Loud-mouthed liberal feminist. Anarchist knitter. Tequila-drinking artsy-smartsy fat chick. Bluesy folk-rock singer-songwriter. Rebel with too many causes. Quirky eclectic pagan poet. Paradoxical intuitive smartass. Sarcastic brainiac insomniac. You know, for starters.


Civil Rights v. Fat Acceptance

Thought fodder for what follows (and recommended reading): this post at worthyourweight, this conversation at Babble, this post from The Rotund, and this post from the ever insightful Red No. 3.

I recently had a conversation with my sister, about fat and its causes and ramifications, that didn't turn adversarial. It was really enlightening, and confusing, all at the same time.

For the first time in my memory, my sister actually talked about how horrible the world treats fat people, and how wrong that was and how much it bothered her to witness her loved ones being treated so. Fueled by her discovery of the completely insane Mississippi ban on fatties in restaurants, we had a really interesting conversation about the civil rights aspect of Fat Acceptance - the part where fat people are, uh, *people* and deserve to be treated as such.

My sister - who talks about her food issues and often hates her very much societally acceptable tall, thin body - gets that treating fat people like shit, reinforcing a world where things like air travel and finding clothes and getting proper health care and not being ridiculed all the fucking time....she gets that it's bad and not okay and inhumane.

I think that is fucking awesome.

What gets a little trickier is the rest of the conversation. We started talking about why I am fat. We talked about our parents; dad started putting on weight around his late 20s and mom gained weight when she went on antidepressants - so neither grew up fat the way I did. My siblings have both always been thin. Aunts, uncles, cousins, most of them are either still thin, or only put on weight as they aged.

We talked about this, about why I don't follow that pattern, trying to figure out what might've been different for me. I didn't (and don't) know the answer. Maybe it was a stressful childhood. Maybe it was eating total crap processed foods for the first, say, 25 years of my life. Maybe it was being a bookish kid and not giving a crap about exercise. Maybe it was some deep-seated psychological whatsit. I don't know, and what's more, I don't know that I will ever know or could do anything about it even if I did figure it out.

What I do know is that I am fat now, and despite changing my eating habits (lots more veggies, lots less processed foods, very little HFCS anymore, zero pop - diet or otherwise, no artificial sweeteners, more organics, etc. etc. etc.), and adding more physical activity to my life (switched from driving everywhere to walking and taking public transportation, plus yoga and Qi Gong and various other adventures when I have time and inclination), I have not become less fat.

I consider myself a lucky fatty, in that I haven't ever dieted. I'm not sure how I dodged that bullet, but I haven't ever knowingly restricted calories or avoided certain foods or whatever. There have been times when I was broke and could barely afford to eat...but outside those very rare circumstances, I haven't ever allowed myself to go hungry. I'm also lucky in that I feel like I have very little conscious experience of active fat hatred; I feel like almost everywhere I go, people treat me very well - even in situations where I would expect derision or discrimination.

Not that I'm totally exempt from that sort of shit. One of my mom's brothers and his harridan of a wife (who I refer to as my Evil Aunt and Uncle, and constitute the entire list of people int he world that I actually, truly hate) gave me a lot of grief when I briefly lived with them. They accused me of all manner of evil, constantly tried to get me to diet (ignored that) and exercise (did this...found I was in better shape than either of them....hilarious!), always brought every accusation or suggestion or conversation back to my weight. "Do you really think 300 pounds is okay? It's NOT!!" When I finally moved out (after a couple months of enduring INSANE treatment where I did everything I could to make my impact on them negligible), my Evil Aunt left a voicemail where every other word was "fatso." By that time, I found her such a caricature of a human being that it only made me laugh.

For the most part, though, people treat me pretty damn well. I am lucky.

((....where did my point go? Oh, right. Sorry about that.))

So, yeah. I love that people want to treat fat people like people. That's awesome.

But I don't think it's enough, at the end of the day.

I think Fat Acceptance means honest-to-gods normalization of fat bodies (that they are neither good nor bad, just like any other bodies out there). It means shifting public perceptions so that it's not just laws that prevent people from treating fat people like shit. It means educating people - especially those in government or the medical industry - about the reality of being fat...i.e., that fat is not necessarily a death sentence, or even reliably a marker for disease or ill health or laziness or stupidity or any of the other stereotypes that persist in the media and collective consciousness.

I am ecstatic that anyone supports the civil rights of fat people. I just don't understand how those civil rights can truly be secure without shifting some of the stigma attached to fat people. I have a hard time buying that someone can be willing to honestly and wholeheartedly defend my civil rights while simultaneously thinking I am an unhealthy gluttonous smelly lazy stupid ugly unfuckable pariah. I mean, I guess it's possible; it just seems like a bit of a stretch to me.

So, I guess my point is that civil rights are awesome. But there's more to Fat Acceptance - for me - than the legal side of things. I think that's a great start, but that just because the law requires people to treat fat people like people....still doesn't guarantee fat people will be *seen* as people.

I think this is too rambly and unclear, but it's what I can wrest from my brain at the moment, so there you go.


Anonymous said...

"I have a hard time buying that someone can be willing to honestly and wholeheartedly defend my civil rights while simultaneously thinking I am an unhealthy gluttonous smelly lazy stupid ugly unfuckable pariah. I mean, I guess it's possible; it just seems like a bit of a stretch to me."

::applause:: to this and the entire post -- brava!

Tari said...

Thanks! :)

Brian said...

There is always some chicken/egg stuff going on with legal protections, but they generally cannot happen on an extensive scale without reaching some kind of critical mass of social acceptance. The two efforts cannot be ultimately separated. We cannot gain our rights without confronting the prejudices used to deny them to us. Ultimately, that means asking for more than to be treated nicely while we try to lose weight. I don't think its bad, per se, that groups like the Rudd Center want to reduce stigmatization of fat. I just don't think we'll really get there without also challenging why our culture stigmatizes fat, which people like the Rudd Center approve of. They may be allies of a sort, but they aren't going to help us get where we need to go in the end.

Tari said...

I'm inclined to agree with you, Brian. Especially something like the Rudd Center, which has the assumed legitimacy of academia behind it - they can give lip service to the old "nobody deserves to be treated like shit" line, but until they truly shift their approach, there's only so far their kind of "support" is useful.

I do think that it's a little chicken and egg, and that both aspects of the movement are undeniably connected - I don't think one will ever really get anywhere without the other. Having said that, though, I think that the human rights side of the coin will be the foot in the door that lets the rest of the package come through, over time.