Sizism vs. Healthism: Some Perspective Part 2

There’s been a fair amount of talk on FA blogs off and on about “Good Fatties” and “Bad Fatties”. Good Fatties are basically fatties that break fat stereotypes: they eat lots of “healthy” foods (or they don’t eat a lot of anything) and not a lot of “junk” food, they get plenty of exercise, etc. “Bad Fatties” are basically stereotypical fat people who eat lots of stereotypical fat people foods and don’t exercise or don’t exercise much. Other health behaviors like getting enough sleep that aren’t tied into fat stereotypes don’t seem to affect the categorization. Of course, few people fit perfectly into one of the two categories; it’s a continuum. Not every self-identified “bad fatty” eats three pieces of pie. Not every “good fatty” is a vegan triathlete.

I say “self-identified bad fatty” but not “self-identified good fatty” because I’ve never seen anyone self-identify as a “good fatty”. My perception is that the good fatty vs. bad fatty distinction mostly comes from the “good fatties” trying to bust stereotypes about fat people. They aren’t really thinking about the “bad fatties” or trying to say that they have less moral worth or can’t be part of fat acceptance, or trying to set themselves up over them, but after reading several people talk about how they just have one piece of dark chocolate a day if that, and bought a cake and only had one piece and let it go bad and threw it away, the people who have a couple servings of dessert a day start feeling insecure. (Not that I’m talking from personal experience or anything…) I haven’t read every conversation in the fatosphere, of course, but the dynamic seems to be something like this: the “good fatties” respond defensively to the people (trolls, oftentimes) accusing them of doing things that they don’t do, and the “bad fatties” respond defensively to the good fatties’ descriptions. And none of these conversations are happening in a vacuum, because the larger culture with its “good” and “bad” foods affects us all, and that affects how people are reacting to all this.

That said, the “good” and “bad” foods, both in good vs. bad fatty mode and in the world at large, are “good” or “bad” primarily based on whether people think they make you fat or not. There’s some talk these days about antioxidants and omega-3s and such, but how “fattening” a food is still seems to be the primary influence on its morality. Outside of the fatosphere, thin people don’t really seem to get much judgment for eating “bad” foods, and even a fatty eating “good” foods is not necessarily safe from judgment, because plenty of people seem to think that any food a fat person is eating is too much.

Which brings me to the “perspective” bit: Being a “bad fatty” may get you some judgment from some people in the fatosphere, and being a “good fatty” may get you some admiration. (There’s also a lot of pushback against this, though.)  But out in the rest of the world, we’re all bad fatties. Sometimes if you’ve got a condition such as hypothyroidism people will “forgive” you for being fat–although it’s not like they check to make sure before they do whatever it is they’re going to do, whether it’s silently judging you or yelling insults. But basically, the only way you get to be a “good fatty” out in the rest of the world is if you’re currently losing weight, preferably as fast as possible. (Most people don’t seem to care or be able to remember that most doctors recommend losing a maximum of 2 lbs per week; I think the problem is that it creates too much cognitive dissonance with the idea that fat is going to KILL US IMMEDIATELY!!! Everybody panic! Getitoffgetitoff!!!) And even then, as with hypothyroidism and other medical conditions, people will assume that the person in front of them is not trying to lose weight unless told otherwise.

Here’s another way of saying this from fresafresca (aka Silentbeep)

In my experience, the only “health” project that is remotely socially acceptable for fat people to partake in, is in losing weight.  The argument that intentional weight loss is not “healthy” in and of itself is lost on most people.  To try and explain that one can work on fitness, agility, lowering blood pressure, etc. without trying to lose weight is like this unimaginable puzzle to the public at large.  Even if you do happen to have a variety of “healthy” measures as a fat person, there is no social acceptability to be had. I’ve never experienced that because to people looking at you, you are still a great big old fat person and you should “obviously” be losing weight – nothing else matters. I’m serious, in terms of what’s socially acceptable people won’t get off your freaking case, unless you start losing weight.  There are little to no social/cultural kudos for being a so-called healthy fat person.

Red No. 3 also has a few good posts on this issue. I really like this part:

“Good” fatties are not offered as aspirations, but as refutations of a culture that says that this cannot be. We show this to be false not to move the fence of what is acceptably fat, but to tear down these suffocating barriers entirely.

The point of all this is not to dismiss the concerns of “bad fatties” and people who feel that Fat Acceptance is being taken over by healthism. I think that bringing up these issues is a needed corrective. But I see the “FA is being taken over by healthism” meme as almost a self-preventing prophecy. When I first started hanging around the fatosphere, healthism was rarely brought up. Now, I see Ragen at Dances With Fat (about as “good fatty” as you can be) and Michelle at The Fat Nutritionist, both of who talk quite a bit about health, denouncing healthism and clarifying that health is not a moral imperative. I see people who feel unwelcome because they are self-identified “bad fatties”, but I also see people who feel unwelcome because they want to talk about health and Health At Every Size. In some ways that’s depressing, but maybe it also means that we’re striking the right balance.

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3 Responses to Sizism vs. Healthism: Some Perspective Part 2

  1. G says:

    This strikes a chord for me, since I write about being fat and active. I agree with Ragen’s idea that HAES is personal, and FA is internally- and externally-oriented. I’m going to do activity I enjoy, maybe inspire some other folks that might have avoided activity to find some that they enjoy, and I’m going to argue that all bodies are good bodies regardless of their size or how much activity they do. The fact that I pursue HAES doesn’t preclude the liberation of someone who doesn’t.

    If I get marked as a Good Fatty, it’s usually NOT from within the FA community– it’s from the rest of the world, which assumes that I’m in the gym or running down the trail not because I enjoy activity but because I’m trying to lose weight.

    To address fresafresca’s post (who I am going to follow, Right Now, because she is awesome): I think, personally, health is important and feeling good is pretty great. But I learned that some folks are still triggered by health talk and they don’t want to hear about it and feel that pressure. Which is ok! My blog and other HAES blogs are still a space to discuss, and if someone asks I’ll talk about HAES with them but I don’t evangelize un-asked. Health is not a moral imperative. And outside of the FA community, I’m still an Evil Fat Person no matter my health status.

  2. Pingback: Fat Bias and Weight-Related Moral Judgement | Other Than Overwhelmed

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