Thursday, February 2, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 1)

I was in on the fantabulous Body Love Revolution Telesummit on Tuesday (There's still time to register for upcoming sessions!). A question came up that I think needs much closer analysis. The caller organized diversity events on his campus (hooray for him for considering size diversity!). He asked how and whether thin people, specifically thin men, are accepted as voices or advocates in this whole Fat Acceptance movement. It was a really thoughtful, and painfully real question.

The first thoughts that came into my head were about Malcolm X. Whatever you think of any or all of his messages, he did advance the idea of self-determinism; that a minority group does not have to rely on the majority to represent their voice or be a witness to their experience. He believed that if a group was not protected from hate and bigotry, they must protect themselves. This is why straight people are allies of the LGTBQ community, but not always accepted into every community as a full member of the family. It is about standing up for yourself, because being dependent on another person to approve you or vouch for you in order to be okay is NOT okay.

We as a fat acceptance movement have sometimes needed advocacy from thin people. I remember the introduction to Paul Campos's book, where the publisher would only take the book if Campos was thin. Likewise, Linda Bacon's advocacy success may be based, in part, on the fact that she is thin. Our voices must often be carried by thin people where they normally wouldn't go. This is not a bad thing. These people helped carve out huge chunks of new territory for us to carry the diversity message, and provided us with the strong empiric ammunition we needed to fight the good fight. On the other hand, they have a very different experience and perspective from Marilyn Wann, or Peggy Howell. They acknowledge and fight against size bigotry, but they have not really experienced it.

So when the caller asked this question, he's asking a few things. He's asking whether we are hostile towards thin people. He's asking whether thin people are welcomed as part of the "family". He's asking how a thin person can respectfully lend their support to the movement without co-opting the voices or having personal experience as a target of bigotry. He's asking whether the participation of men is encouraged, threatening, or irrelevant to the movement. It was a damn good, but complex question.

I will be giving my answers to these questions over the next week or so, trying to tackle each area of a complex web of activism and identity. Your mileage may absolutely vary, because there is no "one true way" of any movement. You may have answers to these questions that are very different from mine, because your experience and paradigm are very different from mine.


Anonymous said...

The first clue is "acceptance". If we want the world to accept us as we are, as people of all degrees of fatness, WE must accept thin people, particularly those who understand what it is we're trying to do. Just as the movement for racial equality attracted support from right-thinking white people, or women's lib welcomed the help of sensible men, so should we accept into our ranks those thin people who truly believe that EVERY body deserves autonomy and respect.

The HAES movement has opened the eyes of a LOT of thin folks. Let's not shut out those who want to help and add their voices.

JupiterPluvius said...

I think there's a difference between "all are welcome to learn more and work together" and what often happens when people of more privilege join a group dedicated to fighting discrimination against the less-privileged. Probably most of us who've taken women's studies classes have encountered The Guy Who Never Stops Talking About Women's Issues Even When Women Are Trying To Speak. I don't really want to be thinsplained at what it's like to be fat, thanks so much.

So I think a welcoming community that acknowledges the centrality of fat voices is the right answer, as you suggest.

Anonymous said...

I was in on the telesummit too! so exciting!

I really liked your response to this question, because the answers that Marilyn, Peggy, and Amanda gave were a little too pat (like of COURSE we accept you). I mean, I agreed with them, but you opened up the nuance of why this was a question that needed to be asked in the first place. I look forward to see what else you have to see on the matter in the upcoming posts you mentioned.

Jen said...

I think questions like this are so important. To be asked by a potential ally how they can help an oppressed group, rather than just stepping in and assuming they know how to help is such an amazing thing.

Anonymous said...

I also really appreciate the thoughtful commentary here. You can also never judge a book by its cover in the FA community. Just because someone is thin does not mean they have never been fat and therefore have a little more insight into the issues at hand than someone who has never experienced the discrimination first hand. Unlike straight allies to the LGBT community, you can have thin people with past experience living as a fat person, so you should never jump to conclusions about someone's sincerity or ability to sympathize. Also, I think when it comes to internal struggles of body hatred just about every woman in america can relate. Some of the most body loathing women I've ever known were thin, and I thought "how can you look in the mirror and still feel these things?? So crazy!".