Fat Loss vs Fat Acceptance, Redux
I guess it's time for me to chime in on a discussion going on in fat blog land…. And Erin at Minx, Redux, puts it very succintly: "I absolutely do not understand why there must be a size acceptance camp and a weight loss camp and ne'er the twain shall meet."
Quick background on why this seems hot right now: BlogHER, basically a convention of women bloggers, is next weekend in Chicago. (Wish I could be there, but, frankly, I've got one blessed summer weekend with no official plans and I'll de danged if I'm going to spend it cooped up in some hotel conference room. Next year, sistahs.) There's a panel about body issues going on and the fabulously witty wieghtloss/weight issues blogger Wendy Mc Clure is (appropriately) a panelist. Apparently there's a camp of people disgruntled by this, (represented by the comment "What business does a former Weight Watcher have on this panel") because as somebody who apparently "bought into" the whole dieting thing, what could she offer on fat acceptance? Erin's post on the topic covers about 90% of what I have to say on it (the next 10% coming up) so I'll just excerpt (links and emphasis in the excerpt are MINE, not hers):
I think it's stupid, actually, because anyone who approaches this with an ounce of common sense will recognize that the healing process of losing weight, of accomplishing more things with your body than you thought possible at first, of being able to slip on clothes without worrying about what you look like...of those vast improvements in mental health far outweigh and often support the physical benefits of weight loss and a healthy lifestyle. Every single person whose life has been changed through weight loss has talked about the immense sense of freedom they attain while they're going through the motions of working off the fat. They talk about the broken relationshps they've been able to heal, of the new self-confidence, the sense of efficacy...and yes, they gleefully recount the times they've been checked out by someone at the supermarket, or the day that they managed to walk into a non-Fatstore and try on a pair of jeans without tears of shame. And I know the Size Acceptance movement says it should never be about the last part, but it is. It always is, and it always will be. Validation for one's successes, at least in some small measure, will always be an innate human need, and there's nothing that redefining how we're supposed to think about ourselves can do to combat that.
I'll add that that last part -- the validation -- wouldn't be truly effective without some measure, be it a scale, dress size, or ability to hit a milestone/objective, that is, as we say in the IT world, "SMART." (Good ol Specific, Measurable, Achieveable, Results-focused, and Timely. Anything else is just the same ol' "When I get a Round TUIT" which means it will never happen. Anyway, she goes on to add:
I also understand that another problem with weight loss blogging as a means of size advocacy is that it's a fairly self-centered activity … When I write what I ate, what I was thinking when I ate, how I'm feeling, etc., I'm not doing it to inspire anyone at the moment. (Although when people say they draw inspiration from my words, it's a phenomenally gratifying feeling). I'm writing here because I don't have a support network in my own real life, and this is the best way I know to reach the widest variety of people going through a similar process. In my writing, I am not changing minds or effecting societal progress...I know this.
In other words, we're looking for, and we've found, community. The fact that so many of us write the similar posts as we hit milestones means we've found it. We have found a common ground in the joy of fitting into the skinny jeans. We find a common ground in our shock that one damn burrito at Chipotle will wipe out your flex points well into 2015. We find common ground in the fact that this topic right here is a hot one, and its getting us thinking. And that in and of itself is "effecting societal progress." Every movement has its proponents that are moderate to radical, and often the radicals are the squeaky wheels who get the grease, and are thus identified with the entire movement. Do all feminists agree with, say, Andrew Dworkin or Catherine McKinnon? (For that matter Susan Faludi or Naomi Wolf?) But at the same time, all make important points which should be discussed, and are good touchpoints for forming your own value and belief system. Anyway, Erin continues:
But as I considered that, I also realized the other question I have for the size acceptance proponents:
If size acceptance is built upon the idea that you should be comfortable in your own skin, regardless of your weight or appearance, then why be political about it?
Because in general, like Erin, I like the concept/spirit of size acceptance advocates. And I understand the anger that often fuels it: whether I'm walking down a street and have somebody lean out of a car and scream "FAT" at me (this happened to McClure, and its happened to a lot of us), or if I'm at a business conference with some blowhard acceptantly tossing off fat hatred, or reading about some nutcase who's calling for the detrhoning of a singing contest winner because she isn't rai-thin. Or even the time I was sitting in a Weight Watchers meeting a few years back and some wiener runs in and screams "FATTIES" and runs out. There is a lot of fat hatred going around out there, and outisde our safe little community it gets vicious and vile. I won't deny that the fat acceptance movement is as necessary and vital as femininsim itself. Erin wraps up her post thusly:
I suppose what I'm trying to say, in a very inefficient manner, is that I like the spirit of the size acceptance activists. I like what they stand for, but I do not like their politics. I'm angry that Wendy McClure was made to feel even a little unwelcome because she had the audacity to look for a tool that would help her feel better about herself. I'm angry that talented writers like Jen are told there must be something psychologically wrong for them to want to reduce their body shape and look better. I'm irritated that just because I want to feel that profound sense of relief when I walk into a store knowing that there WILL be something there to fit me, that I've been branded as superficial, body-conscious, shallow for wanting to look a certain way. If that's the case, then label me as such, but I'm fairly certain that in the last seven months of learning how to eat correctly, to vanquish bad habits, to move past all the hang-ups I have about how I am and what I can do, I've done more for my own self-acceptance through dieting than I ever would by simply throwing my hands up in the air and saying "so what?"
I'll say it again: the sense of achievement I've gotten from success in the weight loss realm has indeed bled into the rest of my life. I've re-ignited my band. I ran a triathlon. I bought a two-piece swimsuit and wore it in public. All of these things are things I said I wouldn't do until I was at least down to a size 12-14 (and I'm not there yet, honeys!). In addition, I helped organize and participate in my first art show of my photography, I stumbled onto a stage alone and sang acoustically, I climbed a challenging alpine tower. I wouldn't have had the confidence to do these things, but because I had the confidence that came with achieving a SMART objective, I did them. And I'm still fat. If anything, I've underscored the lesson that my fat is not a cause of any pain or lack of self-confidence I have -- it's a symptom, because being fat didn’t stop me from doing any of these things.
I think the problem might have a lot to do with as (and I wish I could find the post, because the line in it was perfect and I want to give credit where credit is due) somebody said, "One persons goal is another person's starting point." In other words, we all have our own definition of where we need to be to feel comfortable in our bodies. Frankly, my goal of 160, and perhaps 145 (and maybe I'll feel good at 185, I'll know when I get there, because last time I was 185, I didn't feel perfect but I could wear and do what I wanted and that was good enough for me) still will be considered FAT by the media's standards. And if the fat acceptance movement is about feeling good and being accepted at whatever weight YOU feel good in, count me in! I just saw the fabulous Candye Kane wail the blues a few weeks ago, and while I get the impression she's a little unhappy at 220 or wherever she's at, I also know she's fine with being fat overall, and she'd be happy at 210, and if that's where she's happy, good for her! She's beautiful NOW, she's sexy NOW, and she's comfortable with herself NOW. It's just that right now, I don't feel good for both physical and vanity reasons, at 217.4. I can do most things I want to do, but I can't wear what I want to wear and I can't do everything. And I've also realized my eating habits are bad because I'm not eating fat food to nourish. I'm eating it to relieve stress and to soothe some pain. I'm using food as an anethestic, and mentally and physically, that's not right. I'm using food as a drug and I'm addicted. That much I've figured out. And I'm still trying to figure out more. But here's the thing. Again, my weight is tied to SMART objectives, because it’s the one thing about myself I can be truly objective about: I can MEASURE how many pounds or dress sizes or whatever I've achieved. I can't do that with "happieness" or "stress" (perhaps by measuring blood pressure, but frankly, my BP has always been great.). I need to be able to measure.
But I think that all us us suffer from some level of insecurity, and this whole issue of fat acceptance vs. the dieters (us sellouts!) is a symptom of it. About a year ago, I wrote on this blog my thoughts on "what happens when I DO lose the weight" and it's a topic that surfaces in the fatosphere now and again: when we lose the weight, will we will accept our fat sisters as the beautiful people that they are? (Some ex fatties don't, you know. They become some of the biggest fat haters ever.) And even in this process, I wondered aloud:
In this respect, I think I'll always have empathy for overweight women, but when empathy transitions to sympathy, when does it become patronizing? And how do we keep from being patronizing, beyond the obvious difference between "I remember when I was there, here's what worked for me" as opposed to (and I've seen this in more than a few books/blogs written by former fat women) "I remember when I was such an idiotic fat cow." That's the easy difference, it gets harder when you realize that, after all these years of being victims of a form of elitism, we're sort of joining the elite. Its like I've written before, I love the people in this phat little club of ours, but given the choice, it’s a club whose eligibility I'd rather not qualify for. I'm seeing a lot of us at this point struggling with this: to remain "fat accepting" yet to want to cast off our own fat. Is it elitist to say: "Well, fine for you if you're OK with being fat or not ready -- for whatever reason (god knows it took me a while to be truly ready to do this) to lose it yet, but its not acceptable for me."? It really is the opposite of the Woody Allen paradox: "I wouldn't want to be a member of any club that would have me in it." We are members of this club, and we want out. Is that an insult to the current club members?
I think the fact that I/we want out of this club is being taken as an insult to the current club members. And the more radical among them are turning it around and getting elitist on us, calling those of us who follow the diet plans or track our numbers the joiners, the blind falling for the media expectation. I think what I loved so much about McClure's book was the very thing that some reviewers on Amazon hated: that she was/is this extremely intelligent woman who was conflicted in succumbing to basically the self-brainwashing that is required to succeed at weightloss. (Because if you are going to lose weight in the long term, you really have to change your life, your way of eating, the way you approach food. McClure has found a tool that seems to be working well for her… I'm still looking for mine.) But this concept of behavioral modification is just plain icky to people like me and McClure and many of us, because we've spent our whole lives as intelligent women taking pride in the fact that we are thinkers, that we don't do things blindly, that we don't run with the pack. And now, here's some of the people in the fat acceptance movement, people we thought were our sisters, telling us that we've fallen prey to the great media monster, that we're doing exactly with Big Diet Industry wants us to, that we've covering up our reasons for doing so with the "health" card. No, I admit it, its vanity. I admit it, I do want to lookbetter. I admit it, I'm not comfortable in this skin of mine. But I also agree that we need a movement that will say, as I so enthusiastically say to Candye Kane, "Girlfreiend, you're beautiful. All 220 pounds of you. And don't let anybody tell you you're not." Because Kane is beautiful because she at a place and look where she feels so. And I suspect she won't be insulted when I finally feel great in this body of mine, whether its at 199, 185, 160 or 145, because she's got the confidence in her own heart.
(((whew))). I went a long while on that, eh? But this is complicated, and this self-serving blog exists for us to sort things out, not change the world.