The more I surround myself with fat activism the more my thoughts around recovering from and surviving fatphobia evolve. Over time I began to easily clock institutional and interpersonal fatphobia but it wasn’t until recently that I realized there were still ways that internalized fatphobia was gently shifting my daily choices and impacting my outlook on life.
My celebration of self- discovery and self -acceptance was so big and loud and warranted that I missed the very unsuspecting and quiet passenger denying me pleasure and rest. In my mind I had become so radical and liberated that I forgot about the ideological fatphobia that I’ve been fed since childhood. It’s the unspoken yet affirmed knowledge that fat bodies hold less privilege. It courses through my veins with entitlement and there’s nothing I or you can do about it. It’s just a fact and the more we deny it the more it giggles and shares popcorn with institutional fatphobia.
Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast “Revisionist History” discusses things misunderstood and overlooked throughout history. On one episode he introduced the term “moral licensing”. To my understanding, moral licensing is basically when increased confidence and security in one’s self-image or self-concept results in an increase in immoral/ problematic behavior. He also paired this with exceptionalism and discussed how racists can choose a marginalized person they find exceptional and feel that they are healed entirely of their racist ways. So how I processed it was that this was basically an explanation of “I’m not racist, I have a black friend”. And I oop — the wiglessness was profound.
This also explains people who are violently fatphobic but still pursue romantic relationships with fat people. They pick their special fatty, shower them with toxic love and then quickly pat their selves on the back for doing God’s work. They think they are heroes. Moral licensing and exceptionalism. I couldn’t stop thinking about all the ways that they marry — non profits and token marginalized staff, religious families with the one gay uncle who they love but just “don’t agree” with his “lifestyle” — I couldn’t stop thinking about how they come together until I saw how they also had come together…for me.
See I had made myself the exceptional and I was so enthralled with my own radical self love that I gave myself a little pass to still be shitty to myself. I thought I was living a life of total fat acceptance. I thought I was free. But after some reflection I see that I still have my share of unpacking to do and I’ve made peace with that.
One must always scan the room for fatphobia because it’s always there — sometimes just under a table telling you to be a little less vocal, less emotional and less visible.
Audre Lorde said “nothing I accept about me can be used against me” and I believe it wholeheartedly. If we accept duality of being we can face the thoughts that validate anti-fat bias and give way to performative body positivity. These thoughts not the cause of our oppression but merely the result of how oppression happens IRL. Privlidge and stigma create pressure that split us right in two — the idealized self and the problematic self. We distance ourself from our problematic self but in the distancing only give liscense and find rest in complicity.
Embrace your entire self. Look closely at your heart and do the work so you can meet yourself exactly where you are and heal. Though the world demands it, none of us are perfect. It’s the denial of this that WILL be the end of us. The most vulnerable of us not having enough capital to admit we ain’t got it. The most privileged of us with our grins painfully pinned for a coin.