[BRAIN FOG ALERT] I have been writing this one bit by bit, and having trouble reworking it quite to my liking. I didn’t want to let this go unsaid, so I decided to post it as is. Things might be a little clunky and unclear. If so, please feel free to bring it up in comments. Thanks. [/BRAIN FOG ALERT]
I would like to register a complaint, and I hope that all who hear it understand it in the lighthearted context in which it is intended. It is a serious concern, but it should be understood that it is not a placing of blame nor actually a complaint about the people involved: only the script that society has given them to read from.
Today I would like to consider the cause and the community of Fat Acceptance, Size Acceptance, Body Acceptance, Body Positivity, et al. This is a cause which holds at its heart that no person should be judged or maligned based on hir physical appearance, that size and shape are not moral conditions, that fat is a matter far more complicated than Calories-In-Calories-Out, and that both individuals and society are better off when bodies are treated as a respected comrade rather than a homicidal adversary.
When a person discovers FA, sie is introduced to the idea that food and physical activity are not, or should not be, things associated with a person’s body size first and foremost. But what should they be considered instead?
Two common answers are:
1. What should matter is what your body does for you.
It is absolutely lovely that you have strong legs for running, and running gives you energy and purpose. It is similarly lovely that your hands can create intricate works of art, visual or audible or tactile. It is also lovely that your breasts are full with milk that nurtures and nourishes your young child, and offers you the time and space to spend together, forming a strong foundational bond between one another, which can then grow into a beautiful and complex human relationship.
It is lovely that your muscles stretch and bend and enable you to do yoga, which gives an amazing sense of refreshment and flexibility. It is lovely that you can stand and move your body in dance, aligning your movement with the beat of music, and finding that place of awe and transcendence.
There are a number of unendingly complex systems that make up your body, respiratory and nervous and digestive and musculoskeletal, which are things of marvel and beauty. And it is absolutely lovely that those systems all function independently and interdependently, cooperating to good effect, functioning with an amazing degree of accuracy, every second of every hour of every day.
These things, they are all lovely, and I am happy that your body does this for you.
But I have a problem with building a value system that has, at its core, that basic functioning of your physical self. Because, while your body performs wonderfully for you, not every person is so fortunate.
I may stand tall on strong legs, but I cannot count on them to take me every place I need to go. Another person may have arthritic joints that make it very difficult to do anything requiring any degree of dexterity or nimbleness. Infertility is not that uncommon in women, and even those who are able to conceive may face trouble at some point during their pregnancy and early motherhood when their bodies do not function according to the ideal.
My muscles are stiff and sore, making yoga hard on me — and I do it anyway, but I do it because I need that stretching and balancing and strengthening, so as to prevent even more pain down the road. And I cannot celebrate the fact that I can do that yoga, because my body is unpredictable, and I may find myself incapable of the necessary stretching and movement at any time. And what am I to celebrate then? Am I then deficient? Am I then of less value than my neighbor who can perform that activity?
It is a problem today that our bodies, especially as female bodies, are valued primarily based on their conformity to an ideal of beauty that is out of reach for the vast majority of us. And one of the primary factors in that ideal is your body’s size: the bigger you are, the less you are valued.
This is wrong and this is harmful. But in our zeal to construct a more equitable and just system, we may be leaning on certain values that will prove just as wrong and harmful if they are to take over.
2. You should eat, drink, move, and behave with an ideal of bodily and psychological health in mind.
This is a similar complaint, but slightly different.
In this case, the issue is not how we value certain physical traits. Instead, we are privileging certain behaviors.
Make no mistake: it is good to eat the foods we understand as healthful. These foods provide nourishment to our bodies, which we need to keep living. It is good to stand and stretch and move your body, for any number of reasons — the benefits of physical activity are many, and it is good to seek them for yourself. It is also good to be mindful of your well being in areas beyond the physical: to maintain some level of control over the stresses you face, for instance.
These things are all good and beneficial to us. However. When we frame this set of values as being in pursuit of health, we give short shrift to our friends and neighbors who are not pictures of perfect health.
Again: we should not determine the worth of a person based on hir body shape or size, or other visible physical traits. But attempting to replace this value system with one based upon the health of a person is a dangerous move.
There are many of us whose bodies do not work the way the ideal body does. They process food differently, they grow differently, they respond to physical exertion differently, they follow different patterns of thought.
And if we are to give up the pursuit of thinness and replace it with a pursuit of healthfulness, those people will be as left-out as fat people are today.
In fact, they already are. There is a growing health-consciousness movement in this country, and while it does bring with it certain benefits, the boundaries of that discussion are drawn such that people with significant medical conditions that make said healthfulness an impossible goal are pushed outside the boundaries.
I don’t particularly want to feed that tendency.
So: if we are to deconstruct the current societal structure built around our bodies, what they do and what they are, we might find ourselves displaced. Where do we go? The two value systems detailed above are common proposals, but I believe they are too problematic to seriously pursue. So… where do we go instead?
Honestly, I don’t have the answer to that. Body positivity is made all the more difficult in a society that saturates certain traits with meaning that they should not necessarily have. But I’m not sure how we’re supposed to do things instead.
But I wanted to get this out there. FA is an importance cause to me, and I want to see it continue to move forward. I just don’t want to leave ableism unchallenged. I truly believe that it would hurt not only the disabled, but the FA movement as a whole, as well — to move forward on a shaky and unstable foundation. Hopefully we can all pitch in to repair the cracks and fissures together.
Footnote: I want this conversation to focus on issues that build upon the basics of fat acceptance and disability activism, rather than arguing over those basics themselves. So: I don’t want to hear “obesity epidemic” or “fat kills” or any wordy workarounds driving toward the same brick wall. You can join the conversation even if you are new to either theory, but I expect you to have done some reading and satisfied those niggling curiosities elsewhere, and be ready to talk about the specific ideas, complaints and concerns brought up in this post.
And any bigotry is going to be deleted. And I am not going to bother giving a warning. I have better things to occupy my time and energy with. Thank you for your understanding.
Similar Posts (automatically generated):
- Fat acceptance: when kindness is activism by Guest Blogger September 12, 2010
- Quick hit: No fucking way by amandaw July 30, 2008
- Something I never really understood… by Ren August 23, 2007
- Another magazine another photoshopped woman by Veronica August 8, 2009
- Disabled Character: Able-Bodied (Emaciated) Actresses Only, Please by Laurie Toby Edison August 15, 2009