I would like to start this article with some good news: Acceptance of body diversity is happening, and it is amazing!
There is no doubt about it, either. Between the new range of Barbie dolls in four different body types to the continual establishment of high street fashion retailers that cater to “different” bodies (such as Bravissimo for large-busted women and Long Tall Sally for tall people) and extension of size ranges in other high street retailers. We can safely say that real effort is being made to diversify society’s beliefs about the ‘acceptable’ body.
Unfortunately, however, the journey is far from over, and this is readily apparent in the relatively recent and overall problematic notion of the ‘good’ fatty and the ‘bad’ fatty.
Apart from a couple of brief moments when I was about five years old, and again when I was 15 years old, I have always been pretty fat, and it was not until I got into the fat acceptance movement that I started to get over that fact. Until then I was a miserable fatty in a thin person’s world, where my body was never considered ‘good’, or even ‘acceptable.’
Fast forward to today, and the definition of ‘acceptability’ with regard to bodies has changed. The definition has broadened, and that broadening has come to include some fat people.
Whereas before a size 16 woman with ample bosom might have been too chunky for comfort, nowadays those proportions are frequently seen as ‘acceptable’ to the point of being celebrated. World-famous ad campaigns such as the Dove Real Beauty campaign, as well as the growing abundance of modeling and fashion advertising featuring models significantly thicker than what we had seen for many years previously, are trends that reflect this change.
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And that is great news. Living in a society where a broader range of bodies is seen as ‘acceptable’ is, surely, a good thing. Right?
Not exactly. Because, while some fatties are now seen as ‘acceptable’ when they previously may not have been, there are still plenty more of us who are seen as ‘unacceptable’. From this division comes the ‘good’ fatty and ‘bad’ fatty divide.
So what do I mean when I say ‘good’ fatty? To define this, I ask you to think about conversations about bodies (your own, somebody else’s) you may have had in the past. Do any of these utterances sound familiar?
“I would want to get out of the ‘morbidly obese’ BMI range.”
“Their aim is to just get down to a size 16, so straight-size clothes fit.”
“I don’t mind my jelly, but I wish more of it were in my boobs or bum.”
“He’s overweight, but he exercises all the time, so it’s OK.”
“I’ve always been fat, but I have a husband who loves me, so who cares?”
“You’re pretty chunky, but it doesn’t matter now because you’re working really hard to lose weight, and that’s the important thing.”
These are all examples of a ‘good’ fatty. Notice how they all could be reworded to start with “Fat is OK because…” or “Fat would be OK if…” (“Fat is OK because he exercises all the time”; “Fat would be OK if it were in my boobs or bum”). To be a ‘good’ fatty there has to be some sort of justification; a reason that excuses or counterbalances the existence of the fat being there.
This is where things start to get problematic, because in each of these scenarios fat is still being seen as an inherently bad thing and treated as an obstacle that must be overcome.
What makes a ‘good’ fatty ‘good’ is that they are seen to be acting in a way that opposes their fat, whether that be by dieting to lose weight, by exercising to maintain good health, by not having that much fat in the first place, or by most of the fat being located in certain, more suitable areas of the body.
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If the fatty cannot meet any of the ‘good’ fatty criteria, they might try wishing that they met those criteria, and, since fat is still being acknowledged as a bad thing, these fatties are at least heading in the direction of ‘good’ fatty, even if they do not manage to get all of the way there.
This phenomenon of excusing a fat person’s fat, counterbalancing a fat person’s fat, expressing unhappiness over a fat person’s fat, or in any other way treating fat as the enemy, has become all too pervasive in our society.
Even dedicated members of the fat acceptance movement have reported saying that they feel the need to explain away their fatness with heartfelt declarations about their love of vegetables or their rigorous gym routines. I myself often feel this need.
But it is important to acknowledge that excusing your or anybody else’s fat is not fat acceptance. It is not body acceptance, or self-acceptance, and it certainly is not radical self love.
It would be more accurate to call the ‘good’ fatty/’bad’ fatty phenomenon a smoke screen. By outwardly showing some acceptance towards fatter bodies, it looks as though society is moving towards total acceptance of all bodies. In actuality this particular phenomenon is another way of placing morality on elements of people’s bodies and declaring those bodies as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
Rather than saying that it is OK to be fat, the ‘good’ fatty/’bad’ fatty phenomenon emphasizes the idea that it is not OK to be fat. Indeed, it is so not OK that if you or somebody else is fat, they had better be making up for their fatness in a way that shows they are not happy with it.
Imagine that, instead of fatness, this article was about accepting long hair. Imagine a world where people were being scrutinized and judged because their hair length was not within the range of hair lengths arbitrarily deemed ‘acceptable’. Imagine people trying to defend the long hair of their loved ones, making such declarations as “it’s long now, but she is working hard to get it cut and she will get there eventually” or “I would just like for my hair to be out of the ‘very long hair’ range.” Imagine the presence or abundance of long hair on a person being viewed as an indicator of how ‘good’ or ‘bad’ a person they are. Does it not sound ridiculous that the length of a person’s hair could be viewed as a way of telling how decent they are as a person? Does it not, indeed, sound discriminatory?
So why should fat be any different?
In the interest of promoting radical self love, I would like to offer an alternative to the ‘good’ fatty/’bad’ fatty dichotomy: Being fat is not good. Being fat is also not bad. Fat has no moral value, and the amount of fat a person has on them gives no indication of their goodness or their worth.
And if you happen to be a fat person, your being fat does not automatically make you also a good person, or a bad person, or any other sort of person. All it makes you is a fat person, and that is OK (again, not good or bad; just OK).
It is OK to be fat, no matter how fat you are.
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The sooner we as a society are able to stop attaching moral value to fat, or indeed anything about us that makes us different, the sooner we will achieve radical self love for everybody and every body.[Feature Image: A fair skin person with long sandy red hair lays on a bed of leaves outdoors looking up. They are wearing a black and tan geometric patterned sweater and knit scarf as the right hand clutches the scarf. Pexels.com]