Fat People: You Don’t Have To Justify Your Existence

Dear fat people,

You don’t have to justify your existence to anyone. Not TV doctors. Not lapsed surgeons. Not authors of diet books. Not researchers running an ‘obesity’ center. Not your own doctor. Not your parents. Not your spouse.

When they ask, “Well, don’t you think being fat is unhealthy?” You don’t have to educate them. It’s not your job to give them reasons why you have accepted your body.

When they say, “You must justify your fatness. I’m paying for you!”, tell them they don’t have a problem with you, they’ve got a problem with the system and how it apportions dollars and care. If they’re so concerned about being able to control who and what they ‘pay for’ then they need to take it up with their elected representative or an actual economist, not you.

You don’t have to tell the fatphobes why they’re wrong. Why they’re creating a fictional narrative about your life that isn’t your life. Why threatening you with future health ills is absurd and childish. Why they don’t understand the economics of insurance markets. They probably won’t listen anyway. They’re not looking for reasons to be okay with you. They’re looking for reasons to feel better than you. To blame you for their slimmer pocketbook, or global warming, or world hunger. To absolve themselves from responsibility for those things. To justify their own disconnectedness and indolence. To soothe the guilt of their own consumerism.

Dear fat people: all fat people, of all colors and backgrounds, of all those varying ways to be fat and visibly so, even if you’re just fat in your own family circle or if you’ve been used as a headless fatty folk devil in a news article: you don’t have to justify your existence.

You don’t have to justify your existence by performing health. Or by subscribing to HAES. Or by having a list of studies on-hand whenever some ubiquitous fatphobe challenges your experience and threatens you with the deterioration of your health and even early death if you don’t agree with them.

Fat discrimination is wrong. Don’t listen when they say you’re “lazy, unfit, immoral, liars, burdens.” Sadly, you aren’t the first group of people to be labeled as the biggest sinners, the biggest losers, the folk devils that must be fought and vanquished at all costs, the root of all evil. It’s a formula, an effective one that most people don’t even realize they’re playing into.

There’s no conspiracy. The fat public health panic, known colloquially as the ‘obesity epidemic’ even though obesity is neither a disease nor an epidemic, emerged as a response to a complex panel of variables. No one person sat down one day and said, “You know what we should do? Pathologize fatness, stigmatize fat people, make a bunch of money off it, then sell fat stigmatization to governments and world health organizations so we can codify dieting in their health regulations.”

Timing is everything: an aging population means that diseases highly correlated with aging like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes are going up, up, up. People are smoking less, getting taller and healthier, and also dieting much more regularly: all states of being that, in addition to aging, result in increased average weight. Fudge with an old statistical tool for insurance tables called the BMI and suddenly you’ve got a health panic on your hands.

Healthism emerged, partially as a response to an aging population afraid of death and convinced that if they ate the right things and did the right amount of exercise they could extend their lifespans to Auroran lengths (see: Asimov), partially as an outgrowth of modern Puritanism, partially because of the fat health panic outlined above, partially as a vehicle of elitism and classism and ableism, and for many other reasons not useful to go into here.

Dear fat people: you don’t deserve to be discriminated against. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t have to justify your existence. You don’t have to buy into the myth of health, an arbitrary measure whose definition has not only changed throughout history but means different things to different individuals, to different practitioners of health, even.

You don’t have to justify your existence. If you do, you lose. You lose for yourself, and you lose for the rest of us. What is fat discrimination? Believing that fat people don’t have the right to simply be. That, if they exist as fat people, they are “lazy, unfit, immoral, liars, burdens.” The answer is not to argue that you are “active, fit, moral, trustworthy, generous.”

What right does anyone have to require that in order to live unabused they must live up to a standard the abusers don’t expect of themselves? It’s a lose-lose situation. Ceding to fatphobes the right to question your existence also cedes to them that if you as a fat person didn’t perform exercise, or didn’t count calories, or weren’t ‘healthy,’ or were disabled, or just didn’t adhere to the Healthistic model of virtue, that they would be justified in flailing and abusing you.

Dear fat people: you don’t have to justify your existence. You aren’t supervillains: if you don’t fit into the Healthistic box the fatphobes say you must the world won’t stop turning. Children won’t die. The landmass of your country won’t be swallowed by the oceans. You won’t suddenly get all the so-called fat diseases. You won’t bankrupt your government’s economy.

You will be one precious person saying, “No. Healthism is wrong. Health is bullshit. You’re creating a hierarchy of acceptable, codified discrimination with a bullshit arbitrary measure. And I’m not buying it.”

One precious person, going against a seemingly irresistible tide. You won’t be the villain. You’ll be the hero.

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Unpacking the Fat: People Like Me

1. People like me get thrown off flights, especially if they’re too full, and asked to pay double for the privilege of waiting for the next one.

2. People like me can’t shop in most malls. We get strange looks and downright condescension if we go into certain stores.

3. I can’t turn on the TV and expect to see someone like me, in general. If I do, then that person is almost always being portrayed as something broken to be fixed, or otherwise in a negative light.

4. When I see people like me talked about in the news, it’s about how horrible people like me are, and what is the best way to get rid of people like me.

5. If I go to an adoption agency I will be told that people like me shouldn’t be parents.

6. If I go to an infertility clinic I will be told that people like me shouldn’t be parents.

7. If my child is someone like me (which they have a good chance of being) I will be told I shouldn’t be a parent. My child might even get taken away from me.

8. I can’t open a magazine and expect to see people like me. However I can expect to see ad after ad for products on how to prevent becoming like me, or how to ‘fix’ someone like me.

9. If I ride the subway/bus, I get dirty looks. People don’t think someone like me deserves to sit. If I stand, they tell me that I’m in the way of everyone else.

10. If I take a walk down the street in a populated area I can expect to be told how horrible I am from passing cars, pedestrians, people in shops — anyone I meet. I might even get things thrown at me, like garbage.

11. If I go to the gym I can expect to get talked down to, and treated like the reason I’m there is to ‘fix’ myself from being so broken and horrible.

12. If I drive my car instead of walk it’s taken as proof of why people like me are horrible. If I don’t go to a public gym it’s taken as proof of why people like me are so horrible.

13. There is big money for people who are trying to eliminate  people like me. They especially want to eliminate children who are like me. Most other people, even some people like me, think this is a wonderful thing. They hail an ‘enlightened’ future world that no longer has people like me in it.

14. People like me are blamed for the broken healthcare system.

15. People like me are blamed for global warming.

16. People like me are told that we can’t do certain things, and when we do, we’re told that we’re the exception that proves the rule.

17. I pay three times as much as what other people do for clothes, and it’s often much worse quality, style, fit, and selection. Clothes for people like me are segregated in stores and online, if they are available at all.

18. With some regularity the media debates on morning and news shows if people like me should exist, and how best to get rid of us if not.

19. People like me aren’t in trendy establishments. We are either barred from going, or the place can’t accommodate us, or we get condescended to and pressured to leave as soon as we walk through the door.

20. I can wear the same style and cut of clothing as someone who is not like me, and told that while it is perfectly decent on her, it is indecent on me.

21. People like me are told that we shouldn’t leave the house because of how awful we are, but that we are so awful because we never leave the house.

22. People like me are denied life-saving surgeries and the opportunity to donate organs unless we change.

23. My friends and family think it’s their duty to tell me how horrible I am, and how I should change.

24. People like me are told that we are stupid, lazy, immoral, and broken with regularity. I can expect to hear this several times a day.

25. People like me are never the heroes of books or movies. We are usually cast as the villain.

26. People like me have a harder time getting hired. Employers believe that people like me aren’t good representatives of their company, regardless of our skills, work ethic, experience, or talent. People like me are much less likely to appear in employee circulars and marketing materials. There are even workplace groups and contests where people like me are rewarded for altering themselves, and people who aren’t like me are rewarded for not being like me.

27. People like me are told that we aren’t as intelligent as other people. We are told that it is impossible for us to be economists, health care workers, or honest debaters.

28. People like me are told that we are the worst witnesses to our own experience. We are called liars if we relay experiences that do not hold true to what mainstream culture says about people like me. People who call us liars aren’t just our enemies – they are doctors, nurses, teachers, and our own family.

29. For people like me, social events like family gatherings and class reunions are often battlefields.

30. There is a whole month of the year dedicated to eliminating or preventing people like me. It’s called “Resolution Season” and is widely viewed as a positive and constructive, rather than negative and destructive, phenomenon. During this time of the year it’s nearly impossible to watch television, open a newspaper/magazine, read online media, or walk down a city street without being reminded that people like me are undesirable.

31. Many Western countries have publicly funded campaigns which claim people like me are a problem to be rid of.

32. The very existence of people like me is called one of the top problems of our modern age.

DISCLAIMER: Not complete, nor in any particular order. A list like this is always a work in progress. I might edit to add more later. Feel free to add your own in the comments, and I might add them to the list. Thanks to the authors of the many privilege-unpacking lists I’ve seen in my time.

EDIT (2/9/12): Added #26 – #31. 

Invisiphilia: Part Three – School

This is the third installment of my poem in several parts, “Invisiphilia: An Epic.” For an introduction to the piece, please read Part One.

<<Part Two

Part Four >>

Invisiphilia: An Epic

◊ ◊ ◊

PART THREE: SCHOOL

She is the fastest reader, and

her math is years ahead—

she sings, and plays, and draws, and writes;

lies dreaming on her bed.

But no one sees the little girl

as reader, writer, voice;

instead, the product of a vice,

and victim of a choice.

◊ ◊ ◊

<< Part Two

Part Four

Invisiphilia: Part Two – Infancy

This is the second installment of my poem in several parts, “Invisiphilia: An Epic.” For an introduction to the piece, please read Part One.

<< Part One

Part Three >>

Invisiphilia: An Epic

◊ ◊ ◊

PART TWO: INFANCY

They never told the neighbors that

they cut your milk in half;

drawn colored dots up on the wall—

your hunger on a graph.

And when you screamed your emptiness

they shrugged and found the scale—

nope, still too heavy; so they placed

you in your crib to wail.

◊ ◊ ◊

<< Part One

Part Three >>

Invisiphilia: Introduction, and Part One

Hi folks. Many of you know I’m a fiction writer and poet, but I haven’t posted much of either on this blog. However, I’ve been picking away at poem in several parts called “Invisiphilia: An Epic.” After sitting on the first few parts for a long time, I decided there’s no better way to get this moving than post one or two parts a week. They’re reasonably short, and some are shorter than others.

So here we go.

Part Two >>

Invisiphilia: An Epic

◊ ◊ ◊

PART ONE: CONCEPTION

A happy day, three weeks after

the night you were conceived.

But Doctor wasn’t too impressed

with what your Mom achieved.

“You shouldn’t gain an ounce,” he said.

“Perhaps, should lose a few!”

All told in order to prevent

the birth of a fat you.

◊ ◊ ◊

Part Two >>

On What Isn’t Ground-Breaking

A fat person, or former fat person, buying into the ‘healthy weight’ mysticism is not ground-breaking.

In fact? It’s downright mainstream.

A fat person, or former fat person, blaming themselves for how our culture (mis)treats fat people and (mis)characterizes the fat experience is not ground-breaking. We are (mis)fits, after all, in that we are outliers, living in a world built for those who are smaller than we are. Self-blame for nonconformity is such a normal social response that it hasn’t seen a ground-breaking since Genesis.

A fat person, or a former fat person, coveting the higher status granted by a smaller pants-size is such a foundational part of our culture that it supports a $60 billion-dollar (and growing) industry, not to mention providing employment for bored pseudo-science journos, teevee doctors, washed up celebrities, professional snarks, and any dieter in possession of a word processor.

In summary: trashing a lifestyle you fear and failed at (body acceptance) while giving lipservice to some kind of bullshit concern for others under the guise of promoting venerable Healthistic ideals and body-driven moral imperatives isn’t ground-breaking.

It’s the same old bullshit. And the attempt to Trojan-horse fat-hate and body-shaming into HAES and FA/SA circles? Obvious. The people convinced to lose weight by a former/current fatty peddling body shame are the same people who currently subscribe to the yo-yo-diet-a-month club, anyhow. Welcome to the cannibalistic nature of the diet culture: compared to that, was body acceptance really so bad?

The Fucking Awesome Truth

Go read this fucking awesome post by Joanna at Dead of Winter:

The Truth is Radical

It will blow your fucking socks off. It’s so old-school FA, I’m all a-quiver like it’s 2007 again. Dammit, I miss Junkfood Science!

Some candy:

Instead of feeling liberated with the knowledge that I was not a failure or defective because of my weight, my health, or my lifestyle, I insisted on holding onto my prejudices, not just against others, but myself.

Why would someone do this?

The reason is two-fold: One is that we still want to hold on to “The Fantasy of Being Thin” that Kate Harding discusses. The other, more subtle, one is that we can’t bear to face it. To face it would be to realize just how thoroughly people hate us and how pervasive fat hatred is, inserting itself in every area of life, held by virtually all people in our culture, and knowing there is no escape for it.

Ding-ding-ding-ding-DING! Sometimes when I really think about how much I’m hated — how irrevocably the culture equates my value as a human/women to my weight, and how many times and in how many ways I’ve been discriminated against, seen as less valuable or even valueless because I’m fat — well, I get really fucking depressed. It’s hard to handle. Really hard.

Finally, holy awesome, Batman:

No. It is our anti-fat, healthist culture that is radical. It refuses to acknowledge any factor in health, fitness, or weight besides lifestyle. It refuses to allow people with socially stigmatized bodies and lifestyles to exist. It refuses to allow them any measure of worth, intelligence, or morality. It seeks to deny basic rights and social support.

Joanna has written the post I’ve wanted to write for at least a year. Con-fucking-gratulations, I’m so fucking glad to see something like this on the feeds, it made my fucking weekend. And I’ve been having a pretty good fucking weekend.

(EDIT: I just found out this is my 250th post on Big Liberty. Holy fucking mother of shit. W00t!)