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.

Just No Jennifer Lawrence

For those of you who own a TV and would actually spend time watching Barbara Walters’ interview people her yearly special on people she thinks are fascinating is airing soon, mind you she’s interviewing famous people. I’m pretty sure she isn’t interviewing activists, community builders and others who spend their lives helping people in need (but that’s another post entirely.) If watch her yearly special you will be able to see an interview with Jennifer Lawrence, where she talks about how Jennifer has been critical of the way the media talks about the bodies of women on red carpets and elsewhere.

If you aren’t aware Jennifer has made comments about body policing quite a bit in the past and continues to make comments that appear on their surface to be body positive. Though overall her career she has also made quite a few problematic statements that make me wary of almost anything she says.

This is what she had to say,

Because why is humiliating people funny? And I get it, and I do it too, we all do it. But I think when it comes to the media, the media needs to take responsibility for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls that are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool. So then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing an ugly dress or making fun of the girl that’s, you know. And the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV. If we’re regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words because of the effect it has on our younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?

Most of what she said about how the media creates and participates in a culture of body policing is true. They are pivotal in the way women in the media are spoken about and continue to create new media that feeds off of promoting white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals. The issue with her statement is the way she is blaming this kind of climate on people using the word fat and not on how they use it as a weapon.

This kind of thinking has been around for awhile, particularly within body positive spaces where discussions about “fat talk” or negative body talk are being discussed. The framing of fat as a negative word, a word that hurts people, is completely ignorant of how the word is being used and the context of the statements being made. The word fat is nothing more than a description of someone’s body type, but when someone like Jennifer Lawrence is telling the world it should be illegal there is a huge issue.

When people are calling someone who looks like Jennifer Lawrence fat we shouldn’t be telling them that they shouldn’t use that word. We should be thinking about how fat phobia and stigma is so pervasive in our society we body shame people who live in thin bodies by making them fear fat people, appearing to be a fat person or becoming fat themselves. It’s not a coincidence the people who are telling others to not use the word fat are more often than not never going to be defined as “overweight” or “obese” and revel in a thin privileged reality by being able to frame words like fat as something that should be considered illegal. Nor is it a coincidence that the people who face the real harm are fat people, not the thin people being called or taught to fear fatness.

Their bodies will never be pathologized or thought to be inherently diseased like fat people’s bodies are. They will find no problem in denying how fat positive communities have used the word fat to build spaces where fat political identities are empowering fat people daily. That’s why when I hear statements like the one Jennifer Lawrence said; I know that those words are not for me. They are only for the people who look just like her.

If we wanted to actually challenge the media to create a landscape where white cis heteronormative thin beauty ideals aren’t able to thrive, we need to deconstruct how body policing isn’t just about saying mean words but a structure that denies people with specific bodies access to it. We need to question why we fear the word fat but are completely comfortable with using medicalized terms that imply pathology like “overweight” and “obese,” in all of my years dealing with the media they fear using the word fat but will drop o-words in a second. We need to question why we are only talking about the media being critical of the bodies of women who already have access to those spaces, but not the people who are regularly denied jobs within the industry due to issues with racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia etc. (the list continues).

Once Jennifer Lawrence starts talking about that, I may take the time to listen.

**A reader reported Jennifer decided that it would be awesome to dress up like a fat person for halloween. Not surprised at all.

Speaking Hypothetically

Yesterday there was a post floating around on tumblr that was a drawing of a fat disabled woman with the signs “Fuck Diets” covering her naked flesh. What many people saw was a person rejecting diet culture and the shame that comes along with not only being fat but also being disabled. Something that was suppose to be positive was turned into a conflict due to a few trolls that wanted to decide that this fictional person was disabled due to an illness not being taken care of. I find it pointless to discuss the semantics of the whole conversation because I find the idea that people are putting a label of disease on a fat body, a disabled and fictional drawing of a body ludicrous.  It is truthfully the sign of how much fat stigma is alive in our society that even a drawing meant to be positive and show body diversity is turned into something it isn’t.

What I want to talk about is the reaction from the people who were trashing the drawing by saying that their response was a hypothetical situation the drawing could be depicting. When people say that they are speaking hypothetically what they really mean is that they are not talking about you, so you don’t have the right to find what they are saying offensive. This kind of response to a push back against negative comments is not only meant to try and negate the emotional reaction of those people who are offended, but is also a way to try and silence the ability of anyone who takes issue with the person’s harmful stance. By saying that they are talking about a hypothetical situation it also makes it so that a person who has had their own body read in a similar fashion has no space to speak out, because clearly they are not speaking about actual situations that have happened to actual people.

Attacking a drawing, that doesn’t depict a real person, gives people who are blinded by their own prejudice an ability to try and remove their own responsibility that is connected to the harm their words cause. The issue really isn’t that they are reading a drawing of a person that was meant to be positive, but that they are trying to negate the reality that their words have been said about real people, with real bodies that live in reality. Their lives and body should never be used as a hypothetical situation

When fat disabled bodies are read as a being the result of an inability to take care of ones self that is not only fat phobia but also ableism in action. When someone sees a fat disabled body and automatically assumes that the state of their body is the end result of mismanaged care that is directly related to growing up in a society where you are socialized with fat phobic thinking. We are continually taught fat people have X illness and that illness results in X state of body, then our minds fill in the blank. Without challenging social conditioning no one is able to break away from the fat stigma that is so ingrained within our society.

By not breaking away from prejudice, people create these hypothetical situations while forgetting that there are real people with real bodies who have and continue to deal with people who do not think hypothetically about the way they read their body. All of us learn to read bodies in a way that doesn’t allow for us accept difference in others but question why someone else’s body exists as it does. Instead of allowing for bodies to merely exist many react with fear and push back trying to understand through ableism and fat phobia, speaking in hypothetical’s to try and protect their own discomfort.

Bullying It’s Not Just for Kids

October is National Anti-Bullying Month and along with the video from Wisconsin newswoman Jennifer Livingston the conversation surrounding bullying culture in our society has ramped up yet again. Much of the discussion has not focused on the video itself but whether or not the email Livingston received was in fact her being bullied. In these responses you can find the issue that can come up when you have a movement like the one for anti-bullying that continues to be more focused on the interactions between children than the underlying reason for prejudice.

The current framing of bullying in our society treats intolerance with kid gloves. We are led to believe that bullying stops when a person gets a high school or college diploma. We are told “It Gets Better” when this is not always the case. Worst of all this treatment of intolerance as something that needs to be dealt with as delicately as possible removes the terms that most anti-oppression activists use that could further the discussion surrounding the unbalanced power dynamics. If we actually started calling bullying what it is and address it as racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, fat phobia and classism it would actually give children a better way to deal with the very same power dynamics they will face as adults, while also giving adults more responsibility to challenge the intolerance that is rooted within our society overall.

The idea that there is a distinct difference between the bullying we learn or participate in as children and the power relations we are forced to navigate through as adults is just as harmful to the culture of bullying as the actual bullying itself. It ignores that children are not the only people who are participants in the cycle of violence. If you are the product of this culture and have been bullied there is a large possibility that an adult in your life has used the same tactics against you. More often than not this has continued throughout your lifespan within everyday relationships at work and home.  One of the main reasons that adult to child power dynamics are so common is due to the lack of personal autonomy that children are given. We often treat them like we have unwavering authority over them as an adult or parents treat them like they are property. This kind of thinking continues through bullying culture and we come to accept these power dynamics once we are adults ourselves.

When we don’t address how the power dynamics in our society are based on real life forms of oppression it allows for children to be led to believe that those forms of oppression do not exist. It allows for the most privileged of people in our society to continue to dismiss the calls of discrimination from marginalized groups or as with the response from Livingston it allows for us to question the validity of her claim that she was being bullied. By disassociating forms of oppression from bullying culture it also lays the burden of proof of that marginalization on the person being discriminated against.  This reinforces the way people with privilege are not expected to own up to their own ignorance or prejudices.

As the product of bullying myself the notion that my experiences were not due to the way sexism and fat phobia is rooted in our society denies that those experiences have happened at all. It ignores that we have a history in our society of othering people due to their differences from what we consider to be “normal.” All the while continuing to shift the responsibility on the people being oppressed to speak up and challenge those of us with the most power. The binds on our access to power and the need for us to stand up for ourselves means that we are expected to challenge authority no matter the harm or violence that we might receive. This harm can even come through the dismissal of a person’s reaction to bullying because it makes people feel even more silenced by their oppressors as well as feel like their connection to reality is being challenged.

This is why the idea that some among us are willing to dismiss Livingston’s interaction with her bully is so harmful. It further frames the subject of bullying as something that only happens to children from other children but it also is continuing the cycle of violence where we do not address it for what it truly is. We need to start taking responsibility for the way all of us contribute to a society rooted in intolerance. The first step is to stop acting like we need to only address bullying with children because one day they will become adults thrown into a world where there are no kid gloves.

Don’t Tell Me How to Cope with Trauma!

*Cue Amy Poehler for the title*

One of the most ignorant things a person can do is assume that their own experience is the rule to live by in life. That they are the example everyone else should follow and while they do this they completely ignore that everyone is at a different place in their life. Some people are still having bad days, are surrounded by people who do not have their best interests at heart, have traumatic past experiences that are continually challenging them to reevaluate their life and are ever evolving because life is not as simple as “bad things happen, now move on.”

I am not a regular reader of Manolo for the Big Girl but when I was linked to this article by someone who was trying to use it as an example of fat women playing the victim when faced with discrimination while dating I immediately saw red.

Maybe that’s because in my travel across the fatosphere I’ve run into a lot of mawkish pity parties written by women in the permanent victim mode, those unfortunate souls unable or unwilling do the work required to move on from their teenage angst and so every human interaction is an affirmation of their deeply engrained flawed belief that they are not worthy of love, that everyone hates them or looks down on them because they’re fat and that their mother/father/seventh-grade boyfriend was right all along.
I have empathy for those girls, but at the same time I secretly want to shake them and say “Maybe you don’t have friends because you’re a total downer. No one likes a sadsack, regardless of the size of said sack. Get thee to a therapist and work that sh*t out. Then let’s have gin and tonics.”

Aside from the fact that this writer is coming into a community that I tend to get pretty mama bear about, I also find it really frustrating that they are basically writing a blog post that is allowing for people to excuse away prejudice. This whole “If fat women just felt better about themselves then people wouldn’t treat them badly” isn’t something I want to promote or condone in any way.

No one has the right to tell another person how to cope with trauma. No one has the right to tell another person how they should feel about their experiences or how they should live their life. No one has the right to make judgments on another person’s life because they feel like they know everything about them.

The whole idea that someone just moves past childhood trauma and they are free from their experiences is bullshit. Sure it might work for some people but the reality is that trauma shapes who you are. You don’t just move past trauma, you cope with trauma, you allow for it to be part of you or you don’t because people get to decide how they deal with their own life and the trauma that goes along with it. I also hate that people think that trauma only happens when you are a child and that we do not continually face traumatic experiences on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Traumatic experiences can happen to a person regardless of their age or how they feel about themselves, how they deal or cope with the past trauma in their life etc.

Let this be a lesson. Never assume that your experience is the only valid experience and if you are going to criticize someone for how they deal with their traumatic experiences at least think about how your words are going to be used to cause more trauma in the lives of others. Think about how your words are going to make people feel silenced because they don’t live up to your grand expectations of how they should live their lives.