The FA Weight Loss Strawman

This was originally written as a comment on Bri’s post: FA, weight loss talk on the feed, blogging and me. Please read her post, it’s good stuff .

First of all, I agree with the vast majority of what Bri said. She spoke about how and why she became an FA blogger, which I appreciate — it’s always interesting to hear how people got started.

Personally, I got started after I read a seminal article on FA in The New York Times. The article was written almost exactly two years ago, on January 22, 2008. I started this blog on January 24, 2008, after two solid days of voracious reading of all the blogs mentioned in the article. Many of the blogs mentioned in the article are still around today, though some have changed the nature of what they blog about (usually trending towards including more material than just FA, or less frequent posting).

I’m certainly not one of the oldest blogs out there. But I like to think that I got involved at a very heady time for FA in 2008, when a bunch of new blogs started, traffic increased substantially, and many, many conversations have been had about what FA means and who/what it includes/excludes, good/bad fatties, the politics of FA, and so on.

One topic I’ve seen pop up time and again is what I like to call the FA Weight Loss Strawman. This is the logical fallacy that FA:

a) excludes dieters or even just thinner people

b) denies that weight exacerbates any medical conditions

c) creates the impression that activists in FA are somehow bigoted, out of touch, in denial, or actively dishonest

Sometimes the strawman has been posed by trolls, sometimes it’s been posed by people in the movement. I’ve seen blogs leave the ‘sphere because of their differences on this. And I’ve also seen people argue that if we actively try to include dieters, admit that weight exacerbates some medical conditions, and admit that we are only a small corner of the world that doesn’t intersect with what most people believe about weight and health, the movement will expand and be more powerful and effective.

I beg to differ, and will bust this strawman point-by-point.

1. FA doesn’t exclude dieters or thinner people.

How do I know this? There are dieters, and people who have maintained a weight loss, who are ardent FA supporters and those people can be ardent FA supporters. The whole point is not to claim that weight loss makes one morally superior, or that others should do it, or that since one believes weight is strongly correlated with certain health issues, that somehow trumps the message of FA. Those dieters and maintainers who are ardent FA supporters don’t make those claims.

And of course thinner people can be important voices of FA. FA is a subset of SA, Size Acceptance. As such, it inherits the points of size acceptance, one of which is that someone’s contribution to the community is not measured by the size of their waist.

2. FA doesn’t claim that weight doesn’t exacerbate certain medical conditions.

While many people in FA are currently investigating the literature on fat and health, and actively coming to the reasoned conclusion that the body of evidence suggests that the common-wisdom connections between health and fat are contradictory at best, and, when correcting for funding sources and bias, suggest strongly that fat does not cause diseases like diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and cancer, I don’t think anyone in FA would claim that issues like joint pain, back pain, foot pain, etc., can’t be exacerbated by weight.

But these issues can also be exacerbated by height, occupation, age, and so forth. It still does not make dieting work for the vast majority of people, nor does it make trying to change weight necessary. No one would suggest I should try to make myself shorter because it will ease stress on my knees.

In other words, when we myth bust the common-wisdom health/fat connection, it doesn’t mean we’re a bunch of hypocrites because we don’t talk about, in the same breath, those instances where weight can exacerbate certain medical conditions. Healthism is a modern morality which paints people blackly if they aren’t trying to be ‘healthy.’ So myth-busting the health/fat connection is often a moral matter. The point is that activists in FA don’t believe that health should be a moral matter, but we understand that others do, and that untying body size from morality often requires taking on these health myths.

3. Fat Acceptance activists aren’t out of touch with regular people and how they think.

Why? Because we are regular people. And most of us did buy into the common-wisdom fat/health connection. Many of us had eating disorders. And the part of us that was lucky enough to have fat accepting parents, friends, and environment isn’t and hasn’t been living in some kind of fat accepting impenetrable bubble. Anti-fat rhetoric is everywhere. Fatphobia is rampant. The common-widsom fat/heath connection myths inundate us.

It’s pretty much impossible to avoid fat myths and fatphobia in our current society. However, it is completely possible to avoid fat acceptance messages. The very idea that we are somehow oppressing those who buy into the common-wisdom fat/health connection by not promoting proponents of that common wisdom in our discussion is flat out wrong, and frankly short-sighted. The idea that we’re oppressing anyone by having a community with rules is ridiculous. You can choose to participate or not, or to create a new space or not. No one is twisting your arm.

The alternative is this: FA allows diet-talk. FA can’t myth-bust health issues and especially particular studies and claims without always prefacing that the evidence is, on some issues, not cut and dry. FA apologizes to the dieting and fatphobic world constantly, and instead of incubating and strengthening internally, commits itself to reaching out externally, trying to actively ‘change’ minds instead of provide a space for the incubation of ideas of the minds that have already changed themselves.

I do not think that alternative will work. I do not think minds are so easily changed, unless they are already ready to change themselves (and in that case, they would likely be seeking us out rather than the other way around). Maybe you do. If so, I encourage you to create your own new space. But realize that FA is a lot bigger and older than your particular participation in it. And that these issues have come up many, many times and reasoned arguments have been had which conclude that diet talk and apologies will only erode our movement and message, not strengthen it.

4 comments on “The FA Weight Loss Strawman

  1. Miriam Heddy says:

    Regarding #2, I’d push back against that and instead suggest that the notion that we *know* that there conditions where fat/weight exacerbates is actually, well, fairly tenuous and conditional.

    What we know is that medical professionals assume this to be true, in the absence of good evidence, and often act on this assumption to our detriment by, for instance, making weight loss a condition of treating us.

    What we know is that our individual experience of our body is conditioned by our mind, such that we experience placebos and nocebos, and can often “feel better” in various areas of our body (or overall) when thinner for any number of reasons including: less prejudice directed at us on a daily basis; more approval from friends/family; more confidence in engaging in exercise (or even being in public) when thinner; etc.

    So is being fat hard on the knees? Or is being fat hard on the human because being hated/feared/thought weak/thought ugly/paid less/told you’ll die alone is a difficult thing to do and stand upright? Is the weight on our bodies or on our shoulders?

    Until we can eliminate an awful lot of variables, it’s perfectly reasonable for FA to challenge the notion that we “know” that fat/weight exacerbates conditions and I’d say there’s every reason to not “acknowledge” that even though we’re under great pressure to do so (and threatened with being delusional if we don’t).

    I’m really hesitant to “concede” to “fat/weight exacerbates,” and not simply because it might be a slippery slope, or because it necessarily leads us to have to push back with, “But diets fail!” and “We don’t know how to make someone thin.”

    I mean, let’s assume that, by some magic, “Poof,” we figure out how to make people thin. Only then will we be able to “test” the assumption that fat exacerbates [fill in the blank] rather than the alternatives A) Fat correlates with [fill in the blank] and B) Fat-phobia makes [fill in the blank] experientially worse and/or more difficult to treat.

    Given how hard it is for most of us to become thin (and at what price), it makes sense to work with what we do know we can change and do know and to challenge every claim made about fat and health that doesn’t acknowledge the complexity that’s there, in our face.

    Personally, if I’m going to be sisyphean, I’d like to think I’m changing the world to accommodate all of us, not trying to change myself to fit into myself into the narrow box marked “acceptable.”

  2. bigliberty says:


    Regarding #2, I’d push back against that and instead suggest that the notion that we *know* that there conditions where fat/weight exacerbates is actually, well, fairly tenuous and conditional.

    Yes, good point. I didn’t mean to suggest that there are blanket conditions that are definitely exacerbated by fat in all cases, and not to take into account the ‘white noise’ of bias in the determination that those conditions are exacerbated by fat, as it were.

    What I meant was that, like with gender, height, and other variables that can’t be changed, there may be correlations between some conditions in particular cases and higher/lower weight. The answer isn’t to change weight, or to suggest weight can be changed. The answer is to know that you don’t cure women’s health issues by trying to make a woman a man, you don’t cure pain based due to greater height by chopping off someone’s legs, &etc

    I understand the slippery slope concept to which you’re referring, but I was attempting to myth-bust the ‘myopia argument’ anti-FA people put forth to try to make us look stupid/delusional. It’s not an argument that fat people really are in poorer health whatsoever, just like one wouldn’t argue that all thinner people have IBS, because some thinner people have IBS. And so on.

    And no, I don’t think, because of the loudness of that white noise, we can really say for sure that even in most individual cases, ‘fat exacerbates pain in the joints’ holds true.

    Thanks for the comment.

  3. ndlesdream says:

    I’d like to make a comment regarding Point #3. I explain it this way when I’m asked why we don’t include those “well-meaning” opposing voices in our world, I liken our struggle for societal equality to the struggle of African-Americans for equality in society.

    There was a time in American history when African-Americans were completely, down to their genes, inferior in the public’s mind. If you’d asked any doctor, he would have told you that, “Yes, the “Negro” is a genetically inferior being. He is less than human. His blood, his mind, even his internal organs are not the same as the white man.” These ideas were completely accepted “facts”. There were studies and charts and think-tanks and all manner of bodies of medical evidence supporting these ideas. Everybody “knew” they were true and no one in society openly questioned them. Those who did were seen as traitors to their race or deluded idiots.

    African-Americans obviously weren’t inferior “sub-humans”, but they would have to CONVINCE society of this fact. Sure, it would have been nice if everyone had just woken up one day and decided to stop being racist but that’s not reality. So it was going to take a fight and lots of struggle. Before anyone would take their fight seriously though, they had to take themselves seriously, THEY had to know they weren’t inferior. (Hmm, kinda sounds familiar…)

    Now there were some white people in society who, although well-meaning, didn’t really understand the struggle or the goals of African-Americans. They thought that African-Americans should no longer be slaves but certainly didn’t see them as equals. “Black people should be hired hands but certainly not friends or neighbors or in-laws or whatever. They’re simply too simple-minded to be left to their own devices, to make their own decisions and need kindly white people to do it for them.” In these white peoples’ minds, they thought, “I’m a friend to the “Negro”.” These white people were just the sort of friends African-Americans did NOT need. Allowing those voices to infiltrate the fight for equality would have only succeeded in keeping African-Americans inferior in society forever.

    The mind-set of those “friendly” and completely racist white people is really no different than those people who totally disagree with FA but claim they support us and our message. They treat us like we need them to be our nannies and teachers to show us the “right” way to live and tell us the “right” things to think. To them, we aren’t able to be our own people, we simply aren’t smart enough. They also try to saddle us with the guilt that “they’re friends to the “fatties” and it’s only right that we let them have their say. I mean, if we’re so all about equality, isn’t it only fair that they get to be heard too?” No, it isn’t.

    Allowing them into our fold, to publicly voice their ideas under the guise that their messages are our messages, would be exactly the same as if African-Americans had allowed those “well-meaning”, racist whites to be a voice for their cause. They would have lost their cause, just as we would lose ours. The message would become something completely different, twisted and counter-productive, that didn’t accomplish anything in terms of equality.

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