I’ve been writing about fat acceptance for about a year and a half here now, and it’s been a pretty awesome experience. Sure, I get the occasional crappy and hateful comment, but it’s nothing I haven’t heard a thousand times before and I have pretty thick skin when it comes to strangers lobbing verbal hand grenades at me. A person who doesn’t know me who I will never in reality encounter anonymously calling me a lard-laden fatty? Quick, someone fetch me the smellin’ salts!
What I have gotten that I actually do care about are cautiously-worded questions from friends of mine insofar as various activities that they’re involved with that seemingly run counter-intuitive to what I blog about. For example, I write a lot about rejecting diet culture. How do I feel about people on diets? I’m very vocal when it comes to not accepting the criticisms from traditionally “thin” people in regards to fat bodies. Do I hate thin people in general? I complain a lot about not being able to find cute, colorful clothes that don’t look like sad sacks to hide my body with. Do I think fat people are obligated to do this? How do I feel about people who would rather wear black baggy clothes that hide as much of their body as possible?
So let me be clear: what I advocate for first and foremost is always, always bodily autonomy. You have the right to do whatever you want to your body at any time for any reason, and my only caveat to this ever is if what you’re doing to your body starts impacting others – actually impacting others – in negative ways. For example, I fully support an individual’s right to smoke cigarettes. I also fully support laws that ban this in public enclosed spaces because I’d rather not get bronchitis as an end result of the choice you’ve made for your body. I have friends who smoke and I never ever complain about them doing this in their home or their cars. That’s their private space that I’ve chosen to enter; it would be super inappropriate for me to demand that they alter their private space to suit my individual needs. But I do get cranky when someone demands the “right” to smoke in a place I can’t possibly escape, like a subway or an airplane. I’ve gotta share your air, man. It’s not like I can crack a window here.
Because you see, smoking is a thing that actually affects other people as an unfortunate byproduct of the action of smoking itself. You know what doesn’t actually impact the lives of other people? Fat bodies existing in public! Just because you can’t jerk off to me later doesn’t mean you have the right to demand I lose weight to fit your interpretation of what lady bodies should look like. I’m not calling for a ban on “tribal” tattoos (what kind of “tribe” did it come from, exactly?) or that Asian script inked on your forearm that you really hope means “Peace & Tranquility.” If I can deal, so can you.
But what about people who diet? Who get weight loss surgery or go on extreme medical programs? People who were fat that are working really, really hard not to be? This is a slightly stickier area that requires a little more untangling.
Generally, there are two reasons people diet. The first is to improve their health. They may not always have the right definition of health in mind; they may be basing it on a BMI chart taped to a scale they popped a quarter into at a mall that lit up bright red and told them they were obese, for example, but the goal here is to “get fit.” The second, and more common, is vanity. They just don’t wanna look like a fat person anymore so they’ve decided to work on shedding the pounds.
There are about a thousand really valid reasons for a person to do the first. Weight and size can absolutely negatively impact your life. Anyone shocked to hear me say that? You shouldn’t be. While I will maintain forever that fat and one’s weight in and of itself isn’t indicative in any way of an individual’s health, it can definitely exacerbate something you’re already dealing with. If you have bad knees and you’re able to safely lessen the amount of weight they need to bear every day, by all means do so. The trouble isn’t with people wanting to lose weight to improve their health, it’s with people assuming that fat people have to lose weight for their health. That you cannot possibly be both fat and healthy, even athletic. A fat body is no more indicative of health than a thin body is, and in that vein a fat person working to lose weight for the sake of their health should receive no more shame or praise than anyone else doing the same. (Which, by the way, is why it’s also a dick move to compliment someone on weight loss, especially if you have no idea why or how they lost it.)
The second reason gets hairier. Boy howdy, do we as a culture hate the word vanity. It’s such a bad, nasty word. Vanity. People who are stuck up and self-centered care about vanity. Fake people care about vanity. Which is hilarious given how incredibly necessary we’ve made it in almost every single sphere of our lives. We’re supposed to be natural and love our bodies and reject all changes to it for fear of being called artificial, but also if you don’t have a thin body with well groomed hair and a face full of makeup (but not too much, wouldn’t want to look like one of those girls!) you’re probably not going to get the job you just interviewed for. Vanity is something we all have and are too ashamed to readily admit to in polite company. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it.
Seriously. There’s nothing wrong with vanity, absolutely nothing wrong with doing something to your body to make you like it more. I regularly post photos of myself on this blog in pretty dresses with a face full of make-up and carefully chosen accessories because I’m vain as fuck. I love being pretty, and when we start policing what people are and aren’t allowed to do to themselves in the name of Prettydom, well. That way lay dragons.
It’s completely understandable why us fat folks get cranky at people who diet for vanity, though. I mean, we’ve gone our whole lives having people rub this shit in our faces. Talking about their diets and how many calories are in their salads while looking meaningfully over at you and your cheeseburger and fries. Ads on television that show sad, dull photos of people with bodies like ours standing next to brightly lit smiling photos of people “after” this amazing pill/nutritional program/surgery/hypnotherapy. We deal with this crap all the time, and I think raging against the machine a little after we finally pull ourselves out of a pit of self-loathing and despair is a pretty natural reaction.
But man, we’ve really gotta be careful with that. Just like we don’t want people to police our bodies, it’s really super hypocritical for us to do the same thing to other people. Because when you parse it down, that’s what fat activism should be about. We should be about allowing people to keep their bodies however they’d like to keep them without shame or judgment, and that applies to people who lose weight too. This is a thing they’ve chosen to do to their bodies, and they don’t need any more of an excuse than we do. “I like my body this way and want to keep It like this” should be more than enough.
Now, what we should have absolutely zero tolerance for is people on diets telling us that we should be on diets too. Anyone who comes up to you and says, “Well hello, my fat friend! I couldn’t help but notice that you’re still fat, and if you will take note of my fine physique you will note that I am no longer. Allow me to impart upon you the mystical knowledge that will free you from your bodily prison and release the thin person held captive inside!” is a jerk. Get rid of them, tell them off, whatever you feel comfortable doing because that person sucks gigantic monkey balls. Evangelical dieters are the worst and I can’t stand them either. Never put up with anyone who tries to make you feel bad for how you look, or with someone that uses the words “fat” and “ugly” interchangeably. Friends don’t shame other friends bodies or try to change them to make them “better” (which invariably seems to mean “look like me”).
But can you see how that needs to cut both ways? We all have vanity; we all do things to make ourselves look a certain way that makes us happy. Does it make me sad that people feel like they can’t be fat and pretty? Absolutely. It sucks, and that’s part of why I write this blog in the first place. It’s sad as hell that the concept of being unapologetically fat is revolutionary, let alone the idea that one can be both fat and attractive. It also makes me sad when people bleach their natural red hair blonde, but you know what? Not my body, not my call.
And yes, there is a lot more going on behind a fat person feeling ugly as fat and a redhead wanting to look like Paris Hilton – I still have mega problems with diet culture and the way our society views fat as inherently negative. I still have mega problems with the way it can very closely mirror or outright become an eating disorder, something that you’ll never be diagnosed with in a fat body because if you tell someone you skipped a few meals you’re more likely to be congratulated than censured. In my perfect world gaining, losing or maintaining weight wouldn’t be seen as necessarily negative or positive; just another thing you’re doing to your body because you feel like doing it.
But folks, if we’re going to fight for the right of a person to be allowed to maintain their body in whatever shape they like, we have to actually do that thing. Whether we’re fat because we just are naturally, because something’s up medically, or just because we unapologetically love food, fuck you very much, is both completely valid/okay and absolutely no one’s business. And so long as your dieting friend/coworker/family member isn’t going around insisting – or “covertly” implying – that fat is disgusting and everyone who has it should get on a treadmill immediately, how and why they keep their bodies isn’t any of yours either. Always fight any narrative that tells you to feel crappy about being happy with how you keep your body, and prepare to take it squarely on the chin if you try to turn that around on someone else.