As I learned in The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part 1: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Stonewalling, the mere idea that the opposing sides of the Fat Acceptance movement could have a productive, positive discussion was dismissed out of hand by most parties involved. Still, I persevered and compiled a list of questions written by those who support the Fat Acceptance movement geared toward those who oppose it, as well as a list of questions written by those who oppose FA to be answered by FA supporters. This article will focus on the first set of questions, those written by supporters of FA.
Procuring the questions, as stated in the previous article, proved to be challenging. Many people in the Fat Acceptance camp didn’t want to engage in the activity at all, claiming doing so would “legitimize the toxic viewpoints” of people who didn’t agree with FA principles. Through this blog and its Facebook presence, I was able to cull a relatively anti-inflammatory set of questions from readers and friends supportive of the FA movement.
- Do you feel that others’ weight affects you directly, and if so, why?
- Do you feel that people you consider to be overweight are unqualified for certain jobs? If so, why?
- What are your thoughts on the behavioral psychology research proving that lowering someone’s self esteem is much less effective at changing behavior than raising self esteem?
- Do you think that every action a stranger takes or body condition a stranger has, which affects the healthcare system similarly, should be commented on in the same way (e.g. smoking, being sleep deprived, having cancer)?
- Why do you think that someone else’s body size affects people on such a visceral, emotional level?
- Fill in the blank: Fat equals ____
- Why do you think America is experiencing an “obesity epidemic”?
- What should the role of government/health care providers/the media be in addressing the “obesity epidemic”?
- How do you feel about your body?
- What is the best way to motivate people to be healthy?
I posted a link to fill out this questionnaire on Reddit and immediately received responses. Overnight, I had reached over 100 submissions. By midday, I had to close the questionnaire because I had more responses than I could possibly analyze. The first comment on Reddit was fairly telling of the overall response to the questions:
This reply demonstrates three key principles of the anti-FA movement:
- They believe that the Fat Acceptance movement, or at least part of it, ignores scientific evidence that shows that being fat is unhealthy.
- They believe being fat is a choice.
- They consider thin privilege and oppression models to be invalid.
Do the answers to the questionnaires mirror these principles?
I went through, question by question, looking for redundancy based on specific key words. The answers featured in this article are representative of the majority of those who filled out the questionnaire.
Question One: Do you feel that others’ weight affects you directly, and if so, why?
“In certain understated ways, I actually consider the large bodies in public spaces to be “micro aggression” against people with smaller bodies. In my experience, large bodied individuals will not hesitate to let their body infringe on others personal space in public transit, while in a queue, or other spaces of modern urban environments. I consider these things “micro aggression” due to the unwillingness of large bodied peoples to not force their bodies on others. I am expected to move, or to get out of way in a lane even when I do not know anyone is there, I am expected to be accommodating at all times.”
“Yes. Normalizing unhealthy weight ideas, disregarding science, and forcing me to see things I really don’t want to.”
“In Canada our healthcare is covered by taxes. People who have obesity related diseases are therefore a drain on this and are directing resources from diseases that can’t be so easily changed. I pay taxes, I pay for the obesity related diseases.”
“If I know that person, hell yeah it affects me. My mom is slowly killing herself. She won’t live to old age. How the fuck do you want me to feel? And she’s not enjoying herself, either. Her joints hurt, she has breathing problems, she can’t find clothes in her size, medications don’t work properly at her weight, and when she needs a surgery she will be at a considerably higher risk of complications. The FA movement would have me applaud her for this. Well no. Fuck that. She’s my mom, and when she hurts herself she hurts me too. You wouldn’t stand idly by while your friend committed suicide or spiraled into drug addiction, would you?”
This first question is very illuminative. A fat person is seen as a drain on society, and an abuser of resources and space. They are also seen as pitied individuals, whose choice to remain fat ignores science and the advice of health professionals, and that not taking action constitutes standing by and letting someone self-destruct.
Question Two: Do you feel that people you consider to be overweight are unqualified for certain jobs? If so, why?
“Yes. Anything involving a lot of physical activity or requiring attractiveness, e.g. model, demoing stuff, etc. In general, obesity is an indicator of other traits undesirable in an employee such as a lack of impulse control.”
“No, I don’t feel that just because someone is overweight or obese that they are automatically unqualified for a certain job. If you are physically and mentally able to do something then, by all means, do that thing.”
“Yes. There are many jobs that require strenuous physical activity. If you cannot pass the physical qualifications for that job you should not be hired, as simple as that. If you are unable to perform your job and you were, for example, a firefighter you would be putting other people’s lives at stake because of your weight/physical condition.”
“I … think that obese doctors, nurses, nutritionists, personal trainers, and the like, would suffer from a credibility problem if they are obese and may not be as qualified for their position, vis a vis giving advice on health and weight.”
There are two lines of reasoning emerging from this question. Firstly, it is assumed there is a level of fatness that would inhibit a person from physically doing a job. Secondly, there is stigma that would preclude a fat person from being a successful model, or credible health professional.
Question Three: What are your thoughts on the behavioral psychology research proving that lowering someone’s self esteem is much less effective at changing behavior than raising self esteem?
“This question makes a pretty big assumption that is flat out wrong. Most people against the FA movement aren’t trying to just go around hurting fat people’s feelings. Yes, sometimes there are some unfortunate truths and harsh realities but saying that obesity is unhealthy, that it takes hard work and discipline to drop the weight and that most people that large lack the willpower isn’t about being mean. It’s just the way it is. No one will make any changes if they have convinced themselves nothing is wrong and that they are perfect and enclose themselves in an echo chamber of like-minded people.”
“Completely irrelevant. It’s peoples’ choice what they put in their mouth.”
“I agree with the sentiment, and therefore think that we should be motivating overweight people to lose weight, instead of telling them that they’re simply ‘disgusting’ or a ‘waste of space’. Promoting healthy eating, ease of exercise and education is essential to reversing the obesity trend of today.”
“Effective at what, exactly? Accepting lower standards for yourself?”
“Very much agree with this; however, I don’t really see this movement advocating change, just advocating acceptance. Acceptance is a wonderful thing, and people should be accepted for who they are, but I think one should always work towards bettering oneself. Having a healthy self-perception is a thing to work towards, but I think the extreme to which this movement takes it leaves individuals less capable of dealing with real life stressors involving weight issues. While advocating for acceptance is noble, it will more than likely not change societies perception about weight as a whole, therefore if you build your platform on just accepting individuals for who they are you ultimately are setting them up for failure when they leave your bubble of protection.”
Question three allows us to see the crux of the anti-acceptance argument: fat people should want to lose weight. They struggle with problems like a lack of will power, discipline, and education, and by ignoring these problems while surrounding themselves by people who encourage them to love themselves for who they are, they are ignoring the reality that there is something fundamentally wrong with themselves that they should be trying to better.
Question Four: Do you think that every action a stranger takes or body condition a stranger has, which affects the healthcare system similarly, should be commented on in the same way (e.g. smoking, being sleep deprived, having cancer)?
“Obesity and smoking fall under the same category of being under the person’s control. Insomnia and cancer are out of a person’s control. So no, they should not be commented on in the same way.”
“I usually do not begrudge smokers for smoking, because most will readily admit that, yeah, they know it’s bad for them. So I, personally, comment on smokers pretty neutrally. There seem to be a lot of fat people, on the other hand, convinced that they are somehow fat without over-eating, or that they’re perfectly fit and healthy despite their weight, or that their various bodily ailments are not caused/exacerbated by their excess weight. We all know that that’s bullshit, and because (some) fat people say a lot of bullshit like that, I personally will comment on them with a fair bit more scorn.”
“The reason obesity is so widely commented on as a major issue in healthcare is because of its prevalence and visibility in everyday life. We can’t always tell when a person is a smoker or a drug addict, but we can immediately see when someone is overweight, so it seems like a prominent issue. Therefore, we see obesity as a bigger issue than many other health problems.”
“I’m not sure what this question is actually asking… but not getting enough sleep, smoking cigarettes, and being overweight are all unhealthy. The difference is that there are no advocacy groups encouraging people to smoke and not sleep.”
Question four raised the hackles of quite a few responders. Many responders became very irate at the comparison between being fat and having cancer, but I think that was the point of the question. How ARE they related? What are the similar threads? Responders point to the visibility of fatness as a major reason it is commented on frequently, and that it should be commented on negatively as a choice people make to be unhealthy.
Question Five: Why do you think that someone else’s body size affects people on such a visceral, emotional level?
“When it comes to fat people, it’s like passing a car wreck. It’s utterly fascinating, yet horrifying and disgusting. I mean you’re PUSHING THE HUMAN BODY TO LENGTHS IT IS NOT SUPPOSED REACH.”
“It goes against everything we know on a basic biological level. We aim to be the best option for procreation that we can be. That’s literally our goal. We need to be good enough that someone we find good enough returns the feelings and decides to have children with us. Morbidly obese people are the bottom of the barrel especially if they cannot provide financially or have poor social skills.”
“A team is only as strong as its weakest player. In this sense we are all judged as members of society. If the majority deems that you are not up to standard, you will face stigma.”
“First, outward appearance has been used to determine if an individual is sexually fit (as in genetically fit) for breeding … Being fat can, in some instances, be a massive indicator of mental health problems as well as physical health problems. Not always but when someone is obese one has to wonder how it happened, is it an addiction, is it a lack of self awareness, is this a reaction to an event?”
Here we start toeing into the waters of bigotry. Fat people don’t meet acceptable, biological standards for reproduction. One’s fatness is indicative of other issues, such as mental illness and addiction. Is that why fatness is stigmatized? We are flawed on a basic, genetic level?
Question Six: Fill in the blank: Fat equals ____
“Gross. Squishy. Unhealthy. Ugly.”
“Do you mean fat as in extra adipose tissue or the idea of fat people? If you mean the latter, I see it as a resignation that life cannot be improved upon.”
“Lack of discipline.”
“Lipids. For real, I know this question is baiting me. You’re expecting me to say “unhealthy”. It is less healthy than being fit. And we’re not going to get into the “fat athlete” myth.”
“Adipose tissue in the body formed when the body’s energy input exceeds it’s output. Also a descriptive term for someone who has a large volume of this tissue, resulting in negative physiological changes to body size and shape.”
This simple question actually opens a big window into the anti-FA argument. A large proportion of the answerers commented on how the question was loaded, and that it was just meant to illicit answers like “gross” or “lazy”. A larger proportion actually answered with responses like “gross” or “lazy”. Very few answers listed any sort of neutral or positive connotation, outside of dictionary definitions.
Question Seven: Why do you think America is experiencing an “obesity epidemic”?
“Our body is designed to crave fats and sugars, a necessity when there is not enough food. Our society now has too much food, and companies are preying on those designs and ease of access to market unhealthy food to an entire populace.”
“Lack of self control. The entitled “me” generation that can’t stand to hear the word “no” and the parents who didn’t say no often enough.”
“Poverty, lack of education, lack of intelligence.”
“Because people are overeating.”
“The nature of our food has changed (intensive farming, processing, GMOs, pesticides), the abundance of our food has increased, our food is engineered to encourage overeating, our daily activity levels have decreased, our stress levels have gone up, our environments are polluted, we’re too distracted, we put too much emphasis on competitive sports and not enough on activity, we don’t get out in nature enough, the ‘worst’ foods are the most affordable and the ‘best’ foods are more expensive, we don’t have walkable neighborhoods.”
I was surprised by the amount of blame most responders put on society itself. There was the token “BECAUSE HAMPLANETS CAN’T STOP EATING HURR HURR”, but mostly answers focused on specific, systemic problems rather than individual actions. No one questioned the term “epidemic”, though; it’s clear this focus group equates fatness with illness.
Question Eight: What should the role of government/health care providers/the media be in addressing the “obesity epidemic”?
“Education about how to eat properly would be helpful for K-12 students. They should learn about portion control, exactly what foods will lead to weight gain, what is a good any time food vs. what is a good sometimes food, how to be critical of the media and advertising, how to avoid common pitfalls like ruining the healthfulness of a salad by smothering it in ranch or eating more to keep your metabolism from slowing down.”
“Joining in with us healthier people to shame you about your terribly stupid decision-making.”
“Research obesity related issues, develop ways to reduce the problem, and inform the public of these ways.”
“The media is concerned with entertainment, so don’t go looking to them to fix any problems. Also consider the amount of self generated content that is overtaking traditional forms – breaking through people’s self constructed echo chambers will only get harder.”
“The government and health care providers should stop giving money to non-disabled fat people. As for the media, how about some healthy fat-shaming?”
I like this follow-up question; it’s the seasoning bringing out the flavor profile of the relatively benign responses from question seven. The obesity epidemic? It’s a systemic problem. The solution? A healthy portion of “education” with a side of fat shaming. Unfortunately, we keep ourselves from being educated through the creation of our own fat-accepting media.
Question Nine: How do you feel about your body?
“I am 400lbs and very unhappy with my body. I am currently doing what I can to lose most of the weight.”
“I love my body. I am a healthy weight for my height, and after recently losing some weight (about 10 pounds) I have become more confident.”
“I feel great about my body. I’ve lost 80 pounds with a healthy diet and exercise and know it is possible. I’ve never been happier.”
“Unhappy. I’m morbidly obese. Two weeks ago I changed what I eat and began walking some evenings and I’m already down 8lb. Aim to lose 100lb.”
“I love my body. As should everyone.”
“Why should I accept it if it makes me unhappy?”
This question generated the greatest diversity of answers. One surprising thing is the number of answerers who identify as being fat and unhappy. They see the relinquishing of “fat logic” as the first step in a transformative journey toward non-fatness. It’s reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome; people repeatedly hammered by the rhetoric of one’s persecutors until they start to sympathize with the message.
Question Ten: What is the best way to motivate people to be healthy?
“The best way to motivate people, I’d say, is to make obesity illegal and arrest obese people on sight (barring those who can prove they have conditions that make weight loss impossible). Why I say this is because there are people in the world who believe they are healthy no matter what … With these kind of people, you cannot sway them to even think there is or will ever be anything unhealthy about them, and they will never do anything about their weight or general health.”
“I can say that the worst way is by making fun of people. Nobody should make fun of fat people, and I would never promote such a thing. But people should encourage fat people to exercise more and to eat better. They should be shown support.”
“Stop the fat acceptance movement. Once people stop believing that their doctors are shaming them and their family members are shaming them and start believing that people around them actually care about their health, they may realize they actually have a problem. If people are unwilling to get healthy, they need to shut their mouths. This is Darwinism in action. Adapt to the world around you or expect your bloodline to disappear.”
“Provide incentive and a conducive environment for health.”
“Have all obesity-related expenses come directly out of obese people’s pockets. This would include disability payments, knee braces, gastic bypass, ambulance calls for heat attacks and type II diabetes treatment.”
What a strange combination of positive reinforcement and punishment! The solutions involve education, denial of access to crucial services, access to incentives, removing support systems promoting fat acceptance, and criminalizing how someone looks. Can all these options exist simultaneously? Many answerers of this question strongly blame the Fat Acceptance movement for the problems faced by fat people, and many of them suggest penalizing fat people in some way just for being fat, but earlier, the “obesity epidemic” was blamed as a societal problem.
The responses to the survey paint a very clear picture of the anti-FA movement. The emphasis seems to be on promoting individual and public health, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The loathing (both outward and inward) is palpable. Guilt is seen as the primary, most effective motivator to make changes in one’s life, and that people should want to make that change regardless of how they feel about themselves. People filling out this questionnaire see fatness as a disease needing to be cured, and that any other viewpoints ignore science and are therefore invalid. Fat people who promote fat acceptance are seen as promoting disease and contributing to societal crisis, and therefore are treated with hostility and scorn.
Want to know what questions were asked of those supporting the Fat Acceptance movement? Want to know their answers? Stay tuned for The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part Three: F.A. Confidential.