Sharks and Jets —
If you’ve been looking forward to last The Biggest Loser recaps, I apologize, but there’s something more pressing on my mind that I just have to get out before I can focus on the grand finale. I mean, TBL is over, so it’s not going anywhere, right? I don’t have to stay ahead of the next episode or anything.
For now, I want to talk about the Body Acceptance subreddit. Heather is one of the moderators there and I’ve started posting more stuff there this year and although I’ve been techno-resistant, I kind of like it. I don’t particularly want to be preaching to the choir, even though I love our choir very, very much.
My activism is education. Having written about Health at Every Size® and Fat Acceptance for going-on-four years, I believe it’s essential to speak with people who either disagree with or are genuinely opposed to HAES. Take, for instance, this person, who I can’t tell if they’re trolling or not.
So confronting potential trolls and haters doesn’t really bother me, though. What bothers me is that I feel like I’m witnessing some kind of turf war between the Fat Acceptance redditors and others, including those with eating disorders (EDs). It’s awkward and it’s weird and I don’t know what to do about it.
Well… besides write about it.
You see, over the past week, there have been calls to ban both Fierce Fatties and Dances with Fat from this subreddit. LesSoldats was kind enough to defend our right to participate on that forum because FA is a part of Body Acceptance, just as EDs are.
There are a few different issues that people have with our blog, but the issue of thin privilege seems to be a huge sticking point for some people.
We’re all born the way we’re born. Not having a mental disorder doesn’t make someone “privileged”, it simply means they have a healthy mind. Being blonde and getting attention from guys who like blonde girls does not mean “blonde privilege” exists. Being tall is not a privilege.
We all have issues that we deal with. It’s not fair to say that I’m “privileged” because I’m thin. I worked for this body. I eat well and exercise. It’s not easy or effortless.
Things like “thin privilege” seem to just be another way for people to blame someone else for their problems. It’s not fair.
We went around and around, as I tried to explain that thin privilege isn’t about blaming thin people for the problems fat people face. Finally, I boiled it down to this.
Two men go into an interview, one is white and one is black. They have equal education, experience and qualifications. All things being equal, who will get the job? Odds are, the white one, simply because of the stigma associated with being black. Obviously, there are exceptions, but on the whole, in this society, black people are at a disadvantage, all things being equal.
Okay, same situation, two men, one is thin and one is fat. Again, all things being equal, who’s more likely to get the job. Yes, there will be exceptions, but the vast majority of the time, in this society, fat people are at a disadvantage, all things being equal.
This is not because the white candidate or the thin candidate did something wrong. It’s just the reality of living in a world where black people and fat people are stigmatized. So, if you don’t want to talk about “thin privilege,” fine, then let’s talk about stigma.
Now, this is all a matter of perspective. This person feels like the term “thin privilege” blames thin people for the fact that society favors thin people. It’s not thin people enforcing thin privilege, but fat people still have to deal with the consequences of that societal disfavor. But in trying to combat this uneven playing field, we need some basic terminology, and the concept of privilege covers the issue nicely. Here’s a great post with multiple links to Privilege 101 resources.
Of course, the term “privilege” often troubles the privileged. As I tweeted the other day:
Trying to explain thin privilege to an incensed thin person makes me realize what a jackass I’ve been in the past regarding my privileges.
— Shannon Russell (@atchka) March 22, 2013
I understand why the term “thin privilege” seems accusatory. It puts the privileged person on the spot. I mean, they have this privilege, so what are they supposed to do about it?
Also, thin people are subject to negative comments and attention as well, like “eat a sandwich” or snark about being built like a little boy. Body shame knows no size. If a bully wants to hurt you, they will pick whatever’s obvious about you. They may not even really care if you’re thin or fat, they just want to hurt you and pick something they know you’ll be sensitive about. Nobody ever said bullies were smart, just effective.
Fighting society’s Bullies is the general mission Body Acceptance. We want to make the world safe for people throughout the spectrum of body diversity, from size to ability to hue to gender. This fight is one we could actually win if we all moved in the same direction.
But right now, Fat Acceptance is fighting a particularly aggressive fight in addition to Body Acceptance because the War on Fat that began in earnest in 2004 has become increasingly aggressive, even as obesity rates leveled off since 1999. Unless you’ve been fat during the past decade, you might not have noticed the dramatic surge in negative attention paid to fat people. But the great public wailing and gnashing of teeth is ike Bully cocaine. They snort that shit up and tear you a new one with superhuman energy and stamina.
That’s why most kids (41%) are bullied for being fat, followed by sexual orientation, intelligence and ability at school, race and ethnicity, physical disability, religion, and low socio-economic status. Notice the survey doesn’t say they’re bullied for their weight, but for being fat.
So, yes, noticeably thin people can face hatred and hurtful behaviors, but in general, they get a pass in society because, hey, at least they’re not fat. And I think most people understand that this is true, they just don’t like the term “thin privilege” because it seems to put the onus on them, even though the real problem lays with society as a whole.
The other argument I’ve heard against our blog is that our posts on eating disorders has been disrespectful toward thin people with EDs. This is an excellent summary of what some have found problematic:
The proof is everyone that has been speaking up when this site is posted. There are plenty of other FA blogs that get posted here that aren’t offensive, or knocking other body types. Over the last month your site has posted articles calling people with eating disorders fatphobic (here), and promote a fat hating attitude. Another one (here) saying that all diets are basically eating disorders, and anyone who diets has one. Another (here) that is basically telling people they aren’t allowed to feel uncomfortable if they’re under a certain size, and belittling the ones that do.
Its not promoting acceptance at all, its clearly driving a wedge in to this community, which is about acceptance for EVERYONE. No one is saying acceptance only if you’re thin. They’re just saying that body acceptance doesn’t ONLY mean fat acceptance, it means that and everything else along with it. Its for everybody.
Heather wrote all three of those posts about her experience with EDs. But even then, she was writing about her perspective as a fat person with an ED, and how she had been treated in the ED forums she visited. I agreed with her diets and EDs are not the same. I think an ED can look like a diet and a diet can look like an ED, but the underlying psychological mechanisms are entirely different. Once again, I can see both sides of this perspective, as a person who has struggled with anorexia or bulimia may be insulted by the idea that a diet, which is largely voluntary, is the same as an ED.
At the same time, fat people frequently feel compelled by social pressure to diet, and don’t feel like they have a real choice in the matter. If they are fat, then they are expected to be perpetually vigilant and restrictive in their diet. But again, the psychological state of someone with an ED and someone who feels compelled to diet their entire life is entirely different. However, the behaviors are similar, which is what I think Kitsune was really driving at.
As for Heather’s two posts on fatphobia in ED communities, I feel like Heather is fully justified in her perceptive on this issue because she has an ED and is speaking to her experience as a fat woman in ED communities. Does her perspective mean that she is objectively correct about the state of fatphobia within the ED community? Not necessarily. But it’s what she has witnessed and what has bothered her as she has tried to find a safe haven to discuss her issues.
Now, the woman who raised the ED issues with our blog saw it differently. She said that she has not seen fatphobia in the ED forums she frequents, and that the way a person with an ED feels about fat is not a personal attack on fat people. In fact, the issue is more about control than fat, and so they aren’t really afraid of fat, they are afraid of losing control. Again, I understand this perspective and can see how reading Heather’s perspective would make her bristle.
Personally, I think the gap between these two perspectives is not so wide that we can’t overcome our differences of opinion. Heather’s experience is based solely on what she has found. She can’t comment on ED forums she hasn’t found, so if there are better ones available, then why not help her find them? Why simply protest our participation in Body Acceptance when we could use our individual resources to help each other find better solutions?
I guarantee that none of our bloggers is intentionally trying to hurt those with EDs or those with different bodies. Nobody wants to cast blanket judgements on those who are struggling with their own body issues. We’re all just trying to do our best to cope with the body problems that arise when you are fat or thin or have an ED or whatever.
Now, it may be helpful for a fat person to commiserate with other fat people, and thin people to commiserate with other thin people, and ED victims to commiserate with other ED victims. There’s nothing unusual about that in the least. Shared experience is one way to fight the long, hard battle for Body Acceptance.
But it also helps for us to come together onto a common forum and share what we have learned from our individual communities. I can learn just as much about Body Acceptance from a thin persona who has been made to feel unloveable as I can from a fat person who has been made to feel the same. The issue isn’t whether you’re fat or thin, it’s whether you’ve been trained to think of your body as inadequate and unworthy.
And yet, there are experiences unique to the thin person or the fat person, and there are plenty of blogs that give voice to those particular experiences. Our experiences aren’t shared in an attempt to silence or negate the experiences of others. We just have to get them out there because that’s how we deal with our issues. Just as there are ED blogs on the Body Acceptance subreddit that share the ED experience, there are going to be FA blogs there that share the fat experience.
But what bothers me is when redditors say that the content we post is wrong or unfair or shouldn’t be a part of the community, when what they really mean is “Your perspective differs from mine.” If you find my perspective troubling, then tell me about your perspective, don’t tell me to shut up and get out. Is that really the mission of Body Acceptance? To only feature voices that speak to an acceptable perspective? I believe that’s wrong and it stymies our ability as activists to reach across perspectives and understand each other.
If we were able to build that understanding and operate as a cohesive movement, Body Acceptance could be doing some serious damage to the real cause of our body issues: societal intolerance.
And personally, I think that’s what may be at the root of some opposition to Fierce Fatties and Dances with Fat (not the redditors I quoted above, mind you, who I have talked to at length and feel they are dissenting in good faith). I get the distinct impression that some redditors object to our blog because we disdain dieting and weight loss as a means to health. I really feel as though people read what I’ve written about how diets don’t work and see that as offensive and inappropriate.
While I can cite all the research I know and back up my claims with exhaustive, peer-reviewed research, it all comes down to one simple problem: hope.
I wish I could find it, but someone once responded to a post I shared on the futility of dieting that they didn’t like my post because they just wanted to have some hope that they could lose weight and keep it off. I have to tell you, I completely understand this perspective.
More than likely, this person has attempted their share of diets, only to revert to their starting weight again and again. Once the failed diet is behind them and they take some time to recover, they begin the search for the next, best thing that will help them get, and stay, thin. Having that hope that they will eventually find the solution to their “body problem” (aka, being fat) makes the days of fat and roses bearable. “Yeah, I’m fat now, but soon I’ll get the dedication and commitment necessary to be not fat.”
When your entire self-worth is tied up in your pant size, hearing some asshole say “Sorry, you’re never going to find that permanent solution” is about the worst thing you can hear. ESPECIALLY if they have evidence to back it up. It’s better just to ignore them than to entertain the possibility that they could be right and that the perpetual yo-yo is the only thing they can count on.
But ultimately, I think that this is a big part of what Body Acceptance is about: accepting the reality of your body. The dissatisfaction a person feels in being fat is because they believe the human body is infinitely malleable and that with enough hard work you can transform yourself into a satisfying body. Unfortunately, the overwhelming body of evidence says otherwise.
To me, part of Body Acceptance is about learning to disassociate health from weight loss, diet from weight loss, exercise from weight loss. If you want to get healthy, then engage in healthy behaviors, but don’t expect those healthy behaviors to give you a “new” body. And, honestly, from what I’ve seen, changing a person’s perspective from a weight-based health paradigm to a behavior-based health paradigm is one of the most difficult obstacles to overcome on the path to self-acceptance.
To accept that no diet (even those we call “permanent lifestyle changes”) will ever make you acceptably thin is to surrender that hope for a happy future. But this doesn’t mean you lose all hope. It simply means your hope resides elsewhere.
Because when you give up the hope you get from the Sisyphean quest of weight loss, you gain a new hope: a hope that you might be happy in the body you have now, not the body you might have someday in the future; a hope that you might find long-term health in doing the things you love, rather than the things you dread; a hope that a happy life does not demand perpetual restriction and sacrifice.
These are the hopes that HAES and FA offer to those who have spent a lifetime battling their bodies. No, it’s not the same hope that a thin person may need or a person with an ED may need, but it is an integral part of Body Acceptance, whether you agree with it or not.
My own personal hope is that rather than trying to silence the perspectives of those you don’t understand or agree with, we can begin to speak together and work together toward our shared hope that we may all one day live in a world where the size and shape of our bodies matters less than the content of our character, to borrow another famous hope.
We are not all that different in what we want from Body Acceptance, though our path to that acceptance may vary. May we all take the time to understand those other paths, rather than try to tear down those paths entirely.
And if you have a perspective that you feel is missing from our blog, including that of a thin person or a person with an ED, I would like to invite you to join our ranks.