“All I want for Christmas is fat-shaming”—said no one ever.

Ragen has a new post up on combating holiday weight shame.   This is really timely for me, because I’ll be spending Thanksgiving with family members, a couple of whom have been all about the “fat=lazy/stupid” memes on Facebook lately.  To their credit, neither of them has given me personal grief about my weight in years, but the generalized comments are irksome all by themselves.

I will admit, fully and freely, to being oversensitive about other people’s crappy, thoughtless comments.  If someone makes a vague, general statement, and there’s a way for me to take it personally, I’m probably going to do just that.  That’s my own issue to work out, and not anybody else’s problem.  But at the same time, it’s also not my job to take comments that are explicitly nasty toward fat people in the best possible light, and jump straight to “Oh, they didn’t mean it in a *bad* way.” or “Oh, they think that way about fat people in *general* but I’m sure they make a special exception for me.” I’ve said before that I’m pretty convinced that if you’re an asshole online, you’re an asshole in “real life” too.  You may be an asshole with more tact in some situations than others, or an asshole with a good sense of what you can get away with, or an asshole who’s good at compartmentalizing, but that doesn’t make you not an asshole.

I’m still working on whether it’s worth saying something, privately, when people spew ugliness on Facebook that implicitly insults me. Commenting to the post itself is pointless; I’ve learned that many times.  In addition to immediately putting them on the defensive, it usually means you get a ration of crap from *their* friends too.

Fortunately, people tend to have better manners in face-to-face interactions than online ones, but not necessarily by much.  In Ragen’s post, she mentions a poll where 42% of people 18-24 would hesitate to tell a loved one they should lose weight, for fear that they’d hurt their feelings.  So, this means that 58% of 18-24 year-olds are sufficiently lacking in tact that they think unsolicited inexpert medical advice is not just acceptable, but that they’re doing the recipient a *favor.* Admittedly, they’re only believing what they’ve been told. They live in a culture that preaches 24/7 that fat is the worst thing ever, while simultaneously pretending that it’s possible to be fat in that same culture for ten minutes and somehow be unaware of it. They live in a culture where articles like the one Ragen cited can actually say ““if someone close to you has a large waistline then as long as you do it sensitively, discussing it with them now could help them avoid critical health risks later down the line and could even save their life” with a straight face.  Well, six different kinds of diets didn’t work, but now that you’ve *mentioned* it, that will magically make things better. You’re also totally the first person who’s ever told them this.  Sure, you are. You might be the first person who’s told them *today*, at least if they haven’t watched any television or flipped through a magazine.

I think the answer, online or off, is boundaries—what Ragen refers to as the Underpants Rule, where you accept that other people get to make decisions for their own lives, regardless of whether you like those decisions.  And, another thing people get to choose for themselves is what they’re willing to put up with. Frequently, if you actually enforce boundaries, people will back off.  They don’t necessarily mean to be rude; they’re just living in a culture that tells them that as long as they mean well and are “sensitive” (whatever that means) that giving you grief about your appearance is okay.

And the awesome thing about culture is that, as much as people are affected by it, they also create it. You can’t, all by yourself, rewrite the cultural narratives about fat, but you can add your own message into the mix. It’s not always much. Sometimes it’s like throwing pebbles into a huge lake, but the ripples do spread.


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


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.

Hooray for Small Victories

Ragen at Dances With Fat posted about pointing out to Taylor Mali, one of her heroes, why one of the lines in a poem he wrote about health was problematic. It started off very positive and healthy-behavior oriented, and then threw in a line about “scores are dying because they’re getting fatter and fatter.”

Being disappointed by the people you look up to, whether they’re real friends and family or celebrities whose work you admire, sucks. I remember being really bummed when Alton Brown started getting really fat-hating, because I love his show and his recipes.

But this has a happy ending. She e-mailed, politely explaining why the line was problematic, and he *agreed with her* and said that he wouldn’t use the line if he performed the poem live.

I love it when people listen, when you get to see your words have a positive impact. It’s easy to get discouraged, because for every one person who takes your message to heart–whatever the message is that you’re trying so hard to get across–there are usually a hundred telling you to shut up and go away. But it’s worth pushing through, because not only do you occasionally plant a seed, you show others that it’s possible to stand up for what they believe in. It’s possible, and it’s worth doing. And oh my gosh did I need that reminder right about now.