Growing Straw Men in a Field of False Equivalence: Conflating HAES with Fat Acceptance

The fat acceptance debate is one fraught with logical fallacies. People who don’t support fat acceptance cite a variety of reasons.

Fat is ugly.

Being fat can’t be healthy.

Fat people use up a disproportionate amount of resources.

Accepting fat people is acknowledging fat is okay.

The list goes on.

Health at Every Size is a movement dating back to the ’60s and, simply put, it states that aggressive dieting rarely works, and is emotionally and physically damaging. The idea is that everyone has their own natural metabolic weight ranges, and through intuitive eating, paying attention to what one’s body needs, and providing nutritious and varied meals combined with enjoyable exercise, the body will find its own set weight point for optimum metabolism and health. In short, many attempts to lose weight through drastic dieting do not lead to successful, sustained weight loss over time, and optimal mental and physical health comes from self-acceptance.

Self acceptance is the only real link between fat acceptance and HAES. HAES is a lifestyle. HAES is a choice people make for themselves to promote their own health and well-being. Fat acceptance is none of those things.

Fat acceptance is a movement. It is based in justice, equal rights, fairness, ethics, and inclusivity.

Fat acceptance isn’t a bunch of Tumblrinas HAES-binging on cupcakes screaming “MUH CURVES”.

Fat acceptance isn’t about hating thin people.

Fat acceptance isn’t about hating “small fats” for not having as tough a time as fatter women.

Fat acceptance isn’t about food.

Fat acceptance isn’t about dieting.

Fat acceptance isn’t even about science. Science is HAES territory.

Fat acceptance is a campaign to end weight discrimination and the negative stigma perpetuated by societal pressures of consumerism and mass media.

Fat acceptance is the idea that no one, regardless of size, deserves to be treated poorly.

No, you DON’T have to find us attractive. Attractiveness has nothing to do with equitable treatment.

No, you DON’T get to worry about our health status. Health status has nothing to do with fair treatment.

… And there’s the rub. When you lump HAES in with fat acceptance, you are opening the door for all sorts of fallacious arguments. It’s food for the Concern Trolls who seek to delegitimize the fat acceptance movement with health science “proving” fat is unhealthy and therefore is not an acceptable way to live. It also invites in all of the simplistic calories in/calories out “nutrition experts” saying that, if we’re unhappy, it’s because we aren’t taking the necessary steps to make our lives better.

How people appear, how they feel, how abled they are, what their BMI is, none of that matters. A fat person with diabetes deserves to be treated the same as a fat person with perfect metabolic health, a thin person with great metabolic health, or a thin person with terrible metabolic health.

Health. Is. Not. Relevant. Period. This is an issue of discrimination and tolerance. Using health status to justify why we shouldn’t treat everyone with the same care and compassion is a slippery slope. Making assumptions about a person’s lifestyle and then judging people based on those assumptions is unconscious, societally-bred prejudice at best, and at worst it is open hostility toward someone who does not conform to a prescribed “normal”.

If we open up HAES as a talking point in any debate about the fat acceptance movement, we are not just opening up the field in which detractors can erect straw men; we are giving them the straw for free, and showing them the best and most efficient means for construction. People will start trying to prove that being fat is bad for your health. They will turn the conversation from a social justice issue to a health science issue. It will become a discussion of will power, of laziness, of lack of motivation. It will become a conversation of “but we’re just trying to help motivate you to make better life choices!”

Fuck life choices. Who’s job is it to police life choices? Especially if said policing is, in actuality, just inferring one’s life choices with a cursory glance, confirming “yup, that’s a fatty!”, and then telling them to feel bad for it.

It’s my body. It changes. It gets bigger, it gets smaller. Why? Fuck you, that’s why. It does not matter. It’s my own goddamned business. My body, body choices, and health status do not factor into the reality that I am a human being, a member of society, and deserve to be recognized and respected as such.

“If you worked out as hard as you blogged, you wouldn’t need to blog anymore.”

Opponents will bring it back to metabolic health, again and again, because FACTS SCIENCE FATTY LIVER DEATH FAT DIABEETUS is the only real leg they have to stand on, and a hollow one at that, because again:

HEALTH STATUS IS IRRELEVANT in issues of basic human rights and social justice.

Yes, there are many fat people who practice HAES. There are thin people who practice HAES as well. HAES has self-acceptance at its core; it plays a key role in helping people overcome disordered eating, low self-esteem, and other symptoms of fat discrimination.

Fat acceptance is the movement that will end fat discrimination.

Here’s a space cupcake:

space cupcake

3 Reasons it’s Hard to be a Fatty on the Move

Contrary to popular belief, many fat people are physically active, and enjoy sports, dance, yoga, Pilates, and other forms of exercise. I like canoeing, and ballet, and walking around the city. I like to go to shows and dance. With the amount of criticism fat people receive for allegedly not caring for our bodies, coupled with the good ol’ calories in/calories out oversimplification of metabolism, you’d think society would welcome fat people into the “fitness” fold and offer encouragement and support. I have found it to be quite the opposite. Let’s look at a few examples.


#1: Gyms are the WORST

Ever been a member at a gym? Many fat people have, including me. Why did I join a gym? It certainly wasn’t to feel good. I wasn’t there in the best interest of my health, I was there to get thin because I was insecure. Nowadays, I might actually reconsider and join again, but only because I have enough self esteem now to navigate the DEMORALIZING MINEFIELD that is your average neighborhood fitness center. Sights are targeted on fat people as soon as they walk through the door. Nutrition counseling is almost always offered; the immediate assumption is that a fat person isn’t at a gym to build cardiovascular endurance, or swim, or do yoga, or build core strength — they are there to LOSE WEIGHT. Very fat people at the gym receive judgmental stares. It’s assumed we don’t know what we are doing, and that we are just in the way.

This punishing, aesthetic-driven mindset creates an atmosphere of body competition, and the endless walls of mirrors don’t help. I would go into the gym and do the same exercises as those around me, and I would sweat. I would breathe hard, harder than those around me, and rather than think “Whoa, I am working hard! Awesome!” I would think that I was somehow less than the two ladies on the elliptical next to me, chatting about their evening plans, without a drop of sweat running down their carefully made-up faces. Hard work doesn’t feel like hard work in a big gym setting; it feels like public humiliation.


#2: There is a scarcity of supportive, fashionable athletic wear

Society screams at us to be thin and “fit”, yet there is very little exercise attire designed with our bodies in mind. Not only are there a dearth of options, but some companies flat-out refuse to carry bigger sizes (I’m looking at you Lululemon) or even shame our bodies in the process (still looking, Lululemon). When I go looking for plus size exercise outfits, I am met with a sea of black polyester and spandex. I usually emerge feeling more like a stack of car tires rather than a sporty jogger or graceful dancer.

Like a ninja, only not cool.

Another consideration is that we have a larger proportion of jiggly bits, and those jiggly bits, if left to jiggle unsupported, cause discomfort and sometimes pain. Let’s take me as an example: I have a large chest (38GG) and those puppies need to be strapped down securely before running and jumping anywhere. Retailers take regular sport bras, increase the dimensions, and just assume that something of a larger mass and volume will somehow magically bend the laws of physics and stay securely in place. My bras need underwires, and much more rigid fabric. An XXL sport bra at Old Navy is far to loose in the band to provide any support, while my cups spilleth over. Tops need to be longer, and pants need a higher rise to avoid ride-up/slide-down while in motion. And would it be too much to ask for patterns? Colors? Interesting details? Uncomfortable, ill-fitting and unstylish workout gear is antithetical to overall body positivity.

Working out when you feel ugly and are in pain creates an aversive relationship. I dug around and scrounged up some brands and prints I like for your consideration:

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#3:Scales

Oh the scale, implement of self-castigation for people of all sizes.

Scales are inextricably linked to exercise because society conditions us to associate exercise with weight loss. Fitness and wellness then become something measured with an arbitrary number system that actually provides us with very little information about how healthy we actually are, and those data are then combined with height to determine one’s Body Mass Index. BMI is a notoriously poor measure for fatness and health. I have friends who have had the luck to meet really thoughtful, body-positive personal trainers who de-emphasized weight loss as an ultimate fitness goal. One of my friends was told she wasn’t supposed to even step on a scale until after she’d been working her plan for a month, but even then the scale was used as final proof of improved health overall.

scales are bad

Scales are a constant reminder than we aren’t meeting a goal set by a society that determines our status and worth. I used to own a scale, and I would check it every day, celebrating every little dip and bemoaning every tiny increase. I used to weigh myself in the morning, while I was still dehydrated from sleep, after I peed but before I showered so that bladder fullness and wet hair wouldn’t add ounces to the readout. What I didn’t understand back then is that my celebrations and failures were fueled by bias, and rooted in discrimination. I don’t have a scale in my own home now. I resent “compliments” like “Have you been working out? It looks like you’ve lost weight!”, because they imply that the number, not the person, is the valuable variable in the equation.


Bottom line? My body is fine. Whether I work out or not is no one’s business. When I DO workout, I deserve the same resources and positive experiences normally associated with joyous physical activity. Want me to love my body? Then let me do it without judgment.

Reblog: The Tyranny of the “Normal”

Reblogged from Riots Not Diets

Margitte Leah over at Riots Not Diets wrote a thoughtful, analytical essay of the bullshit of the BMI. It starts:

A few years ago I was getting a pap smear. The doctor—whom I had just met that morning—had me in those cold metal stirrups and was rooting around in my vagina when she asked, ever so casually, “so, do you know what the BMI is?”

I laughed.

As if a woman who has been fat all of her life might have never heard of the BMI.

The thing is, we all know about the BMI. It’s a simple chart that measures our height against our weight, right? The number that comes out of that equation places us into categories—underweight, normal, overweight, obese.

The BMI is supposed to be a value-neutral way to assess bodies across populations.

Except that, did you know that the BMI has never been neutral?

Read the rest over at her blog, Riots Not Diets.