Fat Acceptance Is Not A "Passive" Act

Last week, Jen of Fat And Not Afraid linked to a post by a friend of hers, The Rogue Priest, about Fat Acceptance (FA), in which he voiced a couple of "concerns" about the merits of FA:
There are two concerns I have with the idea of fat acceptance:
  • There are health problems associated with obesity. Some are exaggerated or imagined and advertisers definitely hit the button too hard, but I question whether people should be told to accept a higher-risk health condition.
  • I tend to favor self-development. There is a type of happiness to be found in accepting circumstance, but also a type of happiness in overcoming adversity or personal obstacles and achieving something hard.
The first is the usual "fat is unhealthy therefore you're encouraging people to be unhealthy" BS, which commenters pretty thoroughly debunked, along with the notion that FA is "telling people to accept" anything, rather than presenting fat people with the novel idea that there is another choice outside of self-hate and celery sticks.  The second concern he voiced is less usual, and actually bothered me more, as a person who is deeply into self-development and who has also actually done the self-development work that FA requires of a person.  So I hopped over to leave a comment, basically summing up my own struggle with FA and how I count my increased self-acceptance and self-love and the stronger mental state that followed from that to be a big accomplishment from a personal development point of view.

To which he replied:
To me, having lived both of them, I do consider the proactive, demand-a-change, self development approach to be a very different kind of thing than the acceptance, self-love, take-me-as-I-am approach.
...way to completely sidestep addressing the point I just made, in favor of reiterating the point I was just debunking, but okay.  Let's take this point-by-point.

Look, here's the thing.  People don't just fall into FA, you know.  It is very much "proactive".  It requires dedicated work on rummaging through your preconceptions and your self-talk scripts and all kinds of internalized bullshit, to find it all and slowly, gently, without damaging yourself through further self-hate (OMG how could you have thought this for so long, STOP IT RIGHT NOW is not exactly the most productive way when the goal is long-term improvement of one's self-esteem), root it all out and replace it with healthier, more evidence- and reality-based conceptions of body size, weight, health, worth, and the relationship between those things.  (The short answer is, body size and weight are *sort of* connected, although not directly - some people pack a higher poundage into smaller space, simply by virtue of their build, and some people weigh less but take up more space, because of how they're built.  Health and worth?  Not even remotely connected, neither to each other nor to body size and weight.  Healthy fat people exist, as do unhealthy thin people, and all of us are worthy of dignity and respect because we are all people, the end.) Not to mention that because the anti-fat position is so vastly overrepresented in the media and culture, most people have never really been exposed to FA, so you have to search out blogs and books and people to talk to - again, very much a proactive thing.

So that takes care of the "proactive" assertion.  Next: you want to talk about demanding a change?  What do you think FA is and does?  As several other people pointed out in the comments there, FA as a movement is half self-acceptance and self-love, and half political/social activism to make it so that fat people don't NEED to undertake epic journeys of deprogramming and reprogramming their brains in order to stop the shame and self-hate!  We got Disney World to close its fat-shaming "exhibit" aimed at kids.  We raised over twenty thousand dollars to buy billboards countering the fat-shaming of children in Georgia.  Just because we're not demanding an unreasonable and unlikely physical change out of our bodies, and are instead demanding a change in how the world treats our bodies at the size they are, doesn't make it any less "demand-a-change".  

Lastly, given that my comment was explicitly describing how my journey from self-hate and disordered eating through to a fairly stable self-acceptance and HAES approach has been a massive accomplishment for my self-development, I find the contrasting of weight loss as a "self development approach" versus FA as a "take-me-as-I-am" approach to be deeply fucking insulting.  Look, bro, unfucking one's deeply dysfunctional culturally-ingrained mental patterns of internalized bigotry IS FUCKING SELF DEVELOPMENT, OKAY?  I consciously and deliberately sought out my mental patterns and slowly, painstakingly rewrote them to help me be a better person - stronger, happier, more fully myself in the world.  If that's not self development, I don't know what is.  Maybe you're working from a definition of self-development that reads "changing your external presentation to the world to increase public perception of your worth", but that is definitely not in the same realm as my definition, which reads roughly "consciously interacting with one's whole Self, mind/spirit/body/etc, in order to make deliberate changes that will make you happier, stronger, and healthier in every sense of the word"*, and I'm not inclined to grant that other definition any legitimacy as a valid meaning of "self development".

I cannot say enough how not-okay I am with this implicit framing of weight-loss as "active" self-development, versus FA as a "passive" approach.  It may have "acceptance" in the title, which is usually conceived as a fairly passive thing to do - accepting what you can't change, and all that.  But when what you're working on "accepting" is a trait inherent to your body, which is vehemently and violently reviled by the entire culture in which you live, "acceptance" is no passive, easy thing.  It requires work - a lot of it, and over a long period of time.  It requires struggle, as you chip away at internalized negativity you didn't even know was there - only to have the same issue pop up in slightly different clothing again a few weeks later, leaving you frustrated and angry because oh my god didn't I already work through this part how am I here again?  It requires strength - the kind of quiet, subtle strength that our culture never really talks about, because it's much more fun and dramatic to talk about and depict displays of overt, aggressive strength, but strength nonetheless.  It requires determination and persistence and consistency, especially during the awful, long slog through "well it's fine for other people to be fat but I still need to lose X lbs" territory - I'm pretty sure we all get stuck there for awhile, and the cognitive dissonance is nasty and yet still so hard to shake!  And above all, it requires courage, so much courage.  Because what you are doing, when you make the switch from a diet-and-thinness mentality to a FA mentality, is nothing less than flipping the finger to several very large, very loud, very well-funded and well-supported industries, which have conspired to build around you an entire culture which bombards you with repeated, painful, dangerous messages about your body and your worth as a human being.  You are explicitly rejecting the dominant narrative, openly refusing to participate in a game that 99% of the people around you are throwing themselves into playing.  Hell, in some ways, continuing to diet or attempt weight loss in some other way might actually be easier: less challenging, less personally-developing, because it allows you to go with the flow and it pretty much guarantees that everyone around you will support and encourage you in your efforts, while FA requires you to buck the trend and risk social backlash for it.

So don't ever, ever tell me that FA is some kind of passive deal, less of a worthy challenge than weight loss.

Maybe I should cut the guy some slack - after all, in other parts of the thread and with reference to the whole fat=unhealthy thing, he actually did seem interested in learning more about what FA actually is, as opposed to clinging to his preconceptions.  But at the same time, even ascribing the best of intent to his comments, the most charitable conclusion I can draw is that he has no fucking idea what the hell he's talking about when it comes to this shit, and should really, really, really just step back and listen and read and learn before trying to pass judgment on us again.

*I've never really tried to define my approach to personal development before; that was both harder and easier than I thought it'd be.


Jayle Enn said...

Until now I've never really understood the issues surrounding Fat Acceptance, due to personal assumptions and being blinded by privilege. Thank you for dragging out things that I'd never even thought about before.

On FA as a 'passive' thing, I suspect that it ties in to that ugly old stereotype that says fat people are lazy, hence they don't exercise, hence they don't lose weight. Which is bullshit of course, but it's insidious bullshit. FA is perceived through the same flawed lens as a 'lazy', easy way out compared to vigorous exercise and a rigorous dietary plan, because people don't recognize their privilege or the biases that have been inculcated within them or, as you described above, the effort of unpacking a lifetime's worth of related issues.

Sonneillon said...

I was really unhappy with Drew's post, but at the time I didn't have the wherewithal to comment on it.  I did drop by his more recent post which was basically dedicated to the defense of the tone argument and dropped a brief, acerbic comment from which I'm sure he learned nothing.  He's a neat guy with some neat ideas, but he has a looooooong way to go unpacking his privilege.

Jadelyn said...

I'm happy to have helped!  I agree that the misperception is definitely tied to the laziness stereotype.  What makes it even funnier is that actually quite a number of people who choose FA as their way of living *do* exercise, often more consistently than those who are still doing the weight-loss lifestyle, because it's a healthy behavior and can even be fun, once it's not linked inextricably with the success or failure of one's weight loss.  

Jadelyn said...

Oh dear, I didn't realize he'd done a follow-up post.  To be honest, after I left my comment, then saw his reply, I chose to hightail it out of there for my own mental health instead of further attempting to engage (either with him or with anyone else in the thread).  Blergh.


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