I’ve been accused of “promoting obesity” for years. This is obviously from people deeply invested in our fatphobic culture, which, to be fair, is not entirely their fault. We all have grown up in a world steeped in dieting and healthism. This is, however, a simplified accusation and a misunderstanding of my work. I've done a lot of interviews and public speaking in which someone inevitably asks me about how body positivity/fat acceptance is promoting "obesity" or an "unhealthy lifestyle" to which I always answer the same:
Am I promoting obesity? Hell yes. I'm promoting radical self-love and body acceptance at any size. And about that “unhealthy lifestyle” you speak of? Study after study has shown that shame is one of the UNhealthiest things for us. The message I'm sharing is one of the healthiest things I've ever done for myself. And it may be for you, too.
"Healthy" looks different for all of us and isn't really something that we have that much control over. It also is NOT a determining factor in body positivity or our value as human beings worthy of kindness and respect. One of my Rad Fatties, as I lovingly refer to members of my Boise Rad Fat Collective, recently shared this hard and heartfelt story with me specifically to tell if I thought it would be of help to others:
This is where I get emotional. Because I have so much to say. Ostracizing me from your lives, staring at my second stomach (my apron of fat) embarrasses me and makes me self-conscious on a level I cannot even begin to share. I hurt emotionally. I also hurt physically. I have arthritis. Because I am also fat, I am embarrassed to tell people I live with chronic pain because I know that they will just say "lose weight. you'll be fine" - right now I hurt. Your suggestion piles on to my hurt and makes it hard for me to breathe because now you are judging me for how I look, how I have lived and pushing away the fact that I have been transparent enough with you to tell you I am hurting. I wake up each morning with a sore back. I get out of bed and wait for my right kneecap to jump in where it's supposed to. I limp around the bedroom for a couple minutes. I go to the bathroom and walk into the kitchen to make coffee. I then get into a shower that feels slightly cramped because of my size. I get into my bathrobe and sit with my puppy and cuddle while I have a cup of coffee. My puppy doesn't judge me and she gives me the love I need to get through the day. I then get dressed - sometimes changing clothes 4-5 times to find an outfit that best covers my fat so I am judged as little as possible and shield the world from seeing my ugliness. I hide all of this from my family and friends because they judge me too. I walk downstairs and out the door and into a world of people who stare at me. I arrive at work and walk to the elevators while my coworkers laugh and take the stairs. I walk slower than they do and miss out on their weekends/evenings chats as they animatedly share what they did and how they are feeling. I walk to my desk and flop into my chair. I start working. I work harder than my peers because I feel a desire to prove myself on a higher level to compensate for the fact that I am fat. Some days I don't get up to do anything other than work from the time I get in until lunch. My bladder hurts. I finally use the rest room and avoid the scale in there and the way I look under the weird lighting. They have full-length mirrors in there too. I wonder if it's like that in the men's room? After work (often the last to leave when it's dark and I am alone) I head home. I trudge painfully up the stairs and back into my safe space (house). Then I make dinner - feel guilty for every bite I eat but eat anyway - sometimes more than I should - and then I help my daughter with school work and sit next to my husband on the couch and play with the dog. It's a normal life for the most part - but every.second.of.it. is dictated by the fact that I've never been comfortable in the world outside of my home. A day in my life involves constant thought of how I appear to people and how I can keep from being seen/noticed.
I’m so honored to bear witness to stories like these but out here helping folks recognize their stories, articulate them and own them. I’m also so honored to help inspire and lead folks in being activists in their own small ways every single day. As people in bodies (like fat bodies, gender nonconforming bodies, brown bodies or disabled bodies) that don’t fit the status quo know very well, simply living your life is a revolutionary act because your body is inherently political.
Another one of my Rad Fatties recently shared a story about how hard she’s finding it when she tries to share the ideas of body positivity in other fat support spaces online. About how reluctant her fellow friends of size are in hearing her share our message.
I told her that in my years of experience speaking out about these things, I've found that sharing the ideals of Health at Every Size and Intuitive Eating will often not only be completely ignored but vehemently hated if the person hearing about the concepts is still fully steeped in body shaming and diet culture. If one is not open to different possibilities, research, science, medicine, etc. they will think this is the wildest thing they've ever heard and it may also make them angry. This anger often stems from the fact that you are now telling them:
1) that they don't actually have that much control over their health that they've previously thought they did
2) that they may have been manipulated and lied to and feel embarrassed about it
3) the body currency they are so dedicated to fighting for/getting actually means nothing; that the value of their humanity is not actually found in their size or their health.
Last week I spent a day speaking to nearly 400 teenagers on positive body image and self-esteem at a local junior high school. I was invited there by the 8th grade counselors as part of a training day on real life skills and share with them some advice, including my 10 favorite easy tips to body acceptance and self-love.
I’ve done this for this age group many times before (once I even had anti-abortion protesters show up at the school for me) and every single time I’m surprised by the amount of fatphobia these children have already been so steeped in by the age of 13. I’m also surprised by how eager so many of them are to soak up my words when I tell them there is a different way, a better way to live and thrive in their bodies. This is especially true for all the girls in the room - I can literally see their jaws drop with amazement and their shoulders drop with relief.
I had students ask hard things about school dress codes and when to know their mental health issues were really, really serious and fun things like what my favorite book was and how they could come to this summer’s RADCAMP: A Body Positive Boot Camp For Feminist Teens.
It’s most definitely a tough crowd to speak to, but may perhaps be the most important stage I stand on.
It's impossible to change someone's mind (or open it) if they aren't willing and can feel like a waste of your energy and time. To be honest, I’m feeling exhausted and worn down and the constant negative push back from people I’ve been receiving daily for years is starting to get to me. Or maybe it’s just a combination of hard things in my life and the dreary gray of February. I don’t know, exactly, but I do know that stories like these help remind me to never giving up on dropping the seeds of change, even if the wind blows them away, there is no water, the earth is barren, and I never see them sprout. Or sometimes strong green buds burst from the frozen earth only to get covered again with snow saying not yet. Growth is sometimes slow, but a new season is coming. I can feel it.