Well, fats and nonfats, it’s time for me to get my fat ass on a horse somehow and ride into the sunset. I hope you enjoyed this blog, or at least learned something from it. It would be great if you now have a better understanding of fat acceptance/size acceptance and how to treat fat people (as humans, of course). I’d love if the fats reading this feel more empowered now than before this blog began. Lofty goals, maybe, but I’d like to think we reached them. I appreciate the feedback I’ve received from people who have changed the way they think as a result of this blog. It balances out the pushback we’ve experienced from would-be fat shamers and concern trollers.

For fat people, I want you to know that just because representations of fatness in pop culture skew towards the negative, it doesn’t always have to be that way. We can let media creators know that we expect better from them by refusing to interact with media that doesn’t portray fat people positively. We can stand against the constant barrage of celebrities hawking weight loss plans and diets that simply lead to a vicious circle of weight loss and regain. We can demand access to fashionable clothes in our sizes from designers and corporations that would rather pretend we don’t exist. We can exist as we are and not hide from our image-obsessed society. Just by staking our claim to be treated like a human being, we are bringing the revolution.

And for nonfats, your privilege affords you access to things fat people are excluded from—like humane treatment, the ability to walk into pretty much any store and find your size, the luxury of not having the constant barrage of anti-fat propaganda directed at you, the ability to interview for a job and not worry that your weight might be a factor in whether or not they hire you, and countless more benefits of thin privilege. If you want to be an “ally” to fat people, you must challenge and unpack your privilege. You must be an advocate for fat acceptance and refuse to let fatphobic comments pass under your nose without recognition. A tall order, yes, but it’s the same as not allowing racism to go unchecked, or homophobia, or sexism.

If you’re interested in reading more of my work, you can find me on Twitter as @misstashafierce, blogging at Sex and the Fat Girl, I Fry Mine in Butter, and after Friday, at Zora & Alice. I’m also part of the Grey’s Bloggers here on Bitch doing a roundtable every Friday on Grey’s Anatomy.

Thank you for reading, listening and participating in this discourse. Peace.

Sorry, y’all, but this blog has got two posts left! So you’re not rid of me yet. I wanted to explore a subject related to FA that Alyx brought up in the comments on the last post—how do we determine what isn’t fat? Where do we draw the line? And what exactly does “average” mean?

What’s interesting about the “average” USian woman is that she’s actually a size 14/16, which would make her plus sized, a euphemism for “fat”. However, average is usually used to describe any woman who isn’t “thin,” but also not “fat.” Of course, words mean things and we can’t just apply any word to any situation. But with a term as nebulous as “fat” gets on the margin, it’s hard to decide exactly when we can apply it. Fatphobes tend to apply the term to people whom they know nothing about at random, depending on body composition, shape, height, etc. rather than any specific size or weight. When we get close to the middle of the body size spectrum, the subjectivity of the viewer becomes a huge factor in how others perceive a woman’s body as fat or thin. There’s no real clear cut way to answer this question except to state that at the margins, self-identification is key.

This ties in to another question asked: How do nonfat people decide when to use the word “fat” to describe someone? I touched on this in the last post, but let me expand on it. If someone doesn’t use the word “fat” to describe themselves, as with any ally you need to respect the words they use. Although we should seek to normalize the word “fat”, on an individual basis, those who would consider themselves allies need to be conscious that not every fat person is ready to embrace being called fat. Support them in loving their body, affirm their beauty, expose them to positive representations of fat, but let them come to their own conclusions.

So what is average? It seems like more of a statistical term than something to describe bodies. Even if you are the fabled size 14/16, all size 14/16 bodies are not built the same. I don’t think it’s offensive to use the term “average” if you really are referring to a statistical average of dress size. But we should not confuse “average” with “normal”, because that implies that anything else is deviant. This is one of those gray areas that must be navigated with care.

Since we’re nearing the end of this blog, I thought now would be a good time to answer a question several readers have asked and basically summarize some of the lessons I hope you’ve taken away from our time together here. These are just starting points—I would suggest you do some further reading about thin privilege as well as how to practice FA.

  • Fat people are not unattractive or unable to be attractive simply because they are fat. This became an issue early on in the life of this blog. Fat and beauty are not mutually exclusive. So it follows, saying something like “your face is gorgeous” is really worse than just not saying anything at all. Most fat people don’t appreciate the sentiment that goes along with a statement like that–too bad your body is so damn hideous. You don’t need to comfort or coddle fat people with “well-meaning” pseudocompliments, really. And by saying that I don’t mean you have a license to tell fat people how disgusting you think they are in the name of honesty. This is a situation where the old adage “if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all” applies.
  • Fat people don’t need you to worry about their health for them. One of the things I hope y’all really take away from this is that fat is not inherently unhealthy or healthy. Therefore, you can’t tell a person’s health by how fat they are. So “concern trolling” really amounts to people getting out their disgust of fat under the guise of caring about the fat person in question’s health. This is why I talk about “concern trolling” so much—it’s not really actual concern and is quite transparent, especially coming from strangers on the Internet. Fat folks can handle their own health issues, thank you.
  • Fat is a value-neutral or positive term. The word “fat” doesn’t need to be dressed up with euphemisms. It’s extremely important that we normalize the neutrality and/or positivity of “fat” if we’re ever going to advance fat acceptance. On the flip side, I wouldn’t suggest you come out and call someone “fat” if they’re not familiar with fat being used as a non-pejorative. Yes, some people will still be offended if you call them fat, so try introducing them to fat acceptance gently and let them get comfortable with fat as a neutral/positive term. Tread lightly, however. Here on this blog “fat” is thrown around on the regular, but we do have to face the fact that outside of this place there’s a lot of people who don’t get that it’s OK to be fat.
  • Fat acceptance requires acceptance of all sizes and the choices fat people make about their bodies. Note “acceptance” and not “approval” or “admiration.” I’ve said this many times but it bears repeating—fat people are not expecting you to do anything but respect them as human beings and respect that they have the right to decide what they do with their bodies. “My body, my choice.” Sound familiar? Fat people should be allowed agency over their bodies without you up in their faces telling them how wrong what they’re doing is. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to accept it.

I want to reinforce these points because I think they’re crucial to FA. Hopefully you’ll take these ideas to heart and practice them in your daily life, as you interact with fat people AND as you interact with pop cultural representations of fatness critically.

Happy Monday! I wanted to offer something a little light-hearted to start off the week, so I decided to dedicate this post to a few fierce fat female recording artists that have rocked my world and provided a counterpoint to how fat women are viewed in society. These women are all in control of their own image, their own unique styles, and have managed to find success in an industry that isn’t all that friendly to non-Katy Perry looking women.

Martha Wash is a big reason why vocal credits are listed on albums now. Back in the ’90s, she did the vocals for C+C Music Factory’s “Gonna Make You Sweat” but in the music video, a thin woman was featured lip syncing to Wash’s vocals. She sued for royalties and won. Wash is actually a favorite among gay men and regularly performs at LGBT events. Her story illustrates the prejudice displayed by the music industry against fat women—they didn’t want Wash to appear in the video due to her size.

Jill Scott also appears on TV in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency on HBO. She’s one of my favorite singers and has always represented fierce fat women to the fullest as well as holding it down for the natural sisters out there. Jill has made forays onto the big screen as well, appearing in Why Did I Get Married? and Why Did I Get Married Too? This video is my favorite of hers, if only for the wig yanking.

Although she’s smaller than when she first came out, Missy Elliott is still larger than your average pop starlet. And when she first came out, she ignored pretty much every fashion “rule” for fat chicks—her first video, “The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)” featured her dressed in an inflated garbage bag of a jumpsuit. Repping for the smaller fats now, her style hasn’t changed. She’s still as unique (and multitalented) as ever.

When she was nominated for an Oscar back in 2002 (for Chicago), Queen Latifah caused a fashion uproar by simply being fatter than the average screen siren. Designers lined up to dress her for the Oscars, the coming of the plus size revolution was trumpeted, and she got contracts for various cosmetic and fashion companies. It wasn’t until Mo’Nique and Gabourey Sidibe were nominated that another fat actress received the amount of fashion designers fawning over them that Latifah did. Back in the 00s, she was our fat icon.

Fashion’s current fat darling, Beth Ditto, has contributed a great deal artistically to getting representations of fat bodies out there with no holds barred. Frequently appearing naked in magazines, Ditto wears tight, revealing clothing on the regular and has no qualms with showing her body in what many would consider “unflattering” ways. She’s teamed up with UK fat fashion retailer Evans to create two collections of clothes reflecting her personal style. Even noted fatphobe Karl Lagerfeld had to act like he could stand being next to a fat person for a while to take pictures with her at Fashion Week—and she played a private Fendi party.

Adele is a Grammy award-winning fat UK soul singer with an amazingly evocative voice and a quirky personal style. Have you noticed the best soul singers are usually fat? It’s our superpower. Like so many other fat women in the music industry, she’s been thrown shade by the fashion powers-that-be, namely Vogue magazine, but Anna Wintour’s fear of fat has been documented for ages now.

An honorary mention goes to two former fats, Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Holliday (from the Broadway production of Dreamgirls. Here they are belting out the signature song from the movie/musical that made them both famous–when they were fat. Although I think this was shot pre-Weight Watchers for J.Hud. It’s sad to lose them, but odds are they’ll be back. We’ll save seats for you, divas.

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For ELLE magazine’s 25th anniversary issue, they featured four different 25-year-old actresses on four different covers of the magazine. One of those actresses is Gabby Sidibe. This choice naturally brought out the fatphobes decrying her health and questioning her level of attractiveness before the cover even came out. Now that it’s dropped, well, there’s a lot for folks to talk about besides playing “guess her health status”.

Some pointed out that she’s lighter on the ELLE cover than she was on the cover of Ebony and in real life. ELLE insists it did not overdo it with the Photoshop, but as with other black celebs, it is a matter of course for any magazine to lighten their skin. It’s not particularly shocking anymore, although that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call mags out for it. Others weeped for the state of Gabby’s weave, which I do have to admit does look pretty jacked up. One interesting criticism of the cover that I’ve read in comments on these articles and elsewhere is concerned with how the cover was shot. Whereas the other three thinner celebrities are featured in full-body shots, Gabby literally covers the magazine. To some, this is an insult regarding her size. I wonder, what’s wrong with looking fat when you are fat?

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We all, including Gabby, know that she’s fat. Even if she was shot full-body, she’d still be fat, and people would probably still be upset about it for various reasons including the fact that she’s on the cover at all. There’s nothing unflattering about being fat and appearing fat. So many fashion tips for fat women are focused on minimizing the appearance of our fat, wearing “slimming” clothing and basically trying to look as nonfat as possible. When we see a magazine cover featuring a fat woman not trying to beat back the fat but rather celebrating her size, it goes counter to everything fashion mags try to teach us about camouflaging fatness and therefore causes some to feel that she’s been “done wrong”.

Gabby may take up the whole cover with her size, but her (deserved) self-confidence takes up just as much room — refreshing, to say the least.

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Celebrities who have the “misfortune” of gaining a few pounds usually find pictures of themselves looking “fat” on the cover of a tabloid rag at some point. Americans, at least, seem to derive pleasure from this, as if gaining weight is some kind of comeuppance for celebrities, knocking them off their pedestal and showing the world they aren’t so perfect after all. The attitude is that getting fat is a punishment for vanity, or just something generally bad that we can wish on beautiful thin people we feel envious of or don’t like for some reason. Getting fat ranks up there with botched plastic surgery as far as reasons to ridicule celebrities endlessly. We want them to be perfect, and when they’re proven to be just like you and me, fat and all, our lives are turned upside down. Well, some people’s lives.

A few years ago, Tyra Banks made the tabloids after someone shot an “unflattering” series of pictures of her in a bathing suit. Ty Ty came out blazing, getting the cover of People with the headline “You call this fat??” She also did a segment on her talk show decrying the pictures and then tried to tie her plight to the plight of other women everywhere who have been called fat unfairly. Because, you know, calling someone fat is really cruel. Every time a celebrity decides to come out and defend their nonfat honor, it reinforces the idea that fat is negative, something to be avoided at all costs.

VH1’s Celebrity Fit Club is a veritable jackpot of celebrity schadenfreude. The premise is that we get to watch faded stars who’ve gained weight go through a “boot camp” led by Harvey Walden IV, an ex-Marine personal trainer, to get thin again, but mostly just make excuses about why they gained weight instead of losing this week. Being celebs, they often skip boot camp meetings (they get to go home in between the sessions) because they supposedly had something more important to do, such as Bobby Brown claiming he had some show in Europe to do. (Bobby, we know you are not doing any type of shows right now. Give it up.) Or they show up drugged out like Daniel Baldwin (who spent most of the first season like that, actually) and have general rage attacks. The point being, ha ha look at these fat celebs, their lives are all out of control and they eat to take the pain away. Obviously, this is not a positive move towards fat acceptance. The shame train is chugging along and Harvey Walden IV is the conductor.

Jessica Simpson has repeatedly been skewered by the media for her weight gain. Although she has embraced her newfound “curves” and says she is at peace with her body, that apparently just hypes up the fat shaming, since there’s no way we’re going to let her off the hook that easily. A celebrity being okay with gaining 10 pounds? Oh hell no. Even articles that support Simpson’s body acceptance have to throw in a little jab about her dress being too tight. Personally, I never had much respect for Jessica Simpson before I saw her attitude about gaining weight. The way she’s handling it it is basically the polar opposite of the way Tyra handled it.

It’s doubtful that the public’s fascination with celebrity weight schadenfreude will wane as long as the general societal climate is tilted towards fat being a Bad Thing. One can only hope, however, that more celebrities will begin to handle shade being thrown at them over gaining a few pounds as gracefully as Simpson.

We’ve spent time discussing the media’s portrayals of fat people and society at large’s reactions to such portrayals, now let’s get meta and talk about your reactions to portrayals of fat people in the media. Specifically the reaction to my last post about Donna Simpson and her fantasy of gaining 300-odd pounds. It appears there’s still a question as to what fat acceptance means and how we apply it. I’m not the spokesperson for fat acceptance, so what I say isn’t gospel, but this is the FA I practice and since I’m the writer of this here blog, it’s the FA that is applied to this space.

It seems that we have a lot of commenters who feel they can confidently diagnose various psychiatric illnesses in people who they know little about. Having some experience with mental health diagnoses, I know that there are a lot of diagnostic criteria that you have to meet to be diagnosed with a mental illness. From reading the articles linked in the post, I only learned a few things about Ms. Simpson besides the main point that she fantasizes about being 1000 lbs. 1) She likes to eat. 2) She makes money off her eating. 3) She is not dissatisfied with her body, and in fact enjoys her body. None of that indicates that she has binge eating disorder, or that she’s suicidal, or that she has body dysmorphic disorder. These aren’t even markers for any kind of mental illness, unless you consider love of fat a mental illness—which many people apparently do.

There’s also a misconception among many commenters that when I say “acceptance” I mean “approval” or even “support.” I’m not asking you to approve of fat people’s choices or fat itself. I’m not asking you to lend your support to say, Donna Simpson’s eating habits. I’m telling you that you need to accept fat people as human beings, treat us with respect, respect our personal choices (and by respect I don’t mean “admiration”) and keep your judgments to yourself while not allowing your personal biases to distort how you treat fat people. It’s pretty simple. It doesn’t matter if the fat person is a size 1X or a size 10X. You can apply these same principles of acceptance to any size of fat person. And hey, if a fat person ever asks you your opinion of their fat, it’s your lucky day! Feel free to tell them your opinion at that time. But until then, and at least in this space, no one wants to know how negatively you view fat, whether it’s your fat or someone else’s. There are many other spaces dedicated to talking about fat negatively, and they’re not hard to find.

It’s kind of sad that this constantly needs repeating, but I’m not writing about health here. This is about analyzing pop cultural representations of fatness and society’s attitudes towards fat—NOT about reinforcing society’s negative attitudes towards fat or expressing your confidence in your skills at remote diagnosis. Let’s try to keep that in mind as we hit the home stretch for this blog.

I Want To Be The Fattest Woman In The World

Continuing the conversation about respecting and accepting fatness as a choice, I thought I’d examine some of the reaction to a recent sensationalist news story about a fat woman in New Jersey named Donna Simpson, who expressed her fantasy of adding 386 lbs. to her current 604 pound weight in order to be named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest woman alive. The story launched a thousand ships of concern trolls, fitness experts offering their services, and wanna-be cultural commentators talking about how disgusting the whole thing is. Another aspect of the story that was so disturbing to people was that she supports her “lifestyle” with proceeds from videos of her eating. People deriving sexual pleasure from watching fat women eat are commonly known as “feeders,” and it’s not a new phenomenon by any means, but apparently it’s new (and horrifying) to some of these people.

Reading the comment thread on a NY Post article on the story, I was struck at the cognitive dissonance most of the commenters appeared to be dealing with. On the one hand, they acted concerned for her health and the welfare of her daughter should she die due to trying to achieve the 1000 lb. weight. On the other, they were disgusted and often would express a desire to see her dead. How you can be worried that someone is going to die and then wish them dead, I don’t know. But thinking about fat does some amazing things to people’s abilities to reason. There were also the typical comments from misguided folks who apparently think that all fat people are necessarily receiving public assistance, often in contradictory ways—like getting disability AND welfare—and therefore were being supported by THEIR tax dollars. Since the woman rakes in a cool $4000 a month through her feeder pictures alone, I doubt taxpayers are footing the bill. But, of course, logic also flies out the window when talking about fat people.

Admittedly, this is probably an extreme case, but what is it about this woman’s acceptance of herself at such a large size that triggers such emotional responses? Other, smaller fat people also expressed disgust at her size and many stated that they were fat but would “never give up trying” to lose the weight. Again, fat people are expected to constantly be attempting to get skinny and if they aren’t, the shame train pulls into the station. As I stated previously, our fears and disgust over “excess” fat are reflected in some of the words we use for the act of “letting yourself go” and not fighting the fat—gluttonous, slothful, etc.. The implications being if you don’t die from being fat, you’ll get yours by going to hell in the end anyway. Even though Americans’ collective weight is rising, we’re all on diets now more than ever, ostensibly to ward off our ultimate fate. Though many people might not believe accepting their fat is a sin, they definitely believe they’d be in the wrong not to strive for thinness above all else. The U.S. may be the fattest nation in the world, but we make sure to hate ourselves for it.

The drama over Donna Simpson is less about health and more about choice—respecting the choices others make for their own bodies and protecting the right to make that choice and not be penalized for it by society. We are definitely afraid of fat, our own and other people’s. But just because one can’t get over their own baggage regarding weight doesn’t mean they should expect others to carry it too.

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There is a clear dichotomy when it comes to fat people. One the one hard, we have the virtuously fat, who by no fault of their own are fated to live life in a fat body due to disease, genetics, or bad luck of the draw. On the other hand we have the fat people who are perceived to be “out of control,” guilty of the deadly sins of sloth and gluttony. Fat people must justify their existence by convincing fatphobes that they’re trying really hard not to be fat, but they just can’t permanently reach that Land of Thin. People love black-or-white scenarios, so they tend to want to place a fat person in one box or another. You’re either the object of pity or disgust, from both other fat people who buy into the dichotomy and society at large. Unless you have some kind of verifiable “excuse” to be fat—and that still doesn’t exempt you from experiencing discrimination and being the target of unchecked fatphobia—you’d better keep running in that hamster wheel of yo-yo dieting, weight loss and regain.

The plight of the fat celebrity illustrates our expectation that fat people should be constantly fighting the battle of the bulge, and we get a kick out of watching their weight rise and fall. From Oprah to Kirstie Alley, we are obsessed with the constant attempts to beat back the inevitable regain of weight. Kirstie Alley capitalized on our obsession by producing not one, but two shows focusing on her weight—one right before she lost all the weight, and one after she gained it all back. Oprah’s travails up and down the scale are legendary. Then we have the revolving door of Jenny Craig spokeswomen, such as Jennifer Hudson and Sarah Rue. So when a celebrity dares to proclaim that she’s happy at a weight considered fat, all hell breaks loose. Example: Gabby Sidibe.

Concern trolls hit paydirt in Gabourey Sidibe. Not only is the actress happy at her weight, she has the audacity to claim she’s sexy and deserves respect. So what is the establishment response? Mocking her, offering to help her lose weight, expressing disbelief that she’s actually happy and using her weight as a springboard to resuscitate a dead career. Just by daring not to get on the yo-yo diet bandwagon, she ignited a firestorm of condemnation and faux concern. Definitely not the behavior of a fat person who knows her place.

The fat acceptance movement in some ways hinders the dismissal of the good fat/bad fat dichotomy by encouraging fat people to defend themselves by pointing to the fact that they eat their veggies and exercise yet still cannot lose weight. It may be an unpopular position, but what about those who may not be so virtuous in their eating and exercise habits—do they not deserve equal acceptance? There needs to be room in the fat acceptance movement for those who may be fat by choice. It should be enough that we’re human to treat us with respect and dignity, regardless of the reasons why we’re fat.

Size discrimination is an unfortunate fact of life for many fat people working in a corporate environment. Fat workers are often passed over for promotions, denied raises, and told outright to their faces that they are undesirable to clients. Not only that, fat employees on average earn 1 to 6 percent less than employees whose weight is considered “normal.” Fat people are also often the scapegoats for rising corporate health care costs. What protections are there for those facing size discrimination? Being classified as “overweight” generally does not entitle you to protections under the Americans With Disabilities Act or the ADA Amendment Act of 2008, however, under the ADAAA being classified as “morbidly obese” or having health problems considered “weight-related” does. The larger you are, the more likely you are to experience size discrimination, and the more protections you have under the law. But those who are not considered “morbidly obese” also need to be protected, and unfortunately there are no laws that prohibit discrimination based on weight.

As if size discrimination wasn’t enough to deal with, many workplaces are instituting weight loss incentive programs, which further marginalizes fat employees. Incentive programs that include rewards for departments or teams that lose the most weight create a hostile atmosphere in which fat people are shamed for not being able to lose significant amounts of weight. For example, an alumna of Stephens College in Missouri recently pledged to donate $1 million to the college if the staff loses a collective 250 pounds by January 1, 2011. This puts undue pressure on fat staff members who may or may not be able to lose enough weight to contribute “their part” of the collective 250 lbs. The dean herself is expected to lose 25 lbs. to receive an extra $100,000 in addition to the $1 million. Since the dean accepted the challenge on behalf of the college, she apparently has no problem with being pressured to lose that much weight. I doubt the rest of the staff was consulted before the challenge was accepted.

Another type of incentive plan was instituted by Whole Foods that involves lower health care costs for those who maintain a certain BMI. Now, we know that BMI is not the best way to measure health in individuals. This program stigmatizes those who may be unable to reach a BMI considered to be within the “healthy” range, regardless of what their real indicators of health may show. In fact, this program could be seen as encouraging some to be at a weight UNDER what is actually healthy for them just to be in the “Platinum” group, since a BMI under 24 could potentially only be achieved by some people via losing unhealthy amounts of weight. Furthermore, the size discrimination inherent in this incentive program demonizes fat people by attributing high health care costs to those with higher BMIs and penalizing them for their perceived inability to lose weight. Why is it the business of your employer what your BMI is?

Legislation prohibiting size discrimination is desperately needed as more and more people are considered “obese” by the medical establishment and corporations continue to intrude further on fat employees’ personal lives by taking stock of their supposed health indicators. The carrot-stick incentive programs being adopted contribute to the marginalization of fat workers and promote the idea that rising health care costs are the fault of fat people in general. We don’t need to pathologize fatness by having it considered a disability just to fight size discrimination. We need size to be included along with race, age, gender, sexual orientation, etc. as protected under anti-discrimination laws.