Why We Don’t Need Fat Acceptance

I swear I am not trying to contradict Kat’s every post.

Yes, we’ve had have our differences.

We locked horns over femininity and warrior-princesses. Clashed over government regulation. Faced off on the subject of pride parades.

Again, I am not- not– trying to be combative.

That said, today’s post is all about why I think Kat is wrong on the subject of Body Positivism and the concept of “Fat Acceptance”

Now yours truly and our glorious editor have both weighed in on the subject of fitness and obesity more than once, and in her defense, I certainly don’t believe that Kat is offering her blessing to obesity or anything like that.

Still, things need to be said here.

First, I want to make it clear that I agree with Kat on pretty much each and every one of the issues that she brought up. Factors of mental health, poor self-image, unrealistic cultural demands- you won’t hear me dispute these for a second. And these are, absolutely, universal problems. While largely centering on women, there’s an undeniable presence of all this among men as well.

(Granted, that might have more impact if it wasn’t being said by Brad Pitt, but the point still stands.)

My problem isn’t with any of the things that Kat brought up, but rather with the conclusions she drew (or seemed to draw) from ’em. Allow me to kick the conversation off with the following statement:

Self-Esteem Without Quality Is Meaningless

Now granted, this isn’t so much a problem with what Kat said as it is with what much of the movement seems based on: just feeling good about yourself.

There is nothing- nothing– wrong with have good self-esteem, but only so long as that esteem is tethered to something of substance. Your efforts, your accomplishments, your principles- even your noble failures. These are all worth celebrating and taking pride in. However, if you’re telling yourself to like yourself simply to feel warm and fuzzy on the inside…

…then you’re going to run into some problems.

Firstly, that kind of self-image is staggeringly unsound. Without it being grounded in any actual quality or skill, your sense of self-worth can be leveled just as quickly as it can be built up. Just from a practical standpoint, blanket self-acceptance doesn’t last or hold up.

Secondly, when blanket self-acceptance does occur, it tends to have some pretty negative affects. I can tell myself that there’s nothing wrong with me, that I’m a beautiful and unique snowflake (to steal the words of Tyler Durden once more), but that’s so often not the case. In case any of my readers haven’t noticed by now, yours truly is a pretty prideful and arrogant person. I generally manage to work around that by being perfect and correct all the time, but it’s still not a good quality.

And the real kicker is when that starts leaking over into actions. When I believe myself to be perfect (or simply flawed but not able/not needing to change), then I kinda start ceding responsibility for my actions. I can be rude and say “hey, that’s just who I am”. I can be selfish and say “Love me or leave me”. Or, to quote that drug-addicted, cheating, air-headed starlet Marilyn Monroe:

Or- or– you could get some ****ing self-control. That might be an option, too…

Now I am not talking about self-hatred here, I’m calling for accurate self-image. If I wake up at 5’3″, 280 lbs, I can think “Hey, I should probably lose weight” OR “I’m overweight and I’m okay with that- I don’t really care for exercise and I love me some food”.

Yeah, I’m totally okay with that second option.

While Evan and I have talked about what we think the general standard for fitness should be, so long as a person’s relatively fit, I don’t take an issue. I myself am no glistening Adonis, no matter what the public might tell you.

Yeah, that ain’t me. Less Michael Fassbender and more Horseman of the Apocalypse representing Famine…

The issue here is that the righteous crusaders in the “Fat Acceptance” movement don’t quite seem so open to the idea. Observe this picture below.

And this is one of the least nasty ones I could find…

For all the talk about “just accepting” oneself and one’s body, this same tolerance often seems not to be extended to folks who are (or prefer) skinny. And lest anyone accuse me of blaming the entire movement for the sins of a vocal minority, these things are pretty dang prevalent.

For the sake our collective sanity, I am not going to list all of ’em.

And of course, if that’s looking vaguely familiar, it’s possible you’ve already heard/seen the same sentiment in Meghan Trainor’s 2014 debut hit “All About That Bass”. In addition to such imagery as this-

-we were graced with such lyrics as:

“Go ahead and tell them skinny bitches Hey
No, I’m just playing I know you think you’re fat,”

And I know that neither Meghan Trainor nor the people posting those images above are the chosen representatives of the Fat Acceptance movement. All the same, these folks (and their ideas) are very much present within said movement, and that attitude just isn’t healthy for anybody.

And speaking of health, what about anorexia?

If we truly are supposed to accept all body types as the Body Positive Movement demands, then wouldn’t that include the underweight?

“But Gordon, you gallant and resolute bannerman of the forces of reason, under-eating is a serious disorder!”

I agree completely. But surely over-eating is an issue as well, right?

“No Gordon, you swashbuckling paragon of virtue, the Body Positive Moment- and Kat’s article- both clearly emphasize that they are in favor of people accepting their bodies when their bodies are healthy!

Touché, dear readers, touché. But for all that rhetoric, we get a ton of folks in said movement (at least, rallying behind it) like this:

And look, I am not a doctor, a dietitian, or anything even remotely close. That said, I feel confident in venturing that the human body is not supposed to look like the image above.

Yes, Kat did bring up the number of seemingly heavy people who are, in reality, far more fit than most skinny people, but let’s be real here. The nearly 70% of Americans who are overweight/obese are not Olympic athletes or unlikely gymnasts. These folks are the exception, not the norm, and pretending otherwise would be delusional.

I guess I’m just concerned that the statement “if body size doesn’t necessarily dictate health…” might be a bit misleading. It’s true that it doesn’t necessarily dictate health, but in the same way that the sound of hooves doesn’t necessarily mean there are horses coming ’round the bend.

It’s still probably horses and being fat probably indicates higher risk of heart disease, hypertension, and a host of other problems it’d be absurd to ignore.

“But it’s not a choice for so many people!”

You’re absolutely correct.

The single mother living on the edge of poverty, working two jobs to just barely scrape by- yeah, she’s probably going to have weight problems. After a long day of backbreaking labor and stress, she’s still probably only going to have enough energy and money to get cheap, unhealthy food. I’m not blaming her for her situation and anyone who does is a dirtbag.

However-

I have the lingering suspicion that were it this woman’s choice, she’d choose a healthier lifestyle.

Probably, anyways. As I touched on before, there are folks who openly admit “hey I’m cool with my lifestyle.” I might not agree with their choices, but I can still maintain a level of respect for that. Problems arise, however, when folks make the argument that there’s no difference between overweight (or underweight) and fit. The folks who claim not to have a choice (when they actually do), the folks who look surprised when they have to buy an extra seat on the airplane, the folks who post pseudo-science like this to justify themselves:

That’s where we’re going to have some problems. This junk (and there’s no shortage of it) isn’t self-acceptance, it’s solipsism.

That’s why we don’t need fat acceptance. Not as it stands presently, anyways.

In full summation, we have an often hypocritically-selective movement that frequently uses spurious reasoning to draw poor conclusions in the desperate pursuit of ultimately empty self-affirmation.

And I’m not blaming ’em. Not trying to, anyways.

People, we need an answer to eating disorders. We need an answer to society’s unattainable standards. We need an answer to our dual-standards. We need an answer to the cancer of self-hatred.

It’s just that the fat acceptance movement simply is not that answer.

Let’s keep looking.

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7 responses to “Why We Don’t Need Fat Acceptance

  1. I always enjoy reading Kat, but I also like to hear what everyone has to say 😉
    And as much as I want to agree with what you’re saying here, and it’s all pretty logical stuff, I’ve gone down this rabbit hole with my husband more then once.. and it usually ends in an agreement to disagree!
    I enjoyed it however, and I’m looking forward to hearing his opinion of the read!

  2. what we need is kindness. forget the concept of fat-acceptance and so on, realize that we need to be kind to one another. NOBODY is going to change anything unhealthy about themselves because you have a less-than-favourable opinion about them. the only reason anybody changes is because they decide to, and making people feel like less of a person because they’re visibly unhealthy is only going to make their problem worse in almost every circumstance. in the original post her point is that people need to realize that fat people are just as valid as human beings as skinny people, and should be treated as such. your role in life is not to judge someone else’s situation. your role is to be kind and treat others like they matter, especially if your instinct is to do otherwise based on their appearance.

    why I need to treat people with kindness.
    why I need to be treated with kindness.
    why I need kindness.

  3. The excuses for being overweight are less and less valid as time goes on, really. I recently gained a lot of weight that I’m not at all happy with, and really, the only challenges I’ve faced in fixing that have been mental. I’m a graduate student, so I’m not exactly rolling in cash, but I shop at Aldi and manage to eat healthier. I found a free app that lets me easily count calories and nutrition, and I got a gym membership for $10/month. And, when I inevitably have less time to go to the gym, I can walk to work or bike instead of driving, I can use the stairs instead of the elevator, I can get a standing desk… Hell, I can get a cheap pair of ankle weights if I had to. It shouldn’t be hard for any reason other than medical complications.

    As for those who say live and let live, I’d say it’s always important to realize that resources aren’t limitless. We live in a culture of excess while people around the world starve. We fill landfills with non-degradable plastic wrappers from Little Debbie snacks and potato chips. If you’re overeating, it’s not just your problem, it’s everyone’s. So stop.

  4. TL;DR I ACCEPT THE HUMAN RACE! Just BE NICE TO EACH OTHER!! And G&K are both right in spots.

    Also, Gord said it best with the point between Anorexic Acceptance and Fat Acceptance and Kat said it best that “…fat people…are deserving of real love”. I really have loved looking into my own views on this, enough that I wanted to post.

    LONG POST BELOW!

    It’s so hard to find a right or wrong answer here for everyone, because I think we’re asking the wrong kind of questions.

    Indulge me as I chip away at this, these posts have been on my mind all day.

    I love the thought (the warm and fuzzy part) of the fat acceptance movement, because I LOVE people. I think that anyone I could meet on the street will interesting, valuable and worthy of controlling their own life. (Innocent until proven guilty however…I’m no saint, people piss me off too.)

    That being said, I also agree wholeheartedly with Gordon that the Fat Acceptance Movement (FAM) as it stands, as it is understood by my imperfect brain, is not the answer to solving all (read: any) of the problems we face surrounding the mental and physical strains of eating disorders.

    A short background on me. I have been very overweight in my life (scroll through my old Facebook photos and there is the proof) and it reached a peak when I was in a very turbulent and destructive period of change. I will say that I was alone, that I hated myself, and that spending time on me was the very last thing I deserved.

    Luckily, someone in my life decided it was time for a change. This day came when a friend (we will call him Matt Damon) told me and I quote, “You’re being a lazy asshole. Don’t waste this beautiful day outside, laying here on the couch. Fuck off and get in the car.” (just imagine Good Will Hunting)

    Now, I had spent years saying the same thing in my head. I would dread going to the beach, having a shower (etc.) because I would see how far my stomach extended past my pelvis, and would wonder how it ever got that bad. My joints and back always hurt, by lungs would burn with a trip up the stairs, and the voices in my head just got louder and louder…until Jason Bourne himself came along.

    Fast forward from that first day with me and the talented Mr.Damon, and I managed to lose almost 60 pounds (but put a few back on), become more active and into sports than I’ve ever been in my life, very happily married to my best friend, and managed to complete a 25k race, and 3 long distance obstacle courses (something I never dreamed possible).

    So, that’s the background I put into the foreground for what I want to say next.

    1) Fear of shaming should not discourage encouragement.

    I believe that Matt was very brave that day to stand up to me, and bring an outside voice into the conversation I was having in my brain. I think it was a good thing that he did not accept me for who I was, even if on the surface, I seemed happy and content (which I did not I’m sure). I was a fat guy eating a large pizza to myself and falling asleep on the couch in my work clothes, and dammit he wasn’t letting that shit happen anymore.

    He wasn’t perfect either and that wasn’t the point. He did not like the fact that I let the world go by because all I did was watch netflix and eat comfort food. He SHAMED me into action, and I applaud him for it. Tough love takes guts.

    What this looks like in the real world, I don’t truly know. Is encouraging people to walk places, to use bikes or alternate human powered transportation a bad thing? Is making an obese person (without a medical condition) walk around the supermarket shaming them into exercise? (If anything, it may draw less negative attention if you’re not in the scooter.) Or can’t we look at simply getting rid of “all you can eat buffets”?

    (Seriously, the Buffet Mentality does more damage to us than we know. What I mean is, and I am guilty of this for sure…when was the last time you took a respectable amount, and variety of food at a wedding? Is that a cupcake next to your pasta salad? A nanaimo bar next to your prime rib? Damn. Someone should do a post on the origins of Buffets and how they are destroying the world.)

    But I digress. Point 1 is that I think harsh encouragement (read: shaming) from those you trust, or those with tact, is okay. And if there is a legitimate draw of extra resources on a company or a product you wish to purchase because you have become obese, (i.e. airplane seats), I do not quantify that as shaming. Which brings me to point 2…

    2) Companies and customers need to wake up to the situation.

    I’m going to use the airline seat conversation for this one.

    It’s real damn hard to hear that you are too large to fit on to one chair on an aircraft. You have to imagine a persons mental state upon this news, especially if it’s the first time it’s ever happened to them. It has to be shocking, humiliating, degrading, and so on. Even if the airline is nice about it, the 2-seated customer will put themselves through the worst of it on their own. This looks like a lose/lose on the surface. How do you tell someone they are too large to be charged a single fare without being accused of shaming, and how does one manage to be accepting of themselves and their body while being confronted with the abnormal request?

    A perfect answer may not exist, but couldn’t a description of extra costs be available online on the companies website? Couldn’t phone/online customer service be available to help explain costs, or perhaps better learn the situation facing that individual customer and apply charges after this conversation occurs? Couldn’t airlines develop discreetly larger single seats for those struggling with obesity and have only a slight increase in fare price instead of being labeled as a second fare?

    The biggest struggle is, how do we change the perceptions across the board for all companies who interact with the public to approach these interactions with love, and care, and compassion? AND how do we put it upon those finding their body weight putting them in these situations to better educate themselves on the implications that may arise from their choice of lifestyle?

    Again, not perfectly clear, but I HAVE to believe it goes both ways…which brings me to my third point.

    3) Fat Acceptance HAS to go both ways.

    If you are obese, you need to understand that the world is going to be different than if you were not obese.

    If you are overweight, you need to understand that the world is going to be different than if you were not overweight.

    If you are fit, you need to understand that the world is going to be different than if you were not fit.

    If you are anorexic, you need to understand that the world is going to be different that if you were not anorexic.

    ALL OF THESE come with their own trials and tribulations. Maintaining a constant level of exercise and healthy eating habits for me is next to impossible. I struggle every day. I fail at it more often than I succeed. When I do put on weight, I hate myself. Truly.

    Being more fit than you doesn’t make me a fucking superhero impervious to hurt, to self doubt and self loathing.

    You DO NOT get to say to me that my mental struggles are less worthy than yours, or that I shouldn’t say my worries about my body and weight aloud, and here’s why; If I were to flip that, and tell you that I don’t struggle, or that I am perfectly fine with my body because there are fat people in the world and at least I’m not one them…well you would think I was an asshole.

    If you can accept that you are obese or overweight, and all the things that come with it, then you need to accept the fact that I am personally not okay with being either of those things. You must accept that I wish the world was healthier, that we were better to our bodies (not that I am all the time).

    None of this means that I think you don’t deserve acceptance, you do. It just means that I view the acceptance of good health, mental happiness, and biological well-being differently from you. AND THAT’S OKAY!!

    We don’t need the FAM, we just need an acceptance movement, that doesn’t become a complacent movement.

    We need to encourage each other to be healthy, and seek out ways to better those around us, our friends, our families, our neighborhoods. We need to talk about the terrible things over processed foods are doing to our bodies. We need to be kind, and tactful when we interact as a species, in all of our shapes and colours. We need to understand that we all have our own worst enemy over our shoulder every day, staring us down and waiting for us to fail. I am my brothers (and sisters) keeper, and I don’t want ANYONE to have to feel shame about who they are.

    But I’d hate to see a world where we are too scared as a society to even attempt to help someone be the best they could be, because we’re afraid of what the internet might say.

    We need to take a lesson from Matt Damon. We need to get off the fucking couch.

  5. I don’t believe in tormenting the overweight but it doesn’t mean I need to agree with their choices and what they say.

    I disagree with some of the untruths spread amongst the body positive community as it prevents those who’re inclined to try leading a healthier lifestyle from doing so.

    So yes, I fully agree with what you wrote. Nice read!

  6. I’ll accept fat people as soon as they accept my right to find them unattractive and sexually invisible. Nobody is entitled to look good just because they (want to) feel good. If I pour a bucket of dog crap on my head, I’m not going to look good or smell good or attract the opposite sex. So, like gaining lots of weight, I don’t do that.

  7. Pingback: Not Everyone Got A Trophy | Culture War Reporters

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