I’m still new enough to Fat Acceptance that I don’t know about all of the internecine conflicts within the movement, but there’s one you can hardly miss if you read a few different fat blogs: the pro-dieting (or at least dieting-neutral) crowd vs. the anti-dieting crowd.
So far, my position has been that personally, I am staunchly anti-dieting — and will swiftly stamp out any dieting propaganda on this blog — but I am not going to get into a fight with those who disagree. I’d rather focus on things we can agree on. Opening this can of worms would not be worth it.
Now, I’m starting to think that maybe it’s worth it. I’ve read enough conversations on enough different blogs lately to feel like I’m taking crazy pills: all over the fatosphere, I’m suddenly seeing diet talk. And I understand a lot better now where BStu was coming from when he wrote this post, back when I was just a baby fat blogger wondering why we can’t all get along. You know, in May. (Was I ever so young?)
The Rotund already hit a lot of great points on this topic today. As she ably demonstrates, it is rather difficult to reconcile a deep belief in personal autonomy with a blanket anti-dieting stance. But in her comments, I just clarified the core of this issue for me:
I take the position that no one should pursue weight loss as a goal in and of itself. That is not the same as believing any individual who pursues weight loss is automatically stupid, misguided, or incapable of supporting some elements of fat acceptance. It is my political stance on the matter, not a reflection of my personal feelings about any given person’s choices. There are too many different people and too many different reasons for that choice for me to say I have a problem with people who diet. But I have a problem with the practice of dieting, in the abstract. Big one.
Put it this way: I also take the position that no one should vote for a Republican president. That’s because, in the abstract, I believe there are solid, logical, demonstrable reasons not to vote for a Republican president. But I had dinner the other night with someone who voted for fucking Bush, and we had fun. I have no personal opinion whatsoever on the vast majority of Republican voters, whom I don’t know and never will. I could probably have dinner with plenty of them, and I wouldn’t feel any pressing need to fight with every one of them about their choices, because this is (at least nominally) a democracy, and that’s how it works. People do what they think is best, and as long as it’s legal and not violent, I’ll support their right to do that. But in the abstract, based on the best information I have, I still believe voting Republican is a bad choice, and I have no problem saying so publicly. That’s where I come down on the issue, not on the individuals who do it.
And that’s exactly how I feel about dieting.
Still with me? Here’s where it gets controversial. I do not believe you can truly be a fat acceptance activist and support dieting any more than you can be a liberal activist and support Bush. I believe the two are simply irreconcilable.
Having thrown down that gauntlet, let me clarify a few things.
- Making changes in your eating and exercise habits with an eye to improving your health is not dieting. It is practicing Health at Every Size, which I advocate every chance I get.
- Making changes in your eating and exercise habits with an eye to losing weight is dieting. Even if you claim you’re doing it for your health. And yes, I think the distinction there is incredibly important,which I’ll elaborate on in a minute.
- There are some pro-dieting/dieting-neutral people whom I generally admire and who have done some really terrific, fat-positive things. But as long as they remain unwilling to take the position that the deliberate pursuit of weight loss is antithetical to fat acceptance, I cannot call them fat acceptance activists.
1. Deliberately trying to lose weight is, by definition, not accepting your own fat.
I realize that at the individual level, this gets really murky. Hell, I mentioned in comments yesterday that I’m thinking of switching from Lexapro to a different antidepressant, because I’ve gained a lot of weight since I’ve been on it, and I’m now right on the border of going beyond what history has shown to be my natural weight range. Furthermore, frankly, my boobs are totally fucking out of control these days, and it makes both buying bras and doing some yoga poses a lot harder. I don’t believe those are good reasons to diet; I do think they’re good reasons to try another drug that might not have the same effect. So it has nothing to do with whether I think I can be attractive and healthy as a fat person, and everything to do with having gained like 25 or 30 lbs. in a relatively short amount of time, for no apparent reason other than medication, and with no sign of it slowing down; that’s not normal for my body, and if a different drug can bring the happy without forcing me to buy new clothes every few months (don’t get me wrong: I LOVE buying new clothes, just not being forced), then I want to try it. If a different drug can’t bring the happy, mind you, then I’ll start having bras custom made and figure out new yoga modifications and keep on buying new clothes, because I have no fear of being fat, and a huge fear of being depressed again.
But then, I realize I’m splitting hairs there. And I also realize people who make arguments like, “But I don’t want to be thin, I just want to lose a little weight for my health!” believe they’re splitting basically the same hairs. Like I said, it gets murky. But saying you want to lose just a little weight, or that you only want to lose weight for your health, ignores one of the principal points fat acceptance activists keep trying to make:
Here’s where the “solid, logical, demonstrable reasons” I mentioned before come in. There is no good reason in the world to believe that dieting will make you any thinner in the long run. There is ample reason to believe dieting will, in fact, make you fatter in the long run. There is also ample reason to believe that eating a balanced diet and exercising are good for your health regardless of whether you lose weight. But there is still not one good reason to believe dieting will make you thinner.
So when I see people saying they just want to lose a little weight, or they’re just trying to lose weight for their health, or they’re just trying to lose weight for personal reasons, I think, well, fine. Whatever. Knock yourself out. But if you can’t grok that long-term deliberate weight loss is virtually impossible, you’re missing a really big point of the fat acceptance movement.
And if it’s really about your health, and you’ve read anything about Health at Every Size — which, if you’ve participated in the fat acceptance community for fifteen minutes, you have — why are you still including weight loss as a goal? The only logical conclusion is that you don’t actually accept your own fat, which is, fortunately or unfortunately, a key component of general fat acceptance.
3. This is the biggie: We live in a pro-dieting culture, and it hurts people.
As The Rotund puts it, fat acceptance activists aren’t trying to eliminate dieting (though it might be nice) so much as “unprivilege” it. In this culture, wanting to lose weight is the norm for all but the already very thin, despite the evidence that diets don’t work and weight loss, in and of itself, does not improve health. The primacy of dieting is perpetuated by lies, distortions, bigotry, and bad science, with only the occasional dash of truth or logic dropped in, but it’s incredibly effective. And that contributes not only to eating disorders, body image problems, and health problems, but to a culture that, as a whole, agrees fat is always unacceptable. Which, last time I checked, is what fat acceptance activists are trying to change.
So I guess what I’m saying is, you can’t dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools. I mean, I don’t even necessarily believe in that axiom across the board, but when it comes to dieting, I sure do. I believe — based on science and logic — that there is no such thing as a “healthy” weight loss plan. I definitely believe there is no such thing as a “proven” weight loss plan. Most importantly, I believe that the myths of those things hurt people.
And I believe that the logical alternative to those myths is fat acceptance and Health at Every Size. I don’t believe the pursuit of deliberate weight loss can ever be folded into fat acceptance.
It’s not about judging people, or telling them what to do with their bodies, or trying to kick some people off of Team Fat. It’s about the reality of dieting as an abstract concept, as I see it, based on the best information I can find. It’s about the culture we live in, and the culture I want to live in. It’s about standing for something in particular, because I believe it’s right, not about condemning people who disagree with me.
I think dieting is bullshit. And I think it’s antithetical to fat acceptance.
There, I said it.