Tag Archives: fat acceptance

Mainstream Media Discover Fat Acceptance

Laurie and Debbie say:

In June, the Boston University Center for Anti-Racist Research, under the direction of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, released the report of its 2022 Anti-Bigotry Convening. The convening, and the report, are notable in many aspects: the reason we mention it here is that this is the first time we’ve seen “anti-fat bigotry” listed in the kinds of bigotry being studied, along with everything from racism to religious intolerance.

Was it an outlier or indication of a trend? The fight against fatphobia has been going on for over fifty years — and we have been part of it for much of that time. However, it has largely been confined to marginalized conversations and communities. As we noted in our 2022 Fat Studies article, ‘The Trajectory of Fat Liberation,” Susie Orbach’s Fat Is a Feminist Issue, published in 1978, was a best-seller, but we would be hard put to name another major mainstream examination of these issues in the intervening years.

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The winds may just be shifting. The Anti-Bigotry Convening was one example. The Lyft Bikes ad at the top of this post is another, as is the Target swimsuit video ad just above. And then, On the Media, a WNYC radio show and podcast which focuses on major issues of the day, with some forays into popular culture and other topics, did an entire show on fat (“The F-Word”)–which was both wide-ranging and extremely positive.

The show has four segments:

1) host Brooke Gladstone talks with Dr Yoni Freedhoff, a Canadian professor of family medicine, who is among a group of Canadian physicians challenging the medical profession’s assumptions about fat … and specifically the kneejerk and potentially incorrect correlations of Covid-19 and fat. Dr. Freedhoff also discusses a groundbreakingly different alternative to BMI, which *gasp* actually takes into account whether or not a person’s weight is affecting their life … and starts with the premise that if it isn’t, no doctors have to even take weight into account.

2) next up is the amazing epidemiologist Dr. Katherine Flegal, the mover and shaker behind the famous (and very large) 2005 study that determined (among many other things) that “overweight” people live longer than “normal weight” people, and that “obese” people (the category above overweight) are not far behind. Dr. Flegal talks about the backlash to her study, still going strong 17 years later.

3) Katie Lebesco, who has written favorably about our work, talks about the history of how fat became a moral panic.

4) finally, sociologist Sabrina Strings discusses the art and philosophy of the Enlightenment, and the role of 18th century racism in the development of anti-fat bigotry. We hope to write more about this later.

A nod from anti-racist research, two mainstream advertisements and a major radio show episode don’t make a movement. What they do, we hope, is signal a different era of mainstream news and advertisements … and the potential to change some people’s (including some medical professionals) structural anti-fat assumptions.

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Body Shaming Is Abuse

drawing of women with different bodies; banner says Health is SelfLove

Laurie and Debbie say:

Sarah Miller writes about her struggles with her body in a New York Times article called “The Diet Industrial Complex Got Me and It Will Never Let Me Go.” She doesn’t say how old she was when she dieted seriously for the first time, but she tells a very familiar story:

Every person I talked to was now two people, the one who was nice to me because I was thin, and the person who had been mean to me when I was fat. I was also two people: the fat person who felt like everyone was better than me, and who was so scared to walk across a room, or even stand up, and now, the thin person, who did not know how to manage the exhilaration of suddenly not feeling that way, and of sometimes even feeling superior to people.

All “successful” dieters know this feeling. Before even getting there, Miller recites a litany of ways people were cruel to her, and ways the cruelty continued even after she “felt thin.” The word she never uses, even when she is describing a long continuum of completely normalized viciousness is “abuse.” Yet, clearly, she not only was abused, she did what so many abused people do: she internalized the abuser.

Then the movement she calls “body positivity” came along:

Suddenly, about a decade ago, when I started to notice that fat women were a) calling themselves fat, with pride, and b) walking down the streets of our nation’s great cities nonchalantly wearing tight or revealing clothing with a general air of, “yeah I will wear this and I will wear whatever I want, and I am hot, too, I will be hot forever, long after you have all died,” I thought to myself, Oh my God WHAT? The solution is not … the diet?

I started seeing fat, beautiful models and actresses in catalogs, and on television shows. I would like to have seen more, but I was pleased to see them at all. I was and remain in awe of their confident beauty. I feel tenderness for them as well, for what they endured, and still endure, to achieve it. I sometimes choke up with love for them, and for the idea of how I could have lived if I had allowed myself to just weigh what I weighed.

So what kept her from doing just that, allowing herself to just weigh what she weighs? She certainly sounds like she is — extremely understandably — far less worried about how much she weighs than she is about being the target of mean people’s nasty comments. To weigh what she weighs, to stop going to Weight Watchers, to inhabit her own body, would be to say “I am fine as I am and if you are mean to me about how I am, the person who should be ashamed of themselves is you.”

But she has no support to go there, because “body positivity,” however admirable the original idea may have been, has been taken over by the advertising industry, the “beauty” industry and, to use her own words, the diet-industrial complex. Those groups, of course, cannot in any way encourage you to be fine as you are: you always need to be buying something, striving toward something, needing something. And since what she needs is reassurance, peace of mind, and real self-acceptance, she’s on a path that constantly moves her away from her real needs.

Worse, she has let the drumbeat of constant reiterative criticism convince her that she must stay on that path:

Even if by some miracle I were to accept being not thin, as I have many times — for five or 10 minutes or three whole days like when I finished Lindy West’s excellent memoir, “Shrill,” and naïvely thought I had finally been cured of my sickness — I would remain the sort of person destined for re-infection.

That person is always prepared for contempt from men who don’t find her physically attractive, and has been on high alert to general woman hatred since she was 4. (Honestly, I pity the women who are not.) At any rate, I’m 50 and I am way too scared of the world to stop dieting.

What is there to “pity” about women who are not on high alert to general woman hatred? Does she mean that it’s a bad thing to walk through the world without knowing who hates you? (If so, we agree.) Or does she mean that you have to spend your life trying to get them not to hate you, so you can feel okay about yourself? (If so, that’s really awful.)

She isn’t asking for advice, and she doesn’t seem to have any hope. She’s comfortable saying that her entire generation (she is 50) cannot be any happier in their bodies, or less attuned to outside virulence than they currently are. Even after having read Lindy West (and presumably others), she does not seem to realize that there are paths outside the mainstream narrative: there are therapists who will actually help you learn how to reduce the impact of haters in your life; there are support groups who will offer a corrective to the voices you avoid by repeating the things you need to hear; there are friends who not only can love you as you are, but can model blocking your ears to hatred.

Sarah Miller, you are not beyond hope. And don’t write off your age group.

Follow Debbie on Twitter.