Fat, Fillyjonk, Health at Every Size

Corollary 2: But it’s easier for some people

This one’s hard to write because it goes outside my experience, so bear with me.

Okay, so I have a dieting and ED history, and I’m getting over a pretty severe disconnection with my body. I still don’t always know what it wants me to eat, though I’m getting a better idea of what it doesn’t want me to eat (which, ironically, includes most of the canonical Fat Foods like burgers and bacon and cheese). That makes not dieting easier in a sense, because nobody’s going to judge my food choices; I often look, for all intents and purposes, like I’m on a diet, because I don’t eat fatty or heavy foods and I can’t eat much at a time. At least, I look like I’m on a diet until you put a cookie in front of me. Anyway, but of course it also makes not dieting harder because I’m fighting against a whole lot of disordered thinking.

But here’s something that makes not dieting much easier for me than it is for a lot of you: I am, basically, a healthy person. Yes, I have some indeterminate stomach troubles, but those just help put a premium on listening to my body, which will punish me if I give it something it does not want. I have PCOS, but it’s not a huge problem for me. As long as I take my medication and just keep plugging along, my blood sugar and triglycerides are good enough to keep my endocrinologist happy (and bless her, if the tests go down while the scale goes up, she’s satisfied anyway). I am able-bodied enough to exercise regularly. I’m young. I don’t have joint problems or diabetes. I’m not trying to get pregnant.

So it’s really easy for me to say “listen to your body”; mine has its idiosyncrasies, but it isn’t my enemy. It’s really easy for me to say “the weight you’re at when you’re healthy is your healthy weight”; I’m healthy, overall. It’s really easy for me to say “you don’t need to lose weight”; my doctor isn’t telling me that it’s the only thing that will save my mobility or my life.

And this is a difficult conundrum. Because I think that if all doctors embraced HAES, then they would see that maybe you don’t have to lose weight to improve mobility — you just have to build muscle. They would see that it’s not weight loss that will help your blood glucose levels — it’s not overdosing on sugar. But that’s a Utopian vision. Not every doctor has even heard of HAES, and meanwhile, they can and will deny you treatment if they don’t see the scale go down.

When it comes to people whose bodies are their enemies, I truly believe that HAES is still for you. It doesn’t mean “optimal picture of glowing Aryan front-of-Shape-magazine health at every size”; it means “the best health for you, independent of weight.” That’s how it was conceived, and it can still work for you. If you have fibromyalgia, for instance, you can’t go to the gym as often as DHHS might recommend. But you can go as often as you can go, or take a walk as often as you can take a walk, or do gentle yoga as often as you can do gentle yoga, or not exercise when you really can’t and feel good about it because you’re giving yourself the rest you need. You’re still treating yourself well, regardless of the number on the scale. Maybe you feel at odds with your body — it won’t work with you, it doesn’t deserve good treatment. You’ve got a good reason for that. But everyone feels a little of that — everyone in a diet culture makes war on their bodies, until they stop, even if their bodies aren’t making war back. Why add the self-hatred and self-abuse of dieting into an already tense mix? HAES can produce an uneasy detente; it might not make you allies, but it will take out some of the hostilities.

For people who are ill and caught up in an inimical medical system, though, it’s really fucking tricky and no lie. The Rotund said something on her blog about how right now, maybe weight loss is more important than activism for you, and it is absolutely your right to set those priorities, but they still can’t coexist. But on the other hand, who knows better the dangers of an HAES-negative medical system than someone whose treatment is contingent on weight loss? Perhaps you think of it as a temporary hiatus from activism, but perhaps you think of it as an undercover spy job. I don’t know, I don’t have an answer for this one. I think it’s reasonable that people see the judgment implicit in “I don’t think YOU should have to lose weight, but at MY weight, which is also YOUR weight, I certainly can’t be healthy.” Or, god forbid, “at MY former weight, which is also YOUR weight, I felt JUST TERRIBLE. Just my opinion though.” See what I mean? But I think there’s a big difference between that and saying “listen, I have to play the game or they will leave me to die.” The problem in that case? It isn’t you.

So I’m leaving this open, because shit, I don’t know the answer. But I wanted to say that I acknowledge the conundrum here.

29 thoughts on “Corollary 2: But it’s easier for some people”

  1. What is PCOS? I struggle with abbreviations. I still shudder whenever I think you women are talking about erectile dysfunction.

    These health distinctions really do complicate the issue.

  2. What I find really funny, really hypocritical, is that fat people who support the movement but still wish to lose weight now get slated by all sides: by fat people for wanting to be less fat, by thin people who see fat as the closest thing to modern evil on the face of the earth (and, let us not forget, Global Warming), and by themselves.

    This is why I, morbidly obese woman, am not a part of the FA movement – you won’t accept me. Come on, you’ve got to admit that’s funny, right? Fat acceptance – but only for the fat people! Oh, the irony.

    For what it’s worth, I speak from personal experience of being rejected by the FAM. And yeah, I’m going to include the entire movement as a whole, because it’s clear to me through not only this current, ah, ‘discussion’, but through incidents that I’ve experienced in the past, that you can only be in the movement if you’re fat. Personally, I think there’s something wrong that. Martin Luther King didn’t say ‘you can only protest if you’re black!’. Gandhi didn’t say ‘only if you’re an indian!’. Nelson Mandela didn’t say ‘only if you’re black as night and don’t have a trace of white blood in you!’.

    As for myself? Yeah, I’ve been denied medical treatment. I moved countries because of it, and although I’ve been able to get treatment, now I’m deeply in debt, I’m pregnant, I’m not eligable for state aid even though both my husband and myself are unemployed, I can’t afford insurance…the list goes on.

    It would be nice to feel accepted, and to be honest, I’ve got more chance of that by losing weight than I do trying desperately to be accepted by other fat people. Again, the irony!

  3. Anonymous, it sucks to be in the position that you are in. There is no denying that. I don’t think any of us have anything other than sympathy for that situation.

    That still doesn’t change the fundamental nature of Fat Acceptance.

    It sucks and it makes me sad, and it also frustrates the hell out of me because we have all said, time and again, that people are are dieting can absolutely participate in the movement. Discussing this stuff and defining these terms does not mean we don’t want people to come and discuss ways to advance fat causes and issues. It just means we aren’t going to talk about your diet. You aren’t going to get any support for your diet from the movement as a political entity. From individual friends, yeah, maybe. Depends on the friends. *grin*

    And it does feel nice to be accepted on all counts and I am sorry that Fat Acceptance can’t offer that to you but Fat Acceptance cannot be all things to all people.

  4. Also, I am sure things are different from area to area and blog to blog but some of my staunchest allies are people who are not fat. People of all body types are absolutely vital to the movement.

  5. katecontinued, I hear you… I frequent some wedding boards where people keep talking about BMs (bridesmaids) and STDs (save-the-dates). Kills me. PCOS polycystic ovary syndrome.

    Anonymous, you seem particularly committed to feeling bitter and underserved. I won’t take that away from you. I will put forth the opinion that you haven’t been reading very carefully. Shit, three people blog here and one of them isn’t fat — I think that’s pretty telling. But Sweet Machine does not spend her posts talking about how great it is that she’s not fat, or how she should really get skinnier, or how we should all support her in her non-fatness.

    Although you’re saying you are fat, but aren’t accepted by the movement, because it only accepts people who are fat, so I have to confess I’m pretty confused.

  6. Maybe i’ve totally missed something, but i don’t recall reading any posts (maybe it was in the comments?) where someone stated that you can’t be part of the fat acceptance movement if you’re not fat.

  7. “People of all body types are absolutely vital to the movement”

    Really? Because I have to say, I don’t think I’ve come across anyone considered within the ‘socially acceptable’ range amongst the various posters and blogs (admittedly fewer blogs, again because I don’t feel particularly welcome on them, even as a lurker). Maybe I’m wrong, maybe there are Vogue fashion models reading and commenting and I’m just too blind to see it. Am I pro-fat acceptance, hell yeah!! Do I feel accepted within the movement – hell no.

    And here’s my other big problem – I don’t diet. Before I got pregnant I was sorta losing weight, it wasn’t anything particularly deliberate, it was merely a change in eating habits that makes most doctors, ah, very unhappy or cautiously optimistic. Is it nice to lose weight? Sure. Better still is not eating something and having my stomach hurt, or having a mood swing, or getting a headache, being able to sleep for 7-8 hours without waking up for an hour or two in between. Those things I treasure far more than whether or not the scale moves down.

    For me, diet is not the right word, because I’m not dieting. I’m not cutting down portions, I’m not obsessing over ever single gram of fat or how many ounces of whatever I consume, that’s not at all important in what I’m eating. The problem is, I don’t think that matters. It feels like the only way I can be accepted is if I’m fat, period. This whole kerfuffle over Hanne Blank, who’m I’d never heard of before the other day, just makes me feel even more unacceptable.

    So, to make a long post longer, no, I don’t think you can a) lose weight or b) be of less than a certain size (I don’t know what that size is, but I suspect it’s not too small) and still be part of the movement. Morbidly obese though I am, I’ll never be accepted in it. And, to use the word even more, that’s a hard thing to take, just one more bit of rejection that I just don’t need.

  8. “that people are are dieting can absolutely participate in the movement. Discussing this stuff and defining these terms does not mean we don’t want people to come and discuss ways to advance fat causes and issues. It just means we aren’t going to talk about your diet. You aren’t going to get any support for your diet from the movement as a political entity.”

    the rotund: that is so correct! actually i almost don’t get it sometimes why poeple will feel the need to discuss their diets everywhere. it’s like they feel safer in the fa community and therefore want to discuss it there.

    and one thing more. dieting is contagious! yeah it really is! hearing other people talking about losing weight will in many cases pull the trigger again.

    people need “diet free space”. a space were dieting isn’t the goal and the norm and where it’s instead questioned.

  9. Anonymous, I’m really confused as to what point you’re trying to make; we’ve all been discussing whether the FA movement has room for dieters, yet you’re alienated because you *don’t* diet; you claim the FA movement alienates non-fat people, yet you’re alienated because you *are* fat. We just had a lengthy discussion on this very blog about why people of various sizes can benefit from fat acceptance, so I’m not sure what you are trying to accuse us of.

  10. Anonymous, I wish you would articulate WHY you don’t feel accepted in the movement. Sweet Machine is, as she has stated in previous entries so that people know where she is coming from, that she is not fat. I’ve had guest posters who are not fat by ANY standards and several of my commenters are not only not fat but are so thin that they experience a lot of body hatred directed at them because of it!

    I weight over 300 pounds. I am on the cusp of not being able to shop in regular stores. That does not make me too fat for fat acceptance. And my good friend being a size 4 doesn’t make her any less welcome in the discussion and movement.

    Near as I can tell from your comments, you aren’t even involved in dieting – you just wish, as many people do, that they were smaller. That’s totally normal.

    And it also makes all of these posts not about you.

  11. I’m trying to understand what this kerfufle is about, so hopefully others will bear with me…

    I talked about this a bit over on The Rotund today. I would liken talking about dieting in a fat acceptance/activist space as talking about become a so-called “ex-gay” in a queer acceptance/activist space. Advocating and promoting the work of the “ex-gay” movement, and your own work to become an “ex-gay,” when you have previously been a queer acceptance advocate, will undoubtedly open you up for public criticism – rightly so. And if you come into a queer safe space, you can sure bet no one wants to hear about your “conversion.”

    (Interestingly, the ex-gay movement has a 99% long-term failure rate, too.)

  12. PS (I’m really getting bad about posting PSs!) – my above comment was mainly geared towards Anonymous.

  13. Since you are outside your experience, I’ll chime in as a fat person who has a bunch of health problems.

    I’m not going to try to lose weight for one simple reason:

    1. Deliberate weight loss, in the vast majority of cases, does not work in the long run.

    When I hear people saying that fat acceptance is all right for healthy people, but shouldn’t people with health problems still lose weight, I think it’s similar to the following conversation:

    “Bleeding people by using leeches doesn’t make people healthy. In fact it makes them worse.”

    “OK, but what about sick people? Shouldn’t we bleed them anyway? I mean, they’re SICK, so we have to do SOMETHING.”

    As for who belongs in the fat-acceptance movement, plenty of people sometimes “want” to be less fat. There wouldn’t be much of a movement if no one who ever “wanted” to be less fat were kicked out. What makes a person fat-accepting isn’t what they “want,” it’s what they “do” and what they “believe.”

  14. Stef, I LOVE the leeches analogy (I majored in history of science in undergrad, so that gave me warm fuzzies, which… leeches usually don’t). I guess the part I find ambiguous, though, is let’s say you knew leeches didn’t work, but the doctors wouldn’t give you the medicine until you tried the leeches first (we are deviating from real history in imagining there to be truly effective medicine concurrent with leeches). Basically, “I will treat you once you lose 10% of your blood.” You’re going to end up weak, literally drained, probably sicker, and feeling like a sellout, but then you’ll get help. Can you really be expected to say “no thanks, I’m anti-leech”?

    I mean, maybe you can’t be expected to say that, but you also can’t expect to be active in the anti-leech movement while constantly rolling up your sleeves and showing off your little stowaways. And I think that’s fair. But it would also reasonable for you to say “I’m all the more anti-leech because I’m being forced to deal with these little guys so I can get treatment.”

  15. I totally agree with the ex-gay analogy and I totally agree that we need a diet free space. I’ve seen talk shows focusing on eating disorders dissolve into basically viewers calling in asking the nutritionist or doctor for diet tips. Sometimes it happens in the blogs too – it can be comments like “Weight loss surgery really changed my life, but I realize it can’t be the solution for everyone…” that basically beg for others to ask how it changed your life and why you think it was so life-changing.

    Diet talk is so dominating in our culture that it’s very difficult to talk about fat without talking about dieting. The fat acceptance movement is trying to offer an alternative to this. If fat acceptance blogs become diet blogs, where will the anti-diet people go?

  16. Stef, that’s my take on losing weight for health reasons too. My mother has osteoarthritis in her knees, even though for most of her life she wasn’t fat at all or just a bit chubby. So there’s a possibility I’ve inherited that tendency for arthritis to develop. The standard medical advice would be to lose some weight so I might stave off the arthritis or put less pressure on damaged joints. But I KNOW from the many times I’ve lost weight previously I ALWAYS put more back on no matter how much “willpower” I have, and I know that yo-yo-ing weight is far less healthy than a stable weight. So why on earth would I want to try to lose weight again? It’s really pointless. I just concentrate on happy low-impact exercise and strengthening and try to accept that that’s the best I can do for my body.

    It certainly doesn’t stop me wishing sometimes that I was thinner – decades of being told by your family and friends how much better things will be if only I lost weight, you have such a pretty face, you’re going to have a heart attack, we just worry about your health, fat is just plain unattractive, etc etc etc – like the posts here have said in great detail, it is very, very hard to escape from that, especially when society fully supports those notions. And I can definitely understand Meowser’s comment (which I think might be over at The Rotund, actually) about thinking that being thinner would give one more credibility as a HAES and fat activism supporter, seeing as how fat people are only into fat acceptance because they don’t want to put down the pizza and go for a walk. I.e., just for some damn respect. But it (getting thinner) ain’t gonna happen, so I try to do what I can towards that, as fat as I am.

    And once again, it’s not. bloody. easy.

  17. And I can definitely understand Meowser’s comment (which I think might be over at The Rotund, actually) about thinking that being thinner would give one more credibility as a HAES and fat activism supporter

    Or I could just try being less boring, I guess. :-P

  18. Thank you, fillyjonk, for the link to PCOS. I have never heard of this. (The BM and STD references cracked me up.)

  19. I think it’s something all fat women should be aware of. I’m certainly not the only person who went through years and years of mysterious weight gain and ineffective dieting only to find out that I was insulin resistant.

  20. fillyjonk @ 15: “I will treat you once you lose 10% of your blood.” You’re going to end up weak, literally drained, probably sicker, and feeling like a sellout, but then you’ll get help. Can you really be expected to say “no thanks, I’m anti-leech”?

    If it happened to me and I truly believed that the leech-doctor was the only person who could help me and the leech doctor was adamant about the leech part, well, I don’t know what I would do. But it would be a really lousy position to be in, and I hope it doesn’t happen to me or anyone else. (I know it does happen, sadly.)

  21. Stef, because I am slow on the uptake, I just realized that you’re cat-and-dragon Stef. So you’re already doing something to help us find the leech-free doctors!

  22. Aiya, so many comments to catch up on. Instead of replying to every single commenter who was confused by what I said, I’ll try to be more clear.

    1) I do not feel accepted by the FA movement because of how I eat (which I suspect most of you would consider a diet)(even though it isn’t, honest), and how I like to discuss that from time to time because a) I think it’s interesting that some physical things I was experiencing stopped when I changed my eating habits. B) it’s fun to talk about recipes and the slow food movement and how farming practices affect us all*

    2) I have been directly discriminated against by some people in the FAM. It was years ago and I’m not going to talk about it. Do I still believe in the movement, absolutely. Do I feel like I’ll ever be accepted by the FAM, no.

    3) okay, I do have to respond to fillyjonk, who said: “Anonymous, you seem particularly committed to feeling bitter and underserved.” (I’m assuming you’re talking about me, ignore if not!). Yes, I do feel bitter about that rejection, and yes, I do feel bitter that I’m not accepted. You can tell me that I am all you want, but when I read vehement posts (not necessarily anything that’s been posted recently, or here, ftm) about not accepting people in who want to be smaller than they are, for whatever reason, to me that says ‘no one allowed who doesn’t want to be the size they are’. For me, that’s just one more rejection, something I’ve had far more of my fill of than yes, than I deserve.

    4) I’ve only recently come across this blog, amongst others, due to BFB’s Big Fat Index. Apart from Kate I don’t know anything about the other authors of this blog.

    5) My mother is a 1st generation American whose parents came over from Europe on the Boat. My father’s family came over on the slave ships. Trust me when I say I’ve been brought up to be critical of my own prejudices as well as those of others. I was taught that people are people no matter what they look like, perhaps more importantly, that they’re people no matter how they treat me, and to always consider the source of whatever whomever might say to me. While I don’t feel the FAM can ever accept me, I certainly accept and promote it

    6) I do believe that it’s always good for any movement to be self-critical.

    Gah, I’m kind of losing track of my thoughts now. It’s late, it’s been a long, hot day and I’m struggling to find maternity clothes that might fit me in a couple of months.

    Anyway, hope that makes more sense. Oo, I’ve given myself a new nick, AnonymousAndCo, so y’all can delineate me from the other anonymous’.

    *I’m really big on local farms and local food, and am always looking for farmers markets, and farmers who sell produce, meat, and dairy from their farms, et al.

  23. I’ll let other people respond to this. I do think there’s some serious, possibly wilful misreading going on. I also think this juxtaposition is very funny:

    FJ: “I often look, for all intents and purposes, like I’m on a diet, because I don’t eat fatty or heavy foods and I can’t eat much at a time.”

    Anonymous: “I do not feel accepted by the FA movement because of how I eat (which I suspect most of you would consider a diet)(even though it isn’t, honest)”

    I guess I just feel like you’ve picked a strange place to air these grievances.

  24. A strange place, indeed.

    a) I think it’s interesting that some physical things I was experiencing stopped when I changed my eating habits. B) it’s fun to talk about recipes and the slow food movement and how farming practices affect us all*

    Yes, and A can certainly be discussed under the rubric of HAES, if you put it that way — physical changes happened because you changed your eating habits, not because you lost weight. But at the same time, not everyone is practicing HAES, and we’re talking about acceptance, rights, and pride for all fat people, regardless of their eating habits or health, so even that discussion has a limit within the context of the movement.

    B is just WAY beyond the scope of fat acceptance. Activism isn’t about what’s “fun to talk about.” I’m sure you can find friends within the movement who would be happy to discuss recipes, slow food, and farming practices with you, as friends. Hell, I enjoy discussing all those things. But that’s a whole different thing from putting those discussions on the agenda of an organized movement for fat acceptance. There are a million contexts in which to discuss those things, and this isn’t one of them.

    I’m sorry you’ve felt alienated, Anonymous, but frankly, if what you’re saying is, “I don’t feel welcome because I want to talk about weight loss and slow food and recipes,” well… I can understand why you don’t feel welcome. You’re barking up the wrong tree entirely.

    Oh, and back to your post at 8, this blog has a thin writer as well as numerous thin readers — both personal friends of ours and people who have identified themselves as such in comments. No one ever, ever said being thin is antithetical to fat acceptance. What we said is, trying to lose weight — i.e., not accepting your body as it is — is antithetical to fat acceptance.

    I can’t believe I’m still explaining this.

  25. Honestly, I think all this discussion and controversy is actually a good thing. After all, we’ve had 100+ years of “dieting/weight loss = good health!” messaging, but only… how much time with “dieting = not good”? It’s going to take time to get the word out, and of course there will be resistance. After all, the Church only recently apologized to Galileo for proclaiming the Sun was the center of the solar system – sometimes it takes time to change deep-seated beliefs!

    The movement has to start somewhere, and even if it doesn’t get everything 100% correct at the start, the basic ideas are what matters. “Love yourself as you are”? Not a bad basic tenet! The rest is going to take some time to explain, break down and process. And if we don’t get the right message out to everyone – including people who feel outside the experience at both ends of the extremes – it’s not because those people don’t matter. It’s because this is the BEGINNING. Make your voice heard with a constructive message and help build the movement!

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