Sparked by both red3’s terrific post Changing the Conversation, by an actual conversation I had with my stepmother last night, a life-time thin person.
I observe much apologizing to other oppressed groups whenever someone tries to analogize fat oppression in a way those who still don’t quite accept fat oppression can understand (there’s always the disclaimer: “I know this isn’t the same thing, etc”). To say that one group’s experience is invalidated because they didn’t suffer as much, or in the same ways, as another group is out-and-out fallacious, and is itself just reinforcing the oppression of the group that doesn’t meet some kind of ‘standard’ of oppression. No one will argue that blacks can’t objectively understand the oppression of Jews, or aren’t oppressed themselves, since they didn’t experience the Holocaust. No one will argue that women can’t objectively understand the oppression of blacks, since they didn’t experience slavery or Jim Crow.
Oppression is oppression. It is the categorization of a group based on arbitrary characteristics that don’t define the individual, and the unequal treatment of individuals based on sort of collective group characteristic. I.e., the assumption that one brown person’s life experience has been the same as another brown person’s life experience, is just as racist as calling them vile names. There’s the same dynamic at work: that the individual can be summed up or even in some part approximated based on group characteristics.
Positive and Negative Perpetuation
This dynamic is very active in our current day and age, and there are just as many apologists and Benedict Arnolds out there – what I call ‘positive’ perpetrators – as there are out-and-out haters – what I call ‘negative’ perpetrators. Both perpetuate classification based on group characteristics.
I’m aware the above is an extremely controversial view, and it’s a deep split between where I stand and where most liberal progressives stand. I think ‘positive’ perpetuation is as harmful as ‘negative.’ I think you cannot separate the two, as they’re married by an absolute (categorization based on group characteristics).
Many liberal progressives disagree with me. They claim that the way you ‘fix’ negative perpetuation is to throw positive perpetuation at it. If a bully steals your kid’s lunch money, you steal the bully’s, instead. But then, in order to do that, you have to define what it is to be a ‘bully,’ and that often require further grouping of individuals by group characteristics. “All bullies are X, and so if we see someone who is X it is okay to take his lunch money.”
It’s a simplistic view, and boils down to a knee-jerk, revenge action. What makes us better than the bullies, if we’re doing the same to them, but since we sport the label “righteousness” or “you started it,” it’s okay? Does that really change things, or does it just shift power to another group, since it’s now popular to pick on the bullies? Don’t we realize there is no absolute difference between what they did, and what we’re now doing?
In fat acceptance, one may think the active conflict is between fat and thin. That’s not true; thin people see the same media messages, they have friends or family members that are not-thin and they’re exposed to the pervasive diet-message just as we. The conflict is between the dieters, and the non-dieters. Though we’re categorized based on physical characteristics, there is a philosophical fight going on here that’s very important to grasp.
“You can change, hence, you must.”
People can lose weight. To a fat person this is a vile statement, filled with nuance and implication. But it’s true, we all know it: people can lose weight. It’s as simple as not eating. You won’t live forever, and you might be able to extend your life if you stop not-eating and start eating again, and then not-eat once you’ve gained back your strength; or you could semi-eat, constantly battling with balancing proportions. It’s no different from non-eating for a while and then eating again, you just mix it up a little and shorten the time span to a day, or a week where are certain times you non-eat when hungry, or abate hunger pains with Splenda-flavored air. You could also effectively non-eat by exercising to the point that whatever you did eat went solely to fuel your exercise regime, with nothing left over. There are lots of ways of doing it: they are all, in effect, non-eating.
It is understandable that our bodies cannot function fully under such regimes and, sometimes, are merely hanging onto a thin thread of life, those few calories doled grudgingly to it, the abatement of over-exercise in favor of rest, whatever the ‘compromise’ to non-eating might be in order to extend life, or to improve the quality of a life undergoing starvation.
Now we can put these methods together and give all non-eating regimes another name: dieting. And now we have a launch-point:
The true conflict ravaging the fat community is this idea that since most fat people can temporarily or under great physical and psychological duress, lose weight, then, henceforth, they must, regardless of the consequences.
And, to put it simply, we don’t want to starve anymore. We want what we believe is afforded by birth to thin people: a life free of weight-related self-flagellation. In other words, a normal existence where we can pick the fruits of knowledge, love, beauty, family like anyone else. Where we can turn our minds away from the exhaustion, obsession, stress, and anxiety surrounding the psychological effects of weight discrimination and the physical and psychological effects of non-eating regimes.
This is a conflict between those who believe some are born with a scarlet letter signifying a life-sentence of non-eating regimes, and those who bear no such letter.
To be anti-diet is the very core of the movement. The diet is our cross to bear for the sin of being non-thin. In order to “change the conversation,” we must refuse to carry the diet cross any longer.
Fat people are in a semi-unique situation, when one undergoes the study of historically oppressed groups. No matter how ‘hard’ he works, a black cannot become non-black, a Jew not a non-Jew, a gay not a non-gay, a woman not a non-woman (all of these have qualifying arguments that I’d be happy to supply at request, but I’m not going to do it in-essay since it would derail the focus).
So we’re facing an opposition that claims if we don’t bear our cross-by-birth, dieting, we are bad, ugly, and immoral. The scarlet letter is bright, and apparent to all: they know us for who we are. How we got there is irrelevant, whether it is pushing ourself to the top of our setpoint range, gain-back + 10% after crash dieting any number of times, PCOS or other weight-gain related conditions, just being at a higher setpoint range than is socially acceptable, metabolic syndrome, and so forth. I’m not going to stoop to apologizing by constructing a: “But some of us are good fatties!!!” argument, which is ultimately destructive to the core message of the movement. The science of weight concludes, ultimately, that body size is most largely determined by genetics, and that we each have differing setpoint ranges that can be screwed with environmentally, but only in a small manner with respect to our genetic predispositions (it may indeed be possible that the worst way we screw with our metabolisms is by engaging in non-eating regimes).
And there are some out there who are more honest about it than most. Instead of insidiously suggesting that we should just cut out the soda and get out butts off the couches for a 10-minute daily walk, they say things like, “Yeah, we should just ship all the fatties to a concentration camp,” or “I/he/she could use a little anorexia.” We should listen very carefully to these people, because they’re merely the extreme product of a culture which shoulders some of us with a diet cross, and not others. They completely accept that we have to starve away the pounds, and they want to ensure that it’s done, at all costs.
Isn’t that what everyone is saying, really? Recently, it was found that Florida schools were underfeeding their students in an attempt to ‘reduce childhood obesity.’ When they were criticized for it? The Broward County administrators responded:
“We always worry when we have a review. If you bake a chicken, it’s much less calories than if you fry it,” said Penny Parham, who oversees school meals in Dade. “Let’s hope the USDA can help us out and revise some of those guidelines.”…
In other words, in response to the criticism that they were underfeeding children by up to 200 calories, they pointed the finger at the USDA and claimed that, in fact, the USDA’s guidelines were too high, and should be “revised” to make them more stringent — because the kids in the county schools hadn’t lost any weight, regardless of the underfeeding during school hours.
So the answer: starve them more. Lower the federal requirements so journalists and parents stop knocking on our doors, and we’ll get those fat fatties nice and trim for you.
It’s going to get worse before it gets better. Even now, the WW campaign “Diets Don’t Work” is a sign of, not victory for FA, but rather a deeper plunge into what will one day be out-and-out encouragement of adopting life-long non-eating, semi-starvation regimes for those who are born with the scarlet three letters: FAT.
In conclusion: whatever the name, whether it be “diet,” or “lifestyle change,” it is the same animal: a cross of starvation imposed by the ‘privileged’ on the ‘non-privileged.’ That is why any acceptance of/apologizing for dieting on a personal level is in opposition to true fat acceptance. And, until we throw off our own diet crosses, we cannot hope to dislodge the great weight made to bear by fat people as a group.
The diet is our cage, our cross, our scarlet letter for the original sin of being fat. It is the tool of our oppressors; we must rip that tool from their hands. We must rip it from their hands to save ourselves, our family, our friends, our children. Without that tool, without us believing in our original sin, believing in repentance under the cross, they cannot harm us any longer.