The time has come for me to wrap up my gig blogging about representations of fat in pop culture at Bitch Magazine, and I find myself reflecting on what I personally am taking away from the series. I went into the job with high hopes, thinking I was going to be able to really analyze some complicated issues surrounding portrayals of fatness. Instead I was met with hostility almost immediately, and I realized I was going to have to run a fat acceptance 101 course concurrent with analyzing fat in pop culture. Since I was there do to the latter, I made it clear I was not going to accept any discussion of whether fat was healthy or unhealthy. I did this because opening up the health issue for debate just enables those who would seek to shame fat people, blame rising health care costs on them, and openly “concern troll” under the guise of actual interest in fat people’s well-being. Naturally, this upset some people and there were cries of “intellectual oppression” and other such nonsense.
To digress a minute, commenting on an article online is not a right and I don’t feel the need to coddle commenters who feel like the writer OWES them something, such as a thorough education on a topic that was already discussed, when Google is quite easily available. As so many have said, oppressed people are not a learning opportunity and you need to take it upon yourself to become educated on a topic.
Although fat acceptance has been around for quite some time (and I personally have been writing about it since 1998), people still don’t seem to understand that it is a feminist issue. FEMINISTS don’t seem to understand. Traditional feminism breaks down at the intersections and clearly, this is one of them. Blogging at Bitch brought that realization front and center for me. It was somewhat disheartening to experience the pushback against fat being even simply a value-neutral word, much less a positive term. But I did take solace in the comments I got that were supportive, and the people who said they had learned something from the series.
I also learned that among many feminists there is still a gag reflex when it comes to fat. I was surprised at the amount of people who, to their credit, admitted that they had an immediate reaction of disgust at the story of Donna Simpson, a 604 lb. woman who expressed a desire to weigh 1000 lbs. so she could hold a Guinness World Record. I’m not making any extra value judgments on that story here, so don’t ask. I wrote that post to get people to think critically about their commitment to practicing fat acceptance, not to ask people to condone Donna’s choice. That particular post sparked many critical (to put it nicely) comments that were eventually moderated out, which angered the villagers and spawned more cries of intellectual policing. People, ostensibly feminists since it is a feminist site, were upset that they couldn’t speak to the health issues of Donna’s situation–but they ended up doing it anyway. All the same red herrings that are thrown about in discussions about the “obesity epidemic” on any number of non-feminist sites appeared in this discussion.
So, what did I learn? I learned that we have a long way to go in reconciling mainstream feminism with intersectionality, in this case fatness. I learned that many supposedly enlightened feminists will turn on you when you push their perceptions of what is covered under bodily autonomy. Actually, I already knew these things, they were just reinforced by the experience and I suppose I had kind of a rosy view of how fun this whole gig was going to be. I appreciate the support I did receive, and the editors of the site were extremely supportive as well. But it is pretty much always a thankless task to speak truth to power and to force people to think about things that are important yet uncomfortable to think about.
I’ll brush my shoulders off and prepare for the next challenge.