The other day, as I was relaxing on my couch watching an episode of Judge Judy (I can’t help it, I just love her), I was reminded yet again of what a schizophrenic society we live in. We’ve all been subjected to diet commercials. I’ve noticed they are especially prolific during the day, when advertisers assume a lot of women will be at home tending to the kids and wondering what to cook for dinner. Since I work at home, and occasionally goof off by catching a daytime show, I also come under their radar once in awhile. Here is what I’ve noticed for a very long time, and I’m sure you have too.
They’ll air a diet commercial; some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young woman will stand there saying, “I was so miserable 30 pounds ago! Then I tried Weight Watchers/Nutri System/Jenny Craig/[INSERT DIET MEGA-CORPORATION HERE] and now I feel free! I can live again!!!” Then they’ll show her before and after pictures, and maybe even a picture of her inside some old pants, which are stretched out to look like a clothesline. Those of us watching who are far more than 30 pounds overweight feel appropriately chastised, along with all the shame, malaise, and annoyance that follows.
Thirty seconds later, a commercial for Domino’s Pizza/McDonald’s/Burger King/Sara Lee Cheescake/[INSERT FAST FOOD MEGA-CORPORATION HERE] airs. The commercial will linger over and accentuate every single gooey, mouth-watering, drippy, cheesy, sugary bit of saturated fat-and-carbohydrate laden deliciousness. They will encourage us all to open up our mouths and enjoy some of it, and there are always thin people smiling and happily enjoying said food.
It’s a constant yes/no message; the eternally doomed romance of temptation and shame. On the one hand, we’re all being told how fat is disgusting and our lives will never be happy until we lose weight. Then, in the next breath, we’re subjected to a barrage of unbelievably alluring, junky food.
It’s the same with women’s magazines. I try to avoid them at all costs, but whenever I’m in a waiting room, there’s an inevitable pile of them on a table somewhere. It’s either that or stare at the wall, so I flip through them… and it’s always the same: countless pictures of toothpick-thin models, articles on working out and dieting, and then a HUGE food section in the back with the most delectable recipes for crispy fried chicken, deep dish lasagna, and triple chocolate brownies drizzled with caramel.
We all know it’s a big con. We all know the diet industry is a multi-billion dollar bottom feeder, preying on our insecurities and egos in order to thrive.
Jen’s post today got me wondering how accurately the perception of Wall Street greed matches the reality. The signs from Occupy Wall Street use generous imagery of pigs, a favorite for illustrating greed and corruption:
Then you get the odd fat joke mixed in.
Of course, cartoonists have been portraying high-power executives as enormously fat pigs since Thomas Nast attacked Boss Tweed for political corruption in the 1870s.
Compare Nast’s portrayal of the corrupt Tweed with any of the OWS political cartoons and you’ll see that not much has changed.
But exactly who are these corporate fat cats who run the institutions that have inspired the rage of a generation for their unparallelled greed and corruption?
Bank of America
HSBC Bank USA
Irene Dorner (fourth from left)
Richard Davis (left) PNC Bank
Jim Rohr Bank of NY Mellon
Gerald Hassell (right)
TD Bank US Holding
I see one, maybe two, people who would qualify as “fattish” in these pictures, but all in all these are slender people, not fatties. For more examples, you can check out CNN’s list of the 25 highest paid men and women, and see for yourself just how outdated and misguided the current rash of Fat Cat imagery has become.
So please, Occupy Wall Street, political cartoonists, and anyone else who will listen: we are not your symbols of greed and corruption; we do not wish to be lumped in with these selfish, greedy assholes who put personal profit above all else; stop using us to demonize the people you really want to direct your animosity at: selfish, greedy assholes.
Stars, please shine the way for me Show the one that I have followed To see how far I’ve come.
~ Dawes, “How Far We’ve Come”
When I first started blogging, I had a great big bucket of fucks to give. About everything. Those of you I’ve known from the beginning have seen me spreading fucks around like I was Johnny Fucking Appleseed.
Feminism. Fashion. Politics. Race. You name it, I gave a fuck about it. Today, I still give a fuck, but my views have been shaped by conversations I’ve had with people I’ve disagreed with online.
I can be confrontational, stubborn, abrasive, rude, arrogant, and irritating, all in the span of a single paragraph. Although some may see my troll-like stance as a lack of empathy or compassion, I see my approach as forging my beliefs in the fire of confrontation. If my opinions can’t withstand the heat of dissent, then they probably aren’t right. I can’t exactly explain why, but I get a lot of psychological satisfaction from being right.
Now, I don’t just mean right, as in I can outargue you. In my experience, people very rarely “win” arguments. Two people come together, exchange beliefs, then go back home with pretty much the same belief system they brought to the table. We live in a society where intransigent beliefs are a virtue. There’s nothing more righteous than accepting a belief as true and then never yielding your position.
I find intransigent beliefs to be a trap. Too much certainty in something that is nothing more than an opinion can lead to intellectual stagnation. But whether we’re talking about politics, religion, health — it doesn’t matter — there is always more we can learn and understand and incorporate into our worldview. To say, “I accept these truths and no more” is to say “I’m done learning.” And people who are done learning have stopped living.
To me, being right means that you are constantly in search of the most complete answer. This blog began as a search for the truth about weight and health, as viewed through the lens of Health at Every Size® (HAES).
Prior to blogging about HAES, I subscribed to the mainstream belief that bodies are pretty malleable through diet and exercise. The very genesis of this blog was due to an offhand comment that if I went on a heart-healthy diet that I would lose a lot of weight.
Due to its strict anti-diet talk policy, I was kicked off the Fatosphere feed, which compiled Fat Acceptance blog posts. I handled my expulsion with dignity and grace … just kidding, I dropped F-bombs like they were snap-pops and posted a photo of a Sumo wrestler’s ass, inviting people to kiss it in lieu of my own.
Fierce, Freethinking Fatties was the blog that rose from the ashes of my self-immolation. And in the Spirit of Not Getting It, I proudly began by published my confrontational interview with MeMe Roth, which ended with me saying “Fuck you” (Yay!) followed by some unnecessary body shaming (Boo!).
Five years later, I look at MeMe Roth and she makes me more sad than angry. Yeah, she was an insufferable hydrant of hatred who inexplicably earned a national platform to spew her toxic brand of intolerance. But that hatred was always a projection of her own fears of getting fat.
Look at her now. Go to the website of her National Action Against Obesity site and check out the “In the News…” section. The last article is from 2008. MeMe Roth Nutrition Help is DOA. The only peep there’s been from MeMe is on her Wedding Gown Challenge page, which has an entry from August 2014 that reads:
Okay, so this wasn’t easy this time. I really can’t put on another ounce if I expect to get the zipper up next year. I’ve had to watch my weight since I was about 12. And I see no signs that it will get easier. I run daily, eat right, and also eat oh so wrong..! I better cut back on that last category. Hope whatever you tried on today still fits. And if not, let’s go for next year..! All my best, MeMe
Of all the projects MeMe worked on, the Wedding Gown Challenge seems the most important to her, as she’s kept it up for six years straight. And just look at the self-recrimination — if anyone needs the Health at Every Size® (HAES) approach to self-care, it’s MeMe Roth.
And I believe that because I’ve spent the past five years trying to figure out what the right answer is with regard to weight and health. I believe HAES is the right answer because virtually all the evidence says (as our readers are no doubt sick of hearing by now) that the vast majority of people who adopt healthy lifestyle changes will lose about 5-10% of their starting weight, which researchers define as “clinically significant weight loss.”
If you lose more, great. But most people find weight loss of 10% or more nearly impossible to sustain in the long term. That’s the reality that obesity researchers have come to accept, while the rest of world is gradually catching up.
I’ve played my part in spreading that message, but there’s only so many times you can say “most people who adopt healthy lifestyles lose about 5-10% of starting weight” before you start to feel like a verbal lawn sprinkler.
I think what I’m trying to say is that I’m burnt out.
I’ve been writing one thing or another my entire life. I love writing. It’s my original passion in life. And when I started blogging in 2009, I hadn’t planned on doing any of this. One of my favorite posts that I did back then was mocking a bunch of album covers from the Christian music I used to listen to as a geeky God-boy: Jars of Clay, DC Talk, Michael W. Smith. You know, the good shit.
I was mainly doing stream-of-conscious blather as my third attempt at blogging (the first two being on OpenDiary), when I happened upon some of Kate Harding’s posts on Shapely Prose and got inspired to write about Fat Acceptance.
The rest is a long and brutal history of me pissing people off left and right as I blustered my way through the unpacking of my privilege. If I had one wish with regards to this blog, it would be that I could go back to the beginning with all the experience and understanding I have now. Not to say I wouldn’t fuck up again, but it probably wouldn’t be so disastrous or so often.
The result of all that damage is that Fierce Fatties became a kind of island unto itself. We’ve always been a part of the Fat Acceptance discussion, but we were distinct from the real thought leaders of the movement. My temperament and attitude has probably done more damage to this blog than anything, and yet we have a wonderful group of faithful bloggers and readers who have stuck by me through the worst of it. For that, I’m eternally grateful.
But what really brought home the self-inflicted divide was the response to our fundraiser. It was a bittersweet victory. We raised just enough money to pay for the website to be upgraded, but only raised half of our goal, so our options are severely limited.
I didn’t know what to expect when we launched our fundraiser. We’ve been around a long time and have a lot of readers, but how many would invest money in its future is a totally different story. In the end, 17 people donated rewards, while 50 people donated a total of $1,026 because they believe in the mission of Fierce Fatties. I feel incredibly honored that all these people (some I know, some I don’t know, and nobody I’ve ever met) believed it was important enough that they donated money during the holiday season.
What hurt was when we asked for help, the broader Fat Acceptance community pretty much ignored us, including people I thought supported us. Quite frankly, I can’t blame them. I’ve long accepted where I stand. And thanks to my thoroughly Catholic upbringing, I feel tremendously guilty for inflicting the collateral damage of my ego on my co-bloggers. Although I’ve certainly had a prolific five years, I’ve also been a significant drag on the success of Fierce Fatties.
Although I know I’ve been a part of the Fat Acceptance journey for some readers, I can’t help but feel that my own contributions are largely unnecessary for the broader movement. Most recently, as I put together the HAES roundtables on the social determinants of health (SDH), I was put through the wringer just to publish what I did.
The final straw was when I was criticized by the person who recommended I put together the SDH impact roundtable for not paying the participants. Perhaps if I had ever made a single dime from this blog that criticism would make sense, but the implication is that if I can’t afford to pay people for their opinions, then it is wrong to ask their opinions in the first place.
I believe that above and beyond my own writing, this blog is my contribution to the movement, and perhaps without me at the helm it can become part of the larger conversations happening.
So, I have asked Jean Braithwaite, an incredibly skilled writer and editor whose views align much with my own, to be my successor as Chief Fatty. Even more important, she has the deeply-considered thoughtfulness needed to take Fierce Fatties to the next level.
She agreed, but due to a preexisting project, she can’t start just yet. She hopes to be able to take over Fierce Fatties this Summer.
We would also welcome a co-editor to divide up responsibilities. If anyone is interested in becoming co-editor with Jean, please feel free to email me at atchka at hotmail. Bloggers as well. Because even though I’ve exhausted my supply of fucks on this subject, you haven’t. It’s time for you all to step up and start giving fucks for the state of fatness today. You have a voice that needs to be heard, a viewpoint that needs to be shared. Everyone does.
In the meantime, we’re going to put the blog into a state of Hypno-Helio-Static-Stasis. If you’ve just started reading, we have a vast archive of content that can tide you over in the coming months.
As for me, I will continue to write and incorporate everything that I have learned into my work. I believe that perhaps I can still serve the movement through some other writing project.
For one, what I love writing most is fiction. It’s been my lifelong passion and the majority of my creative energy has been spent creating worlds for my own amusement. And when I invest my creative energy in a project, it’s difficult for me to divide my attention too much. This blog has occupied such a significant percentage of my creative energy and time that it’s been difficult to work on anything else.
So when I really listen to my heart, when I think about what I want to do, I’ve been more and more excited by the prospect of writing a novel for my daughters. In fact, about a week ago I read them the first chapter and I’m happy to report they enjoyed it.
I’m also starting a smaller blog that will be less labor intensive and less of a commitment. In fact, the week after I re-upped the domain for Fierce Fatties, I was playing around with available URLs when I found one that I really liked AND found a coupon that gave me a huge discount for a two-year subscription.
I’ve always loved theology and I’d like to do some exploring of different faith traditions and talk about my own belief in the Divine Ground (a term Aldous Huxley used to describe the higher power that most religions are trying to connect to). I don’t know if I’ll write weekly, but I will write when the mood strikes me.
[Side note: Ironically, I recently learned that our blog has an entry in the thoroughly-enlightening Conservapedia which reads: “Fierce, Freethinking Fatties is an atheist fat acceptance movement website.” For the record, we have no official stance on God … but we are comprised of at least one lapsed Roman Catholic, a pagan or two, and the rest I don’t know off-hand because it’s not really a topic we discuss at length here.]
Anyway, that’s the long and short of it. After five years of searching and probing and questioning and doubting and deconstructing and rabble-rousing, my entire philosophy on weight and health can be summed up as follows:
If you want to be healthy, know thyself: who you are, what you need and what you can achieve. Also, know what the science says. Use that knowledge as a kind of guidepost for your journey. Perfection is not the goal, self-actualization is. And if you’re as encouraging and compassionate with yourself as you are with your friends and family, then you’ll have no problem building and sustaining good metabolic health. You got this.
Many of us have already heard the points in this argument…but with the recent Lane Bryant controversy, it bears repeating.
Why are we reclaiming the word FAT?
1. We’re taking our power back. For so long the word FAT was used to shame and denigrate us. We think the word is simply descriptive, like hair color or height. So we’re going to use it as a descriptive term and rebel against the stigma associated with it.
2. It’s a political statement. It’s shocking to hear a fat person call themselves fat. As activists and rebels sometimes it’s good to shake things up. It’s also the language of our movement; by calling ourselves fat we’re showing solidarity to our cause.
3. Fat isn’t a disease. The word obese is a term used in the medical community to mean a disease state, usually associated with metabolic illness. But not all fat people are metabolically unhealthy. Also, “overweight” implies that there is a weight that people are “over.”
4. BMI is bulls**t. Obese and overweight are classifications on the BMI scale. But the BMI is flawed tool, as it doesn’t differentiate fat from muscle in it’s measurement. And the BMI range is arbitrary, not representing health or the population.
5. Euphemisms imply badness. In her book, FAT!SO?, Marilyn Wann says that using other terms to describe ourselves suggests that we “find the truth distasteful.”
Now, not everyone is ready to call themselves fat or be called fat. And I think there is a valid argument for letting people find their inner-fattie on their own schedule. So, I call MYSELF fat…but I don’t call others fat, unless I know they’ll be okay with it.
Also, some within FA refuse to use any other term than fat. But I have been known to use “obese” or “overweight” when talking about the science of fat becasue those terms mean specific things in the research. Some FAers use quotations marks around those terms, if they have to use them.
A final thought…to be fat is human. Ever person on this planet carries around adipose tissue (aka fat), so I think being okay with our fat is applicable to everyone. Being okay with the word fat would be a boon for us all.
Privilege… it’s something everyone has in some form or another*, but nobody wants to admit.
I have a lot of it in my personal situation.
I am a (lower) middle class cisgendered** straight white lady who lives in a medium sized city in the US.
That’s a whole passel of privilege right there, but anyone living that life might not notice it, because I was pretty much BORN INTO all of those things. And when something “is what it is”, it’s often not noticed as a privilege at all. Indoor plumbing… not too many people think of that as a “privilege” – but just ask someone who lives without it.
HOWEVER! There are some privileges that one DOES notice. Because they can come and go. And what I want to focus on today is a privilege that I have not always had, and that is the privilege of being thin in the United States.
I was a chubby kid (well, not really, but enough so that I was mocked by the skinny kids for not being skinny). I was a fat teen. I was an extremely fat young adult. I was a not-quite-deathfat-but-could-be-mistaken-for-it 27 year old.
Not getting into all of the issues behind that journey…
Anywho. The point is, I lived a long time without this thin privilege.
So now that I am identified in this society on sight as a thin, not fat person, I have found that there are an awful lot of things that I can do and take for granted now that I used to have to worry about and plan for as a fat person.
Things that thin people take for granted that are actually Thin Privilege…
I can go into any restaurant and not worry about whether the seating will accommodate me.
I can plan an airline trip without worrying about anything more than my carry-on fitting in the overhead bin.
If I lose my luggage, as long as I have a credit card, I can pretty much go anywhere (even an airport gift shop!) and grab something to wear to replace what I packed.
I can go into any store in the mall and pretty much be guaranteed that I could find something to wear.
I can walk into “The Express” and the sales clerks will actually ask me if there is anything they can help me with and mean it. (Honestly… the first time I went into an Express and this happened to me, I really didn’t know what to think. I had NEVER had an Express employee politely ask if they could help me in all the years I had been going in there with thin friends and relatives. I had NEVER had one of them not either glaze over or actively sneer at me, as though I was sullying their fine store with my presence. Um, I don’t actually buy things there now any more than I used to… because they don’t make clothes for my personality, even though they will now fit my butt (and, also, I do try to steer my $ towards more fat-friendly places)… but I still go there with friends and relatives. The attitude difference is astounding.)
I can stand right out on the street or in the middle of a mall, and eat a giant ice cream cone, or hot dog, or whatever other food item I chose, and NO ONE is going to stare, point, laugh, or whisper about my choice of comestible.
I can wear form fitting clothing without people mocking me (at least within earshot).
Nobody is going to complain to me if I choose to wear a bikini that I am somehow ruining their day.
I have a much easier time matching with people when I use dating apps. While many people out there prefer a thicker lover, in general people find thinness to be the most attractive. Being thin means there’s more people who’d be interested in dating me.
Nobody is examining the contents of my shopping cart at the grocery store and acting as the food police if I put some ice cream in it.
I can walk through a crowded room and not worry if I might have to ask someone to move out of my way. In fact! I can walk through a crowded space and actually touch another person to make them aware of my passing WITHOUT it causing horrified complaints of how dare I displace them with my need to move through the area.
I could go on, but I think I have made my point.
Going through life as a fat person means CONSTANTLY taking care to not impinge on others, lest you happen to impinge on one that is a shouter. It means that other people think you are fair game for hostile comments. It means that your very existence is fodder for nasty commentary – even by people who would otherwise consider themselves to be VERY NICE, COMPASSIONATE people.
While the absence of that might not seem like much to someone who has not lived with it… I can tell you that moving through the world without being noticed and called out, now that is a very big privilege indeed… and one that I hope one day can be an “everyone” privilege… not just thin.
*OK, there’s got to be some human out there in the world who has absolutely ZERO innate privileges based solely on who / what / where they are… but I don’t know who they are. I think any time two humans get together, ONE of them is going to have the upper hand based on something.
**And hey! I just found out what cisgendered means! (I identify as the gender that matches my outward appearance in this society)
This post is about terrible people. Terrible, awful, racist, misogynistic hate-mongers who are also pathetic cowards. I quote from terrible people and cite their terrible bullshit for reasons you’ll soon understand.
Life would be perfect if it weren’t for all of the terrible people.
Yeah, there’s always been terrible people, but the internet has given powerless, terrible people the ability to inflict their particular brand of terrible on the rest of us. In the past, terrible people were stigmatized and ostracized by the community they tormented. Society could generally avoid the terrible people if they needed to by virtue of that stigma. But the internet provides the access and anonymity necessary for terrible people to impact the lives of ordinary people. And many of these anonymous, terrible people seem to get charge out of attacking, insulting and dehumanizing fat people who dare to be anything but silent and self-loathing.
Last week, anonymous, terrible people set their sights on Lindsey (aka Feminist Cupcake), one of our bloggers, and Viri, co-producers of a documentary called Fattitude. Ironically, Fattitude is all about fat hatred, although it’s largely about the contempt toward fat people that trickles down. As Lindsey and Viri explain on their Kickstarter, “We are making a feature-length independent documentary that exposes how fat hatred permeates our popular culture, spreading the message that fat is bad and in turn forwarding the idea that being cruel, unkind or downright unjust to a fat person is acceptable behavior.”
I’m glad that Lindsey and Viri are working on this project because there is a serious problem in this country when it comes to the portrayal of and discussion around fat people, and the more we can portray ourselves and speak for ourselves, the better for our society. The biggest problem with combating this negativity is that we’re going up against a $61 billion weight loss industry that likes the status quo just fine, thank you very much. That’s where Kickstarter comes in, where supporters of Fatittude‘s message can donate and watch an introduction by Lindsey and Viri, including footage from some of the interviews they’ve one with Fat Acceptance luminaries such as Linda Bacon, Substantia Jones, Marilyn Wann, Deb Burgard and more.
But in response, an anonymous asshole took the video footage from their Kickstarter and spliced it into the kind of rambling, racist dreck that seems to stimulate the underdeveloped brain stems of 4chan and 9gag users. The following links are from the video itself (I will not link to the mirrored copy I found… no oxygen for trolls), so click at your own discretion. The genius editor who goes by the HI-larious name of GodBlessAdolfHitler interspersed clips from Fattitude with clips of a suicide, the word “joke” flying into the Twin Towers, this racist attack after Magnoliah Black, Lindsey’s face juxtaposed with the North Korean military, and ending with not one, but two anti-Semitic attacks.
Now, I can follow the fucked-up logic behind the first few clips. In the context of the video, those offensive clips made sense: fat people are committing suicide, something Lindsey said was an easy joke, a black person is an opportunity to espouse their racism and Lindsey is like Kim Jong Un because she’s our “Dear Leader” brainwashing the masses. It’s all disturbed thinking, but you can at least follow their train of thought. But the anti-Semitism comes out of nowhere. At no point in the video does Lindsey identify as Jewish, nor does it say as much in any of her public profiles. And yet…
But when you take a step back, there is an interesting connection between the attack on Judaism and the attack on fat people: moral panics and folk devils.
In 1972, sociologist Stanley Cohen wrote Folks Devils and Moral Panics (you can read an excerpt here) about how the media fans the flames of fear over some behavior or group that threatens to disrupt the social order. Cohen called those groups “folk devils,” and they become the subject of the proverbial, or literal, witch hunts. The girls of Salem, who may have suffered from ergotism, are a classic example of folk devils that a society can rally against to devastating effect. But the perennial folk devils are Jews, whether we’re talking about the murderous rampage in response to horrific claims of blood libel or The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a hoax that spawned the “Jews control the world” conspiracy theories still going strong today.
Of course, fat people don’t face the same kind of physical harm for being modern folk devils, but the underlying process is the same (PDF):
Stirring up moral panics, media direct their attention to “folk devils,” that is, to deviant individuals or groups seen as embodying a new or extraordinary social threat. Sometimes, such coverage may have unexpected consequences, intensifying instead of suppressing the targeted deviance. In such cases, the scope of the deviance seems to spiral: provocative media reports on deviant or unconventional behaviors result in even more attention being paid to them, isolating those termed deviant from the rest of society, which often causes them to identify more strongly with each other, fostering greater deviance, and so on.
Although former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop tried to focus our attention on increased obesity rates as far back as 1996, it wasn’t until around 2004 (the same year Biggest Loser premiered) that the media began to promote the moral panic of obesity and targeting headless fatties as folk devils. So is it any surprise that people awash in these kinds of dehumanizing messages feel such intense hatred toward fat people?
In this context, the link between anti-Semitism and the assault on Fattitude makes more sense. What also made sense was Lindsey’s response to GodBlessAdolfHitler: she asked YouTube to remove the video for infringing on her copyright.
In retaliation for having his video removed, GodBlessAdolfHitler doxed Lindsey, some of the interview subjects of Fattitude, and many of the initial Kickstarter donors. Doxing is an attempt to intimidate people by sharing their real life phone numbers, addresses and any other incriminating information. Once that information was released, other haters began ordering pizzas cash on delivery for her, as well as submitting her address to Mormon, Muslim and Jewish websites that send free religious texts to anyone who requests them. Lindsey even found a YouTube comment from a user named “Tyler Babb” who claimed to go to her school and he offered to kill her.
I’ve seen some people laugh it off and say, “What’s the harm? They’re just pizzas.” Bullshit. If you had any doubt that the intention of these acts is intimidation, here’s what one asshole had to say about their doxing efforts:
The whole point of doxing is to put the folk devils in their place, to make them scared to speak out, to stand up for themselves. You’re an interview subject to a documentary I don’t like? We’ll share your personal information and send you a “message” that we know where you live. You’ve donated money? You’re not safe either. Because there is nothing more terrifying than knowing that a group of anonymous, racist assholes who clearly hate you know where you and your family live.
These assholes also mused on the death of Substantia Jones, speculating on the force she might have when falling from the sky. Of course, this is after one dim bulb laughed about how her mother predicted her size… nevermind the fact that Substantia is a pseudonym.
Which brings me to another point: although racism plays a role in the video mocking Fattitude, the underlying message of our society’s fat panic is largely aimed at women. Although men receive some negative attention for being fat, it is fat women who are subjected to the harshest criticism and public humiliation. It is fat women of all sizes who are lectured and cajoled and dehumanized most by the moral panic instigated by the media. And if you needed any evidence of the misogyny inherent in 4chan, look no further than this response to a comment I suspect was made by a supporter of Fattitude, rather than a genuine 4channer (note the rational tone):
The people behind these attacks on Lindsey and Viri are cowards, plain and simple. They know there are no consequences for their actions. Even if there was some law in place that could address online harassment, GodBlessAdolfHitler says he is from Europe, putting him largely out of reach from real-world consequences.
And this is ultimately what keeps trolls trolling: a lack of consequences for their abhorrent behavior. They can hide their identities on 4chan, they can dox people with very little effort, they can spew their racism and misogyny and intolerance without their family and friends finding out, they can threaten to kill someone just for shits and giggles. But they are cowards: every single one. In a pre-internet world, these assholes would be resigned to pounding out their phonetically-spelled diatribes on a typewriter and sending them to a newspaper, where they’d be summarily dismissed. But today, 4chan and 9gag allow these same terrible people to join forces, to commiserate, to swap conspiracy theories and to target innocent people for harassment and intimidation.
So what do we do about it? How do we respond to a problem that we are essentially powerless to stop? How do we keep living our lives loud and proud in spite of the moral panic that inspires assholes like GodBlessAdolfHitler? In a recent interview with Vice, Cohen explained the upside to being a folk devil:
[U]sually the power of the media is so great that just emphasises [folk devils’] lack of power. They are the objects of media reaction. It is true that sometimes deviants fight back against the labels, the kind of sociological term we use for that is “labeling theory” or “social reaction theory”. The power of powerful groups, media, police, the criminal justice system, professionals and so on, to label people… too much emphasis on the power of the social reaction might lead us to ignore cases where subjects fight back. If you look at the history of counter-cultures, you have the least powerful at one end, and at the other the most powerful intellectually motivated countercultures who are folk devils that fight back – they might be empowered, especially if they are treated unfairly. [emphasis mine]
Yes, we are outspent by the media and sometimes it seems like we are shouting into a hurricane of oppression, but by uniting our voices, we can fight back against the stigma that the media insists is for our own good. And let me tell you something: haters HATE it when you fight back.
In fact, haters are so terrified of the unifying power of oppression that there were multiple calls on 4chan to back off Fattitude, lest they spark a backlash that helps their Kickstarter.
And that’s exactly what we need to do.
If you find the way Lindsey and Viri were treated deplorable, please donate. If you can empathize with the terror Lindsey felt after reading a death threat from a student at her school, please donate. If you want to hit these racist, misogynistic assholes right where it hurts, please donate.
As of today, Fattitude is nearly halfway to its $38,000 goal with 345 backers and 34 days left. If you don’t have much money, please donate a Solidarity Dollar to show Lindsey and Viri that you support their project, even if you can’t bankroll it single-handedly. Not only is the final fundraising amount important, but uniting a lot of backers can show producers that people are excited about a movie and may help Lindsey and Viri find support for distributing Fattitude.
In short, the way folk devils fight back against the moral panic, even if their voices are drown out by the media, is to strengthen and grow the counter-culture that responds to it. By supporting Fattitude, you will give much-needed resources to a counter-culture documentary that will forcefully push back against the hate. So, please donate.
Why? Because I want people to realize how serious Body Acceptance and Fat Acceptance are. It’s not just fatties trying to find an excuse to keep being fat, which is what so many people perceive it to be. Even people who may agree with many of us don’t necessarily see it as the human rights struggle that it is. I wrote it for my fellow body loving redditors, but also for the trolls that often visit. Here’s what I wrote on r/bodyacceptance:
So, every day I’ve been posting a new link about someone who committed suicide in part or whole because of weight stigma. Why? Because, while we post a lot about dealing with that stigma, experiencing that stigma, and overcoming that stigma, I think it’s easy to overlook the depth of the seriousness of these things. The reality is that people die, people take their own lives, children take their own lives, because of weight stigma. It’s not just, as the majority of sizists would like to believe, some bruised feelings and pride. The vast majority of fat people that I know have, at one point, attempted suicide specifically due to weight stigma and, what’s perhaps worse, many of them were told to do so by thin people who are full of pure hatred of fat people. And I don’t want to hear “but being fat kills too so who cares if a few people kill themselves? It’s less than the people dying of heart disease”. It’s a pitiful and pathetic argument, especially considering that, even if fat did cause heart disease, making fat people miserable and suicidal isn’t making them thinner. You’re not saving anyone by shaming them. You’re just adding to the body count.
People look at the Fat Acceptance movement and think it’s just a bunch of people who want to have an excuse to stay fat. It’s more serious than that. It’s a human rights issue, no different from any other human rights issues. As a member of the LGBT community I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people claim that being non-straight just wasn’t healthy. “Just look at all the gays dying of AIDS” they claim. But stigmatizing gay people won’t make them less gay. Instead the issue of safe sex should be addressed, just as the issue of healthy lifestyles should be addressed instead of shaming fat people. “But fat is a choice!” you say. Except that no one can provide a single method of getting thin that is safe, sustainable, and effective for even a moderate number of fat people, let alone all of them or most of them.
We need to start treating this as the crisis that it is. Not a crisis of fatness, but a crisis of the violation of human rights.
Then I added that I’m thinking about starting a blog specifically for people to submit (anonymously, if they wish) personal stories about fat stigma and suicide (and possibly eating disorders as well, what do you all think?). I wanted to add on that post my own story, but I wasn’t feeling up to facing the trolls, so I’d like to tell it here.
I posted stories of suicides, but we should remember that completing suicide is the most visible part of the problem, but many, many children (and adults) attempt or contemplate suicide due to fat stigma without completing it.
I’m going to go ahead and divulge that I was a skinny, skinny child up until around 8 years old. I plumped up quickly, the reason for which is unclear. What is clear, however, is the stark difference in how I was treated. Skinny Heather was popular, had “boyfriends” (and lots of them), and never heard a negative word about her body. Skinny Heather had never had a suicidal thought. A year later and Fat Heather had lost all of her friends. The only boys that asked out Fat Heather were doing so for a joke or a dare. Fat Heather was ridiculed by her peers and family. Fat Heather was beat up, had bricks thrown at her while walking home from school, and withdrew so much that she was put into a special program at her school.
Fat Heather, attempted suicide.
Keep in mind, I didn’t spend as much time being fat as many kids who are ridiculed. My son goes to school with a girl, his best friend and (according to him) future wife, and she’s already fat. She’s starting out her school life in that position. I was only fat for a couple of years. Two years of fat and the extreme stigma, bullying, and discrimination that came with it and, at 10 years old, I attempted suicide.
I thought about it for a while and decided that the easiest, least painful way to go about it was to hang myself from a rope that my brother used to swing on and play with in a tree in our back yard. I spent a couple of days wrapping things around my neck just to see how it would feel. I was strangely casual about it. I didn’t plan a date or write a note or take a death walk out to the back yard. I was simply playing outside, looked over and thought, “Now’s a good time I guess.”
I feel like 10-year-olds now have a greater understanding of death and suicide than I did at that age 16 years ago. Media portrayals of death, violence, and self-inflicted harm have gotten detailed and fairly accurate, and there’s always the internet. But for me, at ten, I was pretty terrible at suicide. I did fall to the ground and lose consciousness for all of a few seconds (I’m assuming it was a few seconds), but no real damage was done and no one ever found out. I didn’t make an attempt again for another two years.
So when people feel shocked at how bad it’s gotten when a 10-year-old attempts suicide, I want them to know that it’s always been that bad, you just weren’t paying attention. Recently a string of gay suicides led to extensive media coverage, activists speaking out, and many schools instituting new anti-bullying policies. As a member of the LGBT community, I appreciate this greatly and I think it’s a fantastic testament to just how far we’ve come as a country.
But now I ask, what about the fat kids? Their media coverage (you know, the coverage on how bullying is effecting them, not on how to bully them more)? Their anti-bullying policies? There can be no “It Gets Better” campaign for fat children because it doesn’t get better. As a fat adult I’m still subjected to pranks, verbal assault, physical assault, stigma, and discrimination.
When are we, as a society, going to step up and stop this? When are we, as human beings, going to stand up for these children? And why, why, are the life threatening effects of fat hatred being so ignored?
I’m not good with the taking down bullies kind of activism. But I’ve been drafting up this list of different ways that someone can be a fat activist… and, for myself, I really like the idea of indirect guerrilla warfare.
Like over at pluseyes tumblr there was a post about stickering. “…print a whole ton of stickers to easily peel off and slam onto an offending billboard/poster/etc…”
Or NAAFA LA is doing a “Bookmark Project: Print and put size-positive bookmarks in diet and/or self-help books, fashion or fit magazines and anywhere else!” (When I contacted the LA branch of NAAFA, they awesomely gave me a copy of the PDF for their Bookmark Project so that I can share it with any of you that want to participate in their project.)
Or Operation Beautiful: “The goal of the Operation Beautiful website is to end negative self-talk or ‘Fat Talk’”… by positing body positive notes in public. An example would be a post-it that says “Your beautiful at any size” posted in a bathroom or changing room or any other place a stranger might stumble across it.
With the advent of social media, letter writing campaigns seem kinda out of date. But I still think pamphlets that we can pass out to friends/family or mail to doctors and legislators would be useful. One of my many side projects is trying to write such pamphlets… but it’s a work in progress.
I am of the opinion that there are MANY ways to be an activist and small impacts have a cumulative affect. We’re chipping away at a China-sized wall. Every voice makes us louder and every project makes us stronger.
This post includes discussions of research surrounding weight and health.
Over the past few weeks there have been a flurry of articles on the death of “healthy obesity,” also known as fat and fit. For example, in early November Time published the results of a Danish study that that analyzed the data of over 77,000 individuals who took part in the Copenhagen General Population Study. Between 2003 and 2011, subjects were examined and researchers collected detailed information about BMI, waist measurement, blood pressure and whether the subject had metabolic syndrome, a cluster of symptoms that indicates the presence of insulin resistance (for more information, check out this post on the man who discovered metabolic syndrome). Since first coming across the study I’ve been planning to comment on it.
Then, two days ago I received an email from a local television reporter who had previously interviewed me about Health at Every Size® (HAES) asking my opinion on the research disproving fat and fit. I assumed he was referring to the Danish study, but when I clicked the link to the NBC News story I was caught off guard when I saw he was referring to a new study coming out of Canada.
Suddenly, I’m seeing articles everywhere declaring HAES dead and “proving” that fat people can’t be fit, no matter what the fatties say. Those articles spread like wildfire on reddit: there’s the /r/science subreddit post that took off with “told ya so” glee, seven links to a BBC article, three links to an article in the Toronto Star, two links to the CBC, and two links to a new Time article about this latest study titled “You Can’t Be Fat and Fit.” I could only find two links that actually direct readers to an actual study.
I decided to jump in the fray over at the /r/science subreddit by responding to this comment and explaining that his explanation of HAES was flawed. You can follow the thread I started here (as I was downvoted out of existence from the comment). Now, something interesting happened at this same time as I began responding to the Danish study on reddit: I got shadow-banned.
[NOTE: The following section is tangential to my analysis of this research. If you’d like to skip to the meat and potatoes of the research, skip down to the bold header that reads “Digging Deeper.”]
I’ve been on reddit for four years now, although I’ve only been actively posting links for the past year. I had never heard of the shadow-ban and only learned about it from two redditors who pointed it out to me privately. In essence, a shadow-ban is when a forum “bans” you from participating in conversations by preventing your comments or profile from showing up for other readers, but the shadow-banned user isn’t informed, while the user is still able to see his own comments and profile. So, unless someone points out that you’ve been shadow-banned, you don’t know.
After doing some digging, I discovered I was shadow-banned because a member of the subreddit /r/FitnessCircleJerk (FCJ) reported me for spam. For those who aren’t familiar with FCJ, they’re fitness trolls who loathe fat people, but have a special place in their little black hearts for Fat Acceptance bloggers like me and Ragen at Dances with Fat. They’ve been hate-reading our blog since last November when they launched a vigorous assault in our comments ranging from respectful, intelligent disagreement to profane, barely-literate tirades. In the end, I had to change our long-standing comment policy and start approving each comment by hand to prevent further disruption.
Pissed that I won’t allow them to shit on our forum, FCJ took steps to ensure I could not have such a forum on reddit. I began my own subreddit last March called /r/AskHAES, where people could ask questions about HAES and we would provide the HAES perspective. There was an immediate influx of FCJers who downvoted every response from HAES advocates, upvoted their own comments, and lobbed a relentless parade of insults at fat people, which Kitsune documented thoroughly here. I began moderating with an iron fist, banning anyone with even a whiff of disrespect for dialogue or who appeared to be part of FCJ or the other fat-hating subreddits I’ve discovered since then. To participate, you have to be able to disagree respectfully, which is too much for most of these knuckle-dragging mouth-breathers.
I’ve written about my theory as to why fat haters seem so deeply invested in shaming and degrading and humiliating fat people. But when FCJers talk about their hatred for fat people, their far more circumspect. I’ve repeatedly been told that they don’t hate all fat people — if you want to be fat, be fat! — but that they hate a particular type of fat person who claims that fat people can be healthy and they especially hate a particular type of fat person who tries to provide a scientific basis for that belief (i.e., me, Ragen, HAES bloggers).
We’re lying, they say. We’re justifying the unhealthy lifestyles of fat people by claiming that you can achieve Health at Every Size. That seems to be the biggest hangup for many anti-HAESers. Case in point:
So the name of this movement is Healthy At Every Size. Of course we all know that is ridiculous. Morbidly obese and walking skeleton is not healthy for anybody… A hideously fat or skinny person living an unhealthy lifestyle with no intent of changing could read about this movement, read the title, and say “Yeah, fuck society. Just because I’m so skinny my bones rattle and my dick looks like a tootsie roll except with more wrinkles, i am healthy at any size!”
That’s the argument.
HAES is bad because some fat person might read the name and say “HOORAY! I’M HEALTHY!” and go about their business.
But here’s the thing: it’s Health at Every Size, not Health No Matter What.
Could someone read the title of the movement and assume it means ALL fat people are healthy? Of course. And clearly many FCJers are incapable of seeing anything else. But the whole point of HAES is that you actually have to make lifestyle changes, including regular exercise, to improve your health. If you don’t make healthy changes, then your health will not improve. End of story.
This is the message gets completely ignored by FCJ and anti-HAESers. More accurately, this is the message that gets downvoted on reddit and ignored by society in general. They don’t want to have a discussion, they want to shout us down and overwhelm us with enough anecdotal evidence that we just give up the fight and start obeying their particular guru or meal plan or example. Where it is possible for them to control the conversation, they will use whatever tactics they have to silence us, not because the studies are flawed or the evidence is weak, but because they hate the name and they hate fat people.
And for a while their silencing technique worked on /r/AskHAES. I pretty much gave up participating because I couldn’t even answer a basic question about HAES. Instead, I focused on providing content to /r/BodyAcceptance instead, since the moderators requested that I submit links from our blog. And all that was moving along swimmingly until I got shadow-banned, which was the most effective silencing technique to date.
After reading up on shadow-bans, I learned that it’s pretty difficult to get a shadow-ban lifted. So I emailed the reddit admins and explained that /r/BodyAcceptance requested my links and pointed to the FAQ on what constitutes spam:
To play it safe, write to the moderators of the community you’d like to submit to. They’ll probably appreciate the advance notice. They might also set community-specific rules that supersede the ones above. And that’s okay — that’s the whole point of letting people create their own reddit communities and define what’s on topic and what’s spam.
About three minutes after I sent it, the admins unbanned me and I was free to post once more.
Victorious, I decided to rub it in FCJ’s face with this post titled “MFW reddit overturns the shadowban you pathetic sacks of shit tried to impose” (MFW stands for “My Face When” which linked to this photo:
If you’ve ever wanted to see the trolls get trolled, this is the thread for you. FCJ proceeded to meltdown as they posted over 200 comments attempting to insult me. To compare, this is a screenshot of the most commented on posts from yesterday, a max of 68 comments. This kind of response is caused by what the kids these day refer to as “butthurt.”
And not only did they have a field day responding to my trolling, they began submitting their own posts to take me down a notch, mostly through the clever (for a homunculus) photos.
Following is the second guest post from Dr. Deah Schwartz of Leftovers to Go (you can read the first here). As per our submission process, we will post a third post, a cross-post, on Monday, followed shortly by a vote on Dr. Schwartz’s fatty creds. In the meantime, please give her a warm welcome to our community.
I hate being put “on hold.” In the old days, of rotary phones, if there was more than one number for the phone, there would be several plastic square buttons lined up underneath the dial. One of those buttons was red, which was the Hold Button.
As a red-haired, impatient kid, when I was on a mission of whatever I perceived was of GRAND importance… which was pretty much EVERYTHING… being told to, “Please hold,” was tantamount to my world screeching to a halt.
As I got older, my patience improved in many aspects of my life, but disliking being put on hold was something I never outgrew. If someone did not have the time to deal with me, in that moment, then why didn’t they just NOT ANSWER THE PHONE??!!
Time passed and with it the Hold Button morphed into the Call Waiting Click; new label… same result. I didn’t morph along with it. I was stuck in a time warp: still the impatient kid wanting to get something.
For someone who has always hated being on hold, it is ironic how much of my life I spent putting MYSELF on hold. It was subtle at first. The weather would start getting warmer and kids would start going to the community pool or the beach (I grew up in New York, not far from the Atlantic Ocean). I would watch enviously as they rode off on bikes loaded with towels, headed for a day of splashing and swimming.
I made up excuses. “When it gets warmer I’ll go.” When it got warmer I resorted to, “I have a cold” or “I get earaches from swimming.”
Of course, the real reason was how much I dreaded having to wear a bathing suit in public. When I was unable to push the Hold Button on going, I yanked out the big gun: “I’m a redhead and I’ll just get sunburned” excuse. I wore a giant t-shirt over my hideous, black, one-piece bathing suit, explaining, when asked, “It is to protect me or I’ll look like a lobster!”
I tried with all of my might to stay out of sight. I put endless opportunities of having summer fun on hold because of my body-hate.
I was six, I was seven, and on into my teens. I almost didn’t graduate high school because of the swimming requirement in Phys. Ed.
Putting my life on hold became part of how I operated in the world. “When I lose weight, then I will go to that party.” “When I lose weight, then I will take that class.” “When I lose weight then Davey Bernstein will like me.” “When I lose weight, then I will really live the life I want to live.”
How many kids are putting their lives on hold because they are being consumed by such shame and self-hate they don’t give themselves the opportunities to try things; to let go and dive in?
I think the first time I ever felt completely comfortable wearing a bathing suit was when I was pregnant and I had permission to be a fat woman in a bathing suit. The freedom I experienced was an indescribable joy.
I remember at eight months pregnant I could feel my son swimming around inside of me as I was buoyantly bobbing around in the pool, completely un-self-conscious. No big t-shirt, just sunscreen and a big grin on my face. I vowed in that moment to do three things.
The first was that whatever traces of negative feelings I still had about my body; I would NOT push my Hold Button. I would allow my kid to experience the joys of being a kid, even if it meant my wearing a bathing suit in public.
Secondly, that whatever body shape, size or type my child would develop, I would love him unconditionally and do what I could to help him foster love and acceptance for his body.
The third, and perhaps most challenging commitment, to take an active role in educating others about the damage that size discrimination inflicts on others. Sometimes, ironically enough, this means asking people to HOLD their tongues and open their minds. My son is 19 years old now and I am thrilled to say, that he has never put his life on hold, and I honestly can’t remember the last time I did either.