This post fat liberation 101 started out as an email to a friend, offering feedback on something he’d written about healthy eating. I thought it might be good to share here, in case anyone wants to know these basics. I don’t talk much about the injustices fat people face, but those are everywhere. Instead I talk about how fat people having higher mortality rates could be more about cultural harm than something inherently dangerous about fat.
This meme sums up part of what I think. Like radical mental health–I don’t need to change myself to match what the world finds valuable. Taking pills to stop my voices is not important or even desirable. I’m happy with this life of hearing voices, strong feelings and moods, and a beautiful, valid fat body.
It doesn’t make sense for me to change myself to fit other people’s expectations that I should be thin or non-crazy. That probably wouldn’t work anyway. I’d rather love myself, love a diversity of people, and change the world to value and support us all.
Left handed people have higher mortality. Do lefties have a responsibility to get brain surgery to turn into righties? Seems similarly preposterous that fat people should turn into thin people. A variety of body types is normal.
I’d rather create a better world for all of us. Let’s accept and love people where we are.
Weight doesn’t determine health. Health doesn’t determine value.
the essay you wrote is based on the idea that thin equals healthy–that bodies are necessarily healthier when thin, and death is farther away from you.
I question that, as I know a lot of unhealthy thin people, and healthy fat people. according to the BMI chart, I am “morbidly obese,” but my joints are good, I dance for hours, I have no heart issues or diabetes, I walk every morning, and I love to ride my trike… then I know people who use powerful street drugs and are thin but seem to be dying.
I know that’s anecdotal, and you’re thinking of BMI stats. but correlation doesn’t equal causation. being fat kills people often like it almost killed me–I was shamed by doctors until I developed a medical phobia. I’d told Ming to let me die, if I was dying–not to take me to a hospital. when I actually was dying of that ulcer bleed, I changed my mind.
another idea of how fatness kills is how culture teaches fat people to hate ourselves, and hating ourselves leads to emotional pain, poor choices, a ton of sadness, and isolation. that self-hate is what kills us.
I’ve known women friends who say, “I feel fat today,” so will not go outside. they stay home and starve themselves until they feel ok again. or women I’ve heard say they can’t have sex because they feel too fat. it’s no joke. some people put their lives on hold until they’re worthy, and worthy means thin.
fat people are scapegoated. the image of a fat person is shorthand for lazy, stupid, unappealing, ugly, and worthless–in movies, it’s a symbol like high heels, a black leather jacket, or a cigarette, but with a very different meaning. a fat person in a movie or in a commercial is a laughingstock. that’s part of why I avoid that media.
fat hate is nasty, dieting industry is billions of dollars, and I’m not going to accept that shame. so I reject all of that now, as an adult. when I was a kid, I didn’t know how to reject it yet.
when I looked up the book you recommend, I found the book to buy, special powders for smoothies to buy, and a picture of white man in a white coat looking confident. getting rich off insecurities and fears isn’t something I’m going to find trustworthy. not saying the diet doesn’t work for you or anyone–just saying it’s part of an industry and background mentality that hurts me, has hurt my family, and makes me sick.
waste of time
I’ve seen fat people and people who believe they’re fat starve and abuse themselves in many ways, for years, with tears and suffering. I see it as a huge waste of time and huge distraction from the real work of life, which is joy, pleasure, sharing, connecting, and caring for Mother Earth.
most people associate thinness with beauty, sex appeal, happiness, intelligence, skill, health. so it makes sense that the insecurities people feel will be projected onto fatness. “I am not loved and I’m fat, so I can lose weight, and then I can be thin and loved”–that idea is everywhere.
it takes a lot of effort to reject that idea, but I’m loved very well by my spouse Ming and many amazing people. some people won’t want to have sex with me or be friends with me, but that’s fine. I don’t need everyone to want me–there are only so many hours in a day.
I hear you and the world say that according to BMI stats, certain weight-heights are more dangerous, but I don’t hear good reasons why. I believe it’s more socially caused than fatness physically harming physiology.
when a doctor told me to lose weight by dieting, I asked if he knew the effectiveness. did he have statistics on how often intentional weight loss diets fail or succeed? no, he did not. I said I’d heard that 95% of diets fail. his immediate response was, “that’s because you’re not doing it right.”
if a surgery had a 95% failure rate, it would be irresponsible to suggest. no one would suggest it. but in a medical context, dieting is about shame and personal struggle, and fat people being bad. it’s not really about creating long-term health–it’s about a doctor getting a difficult problem out of his exam room, and pushing responsibility onto the fat person, so when the treatment fails, it’s the patient’s fault.
dieting happens in the context of a failed culture. most people have inadequate support, poor emotional skills are the norm, communication is a mystery, abuse and dysfunction are common in so many families. not to mention poverty, racism, hate of queer people, misogyny… juggling the harms of a failed culture is a full time job, on top of whatever childcare, elder care, disabled care, and paying work someone might have.
weight and dieting have deep pain attached to them. the solution isn’t to shame us more, or to support fat people better in intentional starvation. the solution I see is similar to radical mental health–accept us where we are. listen to what we actually want. don’t make any care contingent on us losing weight, taking pills, getting surgeries, or handing over our power to anyone.
I am a valid person. doesn’t matter how much I weigh, how many voices I hear, or what moods I feel. nothing will stop me from being ok. I’ve become good at being happy. emotions and difficulties come and go, but I have a thick layer of happiness underneath, always with me. I’m capable of being happy and fat–I do it every day.
the diet you like–I believe you, that people can get thin and stay thin, but not that you will necessarily live long, healthy lives. low carb has been around, keto, and paleo, and many diets before–cabbage soup, intermittent fasting, liquid fasting, grapefruits, speed, purchased meals, measuring foods on a scale and counting calories, ingestion of parasites. flat out pyramid scheme scams I won’t mention.
I see diets mostly associated with products and capitalism, but also as fads, with so much self-loathing to fuel it. some people enjoy the diets and results, but other people cannot.
“this works for anyone, indefinitely, and it’s easy” is a common thing to hear, but hard to believe when I’ve seen many relatives and friends struggle. watching my own mom live on cottage cheese and cantaloupes when she extra hated herself was painful. hearing someone proclaim they found the one true diet sounds like, “I found the one true religion.”
I do fat liberation because I’d rather change culture to love and support all people, than change my body to be the body type culture will love and support.
there’s a lot more: facts I know from the fat liberation groups I work with like Fat Rose, scholar friends who study science about fatness and health. a starvation study, how weight loss affects mental health. weight loss and addiction, fatness and trauma, food deserts, reward pathways in our brains. quick weight loss can cause Traumatic Brain Injury. danger of bariatric surgery. what shame did to me personally–what it’s done in my extended family. the hate I found on the internet when I tried to find an online group for fat women cyclists.
when I almost died, I lost 25 pounds, and I was praised for that, without regard to the fact that I’d lost weight by almost dying. my weight loss was considered healthy and something to praise. but if I’d lost slightly more blood, I’d have been in the grave. that’s not healthy.