An Open Letter to the Fat-Positive Movement


Dear Fat-Positive Movement:

Here is a fat-positive manifesto I could live with.

Feet_on_scaleWe need to make major changes in how our society views weight, fatness, and fat people. Our society has an excessively narrow definition of what constitutes an acceptable body type, and it’s a definition that is unattainable for the overwhelming majority of people. People can be healthy, happy, and attractive at a variety of sizes; the standard medical definition of a healthy weight range is almost certainly too narrow, and some evidence suggests that it may be too low. Furthermore, many popular weight loss programs are grossly unhealthy, both physically and psychologically, and are aimed, not at maintaining good health, but at an almost certainly fruitless attempt to attain the cultural ideal of beauty. And many people who try to lose weight have no earthly medical reason for doing so.

Shallow halWe demand that people be treated with respect and dignity regardless of their size. We demand an end to job discrimination based on size. We oppose the moral outrage that is commonly aimed at fat people, and the persistent media representations of fat people as objects of disgust and ridicule. And we demand an end to medical discrimination based on size: we expect doctors to treat fat people with respect; to discuss weight loss with fat people as one option among many instead of the one course of action that must be pursued before any other; and to treat non- weight- related conditions equivalently for all patients, without regard to size.

Weight loss is both very difficult and very uncommon, especially in the long term. And we don’t yet know why it’s so difficult, or why a few people are able to do it while most people are not. We therefore think it’s completely valid for a fat person to decide that weight loss isn’t where they want to put their time and energy. Many of the health risks associated with being fat diminish significantly when people eat a healthy diet and get regular exercise — even if they don’t lose weight. We therefore encourage fat people to be as healthy as they can be: to eat healthy diets and get regular vigorous exercise, even if they don’t lose weight doing so. And we encourage people who do choose to lose weight to do so in a healthy, sustainable way.

RugbyWe understand that there are health risks associated with being fat. There are health risks associated with many things — things we have control over, such as playing rugby; things we have no control over, such as carrying the breast cancer gene; and things we have limited control over to differing degrees, such as where we live. We think it is reasonable for people to decide for themselves whether they are willing to live with these risks, or whether they want to take action to reduce those risks — whether that’s by quitting rugby, having a pre-emptive mastectomy, moving, or losing weight. Both fatness and weight loss can involve health risks and loss of quality of life, and each individual must determine for themselves their own cost/benefit analysis of those risks and that quality. No person can decide that for another.

Fast food nationWe do understand that fatness is a health concern — and we think it should be treated as such, as a public health issue and not as a moral failing or a character flaw. We support social and political changes in the way our society is structured around food and exercise — changes that will improve the health of people of all sizes. We support bike lanes, cities and neighborhoods designed to be walked in, farmers’ markets, accuracy in food labeling, laws prohibiting wild and unsubstantiated claims in the advertising of weight-loss products, yada yada yada. We passionately support healthy eating and exercise programs for children, since fatness in children can cause even more long-term harm than it does in adults… and is easier to address as well, at an age when set points and eating/exercise habits are more malleable. And we oppose the American food-industrial complex’s use of psychological manipulation to sell excessive amounts of unhealthy, highly- processed, non- nutritious food, and their prioritization of profit over all other concerns.

Science it works bitchesFinally: We want to base our movement on the best understanding of reality we can get. We encourage people of all sizes to base their cost/ benefit decisions about food, exercise, and weight, not on wishful thinking, but on a realistic assessment of the best hard data currently available. We support careful, rigorous, unbiased scientific research into why people come in different sizes, and why sizes vary not only from person to person but from culture to culture. We support careful, rigorous, unbiased scientific research into maintaining and improving people’s health at the size that they are. And we also support careful, rigorous, unbiased scientific research into safe, sane, effective weight loss for people who choose to pursue it. Our bodies, our right to decide.

Now. Here is a fat-positive manifesto I can’t live with:

Slashed circleWeight loss never works. Never, never, never. Virtually nobody successfully loses weight and keeps it off for the long term; the number of people who successfully lose weight and keep it off is statistically insignificant. Weight is entirely or overwhelmingly determined by genetics, and behavior and environment have virtually nothing to do with it. There are no serious health risks caused or exacerbated by being fat: health problems that appear to be caused by fatness are always really caused by something else. And if there are health problems caused by fatness, they can always be better addressed by some method other than weight loss. Even when weight loss is successful, the harm done by it — physical, psychological, or both — is terrible: so terrible that, in all cases, it completely outweighs the benefits. If weight loss happens naturally, as part of a healthy diet and exercise program, that’s fine. But nobody should ever consciously attempt to lose weight, under any circumstances. People who are attempting to lose weight, for whatever reason, even to address serious and immediate health concerns, should be actively discouraged from doing so.

In my recent discussions of weight loss here in this blog, the fat positive movement responded vociferously with this second manifesto, both in comments and in private emails. And here’s why I can’t live with it:

It is completely out of touch with reality.

Scale 2It is flatly absurd to argue that nobody ever successfully loses weight and keeps it off for the long term. Just in my life, in my not- very- large circle of immediate friends and family, I could name you a dozen or so people who have lost weight and kept it off for years. And as far as I can tell, they are not psychologically damaged: they seem to be fine and healthy (or if they’re neurotic, they’re no more neurotic than they were before they lost the weight). Yes, they’re in the minority… but it’s not an insignificant minority. It’s a big enough number for me to pay attention to. And the studies on weight loss support this: most people who try to lose weight either fail or regain it in the long run, but there are a handful of people who succeed.

Circle two arrowsThere’s a weird circularity to the arguments as well. “Weight loss never works… but when it does work, it’s harmful… but even if it would be beneficial, it doesn’t matter, because it never works.” And the arguments are rife with logical absurdities. If set points can get re-set upwards with crash diets or poor eating and exercise habits, then why can’t they be re-set downwards? If it’s okay to accidentally lose weight as a side effect of a “health at every size” food and exercise plan, then why is it so unhealthy to consciously lose weight… even if the “conscious weight loss” plan is identical to the “health at every size” plan? If weight is genetically determined and diet and exercise have nothing to do with it, then why have Americans become so much heavier in the last 50 and indeed 20 years… and why do other cultures who start eating an American diet almost immediately start putting on weight?

But this second manifesto isn’t just unrealistic, or circular, or logically absurd. It seems to be unfalsifiable as well. Here’s what I want to ask the fat-positive movement: What evidence would convince you that you were mistaken? How many people would have to successfully lose weight for you to change your mind about it never working? How long would they have to keep the weight off for you to change your mind about it not being sustainable in the long run? And what would you consider as valid evidence that they haven’t been psychologically damaged by the process?

Portable goal postsOr are you just going to keep moving the goalposts? Are you just going to make the No True Scotsman argument? Are you just going to argue that nobody successfully loses weight… and that people who do are suffering from eating disorders or other psychological damage? Or that if they seem healthy and happy, they’re psychologically scarred on the inside, or have sustained unseen but serious damage to their health that will ruin their lives in years to come? Are you going to argue that conscious lifelong attention to weight loss and weight maintenance is an eating disorder by definition? Or that the people who do sustain healthy long-term weight loss are statistical flukes and don’t count?

Is there any way that your hypothesis could be proven wrong?

Because if there isn’t, then that’s not a hypothesis. It’s an article of faith. And there’s no reason I should take it seriously.

Extreme posterIn addition, an unsettling tendency has apparently developed in the fat-positive movement: a tendency to take the most extreme positions — no matter how logically absurd or morally repugnant — simply to avoid having to concede any points whatsoever. Many fat-positive advocates insist that weight loss never, ever, ever works. Others insist that there are no health problems caused by any degree of fatness. Still others insist that even if some health problems are caused or exacerbated by fatness, weight loss is never, ever, ever the more healthy choice for anyone to make. Ever. Even if you weigh 400 pounds and have had three heart attacks
 you still shouldn’t try to lose weight. And if you’re me, if you weigh 200 pounds and are having serious mobility impairment due to knee problems and have exhausted all other treatment options for it… forget about it. It’s better to have a fourth heart attack, it’s better to gradually lose mobility over the years to the point where you can no longer climb stairs or walk more than a block, than it is to try to demonstrate that any belief of the fat-positive movement might be mistaken.

KneeI was frankly shocked at how callous most of the fat-positive advocates were about my bad knee. I was shocked at how quick they were to ignore or dismiss it. They were passionately concerned about the quality of life I might lose if I counted calories or stopped eating chocolate bars every day. But when it came to the quality of life I might lose if I could no longer dance, climb hills, climb stairs, take long walks, walk at all? Eh. Whatever. I should try exercise or physical therapy or something. Oh, I’d tried those things already? Well, whatever.

I’m going to repeat something from my first manifesto, the good manifesto. It may have gotten lost in the shuffle, and it’s important, so I’m going to call it out here:

Both fatness and weight loss can involve health risks and loss of quality of life, and each individual must determine for themselves their own cost/benefit analysis of those risks and that quality. No person can decide that for another.

Yes, this manifesto applies to rabid weight-loss advocates: people who insist that anyone who’s even 20 pounds over the medical definition of a healthy weight should start losing immediately, even if their blood pressure and blood sugar and cholesterol and joints and exercise habits and family history of heart disease are all totally fine. But it also applies, every bit as much, to the fat-positive movement. It is not up to you to decide for me that the costs of losing weight are greater than the costs of losing my knee. It is not up to you to decide for me that the long odds against successful long-term weight loss (roughly 10 to 1) mean that my attempt to treat my bad knee by losing weight isn’t worth it. My body. My right to decide.

AlcoholLet me ask you this. If you read a post from a blogger saying that they were a heavy drinker, but it was adversely affecting their health and they’d decided to quit… would you send them comments and emails saying, “Don’t bother, it’s a waste of time and energy, the overwhelming majority of problem drinkers who try to quit eventually fail, and the ones who succeed get obsessed with it and have to go to all these meetings for the rest of their lives and aren’t any fun to be around any more, and anyway the connection between heavy drinking and poor health has been totally made up by our anti- drinking society, so instead you should just focus on being the most healthy drinker you can be”?

If not — then why would you say it to someone who’s losing weight?

And here’s the thing I’ve begun to realize about the “weight loss never works” mantra:

It’s not actually very fat-positive.

In fact, it’s actively fat-negative.

The stubborn insistence that healthy, sane, long-term weight loss is impossible — in flat denial of evidence to the contrary — seems to concede that if fat people could lose weight, then therefore they should. It’s essentially conceding that the only valid justification for being fat is that fat people have no choice. IMO, it’s a whole lot more fat-positive to say that people have the right to decide for themselves whether the difficult, time- consuming, attention- consuming, “10 to 1 odds against success” process of weight loss is something that’s worth pursuing.

I do think I see where a lot of this stuff is coming from. Our culture is powerfully biased against fat people and fatness; and even when they are being moderate and evidence- based, the fat-positive movement often gets dismissed as wackaloons, by both the medical community and the culture at large. So given that they’ve largely been ignored even when they make valid points, I can see how the movement would become increasingly insular, increasingly unwilling to listen to anyone but one another.

Greta simpsonsBut that’s no excuse. I am here today, not as an outsider, but as a fat person, and as someone who has thought of herself as both fat and fat-positive for many, many years. And I am saying to you now: It is possible to be fat-positive and still acknowledge that being fat does carry some serious health risks. It is possible to be fat-positive and still acknowledge that some people do successfully lose weight and keep it off. And it is possible to be fat-positive and still be supportive of people who are trying to lose weight. Being fat-positive doesn’t require you to treat people who disagree with you as objects of excoriation or pity. And being fat- positive doesn’t require that you deny reality.

Now, I’m sure some fat-positive advocates are going to insist that their position is reality- based, and they’re going to point to papers and books supporting this conclusion. To them, I say in advance: Yes, you can find papers and books supporting the idea that weight loss never works and is always harmful. You can also find papers and books supporting the idea that vaccines never work and are always harmful. You can find papers and books supporting the idea that global warming isn’t real, and that even if it is, it isn’t caused by human activity. You can find papers and books supporting the idea that the moon landing never happened. You can find papers and books supporting the idea that the earth is flat.

But that’s not the scientific consensus.

And as a skeptic, I need to be informed by the scientific consensus.

Scientific methodYes, the scientific consensus could be wrong. It certainly has been in the past. Scientists are fallible humans, shaped by the biases of their culture… and our culture is very strongly biased against fatness and fat people. The overwhelming scientific consensus that fatness is a major contributing factor to a whole host of serious health problems… that could be wrong. Or it could be exaggerated. Or it could be right when it comes to some health problems, wrong about others. Or it could be getting the nuance wrong: it could be right about fatness being one co-factor, but wrong about the emphasis it places on it compared to other co-factors. There are some real problems with the ways medical researchers have studied the health effects of fatness: they tend to conflate moderate overweight-ness with serious obesity, for instance, and they often don’t control for different eating and exercise habits among people of similar sizes. And an important part of the scientific method is questioning and opposition — both from inside the scientific community, and from smart laypeople outside it.

I_reject_your_reality_substitute_my_own_fridge_m_magnet-p147848655115195592qjy4_400But if the fat-positive movement wants to be a serious voice of opposition to the current scientific consensus, it needs to stop denying reality. It needs to stop with the circular reasoning, the cherry-picking of data, the “all or nothing” thinking, the taking of good ideas to ridiculous and repugnant extremes, the logical absurdities, the elaborate rationalizations, the insularity, the flat denial of simple facts that are staring them in the face. It needs to be willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads… even if where it leads is unpleasant or upsetting. It needs to stop with the true believerism. It needs to treat the principles of fat positivity as hypotheses that can be debated — not as articles of faith.

And I heartily wish it would do that.

Because we really, really need a sane, evidence- based, reality-based fat-positive movement.

I completely stand by my first manifesto. I think these are important issues, and I think we need a social and political movement that’s speaking out about them and is working to address them. And just speaking personally: I want and need a fat-positive movement. The smarter, more reality- based ideas of this movement have been invaluable to me: they helped keep me sane and happy as a fat person, and they taught me to think of my fat body as valuable and worth taking care of. And even when I’ve lost all the weight I plan to lose, I’m still probably going to be seen by most people as overweight. I could really use a community that supports me in my new size as much as it did in my old one.

Blackbelt in crazyBut in my years as an atheist and skeptical blogger, I have learned to tell the difference between thoughtful disagreement and close-minded true belief. I have learned to recognize denialist crazy. And as it stands now, the fat-positive movement has really started bringing the crazy. It’s moving away from being a serious voice in the social/ political/ medical worlds, and is instead becoming an insular, cultish community that only listens to itself. It has taken some very good ideas and has completely run off the rails with them. It has become utterly unconvincing to anyone who isn’t already predisposed to agree with it. Hell, it’s not even convincing to me — and I agreed with it just three months ago. I started writing about this issue, in part, to figure out what I thought about it: to think out loud, to get some new perspectives, to hear the best arguments from both sides and refine or rethink my own shifting ideas. And nothing the fat-positive advocates have said so far, in either comments or private emails, has convinced me that I’m wrong to try to lose weight. It has, instead, convinced me that the movement has gone off the deep end.

I really, really want to be part of a sane, evidence- based, reality- based fat-positive movement. But it looks like I may have to find a way to do that on my own.

Comments

  1. says

    I’ve never thought about being fat too terribly much. I just looked at my family and stopped worrying about being thin since genetically the cards did not seem dealt in my favor and instead I focus on health.
    I agree that discrimination is completely ridiculous in regard to weight, but fat-positive people aren’t doing themselves any favors in regard to credibility if they’re making absolute claims like ‘exercise NEVER works.’
    Interesting, to say the least.

  2. says

    Good for you. I think when a movement that claims to represent and advocate for people then starts telling them what to do and think it needs to stop and look at what it’s doing.
    I hope your knee condition keeps improving!

  3. says

    Thankyou for this post — it articulates a lot of how I see it. If there’s one area in the debate that’s been missing is that fat-positivity should be pro-choice. In the abortion debate, being pro-choice is exactly that — the idea that people should be free to decide for themselves.
    This seems to be missing in the politics of weight. Whilst mainstream culture dictates what people should be, the fat positive counterculture often gets very close to this position from the other side. In a way this moralises weight as well.
    Once we choose to inform ourselves with the best information we can get, being pro-choice means that:
    1. a person who chooses not to lose weight should be entitled to this choice.
    2. a person who chooses to lose weight should be entitled to this choice, whether they fail or not, and whatever they decide to do in the future.

  4. ToppHogg says

    There is only one problem with your manifesto. Those who need to read it are too dense to follow everything you are saying. You will have lost them after about 20 words.

  5. Sebastian Conolly says

    This post has pretty much perfectly encapsulated my view on the movement. I’m tentatively part of it, but I very much wish it were more sceptical.
    I also wish it were easier to find and access more of the scientific literature, as I find it difficult to know where to look.

  6. Sparky says

    I agree entirely with your manifesto, we have grossly unrealistic and ridiciulous attitudes towards weight, but replacing them with grossly divorced from reality insistance isn’t going to help
    I can see why the fat-positive movement is so unwilling to acknowledge the possibility of change. I’m gay and, like I imagine every gay person, I face homophobia from people who insist I can change – against the massive preponderance of evidence that sexuality is inherent and can’t be changed.
    The problem is, the haters NEED to believe I can change because giving people shit for things they can’t change is obvious bigotry (now there are plenty of OBVIOUS bigots out there, but most of them want to try to draw a veil over their bigotry)
    So I can see why the fat-positive movement is fighting against the suggestion they can change (even if, in this case, it is clear some people at least CAN) because the minute you concede that then prejudiced society will EXPECT them to change and they are, by inference, doing something WRONG by REFUSING to change.
    Society – in all its myriad prejudices – demands people conform to or are subservient to the privileged classes – be that white, thin, heterosexual, male, rich, conventionally attractive, cisgendered, TAB etc etc. Standing outside the privileged group means you will get shit. Standing outside the privileged group with the apparent ability to correct you naughty deviance means you not only get shit but are perceived to DESERVE the shit you get for refusing to conform.
    I can see the reason for the stance, but I don’t agree with it. It may be helpful on a personal, self-affirming level and in battering away the hecklers to insist that you can’t change but, in the end, I think it does them no favours since it makes them very dismissable.

  7. Alice in Wonderland says

    Greta wrote: The stubborn insistence that healthy, sane, long-term weight loss is impossible — in flat denial of evidence to the contrary — seems to concede that if fat people could lose weight, then therefore they should. It’s essentially conceding that the only valid justification for being fat is that fat people have no choice.
    Interesting! I’d never thought about it before, but I see a parallel here with the being-gay-is-not-a-choice claim — which has always bothered me, because it seems to imply that that’s the only reason it’s okay to be gay. Those poor people, they just don’t have a choice. Whereas, as a bisexual person, I obviously do have a choice, don’t I? I could limit myself to opposite-sex partners.
    On the other hand, I wonder if the no-choice idea is, hm, sort of a gateway to acceptance? Like, baby steps.

  8. Stacey C. says

    Thank you for this. I have been fat most of my life. I did lose weight on a highly restrictive diet and was ‘thin’ for about a year before I gave it up. I’m working now on losing weight the ‘right’ way through diet and exercise. I lift weights. I try to eat more fruits and veggies. I try to monitor my portion sizes.
    When I lost the weight it felt *so* weird. People treated me completely differently and it freaked me out. It made me realize how badly fat people are treated even more. But that doesn’t mean I need to stay fat in order to work towards changing that.
    I’m 31 now and I can’t keep ignoring that there are real physical consequences to being overweight. I’m mostly healthy but I’m definitely starting to feel it in my skeletal system. I probably will choose a slightly higher goal weight this time but I need to lose at least 100 lbs. Because I want to be fit and active until the day I die. I’m never going to be a supermodel. Nor do I have any desire to be. But it isn’t a betrayal of all fat people ever for me to lose weight. It’s my personal decision to choose my personal way to work towards my optimal enjoyment of life.

  9. Jakanapes says

    This has been extremely interesting to watch. I never knew there was a ‘fat-positive’ movement. I’ve always carried a little bit of padding but have always been active. I just assumed that most people took the middle path. That model thin obsessive calorie counting is unhealthy but so is obesity. My doctors have always told me that as long as I feel OK and my cholesterol, bp, etc were good and I was getting enough exercise and nutrition then I was at my healthy weight. Glad your knee is feeling better!

  10. WScott says

    No person can decide that for another.

    But what’s the point of a manifesto if your don’t get to impose it on others? [/snark]

  11. Lisa says

    I really like this post. When I was just starting to read around the FA movement, one of the first posts I saw was about a new study that had shown an overwhelming majority of people would regain all weight lost within a couple of years. I clicked through the the news article, and what it said was 7/10 people would regain all the weight. Which meant 3/10 people wouldn’t, which is 30%, which means that no way did the study show an overwhelming majority would regain all the weight.
    I agree wholeheartedly with the social justice parts of the FA movement – that’s as a woman who’s kept nearly fifty pounds off for over four years – but since then I’ve read the FA interpretations of science with a whole lot of scepticism.

  12. Bruce Gorton says

    Funny thing with fat positivism and skepticism:
    When I was small I had a teacher who used to tell us that “Your body is your temple.”
    This was evidently in order to get us to believe that we should excercise and maintain a reasonable weight.
    Instead it got me thinking I need an extra wing.

  13. says

    Well, Greta, you have a better class of reader, over here, that’s all I gotta say. I am green with envy.
    I wrote a “baby” version of this thesis a year ago… how startled I was to address weight-health issues, my illuminations and success with getting stronger and illness-free (as a result of nutrition changes and exercise)— and my fears and worries about my longtime ties to the Fat Lib movement, which has always meant so much to me philosophically. Feminism 101!
    I got a lot of support, as you did, but my premonitions of backlash cruelty and bullying did come true… a young “craft” blogger started a popular thread on how she’s discovered what I was up to, and had lost all respect for me. To her, I was a traitor, a insult to feminism, a fraud who’d probably always been a fraud and had now failed the fat-lib test to prove it. She was going to let the world know i was supporting the Man, the Corporate Diet Industry, etc etc.
    It was “The Women Who Hate Me”, a la Dorothy Allison, all over again.
    Her blog was filled with sympathizers who conflated my new Skinny Nazi reputation with the old insult that I was a pornographer who pimped women, stupid slut, etc.
    That’s “stupid weight-appropriate slut” to you, Missy.
    I had to laugh at the idea of trying to share my painful reactions to all this with my Weight Watchers meeting… I didn’t think most of the seniors from the suburbs would understand. “What’s Fat Liberation?” “You’re a pornographer?” “How many points is that?”
    Actually, I did try to explain it, and to my amazement, SEVEN women came out of the closet as lesbian feminists who’d also been profoundly touched by Fat Lib and they all knew exactly what I was talking about. The rest of the room got the most feminist CR they’ve ever seen in their lives.
    But back to your blog. I think you’ve had a very civilized discussion here. I hope you haven’t been attacked with hammer and tongs elsewhere. It hurts, when the sisters come after you, even after all these years.

  14. Sam says

    Love your posts on this issue. It’s a toughie. As somone who lost a lot of weight and has gained half of it back, here’s a scientific fact I’m curious about. Health wise was it better to have been thin for the years that I kept it off or worse? Should attempts like mine be read as successes–I lost 60 lbs and kept it off for 3 years, and even now have kept the other 30 off for 7 years–or failures? I’ve always thought that losing weight is easy and keeping it off very tough. But the decision to try belongs to each of us. I would just ask that we not beat ourselves up when we “fail.”

  15. WScott says

    It’s moving away from being a serious voice in the social/ political/ medical worlds, and is instead becoming an insular, cultish community that only listens to itself.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with fat positives as a movement. But it seems to me your description applies to more and more groups these days, from outright whack-a-loons like the birthers & the autism mafia, to right-wing tea baggers, postmodernists, and even a few unions I could point to. Even many formerly-moderate organizations seem to be getting more and more “insular & cultish” at an alarming rate. Is the niche-reinforcing quality of the Internet and cable news to blame? Or is it something else?

  16. Mary O says

    As someone who grew up with a parent who constantly reminded me I was ‘fat’ (even though I see pictures of myself at that time and can see that I’m not), the idea of finding out what my weight should be has been hard. I’ve come to the same place that your manifesto describes through much trial, tribulation and work.
    It seems crazy that we have only the two extremes – thin only or fat positive – when I really think we need ‘body size and shape acceptance.’ It’s not easy to be considered too ‘short’ or ‘tall,’ – I even had a coworker who was always being told to eat cause she was so thin. We prize diversity in the natural world, but cannot seem to understand that genetic variation (as well as other factors) causes differences in humans as well.
    I wish everyday that I could see myself truly as I am without the voices from the past slipping in. Yet again, your voice seems to be the voice of reason and thought – thank you.

  17. Edward says

    Wonderfully said Greta.
    I find myself in a unique perspective here – since January 1, through an applied program that can be summarized as “thinking about what I’m doing before I do it”, I have lost 50 lbs without substantially altering my lifestyle nor undue hardship at the dinner table. I’ve migrated from a BMI of obese to one of overweight.
    I do not ever think I will obtain a BMI of normal weight.
    When I was obese, I observed the FA movement as I was looking for a place where I could feel better about myself, remove judgment and shame from my self esteem as I identified them as holding me back. I found instead … well … excatly what you describe. And I was revolted.
    I’m not stupid enough to claim my experiences as universal, but I with my experience and the experiences of those around me who’ve lost weight and maintained that loss I do think that with prioritization and education weight loss has absolutely no mystery around it. It’s a simple biological equation where genetics are a big player, but are absolutely dominated by calories in, and energy out.
    I think the best new fat acceptance movement should be tied to the “Nobodies Perfect” movement someone needs to start up so I can join in. Sometimes I eat to much, sometimes I smoke a cigarette, and sometimes other vices get the better of me as well.
    But I’m not perfect, I don’t hate myself, and others should not judge me too harshly. If we could all treat ourselves and others like this we’d have a much, much better world.

  18. says

    I agree that unless you are an expert – and by expert, I mean on the level where your research is published in peer-reviewed journals – you are crazy to bet against the scientific consensus.
    But if the position that fat is never harmful to health is a kind of denialism akin to global warming denialism or creationism some such, where are the blogs that defend the consensus? Where is the Deltoid blog or talk.origins archive where the arguments of the “fat denialists” are painstakingly taken apart and the standard position reasserted? How can I learn the answers to the convincing-seeming arguments that my friends make for the non-consensus position?

  19. says

    Good question, Paul. The Denialism blog writes about this a fair amount; if memory serves, so does Skeptico, and some of the other general skeptical blogs. But I don’t know of one dedicated to debunking denialism in the fat positive movement. Anyone else?

  20. says

    You said:

    Weight is entirely or overwhelmingly determined by genetics, and behavior and environment have virtually nothing to do with it.

    I lived in Asian x 12 years. I have seen Asians move here and have children. The genetics did not change. People get fat here. It is a fat culture. No denying it ! But once the culture has become your brain, fat is hard to escape and thus diets don’t work.
    New epigenetic insights shows how diet changes gene expressions and change people. I think your understanding of genes is missing some information. Undoing the gene expression is tough once the momentum of the juggernaut culture and habit are in control.

  21. Anita says

    I’ve never heard of fat positive movement, but I find the idea extremely cynical and offensive.
    One huge part of world’s population is STARVING, and their postures are a pretty damn good demonstration of genetics/environment/behavior.

  22. G.S. says

    Dear Greta Christina:
    Thank you so much for writing this! I read your other two entries about losing weight and being fat-positive at the same time, and I really enjoyed them. (After reading here that you got some negative and reality-denying comments, I wish I’d written a supportive comment or just a few nice words about those entries as well, to help offset the mean ones.)
    I’m overweight, and I know personally how difficult it is to lose weight. I also find myself critical of both extreme sides of this issue.
    I think that actual scientific and medical information is important. I’m in pharmacy school, and it was mentioned in a few lectures in some classes that being overweight can increase the liklihood of getting certain health conditions.
    In fact, it was concern about my health and a desire to try to prevent health issues that I see in people around me that motivated me to try to lose weight in high school and which still motivates me. (I’m one of those people who have lost weight and gained it back, but I want to try again, because I notice that I feel less tired and am more active after I lose weight.)
    That being said, I agree that there is a lot of negativity towards people who are overweight. (I had never really heard about the fat positive movement for most of my life; all I knew was that there were people who made fun of others for being overweight while ignoring that these people were actually very nice, and I knew that this kind of treatment was mean and wrong. People making fun of me was never very motivational, but as I wrote above, scientific information was motivational.) While valid medical concerns and comments from doctors about losing weight are appropriate, bullying from classmates is certainly not. Unfortunately, some people can’t tell the difference. I’ve read blogs and listened to people on tv who think that being mean to an overweight person (by calling him or her names, etc.) is going to “motivate” them to lose weight, when all it’s really doing is making that person feel horrible. Also, people seem to ignore (as you mentioned in your other entry) that it’s difficult to lose weight due to our society, advertising, not being able to afford the more healthy foods, not having access to healthy foods, etc.
    I wish there was more focus on actual science and helping people make good decisions for themselves. It sometimes seems that, on one side, there are people who deny any health risks associated with being overweight while claiming it is impossible to lose weight and, one the other side, there are peope who want others to lose weight, but advocate weird unhealth diets or employ mean bullying tactics. The voices of people who actually offer infomation about exercise, healthy foods, etc. seem to get lost in all the noise.
    Thanks again!
    -G. S.

  23. says

    Greta Christina:
    I have been trying to articulate that message for a long time. I have thought that social positions about weight were getting extreme, but the scientific position is more or less right. I have been trying to lose weight, myself, and have had some moderate and tentative success, but trying to deny reality hasn’t been my modus operanti and so I felt like I pretty much had to leave any ‘fat positive’ behind because of the positions taken.

  24. says

    Well done.
    I too appreciate the very existence of the movement, but am often disappointed at the form the movement has started to take. Extra fat can indeed be unhealthy. We have no idea when, how, etc., because the science isn’t there yet. That doesn’t mean we should just throw out that concern.
    True, being bone skinny is not an acceptable goal for countless reasons, but sometimes being lighter to some degree CAN equate to be healthier.
    I am currently struggling with my goal to embrace my post-baby body (technically “obese”) while staying realistic and not just using that as an excuse not to engage in the difficult work of returning to my pre-baby fitness and eating habits. The mixed messages I am bombarded with make my head hurt with confusion.

  25. Eli says

    There is something very wrong when self-identified fat-positive people harass someone about their weight…
    I’ve pondered this, and I think it’s perhaps that people with unacknowledged anti-X feelings will identify strongly with movement X so as to convice themselves (and others) that they are not really anti-X. And perhaps it shields them somewhat from criticism for their anti-X behavior if they make pro-X-ness a prominent part of their identity.

  26. says

    The problem those of us in the New Fat Acceptance the the fat feminists is their intellectual dishonesty as both feminists and fat activists. We fatlings are fat, get fat and stay fat because we are foodies and gluttons. We simply place food above nearly all else. At bigger Fatter Blog we see that as a good thing. The world has enough pain and suffering and God is evil so why not go for the simplest and most satisfying pleasures? Food fits the bill.
    The idea that obesity is a woman’s issue is absurd as there are more fat men than there are fat women. When is comes to discrimination fat men experience far more discrimination that fat women especially when it comes to dating and employment.
    Our blog is dedicated to an inclusive fat acceptance/size acceptance that inculdes in equal numbers both men and women. Today’s fat acceptance speaks for a tiny minority of women. Men of size are treated like turds in a urinal by the current movement.
    The “current movement” is a strange alliance between feminists looking for something to hate men about in order to boost their sagging movement. They two movements only hurt the other. Keep feminism OUT of fat acceptance!

  27. says

    Wow – bastards were actually harassing you because you want to attempt to be healthy?!?!? That is some serious balls.
    I am not terribly overweight and would like to avoid getting any bigger, I am not sure I can actually manage slimming down. I am working on my diet, lifting weights and getting as much aerobic exercise as I can – but that is pretty much to avoid getting bigger and become more able to haul around what I’ve gained 24/7. I cannot imagine someone actually chastising me for that.
    I have kids. It is entirely possible that they will someday have kids. Should they, it is also possible that their kids might have kids. I am thirty-three now, my boys are seven and almost two. I would like to live long enough to meet my potential great grandchildren.
    If I don’t maintain a reasonable weight and exercise, the genetic odds are that I will be hard pressed to survive to meet my potential grandchildren, with the possibility I might not make it to my own children’s high school graduations.
    On top of that, I am an arrogant bastard who believes he has something to contribute to his society and the body of human knowledge. But I got a late start and it is likely I will be forty (if not older) before I earn my first PhD.
    Screw those people. I have a lot to live for. I am content to live with the paunch I have. My not at all overweight girlfriend doesn’t care. I can keep up with my children. And I get as much of a mental boost from my exercise regime, as I do physical. Not to mention, I cannot begin to express what utter joy the foods I am no longer able to just stuff in my face at will bring me, compared to what I got out of them when I was skinny and could eat cookies by the package, icecream (almost) by the carton and chocolate by the pound.
    I really and truly love to eat deserts, now that I sharply limit them. Ditto on any and all junkfood. Moderation means I get intense pleasure from what I do get.
    I am happy with what and who I am – though I am still having to adjust to this self-image and won’t complain it I do manage to lose it. But I am coming to accept it – and accept that I cannot afford to gain much more.

  28. says

    I agree with you re being body positive and not detesting yourself or being discriminated against, but I see your other points as well. I am NOT proto-anorexic because I eat conscientiously, and I, too, know plenty of people who have taken it off and kept it off. I have lost, not maintenance yet, though.
    But when I quit cigarettes, why would it be okay to pamper myself by eating junk food, but outrageous to spend $7 and an hour crossing the bridge to get to my favorite gym classes? Whose priorities are those, not mind. I like my exercise, I don’t feel deprived.
    And I have brought up that point about alcoholism being genetic, yet I don’t hear the FA movement telling anyone that nobody should attempt to not drink, but I didn’t stick around for any possible shitstorm that may or may not have caused.
    Good for you! A sex positive, weight losing atheist! Awesome!

  29. Dieta says

    I really enjoyed your FA manifesto. Human beings, not only women, are the rulers of their bodies. I’ve been reading about FA for some weeks now (basically because of some Pollan-targeted article I read) and their leadership seem so out of touch with the basic principles of feminism: freedom and choice.
    I found other examples of previous FA followers that got tagged as traitors because they decided that their weight was affecting their health and when decided to come out….got death threats and cancer-wishes. I tought FA was about encouraging people to accept their bodies whichever size, yet, I found blog after blog where pictures of obese females were deemed gorgeous and pictures of slim women were deemed as “starved” and “anorexic” Isn’t that a double standard?
    The fact that these FA zealots scream that you cannot judge people by their size, yet…they judge people by their size?

  30. Jimmy Crummins says

    Everyone, regardless of their physical state, should be treated with respect and dignity. On that we can agree. But the nation is seriously overweight.
    The second thing you are not going to change is how people who are grossly overweight are perceived. Such a change in attitudes is very slow, multi-generational. It’s not based on a scheme by thin people to keep the fat people down. So when it comes to exmployment, or social life, etc. looks count. Always have, always will.
    Now, they aren’t the only things that count. I fell madly in love with a woman who I did not find physically attractive. But they do count. And no laws, no protests, no “demands” are going to change that. You can’t alter natures laws, much as you might want to.
    Overall I like the post and agree with it’s fundamental and salient points. But the militant tone is a bit over the top.

  31. Ian says

    My reply got pretty rambley and long winded, so bear with me…
    This was excellent, I’d run into various fat-positive viewpoints over the years, and for the most part, they seemed quite reasonable. Then I encountered a woman who told me that her extremely overweight 4 year old was just fine, there was no problem with feeding her whatever unhealthy food she demanded, and that all claims that obesity can lead to health problems are part of a conspiracy to sell weight loss products and services.
    As someone whose mother has worked in a lab researching cholesterol and other diet/obesity related issues, this came as a bit of a surprise.
    I also happen to have been very skinny my entire life. I was made fun of all through my school years for being skinny, and more recently I’ve been informed that not only am I not allowed to comment on weight related issues, I’m also “disgustingly skinny”, and “part of the problem”, by people who are apparently in support of “equality for people of all sizes”.
    I’ve always wanted to be able to gain some weight. I’ve tried working out, I’ve tried eating massive amounts of unhealthy (and also healthy) food, none of which worked.
    Some fat people, who understandably feel like they’ve been mocked and persecuted all their lives for their weight, are under the impression that treating me the way they’ve been treated is just fine.
    If fat people hate being made fun of, that means skinny people must LOVE it!
    This is were the fat positive movement starts roaming into delusionville.
    On a bit of a side note, I’ve found that the claim that society’s standard for what is the ideal weight is far too small isn’t exactly accurate. While it’s true that the average weight of beautiful actresses is lower than the average weight of women in general, I would have to say that men’s ideal for how a woman should look is actually larger than most women believe it to be.
    I recall a study from a few years ago where heterosexual men and women were asked to look at a number of photos, and rate which person of the opposite sex had the ideal body size. Then they were asked to choose which members of their own sex had the ideal body size.
    Men’s standards for the ideal woman were actually significantly larger than what women thought it would be… and men believe that women actually wanted very muscular, large weightlifter types. What some people fail to recognize is that while the media does affect what we find attractive, we’re also largely affected by the people we see around us, and the people who we have our sexual experiences with.
    Back to the fat positive people… I get the impression that for some of them, the whole thing is about wishful thinking, and not equality and respect. They want to decide for everyone else what’s attractive (and, of course, they want to be the ideal). Women who fit the beauty magazine ideal happen to be real people as well. They are not “unrealistic”, they’re real people.
    Being fat positive can be great, but when I hear someone spread ridiculous conspiracy theories and junk science, I have to shake my head… and then when I actually encounter people who feel they’re justified in mocking and verbally attacking skinny people, and blaming thin women for the fact that some people find them attractive, I just feel disgusted with the hypocrisy.

  32. Christine S. says

    Myself and most of my family have always been thin. Every single overweight person that I have ever known (and there are probably hundreds) had a TERRIBLE diet. Many of them thought their diets were just fine, so it was easy for them to be in total denial about it and blame it on genetics. They ate quantities and types of food that I would not touch – ever. It’s no wonder that they are confused on what a healthy diet is – our society is teaching a complete BS message about it. I routinely find myself in situations where ALL of the food options are unacceptable. I either go without eating or I eat one or two bites. Meanwhile, I am surrounded by overweight people with full plates of heart-stopping garbage, completely clueless as they shovel it down. Wake up people! Stop eating terrible food – no matter how good it tastes! The healthy, natural foods that are out there have kept humans healthy for thousands of years, the toxic crap you are eating today is NOT FIT FOR CONSUMPTION.

  33. says

    GREAT post. I got here via the recent Feministe insanity, through some series of link-surfing that I don’t recall exactly.
    You perfectly articulate just about every single thing I’ve thought of the FA movement.

  34. says

    In Sam’s example,
    “Should attempts like mine be read as successes–I lost 60 lbs and kept it off for 3 years, and even now have kept the other 30 off for 7 years–or failures?”
    I don’t know about “should”, but my understanding is that for most weight-loss studies, as long as one has not gained back the entire amount of weight lost during the study period, it is counted as “success”.

  35. says

    I’m not an old-timer or major player in FA by any means and can’t speak for everyone, but I BASICALLY agree with your first manifesto. With some important caveats:
    1. You allude to or imply this at times, but it’s really important so it needs to be stated clearly: Health is not a moral imperative. Society should try to make sure that the tools to be healthy are widely available, but it doesn’t have the right to demand that we take particular actions “for our own good”.
    2. I’m not sure that this part would be related to the cause of Fat Acceptance/Fat Positive:
    “We passionately support healthy eating and exercise programs for children, since fatness in children can cause even more long-term harm than it does in adults… and is easier to address as well, at an age when set points and eating/exercise habits are more malleable. And we oppose the American food-industrial complex’s use of psychological manipulation to sell excessive amounts of unhealthy, highly- processed, non- nutritious food, and their prioritization of profit over all other concerns.”
    For the kids part, my biggest problem is that the primary “because” shouldn’t be that it will change the kids’ weights–my understanding is that the mainstream scientific consensus is that being fat with healthy habits is healthier than being thin with poor habits. So making the primary reason for those things being thin, rather than because they’re good in and of themselves, elevates size above actual health. (At least some FA blogs have basically stated, “I would love Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! program if she just said that we should help kids eat healthy and move more, instead of always connecting them to weight loss.”)
    For the psychological manipulation part, that’s bad, but I’m not sure it is “on topic” for Fat Acceptance/Size Acceptance.
    I’m noticing a very different description of Fat Acceptance/Size Acceptance/Fat Liberation/Fat Positive Movement on other websites than what I actually read on Fat Acceptance blogs. I suppose that a large part of it is that, as Greta Christina explicitly says, she’s talking about the parts that she has a problem with, not trying to accurately describe the most common viewpoints. [“Many fat-positive advocates insist… Others insist… Still others insist…” That basically adds up to “some”, not “most” or “all”.] And some of it is probably that people who go comment on blogs not dedicated to FA will be different and have more of a feeling of anonymity than people actually doing a FA blog.
    I can’t help feeling like this movement is held to a different standard–both compared to other movements, and compared to the average person who’s not part of the Fat Acceptance movement. I don’t think that “magazine math” and “anyone can lose weight” is scientifically valid, either. Don’t even get me started on the use of BMI as the measure of first and last resort for INDIVIDUALS by people who should know better (doctors).

  36. Olivia Anderson says

    Hello! My name is Liv, I’m seventeen, I think you’re a dick. I’m a teenager, and therefore feel allowed to be brutally honest. Are you one, too? (joke.)
    Seriously, asshole. I don’t care what your view on weight is. Why would I? My weight doesn’t affect your everyday life. Nor does a super obese woman’s. Or a super thin womans. Or my averageness. Why? Are you afraid they’ll steal all the fries and will refuse to share?
    You’re an asshole, and that sort of sucks. Their weight is a PERSONAL decision, and not a global one. You don’t get to vote.
    People can be positive about anything. Fat Positive, Clothing Positive, Cutting Positive, Anorexia Positve, Republic Positive, I Like To Lick Ass Positive.
    Look, what’s the big deal? Is it *such* a damn shame for people to love themselves? Or does that bother you? It doesn’t matter what anyone’s weight is, as long as it’s _their_ decision and they respect and love themselves.

  37. says

    Ummmmm… Olivia. who are you talking to?
    If you’re talking to me, then I’m somewhat baffled, since nothing you said in your comment contradicts anything I said in this piece. In fact, for the most part I agree with you.
    If you’re addressing another commenter, then (a) you need to make clear who you’re addressing, and (b) you need to keep it civil. I encourage lively debate in my blog, but I do not accept personal insults. Please don’t call other commenters assholes in my blog. Thank you.

  38. Lucy says

    I’m not a fan of the BMI, either, but, in fairness, it’s 1) an old and very outdated measure, and 2) used for purposes for which it was never really intended. Too much is being asked of it.
    I’m totally with them on diets not working. The whole concept of dieting is absolutely flawed because diets are meant to be temporary and, of course, when I go back to eating as I did pre-diet, I–predictably–also go back to my pre-diet weight. So, I don’t diet. I did, however, lose forty pounds a couple of years ago, through the boring old tactics of eating less and moving more. Eating less still includes the odd hamburger, doughnut, or chicken-fried steak. I’m not living on “rabbit food” and I’m not perpetually hungry. I am well within my healthy weight range but would not be described foremost as thin. I have neither any interest in being, nor the genetics to be Kate Moss. Weight loss does work, but weight maintenance is where most of us eventually fail, because diets don’t help us maintain. I’m maintaining just fine, but it took permanent changes that aren’t a diet.
    I know in theory why Americans as a nation are fat, but I do not know why any one, individual, person is fat, and I would never make an assumption. My mother is significantly overweight because of health problems (not caused by obesity) and medication. She is a Type 2 diabetic and used to have both high blood pressure and high cholesterol, but she developed these after her health failed, and they are well-known side effects of drugs that she must take for her other conditions. Anyone who criticizes her for being fat is going to get a blazing earful from me. She is, however, working on losing what weight she can to alleviate her diabetes.
    I guess that, really, I’m in the pro-choice camp: Lose weight if you want to, don’t lose weight if you don’t want to. Isn’t one of the old feminist mantras, “Keep your hands [laws, etc.] off my body”?

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