Open Thread: Fat Acceptance 101

[Content Note: Fat Acceptance]

Some of you have asked for a fat acceptance 101 open thread in order to ask genuine questions in a relatively safe space free from trollage. Here it is. I will not be moderating this thread as a Strong Safe Space like I usually do, but I will be moderating it for trolling and rudeness, so behave. For the polite people who asked polite questions in the Hunger Games thread about obesity epidemics, here is where you can ask genuine questions and get genuine answers if you want them.

Be polite, and remember that there is a difference between "wanting to learn" and "trying to convince". For those of you who really want to be fat allies and just don't know where to start, you can learn here, if the commenters choose to share their spoons with you. For those of you who are just interested in teaching fat people everything you think you know about fat bodies, this is not the thread for you. Just sayin'.

I highly recommend that people read this before posting here, especially point #1:
1. Weight itself is not a health problem, except in the most extreme cases (i.e., being underweight or so fat you’re immobilized). In fact, fat people live longer than thin people and are more likely to survive cardiac events, and some studies have shown that fat can protect against “infections, cancer, lung disease, heart disease, osteoporosis, anemia, high blood pressure, rheumatoid arthritis and type 2 diabetes.” Yeah, you read that right: even the goddamned diabetes. Now, I’m not saying we should all go out and get fat for our health (which we wouldn’t be able to do anyway, because no one knows how to make a naturally thin person fat any more than they know how to make a naturally fat person thin; see point 4), but I’m definitely saying obesity research is turning up surprising information all the time — much of which goes ignored by the media — and people who give a damn about critical thinking would be foolish to accept the party line on fat. Just because you’ve heard over and over and over that fat! kills! doesn’t mean it’s true. It just means that people in this culture really love saying it.


Zadi Rose said...

Thanks for your input. On a large scale, I get that my question is pretty minor (an awkward reference versus, say, eliminationist judgey shitheaddery), but also that all the little bits matter. That's what dealing with the kyriarchy is all about.

I love the big-beautiful-woman suggestion. It acknowledges that size may be the easiest identifier, refuses to dodge the subject, but emphasizes right off the bat that there are no negatives here, thank you very much. And yeah, not knowing how said person references hirself is a really good point too. So I guess it matters on multiple fronts; being not-hurtful to the referenced person if said statement ever got back to hir, and refusing to perpetuate shitty privileged language in general, even if it doesn't directly involve the referenced person at all.

This requires a lot more thought and deconstruction on my part, if only so I can figure out how my own brain works in the context of cultural conditioning. I hate being caught between looking like a privileged asshat and having nothing useful to say. But this is a good starting point. Thank you.


Zadi Rose said...

Content note: discussion of fat shaming, race, and facetious privileged bullshit

Okay, I've got one. Apologies up front for if I mistakenly word things awkwardly, as I'm just getting going on this particular (FA, HAES, etc.) research journey.

I totally get that 'fat' is (and should be) a neutral descriptor, but at the same time it carries a hell of a lot of cultural baggage. Fat as opposed to attractive. Fat language being used as a shaming/manipulation tactic. Fat as a seriously scathing judgement on someone's very existence.


SO. Let's say you're at a crowded event, and you find yourself in the position of describing or pointing out someone across the room to a conversation partner. The person you're identifying, let's say, has blonde hair, is wearing a blue shirt, and is fat. In the past, I've found myself staunchly (and occasionally awkwardly) avoiding any weight-based descriptors, in favor of coming up with some other identifying handle. 'The blonde by the water cooler, see?' It gets harder when the blonde in question is in a group of other blondes, all wearing similar attire.

I find myself doing the same thing with race, to avoid what seems to my rather-uneducated-in-this-topic mind to be a really really really tired trope about all persons of a particular nationality looking the same, or that race is *always* the most important descriptor. 'Guy in hat' vs. 'black guy.'

My question, in this 101 space, is whether this avoiding-the-topic tactic is helpful in the slightest. I do think that people must get seriously tired of being referenced solely by their culturally-baggage-laden-for-whatever-reason descriptor, and that referencing to a fat person directly as such could totally be hurtful and negative, given myriad contexts. And I'm sure a significant part of it is who you're saying this *to*, and what their perspectives and attitudes are, but that's often really hard to judge.

On the one hand, it would be easy to look like a judgmental asshole by referring to someone by their body size (though 'tall' isn't an issue... aargh everything). On the other hand, the sometimes obvious awkward talking around the issue could be hurtful in and of itself. 'I'm trying really really hard not to say that I mean the fat lady over there, but that's totally the subtext. See how sensitive I am? Aren't I awesome and progressive for not pointing out that this person possesses this undesirable trait? Wink wink nudge nudge.' That's garbage.

For context, I happen to have a mainstream-culturally accepted body size, and generally get a fair bit of 'pretty privilege' and such. Maybe, being relatively thin and white, and given all the ickiness associated with this stuff, I just have no right to use such words in this culture and should continue as I am, and it's my own damn problem how to work out my discomfort. To clarify, I'm really just asking what the least hurtful/most positive way is to handle this particular semantic issue.

Thanks for providing the opportunity to have these conversations!

newest reader said...

Big fat thanks from this quarter. As one who is struggling with not only a body that does not well fit my soul in many ways but with relatives who think that some aspects of it, like fat, are my fault and need to be "done something about"'s good to read the words of people who can sometimes say things better than I can.
I discovered this blog by way of the Narnia discussions. I haven't read far enough back to see if you have ever taken on another issue...that of people who are more interested in things/ideas/places than in people, but who do not fit on the "autistic spectrum"...and need more respect than we sometimes get.

Brin Bellway said...

Is this where I complain about having a cold on my birthday? It's the only active thread labelled "Open Thread", but it also has a topic that began in the OP and has carried on ever since.

(My brother's been sick for the past few days, so it's not a total surprise. Still, terrible timing. Couldn't it have waited 36 hours? Hell, I'd have taken 24. Developing a sore throat at 9:30 PM on your birthday is a pretty sucky way to end, but it's better than 9:30 the night before.)

Laura Woods said...

Lurker here, just wanted to say thank you for starting this thread. I'm very new to FA (had to google HAES, but am very glad I did!) so this is really educational. Don't have any specific questions, just wanted to add my thanks and encouragement to everyone who's posted so far :)

Makabit said...

But fortunately I don't think it's a vital pillar without which the rest of FA/HAES falls apart - even if it were magically possible for every single person to perfectly control their weight with salads and tennis, it still wouldn't be acceptable to give fat people substandard medical attention. It still wouldn't be okay to ostracise fat people from a group or immediately judge a person's character by their weight. It still wouldn't be true that fat is axiomatically ugly or unhealthy, or that being thin will definitely make you healthier. So I mostly focus on all of those points and zone out a bit at other times.

This, this, this. It sometimes feels to me as though we get backed into corners where the only way to escape the incessant drumbeat of "Thin equals healthy, virtuous and beautiful, anyone can do it, and if you're not thin, you're not trying hard enough, and if you're not trying, you're hurting yourself and others," is to counter with dogma and IRREFUTABLE SCIENCE of our own. And dogma does not tend to really fit all the people and all the bodies very well. But nuance is hard, and complex, and leaves you open to attack.

And with this in mind, @Ana, I agree that the emphatic quality of the Harding post undoubtedly comes from years of frustration with, well, all the crap. And I get that. I guess I just struggle for some sort of ground that seems to fit into my reality.

Will Wildman said...

Regarding freaks whose weight can make substantial long-term changes: this is an area where I'm not always sure how to interact with Fat Acceptance either, personally, but I also kind of feel sometimes like it's more of a liability than a support, so I try to sidestep it entirely. There's enough science and junk science and studies who methodologies can be dissected and argued over, and so much individual variation in how much weight can change, that it's hard to see how it will ever be possible to shut up the people who insist that if every just jogged more we would all be Socially Acceptably Shaped. (I hope that it is possible, but it's not a battle I care to engage in much.)

But fortunately I don't think it's a vital pillar without which the rest of FA/HAES falls apart - even if it were magically possible for every single person to perfectly control their weight with salads and tennis, it still wouldn't be acceptable to give fat people substandard medical attention. It still wouldn't be okay to ostracise fat people from a group or immediately judge a person's character by their weight. It still wouldn't be true that fat is axiomatically ugly or unhealthy, or that being thin will definitely make you healthier. So I mostly focus on all of those points and zone out a bit at other times.

(Without going into great detail, my weight has varied enormously over the last decade, but it has been in long slow trends that I can easily correlate to my changing lifestyle habits, not some ballistic yo-yo. I do gain weight much more readily than some people (like the amiable little elf of a co-worker who eats about four lunches per day), but I don't appear to have a natural equilibrium to which I trend. I can also observe that, for me (for me), improved overall health is accompanied by losing weight. I don't expect this to be true of others, and my problems are not their problems, but it does make me feel a bit awkward at times, when I feel like I'm being told that prodding myself to be healthier (which I know from experience will also result in weight loss) is a betrayal of FA and a buy-in to discriminatory ideologies.)

Makabit said...

I wrote a long post, and Disqus ate it. And maybe that was a sign. But I am going to try to repost some of the main idea here.

I read the link, and I was doing good, right up to this point:

"Diets don’t work. No, really, not even if you don’t call them diets. If you want to tell me about how YOUR diet totally worked, do me a favor and wait until you’ve kept all the weight off for five years. Not one year, not four years, five years. And if you’ve kept it off for that long, congratulations. You’re literally a freak of nature."

OK. Here is where I start to feel browbeaten and marginalized.

I know people who've lost weight and kept it off for longer than five years. I myself have lost weight. I am aware that for many people this is not possible/desirable/healthy. But adjusting one's weight is not, actually, universally impossible, because not everyone is at their metabolic set-point weight all the damn time. It's not just 'whatever weight you happen to be right this moment'. Yes, yo-yo dieting is bad. Yes, our ideas about weight loss in this society are warped and messed up. But I am frustrated to be told that if I take measures with my diet and my exercise habits to achieve a goal that FOR ME is achievable and desirable for whatever reasons, I'm either a sucker or a 'freak'. 'Freak'? Really?

I have never been thin. I'm never gonna BE thin. And I have wrestled with doctors who thought I should just go ahead and BE thin since high school. But I do not accept the idea that fat acceptance means that I have to accept, and keep, all the fat I happen to host at any given time, assuming that the weight I'm at now is necessarily more suitable to me than the weight I was ten years ago.

So this bugs me, more than a little bit. Am I just being defensive? Or what?

Dav said...

Oh, right, Anon II, there is that whole OTHER set of reasons that the study is not awesome.

On a sidenote, my favorite correlation/causation data?

In Oregon, how likely you are to get divorced is inversely correlated with the number of sheep nearby. More sheep, less divorce. Less sheep, more divorce.

If you interpret this causally - that is, increased numbers of sheep *cause* happier marriages - you get some rather entertaining explanations.


Fat and metabolism and disease are incredibly, incredibly complicated. Connecting all those together in a cogent manner is . . . worth working on, scientifically, but it's vital to take that research as it is. Sometimes the desire to make a story out of limited information can really be detrimental, and if that story gets set in stone socially, funding for science that reinforces that story can continue for quite a while.

Content Note: forced sterilization, abortion, political policy

Even, theoretically, if the story is true, the spinning can provide support for some incredibly harmful beliefs and practices. For example, some portion of intelligence is inheritable in the population. Overall? Population-wide, if you have high-IQ testing parents, you get kids with slightly higher IQ's. (Yes, we're using IQ as an intelligence measurement. Yeah, it's bullshit-y.) But taking this as an imperative on an individual level is a hideous mistake; see the forced sterilization of women that continued until very recently in some states, and the dismissal of lack of economic mobility as genetics.

In short, we need to be very wary of data that supports the stories we like to tell, especially when making policy. Even if the story is true (and in biology, it's usually partly true with a thousand impact factors and a thousand other influences), we need to make sure that the legal policies we inact and the social policies we tolerate are compassionate and actually, you know, helpful. A lot of policies are about enforcing things that we think OUGHT to be true or helpful: we ought to be able to decrease teen pregnancy by outlawing abortion! People will stop drinking if alcohol is illegal! Guns everywhere will discourage crime!

When it turns out that, no, actually, none of these things work, and in fact directly and indirectly cause pain and misery, the measure of your desire to actually help is a measure of whether you drop that policy like a hot potato and find something that works better - or stop trying to engineer behavior and put your energy towards helping the poor, the downtrodden, and the outcasts.

The research we do should chip away at the truth, and the truth can help people. But it can also be wielded for evil. Sometimes that evil is well-intentioned. When my class found out about the freeway-autism connection, someone suggested in all seriousness that we should zone off areas around the freeway - in practice, shifting the poor outside the city and increasing their commute times dramatically. Sometimes it's not well-intended at all. DIet industry is a serious fucker. And it does not care about anything but making everyone feel like they need to diet all the time, and then profiting on misery and fear.

Ronixis said...

There's another problem with the freeway solution: it is assuming that "increased rates of autism" is necessarily a problem to be reversed.

Ice said...

That is wonderful! Thanks for the link!!

Kristy Griffin said...

Here's one!

Dav said...

See also this article on assumptions from 2011 that nicely touches on assumptions vs. evidence and the difficulty of figuring out what data *means*:

"Evidence: Except at statistical extremes, body mass index (BMI) - or amount of body fat - only weakly predicts longevity [32]. Most epidemiological studies find that people who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer [32-35]. Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys I, II, and III, which followed the largest nationally representative cohort of United States adults, determined that greatest longevity was in the overweight category [32]. As per the report, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and reviewed and approved by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute, "[this] finding is consistent with other results reported in the literature." Indeed, the most comprehensive review of the research pooled data for over 350,000 subjects from 26 studies and found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight [36]. More recently, Janssen analyzed data in the elderly (among whom more than 70 percent of all deaths occur) - also from 26 published studies - and similarly found no evidence of excess mortality associated with overweight [37]. The Americans' Changing Lives study came to a similar conclusion, indicating that "when socioeconomic and other risk factors are controlled for, obesity is not a significant risk factor for mortality; and... for those 55 or older, both overweight and obesity confer a significant decreased risk of mortality.""

"While it is well established that obesity is associated with increased risk for many diseases, causation is less well-established. Epidemiological studies rarely acknowledge factors like fitness, activity, nutrient intake, weight cycling or socioeconomic status when considering connections between weight and disease. Yet all play a role in determining health risk. When studies do control for these factors, increased risk of disease disappears or is significantly reduced "

" Most prospective observational studies suggest that weight loss increases the risk of premature death among obese individuals, even when the weight loss is intentional and the studies are well controlled with regard to known confounding factors, including hazardous behavior and underlying diseases [91-96]. "

Frenchroast said...

I think context matters. I yo-yo dieted from the age of 12 until mid-college, when I discovered a combination of HAES and focusing on eating fewer processed foods worked so much better for me. My mother, though she was trying to be helpful, is who started me on the yo-yo dieting--sometimes forcibly, sometimes through guilt, sometimes through coaxing. We fought about my weight for over a decade. My mother doesn't understand that our bodies are fundamentally different (I took after my dad's side of the family). I can't listen to anything she says about weight loss, because her advice has never worked for me, and the yo-yo dieting is actually what caused a substantial part of my weight gain. The only thing that has gotten her to shut up about my weight is the combination of me getting married (because she told me over and over again that no man could ever love a fat girl, but my husband proved her wrong on that) and taking up running, which she sees as proper weight-loss-inducing exercise--even though I haven't lost weight, and that's not why I took up running; I'm doing it for the challenge, to build endurance, and because unexpectedly, I actually like it.

All of this is to say that if my mother had approached me with HAES, I would have been hostile to it, and immediately distrusted it, because of all of the baggage we have concerning her issues with my weight. But I have friends who are thinner than me but who struggle with their weight. We support each other, and have a much more positive approach with each other. I'm not hostile to their advice and suggestions, because A) they don't think less of me because of how I look, B) I know they have their own weight struggles, and C) I know they will help me instead of just sabotaging me. I've told them about HAES and how it works for me, and they understand why it's the approach I've chosen. One of them has hopped aboard, so to speak; another has not, and that's okay. It's not what works for her.

I don't know you and your friend, or the nature of your friendship, or how your friend reacts to advice about weight. If it's a topic that you both talk to each other about, I'd say you're probably safe in bringing it up. That being said, here is my advice: I've always thought that the best way to evangelize (be it about weight, religion, etc.) is to show it working for you, and being open to talking about it when asked or when it naturally comes up in conversation. Talk about how it has helped you. Don't force it. Don't say she has to see it your way; say that HAES has worked for you, and you'd love to share it with her if she wants to hear about how great it has been, because you think it could be great for her, too. And if your friend doesn't want to talk about it anymore, then drop it.

Anonymus said...

I don't know if this is 101 question or not, but it is on topic, so:

Someone close to me is fat, and they've been yo-yo dieting for most of their life and losing weight is a real struggle for them. I worry about their health because yo-yo dieting is very unhealthy. I wish I could help them by showing them HAES and stuff, but they're really sensitive about their weight which is understandable given the culture we live in, and I don't want to hurt them by bringing it up, and I also don't know if it's my place to. I think it might be something they'll need to discover for themselves maybe, but I'm not sure. They are close enough to me that it might not be socially unacceptable to bring it up, but they are also close enough to me that I really care about not hurting them and I'm not sure it's right to bring up a sensitive topic that they might not want to talk about, though they do mention it themselves from time to time. There's also the issue that they're an adult and whether or not they want to yo-yo diet is their own business and it's important to let people make their own choices even if from an outside perspective we think could be making better ones.

So, what should I do? Should I continue to do nothing and hope they'll stumble on the Fat Nutritionist someday? Is it okay to send them a link to the Fat Nutritionist or will that be interpreted as sending an e-mail saying "Hi! I noticed you are fat!" Maybe I could link to a specific article in a "hey I read this thing that really resonated with me and so I'm just sharing because you're someone who is close to me and I know you like hearing what's going on in my life" sort of way?

If they bring up dieting around me, should I mention that I'm on a diet too and describe HAES in a "I'm just talking about what works for me and what you do with this information is your own business that doesn't concern me" sort of way? I am overweight on the charts, but not fat, and my body is happy where it is, for the record. (I am thinner than the person in question, which I think would matter from their standpoint even though it doesn't from mine.)

I want to evangelise about HAES, but I don't want to be an asshole. Does anyone know how not to be an asshole?

Ice said...

This is so terribly off-topic, but zombie race???

What is this and where do I find one?! Because this sounds like THE BEST way to get me to start running ever in the whole world!*

*I despise running, because it is boring. But I think it would be a LOT less boring if there were zombies!

MaryKaye said...

"Epidemic" is also an inappropriate word because it suggests contagion. If there is a measles epidemic in my city, my getting vaccinated or not affects others' health as well as my own, and there may be some legitimate moral pressure to get vaccinated. My having measles endangers unvaccinatable elders and infants around me.

Obesity is not contagious. My being fat does not expose you to a greater risk of being fat, unless I am feeding you, and very likely not even then. Using the word "epidemic" makes it way too easy to smuggle in implications that fat people are somehow responsible for making others fat, or are somehow endangering others' health, which they are not.

It is very likely that most people who are fat have genotypes with a high set point. I have taken up running (away from zombies, mostly) lately and I am healthier than I was before, but not lighter. It is also worth knowing that weight is a poor guide to fat. If you start strength training you will tend to gain weight, as muscle is heavier than fat, especially if you have a relatively inflexible set point. This often leads people to give up exercise that was good for them because it didn't make them lose weight.

I am lucky to have a body type that makes visually judging my weight difficult, so I don't get as much fat-shaming as other people my size do. The worst experience I have had personally was at the gym. My gym offered personal trainers, and I figured I could benefit from that. I carefully filled out a form explaining that I needed to work on (a) core strength and (b) cardio endurance, so as to pass my black belt test. I repeated this explanation to the trainer when I first met him. But I had to fire him after only two sessions, because he COULD NOT move away from his weight-loss script to hear what I actually needed. In session 2 I asked him why he was focusing on arm strength--not very useful in aikido--rather than core strength as I had asked. "Because it leads to faster weight loss." "But I'm not here for weight loss." "With your BMI you really need to lose weight." Dude, get a clue!

I did find a trainer--an ex-football guy, very different from me, but an excellent listener and good motivator. But it took me several tries, because the type described above was annoyingly common.

One thing that I find encouraging: in the events I've been doing recently there have been fat participants, and no one makes a fuss. They do more or less well depending on their personal level of skill and fitness, just like the non-fat participants. I was tagged out by a fat zombie in the last zombie race. While exercise is not a panacea or a moral requirement, for many people it's fun and healthful, and too often fat people have been shamed out of participating in activities they'd enjoy.

depizan said...

Regarding the tendancy of doctors to see illnesses in fat people, but not in thin people - if I (a thin person) go to the doctor and my blood work shows that my blood sugar is a little high or if my blood pressure is a little high, the nurses/doctors assume it's a fluke and retest or assume its a fluke and make a note to see if it's off again next time. If my mom's blood sugar is high or her blood pressure is high, she IS diabetic, she DOES have high blood pressure. Because, unlike me, my mom is fat. Considering that the reality is that neither of us are diabetic and neither of us have high blood pressure (despite those fluke readings), I have to wonder how many fat people are eroniously diagnosed and put on medications that might, in fact, harm them.

In other words, might it be a bit like being left handed. A risk to your life, not because it's inherently one, but because the world is more hazardous to you because of it.

storiteller said...

Yes! I was talking to a couple people in church who are considered overweight, and one said that the nurse always reads her blood pressure in a way that's guaranteed to have a high reading. She'll insist that they redo it correctly - on the other arm, not the one that's raised - because otherwise they'll make a fuss that they would never do if she wasn't overweight. She said the nurses are always annoyed about it, but that it's worth it to avoid a misdiagnosis.

And I am left-handed. Thankfully, unlike decades past, I don't get shamed for it.

storiteller said...

I totally understand and I knew you meant it to be sympathetic. I just wanted to point out that it stuck out to me as potentially being misread. Thanks for the clarification.

storiteller said...

Ana, as a cycling advocate, I would prefer that you not perpetuate the victim-blaming idea that when cyclists get hurt, it's their fault. While there are definitely things that cyclists can and should do to reduce injury (having lights at night is a big one, as is being predictable), that sort of thinking perpetuates the idea that accidents are their fault instead of crummy infrastructure or careless drivers. As I do know people who have been badly hurt in accidents, that comment struck me as kind of insensitive.

Also, I'd like to note that despite it's spandexed image, bicycling is great for people of all sizes. I've been passed by people much larger than me!

JonathanPelikan said...

((Completely and shamelessly off the topic, oh yeah))

((Hey, it says 'Open Thread', right?))

So I wrote a thing like a few minutes ago because I was thinking of stuff and allegory or not allegory but applicability which is different and actually much, much better and how people who live with tragedy or sorrow in their lives at some fundamental point and stuff:
And I just knew I wanted to post it here, of all places. I dunno.

graylor said...

CN: abortion, weight issues, sexuality, META

Having been reading more about the election than I probably ought to lately, then reading a few posts o the Fat Nutritionist, it's struck me that the mainstream/conservative discussions about a lot of 'social issues' (homosexuality, weight, and even birth control, not to mention abortion) all have the same tenor. 'Oh, no, we're not bullying anybody, we love the sinner and hate the sin like the upstanding souls we are, but we just have to keep telling that terrible *them* they're sinning because they don't know the Truth (ie, our opinion we've been braying for decades, because fatness and gayness and non-compliant-uterus-owning-ness correlate to deafness).'

A big cup of shut the fuck up: people need it.

Anonymus said...

Thanks for all the advice, guys. I'll take it into account if I get the opportunity to bring it up.

About correlation and causation. I don't remember the exact details, but the best explanation I heard of it, was that women who travel by airplane a certain number of times/year are more likely to survive a serious illness. There's a correlation there. But does it mean that air travel is good for your health? Not really, what it means is that women who can afford to fly frequently can also afford better healthcare, and so that if they get a serious illness, they'll be able to afford to get it treated. They might catch a serious illness sooner because they can afford regular health checkups. In this case, frequent plane travel and better access to healthcare are both correlated with having more money. The extra money makes both the plane trips possible and the better healthcare. It's not that the plane travel makes the health better or the better health makes the plane trips more frequent.

Similarly, if you look at thyroid problems and weight gain, we just know that the two are correlated. It could be that certain thyroid problems cause weight gain, or that the weight gain causes thyroid problems, or that something else entirely (perhaps a genetic marker) causes both. You can't tell which way the train went by looking at the tracks.

Smilodon said...

Whoever (maybe not even on this thread) recommended the Fat Nutritionist, thanks. I've now read almost her entire back archives. I'm surrounded by dieters, and I just needed someone to say "actually, eating the food your body wants, in the portion sizes it wants, is healthy. If those vary from other people of similar or different sizes than you, cool."

Ana Mardoll said...

That's a good question, and while I don't have an easy answer, I don't want to seem to ignore it.

I will say that the fact that you recognize that you have Thin Privilege and that having that privilege means your words sound different is important, so kudos for getting that down early in the game. :) As it relates to your question of "how to refer to people", probably what you are doing right now is about right: "the large lady/big lady/larger lady/big-beautiful-woman in the blue dress with the curly blonde hair" is less likely to be accidentally hurtful if overheard than "the fat lady".

That doesn't mean that you use "fat" as a pejorative or even that the woman in question uses "fat" as a pejorative, but just that you're acknowledging that you don't know how she refers to herself and are trying to be sensitive to that fact in a public place.

But, yes, as you note: it is sometimes very hard to find the right words. For many categories.

Cynicism Follows said...

I'd like to second Laura Woods on thanking Ana for this thread. I don't really have any questions or answers to provide but I've found all the discussions here very interesting and I think it has improved my ability to express my thoughts and feelings on this matter (I know a number of people who are can (in their privilege and ignorance and without any malice that I can detect) say some pretty fat-shaming stuff at times and I often have trouble knowing how to express my feeling and knowledge in this matter without explaining it so poorly that it turns into a big argument.)

Also, I had one thing to mention about Kristy Griffin's question. I don't actually have any answer (or at least any suggestions better/different to those already offered) but your description of the story reminded me of another fractured fairytale that deals with a non-conventionally attractive princess that I loved as a kid. The heroine isn't fat, but she gets the fairy gift of being "ordinary". It's not a little kid bedtime story, more 6-10, depending on the child's reading level. It's called "The Ordinary Princess" and is by M. M. Kaye. I remember loving it when I was younger, but I haven't looked at it years. IIRC it is pretty good on the whole unattractive =/= unsympathetic. I do faintly recall a correlation between freckles and unattractiveness, which I remember just confused me as a child (I have red hair and freckles but it wasn't until I was almost 13 that I found out there were a lot of people who considered this unattractive, unless you looked back in time to Anne of Green Gables or P&P) but I think on the whole it dealt with the theme well. If you ARE trying to cast a character as "unattractive" it can be hard to describe it in unoffensive ways, I guess.

Oh, I feel your pain, Brin Bellway. Two years ago I had laryngitis the week of my birthday and couldn't talk at all on the day. I hope you get better soon (if you haven't already).

Kristy Griffin said...

Hey as a side note - can I propose that the phrase "no one could ever love a [fill in the blank]" be stricken from the language for, like, all of ever? It's just so untrue and so harmful, and it just kills me when I hear people being told that :(

Ana Mardoll said...

Anonymus, here is my method for these things, for what it's worth.

If the conversation turns to my weight (even if it's something like Friend saying "I can't have this dessert, it's too fattening," and then I can say "more for me then!" and segue in from there), then I will say: "I've found that it doesn't matter what I do; I weight the same no matter what."

This will usually result in a response like "you're so lucky" or "that's too bad!" depending on the context. And I'll say, "Not really, I believe in set points and Health at Every Size."

If they then say, "what's that?", I'll say something like, "Set point is the theory that many individual bodies have a weight that they try to maintain. It was developed after studies showing that lost weight came back for a majority of people within five years of the weight loss. Health at Every Size is the understanding that weight numbers and fat percentages don't actually mean anything about your health; thin people can be unhealthy and fat people can be phenomenally healthy. So I live in ways that are healthy for me and my fat is just fat."

Or something similar. Short, but includes the basics, and they have an opening to ask more or to go home and think about whether all that fits them at all.

Kristy Griffin said...

Anon - honestly, the best thing is to listen to your friend and what they want. If they're coming to you for help and advice, go ahead and offer. If you know they're pursuing certain goals and are open to talking about them, feel free. If they are already decided on the path they're taking, they likely don't want outside commentary.

If nothing else, devise a 30-second-to-1-minute explanation of HAES and why you like it. Most people are willing to give someone, especially a friend, at least that much time. Distill it into the most important aspects. And steel yourself that if they show no interest after that, you kinda have to let it go. At that point, you've given it your best shot, and it's up to their own free will to decide if they're interested in pursuing it further.

To me, not being an asshole in promoting a cause is much like not being an asshole while flirting - hope for a yes, but be prepared to take a no graciously.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ack. I like the idea of the story, but I do think some mom-editing is in order to clarify that she's not ugly BECAUSE she's fat, but rather that she is both fat and ugly. Or ugly according to social standards, like "in fact, she was fat and THEY THOUGHT she was rather ugly". Or whatever is applicable in this situation.

We do need more heroines who are not socially beautiful (not sure if "ugly" is the right word, but.), like women with scarification, women with very non-symmetrical features, etc. etc. So I think the book itself is a good idea, but mom-editing and/or conversations about social beauty standards would be helpful here.

And, sure, I'm always open to emails but I don't respond to them very quickly, I'm afraid. It might take me a few days. :)

Kristy Griffin said...

Ooh, ooh, oh I haz one!!

Ok. So I have a lovely book of bedtime stories that I'm reading to my daughter. One of the stories has me conflicted.

Early in the story, it is airily asserted that "all princesses are beautiful." Near the end, we get this: "...out stepped the princess. To their amazement, she was not beautiful at all. In fact, she was fat and rather ugly with ordinary brown hair."

Do note: the princess is presented as a very sympathetic character, and in fact the picture of her looks very friendly and cheerful and honestly like someone I would totally like to hang out with.

Also, the story is pretty much all about turning normal fantasy tropes on their heads. The hero is a dragon. The handsome prince is "horrid," and the princess doesn't want to marry him. The Black Knight who "kidnapped" her wasn't actually a bad guy. The king's stolen gold was a fake. And the princess was ugly.

I loved this story as a kid, and I kind of love it now. However, the coupling of "fat" and "ugly" bothers me, even while the coupling of "ugly" and "sympathetic" makes me smile.

My husband's side of the family are all whipcord-thin. My family tends heavily towards - well, heaviness. There's about a 50% chance that my girl will be predisposed towards a rounder, softer shape, and if so, I don't want her to be ashamed of that or to automatically assume it makes her less lovely. (I also don't want her to think she's ugly if she's skinny - I want her to appreciate that beauty comes in all sizes.)

But I also don't want her to think that all virtue comes from being pretty - that a likeable princess who chooses her own fate somehow loses value if we can't also consider her attractive. There are plenty of people in this world willing to judge a woman's worth, no matter how intelligent or charismatic or savvy or powerful she may be, on how fuckable they consider her. I want my daughter to grow up with the tools to call bullshit on that attitude.

I may be reading waaay too much into a cute little story first published in the late 70's. I may be worrying too much about a story that I'm reading to my girl long before she even understands English. But I worry about what ideas she may unconsciously absorb - I can't control everything, but I can try to avoid positively contributing to negative messages.

So what do people think? Is the passage harmlessly cute as it stands? Could it benefit from judicious mom-editing, and if so, in which direction?

(also... at the risk of turning you into an unpaid advice columnist, Ana, may I contact you privately about a tangentially-related question that I'd rather not have made public?)

Anon II: Electric Boogaloo said...

Patrick Ingram Said: "if obesity is not an epidemic, it manages to kill near to 300,000 people per year?"

Dav does an excellent job with one answer to your question so I'll cover a different one:

Because my body is not a fucking disease, that's why.

Fat people are people, some healthy, some not. They are not an amorphous, monolithic mass of victims. There are many reasons a person might be fat. Some of them have to do with medical conditions. However, framing fatness in general as a medical condition, much less using ridiculous over dramatic language like "epidemic" dehumanizes fat people and god knows we've got enough of that going around already.

For this reason, "obese" is not a word I, and many HAES people, prefer to use or have used about us. Very much like use of "homosexual" is disliked in parts of the LGBT community because it has a medical connotation and being gay is not a disease. Neither is being fat.

Patrick Ingram said...

Trigger: Obesity

The biggest thing I don't understand is how, if obesity is not an epidemic, it manages to kill near to 300,000 people per year:

Maybe that thing got outdated in thirteen years, but I'd like to know in what way.

Inquisitive Raven said...

Frankly, I didn't like that book. I think Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata does a much better job. One of the issues I had with Campos' book is that he spends an awful lot of time on BMI, but never once explains how it's calculated and doesn't really explain why it's not a useful measure for individuals.

depizan said...

I thought he did. Oh, well, maybe I missed that because I already knew.

I'll have to check out Rethinking Thin.

depizan said...

One book people might check out, too, is The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos. It's not perfect, but it does do -I thought - a pretty good job of looking at the "obesity epidemic" bullshit and what studies actually show.

graylor said...

Anon, if your friend is a curious link clicker, you could send them a link to, say, a recipe or feminist article or whatever on a fat accepting blog that maybe isn't explicitly a fat acceptance blog and hope that your friend notices the tag cloud and starts looking on their own out of curiosity. Or there's always 'hey I've found this article, it really made me think, I'd like to hear your thoughts on it,' which might not feel like a personal challenge.

LivvySidhe said...

Anon, it seems to me that having this information directed AT a specific person could cause more pain. Are you in a position to share articles on social media that they could read if they were interested without proselytizing at them personally?

Anonymus said...

P.S. When I say they're close to me, I do mean really close. I wouldn't consider it right to offer unsolicited advice to just anyone, but we are close enough that "hey you could really use a shower" isn't rude.

AnnaLK said...

Hey, Ana, I don't know how much control you have over ads here, but wanted to give you a heads-up: reading your blog from my phone recently, I saw this post accompanied by an ad for "rapid weight loss". Unfortunately I can't give you more specifics, since I'm commenting from my computer after the fact (commenting from my phone is a pain), but said ad seems like one of the most inappropriate things possible for this thread, so if you can stop it from showing up, that would be great!

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