep it off; second, she would know from being in the fat acceptance movement just how much anger we feel at the pressure to diet. She would know that she would be perceived as part of that pressure.

Hanne Blank’s fat activist credentials are *ahem* substantial. She is the editor of Zaftig: Well Rounded Erotica and the author of Big Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size and Those Who Love Them.

Now, she has launched her “reduced fat” blog, The Fickle Finger of Fat (link above).

So. This is a blog about fatness and agency, and specifically about fatness and my own personal agency in terms of my efforts to get healthier and, yes, less fat.

You’ll note that I’ve called it “a reduced-fat blog” in the subtitle above. That’s absolutely accurate. Part of this blog’s purpose is to let me have a dedicated space to talk about my efforts to reduce my fatness.

Let me state for the record that I have no intent of trying to become “thin,” whatever that is or would be for my particular body. (There’s at least a whole post in that issue alone, which I will save for another day.) But for a whole bunch of reasons (and there’s at least another whole post in this sentence too) all of which essentially boil down to “because I want the experience of living in this body to be a more subjectively rewarding one,” I’m interested in becoming a reduced-fat version of me.

Unsurprisingly, this has unleashed a lot of passion, a lot of pain, and a lot of examination, in the fat acceptance blogosphere. The thoughtful posts at The Rotund and Shapely Prose both have 85+ comments in their comment threads, which tells you how important this is to people.

Both bloggers, and most commenters, are kind to Hanne Blank personally, and support her right to do whatever she wants. At the same time, neither blogger sees her personal rights as the whole story. In the end, after much thought and care, The Rotund concludes: It’s a nasty, sticky issue. As people working for social justice, I think our instinct is to include as many people as possible, to bar no one from claiming membership in our community. I think this is a good urge. But I do think there are some lines in the sand. Weight loss as a goal is one of those lines. It doesn’t mean you can’t play with us and it doesn’t mean you are making a bad or wrong decision for you as an individual. It DOES mean that you are a member of a different team.

Kate at Shapely Prose comes down here: I do not believe you can truly be a fat acceptance activist and support dieting any more than you can be a liberal activist and support Bush. I believe the two are simply irreconcilable.. (emphasis in the original).

Full disclosure: I’ve met Hanne Blank, a little more than in passing, a lot less than enough to know each other. I’m a huge admirer of her writing, her work, and her stance in the world. And we have many friends in common. So maybe that’s coloring my reaction.

When I read the first post in The Fickle Finger, my first thought was, “Go you!” I appreciated the way that she distinguished losing some weight from becoming thin. I could see the two-edged sword of her discussion of “acceptance”:

I particularly think it’s important to talk about size acceptance and self acceptance in the context of agency. By “agency,” what I mean is a combination of control and initiative and autonomy, the ability to effect action, to be active rather than passive. Words like “acceptance” are troublesome to me because they imply that one has little choice about what it is that one is accepting. The phrase that always comes to mind, when I think about the word “acceptance,” you can’t do anything about it, you’re just going to have to accept it.

To which I say a resounding yuk.

Who wants to be in that position, the shut-up-and-take-it-because-it-doesn’t-get-any-better place? Not me. I think that as a woman in this culture, and specifically as a fat woman (to say nothing of as a political liberal/radical and a professional intellectual living in twenty-first century America), I’ve had quite enough of that for one lifetime, thanks, and I’m not interested in assuming the position for any more soul-crushing “acceptance” of the short end of the stick than I absolutely have to. That’s the unhealthy and un-fun kind of masochism, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

Probably there is no way Hanne Blank could have written about what she wants to do without pushing buttons, but this attack on one of our most widely used and most beloved phrases was like waving a red flag in front of a bunch of very fat and angry bulls. I feel the anger when I read that passage, and it comes out something like “How dare you say that my acceptance is passive?” (She tries to explain this argument in a later post and makes it worse. I won’t quote her here, but you can go look.)

Every time I read anything on either side of this issue, I feel uncomfortable. I feel uncomfortable defending Hanne Blank’s right not only to do whatever she wants with her own body (which most people are not attacking) but to do it publicly and to retain her street cred while doing it. I feel uncomfortable siding with the smart and thoughtful folks who say that she has abandoned her people, because I can tell that she hasn’t. I hear myself in practically everything anyone says on the subject. I know the pain of realizing that someone I admire has decided to make a choice I struggle against the culture not to make, and I know that for other people that pain is a lot more intense than it is for me.

In the end, though, my unease comes down to a few things:

First, I’m worried for Hanne. All the work that I’ve done has made me more sure that weight loss is not a useful goal and almost always not an attainable goal, and I hate to see someone so strong and self-confident taking it on. I’m afraid it will hurt her physically, and I know damned well that the intense reaction in the fat community has to be hurting her emotionally. I so thoroughly value her presence in the world, and I don’t want either a failure to lose weight or a storm of public criticism to diminish her. (I think she’s more than strong enough to withstand either or both; at the same time, I’ve been around long enough to know that people get diminished–and get strengthened–by the most unpredictable things.)

Second, one specific characteristic of fat activism (which we share with transgender activists, but not many others) is the belief among activists that fat is not primarily a voluntary condition, constantly coming into conflict with the belief in the big world that it is primarily voluntary. Your skin color is issued at birth and no one expects you to have a choice about it. Your willingness to have an abortion is completely a matter of your own choice and no one claims it’s genetic. (Sexual orientation is so muddled in this context, with large groups on both sides making both claims, that it would require its own post.)

Third, fat activism certainly has a personal component, but by the nature of activism, it’s primarily about social justice. If you’re fat on the street and fat in the doctor’s office and fat ion your blog and fat on the airplanes, whatever you are doing in your own private life to change your size isn’t really going to affect how the world sees you. And if you open your mouth about being fat and deserving good treatment, you’re a fat activist. If you are defending people’s rights to chairs that fit, decent medical care, good sex, and a space in the world, you’re a fat activist. If Hanne suddenly became a person who weighed 110 (and we all know how likely that is, even if it was something she wants, which it is emphatically not), she could still be a fat activist, like Laurie, and Linda Bacon. If we demand that our activists fit a stronger set of criteria than that, we’re in danger of creating purity tests, and deciding who does and who doesn’t “deserve” to be an activist. Personally, I’d much rather be fighting the bariatric surgeons and the diet industry.

Another way to explain my position is this: you put your money where your mouth is, you defend your rights and everyone else’s, you take to the streets and the doctors’ offices, and the bookstore shelves and the internet. You do your homework and you learn what you need to learn and you teach what you have to teach. And if one day you wake up with aching knees and a tendency to fall, or with a longing in your heart for something, anything, that’s opposed to what you’ve been fighting for, you follow your heart. And you make it clear that it’s your heart, and that you still stand with all the people who are in the thick of it, and you love their truth while following yours. You love it (and them) enough to make your decisions public and take their pain. You’re an activist in my book.

I’d like to think, if the wind shifted, that I could try to take off some weight and still retain my activist status. (No, I don’t see that shift in my future. But life is a long time.) And I’d like to think I’d still have some allies among my allies.

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26 Responses to “The Fickle Finger of Fat Acceptance”

  1. Patia Says:

    Nicely done.

  2. Kate Harding Says:

    Just as a point of clarification, I wasn’t responding to Hanne Blank in particular. (In fact, I had not yet read her blog when I wrote my post, though The Rotund had made me aware of it.) I was responding primarily to several conversations I’ve seen recently on fat blogs, at fatshionista, etc., in which dieters have insisted that their choice to diet be validated within a fat/size/body acceptance context. And I just kinda snapped, because that makes no sense at all to me.

    Sure, I’m disappointed that someone who’s been such a strong voice for fat acceptance is now dieting, but it’s not the first time and won’t be the last, sadly. For me, the more important question is, in fat positive spaces, should we be giving equal time to discussions of deliberate weight loss? Do we believe that dieting behavior is not fundamentally opposed to fat acceptance? My answer is a resounding no (obviously). But as I’ve said, I’m talking about this from a general, philosophical and political perspective; my intent was absolutely not to go after anyone in particular.

    Great post, btw.

  3. Malcolm Says:

    As I’ve said in the comments (and as Hanne herself has said) in my own post about these issues (as one of Hanne’s longest supporters and also as her partner of more than 10 years), Hanne would never have gone public without thinking long and hard about what shit she’d be starting, and without thinking long and hard about the probable flak and what intensities she could count on being brought to bear on her.

    As she’s said, she’s been thinking about these sorts of things for at least a year, and as she’s asked of other folks (for instance, in my post’s comments), I’d love it if you’d take her at her word, that she means what she says, that she isn’t unintentionally getting in over her head, and that her motives for seeing more closely to her own health requirements are sound, well-thought-out, and not (as far as she [and I] can tell) in reaction to societal or communal pressures.

    It is interesting to me that it’s easy to assume she doesn’t know what she’s doing or what she’s risking, given that the reactions would have been obvious to a trained monkey, and given that she has, by her own admission, been making a practice of getting thrown out of activist communities for decades. I think it would be too (unwantedly) compassionate to think that that practice was always an accident on her part. In getting thrown out, in making the transition, she usually accompanies her departure with a lot for the departed community to do some heavy thinking about.

    If it’s to be the case that this is another link in that chain of ex-communities, I hope you’ve all packed hip boots and hard hats.

  4. betsyl Says:

    i think that someone who is trying to lose weight can certainly be an activist voice towards a goal of having fat people be treated well. but i, at least, have an additional goal of a) loving my body, whatever size it’s at, and b) being moderately happy with it, no matter what size it’s at, and encouraging other people to do the same. and i think that at the very very least it’s very difficult to strive for that latter set of goals while yourself trying to lose weight.

    one day you wake up with aching knees and a tendency to fall,

    pfft. i was sixteen and i weighed one forty, maybe one sixty when that happened to me.

    if you decided to try to lose weight, debbie, i’d still love you. but i’d be worried about you, and we’d likely have to make a deal where i didn’t tell you about how i was worried about you and you didn’t tell me how the diet was going.

  5. Stef Says:

    given that she has, by her own admission, been making a practice of getting thrown out of activist communities for decades

    *ah*
    *light dawns*

  6. kmd Says:

    Kate Harding says:
    “I’m talking about this from a general, philosophical and political perspective;”

    PING. That’s exactly where the problem lies. It’s not possible to talk about other fat people’s bodies as a general, philosophical and political exercise. Because you’re not talking about disembodied concepts, you’re talking about other people, and their bodies. Very concrete, very non-general, very personal. I get that you weren’t talking about Hanne in particular, but not naming names doesn’t somehow make it not not-personal.

    I am a fat woman who is in daily pain because of recent weight gain. When I read you saying that if I choose to pursue weight loss to reduce that pain I will be acting in a way that is “fundamentally opposed to fat acceptance” that is not philosophical or general for me.

    All of that said, I absolutely see a need for discussion groups and blogs in which any talk of weight loss or dieting is off-limits. We are all constantly inundated with the message that we must change our bodies in order to be fully human; spaces and places where any talk of deliberately changing our bodies is turned off are a welcome relief. I was pissed when a discussion about breast reduction surgery was not moderated off of fatshionista, even when it turned (as it inevitably was going to) into a discussion of dieting and weight loss.

    But wanting and needing a space in which there is no talk of deliberately changing our bodies for any reason does not mean that we have to believe that it is incompatible with our ethos to ever seek to change one’s body for any reason.

    betsyl says:
    “i, at least, have an additional goal of a) loving my body, whatever size it’s at,”

    I love my body, no matter what size it’s at. I’m also in pain. It is just crazy to talk of loving my body and then act in a way that is indifferent to that pain and not seek to reduce it.

  7. Patti Says:

    I hate the term “fat acceptance” although I support the goal. I prefer to think of it as “size acceptance”.

    One of the things that infuriates me about fat activists in general (although it’s certainly not a universal) is the strong negative reaction they have when someone chooses to lose weight. Some years ago, I was living with a fat activist and mentioned over dinner one evening that I was planning to lose weight. She came down on me like a ton of bricks (with absolutely no puns intended). I did and do feel like my choice was perfectly valid. I didn’t want to lose weight for any of the “bad” social reasons, but because my body felt bad and I wanted to improve that.

    Size acceptance means accepting people of all sizes, not just those who live up to your standards. If it’s OK for you to (choose to?) be a size 28, then it’s just as OK for me to choose to be a size 18, 12, or 4. Acceptance isn’t just for fatfolk. Every time we look at a very thin person walking down the street and make a snarky comment about “sandwich emergencies” or how unhealthy that person must be, we’re no better than people who are anti-fat. (I know that not all of us do that, but plenty do.) Hell, even her comment about not trying to become “thin” feels very negative to me– I read it as “I’m not going to become one of *them*.” To my ear it has the same subtle phobia as, “I’m not gay, but…”

    Debbie, you and I disagree pretty strongly about how voluntary fat is. I feel very strongly that my weight is under my control, and that I have chosen a lifestyle that causes me to be the size that I am. I have known plenty of people who chose to lose weight, did so, and then maintained their new size for several years. My gut says you discount their experiences, though I’m not sure I understand why.

  8. The Rotund Says:

    I DID name names and I read through all the posts that were on Hanne Blank’s blog several times before I posted anything to The Rotund about it. Because I KNEW it was going to cause a very polarizing shit storm.

    Fat acceptance as a political movement – because that is what it needs to be to have any sort of effective power – HAS to look at generalities and philosophies and set some basic things down as This Is What We Stand For. If it doesn’t, it continues to be the same movement that impacts individuals in a positive way (which is an AWESOME, literally awesome, thing) but never reaches very many people and doesn’t actually have a broader affect on society and culture.

    Especially in the entries on my blog there have been several comments that point out total exceptions for individuals – people who are being refused medical care until they lose weight, people who know beyond a shadow of a doubt that a specific health issue is related to their weight. They truly are exceptions. But no one has come up with one good reason that would suggest dieting and fat acceptance activism can go hand in hand without hypocrisy.

    Does this suck? Absodamnlutely.

    Because each of us can see all the sides of the issues. I don’t think any of us doesn’t know a good friend who is striving to lose weight while still being incredibly body positive for someone else’s sake. But their message rings hollow. How that is negotiated between individuals is different from how that needs to be negotiated by the emerging political fat acceptance community.

    I don’t think badly of Hanne Blank. I’ve never met her, but I have a remarkably high opinion of her and the work she has done in the past. I find the justifications she is using in her new blog deeply troubling, but I don’t dispute her right to do whatever she wants to with her body.

  9. Debbie Says:

    Kate, thanks for the clarification. I did think you were talking specifically about Hanne, but in the final analysis it doesn’t matter, because the personalities are not the main point. I’m glad you liked my post; I sure liked yours.

    Malcolm, if I wrote anything that sounds like I don’t think Hanne knows what she’s risking, I mis-wrote. I can have my own worries without having any doubts at all that the person I’m worried about knows what she’s doing.

    Betsy, fair enough.

    KMD, I’m fine with “no weight loss” spaces, just as I’m fine with “no men” spaces and “no white people spaces.” I’m also fine with Hanne’s blog, which no one has to visit if they don’t want to. And I don’t personally want Body Impolitic to be a “no weight loss” space.

    Patti, I hope I don’t discount individual experiences. I think you and I are in the intersection between statistics and anecdotal evidence, both of them important on different axes. The only person I know personally who took off a substantial amount of weight (about six or seven years ago) has now gained about 2/3 of it back.

    The Rotund, of course you named names. The generalities and philiosophies I want to look at are the social justice ones, not the personal ones. And you and I don’t have to agree about that. You ring the perfect bell for me when you say, “How that is negotiated between individuals is different from how that needs to be negotiated by the emerging political fat acceptance community.” Again for me, I want that community (which has been emerging for more than 30 years now) to concern itself more with political action than personal choice.

  10. Kate Harding Says:

    Again for me, I want that community (which has been emerging for more than 30 years now) to concern itself more with political action than personal choice.

    I think that’s part of the problem — those of us who are newer to all this (and not yet dead tired of these same old convos) are asking ourselves, okay, what’s the next step? How do we define ourselves? At what point do we actually emerge?

    I think drawing lines in the sand is part of focusing and moving forward. I envision a fat acceptance movement that has several branches, not all of whom agree with each other — like pretty much every other social justice movement. The Rotund and I belong to the camp that thinks a philosophical opposition to deliberate weight loss attempts is fundamental to fat acceptance; other people disagree. To me, the solution, then, is to go our separate ways and pursue fat rights from different angles — not to keep arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong.

    Maybe we ARE wrong — but what we’re looking to do is define our own terms as activists and try to move forward. And all I can say is, I would encourage people who disagree with this basic position to do the same. As I said over at TR’s blog the other day, there is no Queen of Fat Acceptance determining who’s eligible to participate; everyone remains free to take his or her own approach. But if we’re looking to create a movement that can step out of the “emerging” rut, I think the dieting question has to be asked and answered conclusively, even at the risk of alienating people. ‘Cause boy, it derails a whole lot of conversations.

  11. Malcolm Says:

    Stef, you may wish to review her most recent post. Hanne, of course, puts it better than I.

    Debbie, I guess I read your worry (and others’ in other blogs/discussions) as being potentially very patronizing. Sorry to misinterpret it.

  12. Debbie Says:

    Kate, I’m not sure there is a right and a wrong. And I not only want a movement that has different branches, I think it’s inevitable. The one thing I would say is that I (again personally) would rather derail the diet conversation by sidestepping it as a personal and largely irrelevant issue than by drawing a line in the sand and making it a defining characteristic.

    Malcolm, sorry again for inadvertently offending, and thank you for being so gracious.

  13. kmd Says:

    To me, the solution, then, is to go our separate ways and pursue fat rights from different angles — not to keep arguing about who’s right and who’s wrong.

    Sounds like a good plan to me. And work together on the VAST areas in which we agree.

  14. Lynne Murray Says:

    I have to remain neutral on the issue of what anyone decides to do with her or his own body. However, when someone announces it publicly, it serves another function.

    I continue to be intrigued by the almost religious (shamanistic?) act of announcing one’s diet. Does anyone remember the quote (I can’t remember enough of the exact words to search for it) that states in essence–the most optimistic time anyone’s life is the first 24 hours of a new diet. Somehow announcing the diet is part of the process.

    I’ve written elsewhere in an essay on the Care and Feeding of Your New Obesity Epidemic about how simply pursuing the path of attempting to lose weight makes one more acceptable to society as a whole, whether or not any weight is ever lost. In our Judeo-Christian mindset flesh has become evil and fighting “excess flesh” has become a combat with the devil.

    This is totally aside from whether said attempt to reduce the amount of fat on one’s body (a) will achieve the stated objective (b) will maintain the stated objective, (c) will actually have positive effects on health or (d) will have negative effects on health–see yo-yo dieting and WLS for examples of (d).

    I humbly submit that the jury is out on (a) through (d) above. But my radar goes up when someone talks not about increasing healthful activities, wholesome foods etc., but about subtracting body weight in and of itself. That’s my radar, and it sounds an alarm to tell me that I need to examine whatever’s approaching. Take that for what it’s worth.

    I’m going to stop this reply because I am fighting a tremendous urge to talk about how bathing (and thus elemental hygiene) was considered evil in Europe from the fall of Rome till the mid 1800s in part because it involved removing clothing and thus inviting sin and invoking the worst excesses of the Roman Empire. Okay, that thought is tangential, but when flesh is considered “bad” or a source of “sickness” it can actually lead to maladies of other kinds.

  15. Stef Says:

    I (again personally) would rather derail the diet conversation by sidestepping it as a personal and largely irrelevant issue than by drawing a line in the sand and making it a defining characteristic.

    Perhaps I have entirely missed the point of your initial blog entry. I thought you ended up saying that you overall approve of Hanne’s public weight loss project. That seems contradictory to your statement above. With apologies to Albert Einstein, I don’t think it’s possible to simultaneously consider dieting a personal decision to be ignored and approve of weight loss efforts purposely undertaken as public performance.

    As long as people outside the size acceptance community are judging us by
    whether we are perceived to be dieting,
    public weight loss projects are going to send a message that a fat person who isn’t trying to lose weight is fair game for negative judgements.

  16. janet Says:

    The only person I know personally who took off a substantial amount of weight (about six or seven years ago) has now gained about 2/3 of it back.

    When I read this I wondered at first if you were talking about me, but after I thought about it I realized who you were probably thinking of. If you were talking about me, you got some of the details wrong. That’s about all I feel comfortable saying about it, though.

  17. Aahz Says:

    This isn’t particularly a coherent whole, so I’m separating the parts into essentially mini-posts:

          * * *

    My basic position is this: you cannot be a fat activist and write a blog about losing weight, any more than you can be a gay rights activist and blog about trying to suppress your queerness. This isn’t about deciding to lose weight, it’s about making one’s intentional weight loss a public issue. Referring to skinny fat activists is a red herring.

          * * *

    Speaking as a person who is not fat but is technically obese by the BMI charts currently favored by the government: I would at times like to lose some weight. I feel that way particularly when I’m clipping my toenails and my little potbelly gets in my way. It wouldn’t be that hard, I think, given that I’m male and have a metabolic profile suitable for losing weight.

    Then I remember that I’m getting older and not exercising and stretching as much as I should, and I wonder whether losing weight would really make doing my toenails much easier. After that, I start thinking about how much effort it would take to lose weight and keep it off, year in and year out for the rest of my life.

    Maybe Hanne Blank is assuming that her problems are not the result of age and that is a false assumption? (Hanne appears to be not much younger than me.)

          * * *

    Betsy is right about injuries being easy to acquire when one is thin. (Before I was 20, when I was still normal weight or thin even by today’s restrictive BMI charts, I had acquired two broken arms and four lacerations requiring stitches.) The difference is that doctors don’t assume that one’s injuries are caused by being thin — as they do about injuries in fat people.

          * * *

    Thought coughed up by my backbrain: “Thin is a religion, and by choosing to blog about losing weight, Hanne Blank has changed her status from ‘heretic’ to ‘penitent sinner’, which is a more acceptable position in most religions.” I bet this has little to do with Hanne’s thoughts and beliefs, but I do believe that many people not associated with the size acceptance community will have reactions covered by that. Which makes the work of other fat activists that much harder, and that, in the end, is what bothers me the most.

          * * *

    Just for the record and to re-emphasize my main point: while I believe that a central tenet of HAES is that intentional weight change rarely works and is frequently harmful, I also believe have people have the right to do what they want with their bodies. That doesn’t mean I need to support their decision, nor does it mean that someone should be a spokesperson when they directly and publicly contradict the central tenets of a movement.

    Hanne could easily have chosen to write a “fit and fat” blog. That she didn’t says something about her IMO.

  18. Debbie Says:

    Janet, I was talking about you, and I appreciate you correcting me in private. The correction is that Janet lost a substantial amount of weight ten years ago (not six or seven), and has kept more than half of that weight loss off over the intervening decade.

    Aahz, I certainly think you can be a gay rights activist and blog about where you choose to be closeted and why.

    As for the rest of it, a general response in the form of a question, and I would really appreciate a lot of answers. Leaving Hanne Blank the person out of the equation, if a nameless fat activist were to decide after careful consideration that zie needed to lose some weight, for whatever arbitrary reason, would you prefer that zie did it a) completely in secret; b) talking about it only with a few close friends; c) blogging about it anonymously and keeping it separate from zir fat activism; d) publicly with care and thought; or e) publicly as a renunciation of former fat activism? If your answers are a) through c), how would you feel if somehow it “came out” later that zie had been intentionally trying to lose some weight?

  19. Peanuts Says:

    kmd said:

    “I love my body, no matter what size it’s at. I’m also in pain. It is just crazy to talk of loving my body and then act in a way that is indifferent to that pain and not seek to reduce it.”

    Yes, yes, 1000 times yes. You expressed it a lot better than I could.

  20. Malcolm Says:

    Debbie, I’ll record it for completeness’ sake here, but it’s probably obvious to me that I think that (d) publicly with care and thought is pretty much ideal.

  21. Malcolm Says:

    Er, your pardon, “…obvious to everyone…”

  22. Patti Says:

    I had a random thought while reading a particular comment this morning.

    To me, a lot of fat activists sound less like people who are working for fat acceptance than they do like fat supremacists. I hear them trumpeting, “Fat is is OK! Fat is great! Fat is beautiful!” while at the same time criticizing people who are not fat or who choose (for whatever reason) to be less fat.

    If it’s OK to be fat then it’s also OK to be thin, pleasantly plump, or anything else on the scale. To claim otherwise is the height of hypocrisy.

  23. Kerry Says:

    “would you prefer that zie did it a) completely in secret; b) talking about it only with a few close friends; c) blogging about it anonymously and keeping it separate from zir fat activism; d) publicly with care and thought; or e) publicly as a renunciation of former fat activism? If your answers are a) through c), how would you feel if somehow it “came out” later that zie had been intentionally trying to lose some weight?”

    My answer would be d., and it seems to me that that is what Hanne is doing. It can’t be bad that she is fueling the conversation.

    My question is why focus on the losing weight part of what she is doing rather than the exercising and eating better in order to feel better part of it? It seems to me that those are things that are very different. Weight loss may result from exercise and eating better, and it may not. Weight loss can also be a measure of those things, and I suppose that it depends on one’s goals whether that is true or whether the measure is in how one feels.

  24. sturgeonslawyer Says:

    Wow. This is one of the most interesting posts (and followup conversations) I’ve read on BI.

    I have to admit that I too have found the phrase “fat acceptance” troubling from day one, partly for the reasons Blank cites, but mostly because it’s too limiting. I prefer the MLKish dream of a world where people don’t judge others by their appearance, whether fat, thin, black, white, or just plain ugly or beautiful (by whatever standard).

    Or, for that matter, smart or dumb: one of the things that drives me crazy is that people respect me for my brains, when I have done so very little with them. I didn’t earn being smart, it is no sign of the quality of my character. Being as fat as I am is actually more a sign of my character than being smart, in that I would be significantly less fat (though not svelte or anything) if I ate better and exercised more. The basic flaw in my character is a gap between intentions and actions….

    ….not that anybody cares, and if I want to talk about me I shoudl do it on my own blog, not here, but I’m not deleting it because it illustrates the point I really wanted to make, which is that I think “acceptance” has a lot of nuances, some of which are not congruous with the message I think fat-activism wants to put forth.

  25. Stef Says:

    if a nameless fat activist were to decide after careful consideration that zie needed to lose some weight, for whatever arbitrary reason…

    The reason matters. If the person is being forced to lose weight in order to get SRS, for example, then I want to know because the human rights violation matters.

    As for the rest of your question, I see that you’re writing your questions in a way to draw a philosophical line between secrecy/privacy and “talking about it.” You’re clearly in favor of “talking about it.” I have gotten the impression that most progressives believe “the more talking about it, the better.”

    I agree with that in some cases, but it appears I do not in the case of weight loss blogging. I’ve worked with your question trying to get myself into line with your answer (d), which is clearly the only “right” answer by progressive standards, and I can’t. I consider weight loss blogging self-indulgent and boring at best, and at worst (as in this case, acknowledging that I was asked not to bring this case into my response) damaging to the fat activist movement. I would be really happy if I never saw another weight loss blog.

    The only political defense I have of my position is this: I think that one of the most useful and radical ideas that fat activism can promote is the idea that weight doesn’t matter. What matters is your behavior. If you are trying to live by the tenets of Health at Every Size, for example, do you eat and move your body in ways that make you feel good? Do you keep doing this even if you don’t lose weight? If you have a health problem, do you research what behavior is best for that health problem and track how that behavior affects your health problem—rather than tracking your weight?

    Weight per se is a red herring. But tremendous cultural pressure is brought to bear trying to convince us otherwise, and every time a person publicly focuses on their weight and not on what they’re doing and how they feel, they are strengthening that pressure on everyone.

    (I’m aware that it’s silly to call the movement fat activism if weight doesn’t matter, but I don’t have another term for it right now.)

    So my answer is (a) and (b)—if a fat activist must focus on weight per se, I prefer that they do so in the private sphere. As for how I feel if I find out a fat activist has lost weight without publicly blogging about it—I am glad they haven’t subjected me to the minutiae of their weight change. I don’t care what their weight was, is, or will be.

  26. Aahz Says:

    First of all, I said “suppressing one’s queerness”, not “talking about being closeted”. I consider those very different. Here’s a pair of example entries from a mythical gay man who claims to be a gay rights activist, blogging about trying to suppress his queerness:

    “Today I read three issues of Playboy and two of Penthouse. Maybe I’ll try advertising for a girlfriend tomorrow.”

    “I was a baaad boy today. I stared at the butt of the cute guy on the train all the way to work, trying to figure out how to get his phone number.”

    As I said in my previous comment, I don’t think this person should be considered a legitimate spokesperson for gay rights. And although I’m deliberately writing these examples in an especially provocative manner, I honestly don’t think it’s possible to remove the provocation.

    WRT the choices you offer, I choose none of them. Let’s suppose that the person decides to lose weight for a reason that I can understand: an experiment in body modification. (Note: I don’t think that the person losing weight needs to or even should specify the reasons — I’m just putting myself in a place where I’m not condemning the weight-loss itself.)

    I think what would be acceptable would be to mention that one has chosen to lose weight for various reasons, but that because weight loss is such a fraught issue for the size acceptance community, there will be no further public discussion. Perhaps it would help if I emphasize the distinction between mentioning the decision to lose weight and blogging about the process of losing weight.

    Aside to Patti: while there is some tit-for-tat snarking at thin people (which is more-or-less an inevitable byproduct of being less privileged and under attack), I believe you are incorrectly seeing much criticism of the choice to lose weight as criticism of people who are thin. They are not at all the same thing. Regardless of one’s motives, I do not believe it is possible to publicly choose to lose weight without reinforcing the cultural pressure to lose weight.

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