Where does fat discrimination come from?

(Obviously a topic too large to deal with in one post, so consider these some initial musings on the issue)

There is a difference between the origin of fat discrimination and the current basis for fat discrimination. The former would be impossibly difficult to quantify. A lot of theories can be offered, but none will ever be completely sufficient. How our culture morphed from one that was relatively open minded about body image with a noted preference towards relatively fat bodies, into one which prised thinness above all else is just not an easy question to answer. The advent of corporate consumerism and popular culture certainly have sped the change, but why did it change in the first place? It could well have just been the whim of a handful of cultural decision makers 100+ years ago.

What is easier (though not easy) to consider is what fuels fat bigotry today. Again, though, the answer will be complex. Inevitably, nearly all fat bigotry falls back on an arguement that fat people are unhealthy and therefore it is okay to hate them. Indeed, the bigotry and discrimination is "for their own good". I don't doubt that many who harbor fat bigotry internally consider this a sufficent explanation. Yet, factual evidence does not support the consequences. Even if the most flawed studies were completely true (and they aren't) the health impact of fatness is shockingly little given the extreme lengths to which fat bigotry and discrimination exists. There simply is no useful comparison to draw where another group is so severely disenfranchised due to health concerns. Indeed, there are much graver health concerns which elicit little more than a collective shrug from our society.

Morality clearly plays a major issue. Fatness is seen as immoral. A fat body is considered sufficent proof of immorality and this fuels the considerable hate and venom directed towards fat people. Here, though, I don't think morality and religion can be seen as the same thing. Fat bigotry clearly transends religion. These deeply held moral condemnations are seen in Christians, Jews, Athiests, and so many others. Part of this sentiment results from the idea that fat people, by definition, engage in immoral activities. Again, this is without proof, yet it has been diefied as "common sense" in our culture. However, I think these ideas simply open the door to a the notion that our bodies are immoral due to their being aesthetically displeasing. Clearly, our culture responds to beauty as a moral virture, so the backlash against what is culturally unattractive is related to that. But unlike negative feelings towards those who lack conventional attractiveness, there is much social justification to actually act on those feelings when directed towards fat people. It is okay to hate someone for not looking attractive, but there are cultural inducements that say it is okay to hate people. Whether through open prejudice or demeaning pity. There are several factors working together to provide the fuel for fat discrimination. No one factor would be entirely sufficient on its own, but together they have dire consequences for fat people. It is a bigotry which adapts to many different backgrounds and ideologies. Conservatives condemn fat people as a matter of personal responsibility. Liberals blast us for our presumed overconsumpsion. Christians denounce us as gluttons while socialists offer self-righteous pity for our being victimized by corporations. The specific internal logic of individual examples of fat bigotry is remarkably fluid which makes it exceptionally hard to combat.


Lessons from Feminism?

One difficulty facing size acceptance is the large number of people who try to twist the meaning of "size acceptance" to represent a fundamentally opposing view point. That is, instead of representing acceptance for whatever size a person is, they claim it is advocating for acceptance of whatever size a person thinks they should be. They are eager to insist that this is a minor adjustment, but in truth it is a sea change. Now, the diet industry and feederism both fall under the umbrella of "size acceptance". Indeed, the only thing which doesn't is what had always been Size Acceptance. Its a false inclusion. By adjusting the message to be more "inclusive", the true intent is to exclude those who believed in the message to begin with. It neuters Size Acceptance into a diet acceptance movement, something profoundly unnecessary in our society. The people engaged in these distortions are usually nominally against size discrimination, but it is telling that they don't really do anything about it. Indeed, when faced with real instances of size discrimination, this crew usually lies down, such as I've seen with the discriminatory policies of Southwest Airlines. Only the most heinous of discrimination is worth concern, and you rarely come across easily identifiable examples of such. The truth is, though, that they wouldn't do anything anyway. Their energy is exclusively directed towards Size Acceptance advocates. Its illuminating that while they think Size Acceptance advocates should not argue for alternatives to weight loss culture, they've never shown any indication that they feel weight loss advocates should similiarly give up their advocacy. Its only the views they don't like that need to shut up.

When pondering this circumstance, I've often thought it was a unique disadvantage to Size Acceptance. After all, you never see anti-gay rights advocates claiming their position is "Gay Rights". While sometimes anti-civil rights crusaders will claim they represent civil rights, it is always with the provision that it is "civil rights for white people." It did finally occur to me, however, that there is an instance of an oppositional viewpoint attempting to usurp a "radical" movement's vocabulary. The example is feminism.

There are significant examples of anti-feminists who label themselves as feminists while representing none of the views or goals of those who originated and championed the ideology of feminism. Rather than reject the philosophy openly, they seek to subvert it and make it mean the opposite of what it means. While there is genuinely a wider ground of ideas that fall under feminism, there are still bounds with which to reasonably identify the movement. Yet some maintain the title for the purpose of advocating against gender equality and for male patriarchy. The key difference between this and Size Acceptance is the willingness on the part of feminists to reject such redefinitions of feminism. They don't relent to the message shift, they confront it. This is something Size Acceptance will need to do. The world doesn't need a movement that will support "dieters rights" and never questions the wisdom of the weight loss culture. That is the status quo. It doesn't require a movement.

I will confess that I don't know much about the issues that come from anti-feminism wrapped in feminist titles. Perhaps some readers can offer some insight into how feminism really does deal with the usurping of the identity that goes on. Am I romanticising it as a easy refutal when actually there is a lot of hemming and hawing from feminists about being inclusive towards anti-feminism in feminist clothing? Or if I am correct in my assessment, why is it that feminism is so willing to stand up to this tactic? I suspect there is much to learn from feminism on this issue. Quite proper since Size Acceptance was an outgrowth of feminism to begin with.


Only in fat acceptance

Only in fat acceptance can the boundries for "civil" debate have been set to forbid those in favor of even expressing that opinion in the face of opposition, while permitting those against fat acceptance to make accusations of murder, insanity, brainwashing, and even engage in violent fantasies, all without challenge. They say that the person who frames the debate, wins the debate. I'm afraid institutional fat acceptance has taken it upon itself to give up the debate by allowing such a fundamentally hostile situation to flourish. It makes me sick to my stomach to see people treat my disagreement as a personal attack and cry foul if I stand firm in my beliefs. It makes me sick to my stomach to see these same people accuse fat activists of being criminals for believing as they do, calling us sadists or killers. The worst is how so many people are so eager to watch this happen and not say a word. This silent consent has crippled the fat acceptance movement and turned into a cause of perpetual capitulation. I should really spend more time posting at progressive blogs. I can't begin to tell you how encouraging it is to see people who have to guts to believe in something and say so. People who know that disagreement isn't a personal attack, but that those who say it is ARE engaging in a personal attack. People who can recognize that some who want to be "inclusive" of many viewpoints really just want to exclude the viewpoints they refuse to respect. It may not seem like much courage, but its far more than institutional fat acceptance is willing to provide. I respect and admire it, even if it only provides me with more discouragement for the future of fat acceptance.

Still, while size acceptance has failed to provide communities online, I'm becoming aware that there are people out there on the grassroots level who are doing good work and honest work for the cause. People who aren't just carrying water for those who disagree with size acceptance. It may seem dire looking at the complete failure of fat acceptance online, but there is a real world out there where people still believe in things that go against the status quo.