The Right to Talk about Fat Experience

When fat people try to talk about their own experiences with body shame, fat stigma or weight based discrimination they are always challenged in a way to undermine the significance of them with people exclaiming that some of those experiences also happen to people in thin bodies. While the truth is that many of the shaming tactics used toward fat people do happen to thin people as well, the outcry from thin people to also feel as though we must validate their experience ignores the reality that they always have their experiences validated by every mainstream body positive organization or campaign that has ever existed.

The dominant discourse that surrounds the body acceptance movement as a whole is one that is directly geared toward thin bodies and the lack of voices from fat people are not noticed unless you are fat yourself. People who think that the voices of thin people are not being talked about enough in fat positive spaces are inadvertently reinforcing fat oppression. They do this by undermining the experiences of fat people because they feel as though it happens to everyone. Not only is this incorrect because the motive behind body shaming and stigma of a fat person and a thin person can be drastically different but the ways fat stigma takes part in being a fat person in society turns into actual discrimination. When dismissing fat experience by saying that thin people also have those same experience a person is completely ignoring that they still have the privilege that comes from living in a thin body.

Fat people do not have to make space for thin people when discussing their own experiences because of this privilege and due to the reality that thin people do not make space for our voices in their own discussions. When a dominant group tries to invalidate the experience of an oppressed group it is actively working to silence them. Coming from a place of privilege and expecting an oppressed group to make space for your experience is not only insulting but shows that you are not really interested in understanding the difference among experience or forms of oppression. This also happens within the feminist movement when white feminists expect black feminists to open their spaces to be ‘inclusive’ when those same white feminists do not make their spaces open for all women or experiences.

As a white fat female with some thin privilege I do not have the right to expect fat spaces for people who are larger than I am or any other group that I do not fit into to open and validate my experience. If they allow me to be part of their space I am not only grateful for it but I spend my time listening and learning not expecting them to include me. I also actively try to understand the privileges that I do have so that I can understand the difference between my own experiences and theirs. We should be celebrating difference not pushing it aside and ignoring it.

As fat people we have the right to talk about our experiences without being bullied into validating the experiences of thin people who feel like we don’t talk about the similarities among us. We need to start expecting people with thin privilege who are also advocates of body acceptance to make our voices heard and not brush them aside. We need to call people and organizations out for creating a form of acceptance that doesn’t challenge fat stigma or discrimination. We need to tell them that our experiences matter, that they are different and that difference is something that can help all people regardless of size.

14 thoughts on “The Right to Talk about Fat Experience

  1. Everyone knows that thin people do not experience the same kind of oppression as fat people do. As a young adult, I was told that between two identically qualified candidates for a job, the thin person will always get the job offer. (I have weight issues myself and this was told to me by my father in an attempt to scare me into losing weight, I suppose…) I would presume that a thin girl would not have been told that she might not get a job because she is too thin.

    • I wish everyone understood the difference, but people who want to deny fat stigma / oppression will try to say that there isn’t one. There are a lot of ignorant people out there that think that all forms of oppression are made up.

  2. My partner is thin (and was even thinner as a teenager) and has shared her experiences of being body shamed for her size. I also have a friend that has been under 100lbs her whole adult life and receives a lot of grief about her size as well. I don’t mind them sharing their experiences with me and have never felt them sharing their stories invalidated my own.

    • I don’t think sharing stories or experiences completely invalidates experience especially when it is done with people you know, but when a fat person talks about their experience and someone else tries to invalidate it by saying it also happens to thin people or expects a fat person to include thin experience it is incredibly problematic. This has been a huge issue on sites like tumblr / twitter where talking about fat experience is criticized because we don’t talk about thin people as well.

    • I completely agree Dawn. We can’t pretend that ‘fat’ people have the monopoly on body shaming. We should be working together not alienating a certain group because we feel it invalidates our own.

      • I never said that fat people have a monopoly on body shaming but that there are differences that need to be accounted for. To continually assume that all of our experiences are the same we ignore the ways they are different. That is harmful, it makes people feel as though their experiences are not important and when fat experiences are not the dominant experience that is represented in society that means we have the right to our own spaces without needing to make concessions to other people.

  3. i completely agree with this post. all bodies experience shaming but society considers fat bodies to be fundamentally lesser in their worth than thin bodies. if you have ever been fat and then lost a lot of weight, you know what i mean. yes, i have insecurities as a thinner person and am still subject to occasional criticism and body policing but now i’m not constantly worrying about the rejection and discrimination i faced daily as a much bigger person. i was so used to getting disgusted looks as a fat person and as i lost weight, i was confused by all of these friendly people who were now smiling at my thinness/improved character. let’s be real: the fatter your body (especially if you’re a woman), the more hated you are by the mainstream.

  4. This is similar to the friend who always seems to have the same issues as you but slightly worse.

    If you’re feeling sick, she’s suffering more. If you’re anxious, she’s having panic attacks. If you’re lacking money, she’s in debt. In the end, you wonder if she’s actually listening to you or just using your experiences as a platform to talk about herself.

    While I *do* understand that body image issues affect people of all shapes, sizes and ages, I believe that any group has the right to state their case without anyone else trying to invalidate that experience. If someone who is in an oppressed group which I am not a member of, I don’t then tell them how they should feel or point out that others are suffering to the same, or a worse, level. I don’t get to judge who has more right to be upset. If someone feels oppressed, it’s not up to me to tell them not to feel that way, arguing with the feelings of others invalidates them and is disrespectful.

  5. I think people are confusing the common act of “normalizing” with “invalidating”. When people say that your experiences are shared by other groups, they are normalizing what is happening by placing it in a broader context. They are not saying your feelings and experiences are invalid. Your emotional response may be one of resentment that your suffering is not viewed as unique and more difficult than that of others, but the bottom line is that often people do view their pain as more important, valid, or difficult than that of others.

    It is absolutely true that it is harder to live in this world in a fat body (I say this as someone who has spent the vast majority of her life over 300 lbs. and who spent at least 15 years near 400 – I know how awful it is). However, each individual lives with their own pain and you don’t get to elevate yours over that of others as a way of setting your suffering above theirs. An anorexic suffers as much as a morbidly obese woman and depending on how severe the disorder, she may suffer even more as she berates herself more and punishes herself more for her relationship with food. The experiences are unique and talk about them should occur in appropriate spaces, but it pointing out that both suffer as a result of a broader problem in society (weight obsession, shaming, etc.) is not an attempt to invalidate your viewpoint. It just contextualizes the issue.

    Weight is not an indicator of suffering level but rather personal temperament, psychology, lifestyle (indicated by a variety of things including emotional support and economics), etc. affect such things. Yes, society on the whole treats fat people horribly, but there is no point in removing body shaming from a broader societal context. It exists for all people. It’s just that it is worse for fat people. When someone points that out, they are not invalidating your experience but pointing out that the behavior of weight shaming is relatively universal. When you cry about your unique suffering, you are, however, attempting to invalidate *their* pain.

    • Speak about living in a fat body without making concessions to thin people who also face body shame does not invalidate their experience. Fat people are allowed to have a space where they talk about their experience without needing to acknowledge a group that is not oppressed in the same manner. This has nothing to do with me personally or me not acknowledging their pain. Saying that we shouldn’t remove fat experience from the ‘broader social context’ is akin to ignoring fat bias and discrimination. We should be allowed to talk about difference no matter what.

    • I see your point, because “fat” is such a relative term. People who look downright skinny in my eyes get slammed for being “fat” because our society is so extremely fatphobic that they call a size 8 model “plus size”! So in many cases a size 12 woman is just as abused as size 32 Yours Truly!

  6. I only focus on the issues of fat people and I think that there is nothing wrong with that as long as I do not try to minimize the problems and issues of others. I do not need to use the experiences of thin people as a foil to enhance my story about my fat life.

  7. I have experienced both sides of the weight spectrum. I was morbidly obese for the duration of my grade school years, and the treatment I received left me feeling sub-human. Somehow I managed to lose half my body weight in under two years and experienced the freedom that came with being skinny. There were some minor setbacks, however: people became overly concerned that I might be anorexic, and new acquaintances assumed I was superficial, expressing their surprise when they found out otherwise. I’ve personally found that the trials I’ve faced as a skinny person (underweight – anorexic BMI) are significantly less traumatic than those I faced as a fat person. Sometimes I still feel like I’m a fat person disguised in a skinny body. I don’t belong in a world where people envy/desire my body; It feels strange, even after seven years. I came to this site after sudden and unexplainable inspiration to write a blog post about why I miss being fat ( I’d never heard of “Fat Acceptance” before, and I wanted to know if I was the only one who thought being fat had some advantages – the advantages need not outweigh the disadvantages.

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