I’ve been listening to the Good/Bad fattie debate with a bit of detachment. I haven’t thrown my hat into the ring yet, since I feel the Good/Bad division is a historically natural human response, a sort of boundary/structure-seeking inherent in finding one’s place within a group. Perhaps my detachment comes from not feeling any need to be a part of a group, per se, which comes from my slightly different neurological profile. But I recognize the human, or typical, urge to find one’s place within a society in which they’ve accepted as their own.
Hell, we see this dynamic all around us. It’s part of what we’re fighting against; we’ve become the victims of a war of attrition, the wearing down of our equal status as individuals and, when it comes down to it, as full-status humans. Many groups have historically undergone similar warfare. Political and religious structures, some long-lasting and some not, have cropped up throughout history which reflect this desire to structure society so that it can be more easily navigated and controlled. Caste systems, racial classification, economic classification, fat classification, &etc.
That we seek to similarly divide ourselves is, therefore, natural. It is not, however, in any way, shape, or form, desirable. It is an impulse we must fight against, at all costs. And that’s why I think there was such a furor this week over the Good/Bad fattie classification. It’s not because the majority of us think in such terms, but because the majority of us know that groups have the tendency to divide their members into such categories, and we know that we must reject this tendency if we are to really change anything.
Are we changing anything if we get fat accepted, but now there are strict guidelines about how much one should exercise because it’s been determined that activity level, and not fat, are what most closely correlate to good health? Are we changing anything if we just put everyone else on another diet, namely, some particular person’s (not everyone’s) definition of HAES? Are we changing anything if, instead of keeping quiet about the size-control methodology of some private insurers and their interested diet industry sponsors, we give that power to the government and their interested lobbyists instead? Are we changing anything by buying fat-hiding clothes, and wearing skirts to the beach, because we’re afraid of being heckled by teenage boys? Are we changing anything if we feel the need to list what we ate that day and our activity levels to people who are anyone except our doctor? Are we changing anything by supporting others’ decisions to mutilate their bodies by amputating their stomachs, starving their bodies, cutting off parts of their bodies, &etc instead of trying our very best to educate, and then support them only in recovery from that disordered thinking and not during it?
Recently I was “outed.” Just today, I received a comment on my blog from someone who knows me personally; I have no idea how she got the link here. I have had to struggle with my own anonymity, since every fiber of my being screams against it, wants to be open and honest and unafraid of the consequences. I have much to fear, honestly: retribution from a previous abuser, misunderstanding of my posts by family and friends, frowning-upon by employers who might find my confessions unprofessional and ‘unhinged;’ personal and professional doom is very possible if this blog is truly “outed.”
The point is, the truth, to some, is Ugly. Not ugly, Ugly. Disgusting. Horrifying. Makes one quake with fear and loathing.
Ugly is a concept we’re all familiar with; Ugly is Bad, Ugly is a characteristic held by one person which ensures all the rest of us who aren’t Ugly are automatically better than that person. Beauty is the opposite of Ugly. Beauty connotes automatic superiority. Many things can be beautiful in different ways. It is harder to be Ugly; Ugly isn’t open to interpretation. The Beautiful are protected from the Ugly by laws. The Ugly are put in cages, or jails, or eke out lives at the bottom of the totem pole, or succeed only as long as they remain invisible and anonymous.
Fat has become Ugly. Automatically inferior to non-Fat. Our voices have been suppressed, our bodies made invisible or the objects of jokes, our minds marginalized, our morality falsely interpreted as encompassing the historically-defined morality of Ugly persons (lazy, mean, stupid, crazy, unhealthy, contagious). It is interesting to note that the aforesaid Ugly morality has been, at times, attributed to most other oppressed groups (Jews, blacks, gays, &etc were all at some point labeled approximately thusly).
So while we’re discussing Good/Bad fatties, even if the Bad fattie is indeed a “straw” fattie, let’s keep in mind that there is a very good reason we must be vigilant about this dynamic infiltrating FA. The fact is, the war we’re fighting is being fought against All fatties, the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, however they are defined within our ranks. It might even seem, to some, reasonable to compromise with anti-Fat warriors by throwing Bad fatties to the wolves, so that society can just transform its precious dichotomy of Beauty/Ugly : Thin/Fat to Beauty/Ugly : Healthy/Unhealthy.
Debunking the idea that some Ugly, automatically inferior group, even exists, is a difficult task that hasn’t been taken up by most any of the previously oppressed groups, with the exception of people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—and his words have largely been spun by his successors to apply only to black people or only to racial relations, and not have the generality he originally intended.
I think the Good/Bad fattie debate isn’t spurious. In fact, it’s vitally important: in busting one false dichotomy (thin = Beauty, fat = Ugly) we must be careful not to simply transfer that dynamic to a whole new group of future oppressed people. That open racism is largely frowned upon is a great victory. There have been many other victories for historically oppressed groups. We aren’t the last group to be oppressed openly—the desire to oppress, to find one’s place in a class-conscious world, to assert one’s status using traits that are purely incidental and have nothing to do with the content of one’s character, will always be there. But we need to name this dynamic; like the courageous and brilliant Dr. King, we have to call it out for what it truly is, and we need to let people know that our struggle isn’t just about Fat, it’s about busting this highly destructive and oppressive dynamic.
It comes down to “Superiority by Birth”: because I was born to look/act/etc a certain way, I’m better. I didn’t have to do any work, or prove myself in any way — I’m just naturally better, and you’re naturally worse, there’s nothing you can do about it (though you should sacrifice your whole life trying).
This last statement is one of the most destructive and oppressive viewpoints in the history of mankind, and is at the root of all sorts of massacres and atrocities. Take your pick—the Crusades, the French Revolution, the Holocaust, the massacre of Native Americans, the rise of the Roman Empire, the fall of the Roman Empire—and so forth.
And maybe it is just human nature, and we must succumb to repeating history with different groups in power and poverty, for equally arbitrary reasons.
But perhaps, like Dr. King, we can step out of ourselves, and maybe — just maybe — evolve as a species beyond the arbitrary and hurtful definitions of the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.