The fabulous Fatshionista, fat blog commenter, and occasional blogger Jess just posted this at the end of the Dan Savage thread over at Shakesville, and I think it’s worth highlighting here. I’ve been pestering Jess to guest blog here anyway, but if she keeps insisting on having some kind of life that’s more important than my blog (the nerve!), I’m just gonna have to resort to thievery.
Without further ado, Jess:
So let me say right at the beginning that I have nothing particularly invested in defending Dan Savage. The guy is clearly a jerk, and this is what makes him charming, and as a recovering (or perhaps merely self-hating) charming jerk I have no particular use for this personality trait, but there’s much to be said for it regardless. And I do read him regularly, although to be fair I also read Ask Amy, and she has never ever been right. (Dan Savage of course has been right, and I really like the way he writes about social issues that he recognizes as social issues.)
That said, it’s true that as far as Savage is concerned, there are much more important issues than body positivity. While I’ve been a gay rights activist much longer than I’ve been a fat activist, one could certainly argue that, since I am a straight fat woman, fat rights are more personally important in my life. That is, they have more personal impact on me. Savage, as a thin man with a thin partner, can afford to have even less invested in fat rights than I have in gay rights. And of course, societally-mandated fat hatred, fatphobia, and body shame are all designed so as to obscure the fact that “fat rights” and “fat positivity” are not oxymorons. So Savage can be forgiven for just not realizing that there is a serious social issue going on.
And I will confess: Just a few years ago, I was Dan Savage. I mean, I wasn’t actually him; I know because I didn’t have any money. But I was convinced that “fat activism” was just another word for “having gluttonous orgies and then dropping dead of diabetes.” Every message I got was telling me that fat was terrifically ugly and unhealthy, so I assumed that organizations like NAAFA were all about promoting ugliness and unhealth. Even while I was coming to believe that it was maybe okay to be fat, I thought it was terrifically irresponsible to tell people that fat itself was okay. Of course it wasn’t okay; it came from gluttony and sloth and it would kill you. Never mind the fact that I wasn’t particularly slothful (college athlete) and only gluttonous when my eating disorder swung that way. Cognitive dissonance wasn’t enough to dissuade me. In short, I was not that different from the people who think that “gay rights” means “unabashed libertinism, pedophilia, and bareback disease transmission.” I let my prejudices stand in for actual information.
So again, I can completely understand where Savage’s attitudes are coming from. He’s not even being THAT much of a jackass about them, if you consider that he has no reason to realize that he’s being a jackass. I mean, the guy is brusque, no question, but at least he’s not pushing stomach amputation, you know? The question is whether he takes this opportunity — that is, the opportunity to rub shoulders with and learn from some of the most eloquent, brilliant, and well-informed fat activists out there, not to MENTION the daughter of someone who was besties with his mom — as a chance to educate himself. He no longer has the excuse of just not knowing that there was more to the story. He has the chance to acquit himself very well — to read Campos and Oliver and Kolata, to talk to Kate without sniping, and to set an example for other progressives.
Unfortunately, I’m inclined to think he believes he’s said his piece and won’t be coming back to this thread.
Unfortunately, I’m inclined to agree. But I posted this response anyway:
Riotous applause, Jess.
And it’s worth pointing out that I used to be exactly the same way, too. For years, my grasp of fat acceptance amounted to, “It’s not good for people to be mean to anyone because they’re fat, but it’s also not good for people to be fat, either.” Wasn’t good for me, for my family members, and especially not good for fat women who had the audacity to wear tight clothes in public.
Then, even after I started reading more, the penny still didn’t drop for years. The next hurdle was, “It’s fine for other people to be fat, but not me. I still need to get thin.” Campos convinced me the risks of obesity were way overblown, and I totally committed to the concept of fat acceptance intellectually — but I still could not accept my own fat. I still could not imagine looking at myself naked and thinking, “Yep, you’re fine.” That took a couple more years. I’m still kind of stunned that it happened at all.
The people who keep trying to shame us don’t seem to get that most of us became fat acceptance activists because we spent so fucking long crippled by shame. Because the quality of our lives was severely compromised not by being “obese,” but by despising ourselves, fearing our own bodies, feeling unworthy of love, feeling the constant need to apologize for our very existence. It’s not as if we somehow never got the message that people don’t think fat is okay. We got it, and we fucking rejected it — after years of extraordinary conscious effort.
Fat-shaming is completely unsupportable, both scientifically and ethically, yet it is still an incredible act of will — much greater than what it takes to diet — to make yourself really believe that in this society. I’m not surprised that so many people, both fat and thin, aren’t up to battling their way through the cognitive dissonance. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be disappointed in people who claim to be committed to social justice and won’t even try.