Monday, 7 October 2019

Higher Standards – The Next Frontier of Fat Activism?

don't want to stigmatize (1)Fat people are taught early and often that we should have low standards, and low expectations. We’re supposed to be ok with a limited selection of clothes that are much more expensive than what thin people can get. We’re supposed to be happy that anyone would hire us over a less-qualified but thinner applicant, and not complain that we’re being paid $19,000 less. We’re supposed to date anyone who will have us, and put up with their fat-shaming bullshit. We’re supposed to accept that many of the people we call fat acceptance “allies” still actively advocate for a world that doesn’t have any fat people in it. It’s that last one that I want to focus on today.

Let’s start with this – I’m not trying to tell anyone how to live. People are allowed to decide that something (however small) is better than nothing. People are allowed to decide that “better alone than in fatphobic company” is not the adage that they want to live by.

When it comes to fat acceptance community, I’m ready for more. I’m ready for better. I believe that if we want to make progress as a movement we need to start having higher standards, and stop spending so much time being apologists for people who are perpetuating messages that harm us, just because the messages could, conceivably, be worse.

I wrote about the issues with James Corden’s recent problematic response to Bill Maher here. To me the worst part of it wasn’t the clips of Maher shamelessly calling for the bullying of fat people, because Bill Maher is a fatphobic bully and that’s what fatphobic bullies do.

The hardest part for me was seeing a fat person who was supposedly “refuting” Bill Maher’s fatphobia actively buy into and perpetuate almost every single premise of Maher’s argument, punctuating it with cheap fat jokes.  It was seeing a fat person, deeply entrenched in internalized fatphobia, say that Bill’s heart was in the right place, that fat people are indeed an epidemic and a problem to be solved. The hardest part was watching a fat person use internalized oppression to perpetuate weight stigma, with fat people cheering him on.

Before we get too far into this, we need to talk about privilege. As someone with a number of privileges including being white, currently able-bodied and neurotypical, I’m talking to people here with similar or more privilege than I have.

Also, my work stands on the shoulders of so many who came before me and have made progress, partly by making these concessions – which is what they had to do to make progress in the culture they were dealing with. I am forever grateful and in their debt for the progress those pioneers made, and continue to make (and I’ve done it too, both as a fat activist and, in particular, as a queer activist in from the mid 90’s in Texas, I made concessions and compromises that I would never make now.) This is not a criticism of the past.

Civil rights movements are a progression, the Fat Acceptance movement is no different, and friends, I think it’s time for us to progress. Especially when it comes to our expectations of those who speak for us or call themselves our allies.

I think it’s time to be clear that someone with a message that amounts to “I don’t want to stigmatize fat people, I just want to eradicate them from the Earth and prevent any more from existing” is not remotely fat positive, and is anything but an ally. With friends who want to eradicate you, who needs enemies?

I know it may be difficult to think about upsetting people – even if they are just people  who want to eradicate us but in a non-stigmatizing way, or upsetting celebrities who are still chanting “body positivity” while cashing checks from weight loss companies, or asking that people do their own work around their internalized fatphobia before going on National Television and speaking for fat people. But hear me out – what if this wishy-washiness, this willingness to call basically anything that isn’t abject oppression “allyship” helped us in the past, but is now what’s holding us back?

What if we started actively, intentionally, pushing the line of acceptable treatment far away from “eradication but with a little less bullying” and toward “total, unequivocal affirmation?”  (Always understanding that while this has become our problem, it was never our fault. That fat people were never the problem – weight stigma, fatphobia, diet culture, and their minions are.) What if, instead of encouraging each other to be more tolerant of the messages that perpetuate our oppression, we encouraged each other to raise our expectations and raise our standards.

What if?

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