Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The How: Be a Knower

Last week I posted a list of specific ways individuals can get involved with Fat Acceptance, depending on their strengths and inclinations. (Follow up: The How) As I expand each section into more specifics, I'll post them as individual blogs. Today's entry in "The How" series is:

Know the Facts and FAQ's

The Recap:

Sometimes simply knowing what to say in response to stereotyping is an important and positive way of defeating ignorance. Actually studying fat as you would any other topic for school prepares you for difficult conversations and confrontations in the real world. Be able to quote facts and studies. If you're good at percentages, that's a perk. Most of us could get by with simple things like "you know, a study was done that proved you can't make a naturally thin person permanently fat or a naturally fat person permanently thin?" Read the FAQ's on FA blogs and organization websites, and be prepared when questions come up.

Pro's: When the topic comes up in conversation, that may be your only opportunity to refute stereotypes. Once that moment has passed it's often awkward to bring it up again. Be able to answer questions, refute common stereotypes, etc. on the spot and you will be able to be a spokesperson without coming across as a fanatic.

Con's: Some people just don't have a head for facts, and aren't comfortable putting themselves out in a conversation. That's why different approaches work for different people. Just being able to calmly point out general ideas, and maybe knowing a few websites like Shapely Prose and Junkfood Science would allow you to refer people and let others do the speaking.

The Details:

Many Size Acceptance organizations have FAQ lists that would be a great jumping off point in your studies, as they literally address the most frequently asked questions you'll encounter. Here are a few to get you started:

Fashion-specific FAQ (regarding plus size clothing and fashion):
HAES emphasis:

Along with the FAQ's, some organizations have brochures and handouts that explain positions in more detail:

HAES specific:

Another obvious resource for learning the facts and figures for SA and FA are books. Unfortunately, most libraries and local bookstores don't offer shelf space to this particular topic. One option would be to request that the bookstore stock the titles or order them through the store so that they are aware of a potential market. Most are available through Amazon.com or even e-bay and other used book resources. For libraries, request a list of SA books to be included in the next round of purchases. Another alternative would be to purchase multiple copies of a good book when you order it online and donate one copy to the library so that it is available to others.

I actually helped work on NAAFA's new recommended reading list, which is now up on their website:


When I know that I'm buying a book that I'll want to loan out to others, I usually get two copies. One is entirely mine, and I often use highlighters, post-its, and scribbled margin notes to make that clear. Since that makes it really annoying to someone else trying to read it, I keep a "loaner" copy with clean pages.

Finally, a great resource to truly know and understand the facts of size acceptance so that you can respond to questions and criticism with confidence is other fat activists. Blogs, Yahoo Groups, Newsgroups, forums, etc. are all excellent methods of gathering information and getting responses to your own questions.

What to do with it:

Now that you have the information, the next step is to use it. It sounds cheezy, but an excellent method is to practice on another person. The mirror would work as well, but a person could help you critique things you might miss, like body language and tone. Have the person ask a question, or even drop a typical conversational trigger, then try to respond. Once you've responded, try to analyze your response. Did you quote a fact if it was appropriate? Did you sound outraged and/or extremist, which might make the people you talk to uncomfortable? Did the conversation flow or did you just drop a dead angry skunk into an otherwise pleasant discussion? Like I said, you may feel silly, but I've often found myself fuming after a chance to say something had passed me by, flipping through what "I should have said" at the moment. You will still have those moments, unless you're impossibly witty. On the other hand, having basic facts readily in mind has kept me afloat in online and real-life debates on a few occasions.

This method has a low broadcast rate. You can maybe expect to help remove certain assumptions held by a single person in a single conversation. On the other hand, who knows how many minds that person will change, and so forth? Knowing this information will not only allow you to challenge status quo when given the opportunity, but will also help you compose effective letters to editors, businesses, and media when responding to bias or junk science on a larger scale.

Here are some sample questions/conversations/scenarios you might use as ideas to help you practice organizing your thoughts and responding in a positive way that promotes knowledge instead of prejudice. I've tried to use questions and scenarios that I've either been in or heard about.


1. "Isn't being fat bad for you?"

2. "Don't you feel handicapped by being fat?"

3. "I exercise every day and I'm not fat"

4. "Have you tried not eating fast food?"

5. "Don't fat people just eat too much and not exercise?"

6. "But fat people can change if they just learned self-discipline!"

7. "If you don't lose weight, aren't you afraid of getting diabetes?"

8. "Why should we pay for fat peoples' health care when they're such a drain on the system?"

9. "What about the obesity epidemic?"

10. "You're not going to eat that, are you?"


1. A co-worker is standing by your desk moaning about the weight she's gained and how hungry she is. How do you respond?

2. A friend/co-worker/family member (try each one) keeps asking about your health, specifically if you've been tested for diabetes or hypothyroid, or hypertension, as if it's only a matter of time.

3. At a party, a girl you don't (or barely) know sees you at the snack table with a pretzel stick and asks you if you've tried cutting out carbs.

4. Your boss asks you if you've tried to lose weight, and tells you you're giving the business a bad reputation by "letting yourself go".

5. Your local paper publishes an editorial saying that fat people should be put into concentration camps until they are within the normal BMI range.

6. A stranger near you on the bus mutters "why don't you try walking there, fatass?" within earshot.

7. A group of teenagers gets really silent as you walk by in a store, then bursts into giggles and whispers about you.

8. A friend/loved one/co-worker gets you exercise tapes or a weight-loss book for your birthday (assuming you didn't ask for one).

9. A friend/family member/co-worker is talking about a very-low-calorie diet she's on.

10. A friend/family member/co-worker is talking about having WLS

11. You hear a mother at the table next to you in a family restaurant tell her large pre-teen son that he can only order a salad because he's been "porking out" lately. Do you say anything?

See, despite the fact that I've given a lot of speeches in my life, I'm actually quite shy. Some of the scenarios above are actually way outside my comfort zone. I'd be much more comfortable writing a letter to the editor than, say, holding a loud fake cell phone conversation about fat acceptance within earshot of a bigoted mother. Everyone has their box, and while it's good to step out of it and make it bigger, it really isn't fair to expect everyone to jump into direct activism with both feet. Everyone can do a little bit, though. If you don't want to confront your co-workers, try just commenting on online articles that support or denigrate SA, or challenge fat hate in a chat room. Maybe you're ok confronting family and friends, but not strangers. That's ok because every individual will contribute a moment and a word to something that grows beyond them and fills every moment, somewhere. We all do what we can, when we can. Somewhere in the world right this second, someone is challenging weight bias. Maybe it's you.

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