Airing of Grievances

[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.

If you are new to these topics, try reading this first. Comments on this post will be restricted. See footnote.

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.


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41 comments for “Airing of Grievances

  1. August 6, 2008 at 11:41 am

    The intersection of FA and disability activism is a really tricky one, I think. A lot of fat people bristle at being considered disabled, and I suspect that much of that is from internalized ableism. At the same time, it seems to me that it’s also a matter of self-definition; fat people are often told that they’re disabled no matter what their bodies actually do or feel, and for many fat people it’s a great revelation to discover that their bodies are more powerful/flexible/fast/etc than they had been told. How much of that new relationship to one’s body comes from sheer joy of movement and how much comes from the shedding of another devalued social attribute (“disabled”) is hard to untangle.

    I think about this a lot and I’m very interested to hear what you and others have to say.

  2. Liz
    August 6, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Wow! Thank you for bringing this up. I am very commited to the ideas behind FA, and HAES in particular, but I’ve never thought of it as deifying a health-centric view in a way that could distance the physically disabled. Hmm, I think my privilige is showing…

    My understanding of the principles behind HAES was that individuals who wish to work towards health are entitled to work towards health as they understand it. My interpretation of this was that a healthy overweight woman might be different from herself in a unhealthy state, without necessarily having the same health dynamic as a naturally skinny woman.

    I would be inclined to think that this would naturally extend to an individualistic view of health- I’m sure you know where you are on your own “health spectrum” and what your priorities are. HAES seems to me to promote a wider view of what health is, rather than focussing on classical images of it.

    Thank you for this post- I enjoy guest bloggers so much, because it brings issues to the table that remind me that I still wear blinkers a lot of the time.

  3. August 6, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    Well said. I actually have some problems with HAES and FA and all that stuff, not because of what it’s looking to accomplish, but how some people go about it. Instead of it being a contest about whose body is smaller, it becomes a contest about who eats the healthiest and who exercises the most, irregardless of size.

    I’ve posted about this occasionally on my own blog, about how some HAES practitioners end up saying things like: “It doesn’t matter what size you are or what you eat or how much exercise you do. But I biked three miles last night! Because I love my body! And I only ate vegetables last night! Because they taste good!” And while this may be true, it’s not really the right message, I don’t think. The message is: It’s only okay to be fat if you’re doing things that should make you skinny but don’t for some reason. I think the whole mindset it seriously bad for everyone.

    I’m not arguing that exercise is bad. Or that eating more nutritiously is bad. And I’m not saying that I don’t believe in FA. Because I do. Look, I’m a fat girl who has been waging a war against a society that tells me fat is ugly; I’m just trying to find some peace in relation to my body. But at the same time, I feel like I’m being a traitor if I eat something less than good for me, or if I don’t exercise very often. FA can be very rigid about how to be an appropriate fat person. And that’s just as bad as a society which is very rigid about how to be an appropriately weighted person.

    I don’t know what the solution is. But there’s gotta be something better than this.

  4. August 6, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for writing this.

    I’ve been a supporter of FA for years, and I do believe in HAES. However, what is considered healthy is going to vary greatly from person to person. My activity level would be considered extremely unhealthy for someone who is able bodied. However, for someone with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, I’m extremely active. Even compared to myself 6 years ago, I’m much more fit. However, that has less to do with how much I do and more to do with the treatments I’ve received that allow me to do more. Yes, I’m out walking regularly, and have gone as much as 4 miles at a time. However, I can do that because of the meds I take that allow me to do more. 8 years ago, I couldn’t do that, not because I wasn’t active enough to begin with but because I couldn’t be active with the health issues I had. And I still have low times when I have to back off of everything active because my energy levels have dropped for no apparent reason. Eventually, they’ll increase again and then I’m back out being more active.

    What I’ve always preached to everyone is not to judge other people because you don’t know what their particular circumstances are (you hear that, Dr. Phil?). It’s the old adage of walking a mile in their shoes. I’ve lost friends over this issue because they wanted to lecture me on being healthy and active and losing weight. They couldn’t understand that they could not compare their experiences to mine. We’re different. Just because you can diet and exercise yourself to slimness doesn’t mean that I can (or even that I should).

    So, again, thank you for writing this. I hope everyone out there in the FA and HAES field will read it and come to some understanding.

  5. OTM
    August 6, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    I’m taking these in opposite order, sorry!

    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.

    This is one idea within FA, but it’s not the only one and arguably not even the most central concept (although as it is a still growing movement, and I am not the spokesperson for it, I can’t really say what the most central concept is). For me, the biggest and brightest FA message was that I am fine just like I am, and that it is perfectly okay, desirable even, to have a nonadversarial relationship with my body. Once I really grasped those ideas, the ways I approached food and exercise changed accordingly.

    You should eat, drink, move, and behave with an ideal of bodily and psychological health in mind.

    I have seen this answer, but again, it’s not the party line (again, if there even is one) or at least not the party line to which I adhere. I prefer to think of it in terms of, “You should eat, drink, and move with your own happiness and comfort in mind and without assigning moral value to your choices.” (I omitted “behave” because I think that behavior is too broad to exclude from a moral code, and I am just talking about what you eat and how much you move.) And I think the reframing I described makes the concept much more copacetic for people who don’t meet a societally mandated health “ideal.” In your post about the shower chair you beautifully described how there is this idea that using a necessary (or even just more convenient) assistive devices can feel or be perceived as some sort of a moral failing (if you have trouble standing in the shower, try hoisting yourself up by your own bootstraps, you lazy person). Similarly, there is no moral failing in my choice to take the elevator down two flights of stairs because I’m having particularly painful hip and knee problems that day, or in my decision to hop on a bus when I only have four blocks to walk because I just feel tired and not like walking. Or to take water aerobics once or twice a week instead of using the ellipse machine or just skipping the gym altogether if I’m really not feeling it. Ditto eating. If my stomach is kind of a mess for whatever reason and the only thing I feel like eating for three days is white rice and milk shakes, that is okay. If I’m feeling okay and craving biscuits and gravy or chicken friend steak, also okay.

    And interestingly, as I type that, I realize that I am actually discussing health. Not an ideal of health, which I agree is problematic, but what health is for me, which includes avoiding activities that cause me joint pain or giving myself a break when I’m tired or listening to my wonky digestive system. So I guess a lot of the problem with that statement is the word “ideal” and assuming that “ideal” means “societally defined ideal” when it could just be a personal, subjective ideal of “health” defined as “not doing things to make anything worse or doing things that make me feel better, even if they are kind of nutty or not particularly socially acceptable.”

    What should matter is what your body does for you.

    I guess again, I don’t see this as a central tenet of FA. I mean, it does matter to me what my body does for me, and it is kind of liberating to celebrate the things that my body does instead of berate it for its inability to conform to a idealized and impossible aesthetic. But… I don’t know. This may well be my privilege showing (and I am open to being called on it because I’d like to work through it) but I guess, probably since I don’t see this as the hub of FA, I don’t see this as problematic. Even if your body has limitations, it still does other things that are probably worth of celebrating, even if those things just include breathing and circulating your blood. It seems like your criticism of this principle assumes that “what your body does for you” has to be some sort of super active, societally ideal health function, when I always read it as more of a “whatever it does is pretty great so go ahead with your bad self” sort of message.

    I’ve thought about disability and FA a lot, and for me the intersection falls at the celebration of nonconforming bodies. The ideas of disability rights community really hit home with me when I grokked the idea that a disabled body is different from the norm, but that does not make it bad or even undesirable. That because somebody perceives the world differently, in a way that an abelist society would consider “limited” does not mean that that person’s experience of the world is in any way lesser or inferior. That’s really powerful! It’s this shared idea that existing outside the norm isn’t something to hide or accommodate; it’s something to celebrate.

  6. August 6, 2008 at 12:33 pm

    I am a Deaf woman. I am about 98% Deaf and wear a hearing aid, but I am thinking maybe getting a cochlear implant because I think my hearing aid doesn’t really work anymore. I’ve gone to Deaf schools all my childhood before being put in a mainstream school with hearing kids and I’ve been in “Special Ed” programs, too. I’ve been always paired up with students of all kinds of disabilities in various classes through-out my teenaged years. I’ve made friends with Deaf-Blind, Blind, handicapped (like in wheelchairs), and people with mental disabilities.

    Never have I once in my life come across anybody anywhere who claimed that being “Fat” is a disability. For the first time, I feel offended by these claims. That being said, I’ve never viewed “fat” as a disability, never have, and never will.

  7. OTM
    August 6, 2008 at 12:40 pm

    Reading some of the other comments, I sort of see what I did here: I basically rearranged FA so excise what looked like problematic concepts and made it a personal philosophy. That’s probably fine as far as a workable way of life goes, but it does completely ignore FA as a political movement,* and I think these criticisms about the focus on health in FA as a political movement are pretty solid. I’m particularly irritated with what manogirl nailed: “The message is: It’s only okay to be fat if you’re doing things that should make you skinny but don’t for some reason.”

    Anyway, yeah, okay. I still like what I said about my own view of FA, but as far as FA as a Movement, it just avoids rather than addresses the issue.

    *It’s like defending feminism as a political movement against charges of racism/essentialism because the particular type of feminism/womanism that I’ve worked out for myself miraculously avoids these pitfalls (which it also probably doesn’t, but that is probably a discussion for another time).

  8. Kristen
    August 6, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    I feel similarly. I’m not fond of these movements personally because I think they are still engaged in a [milder] form of policing. To the extent that they provide someone with a personal theory of how to approach their own health and body image I think that’s fantastic. If it helps person A to think of their body as a system that they are trying to run efficiently…go for it.

    But when any movement becomes about how life should be lived, I think its destructive.

    The issue is respect. At the end of the day we should trust that other people are in the best position to know, understand and make decisions about their own lives.

    If a person eats 14 cheeseburgers a day (something society typically considers “immoral”) that has absolutely nothing to do with me and I should not assign a “moral” judgment to it. Period. End of sentence. New paragraph.

    If a person exercises an hour a day (something society typically considers “moral”) that also has nothing to do with me and I should not assign a moral judgment to it.

    Both individuals are living their lives the best way they see fit. Not mine. It is not my place to question or judge their behavior unless that behavior causes direct harm to someone else.

  9. OTM
    August 6, 2008 at 12:44 pm

    Also, to clarify just in case, I don’t think fat is a disability! I think FA just shares one particular philosophy of the disability rights movement, which is that there is nothing inherently wrong with a body that fails to conform to a socially acceptable ideal.

    I do think that a lot of people equate fat with disability based on this bullshit idea that fat is woefully, mortally unhealthy and that anybody over 200 pounds must be unable to walk up steps or wash their own butts. But that is not coming from inside FA. That’s coming from stupid people.

  10. August 6, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    Great point. I’m often uncomfortable with the emphasis on “health” as if it were objective and constant across time and people. I recently read an otherwise positive YA novel “Pretty Face” in which being fat was acceptable, but only as long as the heroine was getting a huge amount of exercise, and eating only home-cooked foods, and not watching any TV, etc.

    Pleh. Size acceptance is not a reward for good and “healthful” behavior, any more than thin is, or hell, any more than life is.

  11. OTM
    August 6, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    I do think that a lot of people equate fat with disability based on this bullshit idea that fat is woefully, mortally unhealthy…

    …and that disability automatically equals woefully, mortally unhealthy, which is an equally bullshit assumption.

  12. Suki T
    August 6, 2008 at 12:46 pm

    “You should eat, drink, move, and behave with an ideal of bodily and psychological health in mind.”

    No it may just be me, but this smacks a little of “you should at least try to diet.” As a fat girl in this world, I’m tired of people telling me that I should try to be healthy, because in this society healthy=skinny.

    I applaud Queen Latifah for her being out and big in this world, but frankly when she started doing the Weight Watchers (or was is Jenny Craig) commericals, I was disappointed. That isn’t acceptance to me. The point of those programs is to lose weight, in order to be skinnier! How can you accept being fat if you are trying to be skinny?

    But of course being fat myself, I struggle with this one. I’m pretty, and I’m sexy. But sometimes I want others to think so too. Sometimes the people I find attractive, don’t find me attractive. Now I would never date anyone who didn’t like me exactly how I am, but sometimes it would be nice to have someone admire you that you also admire. I also struggle with this in regards to Feminism. I’m not perfect in my feminism or my fatness.

    Do I eat healthy? no, not really. Do I eat differently (more, worse) than skinny people I know? No. Do I exercise enough? No, I don’t really go out of my way to exercise at all? no. Alot of my exercise issues have to do with a lack of motivation (depression related), a lack of time (i’m a busy girl in this busy world), and physical discomfort. I’m fat, I’ve always been fat, and frankly running when you are fat is not comfortable. My things rub together, causing chaffing. My boobs have yet to find a bra that can control them, so my chest ends up bouncing. I have mild asthma that is induced by exercising, so breathing is more of a “normal” problem. AND now I have an injury. A severely sprained ankle (ligament tearing involved) that is technically healed but still causes me great ankle pain but now the pain is spreading to my knee and hip due to walking on it differently.

    My P.E. teachers in High School have called these excuses. I say “so what”? I don’t have to exercise if I don’t want to. Not having a gym membership or a treadmill does not make me a terrible person. I vote and volunteer. I run a non-profit. I’m a good citizen. I don’t cut people off on the freeway. I hold doors open for people. I stand up for people when they need an advocate. I don’t assume people’s abilities or disabilities. AND I’m also fat.

    I’m sure I’ve gone way off on a tangent. The point is, we shouldn’t judge people based on their physicality at all. Skinny, Fat, Black, Brown, White, Abled, Disabled, Pierced, Shaved, Natural, Medicated, not Medicated, Female, Male, Non Gender Specific. What matters is WHO that person is, not WHAT that person looks like. What we need to do is stop using physical adjectives as qualitative remarks or insults.

    And If I want to eat Pizza(more than one slice) and drink (regular, not diet)Coke, dammit I’m going to! And If you choose not to, that’s fine too. If you don’t like how you look/feel, and it’s something you can change, then change it. If you are happy the way you are, how ever you are, then yay for you too!

  13. August 6, 2008 at 12:51 pm

    I don’t really think either the original post or any of the commenters have equated fat with disability, but I want to get this out of the way, bc it does sometimes come up.

    A lot of time objections to that kind of comparison seems to be because the objecting person doesn’t want to have applied to hir the negative connotations associated with disability. I may be fat, but I’m not a vegetable.
    And flipped, some pwd don’t want the negative connotations associated with fat. I may be disabled but at least I’ve got a “good” body.

    And I think we all need to tread carefully because it is very, very easy to trip over those ideas when objecting to “fat = disability.”

    Fat is NOT disability; they are two very different social phenomena. But at the same time, they share a lot of commonalities, which is what I think people are trying to get at when they compare the two — and I can appreciate that.
    But we need to approach this as a discussion of those social phenomena, not the personal traits, because the latter gets very problematic very quickly.

  14. August 6, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    I’m going to pretty much Agree with pretty much everything OTM said.

    I disagree with the two tenants refuted above as even being major tenants of FA, from my perception. I would re phrase them both based on my reading of FA blogs and participating in that community.

    As far as valuing your body for what it does for you, what your body does, above all is KEEP YOU ALIVE. And I think that is something that is important to value even if that doesn’t mean you can do Yoga and run 3 miles. However, I think the real message that I have read is “Value your body for what it is.” Do what you can to love your body as it is now, don’t try to change it to fit some ideal.

    Also, in the FA community there are a lot of women with health problems that would preclude them from being described as “healthy.” I think within the community there is an understanding that what “health” really means is “as healthy as you can reasonably be” or probably more accurately “feeling as good as you can.” It’s not about meeting some standard of “health” because that would be completely counterintuitive to the movement itself. It’s about eating and behaving in ways that are comfortable and “healthy” for you. That make YOU feel good.

    Intuitive eating, which is a major tenant of HAES is all about eating not what is “good for you by this objective standard” but about eating foods that make you feel good, eating what you are hungry for. The major tenant of exercise is similar “do activities that make you feel good and that you enjoy.”

    Now I won’t disagree that there are SOME individuals who can’t stop talking about how little they eat, and how much they exercise and how they are so in to HAES. However, I think it is important to realize that not only are there women struggling with health issues in the FA community, there are also women struggling with eating disorders. And I think some of that is the manifestation of individuals who are still struggling with disordered eating and exercise patterns and cannot distance themselves from the idea that “healthy means doing X and Y and eating X and Y”

    Ultimately the FA movement is about loving and nurtuing your body to the best of your ability, not to some social standard.

  15. August 6, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    As I said, I am very interested in this conversation but I feel we’re veering into StrawFatty territory a bit. I know this is partly because I feel personally invested, both as an FA blogger and someone who thinks a lot about disability, but I also am wary of statements about “the movement” (which, as OTM points out, is multifarious). I know at Shapely Prose we have had a lot of conversations about deconstructing the good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy; I’m not positive that that dichotomy is (always) coming from within FA itself.

  16. August 6, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Ya, that’s very fair. I tried to make it clear in the post what I was picking on: when people who have just been introduced to FA concepts try to reconcile those ideas with their own reality. Sometimes, those people settle on the two ideas that I picked out in the post. I wasn’t trying to say it was representative of the movement as a whole, or a significant portion of the movement even. But I have seen the occasional comments, and I wanted to explore why it is they sat with me wrong.

  17. August 6, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Thanks for the clarification!

  18. August 6, 2008 at 1:11 pm

    Amanda – thank you for this post. As a regular over at Shapely Prose and I love all the Shapelings, I also feel like a bit of an outsider because I cannot eat intuitively due to health issues (which BTW has been addressed) but I think talking about privilege and where it is found (and thereby, not found) is so important to all of us getting a place in this discussion. So again, thank you.

  19. roses
    August 6, 2008 at 1:34 pm

    it may just be me, but this smacks a little of “you should at least try to diet.”

    I see how it would seem that way, but it really isn’t.

    Let me use an example.

    I usually get hungry mid-afternoon. If I was dieting, or trying to eat according to the healthy=low calorie mentality, I would just ignore the hunger (letting my concentration at work suffer), or, if I really couldn’t take it, have some carrot sticks. But this wouldn’t be eating with an ideal of bodily and psychological health in mind, because isn’t good for my bodily or psychological health to force myself to go hungry because I’m worried about calorie content. Now, if I wasn’t thinking of health at all, but just what I liked to eat, I would probably have some potato chips. But this wouldn’t be good for me personally either, not because potato chips are OMG fatty food! but because I know if I do I’ll be hungry again before dinner because there’s no protein to keep me satisfied, and the salt will make my boobs retain water which is very uncomfortable. So if I’m eating with my bodily and psychological health in mind, I’ll eat some fruit and nuts. As my mom is so fond of reminding me, the nuts have lots of fat and calories as well (probably as much as the potato chips) but they also have the protein and nutrients needed to make me feel good for the rest of the afternoon.

    Now, if I decided to eat the potato chips anyway (which sometimes I do), that wouldn’t make me a bad person and it wouldn’t mean I didn’t deserve to feel good about myself and my body. It wouldn’t be the best decision for my personal health – but that has nothing to do with my worth as a person.

  20. August 6, 2008 at 1:57 pm

    But what if there’s something in those potato chips that your body is really craving? Perhaps the potato chips are the best thing for you right at that moment. Maybe not best if you’re trying to lose weight, but best for what your body needs right at that moment.

    I’m also a believer in intuitive eating. Eat what feels right for you at the moment, and let the rest take care of itself. I’ve given up on the whole calories out vs. calorie in thing. I tried that for years and I just got fatter. I eat what I want when I want, and my weight stabilizes and I have more energy. Screw being thin, I just want to feel well.

  21. August 6, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    The issue is respect. At the end of the day we should trust that other people are in the best position to know, understand and make decisions about their own lives.

    I agree with this 100%. I think the fat shaming and health shaming really goes back to the whole idea of bodily integrity- who gets to control a person’s body? I often feel like the fat/health shamers are really just trying to reassert control over women’s bodies, because let’s face it, the vast majority of body shaming falls on women. Men who eat 14 hamburgers a day (to borrow Kristen’s example) are seen as boys just being boys, or hedonists, or even manly. A woman who eats 14 hamburgers a day- she’s just a repugnant pig. And that’s regardless of how eating 14 hamburgers affects either person’s weight.

    The correct answer for me, then, is to let people manage their own bodies, and focus my value judgements on aspects of the person that have direct relevance to me- do they treat me well, or poorly? Can I count on them to do what they say they will do? Do I enjoy their company? Etc.

  22. Sairah
    August 6, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    I think Suki T has the right of it. A lot of people, as a nation on the whole.. obviously not directed at anyone in particular.. do tend to look at people and judge them based on how they view themselves, or how they think they should be behaving.
    If we started looking beyond that, and looked at who they were rather than how they appear, then a lot of acceptance issues wouldn’t need to be discussed.
    I don’t think FA is particularly saying that it’s okay and healthy to be fat, but more like saying “It’s okay to be ME. I am okay, and I have accepted myself for who I am. If you don’t want to.. then that’s entirely up to you.”

    I do think your post is a good indicator of questions that everyone should be asking, and thank you so much for it.

  23. August 6, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    amandaw: just wanted to mention my appreciation of your articulation of both ‘fat’ and ‘disability’ as social phenomena – due to the way that our society functions, life can be depressing, oppressive, & physically inacessible for people who are categorized as either, but the fault is with society, not the individuals in the oppressed groups (eli clare’s book exile & pride is what articulated this idea for me best).

    also, as an addendum to this discussion – back in march we had a carnival over on kickaction.ca and part of it was this post, questioning the meaning of ‘health’ from the perspective of a fat activist.

  24. roses
    August 6, 2008 at 3:28 pm

    Men who eat 14 hamburgers a day (to borrow Kristen’s example) are seen as boys just being boys, or hedonists, or even manly. A woman who eats 14 hamburgers a day- she’s just a repugnant pig. And that’s regardless of how eating 14 hamburgers affects either person’s weight.

    Ehh, I would disagree with this. It’s true to a certain extent, but not completely. A thin man who eats 14 cheeseburgers is just being a boy, yeah. But a fat man who eats 14 cheeseburgers will probably be seen as repugnant. And a thin woman who eats 14 cheeseburgers may be seen as a pig, or she may be seen as desirably low-maintenance.

    But what if there’s something in those potato chips that your body is really craving?

    Then I will eat them with some protein =) In my example, I wasn’t craving anything in particular (this is generally the case when I have an afternoon hunger attack). I was just trying to show that for some FA advocates, eating healthfully means thinking about food choice, but doesn’t mean eating low calorie or (necessarily) according to society’s conception of what healthy means.

  25. romham
    August 6, 2008 at 3:35 pm

    um…it’s not only “stupid people” who suggest fat is a disability. plenty of fat folks *do* consider the fact that they’re blocked from participating in their communities because nonfat folks cant get their shit together to accommodate folks their size an actual, real-life disability. its not up to non-fat folks (disabled or not) to define what that experience is, or how to identify with it, any more than it’s up to ENabled folks to define what is and isnt the experience of disabled folks (fat or not).

  26. Ismone
    August 6, 2008 at 3:37 pm

    Okay, now I want to go eat 14 hamburgers.

    About eating healthily–I’ve been trying to focus more on eating enough of the “good” stuff rather than not eating the “bad” stuff. (I’m using scare quotes because what falls into each category tends to change.) This whole subject of food does tend to be very fraught, but it is a lifestyle issue that I discuss with friends who, no matter their size, are having health issues because what they eat can make a difference. And because a lot of our docs. don’t tell us all we need to know. (I.e., eating yogurt with live cultures after taking a broad spectrum antibiotic can sooth your intestine, and even prevent a pathogen from taking over, b/c you are replacing the bacteria you killed.) I do not think it is a bad thing to be aware of, but I do understand that people turn it into another kind of competition, and that is a lousy dynamic.

    Maybe part of the reason the FA movement emphasizes this is to fight stereotypes? Although you are right that it does seem to be buying into the frame that created the need for FA in the first place.

  27. Kristen
    August 6, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    Neko, Roses, Ismone….

    It’s only CHEESEburgers that society frowns on. Hamburgers are perfectly acceptable. ;)

  28. August 6, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    plenty of fat folks *do* consider the fact that they’re blocked from participating in their communities because nonfat folks cant get their shit together to accommodate folks their size an actual, real-life disability.

    You’ve pretty much articulated the definition of the social model of disability, there.

    Like I said, fat and disability share a lot in common. But they are still separate phenomena.

    I can accept an individual claiming that hir fat is a disability; a lot of times it does fit quite neatly in that definition above.

    It’s harder to swallow when the claim is that all fat is disability, because no, the two things (as, again, social forces) operate in totally different ways, despite all they have in common. That’s what people were responding to, I think. (… even though nobody had really made the claim. Yay internets, lol)

  29. August 6, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    But when any movement becomes about how life should be lived, I think its destructive.

    I think, for me, this is the key. I sometimes want to petition to have the word “should” removed from the English language, except in usage like, “People should try not to be assholes” and “Dude, you should do what works for you, unless you don’t want to, and that’s cool, too” and that sort of thing.

  30. August 6, 2008 at 5:45 pm

    OTM, I really like the phrase “a nonadversarial relationship with my body.” I think that’s really what HAES is supposed to mean. I can see why people would come forth with the “Look at me! I’m fat and I can teach aerobics classes and do triathlons!” because there IS such stigma against the Lazy Fattie that we’re all assumed by many people to be. Jennifer Portnick and the Fat Girl on a Bike are important because they bust those stereotypes.

    But of course there’s the issue of, how did we as a society get to have so much outrage and contempt for people who do fit the stereotypes? Why is going to the gym for a couple of hours a day considered more of a civic duty than doing volunteer work or taking care of aging parents or fostering rescue animals or mastering a musical instrument? And why the resentment of people who are unable to perform even those tasks? That’s what I don’t get, the resentment. I resent the resentment!

  31. August 6, 2008 at 7:48 pm

    But what if there’s something in those potato chips that your body is really craving? Perhaps the potato chips are the best thing for you right at that moment. Maybe not best if you’re trying to lose weight, but best for what your body needs right at that moment.

    I’m also a believer in intuitive eating. Eat what feels right for you at the moment, and let the rest take care of itself.

    ive never heard it phrased that was before, but yes, intuitive eating! if im craving salt i assume my body needs it, if im craving a food with alot of protein, ditto, same for the cravings i get for fruits and veggies, and for complex carbohydrates. afterall, sometimes i crave water, but other times i crave fruit juice or soymilk, and i follow those cravings and generally feel better.

    my body knos what it needs.

    a side note, i actually tried counting calories in order to lose weight, and set my calorie intake so low it worried my mother (i think i was aiming for 1200 a day? i dont exactly recall) and i had to actually eat way more than i was hungry for to reach the calorie intake, which was eye opening for me. obviously im not fat due to eating too many calories, i average 800-1000 a day following my normal hunger. im fat becos my whole extended family is fat, and big boned. i could subsist on celery and water and i would still be fat. genetics man, shit be crazy!

  32. romham
    August 6, 2008 at 7:54 pm

    oops…i was actually responding to both DEAF FEMINIST PUNK!!! in comment #6 and OTM in comment #9, not to your post specifically. i totally get that fat doesnt automatically equal disabled, but it seems messed up to claim the 2 arent/couldnt possibly be (OH NOES!!!) not only intimately connected, but also synonymous, for *some* folks.
    this whole thing-A-could/should-never-be-for-anyone!!!
    is just bunk.

  33. Esra
    August 6, 2008 at 9:25 pm

    I was just trying to show that for some FA advocates, eating healthfully means thinking about food choice, but doesn’t mean eating low calorie or (necessarily) according to society’s conception of what healthy means.

    This is what I also think of as eating healthfully. If you work in intuition (which I do), then it would be a pretty solid way to live. As someone with dietary issues (I have crohn’s and b12 def anemia), listening to my body when it says “I need fruit” or “salt!!!111onez!” is essential to feeling alright.

    We’re taught from such a young age not to trust our intuition in a lot of ways and I know I had to train myself to stop thinking of food in terms of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in order to maximize my healthiness and wellbeing.

  34. Luna
    August 6, 2008 at 11:22 pm

    I guess what it boils down to for me is that I am not merely my body. I live in it, but it is not the sum of *me*. I have a fat body. It’s kinda like having a messy house. You don’t get to come to my house and dick me out for not taking care of it. There may or may not be valid reasons for the mess. It’s irrelevant. You still don’t get to come in my house and tell me how much I suck for having a messy house. It’s not a perfect analogy, but for the most part, it works for me.

    I don’t know why people are so anti-fat. It’s not health, that’s for sure. They use it as an excuse, to be sure, but you don’t see those same people berating smokers, or wandering into Tim Hortons and lecturing people with doughnuts. But watch them sneer at (or even snark at) the fat girl eating the doughnut.

    I think it has to do with controlling women. Men get a bit of it from the more hardcore haters, but women get the brunt of it.

  35. August 7, 2008 at 3:25 am

    luna, they don’t like the fat girl smoking the cigarette either. im pretty certain they look at me and see a giant exploding heart instead of a person.

    what they dont kno is that im a strict vegetarian who only eats natural foods, so my heart is probably healthier then theirs, and that im trying to quit smoking (for the 4th time, fucking cigarettes).

  36. August 7, 2008 at 4:19 am

    As someone who has several chronic conditions (although none that place me in any of the classic disabled groups, at least yet), I’ve been struggling to deal with the question of how to reconcile HAES with the fact that I’ll never be “healthy”. This post at mouthfeel I found interesting and possibly helpful: (http://peggynature.wordpress.com/2008/07/13/tools-vs-intentions-in-health-at-every-size/).

    For me, giving my body what it wants at the moment can be disastrous. For example, I often crave potato chips, but I now know that if I actually EAT the potato chips, it causes me more grief than it’s worth. So for the person who says “I’m also a believer in intuitive eating. Eat what feels right for you at the moment, and let the rest take care of itself.”: That doesn’t always work. Intuitive eating can be just as much of a ‘what you should do’ trap as dieting or HAES can.

    Personally, I’m currently trying to work out some ideas about the ‘obligation to be healthy’ that I feel pressured about from many sides. Relatives, doctors, strangers on the street… maybe it’ll turn into a blog post one of these days.

  37. iiii
    August 7, 2008 at 11:08 am

    “For what is health? I say (and of late years I am astonished that the World Health Organization agrees with me) that health is when nothing hurts very much; but the popular idea is of health as a norm to which we must all seek to conform. Not to be healthy, not to be in “top form” is one of the few sins that modern society is willing to recognize and condemn. But are there not as many healths as there are bodies?”

    – – Robertson Davies, _The Cunning Man_

  38. Ismone
    August 7, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    jessielikewhoa,

    I’ve always been told that 1200 calories is the minimum for women, and that eating less can mean your body goes into starvation mode and starts metabolizing muscle. Not to worry you too much, but you might want to talk to a doc or nutrionist and make sure you’re getting enough calories/nutrients.

    (Of course, most veggies have so few calories and so much bulk, so I can understand why eating 1200 on a veg diet might be different.)

  39. Tomis
    August 7, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    amandaw:
    “You’ve pretty much articulated the definition of the social model of disability, there. Like I said, fat and disability share a lot in common. But they are still separate phenomena.”

    Could you explain that a bit more? I understand some of the concerns about shoehorning people into a model which isn’t a pefect ready-made fit, and conversely about the implications of expanding this conception of disability further than it was originally intended. But while these problems are not trivial, they do seem workable, especially given the potential benefits for all.

    Identical discussions are taking place elsewhere:
    http://thiswayoflife.org/blog/?p=287
    and to be honest, I find fat people’s reluctance to identify as disabled even stranger than the section of autistics who also refuse the term. It’s been a while since I read any of the FA blogs, but some of the issues I recall–medical pathologization; social stigma; equal access to employment, shops and transport—are pretty much identical to the some of the main concerns of those with physical impairments in the conventional sense.

    Here is a tool which instantly produces a more just and healthy view of the individual and their relationship to society, and which has a proven track record of bringing about tangible social change, yet people seem instinctively unwilling to adopt it. Apart from issues of integration mentioned above, I can only image that this is due to misconceptions about the social model itself (I know it hasn’t always made it across the Atlantic intact), or the lingering stigma of the word ‘disability’ from the medical model and society at large.

    I can accept an individual claiming that hir fat is a disability; a lot of times it does fit quite neatly in that definition above. It’s harder to swallow when the claim is that all fat is disability

    It’s this kind of thing which makes me wonder if there’s some kind of misunderstanding going on. From a social perspective, individual fatness has nothing at all to do with disability.

  40. Level Best
    August 7, 2008 at 3:51 pm

    I am so glad these conversations are going on. When I was a child there was this odious commercial whose catchphrase was, “When you’ve got your health, you’ve got just about everything!” I always read it as saying, “When you’re not ‘healthy’ you’re nothing!,” and it offended me to the core of my being. Thank you, amandaw, for initiating this exchange.

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