To be a fat person in this fatphobic culture is to be constantly mistreated, and then blamed for that mistreatment. If you don’t want to be the victim of institutional oppression we’re told, you should stop being fat. (As a queer person who came out in Texas in the mid-90’s this is a familiar refrain – if you don’t want to be gay-bashed, stop being gay…)
Because we are literally born into a fatphobic culture, many fat people (whether we were born fat or became fat later in life) have to overcome intense internalized fatphobia in order to begin our own path to liberation. (This is also why, in any discussion about weight-stigma online, you will find fat people arguing on the side of fatphobia – it’s not proof that fatphobia is a good thing, is proof that fatphobia is so ubiquitous that fat people often internalize those messages to the point that we argue for our own oppression.)
So for many of us, the first step of our liberation is to learn to love ourselves. To realize that it is absolutely ok to be fat. Once we realize that we are worthy to love our bodies as they are, often we start to realize that we are worthy of many of the other things that are denied to us – like clothes that fit, or a chair that accommodates us at the doctor’s office, or on a plane.
The problem is that people, including people who are trying to be allies, want to make everything about how we feel about ourselves. So if we complain that, say, a new athletic wear line doesn’t bother to go up to our size, people will respond “You’re beautiful and amazing, don’t let this get you down.” That’s a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t help us get some leggings.
Focusing on fat people loving ourselves ignores the very real consequences of fatphobia – weight-based shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression – and the way that they affect us. So when we demand equal treatment, and people try to placate us by telling us that we are great, they end up derailing important discussions. The problem is that personal body positivity doesn’t solve the problems of equality – we still can’t buy clothes that don’t exist, or sit in an armless chair that the doctor’s office didn’t bother to buy, or not be asked to pay double for the same experience on a plane that a thin person gets.
I want to acknowledge that being an ally is not easy. No marginalized group is a monolith, and different people want different things from those working in solidarity, which means that anything you do that makes some members of the group happy will upset other members of the group. Still, when a fat person is talking about needing justice and equality, it is best if you resist the urge to change the subject – to body-love or anything else.
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