This piece was originally supposed to be an examination of opinions. It began as nagging thoughts resulting from my Adventures on Reddit and an exchange on Facebook regarding something I wrote about a Jezebel article. Here are some comments from Reddit about my Reddit article:
Comments on Facebook about the Jezebel article:
Both of these encounters left a bad taste in my mouth. I know what I believe, and the science behind it. I am a science-based person by nature — I need proof of something before I hitch my wagon to it. Sociology, however, is an arena with much more flexible rules. I tend to be swayed by my own background in behavioral psychology, and for these reasons I am absolutely fascinated by the fat acceptance discussion. There are sizable groups of people out there that firmly believe in the Fat Acceptance movement as social justice advocating for equal rights and basic human decency, and those who see it as enabling/legitimizing a detrimental social problem/health epidemic. I wanted to know: How do these groups interact? How do they relate to one another, if at all. Why do they interact the way they do?
Throughout my adventures, I only saw groups of people together, all echoing the same ideology. I rarely saw them meeting and discussing. What would they do if they met? What would they say to one another? I went to the far corners of the internet, asking people on either end of the fat acceptance spectrum to generate questions for me to pose to people who may disagree. I wanted to take the questions and answers and compile them into one article so my readers could get a clear idea of the opinions and feelings surrounding the topic. What I ended up with looks far different from what I envisioned.
I entered a war zone. I emerged, scarred.
Here is what I asked for from the body acceptance crowd:
“I am writing an article trying to address both sides of the body acceptance issue without requiring any direct confrontation between those involved. My goal is to shape an academic discussion free of logical fallacies. I first need a list of questions from those supporting fat acceptance/body positivity that they would like to see answered by people who disagree with/oppose the body acceptance movement. Once I get the list of questions, I will pose them to people who disagree. I am doing the same procedure with anti-FA supporters, getting questions from them to have you answer. Once I have questions and answers from both sides, I will compile them in an article. I am looking for questions that are not loaded and as anti-inflammatory as possible so as to promote a clear and academic dialogue.”
I went into a sub forum on Reddit (that I knew to be critical of this blog’s message) and presented this:
“I am a body-positive blogger, whose work has been prominently featured in this subreddit. I am getting a lot of feedback. I am trying to organize it all in a fair way that addresses the issues I see coming up in the threads on this site and the comments I receive on my own site. I am asking for any /r/fatlogic Redditors to pose questions they would like to see answered by people I know in the body acceptance community. I am collecting questions from them currently that I plan on posing to members of this subreddit if everyone is amenable. Of course, everything will be anonymous. If you think there would be another subreddit that could also pose good questions, feel free to link them. I am attempting to write a well balanced presentation of both sides.”
Wherever I went, whenever I asked for questions, I felt attacked, regardless of who I was asking. Often, I was dismissed out of hand. I learned on Reddit that this is called getting my “SJW fee-fees hurt” (Social Justice Warrior feelings). The following examples come from both camps, some more transparent than others. Let’s see if you can guess which came from where:
“Yeah, I don’t have high hopes for this.”
“Might it be a fallacy to assume that you can get non-trite answers … ?”
“If people are convinced by junk science that their beliefs are correct, showing them real science proving otherwise isn’t going to change their minds.”
“I’m glad that there is a [group] like this, where we all know the truth about ‘fitness’.”
“You can take people who believe in junk science, pseudoscience, correlations, and their confirmation bias, show them actual facts that prove them wrong, and they will come up with 1001 reasons why they are still right and your facts are ‘wrong’.”
“I’m not sure [you understand] that “non-biased” means something different from ‘agrees with me’.”
“Not interested in playing this game. Goodbye.”
I found that I had to explain, repeatedly, that I wasn’t trying to set up a debate with a winner and a loser, but instead was just trying to show the argument in its entirety so that readers could walk away with an understanding of the issue. This took time. Lots of time. I found myself repeating it over and over. It felt like no one could grasp the concept that I wasn’t setting them up for failure. I needed to again and again make statements like this:
“I don’t care what the answers look like. I just want to show them.”
“It’s not a conversation. I do not think anyone is going to have their mind’s changed. I just want to show the perspectives.”
“I am simply looking for questions using clear, non-judgmental language in the interest of the clear exchange of information.”
“I am just interested in what the questions and responses are. I have no illusions that I will be changing anyone’s mind. I just think it’s worth looking at.”
“This isn’t a game of tennis. This is an article about how people PLAY tennis.”
So I guess you want to know, eh? How the game is played? It isn’t how you think.
Let’s start with my acquaintances over at Reddit. The problem with talking to a collective is that they all give different directions, make different requests, and protest vigorously when you don’t meet one of the many, contrary expectations they have. It’s like trying to please everyone, when everyone doubts your motives and suspects your competency for different reasons. This protest is done in the form of something called “down voting”.
As you can see, /r/fatlogic did not like me very much. I did receive some compliments from a few users regarding my patience and my ability to remain calm despite being in a clearly hostile environment. I started the thread asking for questions. A common theme, however, was the inflammatory, hostile nature of the questions. They were so inflammatory that I thought no one would be willing to even attempt to answer them. I started suggesting some alternate wording. In hindsight, I think it was a bad choice; aren’t I trying to show the argument how it currently exists?
One thing stood out to me, and bothered me greatly. I felt dismissed, like my endeavor wasn’t worthwhile, and that nothing good would come of it. When I mentioned it, I was essentially told that my impression was wrong. It went something like this:
I got the impression that they very much wanted their opinions heard, and they shared them openly — I received a great many questions to use for my article, ranging from somewhat neutral to extremely inflammatory. When I submitted questions for them to answer, I got over 150 responses.
What happened when I went to members of the Fat Acceptance community, with whom I identify, and whose message I try to promote through this blog? I was also dismissed, but in a different way. My attempts to reach out on Tumblr were completely rebuffed.
I think I was perceived as sympathetic to a cause that is socially damaging and discriminatory, but as I stated earlier in this article, I was just trying to gather information. What information did I glean from Tumblr? Acknowledging the viewpoints of people that they have decided aren’t valid is an exercise in futility.
I was going to include the responses I received from the /r/BodyAcceptance subreddit, but they deleted my entire thread, presumably because Redditors from the /r/fatlogic subreddit were copying responses into their own thread for dissection. Still, what’s a better example of stonewalling than completely erasing any evidence of my questions and work?
I did eventually get a good number of questions from various fat-positive Facebook communities, as well as from my own readers and personal friends. What were the questions I got from either side? What happened when I asked for answers? What WERE the answers?
Stay tuned for the next installment, The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part 2: Too Fat, Didn’t Read.