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Another boring post on dieting and FA

March 6, 2008

This post is in response to a comment to FillyJonk’s awesome post at Shapely Prose. The comment actually has nothing to do with the post, and this topic has been addressed a zillion times by people smarter than me. Still, I posted a response there but then realized that I want to keep on rambling on and on as I tend to do. So I thought I would do my rambling here, because that is what it is for.

So Janet says:

I’m kind of new to all this, and I am wondering if there is a good explanation anywhere of why it is incongruent to be a fat activist while wanting to lose weight yourself?

I would champion hard for other people to feel good at whatever weight is natural for them, and to stop the criticism by the medical community and by culture of those weights, and for people to be exercising and feel comfortable exercising no matter their weight, but I really do want to lose that fifteen pounds (which would, just by chance, put me into a different “BMI category”)

I liked the way I looked fifteen years ago, when I look at photos a couple years old. It really seemed to suit me better, and I absolutely love the clothes I have from that period (and I don’t want to have to buy all new nice clothes).

So I can’t be a fat activist? It didn’t make sense to me, but that is what a lot of the fatosphere seems to imply. And that makes me kinda sad.

And here is my response:

Being a fat activist on a diet is like being a blond activist who dies their hair brown. You are telling other people it is okay to be a certain way while simultaneously altering yourself so that you aren’t like them.

If you think Fat Acceptance sounds like a great idea, but still feel like “you personally” want to go on a diet (that wont really work anyway) then you aren’t ready for fat acceptance. I don’t want you to accept my fat if you can’t accept your own.

As I see it this community is really about both political and personal activism. The political elements, obesity’s treatment in the media, discrimination against fat people, and worst of all the disgusting anti obesity laws, are very important to the quality of life of fat and not really fat but think they are people everywhere. Those elements are are the very reason that we need the personal activism as well.

The media has been telling us that fat is bad for so long that we have really internalized that message. It is a basic part of our culture’s values. It permeates society to the point where it affects not only how others view and treat us but more importantly how we feel about ourselves. That is why it seems like everyone in the FA community has gone on some kind of “journey” to accepting themselves.

Fat acceptance is not just about empowerment at a political and social level, it is also empowerment at a personal level. We all started out with a disordered relationship with food, our bodies and the world because of the anti-fat prejudice that has been imbued in our culture. We all have our own stories about how we found the idea of fat acceptance and health at every size and how it has helped us and changed our lives.

Learning to accept and love ourselves as we are gives us the power and the confidence to do what we need to on a daily basis as individuals. It allows us to realize our fantasies, and it gives us the confidence to fight.

It is a journey and a struggle for all of us to learn to accept ourselves and others as they are despite the prejudice we are faced with every day. And it is a challenge for each of us to speak out and fight back against it. But, I just don’t see how you can fight that prejudice without first believing that you, as you are, are worth fighting for.

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16 Comments
  1. vesta44 permalink

    I said something similar to this on a post on another blog when I first started reading FA blogs. A woman said that she was all for FA, but she still wanted to lose a few pounds and didn’t understand why she wasn’t accepted as part of the movement. I said that, as a fat person, it was hard enough for me to accept myself as fat when another fat person said it was ok for me to be fat. But, if she can’t accept herself as she is, how am I supposed to think it’s ok for me to accept myself as I am? That’s one of the main reasons I respect the no-weight-loss-diet talk on FA blogs.

  2. Becky permalink

    As I see it this community is really about both political and personal activism.

    Exactly!

    And what Vesta said as well. When I see a woman who is thinner than I am talking about how she really wants to lose 15 or however many pounds because she hates the way she looks, how is that supposed to make me feel? I hope to one day be at the point where that kind of thing doesn’t bother me, but for now it’s a slap in the face. And I get enough of that in my every day life, I don’t need it when I’m reading fat acceptance blogs too.

  3. fillyjonk permalink

    The hilarious thing is, I cannot tell you how many people start reading and going through the archives and commenting and participating and becoming valued members of the FA community and then months later say “yeah, when I first started becoming active in FA I was still thinking ‘well it’s all well and good for them, but I still need to lose 20 lbs.’ But now I see why that’s antithetical to what we’re doing, and unrealistic besides.” Opening your eyes and ears and SHUTTING YOUR MOUTH for a little while actually WORKS for answering these questions. But no, people are still like “hey, please do the work for me by explaining this in small words while I contradict you based on incomplete knowledge.” Hey, sounds fun!

  4. What I would love to understand is how I’m supposed to believe that you REALLY TRULY believe that FA is a GREAT IDEA, but it won’t apply to you. What’s different about you that great ideas just bounce off of you like a rubber ball? It brings to mind a force field of self-hatred.

  5. FJ,
    I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a lot of them. That would be a very typical way for people to resolve their dissonance issues about their own FOBT and what this community says. People do that with all kinds of things really, they hear an idea they agree with but they don’t want to actually change their thoughts or behavior to act on it right away.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to people about their situation and essentially got this response. “I really agree with what you are saying but here are all the reasons that doesn’t work for Me, PERSONALLY, because I am TOTALLY different than these situations you are describing. Seriously, I’m a unique and beautiful snowflake, you could never understand my life or my problems unless you actually were me. And even then you still wouldn’t understand because I am so complex and incomprehensible and therefore get a free pass to do and say whatever I want and then whine constantly about the consequences of my previous actions.” So… not exactly the same as what’s going on here, but driving me insane none the less.

  6. Karen permalink

    Perhaps we could compare it to suntanning? If I, personally, decide that I’m going to be an anti-tanning activist, would I get taken seriously if you can see my tan lines? Would anyone really believe I was anti-tanning if they saw me talking about how much better my golden skin looks than that pasty white my body was covered in all winter? Similarly, how can you accept fat if you are doing everything in your power to get rid of it?

    Full disclaimer: I’m pasty white. I have no golden skin. I’m also not an anti-tanning activist, I just don’t like the boiled crustacean look.

  7. “I don’t want you to accept my fat if you can’t accept your own.”

    YES! I had this funny sort of backwards argument with a friend of mine. She’s fat, and very much into FA. I’m intellectually very much into FA, but at the time I was also anorexic (I still kinda am, I guess, but I’m in recovery). For reasons pretty much unrelated to fat, but still.

    I told her that I couldn’t call myself a fat ally until I no longer had an eating disorder. She gave me all sorts of reasons why I could, and I guess I can be an “ally” to fat people in the talking-the-talk sort of way, but yeah. I’m really not comfortable with the hypocrisy entailed in saying “it’s good for you but not for me.”

  8. Arwen permalink

    Ah, I should have responded here to Janet!
    I think FJ is right, though – she would be accepted if she kept her own negative pressure to herself. I’m going to start assuming everyone with that sort of attitude is crying for help inside the deepest darkest pit of self-loathing, so bad that they can’t save themselves by researching but are screaming for a life preserver.
    I’m going to do this less for them as for me, because the diet talk can still start me down a bad path.

  9. Miriam Heddy permalink

    I just want to say a big, fat, WORD to all this.

    Those who do the whole, “I’m into FA, but personally, I just want to lose 15 pounds,” I just want to rephrase what they’ve just said in FA terms, in which case it comes out like this:

    “I’m definitely, totally into FA, but *personally*, I just want to lose and regain and lose and regain the same 15 ugly pounds, blaming myself each time, as I slowly chip away at my otherwise possibly functional metabolism and self-esteem. Because I just know that, if I lost that weight, I’d look better (not that I think *you* look bad or anything, because fat really looks *good* on you). I’ll also be healthier, because I won’t feel so fat that I can’t wear leggings and do yoga, and I just know that my [insert pain] will be better. And I’m hoping, by the end of it, to have gained a few *more* pounds on top of those 15 so that, a few cycles of this down the road, I’ll have to lose 20 pounds. But don’t worry–if I do find a way to lose 15 or 20 pounds and keep it off for longer than a few months, I promise *really* not to assume that just because I did it you can too. Really. I can be fat accepting like that.”

    *eyeroll*

  10. Cara permalink

    Just to put in with a slightly different angle, here – someone new to FA might not immediately get that ‘accepting yourself at whatever weight’ does not necessarily mean ‘living in perpetuity at a weight maintained by an eating disorder / a lack of reasonable exercise / etc’.

    I admit I’m a bit slow, but when I first started reading the FA stuff, I recoiled a bit because I sort of thought that fat acceptance meant forever staying at a weight I had pushed up to by binge eating and lack of exercise. I didn’t want to be locked into behaviors that felt harmful. I kept reading and eventually started to get the message of HAES / FA – subtleties like, respecting yourself at any weight and size doesn’t mean that you can’t change self-destructive behavior, even if those changes may (or may not) produce weight loss. In fact, I’ve come to believe that respecting yourself at any size is key to successfully overcoming self-destructive behavior.

    But, yeah – some people just take longer to ‘get it’ than others, and some never will. I’m glad I stuck with it long enough to start getting it!

  11. janetbobanet permalink

    Hi, this actually is Janet here.

    First of all, I’m glad nobody called me on the error in that post, saying fifteen *years ago* instead of saying when I weighed 15 pounds less. It was only a couple years ago when I weighed 15 pounds less, then I broke my leg, gained fifteen pounds about a year and a half ago, and I have remained at that weight.

    I’ve been highly discouraged by the negative comments. I believe that everyone has the right to not diet and to not feel any pressure to diet, and that everyone has the right to be accepted at their size, but I don’t feel ME in this size, and I would actively put in a little effort to try to become how I was.

    I see it more as someone who is a feminist woman, who decides that she herself is in the wrong body and wants to be male. Would he then no longer be a feminist?

    If my personal choice, which only applies to ME and is honestly based more on a silly personal physical preference than weight, means that I have failings at a political level, then fat activism is obviously TOO MUCH for me. I shake my head and feel like I don’t want to be a part of something that is judging me for my choices, even if I support their causes.

  12. KarenElhyam permalink

    That’s the key, though, Cara, as long as “weight loss” isn’t the be all, end all goal, getting healthy and staying healthy are admirable goals. Unfortunately, most people can’t seperate the two.

    “But, wait, if I’m losing weight..doesn’t that just mean I’m getting healthier? That’s what the News/Oprah/Good Housekeeping/everyone in the daggone world is telling me. Why would they lie?”

    Those are extremely powerful message centers, and our little fatosphere, even if it’s full of very powerful, persuasive voices can’t immediately break down those connections.

    I will say, though, in normal internet courtesy and parlance, it’s alwaysalwaysalways bad form to just step into a forum and expect all the work to be done for you. I think it’s worse than trolling…at least those people can just be deleted. They don’t care to learn. This person does seem open to it…just not in an active way. It just becomes a pain, and very rude, for webmasters of all form to deal with.

    As always, it’s important to spend weeks on any site before you simply throw up the first thing that pops into your head. At least, that’s what I do.

  13. Janet,
    If you gained that weight because of an outside event, like breaking your leg, it is highly probable that once you start engaging in physical activities you enjoy again some, if not most of that weight will come off on its own.

    HAES, and FA don’t oppose the idea of weight loss through healthy activities, it opposes the idea of healthy activities for the purpose of weight loss.

    What if you excersize, diet, and try to lose 15 pounds. And then, like many dieters gain back 30? OR what if you don’t manage to lose all that weight at all? How will you feel then? Defeated, disappointed in yourself, like a failure.

    If, conversely, you go back to activities you enjoyed before you broke your leg, and maintain a healthy diet that feeds your body what it wants and as a result you lose 15 pounds GREAT! What if you do the same thing and never lose a pound? You’re still doing things you enjoy for the sake of enjoying them and feeling good.

  14. I start working out in October. I’ve lost seven pounds. I also no longer eat junk food. My stepdaughter is vegan. Most junk food has milk or eggs in it. Besides, I became vegetarian for health reason. I’m not eating junk food because it isn’t in the house.

    I avoided winter weight gain this year by exercising, not any diet. I’m trying to learn to eat intuitively, but I find myself still not wanting to eat at night and stopping before I’m completely full.

    I’m avoiding junk food mostly due to HFCS. I find myself disgusted when I read labels at the grocery store and find HFCS in almost everything. I’m not usually a binge eater, but the last time I bought a box of cereal with HFCS I couldn’t stop myself from eating it and it didn’t even taste good. So no more HFCS for my family. It felt awful to be stuffing my face with something that didn’t even taste good. I blame the HFCS since it hasn’t happened since.

  15. Fat actuary permalink

    Hi, Janet,
    I didn’t read all the comments at Shapely Prose, so some of these points may have already been stated there, but here’s my take.

    In my estimation, size acceptance is about listening to what your body is telling you instead of telling it what you want it to do. For example, if you don’t feel like yourself at your current weight, whether you feel it’s too low or too high, obviously that’s completely valid. But from an FA perspective, the solution would be to eat and exercise intuitively and trust that your body will actually find its natural setpoint, because it is incredibly hard for most individuals to maintain a weight that is NOT their natural setpoint. If your body settles on a weight that’s higher than what you planned on, the diet industry says keep going; keep cutting calories even if it makes you too hungry to function, and keep adding spin classes even if you hate spin classes. The mainstream says to do whatever is necessary to reach your “goal,” no matter how arbitrary that goal is. FA says to respect what your body is telling you, and keep doing whatever makes you feel optimal.

    To me, this kind of seemed like magical thinking at first. I’m so brainwashed into distrusting and ignoring and controlling my body that I thought it would definitely steer me wrong. But I’m starting to come around, mostly because of the fact that reading FA blogs and learning that there is an alternative to self-flagellation has been the one thing that motivates me to exercise more regularly and eat in ways that are traditionally deemed “healthier”. And I find when I’m not focusing on weight loss as a goal, these practices become much less torturous. I seriously could not run a mile to save my life a few months ago, but I swear to you on all that’s holy that after I started in with the FA thinking, I could run farther and longer without being so out of breath that I wanted to lay down and die. In fact, I wanted to run more because it made me feel GOOD. The only thing that changed during that time was my own thinking. Self-punishment’s a bitch, and it’s stressful. It makes everything five times harder than it needs to be (that’s only an estimate).

    That’s just my own life example. Everyone’s at different points in their “acceptance speech.” Just because you still feel like you need to lose weight does NOT mean you can’t post on FA blogs. It just means that you can’t post about your diet and weight loss wishes, because the people who maintain those blogs have made those rules. Another thing is, many people in recovery from eating disorders use FA blogs as a lifeline, and diet/weight-loss talk can trigger reactions in them that are NOT helpful to the recovery process. The “no weight loss talk” rules on these blogs help to maintain a safe place for them.

    That’s my $.02 on what I think really is the universal FA question. More like $.10– sorry so long =)

  16. Actually, me becoming interested in FA didn’t make my struggles with post-ED intuitive eating any easier but it certainly turned my boyfriend into a true hardline fat acceptance and HAES activist. I’m hoping it’ll rub off on me, too ;o)

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