This post is probably really untimely. A lot has been written about Crystal Renn over the years; some say too much, as it is a testimony to weight obsession and unhealthy attention to women’s bodies in the media. Yet I still find her case to be fascinating, and it’s not even because of what…
I was particularly interested in and reflecting on this paragraph by the OP:
But all of that flies out of the window when a fat person becomes a thin person. That person is no thin ally. They are no allies at all. Apparantly, FA has no problem at all with distinguishing neatly between “naturally” thin people and “thin people that are really fatties in disguise and therefore traitors”. Never mind that FA is all about proclaiming that no one knows just by looking at fat people how they got there or how healthy they are, so we shouldn’t judge. I mean, that sentence right there is almost the core belief of the movement. But when it comes to thin people? Oh, we can judge! Because when it is clear, that someone used to be heavier, it is also clear they aren’t “naturally” thin, and starved themselves to be at that weight. Never mind their personal history (or health for that matter). For me, it really is throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Why is it so hard to believe that some people are genuinely happier at a lower weight (and are not just kidding themselves?)? Why is it so impossible that some people really do have health reasons to lose weight? Why does believing in FA necessarily entail not believing in weight loss for anyone, ever?
I don’t think that believing in FA necessarily entails not believing in weight loss for anyone, ever. But confronting the idea that weight loss may be right for some people is hands-down the hardest aspect of FA I’ve had to work through—it’s much, much harder than accepting my own body as it is, for instance, and that’s still a daily struggle.
I have a very troubled history with food, diet, exercise and weight loss. Much the same way that many people with sizeist beliefs don’t understand how bodies can be internally calibrated for higher weights, because their bodies are built that way, I don’t understand how a formerly-fat person can lose weight easily or safely or happily. At the heart of it, my weight-loss experiences were traumatizing, and I am scared. I am scared for Crystal, that she is desperately unhappy and is hiding it, as was my experience. But more than that, I’m scared that if I admit that weight loss was the right thing for Crystal, that someone will challenge me, “If weight loss was right for Crystal, why isn’t it right for you?” and I will lose all my words—or worse yet, that I will pose that challenge to myself and wind up back on the awful hamster wheel of intentional weight loss.
It’s radical to accept that for some fat bodies, weight loss is not a viable option, and use that as grounds for fat acceptance. I think it’s more radical to say that for some fat bodies, weight loss is not a viable option, but for other fat bodies, it might be, but not for mine, and that’s OK, too. It’s big and hard and scary and took a lot of work for me. I suspect that’s true for other people, too.
Pastthestorm articulates it so much better than I could.
I’m so tired of myself individually and FA as a whole being made to feel ashamed for being wary when allies are doing the very thing I/we’ve been trying to distance ourselves from. It’s a really complicated, emotional thing for a lot of us.
Reblogging for excellent commentary.
One of the most insidious ways fat stigmatization is enforced is the mandate that everyone opt in to diet celebration. Why can’t fat accepting indivials opt out of celebrating weight loss and especially the fat shaming justifications for it? The way FA activists are pressured to affirm other people’s dieting is a way of undermining our own advocacy and our own choices. Dieting is profoundly privileged and making these things into an issue of how mean FA activists are is akin to people complaining about gays oppressing straights or women oppressing men. Think of the folly of telling a queer activist to affirm and celebrate the ex-gay movement. The activist can understand end empathize with why people seek out that movement, but to demand that they affirm would just serve to take away their own voice.
FA activists deserve the space to have own feelings about persued weight loss. When we see something that fails 95-99% of the time, it’s not unfair if we feel we cannot celebrate it. Personally, I never expect celebrities who speak out for body positivity to stick with it. I don’t really trust anyone to be a fat accepting role model, because the pressures on all fat people are too great. I dont see much productive in focusing on individual outcomes of diet culture, but I still understand why others feel upset. That’s not an unreasonable emotional reaction and I feel uncomfortable policing it. The idea that scorned fat people are oppressing Renn is frankly offensive. Fat people are deeply disenfranchised in our society. We flatly do not have the social power to do that. To say nothing of how this “backlash” often serves to privilege people who are now explicitly attacking FA. While I’m not aware of Renn doing that, it’s happened with other high profile dieters who demean and belittle FA while crying oppression. In this case, though, it can serve to silence the very valid concern that post-weight loss, Renn is likely to continue getting work as a plus-size model. She is not responsible for that, but FA activists should absolutely be upset about how the fashion industry has defined plus-size modeling as a means of excluding fat bodies and privileging thinner bodies. Insisting the only valid response to diet culture, in macro or micro views, is “yay!” is a means of robbing fat accepting people of our voice. I can’t accept that. At a minimum, fat activists must be allowed to opt out of weight loss celebration. We must refuse any mandate to affirm diet culture.
Reblogging for Brian’s commentary. (Seeing myself “reblogged for commentary” made me make a total Tom Haverford face, y’all don’t even know.)
I definitely stand by what I wrote—weight loss may be the right solution for some people. Advocating bodily autonomy for fat people means advocating bodily autonomy for all people, and that’s a hard place to get to. At the same time, we need context—which Brian has expertly provided. Intentional weight loss is not culturally neutral. That’s not a judgment; it’s a fact. To demand that FA celebrate weight loss, especially in the case of celebrities like Crystal Renn, is a way of reframing the conversation in order to ignore and effectively silence the very legitimate criticisms being voiced about how fat people are treated—in this case, that the media renders us invisible.
[ED TW] how come no one fat/fat-positive talks about being fat/body-positive but struggling w/disordered eating?
other than in a half-joking “EATING MY FEELINGS” way.
ugh, why is therapy day five days from now fuck.
I hear you.
One thing that always makes me feel shitty is the way FA activists joke about eating tubs of lard and endless boxes of donuts or whatever. I understand their intent, because obviously it’s important to counter the stereotype that all fat people overeat, but hey, I’m a fat person with an ED here, and it’s kind of destroying my life at the moment.
While I love FA and everything it’s led me to (like feminism!), I always feel lost in the dark whenever fat activists bring up food. Every single one of them insists that they eat just! like! normal people!, which is great for them, but that hasn’t been my experience as a fat person at all.
And then they bring up intuitive eating as a means to escape diet culture, and that’s just a big steaming pile of shame and inadequacy for me, because if I truly ate whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, then I’d be exactly where I am right now—sick every goddamn day from the hell I’m putting my digestive system through. But it’s okay because I’m giving myself permission to eat what I want, right? I just can’t wrap my mind around how people get intuitive eating to work when they have eating disorders!
oh, good call with the trigger warning. /made of fail
I’ve lived in the grey area between “normal eater” and “having an eating disorder” for years. I’ll have weeks where I feel like I totally have the hang of feeding myself and weeks where I feel totally totally out of control. I let myself get way, way too hungry way, way too often and my patterns of hunger and fullness don’t really make sense to me.
With respect to intuitive eating vs. disordered eating, Michelle AKA The Fat Nutritionist has a great post outlining the idea of eating competence which is kind of an alternative model to intuitive eating, which she had first discussed in the comments at Fatshionista here.
Dieting is a massive business, one that generates over $58 billion in profits every year. It’s also an industry built on incompetence, as numerous studies have determined that weight-loss dieting has a failure rate of around 90%. This is actually a brilliant setup, as the diet industry convinces people to repeatedly dump money into an effort with a one in 10 chance of long-term success.”
Lesley Kinzel from “UNSOLICITED ADVICE: Don’t Buy That Diet Book”
oh, AND it teaches people not to listen to their bodies and fucks them over big time!
- hates on individual dieters
- tells people they should eat more (or any) “junk food”
- tells people not to change the way they eat
- denies that if you wish to make healthy ‘lifestyle’ choices, there are some choices that are healthier than others (although…
Natalie has some great additional thoughts on this at the link, but I wanted to add, whenever I see people flipping out when they are exposed to FA, I remember some of my encounters with people when I first started speaking about it. WALL. OF. DENIAL. People did not want to listen, or told me I was wrong, or crazy, or concern-trolled me up the wazoo. And these were my friends. People who had a reason not to be cruel to me.
Which make me think about something from Kate’s epic Fantasy of Being Thin post:
a particular kind of resistance that shows up every single time anyone dares to say that dieting doesn’t work — the kind that comes from other fat people and amounts to, “DON’T YOU TAKE MY HOPE AWAY!”
Only I don’t think that comes just from other fat people. Given how massively widespread body dysmorphia is, especially in industrialized, Western countries, many if not most women have had anxiety about their bodies deeply ingrained in them by the culture. But when someone spits in the face of those cultural ideals - especially women, especially women who are far from anywhere near the ideal, and they do it in public or semipublic - it’s scary. It rocks the foundation of what you believe.
I think FA gets equated with “giving up” because of that “don’t you take my hope away!” reaction. Those of us on the other side of the threshold see it as liberation - oh Maude what a relief to shuck that burden after all this time! I can breathe again! I don’t have to waste time pursuing something I was never going to reach!
But that object we were pursuing is sold as hope. It’s false hope, built on false premises, but it’s also the solution, the answer, the get out of jail free ticket, remember. “If you just fix ________ about yourself, all your problems will be over!” It’s the basis of every ad campaign in the world, almost. “Buy this product and it will fix _____ and you will be happy!”
So when someone comes along and says “You will never have that salvation they’re promising you” they don’t wait to hear the “And that’s okay because here’s something better” part of the message. They just hear “that thing you’ve spent all this time chasing? You’ll never have it.”
Those of us preaching the FA message, myself included, need to remember that.
(And yes, religious metaphors about this movement are problematic and I would not expand them beyond this particular example.)
A+ additional commentary.
The study Natalie mentioned is here, and the thing that has me apoplectic with rage is this tidbit (emphasis mine):
In this study, we will compare the effects of three months of a ketogenic diet (as promoted by Dr. Robert Atkins) with three months of a weight loss diet that conforms to the American Heart Association dietary guidelines in a group of 100 otherwise healthy obese subjects.
So… I guess you’re saying that if we didn’t define obesity as a disease, these people would just be… people?
I have to wonder: how hard was it to find these people? What did they look like along racial, ability, and class lines? (I include ability because the researchers included “active medical or mental illness requiring treatment” as exclusion criteria; I’m sure there are some relatively permanent mobility restrictions that don’t require active treatment.)
At the very least, accessing diets is a class privilege (albeit a pretty revolting one). Having the time, skills, and education to critically examine what you eat in terms of calorie, carbohydrate and fat content is a class privilege. Having the money to find or prepare foods that meet the criteria for the diet you have been put on is a class privilege as well as a privilege of the abled. So is having the time/transportation/money to make it in to the research center.
The Wikipedia article on obesity says that public health officials view obesity as one of the great crises of our time and blah blah blah. Whether obesity qualifies as an actual disease as opposed to a risk factor for other diseases is obviously up for debate. Regardless of whether DIET AND EXERCISE!!! can really make a dent in obesity on an individual level, we live in a society where those things are inaccessible to individuals on a systemic level. People don’t have a grocery store where they can buy fresh fruits and vegetables within a reasonable distance, or the money/ability to buy them, or the time/ability to cook them. Shaming will not change that.
Shaming also will not reverse the weight gain caused by antidepressants and other medications, or thyroid issues, or disordered eating. Because some fatties do have eating disorders as a result of growing up in a society with such fucked-up attitudes about weight and food. But that is for another time, since this has already become kind of a screed.
I think my new life plan might be: get a masters of public health; infiltrate government public health organizations; reframe the discussion around obesity. Thoughts?