I just wrote this as an absurdly long comment in response to Zuzu’s take on the whole dieting kerfuffle, and I thought I’d post it, because I think it’s a much clearer distillation of my thoughts on the subject than my original rant was. And that increased clarity has come about as a result of discussing this ad nauseam over the last few days, so thanks, everybody.
Do my efforts in that regard really only count if I can get a fifth-level blackbelt in Embracing My Own Fat and promise that I’ll never, ever do anything to change the body I live in?
That question has been asked and answered a whole BUNCH of times in comments at my blog and TR’s this week, though I don’t blame you if you haven’t been able to keep up, what with your own blog drama.
To me, self-acceptance is a crucial component of fat acceptance. That doesn’t mean that everyone who’s interested in the movement will be 100% self-accepting. First, I doubt that anyone ever reaches 100%, and second, I think that most people find the movement when they’re not very far along the self-acceptance path at all, and the movement helps with that. I’d sure hate to turn those people off it altogether. But it does mean that within fat-positive spaces, talking about how much you want to lose weight — and demanding that everyone else validate that personal choice — is inappropriate.
(Note: I am using “the movement” there to refer basically to the whole concept of fat acceptance, because half the problem here is that there’s NOT much of an organized movement.)
A refusal to validate the choice to diet, within the context of fat acceptance, is not the same as refusing to support people’s bodily autonomy. And I don’t think the abortion analogy holds up. To me, the most effective analogy here is identifying yourself as a queer rights activist while undergoing “ex-gay” therapy. Or at least, choosing to remain closeted. There can be a lot of totally understandable, personal reasons for choosing to remain closeted, but to expect gay pride activists (and “fat pride” is another term many people prefer to “fat acceptance”) to validate remaining closeted as a personal choice that somehow does not conflict with gay pride? Is asking an awful lot.
It’s an imperfect analogy, but it’s the best one I’ve got. And it’s as clear as I can make my viewpoint on all this.
One of the reasons it’s imperfect — and the reason I went to the ex-gay analogy first, not just the closet — is that diets don’t work. It may sound like splitting hairs to say changing your eating and exercise habits is okay, but trying to lose weight isn’t, but from my perspective, it’s a really important hair to split. Because fat people are told constantly that we must lose weight for our health, and that’s manifestly untrue (except in a very small percentage of cases in which weight does directly affect someone’s health). However, fat people, just like thin people, can reap long-term health benefits from a balanced diet and regular exercise. I split the hair because I’m sure not opposed to anyone trying to achieve long-term health benefits. But a balanced diet and regular exercise will not produce long-term weight loss in most people. So as long as we keep the focus on weight loss instead of behavioral changes and health benefits, we’re barking up the wrong tree — which also happens to be a tree society privileges, based on falsehoods, distortions, and bigotry.
There’s nothing wrong with thinking your life would be easier if you lost weight; in this society, that’s completely understandable. But the reality is, thinking your life would be easier if you lost weight is very much like thinking your life would be easier if you won the lottery. Sure, that probably would make your life easier, but it is not something you can bring about by force of sheer will, just because you like the idea of it. (This gets muddied because most people can lose weight temporarily by force of sheer will. But it does not last in virtually every case, which means a long-term strategy for being healthier and happier cannot hinge on weight loss.)
Long-term health benefits are achievable for fat people. Long-term improvements in self-esteem are achievable for fat people. Long-term weight loss, in so many cases that the exceptions are insignificant, is NOT achievable. And yet, the culture — and WAY too many doctors — keep insisting that the only way for fat people to be healthy and proud of themselves is to lose weight. This is dangerous bullshit.
And what it means is, dieting is privileged behavior. It is what fat people are expected to do to be acceptable in this society. Even if that’s not WHY a given person is doing it, the privilege issue becomes unavoidable when people come into fat-positive spaces and start saying, “But dieting doesn’t make me a bad person!” No, it doesn’t, any more than being white, straight, and upper middle class makes me a bad person. But in the context of social justice movements, insisting that my privilege be validated and respected by people who don’t share it is not gonna fly. (Once again, for the record, I am not and never was accusing Hanne Blank of doing that — nor do I think The Rotund was. This is a different issue.)
It is perfectly understandable not to be thrilled every minute of every day that you (collective you, not Zuzu-you) got stuck with fat genes in a fat-hating culture. But it’s not appropriate to derail conversations in spaces devoted to fat rights and fat pride by talking about how much you don’t fucking want to be fat — or as fat as you are — and how you think it’s so unfair that people won’t take your decision to diet as a personal, politically neutral act. This is what I see happening all over the place, and it’s what I was responding to.
And what all of this might mean is that The Rotund and I end up in the category of Radical Fat Acceptance Activists, while people who think dieting isn’t anathema to fat acceptance are regarded as moderates. That’s profoundly weird to me, because I think of myself as anything but radical, but maybe that’s how this will all shake out. I don’t know. What I do know is, the deliberate pursuit of weight loss is VERY unlikely to make anyone’s mental or physical health better in the long term; it actually stands a good chance of damaging people’s mental and physical health; and it is behavior that is culturally privileged as the acceptable alternative to acknowledging that size diversity is a simple fact of life, and fat people are just as human as anyone else. For all those reasons, I simply cannot see how dieting and fat acceptance can ever go hand-in-hand, philosophically.
I would never object to people doing what they like with their own bodies. If, theoretically, anti-dieting legislation ever made it to the table, I would fight against that as strongly as I do against anti-abortion legislation. And if people who are on diets want to help promote the cause of fat acceptance/rights/pride, that’s terrific. BUT, I simply cannot say the existence of some people like that means that dieting is generally compatible, philosophically and politically, with fat acceptance.
And I think that if the Fat Acceptance Movement is ever going to be a movement — instead of this eternally “emerging” concept that most people have still never heard of — people who want to be involved need to figure out where they stand on that question, because it derails more conversations, projects, and plans than you can imagine.
If some people come to a different conclusion than I have and want to approach it from a different angle, great. But I’m drawing this line in the sand in terms of the work I want to do, because my vision of a Fat Acceptance Movement includes promoting, without qualification, the fact that dieting is not necessary for good health and will not work for the vast majority of people. It’s awfully hard to get that message out when one is constantly trying not to alienate people who disagree (and will flip out if you say dieting, as a general concept, is bad news). So I finally snapped and said, okay, fine, if I alienate people, so be it. They can approach it from their angle, and maybe they’ll be much more successful at advancing the cause of fat rights than I will. But that’s not how I want to do it, not the movement I want to be a part of, and I’m done with being wishy washy about it in an effort not to turn off people who fundamentally disagree with what I think is a very important element of fat acceptance.