The Need for Unity in the Fat Acceptance Movement


I suppose many of you are scratching your heads, asking, “What unity? We’ve got unity. Fat crosses every line – gender, religious, party, ethnicity, sexuality, disability, age.”

A true observation, and an important one. However, are we, as a movement, crossing every line?

I hope you agree that it is necessary to have as many voices from as many backgrounds in the movement. By being diverse, we become strong. By fat being a woman, man, black, white, yellow, gay, straight, bi, Christian, Jew, Muslim, atheist, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, disabled, small, tall, youth, adult (and the many, many other shades and nuances between all these classifications as well as many other disparate classifications which, if I listed them, would likely be scroll-worthy) issue, we end up with many diverse voices in our movement, by default.

An atheist fat person isn’t immune from fattism, nor is a Hispanic fat person. Jewish fat people aren’t picked on more than Libertarian fat people. When we’re persecuted for our fat, by the very nature of image-based persecution, our persecutors don’t care if we are gay or straight, yellow or brown, if we voted for John Kerry, George Bush, Tony Blair; they don’t care if we’re short or tall, and though persecution varies in allowability between groups when one is a child or adult, it is becoming increasingly accepted to discriminate against all ages in an “I’m only hating you for your own good” manner.

I, a long-time follower of the teachings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., was extremely pleased, at first, to see how diverse the FA movement was. It wasn’t about singling any particular person out based on background: it was about united people against the hate, abuse, and widespread discrimination of and ignorance surrounding fat and fat people. I thought Dr. King would be mighty proud.

However, I began seeing some splits in the seemingly perfect unity regarding political stances, and positive policy beliefs. Perhaps it was exacerbated by the primary season in the US; but suddenly there cropped up a sense of what was popular and easy to believe in, and what was unpopular and dangerous to believe in (dangerous in the sense that one was in danger of being marginalized, ignored, or even considered to be not part of the “real” movement if he/she expressed his/her unpopular opinion).

And therein lies the danger. To claim that the FA movement is, fundamentally, an expression of the beliefs of one political party over another, segregates members of the movement and marginalizes those who do not agree with the politics of the members who currently have the loudest voices and most influence.

It’s not like this kind of division is new to the historically oppressed. Indeed, there exists a strange sort of expectation these days that, for instance, people of African-American descent should vote largely Democrat. For many elections in the past few decades we’ve seen this very phenomenon.

But why are, then, whites exempt from the requirement to adopt a groupthink? They are pretty evenly split between parties. Why suggest that people of African-American descent should naturally be for one party over the other? Don’t African-Americans have minds of their own? Can’t they decide who they want to vote for based on their values as a colorless individual? I’m not talking about, for instance, voting for someone who is an obvious racist because one agrees with that candidate’s economic policies. I’m talking about opting out of the groupthink expectation and voting as an individual, not as a class fundamentally based on skin color.

For those that disagree with the philosophy behind my suggestion, I have to defer to the great Dr. King. He was my teacher, and I couldn’t phrase my reasons better than he phrased his reasons. On that note, I often think it is horrifying Dr. King’s words have been twisted to support a semi-racist philosophical segregation within our individual ranks, even though it is clear upon hearing his unfiltered speeches, and reading his unfiltered biography, Dr. King wanted to unite all people as equal individuals, not as equal groups who must constantly reference their groupthink opinions. He recognized there is never such thing as ‘equal groups,’ since you are naturally segregating people based on uncontrollable characteristics such as skin color, and so forth. “Separate but equal” doesn’t work based on these reasons.

So there exists precedent for some members of the group to claim that if other members want to be free of discrimination based on the characteristics that make them a member of that group, they must defer to the popular politics of the voices that are loudest in the movement, or else they are rejected, ignored, or even called traitors (I have heard African-American Republicans slandered to the high hills: “Haha, look, he/she wants to be white!”, “Boy, he/she must really hate him/herself, to be a black Republican,” ad nauseam (truly) ).

How in the world do you expect a movement to find its voice if you don’t let individual members of the movement speak because they happen to have differing opinions? What makes you any better than those who are fighting against us by closing their ears, refusing to listen to our pleas for scientific sanity, for common sense, for non-discrimination? Don’t you do the same to those within your ranks who think that a different approach could be a better, or just additional, way to take?

The fact is we’re all, regardless of our beliefs and backgrounds, against the same things, even if we differ with respect to what we’re for, i.e., what we think should be done to end the hate, discrimination, and violence.

To claim, for instance, that we all believe (or worse, should believe) children should be made to take, as part of their health education classes, a section on Health At Every Size, is just not true. Maybe some people think this would further segregate fat children into a group with their own “special” kind of health philosophy, maybe some people don’t think public schools could ever teach it correctly and would end up killing its meaning by ending the segment with, “Well, that’s just one theory. Others would claim the old-fashioned, time-tested method of ‘eat less and exercise more’ works best. And hey, what’s wrong with watching what you eat and being active, right, kids?”

The point is, we don’t all think the same, nor should we. We are all united against the same things: the hate, the abuse, the discrimination, and the ignorance we see around us every day. Agreeing to groupthink notions of what should be done about it and then rejecting members of the oppressed group that don’t agree based on philosophy or experience will not make us stronger, it will make us weaker. To gang up on them, to use rhetorical tactics to make their arguments look weak, to then refuse to take them seriously based on some philosophical ‘transgression,’ will be the death knell of the movement.

Why in the world would you want to single out those who could help you gain ground amongst the philosophical groups of which you’re not a part, but they are? Why in the world, for instance, would you single out Christians, when they would be the most convincing voice amongst a group of Christians, putting their own perspective on how they can uniquely fight against the discrimination from that quarter? Why would you single out the Republican and Libertarians for their differing social and economic views, when they could frame an argument amongst their ranks that would end the discrimination within their own philosophical groups?

Think of each of us as an Ambassador. We are each uniquely suited, based on our beliefs and backgrounds, to fight discrimination amongst people of similar beliefs and backgrounds. To alienate any one of us is to cripple the group’s ability to fight.

The FA movement needs to welcome all into its ranks, and suffer unpopular voices, just as it desires the rest of the world to suffer our unpopular bodies. Only then, free from hypocrisy, can we move forward, towards a day when we, and our children, are free from our present-day, ubiquitous second-class citizenship.

Click here to read some of Dr. King’s speeches (with “I Have a Dream” available in audio)

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