On fat acceptance and weight loss

One of the questions I receive when doing media for my new radio show is whether fat people want to lose weight. I am unsure of the motivation behind such a question, but I always have an answer prepared and I am no longer surprised when it is asked. Do fat people want to lose weight? Do fat people want to no longer be fat? The easy answer is yes, most probably do.

It is the sane choice when you live in a world that finds you disgusting. Being fat is considered unhealthy, lazy, undesirable, and a moral failure. If we look back at other groups who have been oppressed and discriminated against, we can find members of such groups engaging in activities to negotiate the stigma. Ethnic minorities may use creams to lighten their skin or straighten their hair. Gays and lesbians may marry and raise families in heterosexual relationships. I believe that many fat people would rather not be fat, and many try to achieve this through weight loss.  If a fat person chooses to engage in weight loss, it is their choice to make. It is not up to me, or anyone else, to tell them that it is not okay to diet.

I have no interest in telling people what choices they should make for their bodies; just as I have no interest in others telling me what choices I should make for my own. But I do think it is important that people recognize that making the choice to support weight loss organisations reinforces the fat hating culture we live in. Businesses like Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig make their money off the back of fat people. They exist because of the cultural belief that fat is undesirable. They make their money because people want to lose weight, because being fat is bad. If fat phobia did not exist, weight loss would be a much smaller business. Definitely not the billion dollar business it is today.

I am not saying that all individuals want to lose weight because they are fat hating, but I do believe that is at the heart for many of those who are dieting. If you are one of the millions wanting to lose weight, ask yourself why?

  • Do you want to lose weight because of your health? Why not consider what health issues you have, and the activities you can engage in to remedy these, instead of focusing on weight loss?
  • Do you want to lose weight because you are ashamed of your body? Why not work on your self esteem and learn to love yourself and your body, instead of focusing on weight loss?
  • Do you want to lose weight because you have pain in your lower back? Why not do exercises that strengthen your back, instead of focusing on weight loss?
  • Do you want to lose weight because you cannot find fashion in your size? Why not join a group like Super Sizes on Facebook, or demand that fashion producers make cool clothes for your size, instead of focusing on weight loss?
  • Do you want to lose weight because your partner is not sexually attracted to you? Why not work with your partner to broaden your sexual turn-ons, or find a new partner, instead of focusing on weight loss?
  • Do you want to lose weight because you are unhappy with your life? Why not work out what you are unhappy about and make steps to change those things, instead of focusing on weight loss?

In my experience, many of the reasons above are often just excuses that cover up fat phobia. If you are interested in losing weight, be honest with yourself about the reasons. If when you scratch below the surface you find disgust and fear of fat, that’s okay. It’s probably normal. It does not make you a bad person. But if you do find those feelings and beliefs, think about where they come from. And what they mean for the fat people in your life. And what they mean for you.

Whether or not a person can be fat accepting and trying to lose weight is a point of contention within the Fatosphere. Others have written about this, and I am trying to work this out for myself.

I appreciate the efforts of Fatadelic to tease out the differences and relationships between fat acceptance, size acceptance, self acceptance, body acceptance, and dieting. I agree with Fatadelic that dieting and body acceptance are mutually exclusive: if you are trying to change something about your body, you are not embracing body acceptance. But of course, the choices an individual makes for their own body (dieting) are not always congruent with the ideologies they embrace (size/fat acceptance). And more importantly, the FA movement must allow for differences and disagreements as it continues to grow.

When Marilyn Wann was on my inaugural show, she made the distinction between fat acceptance and fat liberation. She said she was not interested in fat acceptance, which to her was about convincing people to tolerate fatness; to accept it. Instead, Marilyn is working for fat liberation. Embracing and celebrating fat; she claims it is her birthright. At the time I thought that it was a cool idea, but I was still okay with the phrase ‘fat acceptance’. It definitely sounded more user friendly than fat liberation, and getting others interested in promoting dignity and rights for fat people is one of the goals of my show. Baby steps, right?

But I kept thinking about the differences, and the relationship between fat acceptance and weight loss. And so I asked the all knowing Tumblr, ‘Can a person be fat accepting and trying to lose weight?’ I had hoped for wisdom to be shared by the many FA individuals in the Tumblr world, and was surprised instead to receive responses from non-FA friends on my Facebook (my Tumblr posts automatically appear there as well). From reading their responses, I realised, ‘oh wow, fat acceptance really is about tolerating fatness. It is seen as accepting a circumstance you find yourself in.’

And that was an eye opener. Let me tell you, I have NO interest in my fatness being something to tolerate or a circumstance to be accepted. Marilyn was right (as usual): my fatness is my birthright. It is not something I accept, or tolerate, or try to make the best of. It is something I embrace, I celebrate, I recognize as an important part of what makes me who I am. But that is where I am in my journey. And my journey is not the same as others. And that is okay.