Monday, February 6, 2012

On Thinness and Fat Acceptance (Part 5)

This is part 5 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
Part 3
Part 4

In this last post on this, I want to address the final element of the question: whether the participation of men is encouraged, threatening, or irrelevant to the FA movement.

Way back in 2009 there was a debate about men in Fat Acceptance feeling marginalized, and I commented on it.

Sadly, I think there's even fewer men blogging in the Fatosphere today than there were back then. Brian is still going at Red No. 3, and continues to be a great voice for fat men. There are a few male contributors at Axis of Fat.  Atchka posts at Fierce, Freethinking Fatties.  Those are the active bloggers I know of. (Please let me know if you're a man and I've missed your blog!) Paul Campos is also still writing articles all over the media attacking weight bias.

Feminism has always been tied closely to the FA movement, because historically women in our country have been held to a stricter and more physical standard of attractiveness than men. While most academic feminists are simply looking to be treated as equal humans, unfortunately there are some advocates of popular feminism that attempt to cast men as the enemy. They classify all men as physically, mentally, and sexually dangerous. They believe that men get a "free pass" when it comes to weight and appearance, and therefore suspect them of trying to co-opt FA and dominate the women's voices. Usually when men speak critically of feminism as "man-hating," they're speaking of a very narrow but vocal sect of feminists.

I don't blame men for feeling excluded from FA. The majority of the voices are women. The fashion posts generally cover women's clothing. A loud minority tells them they are all potential rapists and deserve to be treated as such. Add to this a societal pressure to be both strong and silent, and to take responsibility for everything that happens in the world, and you have a dearth of men willing to stand up and fight/blog for feelings of oppression.

So when encountering men in FA, a woman may ask herself "Why is he here?" Generally it's because he supports FA. Sometimes he may be seeking a sexual or romantic partner. Sometimes women will simply assume that the man is a fat admirer looking for a partner, which is a poor assumption to make. I've been told by several sources that historically, FA was focused on providing a safe and supportive atmosphere for romantic hook-ups, (including in comments earlier in this series) but while a lot of that exists today, there's a balance of political and social activism as well. 

Fat Activist Men

More and more, men are being targeted for the same body and weight issues that have been foisted on women. The rate of eating disorders in men has skyrocketed in the last decade. The ideal of the strong, muscled man has given way to the ideal of the forever slim, youthful man in popular media. Mannequins for male clothing stores are coming out with 27 inch waistlines. In a competitive job market, fat men are less likely to be hired or promoted. They are depicted as undesirable partners on TV, and are subject to the same stereotypes of lazy, weak and gluttonous as women.

Men are also under pressure to choose partners that conform to the beauty ideal set by our society. Straight men are under peer pressure to obtain the thin, large-breasted, medium-tall woman who can fit into a sample dress. A postcard on Post Secret said it best: "I love you, but I broke up with you because my friends laughed at me for dating a fat girl."

Thin men, of course have the same vested interest as all thin people in creating a size diverse society; they have family, friends, partners, children, and potential future weight changes in their lives.

All this adds up to men having a voice and role in Fat Activism. We women need to examine what we do to make them feel unwelcome in the community. Do you include content in your blog that appeals to men? I look back on my own blog and am guilty on this count. To some extent, there's a certain natural progression where women sharing their personal experiences will be more relevant to other women. But those of us that share general content may want to make an effort to include gender-neutral or gender-diverse content. How many FA women with fat male partners or friends post fashion and shopping choices they make? How many Fatshionistas include links and reviews for shops that sell large mens' options? Also, what is the tone we take when discussing men? Do we make generalizations of them as dangerous, insensitive, or sexually aggressive? Do we use value-neutral language?

The truth is that the FA community isn't yet perfectly accepting of men. But it can be.

Fat Dating

The other can of worms inherent in the question of men in FA is, of course, dating. Men who are attracted to fat women sometimes seek out FA as a way to meet potential partners. Heck, many women seek out FA as a way to meet potential partners. It's a pre-screening option against rejection due to weight bigotry. There are FA dances, outings, vacations, forums, chat rooms, and other opportunities to seek out all levels of friends and lovers.

Not everyone is looking. Some of us are in stable, monogamous or closed polyamorous relationships. Some are taking a break from romantic relationships in order to spend some "me" time and get their heads straight (I did this for a few years). Some are looking for partners of a gender that isn't yours.

And I really, really hate to have to include it, but here it is: Fat women aren't desperate. It is a common myth in our culture. Every slapstick comedy seems to trot out the big woman in a flowered dress who throws herself aggressively (to stalking/assault levels) at someone in the movie. Usually it's the man deemed least attractive by our cultural standards. If you're attracted to fat women, you'll do everyone a lot of favors if you clear this particular stereotype from your head before you seek us out.

In general, the rules for dating in FA are the same as they are for dating anywhere; don't be an asshat. Respect the No. Respect body boundaries (no touching without permission). Don't be a troll. Most visible FA women have had an experience somewhere along the lines of this, and it doesn't endear us to solicitations in general.  Keep flirtation and solicitation appropriate to the environment and context. Respect the No. This message is for men AND women. The latter sometimes feel they have license to be sexually aggressive towards men in a way they would never tolerate if the roles were reversed.

In conclusion, men are welcome and necessary to Fat Acceptance. There will always be a few people who disagree and think that FA should be some exclusive magical vagina rainbow connection, but I don't think that's a healthy or constructive way to view the movement as a whole. As with thin people, there will be fat activist women who resent men's social power, feel threatened, or simply fail to be inclusive. That is the reality. The ideal should be to realize that we can't have a fat accepting culture by only enlisting half the culture; we can only have war. We are not men or women at every size, we are human at every size.


This marks the end of this five-part series on thin/male inclusion in FA, a movement that predominantly identifies as female and fat. I'm generally open to learning, correcting and clarifying my thinking on this or most other issues; especially when it is this complex and full of subtext. So please voice your opinion in the comments if you feel I'm off track on any of these posts.


Danny said...

Speaking strictly as a fat guy myself you explained pretty well why I've never put a whole lot of effort into associating with the Fatosphere or FA.

Simply put a lot of the feminists I've come across that talk on this are more worried about making sure everyone knows that "women have it worse" than actually listening to fat men when they speak up. In the past I responded to a post asking why more fat guys didn't join in with the Fatosphere/FA/feminism. I made the mistake of thinking they wanted my answer but in reality they were just interested in telling me how wrong I was, which in turn proved my explanation.

I'm glad those folks are helping fat women and any fat man willing to put up with them but I'm fine not bothering with them.

JoGeek said...

Danny: Thanks for adding your voice; I'm always a little leery of trying to speak for someone else's experience!

I'm sorry you've felt unwelcome in the Fatosphere. I'm curious to know if there's an FA arena (blogroll, discussion group, forum or organization) where you do feel welcome as a man, and what do they do differently? Or do you feel you're excluded from FA in general?

Danny said...

Well truth be told after my experiences with feminists on this I basically shyed away from it. Its possible if I were to look around the FA arena in some other capacity I'd find something more accepting though.

William said...


I have to agree with Danny. There are so many fat women in Fat Acceptance who only mention fat men while they are sharing their usual statement that Fat Men have it so much easier than fat women.

How apathetic can one group be to another group of people who share so many of the negative experiences in life?

I do have many Fat Acceptance Blogs including this one where I feel more welcomed.