Friday, 3 September 2010

What progress looks like

A minor shit-storm has blown up over on Feministe where a guest blogger called Monica posted an fat-hating rant.* I'm not going to quote any of it - it was an inane, illogical post - and the point of this post is not to refute her nonsense (she actually talks about how people need to put down the donuts - that's how unoriginal she is).

Instead I want to talk about another post on feministe that was written almost four an a half years ago. It was a better written, and more coherent. But it was also arguing that fat acceptance activists went too far, and that we needed to talk about the unhealthyness of fat.

There were 122 comments on Monica's recent post - a good 95% of which are people telling Monica exactly how ridiculous and offensive her post is.

Four and a half years ago, there were just a few of us who spoke up for even moderate fat acceptance (and if you read the comments - which I don't actually recommend - I was being embarrassingly moderate and conciliatory).

In four and a half years the number of people talking fat and politics at feministe and feministe adjacent spaces has increased exponentially. Every person who says "I'm fat and there's no shame in that", makes it a little easier for the next person.

That a few moderates has become 100 angry radicals gives me such hope, and it really shows the value of continuing to talk and fight for what I'd still prefer to call fat liberation.

*Prompted by of all things a Jezebel post - if Jezebel is too fat accepting for you I recommend you don't read my archives.


ScubaNurse said...

Thank you. I am working very very very hard to separate my weight, from my fitness, from my self esteem.
I was this weight at my most fit (90 kg) because I had huge muscles as a kayaker who ran 4 days a week!
90kg Without the fitness doesnt make me feel half as well.
And at all times my confidence and self esteem has been pretty muh the same. I always feel slightly awkward, no matter how much or how litle I weigh!
I want to keep an eye on the combo of weight and fitness for my own health and wellbeing - not because it is linked to my identity and who I am.
As a feminist with a wonderful life (and I would like to think a healthy outlook) I would like to live as well, and as long as possible. It doesnt matter how you look at it, weight will impact that.
thanks for your post, you have inspired me to think about these things.

Anonymous said...

I just had a look at the post you referred to first by the guest blogger. I really don't see what the big deal was. She seems to be talking mostly common sense. Maybe I missed something but it didn't read like a 'fat rant' to me.


Maia said...

Lucy - If you think that is common sense the case against weight loss dieting and don't you realise fat is unhealthy.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, I read both and found them really interesting.I think it is great to say that people can be healthy at any size but I really don't think it is ideal to say that being overweight is not ever a health issue, if that makes sense.

I don't think the BMI is very helpful really. But I don't think every suggestion that being overweight can be negative should always be dismissed as fat shaming.



Maia said...

Lucy - I don't even know what you mean by 'being overweight can be negative.' Are you talking about an individual? A population? Negative in what ways - most people know that fat bodies are marginalised - and that's negative. But the question of whether you blame the body or society is a key one.

I will ask why you feel this huge need to talk about how 'being overweight can be negative'. Is it an idea that you think is under-represented in our society? If you have something specific you want to say then say it. But I have no tolerance for generalised non-specific anti-fat comments.

ScubaNurse - I didn't notice this line before: "I would like to live as well, and as long as possible. It doesnt matter how you look at it, weight will impact that."

I'm going to request you don't make such vague comments again. If you want to make an argument make the argument. If you are not making the argument then don't act as if everyone already agrees with you.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Maia, I didn't mean to be vague. I was honestly just giving my opinion based on what I would read. This is merely an 'opinion' and I don't claim to have any knowledge of a specialist nature. You obviously know a lot more about this topic than I do. My comment was not meant to be 'anti fat' or anything like that. I was just trying to clarify the issue in my own mind. If you read my post you will see that I said I support the idea that people can be healthy at any size.

Sorry, I obviously am not expressing myself very well. You post interested me and made me think which is why I commented. I didn't intend to cause offense.


Anonymous said...

Maia isn't a vert tolerant person when presented with an opinion that isn't the same as hers. I wouldn't worry Lucy.


Dandy said...

Maia, I'm confused by the reasons you've outlined for sensitivity to Monica's post.

My criticisms, briefly, would be- she seems to reflect an ignorance of 'public health' in citing obesity as its main focus; she waffles meaninglessly and personalises her interpretation of BMI and its uses; her comments about exercise, eating and obesity are superficial and meaningless; finally, she provides no substance to her post. The comments which follow (excuse me, I haven't read them all), seem to narrowly focus on image and identity.

Would you acknowledge that there needs to be a balance between 'fat acceptance' and appropriate health-related concerns?

One of your follow-up links made reference to a 'strong-correlation [between obesity and health outcomes]' only being 'in the extremes', although unfortunately doesn't elaborate on their interpretation of this. There is good evidence that significant obesity has a strong correlation with metabolic complications and pregnancy/fertility outcomes, particularly when associated with PCOS.

How you define significant obesity varies on the agenda and the person, but certainly morbid- and super-obesity are not a rare problem and are likely to be significant for every person of these sizes. A large amount of the 'public health concern' focuses on adults, but arguably the main concern is for obese children and adolescents- since we know a large proportion of them grow to be even more obese (as gauged by BMI) adolescents- with the resulting complications.

I understand and respect the psychological issues surrounding obesity. But, I don't think 'size acceptance' should come at reluctance to offend someone with significant obesity. I think the biggest problem with Monica's post was that she mixed her own psychological biases into a discussion on health, and was therefore ineffective at getting her message across.

I've tried to keep this post on-topic, but I see you have a low-tolerance for deviation- hope this satisfies.

Maia said...

Lucy - you didn't offend me. However, I don't share your assumptions about fat, bodies, and health. Therefore I find it difficult to respond to unclear comments.

Mary - Actually I have to be pretty tolerant of fat hate to get through my day. I hear it in social circles. I listen to truly irrelevant fat hate at my job. However, you're right that I have

Dandy - Your post is off-topic. But just about some people will turn any post about abortion to "But what about the baby. Others will turn any post about FA "but we need to hate fat people a little bit for public health reasons."

However I will answer your question: "Would you acknowledge that there needs to be a balance between 'fat acceptance' and appropriate health-related concerns?"


For a more full response see this post.

You may have worded your comment carefully - but it's so vague that I don't even know what you're talking about half the time. For example: "But, I don't think 'size acceptance' should come at reluctance to offend someone with significant obesity." I don't even know what you mean by significant obesity, and the rest of the sentence is incomprehensible to me as well.

The only thing I will say is that you appear to be confusing correlation and causation, so I've no idea why you think you've got something to add to public health discussions (which this was not).

Anonymous said...

Ok - sorry I was unclear.

What I meant with my comment re the possibility that being overweight can be 'negative' was that it can contribute to some negative health outcomes (I am led to believe this is widely documented, but like I said I am not an expert on this area). I was wondering whether acknowledging that fact (what I understand to be a fact anyway) should always be dismissed as 'fat hate' or shaming. I don't hate fat people (there are many I love deeply in fact). I don't feel a 'huge need' to talk about fat in a negative sense. But I wondered whether you completely denied the links between excess fat and poor health outcomes, since this goes against what I have previously been informed. Like I said, your post made me think and question - this is actually a good thing.

I hope that is clearer, i'm just thinking aloud so sorry if it is not.


Maia said...

Lucy - I understand the question and it's a perfectly reasonable one. Particularly given the dominant discourse around these issues.

I don't deny the correlation between fatness and increased presence of some diseases (although fatness has also been correlated with low levels of other diseases).

I would question whether correlation means causation (does fat cause disease, does disease cause fat, or are both fat and disease caused by one or more third factors such as genetics and poverty). I would also question what we do with this information when we get it - and why the correlation between fat and say diabetes, is treated so very differently from the correlation between lack of fat and osteoperosis.

It is, perhaps, illustrative to compare how fatness is treated with how tallness is treat. Tallness is also associated with some forms of disease - but the rhetoric around tallness does not resemble the rhetoric round obesity.

Another way to answer your question is that I think it's possible to have a conversation about fat and various diseases without being fat shaming, or promoting various models of health that I think are destructive. But it's difficult to do so, and the question of why that conversation, and not a conversation of the health corellations of tallness, or thinness, would need to be addressed.

dandrea said...

Maia, I disagree that my previous comment was off-topic- it tied into comments made in Jezebel's post, with 'fat acceptance' which I thought you were focusing on. Thank you for answering the question- your last elaboration to Lucy is what I was looking for, and I understand sentiment- I just disagree that it will always be possible to have that conversation without offending. Despite your unprovoked criticisms of me, I am a position to apply that concept in my own practice and research and I think it is a valuable perspective.

** *** ** *** **

You point out that my conciliatory 'tone' leads to vagueness, but, my mildness was provoked by your moderation style. In spite of recognising my hesitation, you make a personal statement against me- why?

Dandy said...

dandrea = Dandy, sorry.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for responding. I can now totally understand where you are coming from.

I find this discussion really interesting and it has really made me question these dominant ideas about bodies and the concept of health.



Maia said...

Dandy - This post was a post about the increase in fat acceptance among feminist blogs over time. That was the topic. All this vague discussion of exactly how much fat-shaming is OK, and how important it is for us to discuss the much over looked connections between health and weight are off-topic (check the mirrored post over at Alas to see how I moderated the post in a place with a wider understanding of htese ideas).

"I just disagree that it will always be possible to have that conversation without offending."

Again I've no idea what you mean by this - what do you mean by 'that conversation' - why are you using the passive voice? If you are unable to have a conversation about weight and health without offending people - then that is a statement about you, and what you want to say.

Your shock at my response indicates that you have misunderstood my objection. I am not making a tone argument. If anything I prefer it if fat hate is direct rather than indirect. My objection is to the substance of what you say, and no matter how vaguely or inarticulately you express it, I will still object.

Lucy - thanks.

Dandy said...

Maia, thanks for pointing out what your thread was mainly about- it was less obvious than you think. I agree that no 'fat-shaming' is okay.

'that conversation' means telling someone they are over- or underweight, and that there is evidence that it is impacting on their health. It often offends, and is virtually never easy- perhaps you've never had to initiate the conversation. But as you say, this is off-topic.

Maia said...

Dandy - I am aware that the topic of my post is not obvious. I am aware that the vast majority of people read 'fat' and need to reply "don't they know it's unhealthy". No matter what they're saying.

No I don't think that conversation is useful. I don't think you should be having it.

There are no scientifically proven ways to turn a fat person into a thin person. So even if you (and I'm giving you the benefit of hte doubt here and assuming you are a medical professional of some sort and therefore people have asked you about their health. If you're a random busy-body other people's health is none of your fucking business) believe that being overweight is hurting someone's health that is no more useful thing to tell them than to tell them that being tall is hurting someone's health.