The Good Fattie

This is a post from my other blog, Unapologetically Fat, which I’ve been asked to cross-post here.

This post was inspired by MezzoShiri’s post “Addicted to Life

She brings up a theme that I’ve been struggling with myself, and have seen throughout the fatosphere as of late: The Myth of the Good Fattie.

One of these days someone will come up with a comprehensive “stages” list for Fat Acceptance, which a significant number of people pass through at some point or another on their path to body acceptance, although not everyone or in the same order.

One stage would be “ok for other people.” This means that you accept that other people could be happy with their bodies, but there’s something somehow radically unique about your own that makes it not an option for you.

Another would be the “Good Fattie” stage.

There is an idea that often crops up, if subconsciously, that somehow you have to “earn” fat acceptance by being as healthy as possible. If you exercise regularly and eat healthy and somehow escape disease or disability but remain fat, you are then relieved of an obligation to prove to people that it can be done. You can say, both to yourself and to others, “look, I do everything I’m supposed to. I’m fat and healthy. You can’t blame my lifestyle for my weight.”

But working hard, restricting your food and exercising while fat to justify your right to exist isn’t all that much different than doing all that to lose weight and justify your right to exist. They both start with the premise that you have to somehow earn your right to be a human being.

Don’t get me wrong here…if you’re active because you like to be active, or eat a certain way because that’s the food you like (or have religious or medical restrictions) then there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact there’s everything right about that because you’re doing it for yourself. But if you can’t afford fresh produce every day, or you work two jobs (yes parenting counts as at least one full time job) and literally have no energy for anything but a microwave dinner and sleep, or you damn well don’t like vegetables, hate to exercise, are physically unable to exercise, etc……there’s nothing wrong with that either. The life you live as a fat person does not somehow disqualify you from deserving to be happy.

To the point, a quote from MezzoShiri’s post:

“But as I’m trying to find my own voice in FA circles, I can feel the weight of internal pressure about how I’m not being a “good example” of Fat Acceptance, and I’m not being any sort of example for the idea of Health at Every Size. Talk about cognitive dissonance.”

The Good Fattie kind of thinking does create a division in FA. I’ve seen questions from the beginning of my involvement about how the “Death Fat” (i.e. “morbidly obese”) or fat and sick feel they’re marginalized. There’s this fear that sick fatties especially serve as an example that contradicts the message of FA. So in-between, currently abled fatties serve as “poster children” for the movement, while the rest wonder how they fit in.

Is there hidden vestiges of fat prejudice behind this? Maybe there’s a part of me that I haven’t managed to excise yet which still contains the internalized message that I have to toe a certain line in order to deserve to be accepted as a fat person. Maybe I’ve transformed that message into the idea that I would be somehow “letting down the team” if I didn’t exercise and eat a balanced diet whenever I could afford to do so; That I have some kind of responsibility to the FA movement to be as perfect a representative as possible.

Or is it simply anticipating the fat prejudice of others? It could be that I’m afraid of being diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease (I expect both will show up in my life like genetic clockwork) because if I am fat and have one of the stigmatized “fat diseases” it will somehow take away the authority of my message. After all, wouldn’t I then be walking justification for all the “booga-booga-obesity!” hysteria? How can I say fat doesn’t cause diabetes if I’m fat and have diabetes?

No, what I think is more likely is that the real issue is self-confidence. Despite all my efforts towards banishing the self-hate and accepting my body in its natural state, there is still a part of me that feels I somehow have to earn the right to be treated as a human being. I still have that small lurking voice that tells me that I can only afford to be fat if I am Acceptable Fat, and toe the line of an acceptable lifestyle.

Now the first problem with that is that it hurts me personally. It attaches my self-image to the judgment of others, which is never healthy. I have made a point this summer of working on banishing the Acceptable Fat dependency in myself. Maybe peeling away those layers is what let me recognize this particular thought nugget.

The other problem is that no matter what my motivation, the myth of the good fattie lets itself out. By asserting my right to exist based on the premise that I exercise and eat healthy, I marginalize those who cannot or choose to not do those things. They, and I, have an inherent right to exist that has nothing to do with lifestyle or privilege. By hanging my lifestyle choices out like a flag of defiance I accomplish nothing but alienation. So I absolutely apologize if the unconscious belief in the Good Fattie has coloured my voice and opinions.

If I do believe that fat is not the cause of a person’s state of health, and if I do believe that everyone has the right to dignity and respect as a human being regardless of size, then it should naturally extend that they have that right regardless of health as well. Health issues are stigmatized in this country because we somehow still hold onto the Calvinistic belief that health is earned or forfeit through good behaviour. Supporting human rights for people of all sizes and states of health is accepting the idea that my own state of health is a combination of genetics and luck. It’s a heady thing to give up that illusion of control, but perhaps if health issues weren’t as stigmatized as they are, the superstitious need to blame something (previously sin, currently fatness) would also diminish. Or vice-versa.

All I know is that I really do believe that size acceptance applies at every point of the spectrum of body size. Healthy choices are possible at every point as well, but health is not a reflection of morality, any more than thinness or wealth.

3 thoughts on “The Good Fattie

  1. RIGHT ON! How beautifully you say what so many of us think about the tyranny of healthism. I couldn’t agree more that all fat bodies are good bodies, are valid bodies, are worthy bodies, whether they be healthy or not, able-bodied or not, young or not, in scooters or in high heels.

  2. Btw, I discussed this very concept in greater detail in my dissertation. I refer to this archetype as Super Fatty, the one who always exercises, who eats only when her/his body feels hungry, whose blood pressure is perfect, who wouldn’t dream of being diabetic, and who never puffs after walking up a flight of stairs.

    Too many of us fat activists are haunted by the specter of Super Fatty.

  3. One more comment, and then I’ll hush. When I said I wrote about this topic “in greater detail,” I meant in greater detail than what I’m discussing now. I wasn’t implying I’d addressed the topic in greater detail than you, author. 🙂 Just wanted to make sure you got the meaning! 😉

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