I navigate the concept of “fat acceptance” with reticence. It’s sure to incite emotional responses, sometimes even hostility. Weight has become intensely “politicized” and “emotionalized” in our society. How should we consider political and moral aspects of weight advocacy? Are there lines to be drawn?
There are two primary issues to address, first of all that judgments of any kind against our bodies are not to be tolerated. Across the board, period. We need only look to the political maelstrom that is women’s reproductive health to see a significant example of how this is not acceptable.
Second issue, another across the board, period, no discussion fact—you’re under no obligation to justify your life, whether your situation is considered by some to be by choice or otherwise, it simply isn’t required. Any discussion of fat acceptance means that people will immediately volunteer details of their super-nutritious diet and their great exercise regimen and their perfect health checkups, all in spite of their weight. They feel compelled to “convince” everyone and they usually rush to cite now-familiar references of particular studies that appear to support a belief that excess weight is no threat to health. I admit it, as soon as the justifications start, I shut them off. Look, it just doesn’t matter. You don’t have to justify who you are.
“Fat acceptance,” HAES, and the tendency to get defensive aren’t about health at all. They are all just different ways of saying “Get your judgment off my body.” I see this as applicable to the full range of healthcare-related issues including reproductive health, end of life decisions, conventional vs. alternative healthcare choices, etc.
When the issue is weight, it all comes down to shame and responses to shaming. If you’ve been reading me at all you know that I VEHEMENTLY speak out against the hateful paradigm that says thinness is an indicator of good judgment and discipline and that overweight is a justifiable consequence of bad judgment, weak will, and poor character. I am a HIGHLY vocal opponent of the gross misconception that overweight can be “fixed” if only a person would “set their mind to it,” get motivated, or finally resolve their character flaws, weaknesses, or whatever is supposedly “broken” about them emotionally. I work to guide people to see that their weight is NOT the result of their own personal failings or, even worse, their own inability to heal from trauma, a vicious mischaracterization that transfers responsibility to a victim.
What I see as the systemic issue is how shame drives people to pursue weight control attempts that will be ineffectual. They continue to fail, they remain overweight, and their shame intensifies. It’s a vicious cycle of the worst kind. Trying relentlessly to fix what’s “broken” in you will never succeed if you were never broken to begin with!! It stands to reason to me that repeated cycles of failure will drive some people to seek a path to “acceptance” as a release.
So how are we to deal with the contention of some people that acceptance of their value as human beings means acceptance of their bodies as they are, even if they are seriously overweight? I believe fat acceptance actually PERPETUATES the idea that the state of our bodies has to be linked to our self-perception and our self-worth.
Shame ends when we let go of two things—First, the idea that the state of our body is an indicator of our value system and second, that our self-worth has to be tied to the temporal state of our body. Weight is a state of being; it is not BEING; only you can define the wholeness of your being.