On Spanx, Dillards, and the Fat Acceptance Movement

People are talking these days. About:
 1. Body Pride;
 2. Sizeism (discrimination based on size); and
 2. The fat acceptance movement

Just the other day, Arie announced it’s new campaign featuring size 12 model Barbie Ferreira. And perhaps you’ve come across one mother’s viral post floating on the internet:

I believe strongly in body pride and self-confidence, no matter what. Everyone should love themselves. But I DO take issue with certain aspects of the fat acceptance movement.

The Dillards Incident
 

 I was overweight as a child. I specifically recall an incident when I was about 10 years old. I went to children’s boutique named Denny’s in central New Jersey, to buy a Spice Girls T-shirt. The clerk came up to me and told me there was nothing in the store for me. I wish I could remember if we ended up buying the shirt.

I won’t forget that moment for as long as I live. Even though I was overweight, I always felt like a cool girl, and I didn’t think anyone at school made fun of me. But in that moment, it was like a grown woman was making fun of me. I wanted to shrivel up and die. I always wondered why the clerk felt the need to come up to me and say anything at all. Was she afraid I’d stretch out and rip all of the clothes?

Girls — young girls — are particularly susceptible to the influence of those around us, including older women. Human beings are simply designed that way. There are so many influences telling us we are not good enough the way we are — whether its because of body weight, body hair, body features, or just whatever. Tina Fey wrote about it hilariously in Bossypants. These constant little signs of rejection are tragic.

But when it comes to the Dillard’s clerk (or in my case, the Denny’s clerk), I’m going to go ahead and assume there was no ill-will intended. That’s because I feel comfortable assuming that the clerk at Dillard’s was not the brightest bulb, just as the clerk at Denny’s was not the sharpest pencil. These women are more likely socially inept than anything else. They don’t deserve our contempt, they deserve our empathy.

What’s more is this — the girl pictured above is adorable, and she is in fine shape. She has nothing to be embarrassed of, and nothing to hide. She wasn’t put on this earth to be an artificial construct, she is here to be herself. And if that means wearing Spanx, or if it means not wearing Spanx — then that’s her prerogative.

I personally choose the Spanx for myself, and maybe that’s because I’m a coward.

To her and her mother, I say “right on!”

The Fat Acceptance Movement

All of this is separate and apart from the fat acceptance movement, which I actually do take issue with.

But first, let me clarify two points.

  1. I’m a Libertarian. In every sense. What I’m about to say here is only my opinion. I don’t claim to be right in any objective sense. It’s just what feels right for me — and I share my view because maybe it will resonate with you. So if you think the fat acceptance movement is the greatest thing to ever happen on earth, then great. But I don’t. I’d still love to break bread with you sometime. Preferably cheesy bread.
  2. What qualifies as fat? When I say “fat” in reference to the body acceptance movement, I am not referring to people who are pleasantly plump, delightfully chubby, or even moderately obese. I’m talking about people who are well beyond anything that could possibly be considered a good weight. And I’m not talking here about obesity in terms of BMI. I’m talking about obesity in terms of “you are fucking undeniably fat.”

The Good Aspects of the Fat Acceptance Movement

Fat acceptance advocates bring awareness to important issues such as weight discrimination in almost every single field. And that’s important.

I know for an absolute fact, as someone who has been at both ends of the spectrum, that fat people are treated differently. Very differently. By employers, professionals, doctors, teachers — everyone. Even slightly overweight people are treated differently than their thin counterparts.

And this is something we should be mindful of. Both out of respect for others, and also to improve ourselves.

My Problems With the Fat Acceptance Movement

People are not meant to be fat.

Yes, some of us are meant to put on weight easier than others. Some of us are not meant to be thin. But with the exception of some very rare illnesses, no one is genetically destined to be very obese.

Obesity is a product of a modern lifestyle based on unnatural foods. These foods are marketed at us constantly from a very young age. We think these foods should make us feel full, but they don’t because they are devoid of nutrition. They are often designed to addict us, physically. These foods are dangerous, and as far as I’m concerned, marketing them to children is criminal.

Obesity is not inevitable. I love that someone who is obese might love themselves, because I never could. I also love that someone who is obese might feel nothing but pride and a positive self image. But I believe very strongly that obesity is nothing to celebrate. And having a positive self-image in an obese state does not preclude you from having an equally positive self-image in a healthy state.

That said, you should live your life however you want to live it. But when Fat Acceptance Advocates begin to denounce doctors for blaming everything on their weight, what they forget is this — fat, itself, is an organ which promotes inflammation and injury. Fat changes your hormonal profile. If you are female, fat is very likely to make your period heavier, more difficult, and more irregular. Because of this, you might experience terrible mood swings, and become anemic. These aren’t rare side effects of fat — this is basically destiny.

Staying overweight also has negative effects on brain function, and increases how quickly we age. Waist circumference is a predictor of so many terrible outcomes.

But I don’t even need studies to know that being lighter feels better. I don’t sweat as much. There is less strain on my heart. I am no longer pre-occupied with food (says the girl with the fitness blog).

Now your health is not my business. And your appearance is not my business. But doctors are supposed to be healers. If anything, they don’t do nearly ENOUGH to promote sound nutritional choices, and to remind patients of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, there are plenty of THIN people who are filled with dangerous visceral fat. These thin people may be at just as much risk of disease and cognitive decline as their overweight counterparts. And for the most part, doctors are failing them too.

This doesn’t mean overweight people shouldn’t be treated with respect. It doesn’t mean doctors shouldn’t take them seriously. But it does mean that it’s the doctor’s job to keep telling them to lose weight. Because whatever problem they are facing — it is exceedingly likely that its complicated by extra weight. And that might be true for even marginally overweight people. The same goes for thin people with dangerous visceral fat, or with poor blood results. Nutrition is medicine, and it is key.

In Denial

When I read the literature of from fat acceptance circles, sometimes I am just surprised. Take this article from Every Day Feminism, for example, which suggests that being overweight doesn’t necessary mean you have poor nutrition. The author states that making assumptions based on weight is “oppressive” and suggests it is harmful for overweight people, “..to hear assumptions from dietitians and other healthcare practitioners that because of a physical characteristic, their weight, they must be unhealthy and engaging in poor self-care.”

The problem is simply that yes, being very overweight DOES mean you have poor nutrition. And you might not even know it. Because nutrition is about more than how many calories and what nutrients go into your body. It’s about the health of your blood, your levels of inflammatory cytokines, your insulin and glucose levels, your gut microbiome and health, your arterial plaque, and your prevalent metabolic states. These factors are inextricably intertwined with your body weight and body fat percentage. This is basic. You can’t wish it away. And it’s not your doctor’s or nutritionist’s job to make you feel good about yourself. It’s their job to provide you with factual information.

There doesn’t have to be a disconnect between loving yourself and wanting to be healthy.

In fact, you don’t even have to be healthy if you don’t want to be. Maybe you love being a giant fatass, and that’s great. Good health is not a mandate, it’s just a good idea.

But I won’t stand quietly by in the face of delusion. I’ll say my piece, especially since I’ve been there before. Every pound extra takes a toll on you health. It simply does. But that’s nobody’s business but your own.

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Originally published at fatgirlsfitness.com on January 26, 2016.