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.

Tragedy

I wish I had something profound or helpful or comforting to say over the massacre of 20 elementary students and 7 adults at a school. I don’t. I mostly have tears and profanity. And prayers that I don’t really even know what to ask. Because there is no possible answer to the question “Why?” that could help much.

The one useful thing that I do have is a story. Her name was Victoria Soto. She was a first-grade teacher and a hero. She hid her kids in a closet and said they were at the gym. May God watch over her family and may we remember her name long after we forget the name of the killer.