I feel like I keep having a similar conversation with people about the Fat Acceptance movement, and how it relates to feminism and eating disorder recovery. I thought maybe if I blogged about it I could just point people to the blog post instead of trying to articulate my argument over and over. I’m not by ANY means an expert on the FA movement, and am open to being schooled. I am also not an expert on feminism, or for that matter on having an eating disorder, although I am a feminist with an eating disorder so I feel somewhat more comfortable addressing those issues. I do have some concerns about the conversation around FA, and I want to talk to other thinking people about it because I think it’s a huge deal.
Rather than a coherent essay I am going with a list of points, which are not in order of their import to me or the world.
1. I am a HUGE FAN of the idea that we cannot judge someone’s health by looking at them. I think this is a really important issue both for body acceptance and feminism. The following two points are probably preaching to the choir and also nowhere near the whole story but I want to establish that I am on board with a lot of the points made by the FA movement.
2. It’s important for feminism because women’s bodies tend to be assumed to be public property, with people making all kinds of judgments about women based on their looks, and thinking those judgments are justified and valid and important. Women who won’t put on mascara don’t care about looking professional and it’s ok to look down on them, fat women are lazy and selfish and it’s ok to look down on them, skinny women should eat a damned sandwich and it’s ok to look down on them. This smug condescension is divisive and hurtful and plays a role in keeping us oppressed.
3. It’s important for body acceptance because those of us who hate our bodies often judge our insides by other people’s outsides, and assume that someone else is healthier than we are, or less healthy than we are. It’s SO SO important for me as an eating disordered woman to separate out my eating, my health, and my weight. My eating can cause me to gain weight and my weight gain can cause health problems, but it is not all interchangable. 1st, my eating disorder sometimes causes me to lose weight, which would cause most Americans to believe that I am healthier, when in fact, I am deeply unhealthy. Second, duh, skinny women can have terrible cholesterol and fat women hearts as strong as horses. What both of these mean if I can internalize them is that I can hopefully let go of the hatred of my physical fat, because I can let go of the emotional baggage attached to it. Fat has no moral value and no inherent good or bad. That’s one of the most life-altering beliefs I can adopt.
4. That being said. When I personally gain weight in any noticeable way, it is a very worrisome thing. This is because I gain weight when I am eating compulsively, and when I am eating in a healthy way I stay pretty much the same weight. I personally, when eating in a way that is sane, am not fat. That’s not because being fat and unhealthy are synonymous.It’s because my body’s set point is where it is.
5. It is also a very worrisome thing when I lose weight past a certain point. The worst part is people’s “you lost weight! You look great!” reaction. Thanks dude. What did I look like before?
6. I am not getting into the potential health concerns associated with weight gain, because I am not a doctor and just don’t know enough about what is media hyperbole and what is medically legitimate.
7. Here is the concern I have, and it is maybe none of my business, except that I think a lot about how to help women who are suffering from ED find some recovery: I worry that the advocacy has gone from “there’s nothing morally or aesthetically or inherently physically wrong with being fat” (TRUE) and “women can be healthy at any size” (TRUE) to “because there’s nothing wrong with being fat I should not be concerned about whether or not my eating behavior is healthy.” Now, many women are fat for reasons that have nothing to do with their eating behaviors. And many women do not have eating disorders but do have poor access to healthy food/ nutritional information/are living in poverty/ a million other reasons. BUT some women do have eating disorders, and eat in a way that a) makes them emotionally, spiritually, and mentally miserable b) is nutritionally unsound c) happens to lead to weight gain. In that case, weight gain WHILE NOT THE PROBLEM is a red flag that there is behavior going on that is a) and b) and those problems have a right to be addressed. I worry that the FA movement is, in its vigilance, giving women with ED a hiding place to avoid looking at the causes of their weight gain.
8. Clearly I do not think our culture’s fat shaming is a better solution for women with ED. I would god damned love it if I could go an hour without being reminded that I am supposed to want to lose weight, so that I fit into the patriarchal confines of sexual attractiveness. The shame that we internalize about our bodies, our lack of willpower, our inability to be attractive, it makes it a gajillion times harder to recover. I don’t believe that fat shaming is the last acceptable form of social prejudice. The amount of socially acceptable misogyny I see daily, the institutionalized racism against Native Americans that surrounds my daily life, the off-the-cuff jokes about little people and the transgendered convince me otherwise. But certainly many, many, many otherwise thoughtful progressive people engage in unintentional fat shaming language and behavior with astonishing regularity. Our whole lives are seeped in it when you start paying attention. Fat shaming helps anorexics hide their disordered eating behaviors.
9. I am not suggesting that “we all just stop talking about a woman’s size and focus on helping women be happy.” First, that’s not the world we live in. We live in a world where fat people are mocked, shamed, and both socially and economically discriminated against. We need to talk about that, obviously. We also live in a world where women have been told since birth that “fat” = “unhappy” so we have a lot of work to do talking about THAT to unhook the two. I AM suggesting that, for each of us, the issue is both political and profoundly personal, comes with a lot of baggage and hurt, and is intricately complicated.
10. It’s so hard you guys. It is. I felt like I had won the god damned lottery the other day when I actually thought to myself, about my workout, “But I don’t WANT to lose weight, I just want to be STRONGER.” Seriously, I heard angels singing. Because I was able to look at my body and think, “Nope, don’t care if I’m skinnier, do care if I can run longer.” Recovery is a thicket, y’all. My beliefs (being thin != being pretty or good or smart or competent) and my gut reactions (I NEED TO BE THIN OR I AM NOTHING) are so often out of synch with each other. I can’t unchain that from the political discussion of fat and feminism. I can’t look at the issue without seeing the gray.
11. The black and white language of the FA movement, I find, sometimes leaves no room for the complexity of the ED experience and therefore invalidates the experience of women who are miserable being fat not because of the fat, but because of how they feel about how they eat. Now, I know, it’s none of my business how healthy anyone else is. They have a right to be unhealthy without my judging them. But IF they are unhappy because their eating is disordered, and IF they want to stop being unhappy, then that, as a woman recovering from ED, is my business. It’s my business to be of service to women who want to recover.
12. Feminism needs healthy, emotionally supported women. Women in the depths of eating disorders do not, in my experience, have the energy to fight anything else, like the patriarchy. Eating disorders are a feminist issue.
13. I don’t really have any suggestions for what I’d like to see happen, I just want the conversation opened, because I’m uneasy with some of the rhetoric I see from the FA movement, and I think talking about FA without giving any voice to ED is disingenuous and backwards-thinking.
TL/DR: But what about MY SPECIAL VALID EXPERIENCE?!
Please to comment.
Be careful out there.