A lot of people don’t. They prefer “body acceptance” or “size acceptance,” to be more inclusive of people of all sizes and abilities who struggle with body image. And I totally respect that. It’s already come up a couple of times in comments on my posts at Shakesville that this culture encourages body hatred (and garden variety self-hatred), especially in women, period; that is not by any means the exclusive province of fatties. And in my ideal world, for sure, all people would be content with and grateful for the bodies they’ve got, and nobody would shit on them for being too fat, too thin, the wrong color, the wrong shape, too hairy, not hairy enough, whatev.
BUT. I still see fat acceptance as its own thing, and I’m going to keep calling it that, for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s important to me to reclaim the word “fat.” It’s not a bad word. It’s not intrinsically insulting. All it tells you is that this person has more visible fat on her frame than a thin person does — and since in my case, that’s the plain truth, I don’t have any problem with being described that way. I have a problem with people who would describe me that way with the intention to wound, but not with the word itself. I’m short, I’m blonde, I’m pale, I’m hourglass-shaped, I’m fat. Some of those characteristics are more desirable in this society than others, but all any of those words tell you is what I look like. Not what I eat, not how much I exercise, not whether I’m healthy, not how strong my moral fiber is — hell, not even what my natural hair color is. (Very, very dark blonde. Maybe even brown by now; I haven’t actually seen it in years.) They just tell you what I look like right now. And as such, I should have no fear of them — they’re certainly not revealing any big secrets.
Second, and more importantly, fat acceptance may be a subcategory of body acceptance, but — with all due respect to naturally thin people who have been called names and thin people with serious body image issues (and disabled people and people with eating disorders who have a whole other set of challenges to contend with) — it is a lot harder to be fat than thin in this culture. Trust me on this one; I’ve been both. And it’s a lot harder to be extremely fat than only sort-of fat, like I am.
There’s a simple reason for this: Fat people are hated. And I mean hated. As people have explained over and over on this blog and others like it, I can be irritated or even hurt if someone calls me a honky or a breeder, but I still don’t get to say I understand the experience of racism or homophobia because, hello, white, straight people do not suffer in this culture for being white and straight. Those insults don’t have the weight of cultural and institutional hatred behind them, so no, they don’t fucking hurt me just as much as the equivalent racist or homophobic words hurt a person of color or a gay person. Any reasonable person knows that to pretend otherwise is flat-out absurd.
And it’s the same with fat. No, I don’t mean fatphobia is equivalent to racism or homophobia — I don’t even want to open that can of worms. I just mean that anti-fat comments do have real cultural and institutional hatred behind them, whereas anti-thin comments just don’t. People aren’t denied jobs because they’re thin. People aren’t paid less because they’re thin. People aren’t routinely accused of being lazy, smelly, disgusting, unhealthy, and morally bankrupt because they’re thin. People aren’t encouraged by the media, the government, their friends, and their families to hate themselves for being thin, and to spend any amount of money to become less thin. Surveys don’t show that a frightening percentage of people would rather lose a limb than be thin, or that even kindergarteners don’t want to be friends with the thin kids.
So if people call you “bag of bones” or “beanpole” or accuse you of having an eating disorder because you’re naturally thin — or worse yet, go on about how what a lucky bitch you are for being thin — I’m sorry. Sincerely. That’s mean, and it sucks. I have naturally thin friends who have been hearing that shit all their lives, and I know it’s really hurtful, and really damaging to your body image. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
But it is still just not the same thing as being treated badly because you’re fat. It’s not even in the same universe.
So to me, saying, “I believe in body acceptance, not just fat acceptance” is like saying, “I believe in humanism, not just feminism.” I believe in both — but we damn well need a fat acceptance movement, just as surely as we need a feminist one, and for the same basic reason: fat bodies are just about last on the list of potentially acceptable bodies, much as women are second of two on the list of human beings. We’re playing catch-up. It’s that simple.
Furthermore, I get this queasy feeling that some people only use the terms “body acceptance” or “size acceptance” because they’re afraid that the words “fat acceptance” will get them laughed out of the room. Or maybe off the planet. Like, hey, maybe if we include thin people and point out that they have some of the same problems, people will actually take us seriously! Sadly, that’s probably true, to an extent. But it’s also incredibly depressing. And it’s exactly why fat acceptance is and always will be a whole other ball of wax.
I love my thin friends, and I’d like to smack the people who call them names and try to make them feel bad about the way their bodies are naturally built. I absolutely welcome thin allies to the fat acceptance movement. And I would like everyone — fat, thin, in-between, disabled, temporarily able-bodied, short, tall, hairy, bald, with any skin tone or texture, any shape or bone structure — to feel good about their bodies.
But fat acceptance is still what I’m talking about specifically here. And that is a whole different thing.