Good fatties, bad fatties. For a long time there have existed the stereotypes of two groups which exist within the fat acceptance movement. I think the good fatty/bad fatty debate is an important part of outlining how FA can become a more effective movement, by taking a hard look at what kind of discrimination against fat people in which our own members engage.
The worst thing for a movement is to have some members who are engaging in hypocrisy, with that hypocrisy not being condemned by the more vocal members of the movement. It creates a weak spot at which our opponents can readily plunge a rhetorical knife. I think the hypocrisy in which some of our members engage, and a hypocrisy which threatens to kill the movement or at the least make it a joke, is Healthism.
Healthism, as I define it, is the act of making health a moral imperative. That is, to be a worthwhile, contributing member of society, you should attempt to be at the best health possible. If you do not, then your worth as an individual goes down. Healthism dictates that the unhealthy are harmful, unattractive, a drain on society, stupid, and otherwise deviant.
There seems to be a dichotomy within FA, in which some members engage in and support Healthism in one way or another, and others do not. Sometimes this is political – a fundamental belief in the importance of public health at times can breed a Healthist attitude – and sometimes it is personal.
It’s my opinion that the Healthist members of FA are the ones who are stereotyped as “good fatties.” Here is my list of the most common stereotypical behaviors associated with being a “good fatty:”
- Outlining, in detail, their exercise regime.
- Outlining, in detail, what they eat, or saying simply, “But I eat healthy, I’m a [INSERT HEALTHIST DIETARY GROUP HERE].”
- Being Healthist in general – that is, claiming that being healthy is an important social goal and good and should be an individual goal for everyone – but decrying fat discrimination in the next breath.
- Hinting that if there were a safe, proven way to become thin, they would abandon their fat bodies.
- Being personally opposed to the same deviant behavior fat-haters blame on all fat people: laziness, lack of willpower, stupidity, bad hygiene – and breathlessly reiterating over and over again that they are not one of “those” fat people (sometimes by claiming those fat people don’t exist!).
- Being so obsessed with mythbusting they don’t realize they’re creating a sub-deviant class within the group of fat people, which isn’t protected by their brand of fat acceptance – “bad fatties.”
And here are the possibly well-known stereotypes of being a “bad fatty”:
- Not caring about health.
- Eating fast food more than once a month.
- Eating convenience store snacks more than once a week.
- Sometimes eating when they’re not hungry, or not eating when they are hungry.
- Not paying attention to what food they are eating, and whether or not it is “healthy” by some standard or definition, or whether or not it satisfies a particular craving or it just happens to taste good at the moment.
- Not exercising regularly, and worse, not acknowledging the importance of regular exercise as a health imperative.
- Believing it isn’t anyone’s business what they are eating, how much they are exercising, and what constitutes their family dinners. Not recognizing a social moral imperative attached to health.
- Not believing in public health.
Again, these are stereotypes, listed to make a point and to paint a vivid picture. Most people don’t fall neatly into these kinds of categories, adopting some or the other behaviors and viewpoints.
However, according to these lists, I’m very staunchly in the “bad fatty” category.
Why I believe the FA movement needs more vocal “bad fatty revolutionaries”:
Simply put, because the Healthist arguments subdivide fat people into “less deviant” and “more deviant” subclasses. When engaging in Healthist behaviors or making Healthist arguments, you must understand that you’re playing the fat-loathers’ game. You’re buying into their rhetoric, and agreeing with them that wanting to be healthy is indeed a moral imperative, makes a person more or less fuckable, makes an individual more or less intelligent, and so forth.
That means every myth-busting argument you put forth — “But don’t you understand that fat isn’t necessarily unhealthy?” — is played out on their turf. And you know what they can do, what they often do, that takes the wind out of our sails and stops us dead in our tracks?
Say, “You’re lying,” to whatever facts we present. “I’ve got more evidence to back up my claims,” they say, thrusting forward mountains of epidemiological studies that we’ve already debunked, convinced of our bias. “Any doctor you ask will tell you that being fat is unhealthy,” they continue, appealing to authority. “You’re just looking for an excuse to be fat,” they conclude, convinced of our bias, inexpertise, and emotional instability.
My question to all FAers out there: Why are we playing their game in the first place?
We need to change the conversation away from health. Sure, we know we can myth-bust until we’re blue in the face, and the more rigorous, less publicized evidence is overwhelmingly in support of our claims. It doesn’t matter. This is the age of science-by-press-release. Facts and hard evidence don’t have a prayer.
We need to become bad fatty revolutionaries. Instead of apologizing for behaviors that are acceptable amongst thinner people but not fatter people, instead of playing into the stereotypes and showing them that you’re an active member of their world and still fat, reject their world. Reject the moral imperative of Healthism.
Healthism is nothing more than a system of status-determination based on appearance. “You can tell whether or not someone is high or low status (read: healthy) based on how fat or thin (read: unhealthy) they are.” It’s easy. You don’t even have to know someone to know what your and his/her respective statuses are, whether or not you’re “better” than him/her. All you have to do is look.
Healthist FAers — “good fatties” — play into that game, though they slightly change the definitions. You can’t tell by just looking, they claim. You need to ask them about their exercise and nutritional regimes, perhaps their BP and blood sugar numbers, first. Perhaps also their family history of disease. Then you can make that determination. But still, status and superiority are determined — by health!
The hard truth is that Healthism hasn’t done a damned thing for the movement. Since we are in the age of science by press release, it makes us look like a bunch of crazy hypocrites. We look like we’re espousing health at the same time we are, ourselves, espousing unhealth (by accepting fat). No wonder we’re not taken seriously.
It’s time we make them play on our turf, and reject the moral imperative of health. Here are the points I suggest should be stressed:
- Our bodies, our business.
- Our health is between us and our doctor.
- The concern of family members and friends for our perceived health does more harm than good.
- We’re adults. Stop treating us as if we have the emotional and mental capacity of five year-olds. We reject your disgusting condescension.
- Our bodies, our business. You have no right to tell me what should or should not go in my mouth. You have no right to demand that I exercise.
- Beauty standards change. What’s fuckable today might not be fuckable tomorrow. Using body size in leiu of “health” as an excuse to determine fuckability is as capricious as using skin color, hair color, height, country of origin, religion, favorite book, etc. It’s not hard-wired, it’s a cultural creation.
- Discrimination against fat people is always hate. Any excuse to find a fat person inferior in any way due to their fatness is bigotry. And yes, this extends to attractiveness. It might not be your fault that you’re a bigot, but you still are.
- Grow up. What we eat and how much we exercise does not make us a more or less worthwhile person. It is not a determinant of willpower, control, sexiness, intelligence, hygeine, parental fortitude, femininity, masculinity, bravery, and so forth.
- Our bodies, our business. Our health is between us and our doctors and yes, sometimes doctors are wrong, too. We must always be vigiliant that their techniques do more good than harm, because doctors are people, too. They can be bigots. They can make mistakes. Being informed patients is never, ever a bad thing. If we are wrong, they are free to explain to us why, or to refer us to sources so that we better understand why. Our bodies, our business. Our health, our and our doctor’s business.
- The Obesity Epidemic is a moral panic, and the War on Obesity is a moral crusade. The torch-carriers are Healthists. Their weapons are science by press release, and the belief in the moral imperative of health.
Change the dialogue. Give up on Healthist rhetoric – it does the movement more harm than good. Make health a private matter. Don’t apologize for being fat, or qualify your status by explaining how you’re still a “good person” because you buy into the edicts of Healthism.
Our bodies, our business.
Our health, between us and our doctor, and we have a duty to be informed patients and challenge our doctors who are themselves people and therefore fallible.
Science by press release has taken facts out of the public dialogue, which ultimately dooms fat-accepting Healthist arguments.
Our bodies, our business.
We’re adults. I reject your condescension, your attempts to infantilize me which are directly connected to your desire to gain as much status over me as possible.
Healthism is a class system. It creates deviant classes which the superior classes are free to treat as subhuman and worthless. Reject Healthism. It is ultimately incompatible with fat acceptance, since it forces Healthist fat people to reject un-Healthist fat people, which is no acceptance at all.