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.