Jo: So I've been very sweetly and politely requesting (read: constant impatient nagging) JD to start guest posting for Unapologetically Fat. I know he has strong insights and the unique perspective of a feminist man who doesn't engage in body judgement, so I really wanted to see his voice heard in the FA community. He's come through with this post, which further examines the dangers which the Good Fattie mythology poses to the Fat Acceptance movement by comparing it with a similar dichotomy in the Second-Wave Feminist movement of the 60's. Enjoy!
The Good Fattie and the Bad Feminist
Guest post by JD
There's been a lot of talk recently about what it means to be part of the Fat Acceptance movement, and the way it changes how we think, both individually and collectively. Thanks to Jo's blog, I read MezzoShiri’s "Addicted to Life" post from a few weeks ago. I was struck by Mezzo's definitions of "good" fat people ("someone with pristine nutritional and exercise habits who remains fat") and "bad" fat people ("someone with imperfect eating and exercise habits") and the internal pressures she feels to be a "good" fat person.
I find it interesting how much the definitions of "good" fat people and "bad" fat people mirror one of the unspoken definitions of "good" feminists and "bad" feminists that came into prominence in the 60s and 70s (what is called "Second-Wave Feminism"). Though there was a lot of disagreement, even then, about what it meant to be a "good" feminist, it was easy to recognize one type of "bad" feminist – women who openly expressed their sexuality, even with the men who (it was said) opposed their liberation. In other words, "bad" feminists displayed lust.
When you look beneath the surface you can see how even in this so-called "age of acceptance" we're still subject to old-fashioned intolerance, justified by a thin facade of religion. Lust is a sin, a sin for which women are especially criticized, and therefore women who express their sexuality in the "wrong ways" are a bad example and they hurt the feminist movement. For a long time, a really good feminist was one who overcompensated for this perceived flaw by showing no outward sexuality whatsoever.
Though I suspect this guilt about lust began as an internal pressure felt by people simply seeking their identity – what I hear MezzoShiri describing – it didn't take long to become a force in the organizations that defined the feminist movement. The all-too-predictable result was women attacking other women for their lifestyle choices and the fragmentation of the feminist movement. If you question the depth of this fragmentation, listen to feminists argue (often violently) over the true meaning and impact of pornography, and the mental state of the women involved in it.
Yes, I said "mental state." The most commonly expressed feminist position on pornography is that it is not about sex, but is about violence and oppression, and that the women who participate in it are psychologically damaged and therefore incapable of giving consent to the actions they perform.
I’m not comfortable with pornography. I generally find it either laughable or disturbing. But what disturbs me more is seeing one group of women who seem rational and well-adjusted passing judgment on the mental health of another group of women who also seem rational and well-adjusted, but who make choices that first group doesn’t like. Both groups tend to identify themselves as feminists. I find myself asking: how does this advance the cause of women?
Within the Fat Acceptance movement there are people who feel torn in the same way that many feminists did:
Any fat person who doesn't look like she is enthusiastic about being active and exercising is automatically considered guilty of the sin of Sloth (a.k.a. good old-fashioned laziness). Since laziness is a sin and "bad" fat people are automatically assumed to be guilty of it, to win the rights of Fat Acceptance we should all be "good" examples of fat people, by showing no desire whatsoever to relax and take it easy once in a while. When I relax I feel bad, so it must be bad, right?
That kind of thinking has the potential to lead to influential people within the FA movement imposing their own inner guilt and prejudices on others. Already many fat people are labeled "psychologically damaged" by being diagnosed with eating disorders. While people readily agree that the cause of eating disorders is our current system of unhealthy social influences, all too often the social system gets the attention while the people labeled with these problems are marginalized. Given that state of affairs, how much of a stretch is it to see a future where fat people who say "I eat because I want to" are automatically seen as having a problem with their mental state? How far are we from that perception today?
Everyone, fat or thin, is entitled to relax without feeling guilty, just as everyone, male or female, is entitled to a little guilt-free sexual excitement. Sure, we can all come up with examples of people who take it too far, but who gets to say how far is too far? Not "the movement." Not "great leaders" or major organizations. The only person in a position to judge someone’s mental state is a person directly involved.
I’m condemning anybody here. But discrimination within a movement is no better than discrimination outside a movement, and the attitudes of a movement come from the beliefs of its individual members. The whole point of fat acceptance is to do away with the concepts of "good" and "bad" fat people. We're looking for the acceptance of fat people as ordinary people who are free to be human. If that means some fat people are lazy (or lusty or whatever else), well, that's how they choose to be. Living that way is their right.