Worth Your Weight

February 20, 2008

Weight is not a choice

Filed under: fat acceptance — worthyourweight @ 11:37 pm

This post has been sitting as a draft for a while, but a recent comments discussion at BABble made me decide to dust it off. I can see both sides of this issue. Of course on a personal level, the fat acceptance journey IS a process, but I can see where diet-friendliness at prominent FA blogs could be taken as potentially harmful to the movement. I can see it that way because sometimes I feel that way.

I’m not even trying to shun any blog/blogger or hate on them or shut them up. Far from it. But I’m offering this post as a way of explaining perhaps where the so-called “militant FAers” are coming from. Talking about weight like it’s a choice — by either having gained too much or by being able to lose some to a desired goal — makes the FA struggle harder. Maybe not on an individual level (although it does for me personally), but on a “change the world” level. This is all just my opinion. Of course, other FAers may see the movement succeeding in other ways. For me, the crux of changing people’s minds about fat people is convincing them that weight is not a choice. When FAers themselves believe weight is a choice, changing the status quo beliefs that fat people aren’t lazy gluttons seems practically impossible, IMO. I don’t think subtle nuances are going to work when dealing with the “radical” notion that fat people aren’t fat by choice.

There’s debate about this, but I just wanted to go on record about where I stand. Of course fat people deserve to be treated with basic human dignity, regardless of how they became fat. All people deserve to be treated with respect. However, I don’t think arguing this will ultimately further our cause.

For me, change will happen when we’ve finally convinced the world at large that fat is not a choice. I have heard fat hater after fat hater claim to “excuse” the fat people who became fat through no fault of their own: medication, disease, medical conditions, etc. Where could their hate focus if it turned out all fat people are fat through no fault of their own?

I know some in the movement disagree with the use of the comparison, but my mind returns time and again to the growing acceptance of gay people. While I do think my generation (Gen X) grew up more open-minded and tends to be more tolerant in all sorts of things (maybe because we were raised by baby boomers) — and I feel this was serendipity, in a sense — it seems to me that older folks or more close-minded people have come to be more accepting of gays as the word gets out that sexual orientation isn’t a choice, but a birthright. So I can’t help but believe the same would hold true for the acceptance of fat people.

Do I think gays deserve acceptance, equal rights, and kindness even if they chose to be gay? You bet. Fat people, too. But even though I tend to Pollyanna-ism at times, I don’t see it as realistic that the haters will wake up one day — or be convinced by reason, passion, or compassion — and understand that people are people and all are deserving of basic human rights no matter their “choices/preferences.” Just to be clear, though, being fat or gay or Asian or female is not a choice. It just is.

[Also for the record, since I’ve brought up the GLBT community and this is my blog and I can talk about whatever I want (^_^), I just wanted to say not all Christians are anti-gay or even hate-the-sin-not-the-sinner. I’m Catholic, and I believe that since Jesus was all about love and God made us how we are, whatever way that may be, the sexual/physical expression of any (adult) love — including love between non-heteros — is not a sin. It never could be.]

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34 Comments

  1. I can’t even believe I’m about to wade into this melee.

    JUST MY OPINION.

    1) If you eschew subtle nuance, you are steps away from being a BushAmerikkan and/or those same haters that torment you.

    2) When you say something (in this case, subtle nuance) isn’t going to “work”, I believe the first step is to define “work”. Work to do what? Convince people that some people aren’t lazy? Or pass as many laws as possible outlawing discriminatory treatment of certain classes of people regardless of what people think?

    It seems to me that, as a platform/policy decision, the latter might be more effective than the former.

    3) I also believe in precision. (I believe in it as leverage to shift power, not to convince the prejudiced and unconvinceable. They’re never going to hear you anyway. Don’t try to teach a pig to sing; wastes your time and annoys the pig.)

    How about “Weight is a choice, within a certain range, for certain people, not for everyone”? (Beats hell out of the one-drop rule.)

    Of course, this is coming from someone with relatives that worked for SNCC. (They are no longer with us.) I’ve never believed in-the-opposition’s-face radicalism ever got anyone anything other than hosed or assassinated.

    Comment by littlem — February 21, 2008 @ 12:34 am

  2. I’m really glad you posted this, and I really, really agree.

    Comment by anniemcphee — February 21, 2008 @ 12:36 am

  3. Er – my comment was to the OP. :)

    Comment by anniemcphee — February 21, 2008 @ 12:37 am

  4. littlem,
    I’m going to stick with “weight is not a choice.” I truly believe it’s the only thing that can abate fat hatred. I realize there are other strategies out there, as you outlined in your comment, and more power to you and others who are fighting for them. The original title for this post was “My mission statement as a fat activist.” So “weight is not a choice” will be the standard *I* ride under.

    anniemcphee,
    Thank you :D This is a scary topic to address, and your comment really makes it less scary.

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 21, 2008 @ 1:03 am

  5. I agree with the OP. Having been there done that too many times, I really don’t think one’s weight is a choice. I don’t think of myself as radical, but I do have trouble reconciling how someone can say they accept their body but they still want to lose weight, especially since no one has found a safe, permanent way to do it. If we can’t convince ourselves that our weight is not a choice, we don’t have much chance of convincing the fat haters that it’s not a choice.

    Comment by vesta44 — February 21, 2008 @ 1:16 am

  6. I know it’s a scary topic to address. There are a couple topics I’ve addressed personally that are, believe it or not, even more scary, so I can totally relate. Anyway, you go, girl :)

    Comment by anniemcphee — February 21, 2008 @ 1:18 am

  7. You know what, Vesta – I do accept my body, and yet if there were a magic wand that could make me a hardbody, or a voluptuous body (like the bombshells of old) etc. but *would not change anything else about my life* then I would probably do it. I don’t love the fat just for fat’s sake. I just happen to know it’s not a moral failing, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s not ugly, it’s not a choice – it just is. But yeah, there were things I quite enjoyed about being thin. (And no, I wouldn’t go back to those times for all the money in the world, because life was hell for a million other reasons.) But if waving that wand meant I would have to give up a *single* thing about my life as it is aside from being fat, I’d say hell no. Hell, hell no. And there is no magic wand, nor will there ever be. So I’m going to live my life with gusto to every degree possible without sparing a thought about my fat except to accept it fully, without shame or embarrassment. Hehe, I’m such a BAD fatty. :D

    Comment by anniemcphee — February 21, 2008 @ 1:23 am

  8. Quite right. It is crucial to draw meaningful distinctions in what differentiates fat acceptance. It can’t be all things to all people, and its just not fair to paint that as militant or exclusionary. Fat activists have been treated to this same business for decades, being excluded and shunned for wanting to draw distinctions where there need to be distinctions. Fat as a choice is the foundation of fat hatred and presenting an alternative is crucial to changing attitudes about fat people. We need to present an alternative to encourage others on the journey of fat acceptance.

    Comment by BStu — February 21, 2008 @ 1:30 am

  9. Gotta say, I’m with you: weight is not a choice. I think there are complicating factors and nuances for days (none of which actually matter – to me – in the long run, when it comes to the actual goals of what I consider Fat Acceptance)…but just like there’s shorthand for why fatties are the devil, I think sometimes it’s helpful to embrace similar shorthand and oversimplification in order to make a point. I don’t think that’s always the best approach – but sometimes, I think it is.

    Comment by Tari — February 21, 2008 @ 1:49 am

  10. Don’t know if anyone saw this but I’m digging it: http://red3.blogspot.com/

    Comment by anniemcphee — February 21, 2008 @ 3:04 am

  11. vesta,
    Thank you for always being there. Your blog and comments keep me tethered when I feel about to float away.

    anniemcphee,
    I agree about the magic wand thing. In fact, I’ve been working on a post that’s similar to what you talk about. Also, the Red No. 3 post you linked to? Digging it, too. How do we get to that point? What’s a first step?

    Speaking of Red No. 3 …
    BStu,
    I couldn’t agree more with your statements in your comment. I think you said it better than what I meant in the original post.

    Tari,
    You’re right about the complicating factors and nuances. I’d be a fool to deny them (such as the setpoint weight range can go up/down 20 pounds), but I think we could lose our main argument if we get into the exceptions to the rule (for lack of a better phrase). The idea that fat people didn’t get that way through overeating and under-exercising is so alien and, yes, radical that (again IMO) the “subtle nuances” muddle that driving and important message. So I’m intrigued by your idea that fat positive shorthand could be helpful. While I don’t usually like oversimplification (and didn’t realize that’s what I may’ve done in this post), it is something to think about using to advance our cause.

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 21, 2008 @ 4:24 am

  12. […] My size has been really stable for the past six months, holidays included. It has been said that weight is not a choice, but what about people whose weight creeps up and up as the years go by? Does that internal […]

    Pingback by Questions and Politics. « One Fat Momma — February 21, 2008 @ 5:18 am

  13. MOST people’s weight will ‘creep up’ with age, at least until we hit our 60’s, it s normal & natural & a way of helping us to deal with the stresses of old age, including the fact that old age tends to gradually shrink people a lot. And most people’s weight will vary some from time to time, given hormonal fluctuations, slightly with variations in activity, health problems, or whatever. But body size overall, certainly within a fairly narrow range for each person, is genetic & it is not choice & it is IMPOSSIBLE to make a thin person fat, just is it is virtually impossible, short of long-term systematic starvation, compulsive exercise, & obsession with measuring every damn mouthful, for naturally fat people to get & remain thin, & trying to do so has enormous health ramifications, while the fat in itself really does not. Over & over it has been shown that the health problems ‘associated’ with fat are really caused by the terrible emotional, psychological stress under which fat people live & the extreme emotional, psychological, & physical stress to which most people subject themselves in repeated, often long-life attempts NOT to be fat & especially the belief propagated in this culture & accepted as FACT by a majority of fat people that thin is better than fat, weight loss is always a good thing, & that they are bad & weak-willed if they cannot lose weight & keep it off. So that simple statement “weight is not a choice” certainly works for me.

    Comment by Patsy Nevins — February 21, 2008 @ 7:08 am

  14. I don’t know how you can say the choice is the foundation of fat hatred, what about black people, do you think anyone ever believed that was a choice? Stop trying to rationalise the irrational, the foundation of fat hatred is the choice to hate, it is basically bullying which people decide on, for their own reasons, then justify by whatever hateful things they can grab, they are not even unique, lazy blacks anyone?

    They know very well it’s not a choice, someone once set out to see test try this out, on one of those sites selling much in demand donor eggs, they tried an experiment, they offered (fictional) eggs from a healthy woman that was 280 pounds, no takers!

    I’m beginning to think what will most disable fat hatred is the refusal of any fat person, regardless of their stance on dieting to allow anyone to tell them what to think about their own weight. Look at feminism, they had consciousness-raising, they took hold of their minds and their psyches, they took ownership of themselves body and mind, and at some point people stopped autmoatically accepting they could use women as cyphers, symbols or whatever they demanded they needed women to be, it a woman choice what she wanted to do, the squatters(i.e. the sexists) were in sense thrown out! No when their ‘advice’, tips, demands etc are met with any fat person of any opinion with stony face or even outright contempt and hostility, they will no longer be allowed to feel a sense of ownership over us, as they do now. The obesity crisis is theirs they own it they control it, only when we no longer pretend that we have any say and withdraw all co-operation we can with it will they sit up and listen to us, they will be forced, right now they don’t have to.

    Comment by wriggles — February 21, 2008 @ 8:12 am

  15. It can’t be all things to all people, and its just not fair to paint that as militant or exclusionary

    BStu, I don’t think anyone’s painting an anti-diet stance as militant. I would say that most of us blogging — with only a couple of notable exceptions — agree that weight is not a choice and dieting is harmful. I know I vehemently and publicly disagree with a couple of bloggers I otherwise really love on that point.

    But people get painted as militant and (counterproductively) exclusionary* when they start attacking other activists for not approaching thorny topics exactly the same way they do. It’s not just a matter of drawing distinctions — it’s a matter of being hateful and abusive toward people who fundamentally agree with them. You don’t build a movement by screaming that no one else trying to be in said movement is doing it right, and they all need to listen to you, or they can’t possibly do any good. You don’t build a movement by sitting around hoping other people will fail, so you can smugly say I told you so. That’s how you build a small, lonely, bitter club, not a movement.

    *I qualify “exclusionary” with “counterproductively” here because I think that some amount of exclusion is absolutely necessary. Trolls need to be banned swiftly. People who insist on talking up their diets need to be excluded from the conversation. People who believe that only some fatties deserve rights, and the rest still need to lose weight “for their health” must be sent packing. But when you start excluding people who freakin’ agree with you because you don’t think their approach is bold enough, you cross over into counterproductive territory.

    Comment by kateharding — February 21, 2008 @ 9:23 am

  16. Wriggles:

    A note on the Minnesota Starvation Study: Dr. Keys made a rather noteworthy mention of the impossibility of teaching democracy to the starving. The reason is that, because they are starving they are far less capable of rational thought on any subject. They are focused entirely on food. The symptoms on exhibited included hysteria, and this was “starvation” on a 1600 kcal diet. Now, look at the number of people on a 1600 kcal or less diet. Look at them, and tell me how many of them have a sense of hysteria about their weight. Look at them, and tell me how many of them you think are making a rational determination on anything requiring critical thought, like overturning social norms. Tell me if you truly believe, looking at these tortured souls, if they know the difference between the genetic components of their weight and the choice.

    So far as I can tell, most dieters think changing their genetically provided body is as easy as changing their genetically provided hair; all they have to do is pour the “correct” amount of time and effort into it and they can go from brunette and pudgy to blond and sleek. And they’re so busy worrying about food, they don’t have time to think about why it isn’t working, they only panic that they must be doing something wrong.

    People are afraid of making their kids fat because they don’t want them to go through what they went through, or what they put others through, depending on which side they were on, not because they don’t believe is can’t be overcome.

    Comment by bookwyrm — February 21, 2008 @ 9:34 am

  17. Hi all! I’m rather new to the whole FA thing, so forgive me if I stick my foot in my mouth here. Anyway, here goes: my biggest concern with the idea of pushing “weight is not a choice,” no matter how true it certainly is for the vast majority of people at ALL weights, is that it still feels, to me, like a bit of a tacit apology for being fat. Like “Look, I know I’m fat, and I know it’s totally gross, but I really can’t help it – my weight isn’t my choice, so please stop treating me like shit.” Don’t get me wrong, I know that’s not how you mean it, but in my experience, those fat haters who “excuse” fat people they believe to be fat through no fault of their own don’t really treat even those fat people with full levels of dignity and respect, they only dial back their disgust and fatty hatred a few degrees. I guess my point is similar to wriggles’: fat-haters are irrational and, like rascists and misogynists, they couldn’t care less if the subject of their hatred chose to be different or not. The best way to beat them (in my opinion only, of course) is to refuse to accept that they have any authority over our bodies, any right to say what we should or shouldn’t weigh, and tell them so as bluntly and forcefully as possible. Instead of “weight is not a choice,” how about “MY weight is not YOUR choice.”

    Comment by saintpikachu — February 21, 2008 @ 9:39 am

  18. Great post, and I love the “weight is not a choice” framing. Some people (e.g., the scientists doing the research) may know that weight is not a choice, and others (e.g., the people refusing to take the mythical overweight woman’s donor egg mentioned by wriggles) may suspect genes may have *something* go do with it. But the majority of people out there seem to believe that you get fat only by sitting on your couch stuffing your face all day (hence the baby donuts jokes).

    In our society today, where personal responsibility is among the highest virtues, writing something off as a choice releases others from the need to take responsibility for it – even if that responsibility is simply the need to be polite. At the same time, I think it offers some people a sense of moral superiority. It’s sad, but it seems to be true. If someone is fat or gay by choice they can write them off, but if they can’t help it then they actually have to be nice to them, and perhaps change themselves, broadening their horizons to learn to accept fat or gay people as OK. It takes effort. I think this is why people respond to the issue of choice.

    Secondly, as much as I (a mushy-mouthed liberal – just look at my long-winded posts and comments! ;) ) prefer complexity, study after study have found that people (especially conservatives) respond best to soundbites. I would much prefer to say something along the lines of “yes, weight is a choice for some, but not for all, and it doesn’t matter anyway because everyone should be equally respected as they are”. But the fact is, that’s not going to get across to people. “Weight is not a choice” is simple, concise, and strong – it’s got my vote.

    Comment by kira — February 21, 2008 @ 10:03 am

  19. I completely understand the need for the fat acceptance movement to present a unified front of the issue of if fat is a choice or not. Concessions are a slippery slope. It’s very difficult to combat a commonly accepted and upheld stereotype when you qualify even a modicum of the opposing argument.

    However, I don’t believe that ignoring the “exceptions” to the rule is to our credit. By oversimplifying the debate and promoting an overarching message that ignores and overlooks the exceptions, we risk losing any sense of legitimacy and credence we have gained and we will never be taken seriously by an establishment and culture who sees only these exceptions. I liken it to the creationism vs. evolution debate. Creationism ignores or dismisses the very real evidence of evolution, and thus is not and will never be taken seriously by any non-religious academic institution. By sticking our fingers in our ears and yelling “Lalalalala,” aren’t we, in fact, doing the exact same thing the anti-obesity establishment does?

    I believe weight is, to a degree, a matter of choice. What I don’t believe is malleable is our genetic predisposition to weight gain. I believe it is entirely possible to eat yourself far above your natural set point weight range, whether that range be naturally thin or naturally fat, just as it is entirely possible to starve yourself far below your natural set point range. Different nutrients – fats, carbohydrates, calories, etc… – affect each of us differently; our bodies are each genetically relative in the ways they respond to these nutrients. Yes, studies have shown fat people eat no differently than thin people, but as a culture, we eat horrible, processed foods (or what Michael Pollan calls “non-edible, food-like substances”). These dietary choices will result in weight gain for some, and little to none for others. In these cases, while we cannot choose how our body will respond to food, we do have a choice in the foods we choose to consume.

    This is not to say that all fat people eat horribly and/or overeat nor is it to say that fat people who eat a healthy diet will become thin. I eat a very healthy diet and I’m still fat – but I am not as fat as I was when I ate a very poor diet. We need to continually emphasize this point and promote studies that reflect the genetic factors regulating weight gain. But for me, the crucial and foundational element of fat acceptance lies not explaining the why of fatness, but in combating weight-based discrimination, period. Full-stop. When we mire ourselves and our efforts in promoting the concept of the “good fattie,” we not only risk alienating ourselves from fat people who, admittedly, are “bad fatties,” we also deflect from the foundational goal of fat acceptance, which is to fight for equal rights for all fat people, regardless of what they weigh or why they are fat. By rallying around the myopic cry that all fatness is a genetic edict, aren’t we only reinforcing the pervasive stigma of gluttony and sloth? And because these stereotypes will always be associated with fatness, I wonder if we succeed, if unconsciously, in aiding the “enemy,” so to speak.

    Why are we fat? Why should it matter?

    Comment by Rachel — February 21, 2008 @ 10:23 am

  20. Why we are fat matters because it matters to the people who condemn us for being fat. Whether fat is a choice shouldn’t matter in an ideal world, but this isn’t an ideal world. And this form of bigotry is defended with the notion that we have chosen a lifestyle of fatness and with the proper coersion we can become not-fat.

    The truth is, we haven’t chosen to be fat. “Good” fatties and “bad” fatties alike. Sure, some fat people overeat, so do some thin people. Even in that instance, it is wrong to apply a notion of “choice” to the situation. It shouldn’t matter if fat is a choice, but it does. And since weight is not a choice, it would be foolish not to confront fat bigotry on those terms.

    Comment by BStu — February 21, 2008 @ 2:02 pm

  21. Ok, one more thing and I’ll shut up, promise. Say you’re in a debate with fatophobe and you say “weight is not a choice” – what is their next line of defense going to be? My guess is that it’s going to be that they trot out every popular diet “success” story they can think of, putting you back on the defensive to explain that, ok, some people CAN lose some amount of weight (often at great cost to their health/sanity), at least temporarily, but the majority of people can’t or don’t maintain that weight loss. What I mean is, if you do go for FA under a banner of “weight is not a choice,” you’ll be forced to discuss those exceptions to that rule anyway, and perhaps in a manner that makes your argument seem weak or backtracking, and thus doesn’t do much good in the long run. And for me, saying “weight is not a choice” gives validity to the idea that you have an obligation to explain or justify your weight to others, and I think that’s ultimately useless.

    Comment by saintpikachu — February 21, 2008 @ 5:03 pm

  22. I want to thank everyone for your comments. Whether we agree or not, you all help to inform my perspective.

    One Fat Momma,
    Gaining weight as we age is natural (therefore not a choice) and protective.

    Patsy,
    Preach, sister :)

    wriggles,
    The issue of choice does affect discrimination against black people, although it may be in a perversely positive way: racists sometimes temper their bigotry precisely because being black is not a choice.

    There is a reason for the repetition of the accusation of laziness towards blacks and fats. Fat bigotry is often nothing more than disguised racism/classism.

    I agree 250 percent that turning the tide starts with us, the fat people. But I see “weight is not a choice” as the main step for empowering us to do so. Well, in any case, that’s how it’s worked for me. I wasn’t able to begin to accept myself and overcome society’s shaming until I learned that I eat in amounts and for reasons no different from anyone else — including thin people. Ditto on exercise.

    Kate,
    You make great points (as usual). What can we do to integrate the two (or more) sides? I don’t want another 30 years to go by with FA being a fringe movement. Are we shooting ourselves in the foot by splitting into factions? By trying to incorporate every viewpoint? Why did I never even hear of fat acceptance until 2004? Why didn’t I learn of its basic tenets until last year?

    My stance that seems to be viewed as “militant” is not for the sake of disagreeing. It’s only because I’m trying to logically fit the pieces of the FA puzzle together. I want it to make sense to me and others. If an FAer wants to diet but qualifies that by saying she’ll still be fat at her goal weight, WTH am I supposed to do with that? How does that not undermine the movement? Either diets don’t work, or they’re useful to some people. The way I think, if they’re useful to *some* then it’s no different from the stuff we hear from the diet/pharma complex on an hourly basis.

    saintpikachu,
    You raise a good point. You’re right. The fat haters who “forgive” no-fault fatties don’t really treat them any better than other fatties. Hell, they don’t usually bother to find out the cause of someone’s fat before heaping abuse upon the fat person. But, the people who don’t necessarily hate fat but are well-indoctrinated on the calories in/calories out, blame failure on the dieter? If they found out weight is not a choice but merely a physical characteristic? They could help bring about an environment where abusing fat people is not tolerated.

    kira,
    Once again, a comment that said it better than what I was trying to mean in my original post. THANK YOU.

    Rachel,
    I’m going a bit off-topic here, but I’ve always seen a way to reconcile creationism and evolution: Adam and Eve were amino acids ;)

    I see your point, and it is a good one. Just again in my opinion, I don’t think it’s practical. Look at your own recent appearance on the Mike and Juliet Show. You made such great points about fat acceptance. But look at how they treated your weight loss via anorexia. Like it was miraculous. That mind set is what we have to break through here.

    If it’s possible to eat onself far above one’s natural setpoint range, doesn’t that debunk the whole theory of setpoint, i.e. a narrow weight range your body fights to protect? We know we can reset the setpoint higher through starvation. Do you believe we can reset it lower? If so, I’d be interested in the resources that helped you come to that conclusion. (Honestly interested. If there will ever be such a thing as safe, permanent, non-disordered weight loss, I believe it will involve resetting the setpoint lower.)

    I have never thought “good fatty” versus “bad fatty” will get us anywhere. It’s one reason why I so strongly believe in “weight is not a choice.” Then we’re just fatties, period. Like tall people or red-haired people.

    “By rallying around the myopic cry that all fatness is a genetic edict”
    I sort of take issue with “myopic” there. That seems to imply ignorantly ignoring other issues. I don’t feel ignorant of viewpoints that differ with my own. I just don’t believe that ultimately they will aid the progress of FA. And this is after careful consideration of all the players and factors: myself, other FA bloggers, other FA activists, fatophobes, fat haters, and a weight-obsessed culture.

    Why are we fat? Why does it matter? It shouldn’t, but it DOES. Look at the recent post at First Do No Harm. The woman who was treated respectfully by her doctor only after the doc discovered the woman’s weight gain was not her fault. Do you think that doc is going to have her mind changed about fat people through anything less than “weight is not a choice”? Do you think that doctor is an anomaly?

    BStu,
    Another great comment, but of course, right? Because we see eye-to-eye. Fat people overeat and so do thin people. Learning that was a watershed for me. Funny how no one thinks that overeating causes thinness, huh?

    saintpikachu,
    Feel free to comment as often as you wish. My take is that we’d have to confront diet “success” stories no matter what. I believe they strengthen the “weight is not a choice” argument because they demonstrate it takes an unnatural effort (often if not always through eating disordered type behaviors) to get more than 20 pounds below one’s natural weight. And even getting to the lowest of one’s setpoint is said to require a Herculean discipline.

    Of course “anyone can lose weight” — through starvation. As someone said at Shapely Prose (IIRC), anyone can lose weight through cutting off a limb, too.

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 21, 2008 @ 7:35 pm

  23. When we try to take on the Why Of Fat, we either attempting to justify our existence or fight against the apologia of the discrimination.

    Either way, it doesn’t strike me as productive. I think the Why makes for interesting conversation, but as far as fat rights are concerned? It’s irrelevant.

    Comment by Lindsay — February 22, 2008 @ 10:57 am

  24. I can see where you’re coming from, Lindsay, but I don’t think I was clear. There is no Why of Fat. That’s the point. “Weight is not a choice” is nothing but shorthand for fat is nothing more or less than a physical characteristic. Obviously I think it’s productive and relevant and the key to fat rights because in this culture we just don’t discriminate against people for who they *are*. We discriminate against people for what they do. Fat as a state of being versus a consequence of lifestyle isn’t something that would be discriminated against, if the word ever gets out there and accepted.

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 22, 2008 @ 4:56 pm

  25. So the question then becomes whether people are discriminated against for Who they are or What they are. In other rights movements such as gender and race, it is certainly a What – not a Who. In the GLBT rights movement, it’s been up for debate for decades.

    To say that fat is a physical characteristic is to say that it is part of the What, which implies that there is little to no choice.

    To say that fat is more than a physical characteristic is to say that it is part of the Who – which implies that it is a personality trait, which further implies that it is more likely to be a choice.

    If someone discriminates against fat people because they think it is not a choice, they are against the What. This is fairly cut and dried. This is the sort who hates all fat people.

    If someone discriminates against fat people because they think it is a choice, they are against the Who. This is not simple at all. Here it breaks down into good-fat-person and bad-fat-person. In order to determine which is which, they would either have to know people on an individual level (in which case it is not discrimination, but becomes more a matter of individual interpersonal preference), or they are assuming they can know – something which is often based on extremely circumstantial evidence. Therefore, they think it is even possible to differentiate at a difference who the good-fat-people are and who the bad-fat-people are.

    This latter sort of person often believes that the “good” fat person is a minority, because surely, if all fat people really did eat well and get regular exercise, their logic would dictate that they wouldn’t be fat. Therefore, the discrimination of fat-as-choice really boils down to people fooling themselves into thinking that they’re NOT discriminating against all fat people.

    Therefore, when it comes to finding out if fat is Choice or Not-Choice, the Why of Fat is irrelevant – because the discrimination is still happening, except one form of it is entirely more insidious than the other. Hell, at least the people who hate the What aren’t trying to fool themselves (or anyone else) about it.

    This is not to say that i think we should entirely abandon the discussion of Why – i simply think that when we are discussing the topic of “it is wrong to discriminate against fat people”, it shouldn’t really be a part of the conversation. If nothing else, it shouldn’t be used as the basis for any anti-fat-discrimination argument – no matter what we say, there’ll always be some form of apologia from the people who are determined to remain unconvinced that we are allowed our rights as fat people.

    (I hope that makes sense outside of my head; given that i’m running a fever, it’s just as likely to be complete gibberish. Ooh, pretty colors…)

    Comment by Lindsay — February 22, 2008 @ 5:31 pm

  26. Whoops. “differentiate at a difference” should be “differentiate at a distance“.

    Comment by Lindsay — February 22, 2008 @ 5:32 pm

  27. “So the question then becomes whether people are discriminated against for Who they are or What they are.”

    I always thought Who and What were the same thing essentially. WRT FA, I see the question as whether people are discriminated against for Why they are versus Who/What they are.

    “If someone discriminates against fat people because they think it is not a choice, they are against the What. This is fairly cut and dried. This is the sort who hates all fat people.”

    I don’t know of anybody who discriminates against fat people while believing fat is not a choice. At the very least, they believe it is a choice for *most*. Fat by itself is not what’s abhorred. What’s hated is what it (unjustly) represents: laziness, gluttony, an inability or refusal to conform to societal norms.

    “Therefore, when it comes to finding out if fat is Choice or Not-Choice, the Why of Fat is irrelevant – because the discrimination is still happening, except one form of it is entirely more insidious than the other. Hell, at least the people who hate the What aren’t trying to fool themselves (or anyone else) about it.”

    But there is no Why of Fat. That would be like why do some people have blue eyes and some don’t. It’s irrelevant not because the discrimination is still happening. (The discrimination is still happening because no one outside of the Fatosphere believes fat is anything but a choice.) It’s irrelevant because the Why doesn’t exist. Yet the misconception that there *is* a Why of Fat is the reason discrimination is encouraged and tolerated. (Remember that Critser guy? He believes the “obesity epidemic” is running rampant because we aren’t shaming fat people enough.)

    Well, I’m probably going on ad nauseam at this stage, but for me, the Why of Fat must be part of the “fat discrimination is wrong” argument precisely because there is no Why. People justify their hatred by fooling themselves that the plague of fat was brought upon those who deserved it, sort of like that old chestnut, “People choose to be poor.” Sure, there are those who believe that. Doesn’t make it true, but believing that absolves the bigot from having to treat the poor with even a modicum of respect. Furthermore, it absolves them of any responsibility to influence how the poor are treated in a larger context.

    Sorry to hear about your fever. I do get what you’re saying. I just hating sounding stubborn when I say I disagree with it.

    If you feel up to it, what do you credit with bringing about more tolerance of gays?

    Did you see what Emily wrote at First Do No Harm? (http://fathealth.wordpress.com/2008/02/18/diagnosis-shut-your-mouth-once-in-a-while) Say that doctor became accepting of fat people in five years’ time. How do you see her getting there?

    (I’m not pop quizzing you ;) I do want to understand your argument. The reason I ask those questions is because those are examples of situations that made me come to the conclusion that FA success hinges on the idea that fat is not a choice, not a lifestyle consequence, but a physical trait.)

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 22, 2008 @ 7:42 pm

  28. Good questions and points, definitely not ignoring them. I’m going to come back to it in a day or two when i’m not spiking a fever every other hour. Sorry for the delay in response. :P

    (And honestly? Some of what i said doesn’t appear to hold water with the points you raised, so i’m gonna ponder it further and see if it’s bunk after all. lol. I blame the fever.)

    Comment by Lindsay — February 22, 2008 @ 11:16 pm

  29. I’ve no doubt many fat bigots will press on anyway if “fat is not a choice” gains ground. Homophobes haven’t given up the fight even as many relent that sexuality has a biological component. Here’s the thing, though, they only get to that point if we have their back up against the wall already. Forcing them to grasp at straws is part of the process of counteracting fat hatred.

    There could be a danger of turning this into a good fatty vs bad fatty debate. I’d readily grant that this is precisely what fat-phobes will want to do, but I don’t think its the natural progression of the argument, either. Its reason for fat acceptance to take the lead in discussing the ways fat is not a choice. So that this nuance is addressed. I don’t really think there is such a thing as a “bad” fatty. I think fat people have been trained to feel hyper critical about their eating and activity and most who feel “bad” simply aren’t. They are simply the products of a culture which wants to keep them in a self-hating place. Fat people should be encouraged not just to reclaim the joy of movement, but also of eating. We should enjoy our bodies both ways rather than looking at one as a punishment and the other as a sin.

    Fat acceptance can take the lead in discussing these issues. We cannot abstain, because the origins of fatness are going to keep being discussed without us. The “why’s” of fat is already a topic of relevance to the community and we need to weigh in and a substantive manner. Not by taking an unnecessary “high road” and insisting that it shouldn’t matter. It shouldn’t, but it does. And its a fight we can win, so why duck it? Fat isn’t a lifestyle choice. Even for the fat people who insist that it is. There remains no proof that fat people eat any more on average than thin people. Forcing fat haters to confront this reveals the convoluted nature of their attacks. They’ll pivot, sure, but doing so just releases an increasing string of justifications and qualifications. We need people to see this. To see what their argument really is. To see how flimsy it is, how it needs to constantly reinvent itself to claim relevance.

    To fight for fat rights, we need to fight against those who would deny us those rights. We don’t have the luxury of trying to rise above it. Nor do we have much to fear from responding on these grounds. There is a blueprint in the gay rights movement. Their emphasis on the “born gay” message played out as an effort to justify themselves to their attacks. Its been rather an refutation. Its not allowing hatred to set the rules, but re-writing their rules. It hasn’t resulted in gays only being accepted if they are biologically gay. Its resulted in gays being more accepted. There were the same fears in the gay community, but they have not been realized and I see no reason to think fat acceptance cannot achieve the same. The risks of this message are small and can be managed as long as FA leads the discussion of it.

    “Weight is not a choice” most threatens those who want to think they can choose not to be fat. That’s a good thing. That is an attitude which needs to be challenged and confronted and exposed. As Joy Nash said in her video, if something works 5% of the time, it doesn’t work. That is the “choice” fat people have and its an illusion. It mustn’t be militant or extreme to advance that position when its the foundation not only of external hatred towards fat people but internal hatred among fat people themselves. We need to address this. Doing so will strengthen and expand the FA community and more importantly will genuinely help people laboring under society’s delusion that if they just put their mind to it, they could fit in. It would be a tragedy to let those people down. It would be a tragedy to allow self-hatred to flourish because those who hold onto it are resistant to change.

    Comment by BStu — February 23, 2008 @ 2:05 am

  30. Lindsay,
    Hope you feel better soon, and if you still feel like commenting then I look forward to it :)

    BStu,
    “Fat people should be encouraged not just to reclaim the joy of movement, but also of eating. We should enjoy our bodies both ways rather than looking at one as a punishment and the other as a sin.”

    Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Another key component to the success of FA: enlisting fat people in our own empowerment rather than our own subjugation and enlisting our own bodies to help us along our journey.

    “It hasn’t resulted in gays only being accepted if they are biologically gay. Its resulted in gays being more accepted.”

    And I think that creating an environment where it’s considered gauche and uneducated and uncompassionate to discriminate against gays (and fat people) — even if at first people still did so in private — eventually led (or will lead) to children and grandchildren of homophobes (and fatophobes/fat-haters) who *genuinely know* it’s wrong to discriminate against gays (and fats), not only just that it’s viewed as wrong in polite society.

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 23, 2008 @ 4:16 am

  31. I always thought Who and What were the same thing essentially

    They are different parts of the same whole. On a philosophical level, i believe they are entirely different things.

    I don’t know of anybody who discriminates against fat people while believing fat is not a choice.

    Yeah, that was the big gaping hole in my logic – i was so out of it and wrapped up in the feverish (literal and figurative) “ZOMG AM I ON TO SOMETHING HERE?” feeling that this very simple point just kinda flew way over my head. lol. Turns out that no, i’m probably not. *shrug*

    I’m not pop quizzing you ;) I do want to understand your argument.

    Oh, i don’t mind at all, either way. Looking at it now, you’ve raised some really good points. I still not sure how i feel about some of them, but i recognize that some of the points i made just don’t hold water. I’m aight with that. Heh.

    Comment by Lindsay — February 23, 2008 @ 3:04 pm

  32. I think the set point can be moved through exercise. It is one of the factors in the ‘success stories’. I know from my own experience that when I exercised more I weighed less. Granted, I’m not ‘obese’, just ‘overweight.’

    Fat acceptance is not only for the size 16 and up. It’s also for people like me that have been called fat for a large portion of their lives. I can stay ‘thin’ with exercise and I have for many years. I’m trying to get back to that weight. I didn’t watch calories for awhile and I didn’t gain as long as I exercised.

    What is extreme exercise? I think extreme exercise is exercise that the person hates, but does anyway. If I find that I need to exercise two hours a day to maintain my weight and I enjoy the exercise, then it isn’t extreme.

    What is an extreme diet or exercise plan has to be defined by the individual. To exercise and watch one’s intake of food, one needs to accept themselves. Self-hate gets in the way of HAES. I don’t think there are bad or good ‘fatties’. If diet or exercise isn’t part of your life, that is an individual decision.

    I think weight loss is possible for people that have only a small amount to lose (less than 30 pounds). Many people that are mildly overweight feel that the effort to keep the few pounds off aren’t worth the effort and that is their choice. Weight shouldn’t be a scarlet letter.

    It doesn’t matter if weight is a choice or not. No one should be discriminated against because of it. I think you can be on a diet and be part of FA movement. They shouldn’t be mutual exclusive.

    Comment by lillian64 — February 23, 2008 @ 7:07 pm

  33. “I think you can be on a diet and be part of FA movement. They shouldn’t be mutual exclusive.”

    I couldn’t disagree more vehemently.

    Comment by worthyourweight — February 23, 2008 @ 8:07 pm

  34. They ARE mutually exclusive, though. This is what fat acceptance is. This is what differentiates it from happy smiley diet companies that insist they don’t want to encourage bias against fat people while they encourage bias against fat people.

    Dieting is not fat acceptance. It will never be fat acceptance. To say that they shouldn’t be mutually exclusive sounds like a call for inclusiveness, but its not. Its trying to force FA into a false and one-sided coalition. Rather than being inclusive, what it does is be reductive, tearing apart fat acceptance into something more palatable for people who cannot accept fat. Well, the purpose of fat acceptance isn’t to be palatable to those people. It is to challenge them to think differently. That’s why fat acceptance must distinguish itself, must differentiate itself.

    Weight loss isn’t a choice for virtually everyone. Pretending that it is does no one any good. I understand why dieters want to think they can lose weight, but it is not the responsibility of FA to encourage a failed system. Doing so only excludes actual fat acceptance from fat acceptance. You want something that shouldn’t be mutually exclusive from fat acceptance, start there. Fat acceptance shouldn’t be mutually exclusive from fat acceptance. That’s where it should all start.

    No one has to agree with FA. But redefining it to exclude what FA has always stood for is something that needs to be resisted because ulitmately its an act of common disrespect and there is nothing remotely militant or extremist about wanting FA to stand for something.

    Comment by BStu — February 24, 2008 @ 3:27 pm


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