101: On the Importance of Allies

By | September 10, 2009

This morning, the Today show had a piece on fat acceptance (complete with original “fat acceptance” graphic, using a fat font!) that didn’t actually involve any fat people speaking.

Okay, I’m oversimplifying. In the prerecorded clip that prefaced the live segment, Emme speaks, and what she says is almost enough to make me forgive her for More to Love, but not quite. (Note to Emme: You might hasten my forgiveness by sending me a box of red velvet cupcakes and a handwritten apology. I’m just saying. And I am sorry I hated your orange dress. I was lashing out.) Actually, during Emme’s part I thought to myself: “Suddenly I remember why I liked Emme, back before More to Love slaughtered my faith in humanity and turned me into the depressed, withered, embittered fat hag I am today.” Also, technically my nemesis Kirstie Alley speaks, though it’s just because they show one of her old Jenny Craig commercials. Oh, just watch it yourself:

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Kate Dailey, who’s already brought us some fantastically critical writing on Newsweek.com about America’s recent fixation with fatness, is an unlikely spokesperson for fat acceptance, to say the least. When I saw this Today show segment above earlier this morning, I thought, oh heavens, some folks are NOT going to like that there were no actual fat people represented during the live segment. And I hear them. When discussing fatness, it’s ideal to have some fat people involved. But there is also something to be said for the value of having allies in the battle against the battle against “obesity”, and the value of those allies sometimes not being fat themselves.

For example: if I were to go on the Today show and argue passionately for basic human respect for fat people and their bodies, sure, it’d be particularly meaningful that I’d be speaking to my points from a position of one who is subject to the effects of anti-fat sentiment. But it also puts me in a situation in which people can dismiss me as being biased. Now, damn fucking right I’m biased. This is my life I’m talking about. That shouldn’t, in an ideal scenario, be used as ammunition to shoot down my opinions. But the reality is otherwise. My being fat, and being self-accepting, immediately makes my investment in size acceptance one of self-interest. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not always the most effective route to winning an argument, or a war.

If only fat people are taking a position that says fatness is not a death sentence, then not only does it make that idea easier to dismiss, it also allows not-fat folks to believe that obesity-epidemic hysteria doesn’t affect them. But it does. Whether you are fat or not, or self-accepting or not, everyone is affected by anti-fat culture. If you’re fat already, you have to deal with fatphobic crap, probably on a daily basis, whilst trying to maintain your sanity and health in spite of listening to a million voices telling you how disgusting and unhealthy and even immoral you are. If you’re not fat, you have to live with the fear of getting fat, and potentially having to deal with the above bullshit on a first-name basis. The often-unspoken fear of fat is at least as powerful an imperative as anti-fat sentiment itself. This arrangement serves no one except diet companies and bariatric surgeons. When we are encouraged to hate our bodies–our bodies as they are now, or for what our bodies might become without constant vigilance and discipline–it hurts us all.

Some people will never be fat, no matter what they do. Some people will always be fat, likewise. And most people will spend their lives wobbling and wavering and trying to keep their balance at the very top of the bell curve, in the limbo between fat and thin. It is in the best interest of all of us to stop policing one another’s bodies, to stop associating fatness with character, and to stop assuming things about each other’s health and choices based on the forms our corporeal selves take. And this means encouraging people who we don’t necessarily identify as fat to also speak up on the subject and call the bullshit out when they see it. It makes the point, loud and clear, that this is a cultural trend that affects everyone, and has the potential to hurt everyone. In light of the current debate around health care reform, and the assertions I’ve seen in many a comment thread where folks are adamant that they don’t want to pay for fat people’s health care, this takes on an immediacy we haven’t seen in recent memory.

When we create an environment in which passing judgment on people because of our perceptions and assumptions of their health is permissible, we’re opening a door to a world in which basic human respect is only available to people who fit some arbitrary ideal of wellness. Aside from excluding fat people, this is a world in which the chronically ill, the disabled, the poor, or anyone without the built-in privileges of good health and easy access to medical care may get the shaft as well, when it comes to being recognized as whole persons worthy of dignity and respect as human beings. Whatever they are besides being perceived as “unhealthy” ceases to matter, and what a tremendous and criminal loss that would be, for everyone.

Health is not a moral imperative. And frankly, the health of a stranger–and I don’t care HOW fat he is–is none of your business. It’s vitally important that fat people stand up and be heard, and that our experiences as individuals be recognized, but we can’t be the only ones carrying the torch. We have to share the burden if we’re going to get anywhere at all.

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