As a fat activist, it has been really disheartening to see “body positivity” becoming the be all and end all of mainstream fat politics and activism. “Body positivity” is focused around individuals liking (and loving) their own bodies, whether those bodies are fat or not. For me, it has been worth the time and energy to try to make peace – and yes, “love” – my fat body. So I don’t necessarily think “body positivity” is a bad thing, just irrelevant to fat activism. It doesn’t matter whether you love your body or not, what does matter is that fat bodies are treated with care and respect.
What good is loving my body if my doctor hates it? There are countless stories of fat people being treated horribly by medical professionals and I personally have had my fair share of horrid treatment with weight loss being “prescribed” for things as diverse as dealing with side effects of medication to my immune system attacking my connective tissue. At those moments it doesn’t matter how much I love my body if I can’t get the health care that it needs to survive.
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Loving ourselves is not enough to make sure that we even survive, with the National Health Service in Britain suggesting that due to budget constraints, surgeries for smokers and “overweight” people be denied. (Luckily this plan has been put on hold, for now.) And many doctors are still often encouraging stomach amputation in otherwise healthy fat patients and there is now even a medically approved bulimia machine for fat people. This is all to say that our literal survival is on the line here, especially for those of us that are superfat. Sure, loving your body may help you resist some of the weight loss and stomach amputation pressure from your doctor, but it won’t help the next person who goes in there.
I want to be very clear, there is generally nothing wrong with body positivity. It just should not be mistaken for the kind of fat activism that is needed for actual fat liberation. In my experience, loving myself has been the hardest thing to do, and it is actually easier for me to fight for rights that include other people. Especially with bodies, we tend to think things about our own bodies that we would never think about other people’s bodies. So why do we focus so much time and energy on our feelings about our own bodies and so little time on actually fighting the fatphobic forces that oppress us?
Fatphobia is systemic, therefore we need systemic solutions to combat it. We can’t love ourselves into equal pay for jobs or even getting hired, since fat people are less likely to get the job in the first place. Believe me, if it were possible to love yourself into making cute and affordable plus sized clothes available for every occasion (and in EVERY size), it would have happened already. I can also love myself as much as is humanly possible, but it’s not going to help me get a date if the people around me don’t see fat folks as legitimate potential sexual partners.
The bottom line is that anything systemic is going to need collective action to tear it down. We can’t sit in our silos literally navel gazing and expect things to change. The whole point of fat activism is that we are fine as we are (whether we love, hate, or are somewhere in between with our bodies), and that society needs to change the way it is. Why are we – as the victims of fatphobia – expected to change? Whether it is starving or amputating ourselves into (temporary) thinness, or unconditionally loving our bodies, it is fat people who are expected to do individual work on ourselves. We should not need to change our outsides – or insides! – to get the respect and care that we deserve.
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IMPORTANT NOTE: I don’t even get into the way that “body positivity” as it currently exists is white, small fat, not visibly disabled focused and how “fat activism” has been led primarily by women of color, and it is not my place to take up that space, though it is incredibly important for us to talk about and learn from if we are going to move forward as a fat liberationist movement. (Also a special shout out to Sophia M. Pérez who has helped me to identify the differences between body positivity and fat liberation.)
[Feature Image: A person with blond hair is splashing through water on a sidewalk. They are wearing a black tank top and black pants and sandals. They are wearing a purple tutu and a pink ribbon in their hair. Source: Daniel Genesee]
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