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Fat Politics
To hear “fat activists” tell it, the only problem with being obese is societal oppression.


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156
Betsy Woodruff

We have just had an interesting year in fatness. Mayor Bloomberg decided New Yorkers were too fat and too stupid to be allowed to purchase large sodas, the American Heart Association noted that obesity-related health-care costs could hit $957 billion by 2030 (that’s 18 percent of projected national health expenditures), and another report suggested that half of American adults will be obese in less than 20 years if we continue along the current trend.

In other words, it seems safe to say that we have a little bit of a weight problem. But one group of progressives rejects that idea the way most of us reject geocentricism. The fat-acceptance movement, a little-known fruit of the Sixties social upheaval, will probably gain more clout as the number of fat people grows. So its odd takes on individuals’ rights and basic science merit attention.

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A subgroup of this movement is fat feminism. If that sounds made up, you can check out its very own Wikipedia page, which provides readers with a lot of interesting factoids. For instance, we learn that 46 percent of overweight or obese women view their physicians as “uncomfortable” with their unhealthy weight. Egads! We also learn that “women who are naturally larger than the norm would be forced into a cycle of spending more money on health care just to compensate for being overweight,” which sounds less like oppression than a matter of reality. Perhaps the most interesting bit is that some adherents of fat feminism hold that sizeism, as it were, is a societal evil comparable to racism and sexism. Look how far we’ve come, I guess.

Though discrimination against the overweight might be a tad less severe than, say, Jim Crow laws, fat-acceptance activists even started their own rights movement back in the Sixties. In Time magazine, Dan Fletcher noted the following:

When hippies started staging “be-ins” to protest the Vietnam War, the first fat activists co-opted the idea: they staged their own event in New York City’s Central Park, dubbed it a “Fat-In” and ate ice cream while burning posters of über-thin model Twiggy. Viva la revolución.

It’s undoubtedly true that American society frowns upon obesity (a term, by the way, that many fat feminists prefer to put in dismissive quotes), and it’s well documented that overweight kids often face crueller bullying and have lower self-esteem than their normal-weighing peers. And the bizarre nature of contemporary America’s relationship with the human body (especially the female human body) is largely unparalleled. A high percentage of Americans are fat, but we rarely if ever see fat people in advertisements or movies. More and more people are fatter and fatter, which you’d think would breed societal acceptance, but anorexia and bulimia are also on the rise. Food is cheaper than ever, but many girls and young women literally starve themselves to death. 

But the fat-acceptance movement, fat feminism, and their weird brand of progressivism don’t seem to offer many serious answers. There is a plethora of examples of unfathomably odd ideas from the fatosphere (the term fat-activist bloggers use for their online community):

• Over at VoluptuArt.com, you can buy Yay! Scales, which display compliments like “Gorgeous,” “Sexy,” and “Perfect” where most scales show numbers. Is $45 too much to pay for a solicited compliment every morning? You decide.

• At FatBodyPolitics.com, a self-described fat activist named Amanda argues that many “fat-positive spaces” are inadvertently oppressive because they only very rarely “break . . . away from the normative standards of sexual experience, which deems relationships between two people to be the best kind of relationship to be in.” In other words, praising sexual relationships between two people but failing to praise one person’s relationship with him- or herself equally warmly basically makes you a Victorian.

• Fat!So?, an influential fat-feminist blog, describes itself as “about ending weight-based prejudice and discrimination — and all other forms of oppression — because we’re all in this together and we’re all fabulous!” I feel like a terrible person saying this, but good luck with ending all forms of oppression. Let me know how that works out for you.

• And at Dances With Fat, one blogger argues that as long as the federal government tries to reduce obesity, she’s a victim. Presented without comment:

As long as my government is waging a war against me (the War on Obesity) a war in which they are actively trying to involve everyone from employers to restaurants to healthcare and insurance companies — and as long as there are people who assert that we should all hope for a world where people who look like me don’t exist — I will assert that I am the victim of oppression.



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