not in Primary anymore

respect is just the minimum: body positivism & fat acceptance

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I was sitting in the Otolaryngologist’s office, when he asked “So, do you exercise?”. It was a strange question, but I realized he was asking because of my appearance. You see, I’m fat. I am 5’4”, and weight 180 lbs. The reason why it was so surprising coming from him was because I’d delivered every test result he’d asked for (cholesterol, blood pressure, and every blood analysis possible) and the results had come out just fine; everything except for some weird strep that seemed to be having a party on my tonsils.

I mentioned to him that I was not actually getting much done in terms of exercising, and he immediately put me on a diet. No processed anything, only fish and chicken, fruit and vegetables (only steamed if they were to be cooked), along with a set of recommendations- because even though my cholesterol levels and blood work were fine, I had to be careful to prevent any future disease. I left his office a little disconcerted, and uncomfortable- because I realized that he definitely wasn’t attributing my current problem to my weight…but I should loose some, just in case.

The argument can be made that fat people are more prone to certain types of sickness but the way we currently measure whether a person is obese is significantly flawed. Not only that, but there are multiple factors that go into a disease aside from weight that greatly influence someone’s health such as genetics, economic status, current residence, etc.

Body positivism and feminism share many goals in common- for the purpose of this entry though, I’m going to focus on the Fat Positive/Fat Activist aspect of the Body Positivist movement, because even though thin people can and do suffer uncomfortable and rude incidents, they do not actually suffer discrimination because of their body size.

Simply stated, fat activism focuses on acceptance and equality amongst folks who are fat. Studies have found that fat people earn less, and fat women earn considerably less than their standard weight companions. Not only is that but amongst women CEOs fat is almost unacceptable (while it is much more easily forgiven of their male counterparts) .  Fat women pay more for clothing, and are more likely to be shamed publicly for eating, grocery shopping or other activities like flying or riding amusement park rides. Fat women are also fetishized and harassed because of their weight.

In Mormondom we also have the additional pressure of the good old Word of Wisdom. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it quoted in a fat shaming light, which if you do, please stop. The Word of Wisdom exists to help us be healthy- not skinny.  Some people are never going to be thin. Some people may even go to spinning classes 5 times a week, and eat in a healthy manner and still be fat. And it’s okay.

Being fat is not bad. Being skinny is not bad. Judging a person and making assumptions because of their body is. Just like gendered assumptions are wrong (Women are more nurturing!  Men are dogs who can’t control themselves!) so are size assumptions. A person’s health is sometimes visible, but more often than not there are issues that are not noticeable until mentioned.

Fat phobia and fat shaming for women is also heavily influenced and affected by the sexist standards currently in place. While it is somewhat easier for a fat man to find clothing in his size and even stores that cater especially to him (“Big & Tall” anyone?) there are no such stores for women. Additionally, women are shamed into thin-ness by a beauty standard set to please men- you must be a certain waist size, a certain weight, and look a certain way to be considered attractive, or you will be bullied and objectified.

This feeds into the patriarchal idea that a woman’s purpose is to be desirable to all men which is often by the thinsplanning explanations on how a fat person is an actual health risk (again, those magical Doctors that appear out of nowhere!), and comments like “You have such a pretty face!” and “You’ll be more attractive if you lose some weight”.

Now, you might be asking yourself- are you a part of the problem? Possibly. If in doubt, ask yourself this: Would you be phrasing the comment the same way if you were speaking to a thin person? Would you be comfortable preaching to a smoker you just met the dangers of nicotine? Would you police somebody’s sleep schedule?

Just some food for thought.

For more examples of thin privilege click here.
For something to listen to while you read this again, click here.

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19 Responses to “respect is just the minimum: body positivism & fat acceptance”

  1. nicole7867

    I absolutely agree with all you said about sexism and judgement. It’s a cultural problem that we need to actively fix.

    However, despite the obvious issues with the BMI, your individual body still has a limit of healthy weight. Given that this is young Mormon feminists, I’m assuming your relatively young which means that while your cholesterol and blood pressure are fine now, they won’t be in twenty or thirty years.

    In church when we talk about the word of wisdom, I feel like we don’t emphasize eating healthy enough. I’m not talking about slamming people who are overweight. I don’t like how I’ve only ever been taught that if I don’t drink alcohol or coffee, I’m keeping the word of wisdom. Those same people turn to investigators or people of other faiths and say the word of wisdom is a health code. The health code part, eating meat sparingly etc., is barely mentioned in lessons and rarely considered when people are answering the temple recommend question.

    When I moved from Utah (where I was raised) to New York to go to college, all my new friends commented on what I ate, telling me I was going to die early. In Utah, I felt like if I was relatively thin, it didn’t matter what I ate. But all these East Coasters looked at me like I was crazy. I even had friends who were a little overweight who told me I was unhealthy.

    Our society has major problems, but I don’t think we should dismiss the concept of being healthy just to emphasize them.

    Reply
    • tadeina

      Also, for those of you who are concerned about the health aspects–I encourage you to read up on Health At Every Size, often HAES. Here’s a quote from and link to a large scientific study which compared HAES with the best, well supported, sensible-advice “weight loss” treatment medicine had to offer:

      “Randomized controlled clinical trials indicate that a HAES approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g., blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g., eating and activity habits, dietary quality), and psychosocial outcomes (such as self-esteem and body image), and that HAES achieves these health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatment and without the contraindications associated with a weight focus” http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21261939
      And a fact sheet on HAES: http://www.nedic.ca/documents/HealthAtEverySize.pdf

      It is true that high weight correlates with musculo-skeletal issues, diabetes, and sleep apnea even when the fat person has good eating habits and good cardio-vascular health. However, it’s very important to remember that health is neither a moral virtue nor a purely physical characteristic.

      Additionally, almost no one keeps a significant amount of weight off in the long term. There are lots of ways of loosing weight that work. None of them keep more than 10 pounds off, for more than two years, for more than 10% of participants. That means that dieting and exercise, as a treatment for obesity, have a 90% failure rate. Let me point that out again: they have a 90% failure rate. This is the real argument for HAES. If you find yourself in a state of being fat, and caring about your health, what’s the reasonable thing to do about it?

      Well–

      So that comes out to: eat right and exercise, avoid cigarettes and alcohol, and make sure you sleep well and manage your stress. Because those things are good for you even if you never loose any weight. . . which you probably won’t. But there’s good news–great news, really–fat people who take care of their health are healthier than thin people who don’t. (http://www.bigfatblog.com/study-fat-people-benefit-most-healthy-habits) And using weight loss as a carrot for those efforts is only setting yourself up to fail at improving your health in ways you can sustain for a lifetime.

      Reply
    • agnespenny

      You’re equating weight and health. I weight 260 pounds, am pushing thirty, and I have normal cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s true we should eat healthy, but as the author is pointing out, you cannot make any assumptions of how someone eats or exercises based on the size of that person.

      Reply
      • nicole7867

        I’m not equating weight and health; the author began her article with health. If she wouldn’t have mentioned it, I wouldn’t have said anything. The reality is that weight is a part of heath. The author might be healthy, but her evidence is not strong enough to make that claim.
        Also, in the Mormon world 30 may seem old, but its really not.

      • Asya

        you should not try to lose whegit through laxatives. You should balance ur income of calories food with ur spending activity.I have lost 50 pounds in the past 8 months this how. I eat three meals daily , before each meal , I eat very large amounts 3 to 4 pounds of veggies fruits. When I set for the real meal afterwards , I cannot each much.Of course , I also avoid fats sugary stuff.and I limit my carbohydrates intake. The key for success , fill up on veggies fruits.

  2. Yikes32

    I come from a family where everyone is overweight and mean everyone including aunts, uncles,grandparents, great grandparents and most are not just overweight but considered to be “gross obese” … I state this because growing up I saw the behavior from people not of my family, but from friends coworkers acquaintances and how theytreated someone who was “fat” and someone who wasn’t and there is definitely a problem with body shaming and the way we, as a society, treat people who are overweight. Having my own battles with weight has been enlightening as well and I always feel hurt when there is a stark contrast on how people treat me/ behave towards me when I was overweight to when I am thin. And there is much truth in the fact that I’m treated better as a thin person by both female and males alike. Although when both thin and fat I have been addressed by people I don’t know very well about my weight… And assumptions are made… In fact just recently a patient of mine assumed something about me and my whole family because of my recent weightloss and it was completely out of the blue and frankly just seemed odd that someone so unfamiliar felt that they could speak to me that way.
    That being said I think education or the lack there of plays a role on both sides of the spectrum.
    And as someone who is a health professional I feel like these questions should be asked by them because its in your best interest and their interest as someone who cares for your health. Sadly I wish good test results were the only indicator of health but there are a lot of studies out there that relate obesity to many future problems and current underlying problems not seen on test results. And unfortunately I have been in the boat of eating right and exercising daily and still overweight and the frustration of that and good rest results make it seem that I was just supposed to be fat but that’s not it there is something there that is keeping one from losing weight and the key is to figure it out so one can be at their best state of health. often times it means going back to basics . Do you eat right? do you exercise ? If not lets start there- work on that and see what happens. If yes, then we need to dig further maybe it’s a hormone imbalance, maybe it’s related to inflammation from a food sensitivity, maybe it’s a digestive issue…. Idk but I would hope that they would have a persons best interest in mind and not stop searching to help one be at their best state of health. I agree though health professionals need to be more tactful and they need to be better listeners . They often don’t listen and make assumptions which causes distrust between the patient and the healthcare provider.
    We need stop judging people based on their weight and treating them differently whether thin or fat. And we should be sensitive to their feelings and better listeners.
    I also realized that I need to be understanding as well .as someone who has been on both sides I don’t like being shamed for being thin nor do I like being shamed for being fat.

    Reply
  3. tophat8855

    My favorite is reading posts on being body positive and then reading the comments at the bottom which still comment that being overweight = unhealthy. Hahaha!

    Reply
    • agnespenny

      Seriously! It definitely shows how pervasive that idea is in our culture. One person thoughtfully writes an article, cites sources, and makes a very good argument and then a hundred people start screaming about how the fats are all gonna die and won’t you think of the children.

      Reply
      • Sara

        If you write an opinion article, you can’t be surprised if there are people out there that disagree with you. There is also plenty of contradictory evidence linking obesity to health problems

  4. Nouner

    So what you’re saying is that you don’t like the fact that your doctor informed you that you are overweight? Is there someone else whose job it is to tell you that you need to make lifestyle changes?

    It’s correct that BMI is a flawed measure. It’s also correct that it doesn’t work for very fit, strong, athletic people. But since you give no indication whatsoever that any of those things describe you, the fact remains that you are overweight. Naturally, if you were a weightlifter or a shot-putter or a football player, the number BMI gives will be wildly off. Since you aren’t, yes, I hate to say, it is a useful indicator of obesity. I read everything you linked and found it unconvincing. It seems to me like this whole ‘fat acceptance” thing is essentially “It’s really hard to lose weight, therefore I must be just fine the way I am”. No, You’re not. I know a lady in her early 60’s with normal test results, no diabetes, good cholesterol, ok blood pressure, who is more or less disabled as a result of her weight. She hurts all the time and can barely walk 50 feet- she weighs roughly 500 pounds by my guess. She hasn’t been in in the basement of her house for a year; she can’t walk down the stairs.

    The fact that a large portion of the US population is massively overweight doesn’t mean that that is ok or “just fine”. That it’s hard to lose weight and increase fitness in a calorically ultra-saturated environment does not mean that it’s not harmful to the body to be too fat. Source: http://lmgtfy.com/?q=obesity+and+heart+disease

    That said, I disapprove of other people (non-doctors) judging others based on their physical appearance. I also looked at the gallery of people on the site that tadeina linked and you know what? The majority of them (not all)are fat. Being fat is not a social construct. It used to be less common, but modern foods and food preparation techniques have made being fat more common. You can walk into a Wal-Mart and see people who in the late 1800’s would have been circus sideshows for being so fat.

    I know that losing weight and increasing fitness is very difficult. But pretending like you’re ok and laughing off your doctor’s advice is not going to help you.

    Reply
    • curtispenfold

      Can we differentiate weight from health please?

      I’m a skinny guy. I don’t work out. I have not been eating healthy. But since I’m skinny (high metabolism), my doctor doesn’t care.

      What Azul experienced here with her doctor is blatant fatphobia. I highly doubt that this same doctor would’ve been so quick to give the same advice to somebody of a different size with the same lifestyle.

      Reply
  5. OwnIt!

    One note, there ARE stores that cater to plus-sized women and offer stylish choices. Lane Bryant and Avenue are two of my favorites, and you can shop online if they don’t have locations that are convenient for you. Your body deserves to be stylishly outfitted at any shape or size. 🙂

    Reply
  6. Mellina

    Even hear in the comments I see the societal attitude of fat = unhealthy and fat ≠ beautiful. While I agree with the arguments that our modern diets and lack of exercise have lead to the epidemic of obese America, there comes a point as an individual(even a fat one) you have to accept yourself and body image on a day-to-day basis. It is a challenge for some people, a lot of people, to maintain a slim figure. Just because a fat person’s challenge is visible by everyone to see, society sees the need to judge. It’s like making fat people “the other” or less than a normal human, so we as a society have permission to treat them differently.

    Fat acceptance has more to do with a person’s mental well being and body image than acceptance of a serious issue so it can be ignored. If you have to live in a fat body day in and day out, you can’t go around hating yourself and your body every moment of the day. Unfortunately, our society tells you that you should and reinforces that. I’m not saying that fat people should ignore medical advice or should be complacent in regards to their weight. It’s always a good thing to try to make yourself more healthy.

    I would love to call for more understanding and caring in our interactions. For example, upon seeing a fat person at the gym instead of the nasty glances or even the snide remarks (“what are *they* doing here?”), why not befriend that person? Make them feel wanted and welcome. Encourage and praise them for their healthy decisions instead of berating them for their challenges.

    Reply
  7. Petey

    I think there were a lot of WONDERFUL points illustrated in this post. Sexist female body size/shape ideals. Size/shape discrimination in situations that don’t involve any physical tasks. Narrowly teaching the WoW at church.
    However, the main problem I have with the comparison between body size/shape discrimination and other physiology-based (sex, race, sexual orientation, age, or disability) discrimination is that telling people that “its ok to be obese, its just the way you are” is only true for some people (and even then, it will still have negative health consequences for them.) There are definitely people with clinical disease or injury that causes them difficulty maintaining a “healthy” weight. And there’s a huge amount of individual genetic variation, life stress factors, etc. that also need to be taken into account. But there _are_ also many, many people who are obese because they are living unhealthy lifestyles.
    The trickiest part about all this is that none of us can tell at a glance who is who. Which is why we all need to be careful to never judge someone’s progress, efforts, or current or past health status by appearance, while at the same time not validate or encourage the idea that truly unhealthy lifestyles are ok. For the obese-by-lifestyle-choice, soothing their consciences by reassuring them now will be doing them a disservice in the long run. Whereas some of those who are overweight due to genetics may actually be _more_ “healthy” than many skinnier peers. Example: last summer a female Australian OLYMPIC swimmer was criticized by the media for not “looking fit.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/26/leisel-jones-australian-olympic-swimmer-herald-sun-weight-body-criticism_n_1707944.html)
    THIS WOMAN IS A WORLD-CLASS ATHLETE. And yet she’s criticized for her body condition. That is purely ridiculous and has NO basis in “concern for her health.”
    I think that the only factor that should inform our interactions with others regarding physical appearance should be concern for their health. (This applies to those who may be dangerously UNDERweight as well as overweight.) So what do we do to encourage truly healthy lifestyle practices in those we love? Here’s my soapbox: exercise!! In my mid-20’s I decided to finally get my own body condition under control (I’ve always had about 10-15 “extra” lbs) and became an avid triathlete. IT IS AWESOME! I found strength, endurance, confidence, body acceptance, and cardiovascular health I NEVER would have thought possible. I love my body more now for what I can do with it than I EVER did when I was younger and “skinnier” but less fit. The physical and psychological benefits of exercise cannot be overstated. So let’s center our social activities around exercise! Instead of going to a movie, or going out to eat all the time, how about we train for 10ks together, ride bikes together, swim laps or lift weights together! Its my utopian vision:)

    Reply
  8. sylvania

    For everyone who is saying, “Yes, but [you’re still unhealthy]/[fat is bad]/etc.”:

    Your attitude is exactly what this post is addressing. Stop and think for a second. Maybe your opinions about fatness are more flawed and shaped by society than you think.

    Let’s say that you actually do genuinely care about someone’s health, and that’s why you think she should lose weight. One of the worst ways you can encourage her to lose weight is to tell her that she’s not good enough the way that she is and to shame her for how she looks. (An example of this is nouner, who said, “It seems to me like this whole ‘fat acceptance’ thing is essentially ‘It’s really hard to lose weight, therefore I must be just fine the way I am’. No, You’re not.” Wow.) Shame is paralyzing, not motivating. If you want someone to lose weight, you are doing the worst thing you could possibly do to motivate her.

    I have a hypothesis that there are some people who have trouble loving themselves the way they are, even if they’re not fat who, when they see a fat person with self-confidence and body pride, get driven into a tizzy. They maybe think, “It’s not fair. I’m thin and I don’t like myself. It makes me mad that someone who isn’t as attractive in the world’s eyes as I am, because I’m jealous of her self-esteem.”

    We women get enough pressure to change the way we are from the media; why add to it by commenting here and telling other women they’re not good enough because they’re fat? You are just making things worse. Have some compassion and charity.

    Reply
    • Nouner

      I don’t know the author and her situation doesn’t seem too dire, so I’m not going to claim I’m motivated by concern for her welfare. I do get concerned sometimes reading people’s stories when it seems like they’re in a real jam, or have been dealt a bad hand in life, or who are in real need. From their story, the author seems like they’re doing pretty okay.

      My real objection is that the supposed “fat-phobia” that the author experienced was when they went to their doctor and the doctor told them some life changes they can make to improve their health and future health. That’s what the author says happened. Had their story been about being criticized on the street, or receiving mean stares, or being made to feel unwelcome at a store, my reaction would have been quite different. As it is, the author went to a doctor and the doctor informed them of changes they need to make. (Presumedly the doctor was polite and used proper language, or I’m assuming that would have been mentioned)

      I mean, why go to the doctor if you’re going to ignore their well-grounded medical advice on your health? It’s like if I went to an accountant and she was all “Hey you need to save more and stop putting so much on credit cards” and I went off to some site and beat my breast about “poor-phobia” and showed numbers saying lots of people are poor, class mobility is increasingly limited, and I can be Happy At Any Wealth (HAAW) and my accountant just needs to accept that I’m poor. I mean, the fact that lots of people are poor and that it’s hard to stop being poor are really valid problems. I don’t accept the gutting of the middle class and falling wages any more than I accept the huge numbers of obese individuals in the US. They exist, but that doesn’t mean the thing to do is just try and get all these pesky doctors off our back.

      Obesity is more than just an individual’s problem, just as poverty is. And like obesity, it’s impossible to say whether the fault lies with the social structure that causes and allows the problem, or with the individual’s poor choices. America’s obesity problem? Absolutely a social issue requiring careful, considered public measures to combat. The author weighing 180 pounds at their height? Their problem. It is impossible to blame one person’s weight or poverty on the system as a whole, although of course society’s ills affect individuals as well.

      Anyhow the breakdown in causality between statistical populations of decreasing sizes and the choices of individuals is a complex issue all its own. I’m just saying that a doctor telling you to lose weight is doing their job, just like an accountant telling me to manage my finances better is doing their job. It’s not phobia.

      Reply
  9. J

    I have what is considered a healthy BMI (22) and my physician asks me if I exercise.

    Reply
  10. Brittany

    The anti-fats have this genius theory- just eat better! Just lose the damn weight already! As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I love intellectuals with all the answers. So… all I have to do is EAT better and exercise. Sure wish I’d thought of that sooner! Sugar (not even dealing with salts, fats, and other delights), has a drug-like effect on the brain. For some, it’s not as easy as just kicking the habit.

    Like the author mentioned, some people just have different bodies. It’s a fact. Deal with it. Could some of us eat better? Of course. Some of us could also quit smoking, drinking too much, tanning excessively, etc. 😉 But my vice isn’t your vice, and my body is not like yours, so don’t judge your AMAZING healthy lifestyle and “self control” against what your presume is my lack of it. Unless my obesity is directly affecting you (paying for my medical bills or if I accidentally sit on you and bruise your leg), then put a twinkie in it and mind your business.

    Reply

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