I needed an outlet for this, so here goes.
I grew up as the fat kid and I was bullied for it. But by the time high school came around, it was rare. I was friends with kids who were popular enough that I wasn’t an outcast. I was nice and quiet and allowed to skate by with the odd comment or two. This isn’t the normal high school experience, but it’s mine. But those odd comments are what I remember more than the bullying, because they came from friends. Not enemies, but people who I played video games and sports with. It hurts a little more when it’s someone you thought liked you.
I decided to defend the “fat acceptance” movement on social media the other day. It didn’t go well. It was definitely eye-opening to see liberal-ish people trot out tropes that on other subjects they would see right through. It starts with someone posting an article with throat-clearing like “some people might think is controversial, but I think it’s true!” and other commenters noting they “didn’t have the balls to post that.” As if criticizing FA is a bold, risky stance, and not something for which there are approximately zero consequences and the acceptance of our society in general. Normally when I read something that starts with those comments, it’s a conservative about to say something stupid and/or racist.
There’s also plenty of “yes, but,” where the person can’t quite bring themselves to say fat shaming is good, but definitely can’t leave it at just saying it’s bad, lest they be thought of as saying something unambiguously positive about fat people. That would keep them from expressing just what their demands for fat people are. Because that’s actually very important to some people. It may be couched in the language of “responsibility,” but that’s transparently not what it is. And we can’t forget the “some of my best friends are fat” line, which is a giant red flag when there’s a different word at the end. It’s difficult when people can see through the flimsy, fake arguments of others, but not realizing when they’re doing the same thing.
Let me demonstrate my point. The statement was that fat people need to take “responsibility” for their weight by doing three things (off the top of her head, I’m sure there are more). They are paying for two seats on airlines, paying more for health insurance, and paying twice as much for clothes that use twice as much fabric. These are flimsy requirements (and also already happen), but the underlying reasoning is the same: being fat is a lifestyle choice and there should be consequences for your lack of responsibility.
People seem oddly obtuse on this point. For the last few years, I’ve walked about a half hour every day. I’m not constantly eating fast food. I actually eat fairly simply. I do eat pizza a little more than I should. I rarely eat dessert beyond a light yogurt bar. Is this much different than the average person? No, but I am the one who is to be punished for not radically cutting my calorie intake and pushing my body to do very uncomfortable things. This is my lack of “responsibility:” not punishing myself enough for being fat.
Let’s talk about when I did lose a lot of weight (70+ lbs over the course of two years). I did that by using Weight Watchers and using the points allotment chosen for me. Did I eat healthier? No. I did not eat more fruits or vegetables; I believe I ate fewer. I ate more meat, since a turkey sandwich became my lunch staple. I ate greasy burgers and Mexican food from the university cafeteria a few times a week. I still ate pizza. I ate more low calorie diet foods and microwave meals that are heavily processed, can barely be considered food, and very much not healthy. I drank zero calorie soda, but more of it. I didn’t exercise. I controlled my calories, but those calories were less healthy. Oh, but then I started to act like a human being again, one who didn’t spend each day recording every single thing I ate and figuring out what I could still eat, and gained most of it back.
This is the easiest path in our society. Processed foods and animal products are abundant and cheap. I changed my diet into one that increased support for and encouraged yo-yo dieting, addiction, poor health, and environmental devastation. No one batted an eye about that diet and I got compliments on losing weight. Right now, in contrast to the past few years, I’m eating far, far healthier than I ever have, and more responsibly than most people, but I haven’t lost much weight. But it’s far more likely I’m going to get criticized for not being “responsible.” Please, tell me again how you just want fat people to be healthy and responsible.
(Does it make you feel better about me that I just said I’m eating healthy? Does it make you want to congratulate me for “improving?” Yeah, that makes you a little bit of an asshole. Respect is not conditional on me being a “good” fat person.)
This “responsibility” that fat people are supposed to have is not in any way consistently applied. The effects of eating an animal product based diet are staggering. Livestock is a huge contributor to climate change and the standard American diet is far worse than the diets of other cultures. And it’s incredibly abusive towards the animals we eat. Do you think the average thin person is going to go for a health insurance increase for non-vegetarians? How about heavily taxing animal products sold in grocery stores? Nope. Nor do we find this consistency elsewhere. Do you think these same people think that those choosing to live in a rural area should take responsibility for their environmental impact and move to a major city? Or that you have a responsibility to accept a job with a shorter commute for the same reason? I gotta say, I’ve found changing jobs and moving cities much easier than losing weight.
And all of my experiences are underlined by the fact that I make easily enough money to support most any lifestyle decision I make. It’s weird when people believe in fighting poverty and trying to empathize with the choices you have to make when poor, except if that person is fat. Then it’s all about personal responsibility and the poor choices you’ve made. Nevermind that horribly unhealthy processed food is the cheapest and easiest to prepare and that your life is already really difficult. I know this person who did it, it’s not that hard! You really should have another assault on your dignity to deal with.
That undercurrent of “you don’t deserve self-respect and dignity” is maybe the worst. One person in the argument said “I got my self esteem the old fashioned way, through diet and exercise.” That’s a lot of fucked up in one sentence. Human beings deserve self-respect and dignity. Full stop. If you had to get it through diet and exercise, that’s pretty shitty. If you think that because you got it that way, other people don’t deserve it, you’re pretty shitty.
I don’t think I’m going to end this with some grand pronouncements about why people act like this. It’s probably just that people are assholes and want to feel superior to others. Maybe fat hatred is some intrinsic aesthetic belief, maybe it’s culturally conditioned. It doesn’t really matter. Can you tell me when presenting people with a list of demands for their participation in society just because you don’t like their appearance has been a good look? It’s certainly not something I want in my life.