Saturday, February 4, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 3)

This is part 3 of my series addressing the question of a caller on the first Body Love Revolution Telesummit. The caller was asking about the place for thin people (especially men) in the fat acceptance movement. Please read Part 1 for background.

Part 2 was posted yesterday. 

In Part 2, I addressed whether there is specific hostility towards thin people in FA. In this post, I want to address the part of the caller's question asking whether thin people are welcomed as part of the "family" in FA.

There's a lot of crossover with the last section, but there are also enough nuances here to warrant its own posting. Here's the thing; you can fight with a group you don't identify as part of in order to secure rights for that group. But that doesn't change your identity or your privilege.

As much as we are all fighting for the idea of equality and for all humans to be treated as humans regardless of size, we fat people cannot completely ignore the fact that for thin people, this is a choice. They are already accepted. In fact they are held up as the ideal. They can't help this anymore than I can help being considered the opposite. That's what privilege means; you are granted a certain social status based on criteria outside of your reasonable control.

I consider myself an ally of the LGTBQ community. I write my government representatives on LGTBQ issues, push for awareness amongst the people close to me, and try to confront prejudice when I encounter it. I also vote. But all the advocacy I can engage in does not make me part of the "family". There is always a certain divide between me and my experiences, and my LGTBQ friends. I have privilege. I can get married, talk about my partner at work without retribution or stigma, and generally not have to worry about being subject to a certain kind of discrimination in housing, employment, or service because of my identity as straight and cis-gendered. When someone complains that they encountered LGTBQ bigotry, I can listen and empathize, but I can't relate. Not on the same level as someone who has also had that experience. I can try to extend my own experiences with fat discrimination, but it really isn't the same.

I have many thin friends who don't see me as a body size. But every now and then one of my thin friends will say something. They will talk about their latest diet, or complain about the size of their hips, or laugh over a "huge" pair of pants at a clothing store without remember that I wear an even larger size. They will make an unwitting comment that they would have never made if they knew it was hurtful, but their experience does not fully sensitize them to the nuances of fat prejudice. I expect this, and suspect other fat people do as well. There is a certain wariness and awkwardness I sometimes feel around thin people who aren't aware of their privilege. They may accept me, but they also have a certain power to hurt me. Even if they never use it, I can't ignore that power.

This is why only fat people can make fat jokes, or why only gay people can make gay jokes, or why only women can make cracks about PMS. This is the perfect example to highlight a very subtle form of otherness. I can make a joke that expresses my identity or my frustration with associated issues. You can't, because you are making them from the outside. It does make a difference.

Just to prevent anyone from thinking I'm throwing stones here, I want to give an example where it was entirely my fuck-up. I heard the other day that Canadian airlines are not allowing people to fly if their dress and appearance doesn't match the gender on their driver's license or I.D. I was really angry, and made a snarky crack about how Canada is forcing people to cross-dress in order to fly. My intention was to validate people's gender identity and highlight the ridiculousness of the rule. If a woman was born male (Canada won't change gender on official documents unless you're post-op) then she would have to dress up like a man in order to get on the plane. Here's the problem; I'm cis-gendered. As an outsider, my joke could just as easily be interpreted as reinforcing Canada's justification for the rule by saying it was easy to just put on different clothes for the flight. My intentions don't count; only the effect of my words. Luckily I have people around who call me on this kind of thing so that I can stop acting unintentionally like a jackass.

Now after pointing out the otherness, let me emphasize that I'm NOT saying thin people aren't welcome in this movement. Thin people have a vested interest in supporting size diversity, and we fat people need to acknowledge it. Thin people have friends, family, children, past and future size changes, employees, employers, and a hundred other reasons why they, personally, need to create a world without size prejudice. They are bombarded with "conform or die" messages every day that try to convince them to hate and fear others. They are told that their privilege, worth, attractiveness and health are contingent on never looking different. Thin people have a place and voice in the fight for size diversity! It's important for everyone promoting diversity of any kind to examine assumptions and privileges, and respect that each person comes with their own experiences and motivations.

In addition, fat and thin are arbitrary designations on what is really a spectrum. I have a size 10 friend I think of as thin, but she frets about what she sees as excess weight. As one of the speakers in the first telesummit said, we have the right to self-identity.

The ideal is to bridge the gap and eliminate any feeling of otherness between fat and thin people. We are fighting for humanity at every size. The reality, however, is that many fat people feel more comfortable around other fat people.  They know that the other fat person "gets it" on a level that a thin person can't. They will be friends with thin people, and there are often very close relationships with empathetic thin people that bridge the gap. There are many who truly see all people as part of the human family.  But there are others who still struggle with validating their own identity and their right to it. There are many who have had such devastating and traumatic experiences with thin people (even "best friends" who really weren't) that it takes time and familiarity to build trust. If you're a thin person in FA, you're very much welcome, but everyone on the fat-thin identity spectrum must bring patience and understanding to the table. We are not activists in a vacuum, and our lives have generally involved some wear and tear on the soul. Acknowledging the reality is the first step towards enacting change.


William said...


As a Fat Guy I have had great experiences with thin females in Fat Acceptance and various thin transgender people, but the same can not be said of many thin males who often combine their existence as a fat ally with their fat admiration or fat fetish.

When I first entered Fat Acceptance what I found as a Fat Guy was a cartoon version of what Fat Acceptance is today. Fat Fetish activity flowed back and forth from places like Dimensions Magazine into Fat Acceptance areas.

Minorities and the LGTBQ Community have their Allies from other groups of people, but the history of thin men in Fat Acceptance is unique and continuous because lots of guys on Dimensions Magazine announced that they would be attending the 2011 NAAFA Convention.

I enjoy Fat Acceptance much more now that is focused on supporting Fat People, then when it was more a part of the "BBW Dance Community"

JoGeek said...

Thanks for commenting William! I'm interested to hear about how it was for men historically in FA. Your experience sheds some light for me on how FA evolve from social to social activism. I'm glad it's developed into something more activist, because I think just a dating scene wouldn't have interested me as much.

William said...


I just hope the thin guys out there who are "fat allies" know that I was not talking about them and they are out there and they have contributed a lot.