I think I need to write…

I think I need to write out my whole confusion around 'fat acceptance' a lot more; there's several different issues that are confusing the hell out of me. So here goes.

Firstly, there's the political aspect. A lot of the people behind 'fat acceptance' want to work towards fatness being treated essentially as a serious disability. Not twenty pounds over average weight fatness, generally speaking, but the level of fatness that means you need to buy two airplane seats to even fit on the plane, for example. I have huge sympathy for this position -- it does feel deeply unfair that these people have to pay extra or suffer extreme discomfort in that particular situation, for example. Adding insult to injury, as it were.

I'm not sure what it would mean on a practical level if we were to legislate that level of fatness into disability qualifications -- if airlines had to provide some larger seats, for example, along with their wheelchair seating? It would be expensive to carry that sort of thing out across the board, no doubt, as disability provisions generally are (i.e., putting in wheelchair ramps in buildings can be hugely expensive, or adding the little slanted bits at street corners) but one thing I'm realizing with disability provisions in general is that even when a provision is added in order to serve one particular disabled segment of the population, it generally helps many other people as well, to a lesser degree. For example:

  • those street corner ramps, designed for wheelchairs, make life easier for: people with strollers, bicyclists, I'm guessing blind folks who can feel where the ground starts to slope down, maybe even the elderly?
  • the larger bathroom stalls, also designed for wheelchairs, are great for if you have two massive suitcases with you that won't fit into the regular stall, or you need to change all your clothes in the bathroom, especially if you have to put your infant down somewhere while you do that
  • the little beeping walk signs, designed for the blind, have certainly helped me notice that the light has changed and get across the street in a timely manner
  • and so on....I'm guessing there are lots more examples of this?
So I think if we did count extreme fatness as a disability and spend the money to accommodate it, many people would benefit. If no one who qualified purchased those larger theater seats, then they could go first-come, first-serve to non-fat members of the population who'd enjoy the chance to stretch out a little. God knows when I was pregnant, I was in enough discomfort enough of the time that anything that gave me a little more room to move around would have been a huge help.

Secondly, if we leave aside the legal disability issue (and possibly expensive accommodations for it), fat acceptance folks are also working towards general acceptance of fatness in society. Which would mean things like:

  • teenage girls (and boys) wouldn't be brainwashed by society into life-threatening eating disorders
  • the diet/weight-loss industry would stop making so much money off life-threatening surgeries and ridiculous diets, diet books, diet plans, diet meals
  • fat jokes, which are currently remarkably acceptable, would go the way of racist and sexist jokes. Still told, no doubt, but no longer appropriate for polite company the way they seem to be now
  • millions of people wouldn't go through their days miserable about their weight and consequently their appearance
  • designers would design clothes that fit a broad range of people, rather than just this rather bizarre body type they're currently fixated on (okay, maybe this one is just my fantasy)
I'm pretty much for all of the above; it'd be great to see a societal shift towards accepting fatness, making it no longer an acceptable target for mockery, learning to love our own bodies and those around us. That would be great!

But that said, I'm concerned about the methods whereby some of the fat acceptance folks seem to work. It reminds me of the gay gene debate, actually, where the argument goes something like this: If you are born gay (born fat), then it's Not Your Fault, and therefore, society shouldn't punish you for it.

I really do understand the appeal of that argument. But a) even if your fatness (or gayness) is entirely under your conscious (or subconscious) control, that shouldn't make it okay to punish you for it. And b), I'm not convinced in the biological truth of either the gay gene or the dieting doesn't work argument yet. If you rest your argument on science that is not absolutely concretely proven (and then widely disseminated and accepted), it's going to be really easy for folks to ignore and dismiss your case.

I'd rather see people not make the fat acceptance argument be about the science of whether or not people can lose weight with sufficient labor (money / surgery / etc.). I'd like to see us simply say:

Some of us have large bodies. Sometimes it's transient, the effect of a few months of hormone therapy to treat an illness, or pregnancy. Sometimes it's long-term, the body they were born with, or one that has been with them for many years. Maybe they're losing weight, maybe they're gaining weight, maybe they've held still for a long time. No matter the reasons for their bodies' shape and size, we should treat those bodies with respect, dignity, and love. We should work to give them as much daily comfort and ease of movement in this shared world as we can. That seems like the civilized thing to do.


(I'm planning to make my next entry about the calories thing more specifically, and my own personal weight / weight-loss journey), so if you want to address that, maybe hold those comments. But the baby's waking up right now, so it may be a bit later in the day.)

2 thoughts on “I think I need to write…”

  1. I think the gay gene / fat gene argument is mostly useful if you buy into the idea that gayness or fatness is wicked, in which case if you choose to be gay or fat, you’re choosing to be wicked, which is clearly wrong. I don’t personally think either of those things is wicked, of course, but if one has a deeply held belief that (e.g.) the Bible forbids homosexuality or that being fat is a sign of laziness and low willpower, it’s hard to then tolerate and accept people if they’re they’re deliberately choosing to sin or be lazy, and easier to get to tolerance by saying “well, they don’t have a choice”. (Assuming for the moment that your goal is tolerance and that you can’t (or don’t want to) overcome your deeply held belief.)

  2. Mary Anne Mohanraj

    Oh, absolutely — I certainly understand the *utility* of the argument, on a practical level, as a counter to the ‘you could just choose to change that…’ I’m just not comfortable with the scientific grounding of it, or the implications for what happens politically to those of us who aren’t biologically programmed into the condition.

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