One common refrain of critics of fat acceptance (and the closely related philosophy of Health At Every Size) is that it discourages “getting healthy”, and encourages people to sit on their duff and scarf donuts (possibly of the baby-flavored variety) all day. According to this line of thinking, accepting fatness encourages fatness; without the prodding of self-righteous shaming, none of us would have any motivation to eat nutritious foods or move our bodies in enjoyable ways.
This is, not to be too pedantic about it, utter bullshit. I contend that it is fat shaming that makes us fatter: shame might temporarily convince some people to torture themselves and their bodies with starvation, with painful, excessive, unenjoyable exercise; but shame can never make someone love themselves, or care for themselves in either sense of the term. Starvation (colloquially known as “dieting”) which shame can encourage, damages our bodies, and yes, usually leaves us rebounding to a higher weight, with more fat, less muscle, and too often an over-strained, malnourished cardiovascular system. If fat-shaming worked, with the amount of it found in America and much of the rest of the world, we would nearly all be thin. In a society that teaches women to hate our bodies, no matter the size, and that tells us every day that we take up too much room, do you really think there would be a fat woman left in America if fat shaming “worked”?
So if fat shaming fails — which it does, miserably, at making us thinner, or healthier, or saner, or better people, none of which actually have anything to do with the others — does fat acceptance “succeed”? If by “succeed” you mean “make teh fatz disappear”, then 1) you’ve missed the whole point of fat acceptance, and 2) the answer is no. Some of us are just meant to be fat. Some of us have gone round the diet-weight gain roller coaster so often we’ve permanently reset our default weights to rather higher than they would have been before. Some of us, having permission to eat — to truly consume and enjoy and savor food, to nourish ourselves, rather than wage war with food and count calories and starve and deny and deprive ourselves — for the first time in our lives actually gain quite a bit of weight. And that’s ok, because this is fat acceptance we’re talking about. If that’s what it takes to get sane, to have a healthy, loving, nurturing relationship with food and with our bodies, that is so ok.
(I think the kyriarchy loves fat-shaming because it doesn’t work. I think it loves it because it makes us fatter, and makes us hate ourselves more, which makes us fatter, which makes us hate ourselves more… It is the self-hatred, the other-hatred, the fatphobia, the shame itself that the kyriarchy thrives on. It can continue to survive only as long as we dehumanize each other. What better way than to set up a system in which “failure” only intensifies the hatred and shame — in which being fat means you are discouraged from doing the things that would get you fit — and “success” means we have achieved our own diminution?)
So if fat acceptance (hereafter referred to as FA) doesn’t “succeed” at making people not-fat, what good is it? What does it do?
This morning, it was FA that helped me pull on my skin-tight biking shorts, do up my plus-size running bra, throw on a tank top, tie on my extra-wide sneakers, and head to my local trails to do another day of interval training designed to get me running a 5K. It is FA that tells me that I am just fine the way I am, that I am lovely, that my folds on my waist and my flab on my arms and my cellulite on my fat ass aren’t shameful, and don’t need to be hidden. It is FA that tells me that I deserve to feel good in my body, FA that tells me my body CAN feel good at nearly 300lb, FA that tells me I have a right to be proud, to move, to take up space, to exist in this world — yes, even plodding along its jogging trails. It is FA that lets me love myself, my body, my jiggly, curvy, floppy, flabby, beautiful body, enough to do the acts of caring for it: feeding it food that feels good, moving it in ways that feel good. FA is the reason I love myself enough to get fit — not because it’s bad to not be fit (it isn’t), not because I would be a bad person if I lazed around all day (I wouldn’t be, and I wasn’t before I started this), not because I’m scared of fat, or unfitness, or ill-health, or death (I’m not, except for that last one when I am alone with my thoughts in the dark, but it has no bearing on choosing to run, because we’re all going to die anyway): but because it feels good to do.
Shame can’t do that. Shame can never help us grow. It might temporarily change our behavior, but it can never nourish our souls. That is the point of fat acceptance. It’s not that “health” doesn’t matter, because it does, but weight and health have so little to do with each other, and worth and weight, and worth and health, even less. None whatsoever, in fact. Fat acceptance says I am ok — I am worthy of respect and dignity and love and space and medical care and self care and all good things — the way I am. I really am, whether I end up being able to run five kilometers or not.
And so are you.