By Dan C.
I want you to picture someone society considers fat.
Got that in your head?
Most of you–including me–are probably picturing someone leading an average, healthy life, who happens to be girthier than “average” (whatever the average is supposed to be!). Thus, we’re rightly baffled by anti-body-acceptance or “sizeists” and the hate they spew toward others.
Now, let’s shift gears into their minds. When we say “fat” they don’t picture what we do. Instead, they picture someone in a mobility scooter splashed on the front page of “People of Walmart” or another equally-awful website… and then associate all “fat” people with that. They take an extreme example–someone who legitimately has serious health and mobility issues–and conflate that to equal anybody that they consider “overweight”.
But then, instead of actually being compassionate or concerned for people with debilitating medical issues, they mock. Then they assume that body acceptance means we’re encouraging people to be like that, as if anybody wants to be mobility limited! We aren’t encouraging anybody to be anything. We are simply stating that everyone deserves to be treated equally.
Thus the problem that our gracious host has had in finding not just common ground, but even the willingness for anybody on either side of the issue to talk at all. On the side of the sizeists, they’re either wallowing in hatred for the “other” or they have really convinced themselves that the body acceptance movement is promoting unhealthy behavior, and thus feel they’re doing the right thing fighting against it.
You can see why those in the body acceptance movement are then so reticent to even engage in debate with someone like this. When you’ve been hated on or discriminated against for so long over something about yourself that is you, how are you supposed to react to someone who considers your mere existence to be “disgusting” or offensive, or to be promoting unhealthy behavior?
Again, the problem on the sizeist’s side is one of a lack of compassion. They see a “problem” and are utterly unconcerned with the fact that this thing they’ve decided is a problem are actually other people.
Is there anything that can be done about this? Can we actually reach these people? I think it depends on the subset. Some are no different from anybody else who has decided to hate the “other”–racists, homophobes, jingoists/nationalists all fall under this category. No amount of talk will change them–only long term exposure to the “other” that they’ve decided to hate as counterexamples to the image they’ve formed in their heads will do anything.
But perhaps we can reach the second set–those who perceive the body acceptance movement as promoting unhealthy “do whatever you want” living. Yes, there are health issues that affect people who are extremely obese, but many of these same issues affect people of all sizes — we just can’t “see” them. What needs to be made clear to the ones we’re debating is that simply because those health issues exist doesn’t mean we should be discriminatory toward those that have them.
Many of these opponents of body acceptance likely have their own body image issues, and that they may simply be unconsciously trying to make themselves feel better by attacking others. It’s classic bully behavior, and to quote Wil Wheaton on bullies,
“When a person makes fun of you, when a person is cruel to you, it has nothing to do with you…it’s about them feeling bad about themselves. They feel sad. They don’t get positive attention from their parents. They don’t feel as smart as you.”
This doesn’t ever excuse the behavior, but explaining a behavior can go a long way toward healing.
I should know, I used to be one of them. Just because I wasn’t ever fat doesn’t mean I didn’t have my own body image issues, but instead of dealing with those issues, I disdained others. “I may not like my body, but at least I’m not fat!” I would think. Then I’d think of why I was so much smarter and had so much more self control than “those fat people that can’t stop eating” and I wouldn’t have to think about the parts of my body that I was still insecure about or didn’t like.
But I was able to grow up and change. I was able to see my insecurities for what they were, and just like that, the sizeist attitudes I had melted away, and let me see other people for what they are: people, like me, who have their own bodies they live in and that I hope they love, regardless of shape or size or color or anything else.
Love yourself. Try to feel some compassion even for those who try and bully you, because in reality they probably feel worse about themselves. That doesn’t mean you should be passive about it though. As rapper Akala says in Fire in the Booth Part 2:
And oh, for the record no doubt I believe in peace
But not for one second will I turn the other cheek
They slap you, slap them back, take teeth
The only way a bully ever learns is getting beat
Keep up the good fight, stay strong, and stay body positive, my friends.