Fat Shame Porn – Fed Up the Movie

It feels like every few years another movie comes out attempting to expose the root cause of the “obesity epidemic” making my life as an activist and a fat person even harder. Last night on twitter I was asked if I had heard about the documentary Fed Up that’s coming out next month by someone who saw it at Sundance in January. You can read their review here but after watching the theatrical trailer that was released this week, it only confirmed what my initial fears would be about the film.

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(Photo from the Fed Up press kit)

At the 45 second mark commentary on the trailer states “this is the first generation that is expected to live shorter lives than their parents,” which first started circulating in 2002 and was again reinforced in 2005 by a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The lead researcher later backed off his assertion (downloads pdf), as did the first author in 2002, after he admitted that this statement was a prediction and not based on empirical evidence. Since then, especially after the study F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future was published in 2011, the idea that children today will live shorter lives than their parents is continually presented as fact when that simply isn’t true.

While the movie is focused on how policy changes have allowed for the food industry to create products that make it all but impossible for people to eat well, the way they frame it as fat being inherently unhealthy is harmful and doesn’t actually help fat people. By them following around fat teenagers to find out more about how they live, they have participated in the exploitation of the fat shaming they experience and reinforce the dehumanization fat people deal with from a very early age. The girl featured in the trailer talks about how her doctor has told her she could become a statistic, a grim outlook on her life, but frames the problem as being based on her body and not the society we live in. This has been a main tactic of the diet industry in general, where they have continued to imply the experiences fat people have due to fat stigma is not based at an institutional or structural level but instead on individuals for having the audacity to exist.

Furthermore, the fat children and the shots of headless fatties that are flashed throughout the trailer, in-between shots of grocery store isles and spoons in sugar, are not a true representation of what this “epidemic” looks like. All of the images show bodies that most people would visually identify as fat or “obese” yet people of that size take up 6.3% of the US population. This kind of imagery creates a false idea of what this “epidemic” looks like and creates an even less safe society for fat people to live in by removing them from what this reality looks like. This in turn creates a heightened focus on people who are visually labeled fat.

One positive from the film appears to be them trying to combat the idea that willpower has anything to do with body size, but even then by blaming sugar and Michael Pollen talking about how sugar is a drug they are counterproductive in their attempt to challenge this misunderstanding. Most fat activists are well aware of the argument that too much sugar causes fatness and diseases like diabetes. By comparing sugar or food to a drug like heroine, I already know that people will continue to push the need for fat people to have the willpower to fight their sugar addiction and only eat foods who don’t have added sugar.

While the film apparently talks about the structural and class issues related to food access I am unaware of is how they talk about those issues. The inclusion of Bill Clinton in the film seems counterproductive within itself when his presidency gutted welfare and made access to health behaviors in general even harder for people living in poverty. When the Clinton Initiative and their Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s main goal is to end “childhood obesity” by only focusing on the food children have in schools, free time out of school and healthcare, but doesn’t try to build a social safety net for their families or communities they are setting themselves up for failure. This is even truer when we simply don’t know how to make fat people thin people long term and again focusing on people’s bodies not structure doesn’t help much.

The food industry does need to be reformed but focusing on one industry as the root cause for an “epidemic” that many people don’t believe exists is harmful. The health of our society is not purely caused by the food industry but overwhelmingly is related to social conditions created by poverty and inequality. It harms people regardless of body size who desperately need structural changes in our society to create more access to health behaviors and for people to find real solutions other than focusing on individuals to overcome the constraints of their lives.

It’s harmful to the incredibly small segment of fat people with a BMI over 40 who are continually shamed for their bodies and face a higher risk to their health due to weight based stigma. That higher risk is more directly correlated to social conditions like inequality and poverty than biology, as no research has found a causal link between fatness and disease. While fat people are more likely to live in poverty they are also more likely to be a Person of Color and female forcing them to navigate the constraints of fat stigma, racism, classism and sexism while attempting to access health in whatever way they can.

All of this is why I won’t be giving my money to a film that attacks an industry in the name of fat people existing. The experiences fat people are not pawns for filmmakers to use and exploit anymore. If people were seriously invested in creating a healthier society, they would be fighting to end stigma and inequality, not using fat people to point fingers at one industry when there are many other people / industries who need to be pointed at as well.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

#NotYourGoodFatty – The Performing Fatty

Last night I got an email from a friend asking for my advice on how to respond to an acquaintance who viewed fat positive blogs on tumblr. After looking at a few blogs on tumblr they came away with the idea that fat stigma is an issue that only impacts white cisgender middle class women while also being horrified that we clearly disregard our own health. The first point, while being completely untrue, has far more to do with the hierarchy that has been created in fat spaces where fat people with the most privilege due to gender, class, race and even body size are given the most space.

That does not mean the community is a true reflection of fat people, as much as I wish it were, because if that were true the community as a whole would look drastically different and if this person looked a little further they would see that there is a good portion of the community that reflects that reality. The issue I’ve found are people disregarding the reality of who is impacted the most by fat stigma because they ignorantly believe that fat community is a true reflection of our society. This is part of the reason my own tumblr will rarely have anyone that looks like me and is filled with content that moves outside of the archetype created by fat community.

The lack of diversity is a huge issue in the community and that even harms the reality of what it means to be a fat person in regards to health, because when everyone thinks that fat people are white and middle class they falsely believe we all have access to health behaviors. This places soul blame on individual fat people for performing health in a way our society deems acceptable. For fat positive people that means preaching about health and proving to others that we may be fat but we are healthy. I’ve rejected this argument over the last few years for numerous reasons. People who demand we conform to an inaccessible performance of fatness, one that is based on proving health, are not actually interested in the humanity of fat people but in us performing for them and their comfort.

Those demands also harm fat people in the community who don’t perform fatness in a “socially acceptable” way due to numerous reasons but overwhelmingly you see that it has more to do with lack of access to health behaviors than just purely not caring. The emphasis outsiders place on fat people to perform fatness for their comfort is based within a neoliberal politic that demands individuals overcome whatever constraints on their lives to meet the demands of society. This was applied to the concept of health in the 80s by Robert Crawford when he coined the term healthism and the expectation that people can be healthy, transcending whatever barriers to health they have, if they have the will to do it.

I’m not here for that. My politic starts from the bottom up, so I’m not interested in performing fatness in a way that is socially acceptable to make other people comfortable. That is why I tweeting about the email I was sent and it turned into my dear friend @mazzie tweeting back with the hashtag #NotYourGoodFatty. I’m not interested in performing fat positivity in a way that harms other fat people by letting outsiders know I am meeting their demands on my body. I want to challenge those demands. I want people to work harder. I want them to think more about how if they were seriously concerned about the health of other people they would be fighting poverty not people.

Check out the hashtag here but here are a few tweets to get you started.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.

Supporting Friends through Eating Disorders

Below is tumblr question that was submitted to me and I thought it was a really important topic that should be spoken about. So often as fat people we have thin friends in our lives who are going through disordered eating patterns and negative thoughts about their own bodies. We want to support them but many times it is without thinking about our own mental health or how their negative beliefs about their body can be a direct attack on our own.
Not only does this touch on people believing that feeling fat is the same as being fat but it also discusses how someone doesn’t necessarily have the right to seek support of friends if they are in the middle of an eating disorder. Particularly if they are not trying to stop the disordered pattern of behavior. Far too often are we expected to shoulder the burden of others, when we need to create space for ourselves. When we need to support our own mental health and wellbeing first.
While I don’t know if that is what is truly going on within this friendship, the reality is that many people have the expectation we take on or support their behaviors even if it is destructive to everyone involved.
TRIGGER WARNING: Eating disorder / weight loss talk

This was submitted anonymously but I wanted to have a trigger warning on it as the person talks about disordered eating behaviors / weight loss.

So I’m in a healthy weight range and I’m talking to my best friend who is overweight about how I’m going to try to loose weight through diet and exercise cause I want her support. She starts getting upset saying how I’m not fat and don’t need to loose weight and I explain that it’s because I’ve been going to an old habit of not eating for three or four days at all then binging and purging (and repeat) and I’d like to loose weight the healthy way, because I feel fat. And she takes this as criticism to her. Yes she has fat and is overweight and by no means has a healthy lifestyle but I’m just trying to make sure I’m being healthy and not doing something I’d regret. She said I’m just trying to be the skinny friend and trying to make her look bad, so I told her that I just want to get in shape and she can come workout with me if she wants and it could be fun and she said I was calling her fat and not accepting her. Why is it wrong for me to want to be skinny?

What did I say that offended her and how can I fix it? I’m not trying to fat shame I’m just trying to be comfortable with myself and healthy while doing it.

So you’re in a healthy weight range, performing disordered behaviors and want to lose weight? TBH there is nothing wrong with wanting to live in whatever body you want to but you’re friend doesn’t need to support you, particularly if she is reacting to the harmful behavior you’ve outlined. I would seriously suggest seeking help to normalize your eating behaviors before attempting to diet or lose weight, because it sounds like there is something else going on other than your friend not supporting you. I mean this seriously, if you are not eating properly you need to regulate that and work toward having a more normalized eating pattern first and foremost. This includes healing your own self image because feeling fat and being fat are two totally different things. There are people who can support you through this.

It’s probably really hard for your friend to see you in the middle of this pattern while you are bingeing / purging and feeling like your body is wrong. You are saying that you feel fat while your friend is fat. I don’t know how there is any other way than to respond as hurt when your best friend is telling you the body you live in is wrong. She may not feel comfortable or safe being around you if you are in this pattern, especially if you are talking negatively about yourself and saying how you feel fat when she is fat.

So basically, I would suggest you get help and support to normalize your eating / thoughts about your body. Don’t expect your friend to support your disordered thinking and behaviors, because she is also trying to make sure she is ok. She is trying to feel better about her own body and to be really frank, as someone whose been friends with someone who is very similar to you, it is really hard to love yourself when your friend is telling you that they are terrified of being you.

I can also bet that if you stopped talking negatively about yourself and worked toward normalizing your own behaviors your friend would be supporting you to the best of her ability.

Another Tumblr Question

I’m slowly making my way through my tumblr and pulling questions that I think are important for my blog. To see more questions like this one visit the FAQ on my tumblr.

Anonymous asked: As a person who’s made it my goal to make myself healthy, I feel like I should share this. I’m all for fat activism, but I think there needs to be a PSA about health. Being over weight is perfectly fine, but being HEALTHY is the most important. Trying to get on the right track in health will change your life. As someone who’s been overweight I can vouch for the change it makes in your life & I think it’s important to share this. It’s changed my mood and I’m a happier person. Health is key. Peace

No it’s really not. What you want to do in your life is fine but shaming people for not performing health or living in their body the way you think they should is crap. If you were actually interested in health you would be focusing on creating a society where health behaviors are accessible to all people. That happens by removing social and economic barriers to those behaviors by ending discrimination / stigma marginalized people experience. Not just fat people but all marginalized people are impacted physically and mentally by discrimination / stigma.

People that only want to focus on individuals transcending the constraints on their life to “be healthy” is not only damaging but completely ignorant of the reality that people live in. Assuming that fat people need to focus on being healthy when discussing fat politics also ignores the harm discrimination and stigma does to fat people, with true access to health behaviors becoming a reality when we are no longer marginalized. Not facing discrimination, economic hardship etc will drastically change the ability of people to engage with health behaviors.

A more productive society is a more equal society.

When I talk about health behaviors I not only mean having access to fresh foods and places to move your body but also access to stigma free medicine, including treatment and testing. You can have access to all three of those things and still face significant barriers if you don’t have the time or ability use them. Constraints such as physical ability, stress level, family dynamics, class status etc also changes someone’s ability to engage in those behaviors. Even someone who doesn’t have those constraints on their own life should not have their humanity given to them on the conditional basis that they perform health to make other people comfortable.

This was originally answered here.

Call for Photos

On March 25th I will be doing a presentation at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Mi titled “Dissenting Bodies – Visibility, Fat Politics and Challenging Normal” during their Women’s History Month Series. Part of the presentation will center on people reclaiming their bodies by becoming visible. This will be very similar to what I wrote about in my post on selfies and how they can be used to challenge the gaze on your body by having control over how your body is visible.

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Photo example, totally going to be in this presentation..

Since the theme of the series is to discuss feminist expression, I really want to tackle visibility by challenging feminist discourse on body image and reframe the discussion around people who don’t conform to beauty ideals. This will be done to show how focusing on what beauty ideals are and not the social consequences of what it means to live in a deviant or non-normative body has built body positive spaces around people with the most privilege, while also creating a movement that is often considered depoliticized or disconnected from systemic / institutional oppression.

A lot of the discussion will be about how fat bodies are viewed in society and imagery of fat people in the media but I want to start the discussion with how the bodies of marginalized people are viewed in society differently depending on the identities they possess. This is something that has been severely lacking from feminist politics and I want to give context to understand how constraints of visibility while they can differ between people all have a common thread, which is to restrict or limit difference.

If you want to be part of this presentation, send your photo to me via email (as an attachment) to fatbodypolitics_260b@sendtodropbox.com

I’m going to collect photos until March 10th and I should have more information about the talk soon.

**Just an fyi, the sendtodropbox email sends all of the email attachments and puts them into a dropbox folder. It’s super awesome and free.

Update:

I want to emphasize that I am not just looking for fat identifying individuals but anyone who feels that they don’t conform to white thin cis heteronormative able bodied ideals. I’m also being purposely vague on how people decide what it means to be visible for them since that can be defined differently depending on who you are. Some people are incredibly uncomfortable with taking photos of themselves, which is totally valid so people have used other means of being visible.

Here is an example,

 

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Or even part of your body like this photo via fatheffalump

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Please submit and share. <3

Weight Loss Talk and Fat Shaming

On my tumblr I get a lot of questions from followers asking for advice or an explanation to something related to fat politics. I want to start documenting them better and share the ones that I think are important for people who don’t use tumblr. This question is also incredibly appropriate for this time of year when weight loss talk, fat shaming and New Years resolutions makes the world a really unsafe place for a lot of people.

The original can be found here.

Question - do you feel like it’s possible for individual people to be proud of their weight loss or fitness goals without engaging in fat shaming? at what point do you feel like that proud-ness becomes fat shaming? i’m just curious to hear what you think, i love your blog and you were awesome on the news! hopefully my question doesn’t bother you, i googled it first, i promise :)

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There isn’t a line. It’s a slippery slope from the get go. I could care less how people feel about their body but the consistent need to be proud of weight loss and center discussion around it supports fat stigma because you are distancing yourself from fatness. You are conforming to a dominant social structure that supports thinness and most social situations are supportive of it. I have never heard a conversation about weight loss that didn’t result in fat shaming comments or disparaging fat bodies, even if it was only the person who was engaging in weight loss who was shaming their current / former fat body. People don’t live in a vacuum where the negative things they say about their own body doesn’t hurt other people or come from thin air with no connection to the culture of thinness or standards of embodiment.

As I said, people can feel however they want about their body and their weight loss goals. You will note that I am not considering weight loss and fitness goals as the same thing because it may be shocking for some people to know but fat people have fitness goals too. However, if people are going to engage in either of those topics and center conversations around them then they need to understand the harm they can cause.

If you are partaking in weight loss, you don’t have the right to expect every person to support discussions centered around it or want to hear about it. The sense of entitlement people have when expecting people to engage in those discussions is incredibly high and they expect it without even considering if the people they are talking around have a history of disordered eating while clearly disregarding how fat people in those situations feel.

I have never been part of one of these discussions where people didn’t assume I was also looking for the best way to lose weight myself, since social narratives about fat people tell us that all fat people are on their way to becoming thin people we are never just fat. I have also never been part of one of these discussions where I explained I wasn’t interested in talking about weight loss or fat shaming without me becoming the target of people’s anger. Those two things combined show how much social pressure there is to support thinness at all costs and the angry reaction people have when you reject it.

That is also why when I suggest that talking about weight loss or how “pride” associated with a current weight is fat shaming, my ask box is filled with comments similar to this one x10. People want to keep the narrative going at all costs, which includes continually pestering people who dare to question it.

As always, connect with me on tumblr and twitter.