body acceptance

About fat acceptance

21 June, 2010

I was sent an email by someone who follows me on Twitter, and she’d asked me to clarify my position as a fat acceptance advocate in relation to health and dieting. For most people, the idea of accepting one’s self in a fat body is foreign and goes against absolutely everything we’re taught. To be honest, I forget how shocking and radical the notion of self acceptance is, and I guess a lot of people consider a fat person who has accepted herself as a bit of a curiosity (and yes, that gets tiring). I responded to the email with a bit of a “Fat Acceptance 101″ and thought it might be worthwhile to post here. As the email specifically asked about my position on fatness and health, this post largely focuses on that but there are a myriad of other issues concerned with how fat is treated and I recommend further reading.

As a fat acceptance advocate, my position is that fat people should not be discriminated against or demonised. One of the main tenets within the movement is that dieting and the culture of encouraging disordered eating is harmful. Obviously, this is not a topic that can be reduced to a few short words and it’s unfair (and quite offensive) to dismiss the movement by assuming that it’s just about encouraging people to be fat – that’s just derailing the discussion. To begin with, one must understand that human beings have different body shapes, racial backgrounds, medical conditions, and socio-economic circumstances (amongst other things) and fat is not just a result of eating too much or exercising too little. I can’t stress that enough.

There are ample buttloads (get it, get it!) of research to back up the fat acceptance movement, and I encourage you to read The Obesity Myth by Paul Campos and Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, PhD – both books have exhaustive references. I encourage you to fully research and find references for any thing you read or hear in the news, it’s the only way to get a full understanding of the actual research being done. Many pro-gastric banding/ bypass news stories come from studies that have been funded by companies that manufacture weight loss surgery products, yet the mainstream media fails to disclose these things.

The reason why I am so vocal about the issue of body acceptance is because too often fat bodies are pathologised, that is – they are viewed as abnormal and diseased, even when they are not. This is especially concerning when doctors, and indeed the wider health industry, do not treat fat patients’ symptoms seriously or even worse – dismiss the patient’s concerns and deny treatment until the patient loses weight. Even if the patient’s symptoms are not related to weight. This is wrong and unethical and does nothing to aid the patient’s health, in fact it works against good health! So many fat people refuse to seek medical treatment because they can not find a doctor who treats their complaints seriously. The fat acceptance movement seeks to address this upsetting and disturbingly common occurrence.

I am in support of bodies of all shapes and sizes being as healthy as possible (because we all can’t reach one specific type of health, that’s unrealistic and ableist) but ultimately health is personal and not the business of anyone but ourselves! Moreover I am very passionate about removing the stigma of fat. This stigma hurts fat people (I would say it hurts thin people too!) and poses a far greater health risk than body weight. It is assumed automatically that thin = healthy, and I bet when you actually think about that assumption… it starts to unravel. Do you know thin people who don’t exercise and eat poorly? I do. But those people are not told by their doctors that they need to lose weight, because they might not have any visible markers of fatness (read: poor health). And that’s how fat is pathologised and that’s why this kind of assumption works against everyone, because even thin people aren’t getting the health care they need when their health workers are relying on fat as a measure of health. The truth is, healthful and not-so-healthful behaviours are performed by EVERY sort of body. Our health care workers shouldn’t be so lazy as to assume the not-so-healthful behaviours are the domain of fatties only.

When it comes to health, I encourage people to question the messages they are receiving, especially when those messages are generalised and vastly different to actual health care research. Health is personal and there is no one direct path to good health, because we all have a vast array of highly individual factors. No person should be shamed into being “healthy” (read: thin), but unfortunately it seems that this is the accepted defense against obesity (BOOGA BOOGA) in this day and age.

Fat acceptance is a dense and fascinating subject and an important social justice issue that many dismiss because addressing one’s own assumptions about fatness is very challenging. Understandably too when we’re told over and over, every day, that our bodies aren’t good enough unless they are thin. Fat acceptance is not about encouraging everyone to be fat. Fat acceptance recognises that people have different body shapes and fat people are vastly underprivileged and grossly pathologised when it comes to: health (including mental health), representation and visibility (not just in the media, in every day life!), clothing, and public spaces.

There are some fabulous “Fat Acceptance 101″ pieces that I can suggest as a jumping off point:
Fat Acceptance: Introducing the Self Esteem Warriors by Elizabeth of Spilt Milk
Fat/Size/Body Acceptance 101 on The Rotund
I think I’ve recovered now so let’s have some Fat Acceptance 101 on Fat Lot of Good
Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy? on Shapely Prose

Happy reading!

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  • Stephania

    Very well summarised Natalie. And I thank you for putting the stuff about unhealthy thin people. I was definitely one of those people who ate a copious amount of sugar and crap and went through years of not exercising and I wouldnt put on any weight at all. (I paid for it in the end though with long term health problems though). It has made me realise that if I was fat and eating the same way, I would've had everyone screaming in my ear and getting judging looks for eating something unhealthy. Being thin and eating garbage, people said nothing malicious to me at all (including doctors). The only thing they would say is “you're lucky”. What a double standard.

    Body and self acceptance all the way. Fat or thin!!

    Get better soon! (my method for beating/avoiding colds are eating lots of greens, boiling up a whole chicken and making soup, raw garlic, and most importantly, opening up all the windows and doors in the house for at least 30 mins a day to keep the place from becoming an incubator) :D

  • http://www.project-kathryn.com Kathrynoh

    I seriously hate that doctor shit. I've been to the doctor with all kinds of non-fat related injuries – cut limbs etc and got the fat lecture. My mum always says to go to a fat doctor — but even then you still get the “I'm male and an authority figure so therefore entitled to give you advice I don't follow myself” crap.

    Also, my friend's mum is one of those people with a super fast metabolism. She practically lives on chocolate but is really thin. Her health is crapola though and she's been told repeatedly that her kidneys are going to fail because she drinks no water, but she refuses to because “water is boring” and she'd rather have soft drink. Every time I hear people go on about how obesity is such a huge public health cost and how fat people should be responsible for their own health costs, I wonder how many people there are like her. But it's okay to screw up your own health so long as you don't look fat.

  • KateF

    About 4-5 years ago I lost a bucket of weight very quickly to a very serious illness. I didn't realise at the time that I was on death's door step because, again, doctor's took one look at me and decided that it was my own fault (My own doctor was on holidays, it was Xmas, and I was stuck with interns at Medical Centres).

    Anyway, as a result of the massive weight loss I got on the weight loss bandwagon again, after years of self-acceptance and started dieting, exercising, dieting, exercising … we all know the score.

    Well, my last lot of medical tests show that all this dieting and exercise have left me extraordinarily depleted in minerals and vitamins and desperately ill. Worse still, I've been craving and everything because my body was and is desperately trying to restore my health.

    I'm now sicker than I ever was at my heaviest weight and have gained back all that weight I lost.

    I have found an amazing naturopath who is helping me heal and encouraging me to have a more balanced view about foods (ie, 7 cashews is not a snack, 70grams of cashews is a healthy snack amount).

    Thank you for another good article Nat. You're a gem.

    Kate

  • http://twitter.com/icedteaandlemon nancy

    i blogged about this recently, but your picture of you all sniffly and such reminded me of a lecture i got recently. i've been quite sick (lingering cold, two eye infections, period deciding to go insane and make me anemic and fainty for 8 weeks on end…) and someone said 'Nancy! you got to be takin care of yourself!' and it seemed odd that i was being lectured and shamed for being sick. and it somehow connected to me being fat. it really wouldn't have, if i were thin. my doctor was good about it, though.

    this post was well written and to the point. i enjoyed it. :)

    oh and a link to my post re: the sick thing. http://icedteaandlemoncake.wordpress.com/2010/0

  • http://latedeveloperblog.blogspot.com/ Jo

    Another quality post, Natalie – nice one! It's so good, in fact, that it inspired me to write my own piece, linking back to this for inspiration.

    Check it: http://latedeveloperblog.blogspot.com/

    Keep up the good work :) x

  • Toast

    I had an experience at the doctor's office that, now looking back on it, was pretty discriminatory to my fatness. My regular doctor wasn't in, so I had to see his replacement for the day, and she was the jerkiest asshole I have ever had the displeasure of talking to. She pretty much implied that my possible IBS was probably NOT IBS, and maybe my digestive problems would go away if I lost weight. Things like IBS, Chron's, Colitis, etc are not caused by BEING FAT. What a jerk. :T

    She was the only doctor I have been to that was like that and said those things to me (and I've been to a few). I guess I've been lucky! ugh. :C

  • Ashley

    Good post about the basics.

  • http://athriftstore.wordpress.com/ athriftstore

    This is perfect. I am going to direct people to this post all the time. Thank you for writing it.

  • http://funnyamazonreviews.net Keri

    Awesome post, very well written- thank you. I just found your blog & subscribed- looking forward to reading past posts & new ones! =)

  • http://www.coaxwithcandy.com sharnee

    Great post, Natalie!
    Being fat and having a baby (or two, ahem) also causes the Drs to bring out the FAT ALARM. It was quite crushing to hear this all the time because, hello! I was there to talk about the babies and not my fat. At the time it was easier to swallow whole and not think about it too much but hopefully after the first time I am now wiser so I will not put up with so much shit the second time.
    Some doctors, just like some people, are fucking idiots.

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  • Nic

    Fantastic!!
    As a fat person who had to deal with the utter crud being dealt to me whilst being pregnant, I can really relate. My pregnancies were pretty wonderful. My only issue was Hyperemesis (chronic all day sickness for my entire pregnancies) which really, doesn't have anything to do with my weight.
    I was told so many times that I needed to lose weight. I was TOLD I would have diabetes both times – I did not. I was TOLD that I would struggle to give birth to my babies and have a 90% chance of ceaserian section because I was just too fat and unfit to give birth vaginally(Not to mention because I was so unhealthy that my babies would be enormous!!) – I had 2 wonderful, practically intervention and drug free (that gas is not REALLY much of a drug is it?) birthing experiences, one of which was around 38 hours. I got up and walked both times afterwards.

    I was sent to dieticians, sent to anethatists (sp?), practically MADE to have the GTT after my GCT results were perfect and just looked down upon and spoken down to by most care providers (who of course were also mostly male so they really know all about the pregnancy and birthing experience now don't they?!).
    Thankfully I was lucky. I was confident enough in me and my body even when most others weren't. I have heard of so many other stories that have not gone my way.

    I'm a big girl. I exercise 5+ times a week. I don't eat much takeaway because I live in isolation. I'm not saying that I'm super fit and healthy, just alot fitter and healthier than I appear.

    Hopefully one day, we will be treated like real people.
    It's so nice to see someone who understands about being larger and not being too shy about it.
    Well done and keep up the fabulous work!

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  • Ness236

    Wow, that is just excellent! Thank you for opening people's eyes about this :)
    Love ya work!

  • http://sugarandspiceandeverythingnice.wordpress.com/ p49it

    Like it!

  • Prague_one

    You're welcome to your perspective and I am happy that accepting your body shape has made you a more fulfilled person. But just because some thin people are unhealthy does not mean that it is healthy to be fat. I work at a hospital for the department of epidemiology. I read contemporary scholarship. The research showing that excessive fat is bad for you swamps Bacoon and Campos's work. Furthermore, humanity was not always as fat as it is now, and other cultures are not as fat as westerners are.

    People who exercise and eat a healthy diet may indeed carry some extra weight. People with metabolic problems may indeed become obese through no fault of their own. But for the vast majority, being overweight is indicative of poor diets and health habits. People should not accept their poor habits and overweight status but rather strive to be healthy and fit. This is not to say that I think the many, many forms of discrimination against overweight people are okay, but wanting people to be healthy is not discrimination.

    If you want to call me a bigot against fat people for my statements above, that's your prerogative. I don't care, because the evidence you and your sources provide does not convince me that you're right.

  • Mab

    “Do you know thin people who don’t exercise and eat poorly? I do.”

    So do I : my brother and my sister. BUT my mom will never say anything to them because they are silently ALLOWED to eat like this, because they're thin ! Even if know, my mom is starting to stalk my baby sister about food, telling her she's gonna get fat (read : fat like her mom and her big sis), and it's untolerable.

    Doctors are not the only ones to stigmatise fat people, relatives can do so, and it hurts even more.

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  • Sophie

    I agree. I don’t think it’s fair to justify an unhealthy lifestyle through the guise of fat acceptance. If a person is eating well and exercising regularly but does not conform to socially acceptable body norms, then there shouldn’t be pressure for them to push themselves and their body over the limit to achieve a size unhealthy for them. However, I am someone who can never deny a dessert, a second helping of something delicious, or a second, third, or fourth glass of wine. I also don’t exercise nearly enough (if at all). For me, and anyone else with similar habits, I can’t be completely proud of my body until I know I am taking care of it properly. This doesn’t mean deprivation or obsession, it means eating balanced meals, treating myself in moderation, and incorporating regular exercise into part of my lifestyle. There is a big difference between promoting healthy habits and promoting body hatred.

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  • Qrisee

    i’ve been on so many diets, my first being weight watchers (in FIFTH GRADE). i eventually grew up (i’m 21 now) and learned to think for myself. to think that hey, maybe this is the weight i’m supposed to be. maybe i’ll never be a size 6 and that’s OKAY.

    thank you so much for spreading the knowledge. i think what you’re doing is very important.

  • Iskra V

    Hi Natalie! I am a friend of Tiara Merchgirls and Editor of Edith Cowan University Student Guild’s wom*n’s mag, V. The next issue focuses on perception specifically peoples perceptions of certain movements, subcultures and other people. I was wondering if you would be interested in contributing to the zine at all. Please drop me a line at V (dot) zine (dot) submissions at gmail dot com. I loved this article, it made me happy to be a woman.

    xx

    Iskra

  • Vanessa

    I competed in surf boat rowing at National level while obese. I was so fit I was jumping out of my skin. How I hate the thought of people thinking I sit at home on the lounge eating junk food. At the time I was playing golf two or three times a week, doing hard Bootcamp sessions three mornings a week and doing rowing training in the river three evenings a week. All while at the obese level. Oh yes we are so lazy, lazy, lazy.

  • Vanessa

    I competed in surf boat rowing at National level while obese. I was so fit I was jumping out of my skin. How I hate the thought of people thinking I sit at home on the lounge eating junk food. At the time I was playing golf two or three times a week, doing hard Bootcamp sessions three mornings a week and doing rowing training in the river three evenings a week. All while at the obese level. Oh yes we are so lazy, lazy, lazy.

  • annette

    Dear Natalie, I was one of those “skinny” people until my first baby came along and had to have half my thyroid removed as a result of stuff going haywire during or after the pregnancy. Weight has been just one of the many struggles I have had, but the injustice of the healthcare professionals has really taken me by surprise. It has taken me 13 count them thirteen years for me to convince my doctors that I am not looking for a quick fix for my weight gain. I have become a broken record telling them that I work out with a trainer 2 days a week and walk 6 miles with a friend 2 – 3 other days a week only to watch my weight, b/p, and cholesterol increase each year (never mind my 13 year struggle with depression). Finally this year my Endocrinologist is finally convinced that I have for 13 years been hypothyroid. I do believe my weight has kept me from getting good health care. They didn’t believe that I have been eating healthy. They didn’t believe that I have been exercising. Thank you for posting this. You have given me much to think about.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great post about health. Obesity is a huge problem now a days. Fitness,exercise and eating healthy diet are most important in our body. Fatness is really challenging for every one. Junk food and unhealthy life style will be bad for health.

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