Fat People: You Don’t Have To Justify Your Existence

Dear fat people,

You don’t have to justify your existence to anyone. Not TV doctors. Not lapsed surgeons. Not authors of diet books. Not researchers running an ‘obesity’ center. Not your own doctor. Not your parents. Not your spouse.

When they ask, “Well, don’t you think being fat is unhealthy?” You don’t have to educate them. It’s not your job to give them reasons why you have accepted your body.

When they say, “You must justify your fatness. I’m paying for you!”, tell them they don’t have a problem with you, they’ve got a problem with the system and how it apportions dollars and care. If they’re so concerned about being able to control who and what they ‘pay for’ then they need to take it up with their elected representative or an actual economist, not you.

You don’t have to tell the fatphobes why they’re wrong. Why they’re creating a fictional narrative about your life that isn’t your life. Why threatening you with future health ills is absurd and childish. Why they don’t understand the economics of insurance markets. They probably won’t listen anyway. They’re not looking for reasons to be okay with you. They’re looking for reasons to feel better than you. To blame you for their slimmer pocketbook, or global warming, or world hunger. To absolve themselves from responsibility for those things. To justify their own disconnectedness and indolence. To soothe the guilt of their own consumerism.

Dear fat people: all fat people, of all colors and backgrounds, of all those varying ways to be fat and visibly so, even if you’re just fat in your own family circle or if you’ve been used as a headless fatty folk devil in a news article: you don’t have to justify your existence.

You don’t have to justify your existence by performing health. Or by subscribing to HAES. Or by having a list of studies on-hand whenever some ubiquitous fatphobe challenges your experience and threatens you with the deterioration of your health and even early death if you don’t agree with them.

Fat discrimination is wrong. Don’t listen when they say you’re “lazy, unfit, immoral, liars, burdens.” Sadly, you aren’t the first group of people to be labeled as the biggest sinners, the biggest losers, the folk devils that must be fought and vanquished at all costs, the root of all evil. It’s a formula, an effective one that most people don’t even realize they’re playing into.

There’s no conspiracy. The fat public health panic, known colloquially as the ‘obesity epidemic’ even though obesity is neither a disease nor an epidemic, emerged as a response to a complex panel of variables. No one person sat down one day and said, “You know what we should do? Pathologize fatness, stigmatize fat people, make a bunch of money off it, then sell fat stigmatization to governments and world health organizations so we can codify dieting in their health regulations.”

Timing is everything: an aging population means that diseases highly correlated with aging like cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and strokes are going up, up, up. People are smoking less, getting taller and healthier, and also dieting much more regularly: all states of being that, in addition to aging, result in increased average weight. Fudge with an old statistical tool for insurance tables called the BMI and suddenly you’ve got a health panic on your hands.

Healthism emerged, partially as a response to an aging population afraid of death and convinced that if they ate the right things and did the right amount of exercise they could extend their lifespans to Auroran lengths (see: Asimov), partially as an outgrowth of modern Puritanism, partially because of the fat health panic outlined above, partially as a vehicle of elitism and classism and ableism, and for many other reasons not useful to go into here.

Dear fat people: you don’t deserve to be discriminated against. You were in the wrong place at the wrong time. You don’t have to justify your existence. You don’t have to buy into the myth of health, an arbitrary measure whose definition has not only changed throughout history but means different things to different individuals, to different practitioners of health, even.

You don’t have to justify your existence. If you do, you lose. You lose for yourself, and you lose for the rest of us. What is fat discrimination? Believing that fat people don’t have the right to simply be. That, if they exist as fat people, they are “lazy, unfit, immoral, liars, burdens.” The answer is not to argue that you are “active, fit, moral, trustworthy, generous.”

What right does anyone have to require that in order to live unabused they must live up to a standard the abusers don’t expect of themselves? It’s a lose-lose situation. Ceding to fatphobes the right to question your existence also cedes to them that if you as a fat person didn’t perform exercise, or didn’t count calories, or weren’t ‘healthy,’ or were disabled, or just didn’t adhere to the Healthistic model of virtue, that they would be justified in flailing and abusing you.

Dear fat people: you don’t have to justify your existence. You aren’t supervillains: if you don’t fit into the Healthistic box the fatphobes say you must the world won’t stop turning. Children won’t die. The landmass of your country won’t be swallowed by the oceans. You won’t suddenly get all the so-called fat diseases. You won’t bankrupt your government’s economy.

You will be one precious person saying, “No. Healthism is wrong. Health is bullshit. You’re creating a hierarchy of acceptable, codified discrimination with a bullshit arbitrary measure. And I’m not buying it.”

One precious person, going against a seemingly irresistible tide. You won’t be the villain. You’ll be the hero.

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12 comments on “Fat People: You Don’t Have To Justify Your Existence

  1. Pange says:

    This legit made me cry. Thank you for the reminder.

  2. Patsy Nevins says:

    Great post & a much-needed one. Fat people spend too much time & energy justifying our existence, busting myths, begging for acceptance & the cultural attitudes toward fat people are actually WORSE, discrimination & stigmatization is more widespread, the weight loss industry much wealthier & more powerful, than when the idea of ‘fat acceptance’ was first conceived over 43 years ago. We need to stop begging, stop pandering, & stop playing by ‘their’ rules. There is nothing wrong with us, nothing wrong with our bodies, & we owe the world no more explanations for who we are & how we live than thin people do. We deserve access, respect, human rights, & getting bogged down in arguments about ‘health’ & ‘lifestyle’ just prevents us from making any progress.

  3. singerjen says:

    thank you so much for this. you really made me think again.

    • bigliberty says:

      My pleasure! After almost five years in fat activism I feel like there’s a lot of wheel-spinning when it comes to health myth debunking, which we’re usually not believed about, anyway. The war can’t be fought on those terms — if it is, we’ll lose (we have been losing, considering fat liberation started in the 70s).

  4. jeanc38 says:

    Fantastic post and a timely one. Will be sharing it everywhere I can.

  5. You have no idea how much I appreciate your writing this. Over the past few months, I have taken a dim view of online fat activism because of the constant apologizing, the healthism, and soft-core diet talk that goes on in the feeds. On a bad day, I often think that, if I were in charge of the feeds, 90% of the blogs that are now on it would never see the light of day.

    It has been an immense pleasure to see you, Fatcarriesflavor, and others stand loud and proud against healthism, whether it’s intentional or not. More and more people are calling out inadvertent fat and health prejudice and not apologizing when people demand that they “play nice.” Like you said, we have been fighting this fight since the 70s and we are STILL stuck trying to prove ourselves. To me, myth-busting isn’t about convincing others. It is about convincing OURSELVES to stop internalizing prejudice against us so that we can fight mot effectively. I get the impression that many fat activists still believe some of the myths about them, and that some of them have an ED and don’t know it. However, for the most part, we KNOW that fat and health are two separate things, that health is not determined by how “good” you were, etc. So to me, there’s no longer much use fighting these battles and we need to move beyond justification.

    • bigliberty says:

      To me, myth-busting isn’t about convincing others. It is about convincing OURSELVES to stop internalizing prejudice against us so that we can fight mot effectively.

      Yes, this, 1000 times this. This is something I should have included in the original post, I was thinking about it a lot, afterwards. It’s like when you learn to be a writer. First, you need to convince yourself you can write, so you write something and then check out some books on the craft to determine if you indeed did what you thought you did, and what the problems might be with the text that you can’t see yet because you’re just trying on your “writer’s eyes.”

      True, the journey of fat acceptance is different for everyone. And everyone’s going to have a different specialty so to speak, if they don’t turn into a general practitioner. Sandy Szwarc’s specialty was heavy myth-busting, Kate Harding’s was popularizing fat acceptance, Marilyn Wann’s is conducting national campaigns and being everyday visible (she’s a general practitioner, though), Linda Bacon’s is HAES, and so on.

      But fat activism has to be so much more than health myth-busting and anecdotal stories. I would agree that the health myth-busting in a global sense is most useful at the individual level. But we can’t let it get to the point where we’re ceding Healthists their argument that being “healthy” (however that’s defined this moment, by this particular person) is a prerequisite for being granted human rights, or being allowed to participate as a full citizen. If we don’t cede them that point their entire argument is exposed for what it truly is: an attempted to get unearned merit, fitness, and moral worth by virtue of simply not being fat.

  6. Patsy Nevins says:

    These points are so important to remember. I just quickly skimmed the feeds & saw the one on ‘thin privilege’ where some jackass insists that fat acceptance is okay until your fat affects your health, then I will be all up in your face, telling you to work on it. No, buddy, just…no. For one thing, there is NO proof that my weight or anyone else’s causes or even exacerbates health problems, there is still LESS evidence that losing weight improves health or is necessary or helpful in any way in dealing with any health problem, there is MORE evidence that dieting causes health problems &, particularly for those of us who are older, increases mortality risks, but most of all, no one else’s health or weight is ANY OF YOUR DAMN BUSINESS.

    And you are right, actually, the REAL fat liberation movement began in 1970 with the formation of the Fat Underground, as that was when fat people & especially fat women became political, got angry enough to speak up for themselves, & organized. Most people date ‘fat acceptance’ from the formation of NAAFA in 1969, but the real problem with that is that NAAFA is not & was not really political enough, or anything close to uncompromising, & that it started mainly as a way for fat admirers to have easier access to fat women. Any way you look at it, the idea that fat is not a bad thing & that fat people need & deserve rights & respect has been around for 42-43 years, I personally have been working on it for 32 years, & there has been virtually NO progress. If I read one more ‘fat activist’ saying that some damn inane thing is so wonderful or that we need to be grateful for ‘baby steps’, I may well vomit on my monitor!! After over 40 years, it is damn well time for a hell of a lot more than ‘baby steps’.

    And you are absolutely right, Big Liberty, that myth-busting can be important at the individual level. I know it was for me & that I owe Sandy a debt I can never repay for giving me the studies, the real evidence, to understand that my health is not really within my control, that we do not need to worry about ‘healthy lifestyles’, &, perhaps most of all, that I need not fear my body or believe that it is going to make me sick or kill me at an early age. Once I came to fully understand all the facts & to realize how shamelessly we are lied to & brainwashed about everything, I came to understand that healthism is a lie too & that the preoccupation with ‘eating right’ & ‘exercising’ is not only unnecessary, but is a tactic to divert us from the real issues. The real issue is liberation, it is human rights, it is about the necessity to stop the abuse of people because of the size & shape of their bodies, an abuse sanctioned & proliferated by our governments, pharmaceutical industries, medical professions, & the greedy, unprincipled weight loss industry.

  7. nycivan says:

    Reading this post and the comments, I feel like I finally found an oasis of thought after wondering around a desert for years. I have been paralyzed with doubt and shame, not being able to reconcile the complexity of all the different schools of thought within the movement with my internalized fat hatred. Isolating and living a very small life because I just don’t want to deal with the hate and This post really helps me to see that the movement is for me to live a fuller life, to transcend the internalized hate instead of trying to use the movement to educate the world that studies prove that what they believe about the person I am isn’t so. I am not the villain. My fat body is not the villain. Thanks.

    • bigliberty says:

      Ivan, this comment made me tear up. Thank you so much for posting it. You’re NOT the villain. Your fat body is not the villain. This thing’s so much bigger than you, so full of hate, positioning you so there’s no way you can win according to its rules. And that’s not your fault. The fatphobes don’t want us to win. They want to scapegoat us, make us out to be the demons so they can ignore real solutions that might require them to look twice at their own lives and do the hard work to change the world. I’m sorry you were ever made to own their hate, their irresponsibility, their classism, their desire to wrest unearned superiority over you.

  8. Amanda Arp says:

    I loved this post. It is a very unfortunate thing that society has forgotten that being fat does not make you any less of a person. Thin people are not hassled about their eating habits or their health in the way that a fat person is. No person should have to justify the way they live their lives to another. The best part of this post was the reminder that obesity is not a death sentence but that it is something that corporations have condemned only to make a profit.

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