A draft agenda for fat justice.
I did not come to body positivity for self esteem.
I did not seek it out for more or better clothing, or to insist upon my attractiveness to men. I did not come to body positivity out of a need for better body image or more self confidence or every body is a beach body or embracing my curves, though I know those may be necessary steps to get to a more just and welcoming world.
I came to body positivity because, as a fat person, the world treats me differently than it does my thinner counterparts. I came to body positivity because fat people are routinely paid less than thin people for the same job, and because 85% of managers say they wouldn’t even consider hiring a fat woman. I came to body positivity because fat survivors of sexual assault are less likely to be believed when we speak up and more likely to be convicted when we face trial. I came to body positivity because even judges think fat teens should be ‘flattered’ by sexual assault.
27% of very fat women and 13% of very fat men attempt suicide. Those that don’t are often pressured into weight loss methods that are unsafe, and sometimes even fatal. I came to body positivity because we live in a world that would rather see us dead than fat.
I came to body positivity because my beloved feminist community would insist that women’s bodies were our own, fight tirelessly for reproductive justice, then make excuses for hastily approved diet pills that went on to kill again & again & again. I came to body positivity because even the most progressive people I know still tell me plainly that my body is an epidemic, a crisis, an enemy combatant in a never-ending war on obesity.
I came to body positivity because I am tired of fighting a war I never wanted.
I came to body positivity because people I know and love, deeply good and kind people, relished insisting on the wrongness of my body, and readily attributed my body to my character. When it came to my body, all they could see were failures. I came to body positivity because I cherish their goodness, and I desperately need them to consider my humanity. Left to their own devices, they do not.
I came to body positivity because, the more I talked about the staggering disparities facing fat people, the more those good, thin people would ask why not just lose weight? You can’t change the world, you can only change yourself.
I came to body positivity because I want to change the world.
I have not left body positivity, but body positivity has left me. Over time, body positivity has lost its fight, lost its roots, become a vehicle for women to be reassured of their beauty — especially if those women broadly fit the existing beauty standard. It has become a kind of toothless liberalism: the kind that reinforces the importance of beauty and insists that everyone is beautiful in their own way, while replacing the tyranny of the beauty standard with the equally fickle and unforgiving standard of obligatory health. I came to body positivity looking for liberation from one impossible standard and instead found myself bound to another.
I came to body positivity because I don’t care about being beautiful. I care about being human. And as a fat person, my humanity is too readily erased, eclipsed by either beauty or health.
The more I navigate the language of body positivity and fat acceptance, the more I feel the precise edges where both fall short. Positivity and acceptance insist upon individualized solutions to systemic problems. Yes, loving and caring for our bodies are good things. But I cannot love my body enough to escape widespread employment discrimination. I cannot self-confidence my way through health care that can see all of my size and none of my symptoms. And I cannot muster enough loving my curves to ensure that I will not endure the staggering cost and public humiliation of being escorted from a plane — even when I have a second seat.
I do not need positivity or acceptance any more than I need tolerance: these are passive expressions, not nearly powerful enough to end the unceasing assault on fat bodies. Over time, I have come to realize that I do not need body positivity. What I need is justice.
I need a movement that insists upon my safety and dignity — not because I am beautiful, healthy, blameless, exceptional or beyond reproach, but because I am a human being whose daily experience is reliably marked by open disdain, perfectly legal discrimination, and sometimes even violence.
I need a movement that tackles the small indignities of backhanded compliments, sure, but more than that, I need a movement that seeks to stop doctors from their rampant misdiagnoses of fat patients, or that seeks recompense for fat people who cannot find employment because of widespread discrimination.
I need a movement that recognizes that fat people aren’t some niche, burgeoning community, but that we are 70% of Americans. Just because our abuse is accepted doesn’t mean it’s acceptable.
Our body positivity cannot end at our own skin, nor can it ignore these staggering disparities. Fat people are bearing the brunt of fat hate from individuals and institutions every day — and nearly all of it is preventable. There’s so much we can do to end the bias, discrimination, and harm that is visited upon fat people. These are just some of those things.
End the legal, widespread practice of weight discrimination.
I need a movement that acknowledges that, in 49 states across the United States, it is perfectly legal to deny someone housing, employment, a table at a restaurant or a room in a hotel just because they’re fat. A movement that seeks to ban workplace weigh-ins for cocktail waitresses and Hooters girls — and understands that these weigh-ins are directly targeted at women and femmes, and are, as such, a core issue of gender justice. I need a movement that works to establish meaningful laws and litigation to end weight discrimination.
Realize the promise of health care for fat people.
I need a movement for fat justice that understands that fat people need and deserve responsive health care: one that works to end the shameful practice of doctors offices that set a weight limit for prospective patients. A movement that makes sure that crucial drugs like Plan B don’t stop working if you weigh more than 165 pounds. A movement that seeks to reduce, and ultimately remove, weight-based restrictions on health care for trans people. One that works to collectively build and pass a fat patients’ bill of rights. And one that works to require weight bias training for medical care providers as part of their existing schooling and continuing education requirements.
Increase access to public spaces.
I need a movement for fat justice that acknowledges the size we — the lion’s share of Americans — are now. I need a movement that works to increase access to public spaces for fat people. One that works to win airline seating that’s safe and comfortable for all of us, regardless of weight, height, ability or age. One that pushes for universal design — public spaces that work for families and individuals, fat people and thin people, and people of all abilities. And one that supports and creates fat-led projects like AllGo, which will help fat people navigate an often unwelcoming physical world.
End anti-fat violence.
I need a movement for fat justice that knows the casual violence of living in a fat body, and the way that violence warps and multiplies for fat people of color. I need a movement that fights racist and anti-Black violence with a keen understanding of how anti-fat bias and racism conspire to scapegoat and harm fat people of color. And I need a movement for fat justice that recognizes fat women are no less likely to be the targets of sexual harassment or assault, but that we are less likely to be believed.
End the approval of weight loss drugs with dangerous — even fatal — side effects.
I need a movement for fat justice that knows just how many people die from dangerous weight loss regimens — especially weight loss drugs. I need a movement that works to increase federal standards for any product claiming to aid in weight loss, ensuring that it is safe for use on any body, and that its claims are correct. I need a movement counters the sensationalist, false claims of people like Dr. Oz with the real-life harms of diet culture. And I need a movement for fat justice that stops TV ads and snake oil salesmen from profiting off of anti-fat sentiment.
Stand up for fat kids.
I need a movement for fat justice that knows that fat hate starts young, and that its trauma can last a lifetime. A movement that ensures that anti-bullying laws include protections for fat kids, and that ends the strikingly common practice of schools issuing “BMI report cards.” I need a movement for fat justice that knows fat kids aren’t to blame for bullying — bullies are.
I need a bold movement for fat justice.
A movement that works structurally, that knows that fat hate isn’t a conscious decision of a few bad apples, but a cultural force that shapes public policy, public health, and more. I need a movement for fat justice that works for fat people of color, fat queer & trans people, fat kids and fat people with disabilities.
I need a movement that fights for us without caveats or hesitation, even in the absence happiness or health. I need a movement for fat justice that doesn’t need to see any of us as beautiful, thin, happy or healthy in order to see us.
So, fellow fat people: what do you need?
Like this post? There are more like them, including What it’s like to be that fat person sitting next to you on the plane. You can also find Your Fat Friend on Facebook and Twitter.