a manifatso.

Last month I took an impromptu trip to see family out of state.  It was fantastic: a lovely time with my brother’s family, and exactly what I needed after a tough time at work.  I showed up at the airport, sad to go, but happy to have had the chance to catch up with some of the people who mean most to me.

When I got on the plane, things took a sharp turn. The flight was oversold, and I was assigned at the last minute to a middle seat.  As soon as I sat down, one of the people sitting next to me seemed to get agitated.  He got up four, maybe five times to talk to flight attendants.  He checked over his shoulder at least a dozen times.  Finally, a flight attendant crouched down next to him and whispered something I couldn’t hear.  The passenger got up and moved to a seat one row up.  Before he sat down, he turned to me and said, “this is so you’ll have more room.”

The flight attendant looked at him, puzzled, then looked at me and said, “this won’t be a vacant seat.  Someone will still be sitting here.”  The passenger looked away, then sat down.

Throughout the flight, attendants offered free beer, wine and extra snacks to the people sitting on either side of me.  They didn’t say much to me.  I folded my arms, locked my legs together, and tried not to make eye contact with anyone.  This was the moment I’d come to dread as a fat traveler.  I had been singled out—and so publicly—as a nuisance, a burden, a blight.  All of this, for having the body I’ve always had, nothing more.

No matter how good I was, no matter how small I tried to make my body, I couldn’t even take a fucking two hour flight.  I spent the rest of my time on the plane replaying the interaction in my mind to see if I was wrong, if I’d misread cues, or if there was something I could have said or done differently.  The landing couldn’t come soon enough.

As travelers filtered into the aisle to get their bags, the passenger who moved looked at me.  He said, “you know, I wouldn’t do this to a person with a walker.”

“What?”

“I wouldn’t do this to a person with a walker, or a pregnant woman.”

“I know,” I said. “That’s what makes this terrible.”

And there it was: a perfect stranger, telling me in no uncertain terms that he didn’t even want to be near me.  All because I’m fat.  All the doubt drained out of me and I felt the sting of humiliation—the same feeling I felt in grade school, when my parents sent me to fat camp.  The same feeling from middle school, when a fellow swim team member told me no one would want to see me compete.  The same feeling I felt at the doctor’s office last year, when another patient told me that “a woman your size shouldn’t wear belts.”  It’s the same feeling every time.  After this flight, it took days to feel like I’d even partly let go of it.  I still haven’t shaken it all the way.  Because of that cumulative effect, I’m not sure that I ever will.

So often, when I think of my experience as a fat person, these are the moments I think of: the rejection, humiliation, shame, frustration and struggle.  But my while my life is shaped by these moments, it’s not defined by them.  In that moment, on that plane, despite having a whole job centered around combating discrimination, and despite having spent years thinking and talking and writing about dismantling oppression, I completely lost my sense of self.  And that is, in part, because I didn’t have an affirming script to fall back on.  Or, at least, not one that I’d internalized as deeply as I internalized the hurt, frustration and anger.

I’ve been waiting to hear someone tell me what, as a fat person, I ought to be able to rely on, and what’s reaching too far, taking too much.  When am I reasonable?  When am I greedy, angry, insatiable?  I kept expecting to see some kind of fatty bill of rights that someone else would make, so it would feel official—more real than anything I could create.  But in a world where those affirmations don’t exist, we must create them for ourselves and one another.

So I’m starting that list here.  This is what I’ve needed to hear, but it’s not everything.  I hope you’ll add more in the comments.


A MANIFATSO.

We have the right to our bodies.  We have the right to weigh 90 pounds (or less), 400 pounds (or more), and every number in between.  We have a right to the bodies we have, the bodies we need, the bodies we were born with, and the bodies that reflect our gender identities.  We have the right to spaces that respect and accommodate our bodies, not bodies that shrink and change fit the spaces that exist.  We have the right to health care that provides the services that our minds and bodies need – not what others’ bias, prejudice and ignorance tells us we need.  We have the right to transition-related health care and non-medical transitions; to birth control, reproductive health, and whatever health care our bodies, minds and identities need to be our whole selves.

We have the right to eat. We have the right to eat salad and potato chips and lentils and pork ribs. We have the right to eat anything and everything: foods that reflect our families, histories and culture; foods that affirm our values and identities; foods that give us the nutrition we need, and foods that don’t. We have the right to access safe, healthy, affordable food, regardless of income level. And we have the right to eat all of it in whatever amounts we choose and are able.

We have the right to travel, regardless of whether we are the size, shape or ability designers and engineers expected.  We have the right to pass through airport security without every detailed inch of our bodies being projected to security agents.  We have the right to sit in any airplane, stand on any bus, ride any bike or drive any car to get us where we need to go.

We have the right to work without fear of discrimination.  We have the right to new jobs, to promotions, to bad days and big accomplishments.  We have the right to bring all of our talents, skills and passions to bear, and we have the right to whatever work supports ourselves, our families, and our communities.  And we, like all workers, have the right to respect, and to policies that keep us safe and our jobs secure.

We have the right to family, love, sex, all of the above, or none of it.  We have the right to sleep with and partner with the people we want, for as long as we want to, in whatever formation reflects and affirms us.  We have the right to date people we’re attracted to and who are attracted to us, without being criticized for having partners who are too fat, too thin, too plain or “out of our league.”  We have the right to be seen publicly with our partners, whatever their size, shape, gender or ability.

We have the right to raise children—fat children, thin children, and everything in between—without our fitness as parents coming under attack.  We also have the right not to raise children without being portrayed as lonely, tragic or defective.

We have the right to walk down the street without being met with glares, stares, verbal harassment or physical assault.  And we retain those same rights in restaurants, gyms, job interviews, and our day-to-day lives.  We have the right to the anxiety and hurt that results from this treatment, and we have the right to let it go.

We have the right to be wallflowers or social butterflies, awesome or awkward, without our personalities being attributed to our body size, shape, or ability.  We have the right to be our own people or tell our own stories.  We have the right to be romantic leads, action heroes, or just real people with real challenges and successes, without being relegated to the role of the fat best friend.  We also have the right to be fat best friends.

We have the right to health care that doesn’t reduce all of our health problems to our weight, or balk at healthy fat people.  We have the right to respectful, precise, accessible health care, with treatments and services that reflect our needs, our beliefs and our histories.

We have the right to be good people, bad people, people with our own sets of morals and ethics that are not defined by our weight, our diet, our exercise regiment, or our blood pressure.  These are indicators of what’s happening in our bodies, not telltale signs about our morality, our fitness to serve as role models, or our impact on our children, neighbors or communities.  We have the right to go to the doctor’s office, even just once, even just for a fever or a broken arm, without being lectured about losing weight.  We have the right to health care that helps us, not health care that shames us.

We have the right to safe and inclusive community free from racism, anti-immigrant xenophobia, and oppression on the basis of our race, ethnicity, nationality or immigration status.  We have the right to live safe, free lives without being scapegoated for social, economic, political or public health problems that are too often wrongly attributed to us.

We have the right not to be policed for the food we eat, for exercise, body size, or body shape.  We have the right to live free from body policing, wherever it comes from, be that the media, the world at large, our friends, our families, or even one another.

We have the right to resist fatphobia as a tool of colonialism, that seeks to dismantle our very bodies and senses of self by imposing white, Western beauty standards worldwide.  These are constructs of power, not constructs of our communities.  And like any tools of imperialism or colonialism, we will resist it. We have the right to understand and describe our bodies in a way that reflects our cultures and histories, and resists them as we see fit.  We have the right to know that fat is beautiful, powerful, worthy and good.  We have the right to friends, family and communities who know that, too.

We have the right to state our needs, then get those needs met respectfully, without reductive dialogue or petty pushback on those needs.  We have the right to our lives, our families, our identities, our histories and our communities.  We have the right to be who we are–all of who we are.

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driving the wedge: what peta’s lesser-known tactics can tell us about their work and our own.

Trigger warning for racist, fatphobic and anti-immigrant language and images.

Perhaps one of the most deceptively simple aspects of organizing for social justice is building an inclusive movement that respects the struggles of multiple communities.  It’s similar to building any meaningful relationship.  Genuinely share power.  Know when to listen, when to support, and when it’s not your role to take the lead.  Take accountability for your own actions and privilege, and change your behavior to respect the boundaries of those close to you.  Invest in your own growth and the growth of those around you.

But that straightforwardness doesn’t make it easy—that’s why so many of us are still learning.  Doing this work has made me deeply appreciate organizers and organizations that take accountability gracefully, and that change their approach to reflect the feedback they receive.  It’s incredibly moving to see organizing that’s truly borne of love and compassion—enough so to change its course when it leaves communities behind.

The flipside of this appreciation is a deep frustration with those that continually dodge accountability, or become more entrenched in their privilege over time.  And in my experience, there is no more consistent offender than PETA – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. 

PETA has received consistent criticism for its sexist tactics, which sexualize and objectify women to drive their point home.  But PETA doesn’t just throw women under the bus—they target a variety of identities and communities.  And ultimately, it hurts their own work.  It stymies their ability to build a broader movement, and it alienates potential allies and supporters.  And, at its core, it exposes just whose support PETA is trying to win.

note. 

As with much of what we discuss at You’re Welcome, we’re here to talk tactics, and whether specific organizing reflects anti-oppression values.  This post will not debate the merits of veganism, vegetarianism, or the animal rights movement.  The discussion below is designed to focus on the tactics utilized by PETA staff and supporters to make their case.  And that, as we’ve discussed many times here, is what makes (or breaks) a movement.  It’s rare that we at You’re Welcome focus more on what’s going wrong than what we can do right, but I think there’s value in taking a hard look at what our tactics can say about our work, and what PETA’s says about theirs. I hope you agree.

exploiting racism.

In addition to its well-known sexist tactics, PETA leverages racist tropes and constructs to further their own work.  Earlier this year, they garnered some attention when PETA sued Sea World under the thirteenth amendment—the constitutional amendment that outlaws slavery.  Needless to say, this is shortsighted and overtly oppressive—to say nothing of the fact that, historically, comparing people of color to animals is almost exclusively the purview of explicit racism.  I’ll defer to Wyatt Cenac, who brilliantly dismantled this strategy on the Daily Show:

 

But the 13th Amendment strategy is just one in a string of racist tactics employed by PETA.  In 2009, supporters protested the American Kennel Club (AKC) and their Westminster Dog Show’s “purebred only” policy.  Their fliers read “AKC + KKK: BFFs?” and made the argument that both the AKC and the Klan wanted “pure bloodlines.”  Handouts were distributed by PETA supporters in Klan hoods and robes.  I wish I was kidding.  From the Associated Press:

Most passers-by seemed more puzzled than offended, though those who didn’t stop walked away thinking they really had seen the KKK. The most common reaction was to pull out a cell phone and start snapping photos. Police monitored the situation from nearby, but the scene was mostly calm. One shouting match broke out during the hour-long protest. Earlier, a man strode away yelling, "That’s disgusting! I’m going to buy more fur!"

Invoking images and even the apparent presence of the Klan, an organization founded specifically to disenfranchise and murder people of color, is beyond the pale.  But what could PETA possibly be trying to accomplish with these tactics?

On its face, this appears to be another attention-grabbing strategy.  And it is.  As organizers, we know that our communities often want to see us out in the streets, raising a ruckus that reflect the urgency of our work.  So we take to the streets at rallies and marches. But most of what we do is a lot less visible.  It’s the daily work of building support amongst potential allies, of changing the policies that impact our communities, and of martialing resources to meet our deepest, most basic needs.  It’s a lot of time on the phone, in meetings, writing and talking one-on-one with a lot of people who don’t necessarily support us.  It’s not the work that’s easy to see, but it’s the work likeliest to make concrete changes in our communities.  We often take on higher-visibility work to respect the struggles of those around us by publicly rallying around our shared needs.  And we do it to energize our communities for the days, months and years of day-in, day-out tough work ahead, and so that our communities don’t forget that we’re still here, we’re still working.

So for PETA to exploit those deep needs and daily struggles to rally their base and garner that attention makes light of all of that work, visible or otherwise.  But they don’t just do it for the attention.  Like all organizing, these tactics are designed with a specific audience in mind.

In this case, the likelihood that any people of color are going to approach anyone in Klan hoods is pretty slim.  In fact, the likelihood of engaging anyone who the Klan has historically targeted—people of color, non-Christian people, immigrants, queer and trans people—is largely nonexistent. 

But PETA’s not looking to engage us.  This tactic is designed to engage and build PETA’s base.  What this approach demonstrates, regardless of the organization’s intent, is that they want a base that experiences privilege around race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion and more.  And they seek primarily to engage those who prioritize their own work at the expense of movements that might otherwise be engaged as potential allies. 

shaming fat people.

save the whalesA few years ago, PETA put up billboards in Jacksonville, Florida.  They included a bright image of a fat woman wearing a bikini, and read “Save the Whales. Lose the blubber. Go vegetarian.”

In a heartbreakingly honest letter, one woman wrote about her experience seeing the billboard on the way to the beach with her family:

My family was visiting, and I was planning on taking them to the beach to enjoy the beautiful day when i saw a billboard that made me want to cry. It says “Save the Whales,” with a picture of an overweight woman in the foreground.

We all sat there and stared at it for a minute and everyone in the car was silent. No one wanted to mention my weight. I laughed it off as usual, but it really had made me so embarrassed, so self conscious and so ashamed about my weight that I dropped off my family at the oceanfront and left to go home, making the excuse that I wasn’t feeling well.

On their own web site, PETA staff responded to concerns of body shaming:

We agree that a world where self-esteem is unrelated to body size would be a wonderful place, but we also know that most people feel depressed and embarrassed about their weight and often need some tough love. Our aim was not to insult people who are overweight but to get people talking—and then persuade them to make a simple, positive change for their health.

gone billboardUltimately, PETA took down the billboards, but they didn’t go quietly.  The originals were replaced with billboards that read “GONE. Just like all the pounds lost by people who go vegetarian” – a masterpiece of non-apology.  This is the equivalent of saying “I’m sorry you feel bad” rather than “I’m sorry for what I did.”  It’s an apology that undermines itself by dismissing the material harm it’s done, and restating the initial hurtful premise.  This is overt, paternalistic fat shaming at its worst.  Well, almost its worst.  On the Huffington Post, PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk took a strident approach:

America’s obesity epidemic calls for tough love à la Dr. Phil and America’s Biggest Loser, not more coddling and mock shock over a billboard pointing out that the majority of fat people need to have some discipline and remember that being fat means being a bad role model to our children, many of whom are now so fat themselves that "teeter-totter" has come to describe their wobbly gait.

We’ve unpacked fatphobia at You’re Welcome time and time and time again.  What PETA staff are saying here is absolutely, unquestionably fatphobic.  As fat people, we have no discipline, we’re bad role models, we’re part of an “epidemic” that we’re somehow also responsible for—hell, we’re the reason children are fat.  Won’t someone please think of the children (by bullying them in print)?!

Yes, these billboards are fatphobic.  They’re also shrewd.  They were placed in a city located on the beach in the summer. And they were placed in a state with lots of vacation tourists and a strong representation of fat people. Last year, an estimated 25% of Floridians were categorized as obese. So when they put up these billboards, PETA was presumably prepared to shame and alienate 1 in 4 Floridians. 

So let’s be real.  PETA is not trying to “tough-love” fat people into weight loss with tactics like these.  They’ve proven that they are not concerned with stopping body policing.  No organization that would use such extraordinarily fatphobic tactics is.

Again, these tactics don’t win many new PETA supporters. So who’s left?  As with their racist tactics, it seems that this fatphobic approach is designed to keep PETA in the public eye—largely to rally their existing base.  With rhetoric like this, they certainly don’t seem to want any fat people around, whether or not we’re losing weight.

appropriating immigrant struggles.

Immigrant communities have long been targeted by wave after wave of anti-immigrant policies and on-the-ground activity from groups like the Minutemen.  This has all been powered by deep-rooted xenophobia, racism, and scapegoating for a variety of social, political and economic ills.

In 2010, PETA joined in the immigration debate.  Just following the passage of Arizona’s racist, anti-immigrant SB1070, PETA posted this billboards around the state.  And just last year, they posted similar billboards in Alabama:

PETA does not appear to do any work in coalition with immigrant rights groups, so appropriating their struggle is, as I’ve discussed before, completely inappropriate.  But it moves beyond simply inappropriate when you see how they attack opponents at Agriprocessors for hiring undocumented people:

You may remember that a few months back the slaughterhouse was busted because "76% of the 968 employees of Agriprocessors were using false or fraudulent Social Security numbers." This was the nation’s largest single-site immigration raid. That’s right, the slaughterhouse was almost entirely staffed by illegal immigrants who were exploited to do the dirty work—such as hacking into the throats of cows who were still conscious.

So PETA is playing both sides of the immigration debate—claiming, on the one hand, that “no one should need papers,” and on the other, utilizing inflammatory language like “fraudulent” and “illegal immigrant” to attack their opposition.  When combined with PETA’s lack of coalition-building work with immigrant rights groups, it becomes clear that they only care about the political capital of the immigration debate, not about the struggles of immigrant communities.  They will shrewdly, cynically play either side of an issue to garner media attention, shore up their own base, and get their point across.

what you can do.

To be honest, I’ve struggled in coming up with action steps around PETA’s work.  On one hand, PETA has been around since 1981, and has gotten more than 30 years of opportunities to apologize, change their approach, and build meaningful coalitions with organizations in potentially allied movements.  They haven’t done any of that—and that could certainly be cause enough to sever ties with the organization, or to begin counter-organizing.  On the other, if you feel invested as an animal rights supporter in an aspirational view of what the movement could be, that could investment could translate into more concerted accountability for an organization that doesn’t reflect your values.

As I mentioned at the outset of this piece, movements are made up of relationships, and this movement is what you make it. Holding PETA accountable, vocally disengaging from the organization, and counter-organizing can all have impacts here, and all strike me as viable alternatives to simply laughing off their presence or ignoring their actions.  Make whatever choice makes sense for you, your community and your work.  But whatever choice you make, be sure you’re making it thoughtfully. 

And, of course, learn from PETA’s mistakes—don’t utilize these divisive tactics in your progressive organizing.  It’s easy to tell ourselves that we’d never use such overtly exclusionary tactics, because many of us wouldn’t.  But on a smaller scale, many of us make these missteps—often unintentionally—every day.  We do it when we say that we deserve rights as “taxpaying citizens,” which implies that undocumented people don’t.  We do it when we say that “gay is the new black,” an only slightly less ham-fisted message than PETA’s thirteenth amendment law suit.  We are already making these mistakes, and the biggest lesson we can take away is to be as attentive in our approach as we are in setting our goals.  Of all these tactics that PETA employs, perhaps the biggest threat they pose is making us falsely certain that we don’t, or can’t, make the same mistakes.

‘real women’ & those of us who aren’t.

In high school, I worked in a gift shop that sold gardening tools, books and trinkets.  One of our best-sellers was a Hanes Beefy-T that read “REAL MEN GROW ROSES.”  It tapped into something with customers—something about it felt clever, irreverent.  Women would tease their husbands with the shirt; men would swagger up to the counter to buy them.  But no matter what their reactions, gender was at the fore of how they responded—because what’s more gendered than claiming the experience of “real men”?

We see this meme a lot.  “Real men love Jesus,” “real women take care of their children,” and so forth.  But more insidiously, this meme takes hold in our movements and communities in big ways.  Many of us preface our own experiences or aspirations with that phrase – “real women have curves,” “real women aren’t a size zero,” “real women don’t do housework.”  We do it because, in a world full of restrictive social scripts, we seek to see ourselves reflected somewhere, anywhere.  That lack of affirming images—or any images—leaves us to our own devices.

But sometimes, we don’t even get so far as to claim who is a “real woman.”  For example:

when-did-this-become-hotter-than-this

This is body shaming, pure and simple.  And thankfully, that’s been clearly identified in response memes that add affirming text like “it didn’t—they’re all beautiful” and my favorite “LOVE ALL THE WOMEN!!!” (a la Hyperbole and a Half).

But this tactic, which appears simply to be a well-intentioned misfire, has much more to it than that.  Let’s unpack, shall we?

 

the pitfalls of flipping the script.

In so many marginalized communities, there’s a temptation—an easy temptation—to simply flip the script on oppression.  “That skinny girl just needs to eat a sandwich, am I right?”  “Imagine what it would be like if women ran the world—we wouldn’t have any of these problems!”  This exists in a number of communities in a number of ways.  This isn’t to say that there isn’t value in those statements—but they do lay traps for us to spring on ourselves later.

Here’s the problem: flipping the script leaves the script intact.  The assumption in the meme above is that there is a right kind of body to have, and the women on the top row don’t have it.  While body policing of thin women operates differently than it does with fat women, it’s still body policing, and it still feels like shit.

And it requires operating on the same old norms.  If you think “that skinny girl needs to eat a sandwich,” that means her body is too thin, too small, too something. In order for something to be considered “too much” of anything, there has to be an ideal, a template or a norm—and this thin woman deviates from that norm.  Reifying that ideal—even if we’re revising it—always leaves the huge numbers of people behind, and it almost always leaves out people of color, people with disabilities, gender nonconforming people, and many more.  A truly liberatory approach to fat positivity/body positivity can’t simply replace one ideal with another, slightly shifting the whole system of body shaming and policing, but ultimately leaving it intact. So why rely on ideals at all?  Why not just explode them with images of all of our bodies and stories of all of our experiences?

 

‘real women.’

The first time I remember seeing a phrase claiming to speak to the body of “real women,” I remember my face flushing with embarrassment.  It was a familiar feeling—a trigger, then the sear of humiliation.  As an intersex woman, my sex and gender are always in question, and there is never enough evidence to somehow prove who I am, validate my body, or make sense of my gender.  Despite my strong femme gender presentation and even stronger cisgender woman identity, my body will never fit all of the qualifications required of female bodies.  I am not a “real woman,” and I am never allowed to forget it.  “Real women” memes, despite being designed to create more space for more women, not only leave me out, but they bring up the string of moments of sex and gender policing I have faced over the years, and make me feel even less access to my own gender identity.

And I’m not the only one.  Historically, as we have explored, transgender women have been accused of not being real women.  Butch women and lesbians, too, are often described as too masculine to be “real women.” The “realness” of women of color has been contested through forced sterilization, birth control testing on Latinas, and much more.  None of us are consistently understood to be “real women.”  And not being seen as “real” isn’t just rhetorical—that perception is what leads to restriction to our access to resources, social acceptance, public spaces like bathrooms—even control of our own bodies.

On top of that, there are plenty of people who aren’t women who still need liberatory movements.  That isn’t to say that every remark we make needs to reflect every marginalized community.  But failure to be aware of who we’re leaving out makes it more difficult to include those people in the future.  And it replicates precisely the kind of narrow essentialism we were initially trying to escape.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t want anyone to feel the burn of recognition, frustration and humiliation I feel when I realize I’m not “real.”

 

what you can do.

Talk about your experience on its own terms.  Don’t do it at the expense of anyone else.  Describing the rights, respect and dignity that all of us deserve can be just as catchy as flipping the script—and it’s much less likely to leave those who share our struggles behind.

on fat, trans, and the pitfalls of comparing identities.

A colleague and I recently gave a training on how to be a good ally to trans communities.  For those who’ve been through similar trainings, it’s nothing earth-shattering: respect people’s gender pronouns, don’t ask people when they’re having “the surgery,” and generally avoid forcing loads of intrusive questions or making a slew of judgments based on someone’s identity (or what you believe their identity to be).  Basic, right?

But something surprising happened at this training.  Many of the cisgender (non-trans) people in the room were struggling for analogies, for parallel identities and oppressions to help them understand a community that’s new to them.  But what surprised me was the number of people who compared being trans to being fat.  According to many, their perception of whether or not a trans person is “successfully passing” (that is: presenting as a gender-conforming person) is just like their perception of someone’s thinness.  If someone is passing well, or if they’ve lost weight, praise them.  If you clock them as trans, or if they’ve gained weight, it would be rude to mention. These comparisons were made left, right and center.

And as these comparisons were made, I felt myself begin to shake, from frustration, from sadness, from powerlessness, from anger.  Good as their intentions were, as a fat person, I felt more and more shameful, more and more erased, less and less valid.  I can only imagine how trans-identified people in the room felt.

We hear these comparisons all the time.  Being trans is like being gay.  Being a gay couple is like being an interracial couple.  Being fat is like being a person with a disability.  And everything, apparently, is just like being a person of color.

To their credit, this is often the way that allies—and many community members—struggle to find the language of oppression that hasn’t been taught to them.  They’re reaching to link our struggles, and that’s a good impulse.  The problem is, they’re doing it in a way that is substantially flawed and makes it deeply difficult to build relationships, coalitions and movements across lines of identity. 

 

why we compare identities.

Overwhelmingly, we do it because our intentions are good. Sometimes we do it to better understand allied communities—to deepen our understanding of the needs and experiences of other communities. Sometimes we do it to give voice to our own experience of oppression in a culture that doesn’t provide us with the tools or opportunities to speak for our experiences of marginalization. Again, the intention here is good: we’re trying to start conversations that establish various forms of oppression as real, valid and harmful.

The problem is that identity comparisons are often overarching and ineffective—and they don’t really help us meet those goals. While our intentions are good, these comparisons don’t create the impacts we hope for. So what I want to talk about today is the unintended impacts they create. So: what are the challenges with comparing identities, communities and movements?

(Note: I’ve focused here on race, LGBT, and fat, because those are the examples that I deal with most frequently, but there are many, many more.  Feel free to add yours in the comments.)

 

problems with comparing identities.

It glosses over substantial differences in experience in a way that can be hurtful, insulting and alienating.  After Prop 8 banned same-gender marriage in California, gay news magazine the Advocate published a cover story that declared that “gay is the new black.”  The problem is, this is frequently stated by white queer people.  And while white queer people have historically experienced hate crimes, police raids, and a whole lot more, we haven’t been lynched, been forced to sit at the back of the bus, or experienced the accumulation of oppression over generations on a single family or neighborhood.  Black/African-American communities have.  Intentional or not, claiming that “gay is the new black” is deeply disrespectful, and it’s often experienced as such. 

It’s an escape hatch for ally education.  When we compare our identities to others that we don’t share, we can unintentionally imply that we’ve got nothing to learn.  And sometimes we can even believe it. 

The logic goes like this: if I say that my identity is just like yours, then presto!, I have nothing new to learn about your experience or needs, because they’re the same as mine.  And if I already know all there is to know, I don’t need to change anything about what I’m doing to make spaces, communities or movements more accessible to people with differing identities. 

In that way, it also paves the way for pushing aside identity-specific needs.  If being fat is like having a disability, then I just need to make this event accessible for me, and it will automatically be accessible for you, right?  Wrong.  Many fat people don’t seek need ramps, bars, or ASL interpretation.  And making the comparison keeps us from grappling with the complexity of the identities of those around us.  It keeps us from growing, and it keeps others from participating.

 

problems with comparing movements.

It claims someone else’s work.  I’m a young white queer woman.  I wasn’t alive during the highest profile work of the Civil Rights movement, and I didn’t begin to take on anti-racist work until very recently, in the scheme of racial justice history in the US.  But if I say fat acceptance is “the next great Civil Rights movement,” I’m claiming that work as my own and conflating oppressions in a way that (rightfully) alienates communities of color.

Sometimes, it implies that other forms of oppression are “over” or “fixed.” Frequently, we hear that fat is the last acceptable discrimination. The implication here is that other forms of oppression are somehow remedied or obsolete.  Racism isn’t “fixed.” We haven’t “cured” our society of xenophobia.  But that’s the implication.

And all of that alienates potential allies. These comparisons, well-intentioned though they may be, divide our communities against one another.  LGBT communities know the pain of police raids, but we don’t readily and uniformly ally ourselves with immigrant communities, who face raids and deportation at staggering rates.  Fat people know the sting of discrimination and exclusion (see: Southwest Airlines policies), but many of us still dismiss concerns over ableism.  And when we draw sloppy parallels that make broad generalizations (while failing to pinpoint shared experience and values), we alienate the communities we are best positioned to support—and that are best positioned to support us.

 

drawing effective parallels.

This doesn’t mean that drawing parallels is out of the question—it just means that comparisons must be made carefully and thoughtfully.  Here are some ways to draw thoughtful, nuanced parallels.

Point to shared opposition & tactics of oppression.  A great example of this: Suzanne Pharr’s stellar essay, The Common Elements of Oppression.  In it, Pharr discusses the ways the common tactics used to oppress—but she is careful not to conflate communities or types of oppression.  Both immigrant communities and LGBT communities are accused of seeking “special rights.” That’s a tactic used to divide and marginalize us.  That means our struggles are linked—it does not mean they are the same through and through.

Point to shared needs.  Since our opposition (and their tactics) are shared, our communities often experience similar needs.  So when budget cuts target low-income people and communities of color, our needs are shared.  When bullying targets trans youth and fat youth, our needs are shared.  And when oppression and privilege are so poorly understood as a whole, many of our communities can benefit from some serious public education.

Be specific.  Sweeping generalizations (a la “gay is the new black”) are dicey at best, so specificity can be helpful.  Are you trying to draw a parallel between communities’ shared experiences?  Their shared oppressors?  Similar institutionalized discrimination?  Be sure to voice what you are specifically thinking.

 

what else you can do.

Support the work of allied movements.  If you’re a white queer person, like me, fight against police profiling and brutality.  If you haven’t experienced the criminal justice system as a prisoner, work for prisoner’s rights for those who have.   Believe in them, yes, and do something.  Write your elected official.  Phone bank.  Attend a rally.  Taking action is the most meaningful way to contribute.

Speak about the oppression you face on its own terms.  Grant it the integrity to speak for itself.  I feel fatphobia deeply enough on a daily basis that I can describe it in extraordinary detail.  I know, and trust, that those experiences speak for themselves, and do not need to rely on broad parallels to others’ oppression.

Use “I” statements.  I know, it’s well-worn and hackneyed territory, but it works.  Speak from your own experience, and avoid speaking on behalf of communities with which you don’t identify.

Interrogate your own privilege.  At the core of these comparisons is a deep desire to help those around us more fully grasp our own understanding of oppression.  And that desire is often paired with the internalized entitlement that comes with privilege—and that’s what creates the impulse to reach so readily for someone else’s experience in order to describe our own. 

Continuing to challenge our own sense of privilege and the internalized ways in which we appropriate others’ experiences is one of the most lasting ways to stem the tide of the comparisons that divide us while seeking to unite us.  And while that tide goes out, we can build more meaningful relationships across identities, and stronger coalitions across movements for true and lasting social justice.

losing weight & staying fat positive.



A number of fatties in my life have recently lost weight.  Not just a few pounds—hundreds of pounds, between them.  These are dramatic changes in the size and shape of their bodies. 

And it deeply impacts their politics, too.  Some have retained their fat politics, becoming even more vocal as their bodies shrink.  Others have brought body hate to a new level, drawing it into every conversation they have.  “I have fifteen more pounds to lose, then I’m at my goal weight.  Maybe then someone will date me.”  “I’d like to go to lunch with you, but I have to wait another three hours before I can have my next 250 calories.”

They’re in a tough spot: they’re finding validation that they haven’t gotten in years (or ever).  Their experiences of privilege and oppression are in flux.  And, on top of all that, they’re learning how to work with the dramatic change that has taken place in their bodies.  As a friend, I get that.

But as a fatty, it’s painful.  They’re seeking a lot of emotional support, and some of them are trying to retain their fat-positive politics, even as the world is beginning to see them really differently.  While those are genuine needs, it can be really tough to support them, when what they really need to work through is the conflicted feelings they’re experiencing about the privilege I don’t have.  While getting a lot of new, strange attention to your body is a legitimate challenge to work through, when I hear that (as a turbo fatty who largely doesn’t get affirmation for my body), it can feel like a poor little rich girl problem.

That said, I do want to help and support them as friends, and I recognize that this is often an elephant in the room in fat acceptance spaces.  So let’s talk: how can you lose weight and retain fat positive politics?

 

Be clear about your reasons.

If you feel like you’ve got unhealthy habits, change them.  If you want to do something with your body that you can’t currently do, change that.  If you want to eat more vegetables, move around more, or eat Cheetos, do it.  Your choices are yours to make.  The problem is, agency over your own body is not the focus of the majority of conversations around health, body shape, and size.

I’m not going to pretend like there aren’t serious social pressures associated with being fat, and that there isn’t relief in the thought of having a smaller body.  Fat people experience lots of employment discrimination, street harassment, and even discriminatory treatment from medical providers.  We’re subjected to social narratives that tell us that our weight determines whether or not we’re datable, fuckable, employable, intelligent, hygienic, or a valid person.

But if you’re losing weight to become more attractive, desirable or successful, or to fleshy peoplebecause of a non-specific “because health” reason, it’s important to know that you are actively contributing to narratives of fat hate and body policing.  And while you’re escaping those narratives of fat oppression on an individual basis, if you’re using weight loss to increase your social value, you’re strengthening the framework that keeps other fatties trapped.  Whether you intend it or not, you are contributing to the oppression of anyone whose body exists outside of body norms and ideals. 

Plus, you’re setting a big, wily trap yourself.  How much weight will you have to lose before you get a date or a proposal?  What number on the scale will get you your dream job?  How long will it take you to get there?  And why do each of those things have to hinge on your weight?  Isn’t your life, the one you’re living right now, worth more than that?

How to resist: Be clear about your reasons for losing weight, and give some deep thought to how and when those contribute to fatphobia.  And gently push those around you who assume that their weight loss (or yours) will increase social worth.  Push them to think about the (gendered, racialized, class-based) narratives that lead them to think the way they do.  Expose the superstructure that so deeply influences those lines of thinking.

Know that your health is your business.

Your business.  Not your friends’.  Not fat strangers’.  Not pundits’ or commentators’.  Yours.   That means that none of those people can tell you what’s best for your health.  And it means that you can’t tell them what’s best for their health, either.  Your personal health doesn’t reflect poorly or well on anyone else’s diet, mobility, agency, body size or body shape.   In short, no one’s health is a topic for public consumption.

How to resist: Don’t accept the link between health and fat.   Question people in your community when they feel license to openly discuss what they assume someone’s health needs to be. 

 

Abandon the language of “good” and “bad” choices.

“I’m so bad, I just had a piece of chocolate cake! It was sinful!”  “I’ll have the spinach salad.  I’m trying to be good.”  These remarks don’t mention anyone but the speaker, but they manage to pull everyone else in, with or without their consent.  Comparative language paints a clear picture that ranks every possible decision (and person) in a values-based hierarchy.  And you know what’s not fat positive?  Contributing to narratives that obliquely malign others’ choices and bodies. 

How to resist: If you don’t want to eat something, just say “no thank you.”  If you would like to go to the gym instead of hanging out with friends, just say, “I have other plans.”  Drawing out why you’re making a specific decision about food or exercise both seeks validation from those around you, and implicitly criticizes everyone else in the room.  Strive to create spaces that don’t pathologize fatness, but accept it as a valid way for bodies to look and work.

 

Don’t project unrelated values or outcomes onto weight loss.

We’ve discussed the incredible social pressure that fat people live with every day, and the narratives that tell us we’re destined to be ugly, lonely, unsuccessful shut-ins.  But no matter what social narratives tell you, those social outcomes la mar reducing soaparen’t a fait accompli. 

Losing weight doesn’t make it more likely that people will date you, it just means that different people may find you attractive.   It doesn’t mean that you will be seen as more valuable, it means that different people will see different kinds of value in you.  And those are personal decisions you get to make.  Do you want or need to spend time with people who heavily value your body size?  Or do you have the latitude to define other attitudes that are important to you?  Do you want to date someone for whom a very specific type of physical attraction is a priority, or are there other characteristics you’re looking for in a partner?  Every one of those questions is valid, and there are no right or wrong answers.  But it’s important to know that being fat or thin doesn’t make you a  better or worse person.  Losing weight just means that your body is slightly smaller & lighter than it used to be. 

How to resist: A friend recently spent a week with the flu.  When he went back to work, a coworker said, “you look really great! You lost some weight while you were out, didn’t you?  It looks good on you!”  My friend responded by saying, “I just spent the week throwing up—I wasn’t really going for a particular look."  That’s a pretty damn good way to resist.

 

Don’t seek validation from fat people.

The "fat best friend” is a longstanding archetype.  The story goes like this: your fat friend can absorb all of your concerns and troubles because, presumably, they have no life of their own.  Family, friends, coworkers and even strangers readily expect that we can, will and should support all of their emotional needs without receiving support in return. 

And it’s doubly true when it comes to talking through body image.  People of all sizes expect to be able to commiserate with me about how hard it is to “resist temptation from food” and to “feel fat,” and therefore worthless, unattractive or unhappy.  The problem is, I don’t feel that way, and being asked to support someone who does requires me to A) accept the premise they’re using, B) acknowledge that, by their thinking, I’m much “worse” and C) tell them that they look great, they’re not fat, and they’ll be fine.  In short, seeking support from a fat person around your body image puts that fatty on the spot, and takes away their power to engage with their body on their own terms.

And truthfully? The whole dominant culture of the US is built to affirm thinness and weight loss. You can get that affirmation from just about every other person around. Why pursue that same affirmation from someone who’s not getting it themselves?

How to resist: Don’t accept comments about your thinness as compliments – challenge them.  Create a network of non-fat people who you can talk to about body image.  And when you’re seeking support from a fat person, ask yourself what support from that particular person will offer you that support from another (thinner) person wouldn’t.

 

Closing it out

The intersection of weight loss and fat politics is tough for everyone.  It’s tough for fatties.  It’s tough for people who are losing weight.  It’s tough for people who are gaining weight.  Cultures of weight loss and fat hate are designed to trap all of us, and they do.  And for those of us who embrace fat positive politics, it can often feel easier and simpler to pretend that it’s not happening.

But here’s the thing.  Staying fat positive doesn’t need to be wildly complex, adversarial, or difficult.  It’s as simple as thinking through the impacts of your actions and, as Luchador puts it, not being a jerk.

breaking down fatphobia

 

I love this video.  It’s such a fantastic breakdown of how conversations about racism can derail, and how to keep them on track.  These same scenarios can be true about a variety of oppressions: homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, transphobia, and, with growing frequency, fatphobia.

Increasingly, the way we think about oppression in the US is as follows: “bigotry exists intentionally in individuals, and I do not intend to be bigoted, therefore I am not a bigot.”  The problem with this logic?  It acknowledges oppression in its smallest form, so that oppression in its larger, more nuanced forms can be denied or eschewed.  On top of that, being “a homophobe,” “a racist,” “a bigot,” et cetera, is also narrowly defined—usually as whether or not you physically or verbally attack others on the basis of their identity.

This is not to say there isn’t a lot of individual oppression happening out there—there is.  But to acknowledge that as a means to deny the experiences and needs of marginalized communities on a broader scale is a red herring.  The reasoning goes like this: I don’t use homophobic slurs, so I’m not a homophobe.  Homophobia exists intentionally in other people.  Because I have acknowledged this, and proven that I am not a homophobe, all of my opinions are objectively true.  Because I do not observe institutional homophobia, it therefore cannot exist.

I get a little sad typing that out.  It’s shortsighted, but it’s really effective.

While many of us may recognize how oppression (and denial of oppression) operates within many communities, not all of us understand how that works with fat people.  As with any system designed to exclude, shame or oppress people on the basis of shared characteristics or identities, it can be easy to assume that fatphobia only exists one-on-one, person-to-person.  Not so.  It’s a series of complex, interlocking systems designed to shame, silence and “correct” fat people. 

Because discussions of fatphobia are new to many of us, we may not recognize it as a layered system of oppression.  Plus, when we fail to recognize the ways in which fatphobia operates, it becomes difficult to recognize that it even exists, much less how to effectively interrupt it.

There are several levels of fatphobia.  Among them: personal fatphobia, cultural fatphobia and institutional fatphobia.  Let’s walk through what each of them look like in action.

 

personal fatphobia

This is where the conversation begins—and often where it ends.  I’d define personal fatphobia as the ways in which fatphobia is perpetuated on a one-on-one, person-to-person basis.  It’s important to note that personal fatphobia doesn’t need to be intentional.  Regardless of what you meant by what you said or did, its impact remains the same.  Some examples include:

 

  • Policing what a fat person is eating, or telling them about their own health.  Again, nobody knows more about diets, exercise, health and nutrition than fatties.  Friends, family members, doctors, partners and even strangers on the street have freely suggested a million and one things that we can do to change our bodies.  Many of us have tried them all.  And for those of us who’ve decided to stop hating our bodies, policing what we eat is a harsh reminder that, within current social systems, we are prohibited from defining our own bodies.

  • Shaming fat people for wearing “unflattering” clothing.  See above.  When I was in high school, my mother made a list of things I shouldn’t wear: cap sleeves, belts, skirts with hemlines above the knee, horizontal stripes, bright colors, drop waists, tank tops, pencil skirts.  Needless to say, my mom-approved outfits looked like, well, something a mom would wear.  The problem is that damn near every style guide and fashion magazine agrees that I should retreat to a life of caftans, muu-muus and graduation gowns.  The implication here is that telling fat people what not to wear is doing us a favor, and allowing us to define how we want to be seen would cause us grievous harm.  I heartily disagree.

 

  • Giving unsolicited suggestions about weight loss “for our health.”  This one’s problematic on a couple of fronts.  First, as witnessed above, lots of fatties know a whole lot about losing weight.  For real.  Second, my health doesn’t require weight loss.  Every physical I have shows that I’m healthy as a horse.  Third, my health is nobody’s business.  Seriously.  Fourth, and perhaps most basically, the assumption underlying unsolicited weight loss suggestions is that we can all agree that my body is repulsive and abhorrent, and that I must hate it and desperately want to change it.  Except that I don’t.

  • Insisting that fat people are universally unattractive, or publicly refusing to date us.  That one’s pretty basic, right?  You don’t have to want to date us, but you don’t have to shout it from the rooftops, and you can’t speak for the whole rest of the world. 

 

Again, personal fatphobia is a big challenge, and is where a lot of internalized fatphobia comes from.  But personal fatphobia isn’t the whole picture.

 

cultural fatphobia

I’d define cultural fatphobia as the norms, values and practices of a culture that devalue fat people, and value thin people as the norm.

A note on thinness: it does not, in and of itself, qualify someone as fitting into the beauty standard.  Other determinants like race, ability, age, gender presentation and much, much more play into that.  Plus, there is still some deep, longstanding pathologization (and simultaneous fetishization) of people—usually women—who are perceived to be “too thin.”  As someone who has not ever been considered “too thin,” I can’t and won’t address that.  When I say that a culture values “thin people” as the norm, I’m referring to the culture’s hegemonic values.

That said, here’s what cultural fatphobia looks like in action:

 

  • Media images of fat people.  We’ve all seen them.  In the best cases, we’re jolly, fun, full of personality, and totally unsexed.  In the worst cases, we’re slovenly, unhygienic, smelly, lazy, and morally corrupt.  Either way, the roles we’re allowed to play are extremely limited.  And an attractive, charismatic fatty?  Perish the thought.  Meanwhile, thin people (again, this is colored by many other characteristics & aspects of identity), can be anything.  Not all thin people in movies, on TV, or in magazines are culturally defined as attractive, but damn near every person who’s culturally defined as attractive (and interesting, worthy, charismatic, etc) is thin. 

 

  • The myth that thinness has always been the beauty standard.  Not so, y’all.  Beauty standards are always, always, always defined by a time and place.  They reflect the values, class politics, available resources and technologies, and historic context of the time and place they come from.  Historically, fatness has, in varying times and places, been considered a sign of wealth, fertility, virtue and more.

 

institutional fatphobia

Institutional fatphobia is arguably the farthest-reaching of them all.  Institutional fatphobia can be defined as the ways in which institutions exclude, underserve and oppress fat people.  Again, these institutionally fatphobic policies don’t need to be intended to exclude fat people—but they do disproportionately impact us.  Examples:

  • Changing BMI standards, and the consequent “Obesity Epidemic.” A lot has been written about this, including this and this, and I’m sure I can’t do it any better.  But to give a quick recap, in a nutshell, the standards of the body mass index changed in the late 1990s, making 25 million people overweight or obese overnight.  And, while nutrition, exercise and health are sorely under-addressed in the United States, to define that as an obesity epidemic is incredibly reductive, and it deflects attention from the way that classism, racism, sexism and other forms of oppression play into body image, food availability, and more.

    Concrete policies around nutrition, availability of food, and health education all break around lines of race, class and gender.  Take schools, for example.  People with more money are likelier to be able to attend smaller schools, where students get more individual attention and schools are likelier to provide fresher, more nutritious foods (ie, less mass-produced canned and processed foods). When we talk about fatness, though, it’s a two-dimensional conversation about reducing fat and calorie intake, rather than a multidimensional conversation about getting your body the vitamins and nutrients it needs. And it’s almost always a question of individuals at the expense of a conversation about policies. Ultimately, blaming fat people for a lack of willpower deflects from a much broader cultural conversation about nutrition, and reifies existing systems of oppression while making them invisible.

 

  • Policies that require fat passengers to buy two seats on airplanes.  Regardless of whether or not you think that fat people should have to buy an extra seat on an airplane, this policy inarguably excludes many fat people, especially those of us who can’t afford to find out at the gate that we need to drop an unexpected $400 on an additional plane ticket.  (Sorry, poor fat people!  No air travel for you.)  Plus, the policy is decidedly punitive.  It’s not designed to be equitable.  It’s not designed to make fat people more comfortable.  It’s designed, quite literally, to make fat people pay for their size, and the tone almost always steers the conversation toward a moral referendum on fatness.

 

what’s missing & what’s next

These lists and definitions aren’t complete and they aren’t meant to be.  Fatphobia is dynamic, changing over time and adapting to the culture that produces it.  So what’s missing from these lists?  What kinds of personal, cultural and institutional fatphobia do you see at play?

why i’m fat positive.

I’m a lot of things: I’m queer, white, upper middle class, an organizer, a nerd, a clothes horse…

I’m also fat.

That’s an easy thing for me to say, and it’s a hard thing for many people to hear. And it impacts me more immediately, frequently and overtly than a lot of my identities.

When I tell people I’m fat, the most common reaction is panic: they assume I’m calling myself ugly, and they feel pressured or compelled to disabuse me of that notion. But people clearly notice my size all the time. Servers at restaurants notice it when they seat me. People on the bus notice it when they decide when and whether to make an empty seat available for me. Nurses notice it when they tell me I’ll have to be weighed as part of my physical, and then wince. It’s the worst-kept secret around. So I just put it out there: I’m fat.

Telling people I’m fat makes them uncomfortable. But telling them I’m fat positive makes people upset. Some get angry (“you’re endangering your health, and if you’re talking about this, you’re endangering other people’s health, too”). Some get shaming (“oh, so that’s why you dress that way. I just figured you didn’t know they were called skinny jeans”). Some even start to mourn (“I’m just worried about what will happen to you if you don’t even try.”). Most are just perplexed and they shut down, wondering on a very basic level why I think fat is okay.

Remarkably, very few people ask. So I figured I’d just say it.

I’m fat positive because I’m a feminist, and I refuse to acknowledge in the magical thinking that if you’re small enough, quiet enough, compliant enough and saccharine enough, you will somehow be enough.

I’m fat positive because I can’t afford to pay for two airline tickets just because the airline industry has decided that my body is the problem—not their outdated seats that haven’t changed in decades.

I’m fat positive because I’ve been fat my whole life. No matter how much I work out or how little I eat, my clothing has never dropped below a size 20 (I know!). I could spend my life in a gym, chasing some mirage that my body will never be, or I could focus on eating and moving in a way that makes me healthy and happy. Or, even more radically, I could not think about dieting, and know that my health is my own damn business. Either way, on the weight continuum, I’ll be somewhere between “superfat” and “ginormous.”

I’m fat positive because every day, fat people give up on all kinds of priorities and dreams because they’re fat. Granted, that’s a piss-poor reason to give up, but you know what? Social messages reinforce that thinking every day. I can’t go to the gym: I’m fat & I’ll be humiliated. I can’t date anyone: who would want to date a fatty? I can’t wear that outfit: I’m fat. Hell, I gave up on acting in college because I didn’t think I stood a chance. I may not have been a great actor, but I don’t know because I knew that being fat was rarely a leg up in auditions.

I’m fat positive because of the pervasive myth that fat women must be lesbians—the underlying assumption being that queer women can “give up” on their bodies, because they don’t “need” to attract men. I’m fat positive because I’m queer, and that shit is homophobic AND sexist.

I’m fat positive because I identify as queer, a category designed to upset essentialist thinking about sexuality and gender. There are tidy lines of thought that prescribe that male = man = masculine = straight, and female = woman = feminine = straight. Fatphobia is one of many things that props all that up. By regulating what our bodies can and can’t look like (in a very gender-specific way), fatphobia perpetuates normative gender and sexuality in a way that keeps all of us trapped.

I’m fat positive because I work at being an anti-racist ally, and fatphobia reifies systems of power that erase the bodies of many people of color, and that stereotype, parody and ultimately nullify their experiences. For example, in order to function as an anti-welfare trope, the welfare queen must be a woman (in this case, a single woman), a single parent (careless and promiscuous), poor (irresponsible), fat (slovenly) and Black (the Other, for middle class white voters). The welfare queen stereotype relies on some level on the fatness of the subject in order to function. And, on top of that, it’s predicated on a fear of someone “taking too much,” crossing boundaries and claiming resources that aren’t hers to take, an almost predatory image of a fat woman of color. This theme of “taking what’s not yours” is repeated with communities of color when it comes to welfare, English-only ballot measures, immigrant rights, and more. And, of course, it plays a core role in fatphobia: fat people eat too much, take up too much space, and generally exist to consume.

I’m fat positive because your weight doesn’t have any necessary relationship to your health, your attractiveness, your worth, your agency, your passions or your personality. But it does have a deep relationship to how others treat you, how you’re allowed to identify, and what kind of ramifications you may face if you reach beyond those bounds.

I’m fat positive because I like to hike and swim and do yoga. But bizarrely, while there’s an overwhelming sense of hostility to just being a fat lady living my life, that hostility is heightened immensely when I’m seen working out. (You’d think they’d like to see me doing something that’s associated with weight loss, wouldn’t you?)

I’m fat positive because there’s a huge, awful machine called the diet industry. It demands that we get as skinny as possible, and then get skinnier. And it tells us that the only way to get skinny is by spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars on gimmicks, pills and such. And know what that is? Classist.

I’m fat positive because, as Maria Bamford puts it, “L’Oreal: Because I’m worth it. And because holding myself to an impossibly high standard of beauty keeps me from starting a riot.” I’m fat positive because sometimes I think we ought to start a riot.

I’m fat positive because, despite my mother’s stellar politics and longstanding values, she couldn’t get past my being a fat kid. She’s a staunch feminist, and a wonderful and caring parent, but she still struggles with my fatness because of an ongoing and deeply destructive constellation of myths about what it means to be fat in the United States.

I’m fat positive because no matter what size you are, you shouldn’t be ashamed. You shouldn’t have to turn on the TV to see therapists making anorexic women cry, or see trainers shout at and shame fat people. I’m fat positive because I don’t think that anyone else should decide what’s okay for you to wear or eat or do or look like. I’m fat positive because even though no one should be subjected to that, millions of us are every day—and we’re shamed into silence and compliance.