Beauty is kind of like health

The comments section of one of Ragen Chastain’s posts segued off into a criticism of any discussion of beauty.

beauty should not be a factor at all in movements like Fat/Size Acceptance. A woman should not have to identify as curvy, hot, sexy or beautiful to be accepted in Fat/Size Acceptance and this is what the movement is today

and

Still by stating that everyone is beautiful you are setting the grounds that being beautiful, a person’s looks are the most important thing about them. That the perception of beauty is the number one thing we need to change about the opponents of fat people.

Fat Acceptance spends most of the day on Facebook and Tumblr saying “you are beautiful” “Thanks and you are beautiful too”. That is not much better than the fat haters that say no fat person is beautiful or handsome.

Beauty is a outside issue that Fat Acceptance spends entirely too much time on, instead of dealing with Fat Issues.

First, I don’t know what Fat Acceptance sites the commenter is following where people sit around and tell each other they’re beautiful all day. If you look at the Fatosphere Feed right now, here’s what you’ll see:

  • a post about depression
  • a post about Star Wars filk
  • Body Love Wellness’s yearly roundup post
  • one post that talks about taking up space and being under constant public scrutiny
  • one about the medical challenges fat, older women face during pregnancy
  • an FA Christmas gift list
  • my completely non-fat-related post about the Newtown massacre
  • a post about the mixed messages given to fat people exercising

Take out the ones that aren’t specifically fat-related, and you’re left with 5 posts, only 2 of which have the slightest reference to beauty (the gift list and the Body Love Wellness roundup), and neither of which focus exclusively on it.

That doesn’t sound like an exclusive or overwhelming focus to me.

Yes, beauty is a thing that gets talked about in FA spaces. Sometimes in a warm, fuzzy “appreciate the beauty in everybody” way, other times criticizing the way women are judged so completely on their looks. I mean, I found “You don’t have to be pretty” through an FA blog. I don’t remember which one, possibly several.

I agree with some of the concern—that it’s easy to overvalue beauty and to buy into the idea that physical attractiveness is one of the primary goals people should strive for, especially if you’re a woman. We should recognize beauty as a nice thing but not a necessary one, and an optional one, not a duty.

But at the same time, freaking nowhere in FA do I see women “have to identify as curvy, hot, sexy, or beautiful” to be accepted. I think I recall, way back when, on Shapely Prose, some disagreement on someone calling herself ugly, because people have the same “oh my gosh, no you’re not!” reaction to “I’m ugly” that they do to “I’m fat.” And even in that discussion, I’m pretty sure it was widely accepted that beauty does not determine anybody’s value as a human being.

I think talking about beauty standards is valuable in FA for a lot of the same reasons that talking about health is valuable. Neither of them should be viewed as a prerequisite for being treated decently, but they’re both things that our fat-hating culture is busy telling us that we can’t have, and that we’re worthless because we don’t have. I really think the message of FA should be the same towards health and beauty both: neither is relevant to your worth as a person, both have value, and being fat does not disqualify you from either.

We’re allowed to be nuanced and multifaceted in response to cultural bullshit. It’s perfectly reasonable to say “That’s not true *and* it’s not relevant,” to messages like “Fat people are ugly” or “Fat people are sick.” Saying “That’s not true,” should not automatically make people assume that we’re agreeing that the statement is relevant.

Another aspect of this is that people as a whole are, unfortunately, pretty shallow. People who are viewed as attractive are more likely to be hired, more likely to be promoted, more likely to be viewed as smart or good. And looks discrimination is part of fat discrimination. It’d be an awfully hollow victory to have weight declared a protected class but to have “I didn’t refused to hire them because they’re fat; I didn’t hire them because they’re ugly,” be an airtight defense to accusations of weight discrimination.

So I see nothing wrong with trying to widen our definition of physical attractiveness at the same time that we challenge the notion that beauty has the slightest thing to do with worth as a person or is something we owe those around us. Just like I see nothing wrong with pointing out the errors and logical inconsistencies related to fat and health at the same time we challenge the notion that health has the slightest thing to do with worth as a person or is something we owe those around us.

18 thoughts on “Beauty is kind of like health

  1. “And looks discrimination is part of fat discrimination.” Very true. We definitely live in a culture where women are often valued entirely on appeal to the opposite sex. Fat women are often automatically lumped in with the undervalued classes of people simply by virtue of having a body that isn’t the one depicted on magazine covers. It gets tiring to constantly be undervalued. Fat women calling themselves beautiful are simply declaring they have the same value as their thin counterparts.

  2. To be fair, William (the author of those comments) also said, “Blogger and WordPress are no longer the hot beds of Fat Acceptance activity. Facebook and Tumblr has taken the lead (I think this is a tragedy) and what goes on there is what Fat Acceptance is” , so that list isn’t typical of “what Fat Acceptance is” according to him. Although frankly, I was just as mystified by that as by his more general statements about how he feels that FA focuses excessively on beauty. I didn’t think there was much FA on FaceBook. I don’t spend a lot of time on Tumblr, but the only big FA Tumblr blogs I know about are ThisIsThinPrivilege (which is also on the Fat Liberation feed) and Fat People of Color, and the former spends very little time on beauty from what I’ve seen. There’s also ones like FuckYeahChubbyGirls, but I wouldn’t count them as FA; maybe he does and that’s part of the discrepancy. A lot of bloggers with blogs on the feed also have Tumblrs, but seem to use them more for general reblogging purposes rather than having FA-focused Tumblrs.

    If you didn’t see my comment on that thread at Ragen’s, I agree with you that beauty and health have a similar place in the FA movement. It seems like overall, though, there’s a lot more pushback about focusing on health than about focusing on beauty. It’s interesting that that’s the case.

    • KellyK says:

      Yep, you’re right. He posted that after I posted this, I think. I’d meant to say something else to him afterwards about how it’s not necessarily fair to FA to define just one part of it as “what Fat Acceptance is.” I mean, if the blog universe was dead and full of tumbleweeds, and the majority of conversations were going on on Facebook and Tumblr, that would make sense, but there’s still a heck of a lot of FA going on on blogs. (For which I’m thankful, because I don’t really get Tumblr and Facebook doesn’t have nested replies so is a pain for detailed conversations.)

      You’re probably right about the tumblrs like FuckYeahChubbyGirls. I think he’s defining FA differently than I am.

  3. P.S. Not trying to say that it’s impossible that there are a bunch of FA blogs/communities I haven’t heard of…

  4. William says:

    Hi What got me on this “Beauty strain of thought was the fact that Fat Acceptance has always been more honest about the body image of fat men, from the start stating that fat can make some male bodies less masculine as if it was a fact or biological law. Once I notice that Fat Acceptance did not have a similar statement saying that fat can make “this type of female body” less feminine that there was something illogical going on.

    I know that in the middle of the history of Fat Acceptance the movement was influenced by men with Fat Fetishes and Fat Acceptance began to more combat Society’s war on fat female bodies. This may be when the beauty mantra of Fat Acceptance began and if you are going to make beauty a attribute of self-worth how can you not extend that to all fat women.

    The bad logic comes in when you realize that Fat Acceptance has two sets of rules for the genders. If Fat Acceptance is going to be anything more than something that recovered from a era of fat fetishes then all fat women should be beautiful and feminine all the time and all fat men should be masculine and handsome all the time.

    Or the movement could go back to it’s pre-fetish years in the 70s and part of the 80s) and fight for the rights and simply support fat people.

    On Facebook and Tumblr on many pages there is no clear division of Fat Acceptance and Fat Admiration. Also the authors are younger which increases the confusion and lack of details.

    • KellyK says:

      Hi, William! Thanks very much for your comment. That explains a lot more where you’re coming from than I got from the discussion over at Ragen’s blog. (While we disagree on some things, I think a big part of it is just that we’re looking at different parts of the same elephant.)

      What got me on this “Beauty strain of thought was the fact that Fat Acceptance has always been more honest about the body image of fat men, from the start stating that fat can make some male bodies less masculine as if it was a fact or biological law.

      Again, this may just come from us following different people and pages, but the only references I’ve seen to fat making male bodies less masculine was explicitly about culture and perception, not stating it as a fact.

      (I have more to reply, but dinner calls…)

    • KellyK says:

      So, fat acceptance spaces (and the fat admiration spaces that are linked to FA, like Adipositivity) tend to focus more on women’s appearance than men’s appearance. That’s not to say that there’s nothing in FA about male bodies–there’s the Men in Full tumblr and LiveJournal page, for example. (Those are admiration-based, but they do counteract the idea that FA uniformly views men’s fat bodies as feminized or unattractive.)

      You may be right that the relationship between FA and Fat Admiration is part of that. I think it also has a lot to do with the relationship between FA and feminism, which has a lot to say about women’s bodies as public property, beauty standards, etc.

      There’s also the fact that the majority of FA bloggers and commenters seem to be women. What little FA I’ve personally seen on Facebook and Tumblr is predominantly women as well, but that might not be representative of the whole (especially since I mostly follow groups/pages based on blogs, like the Fat Nutritionist’s page or the Rolls not Trolls group, which Ragen runs). I can name three male FA bloggers (Atchka, Jeff Fecke, and Barry Deutsch) and the last two don’t blog exclusively about fat acceptance. I can easily name 3 or 4 times that many female FA bloggers.

      So ideas about male appearance aren’t going to be explored as much, partly because women’s issues are of interest to women, but also because it’s presumptuous to tell other people how they should feel about their bodies. It would be the height of arrogance for me as a woman to say that fat men should be happy about their bodies because I think they’re sexy, because it implies that my aesthetic preference actually matters to them, or that their biggest worry in life was whether or not I wanted to have sex with them. There are men who go on FA blogs and say, “Don’t worry, I think women with curves are hot,” and it’s really condescending. (Besides which, women aren’t socialized to view men’s bodies as existing for their approval, the way men are about women’s bodies, so it’s not the sort of comment a woman is as likely to make.)

  5. I think that Lesley Kinzel is one of the few Fat Acceptance bloggers who has gone out of her way to make sure in her writings that when looking at fat from Society’s standpoint that fat has a “queering” affect on both genders, not just fat males. I use the word “queering” meaning softening or blurring the gender attributes.

    If Fat Acceptance is going to reject Society’s viewpoint of fat then it has to do so for both genders or one gender is going to always be disenfranchised with Fat Acceptance.

    Fat men like most men will not think that talking about the issues bothering them as an answer to their problems. That is just the way men are. I few more guys sharing their thoughts be great for the silent fat male members of Fat Acceptance.

    I think that you are wrong about the importance that straight men place on what women think of them. Maybe it has something to do with the “Monkey Mind” that is in all of us.

    • KellyK says:

      I think Leslie has it right. I think the effect of fat on gender is complicated.

      But I also don’t think men are disenfranchised within fat acceptance as a whole*, or that fat acceptance only rejects society’s viewpoint about women’s bodies. I think the actual FA viewpoint is that society’s ideas about fat bodies *in general* are screwed up and that while nobody’s obligated to find fat bodies (of either gender) attractive, there’s nothing inherently bad or wrong with them. FA as a whole may spend more time talking about aesthetics of women’s bodies, both because of the female-male ratio, and mirroring the cultural emphasis on women’s bodies. .

      *(Which is not to say that a given Facebook group or Tumblr page that’s really about fat admiration of women’s bodies may not feel excluding to men or to women who don’t view themselves as curvy or BBWs.)

      Edit: Fixed a typo and put the little asterisk by the footnote like I meant to.

  6. I’m always a little skeptical when someone says, “That is just the way men are.” But maybe sometimes I’m not skeptical enough. Case in point: when the first William was talking about the emphasis on beauty driving fat men away, I thought, “Aha! Men aren’t as interested in beauty, so the more they read about beauty, the more they think FA is not serving their interests.” But William Morton says that straight men do care about what women think of them WRT beauty/attractiveness. (So maybe the problem is the implied “(women’s) beauty.)

    Anyway, if the problem really is “men will not think that talking about the issues bothering them as an answer to their problems,” that seems to indicate that they won’t be too interested in blogging about FA at all, except to occasionally organize boycotts or petitions, and there is nothing that can be done about it.

    • William says:

      I was trying to say that the atmosphere in Fat Acceptance where fat women are always classified as beautiful and feminine while fat men are judged far more realistically was not helping or attracting fat men to participate in fat acceptance as more than allies. A result of this is that you rarely see straight fat men sharing photos celebrating their bodies like fat women do and the primarily gay men on “Men in Full”.

      • KellyK says:

        Where are men being judged negatively in Fat Acceptance? I think you’re conflating FA noting the existence of society’s view about men’s bodies with FA endorsing it. Particularly when there *are* groups focused on the admiration of fat male bodies. (The Men in Full Livejournal is run by a woman.)

  7. William M says:

    I ran across this discussion recently and I still stand by my comments. I am ashamed to say that even a Fetish Driven Source like Dimensions Magazine has taken a taken a more realistic view of “fat, femininity and masculinity” than the current FA Politically Correct descriptors (Curvy, Feminine, Sexy and Beautiful).

    http://www.dimensionsmagazine.com/forums/showthread.php?t=40578

    • I really think that you and I (and Kelly, I think) must have different ideas of which blogs, etc. are included in FA. (I think you said before that FA is “really” on Tumblr and not on WordPress or other blog sites. I disagree. I tend to only count sites that identify themselves at Fat Acceptance/Fat Liberation as such, not just any site that shows a “fat slightly less thin can be sexy” macro occasionally.) In the blogs I read, I see more people pushing back against “curvy” (“hey, I’m barrel-shaped!”) than embracing it. I see “beautiful” a fair amount, but do not often see “sexy” or “feminine” used.

      From the thread you linked: “What I’m trying to really understand is why FAs/FFAs don’t androgynize fat, when the “average person” probably would,” (it seems from context that “FAs” means Fat Admirers)–isn’t this the opposite of your point? That is, aren’t you trying to say that the fetish community is less likely to see fat as feminine than fat acceptance? But they’re saying that they see fat as feminine or masculine (but they’re mostly discussing femininity on that thread), rather than androgynous.

      • William M says:

        You raised some good points about Blogs, you are more knowledgeable about them than me.

        Still a huge percentage of fat people who do not identify themselves as admirees/fetishers are extremely focused on promoting fatness as curvy and sexy. I understand that they are attempting to counterman the fat hate that society throws at us everyday. In a way these fat people have become just as judgmental as the fat haters. In all of this fat-talk you seldom see a message supporting the fat person who does not fit into what they consider (Beautiful or Handsome).

        So my Google Searches finds conversations on Dimensions Magazine, the fat fetishes capital!! Along with the Admirers making posts about fat rolls and big butts there are fat people themselves having conversations about the positives and negatives of being fat. They are sharing issues they have with how their fat rests on their bodies.

        Mean while fat people on Facebook and Tumblr are talking about curviness and etc.

        On Fat Acceptance Blogs I have seen articles stating that fat can’t be Androgynous or even curve-less, yet on that den of fat fetishes there were fat women sharing that their fat made them feel masculine.

      • KellyK says:

        Okay, that clarifies your position a lot. Thank you!

        I would reject the idea that fat makes me unfeminine, although I can see how other people might view it that way. (And I wouldn’t tell someone else how they’re “supposed to” feel about their body, their gender, and their level of masculinity or femininity. I just don’t think there’s anything inherently androgynous about fat.)

      • That makes sense. Thanks for clarifying where you’re coming from.

      • William M says:

        Hi

        1. It is hard to express what I am trying to say without offending someone.

        2. There is no way that all of the fat people who read these Blogs, Facebook and Tumbler Pages could be at the point where they are Fat Accepting.

        I know from experience that in the past that fat people who were far from self-acceptance felt free to participate in the fat acceptance conversation. The fat community is diverse as any group of people out there. It is not just the homogeneous mindset you see represented online.

        Thanks for listening

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