Fat acceptance movement
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“”This may surprise you, but you can't buy me off with food. I'm sick of all your stereotypes and cheap jokes. The overweight individuals in this country are just as smart and talented and hard-working as everybody else! And they're gonna make their voices heard! All they need is a leader!
|—Homer Simpson, King Size Homer|
The fat acceptance movement, also known as fat activism or fativism, is a social movement that works to change attitudes towards fat people, be they people who are simply larger than the thin ideal typical of modern Western society, or people who are actually obese. While advocating for realistic attitudes about body shape and size is not the same thing as addressing attitudes towards people who are obese, the two are often conflated. The 'Health at every size' (HAES) concept is often brought up in debates and discussions about the movement.
Rejection of idealized body types
The first group of "fat activism" has more to do with issues of body image in the modern world. There is a strong push to define "healthy" and "at weight" as being extremely thin, especially when talking about women. These definitions do not account for a person being larger because they carry muscle mass, and often cast healthy but larger people as "overweight" because their bodies do not conform to the maxim that one can never be too rich, nor too thin.
Further, what is a "healthy" weight is often debated, and affected by many other factors of a person's life. Though being overweight, even obese, if you gained that weight in an unhealthy way, increases your chances of developing health problems, it does not necessarily mean you have health problems at that point in time.
An added myth is that non-medical practitioners think one can diagnose health problems by looking at people's bodies. For many prognoses, this is not the case; one cannot know if another person has liver damage, is mildly dehydrated, is hypertensive, has high cholesterol, etc., merely by looking at another person's body type. Frankly, if it were true, that would make diagnostics a lot easier. Though being extremely fat warrants testing for a variety of conditions, being fat does not automatically mean one has any medical conditions, so "sight" diagnoses and unsolicited health advice are not necessarily warranted without symptoms of other illness.
The concept of thin privilege is important in the modern fat acceptance movement as a social justice cause. This draws attention to the (often unacknowledged) social advantages held by people of average size over fat people, and the prejudice and discrimination faced by overweight people.
Negative stereotypes hurt fatter people. They can be thought of as greedy, lazy, unkind, sloppy, ugly, and un-sexy. These prejudices put fat people at an unfair disadvantage.
In some countries, especially the US, body weight is related to classism and income disparities. People in poverty may not be able to afford healthy food or gym memberships. They may lack the time to exercise or prepare healthy meals. In the US, people who live in the poorest counties are the most prone to obesity.
With current trends in the widening income gap between the upper and working class and with confounding factors such as lengthening work hours (especially in sedentary "desk job" positions), unhealthy sleep cycles, limited time, money, knowledge, or resources to cook or prepare healthful foods (including the convenience of fast food and the misconception that it is ultimately "cheaper" to eat out), and a lack of knowledge or educational resources on what constitutes a healthful diet and lifestyle, it may not be as easy for people to reach or maintain the oft-idealized "healthy" weight. For many, poor health and obesity intersects heavily with poverty, food insecurity, and low-wage jobs. Obese people in poverty may lack the time and money it takes to lose weight.
“”I had worked in a day care centre before and was qualified for the position, but they told my friend they weren’t going to hire me because I was too big.
|—Shavonne Patrice Owens|
As if that isn't bad enough, fat people may find themselves in a catch-22: poverty can cause weight gain, and fat people get paid less. Fat people have lower wages, and they face hiring discrimination.
Discrimination against fat people is still legal in most of the US.
Microaggressions related to size can include things like:
- Receiving unsolicited advice or cruel remarks from family members, friends, or even strangers
- Getting a fat-shaming lecture at the doctor's office instead of having a dialogue about healthier habits
- Judgmental stares and comments if they eat in public
- Stores and brands that won't include clothes in their size
- Fashion double-standards: when a fat woman dresses casually and doesn't wear makeup, she's stereotyped as "lazy", while a thin woman doing the same will be seen as "cute" and "comfy."
Over time, fat people may begin avoiding doing things like eating in public or visiting the doctor for fear of being shamed.
Some opponents of the fat acceptance movement may claim that people are simply whining about First world problems because size discrimination is not as bad as racism, sexism, or anti-LGBT+ prejudice. Blogs such as "This is Thin Privilege" have often been singled out for complaining too much.
There is also the idea that telling people to "love their body" can be oversimplifying the issue. People with serious illnesses, people with serious body image issues, people who have self-harmed, transgender people with body dysphoria, and others may have complicated relationships with their bodies. Rather than just telling what to do, the movement could help them work through it.
When "body positive" is actually negative
“”Boys like a little more booty to hold at night
|—Meghan Trainor's not-so-feminist song "All About That Bass"|
Some people claim to be "body positive" when they're actually only being positive towards their own body type. Apparently they haven't realized that "body positive" doesn't just mean fat people.
"Body positive" celebrity Meghan Trainor writes songs that celebrate bigger girls while insulting the smaller ones. She has made comments trivializing eating disorders.
Skinny-shaming ads like "real women have curves" seek to change the ideal body, rather than discard the idea of an "ideal" body type altogether.
Science denial and conspiracies
Some people forget that, when advocating for social change, you also need to keep your facts straight. This can lead to pitfalls like:
- Failing to recognize the difference between adopting healthier habits and developing an eating disorder.
- Forgoing medical science or disregarding medical advice from accredited doctors in favor of alternative medicine or other potentially unhealthy woo-y practices.
- Claiming that they're doing "intuitive eating" when they're actually not making an effort.
- Spreading medical myths, such as the claim that burning more calories than one consumes (also known as "calories in/calories out") does not lead to short-term weight loss.
- Buying into conspiracy theories or falling into conspiratorial thinking (Big Pharma is making up conditions to make you paranoid! Doctors don't care about health, but profits! I'm being unfairly denied surgery/treatment because doctors can't/refuse to do their jobs! BMI is a white supremacist idea!)
Denying that lots of body fat is associated with health risks, dismissing adverse health effects as mere nocebo, or claiming other denialist beliefs is a very dangerous message. While it is important that the media be cautious of how it talks about weight issues and work to undo the damage caused by creating unrealistic ideals, it remains equally important that size acceptance/body positive activists, bloggers, and journalists acknowledge the genuine medical issues associated with excess body fat, and not fall into pseudoscientific traps themselves, and (as always) for everyone to keep their critical thinking skills honed.
For instance, Lindy West, a blogger at Jezebel who has studied and written extensively on body image, once wrote that "the government is literally waging a war on fat people", a nonsensical overreach (and terrible misuse of the term "literally", unless the military is actually sending tanks and troops to kill the overweight). The government is trying to instill values of eating healthily and exercising in children, at a time when childhood obesity is steadily increasing. This has nothing to do with a war on fat people or fatness - since a person can be fat and have an active life and eat well, thus, be healthy - and everything to do with giving children the knowledge they need to develop healthy lifestyles.
Another claim by fat activists is that regardless of risk people have a "right to be fat". Similarly there is debate over whether people have the right to take drugs and smoke and perform other behaviours that may be harmful.
In a society in which everybody pays for healthcare it may be legitimate to restrict or seek to modify behavior to reduce healthcare costs. Being fat can be compared to other lifestyle choices that may (debatably) incur healthcare costs, although it may be balanced against other rights such as the right to healthcare. But such societies have a highly inconsistent attitude to "unhealthy" or "dangerous" behaviour: some behaviours like drug-taking and smoking are frowned upon while others like mountain climbing or horseback riding are considered acceptable. Almost nobody complains about meeting healthcare costs of someone who falls off their horse, although it has been argued that horse-riding is more dangerous than taking MDMA; the moral attitudes to the two are very different. However, reducing healthcare costs is not the only reason for discouraging unhealthy behaviour, and additionally, there may be a value to society in horse-riding (mounted police, sport, or exercise) that can be argued to outweigh the risk of injury.
- Low, K. G.; Charanasomboon, S.; Brown, C.; Hiltunen, G.; Long, K.; Reinhalter, K.; Jones, H. (2003). "Internalization of the Thin Ideal, Weight and Body Image Concerns". Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal 31: 81–89. doi:10.2224/sbp.2003.31.1.81
- Perceived Weight Discrimination and Obesity. Angelina R. Sutin, Antonio Terracciano. July 24, 2013. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070048
- Perceived weight discrimination and changes in weight, waist circumference, and weight status. Jackson, Sara E, Rebecca J. Beeken, and Jane Wardle. Obesity, September 11, 2014. DOI: 10.1002/oby.20891
- The price of obesity: How your salary depends on your weight
- James A. Levine "Poverty and Obesity in the U.S.," Diabetes, November 2011; 60(11): 2667–2668.
- Wider income gaps, wider waistbands? An ecological study of obesity and income inequality
- Black Girl's Guide to Weight Loss
- "Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?", New York Times
- Why Low-Income and Food Insecure People are Vulnerable to Overweight and Obesity
- Fat people earn less and have a harder time finding work
- The Negative and Bidirectional Effects of Weight Stigma on Health
- Obesity Discrimination in the Recruitment Process: “You’re Not Hired!”
- Only 15% of hiring managers would consider hiring an overweight woman
- Fat people earn less and have a harder time finding work
- 5 New Directions for the Body-Positive Movement
- Why Meghan Trainor's body acceptance anthem "All About That Bass" is disappointing
- Meghan Trainor Says She Wasn’t “Strong Enough” To Have An Eating Disorder, Demi Lovato Responds Idolator
- 5 New Directions for the Body-Positive Movement
- Why is skinny-shaming OK, if fat-shaming is not? The Guardian
- 4 Reasons Why We Need to Stop Thinking of Skinny-Shaming as ‘Reverse Discrimination’ Everyday Feminism
- Five Subtle Differences Between Diets and Anorexia Everyday Feminism
- HAES and the Naturopathic Doctor
- Intuitive Eating 101, BodyLoveWellness
- Ragen Chastain: Calories In/Calories Out? Science Says No (if you have a faulty understanding of thermodynamics)
- "Pre-Diabetes: a Fake Disease?", Big Fat Blog.
- "Why the War on Fat is a Scam to Peddle Drugs", Salon
- "The War on Fat People: Doctors Enlist", Daily Kos
- This is Thin Privilege Tumblr, question by user itissteph about losing weight for surgery
- They’re telling my friend she can’t get routine cancer surgery… withasmoothroundstone's Tumblr
- University-sponsored 'fat justice' event claims Ronald Reagan 'f*cked' fat people over, CampusReform
- This Is Thin Privilege Tumblr This is Thin Privilege claims that obesity doesn't cause health issues.
- Thin Women: I've Got Your Back. Could You Get Mine? Jezebel
- "Prevalence and Trends in Obesity and Severe Obesity Among Children in the United States, 1999-2012." Ashley Skinner. JAMA Pediatrics
- Association of All-Cause Mortality With Overweight and Obesity Using Standard Body Mass Index Categories A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis.
- The Guardian
- Is choosing an unhealthy lifestyle a human right?, Asian Development Blog
- Ecstasy 'no more dangerous than horse riding', The Telegraph, 7 Feb 2009