The other night I had someone ask me, “Well can’t you just spread fat acceptance without feminism?” Some people find it annoying when you’re a feminist. Which is fine by me, but my jaw almost dropped to the ground with this comment.
No, you absolutely cannot spread fat activist messages with out feminism, it not only came from feminism but at this point, in my opinion the two movements really need each other.
Feminism is the fight for equality, for all people, regardless of gender, age, orientation, ethnicity, race, size, or ability.
(So please understand the true meaning of feminism and not what you think it is, or perceive it to be)
The fat acceptance movement fits right in with feminist theory and really at this point they are so interwoven that I think it is extremely problematic when we discuss feminist issues with out talking about size stigma and size discrimination.
So why am I a feminist?
I am a feminist because after years of being raised in a world that idolized only thin and “beautiful” women, I found myself having developed an eating disorder despite my strong foundation with food growing up.
I am a feminist to pay tribute to the thousands of women that have come before me, and fought for the rights that I am privileged with today. The suffragettes that gave me the right to vote and the women of the liberation movement of the 60’s that suffered endless berating from men and women alike so that I could do something as simple and taken for granted as wear pants, and as monumental as pursue higher education and hold a job away from a type writer.
Although I recognize how far we have come and how much we have to be thankful for, I will not settle for, “oh we don’t have it that bad.” Whenever I hear a women tell me she doesn’t understand what I am fighting for or that she doesn’t feel she has been oppressed I think back on the women of the 60’s who didn’t feel oppressed even though men were very publicly and admittedly telling them they belonged at home, and in the kitchen.
As I found comfort in feminism I realized that I didn’t know why I did so many things I was taught my whole life to do. Why did women shave their underarms and their pubic hair? Did I actually enjoy doing that? Did I actually enjoy wearing makeup? Did I feel empowered and confident in makeup or did I feel it was the only way to be seen and be worthy of attention? The more I analyzed these topics in myself the more I realized we still need feminism.
We need feminism so our daughters can make choices for their bodies expanding from reproductive rights, down to whether or not she wants to shave her arm pits with out judgement. We need feminism so our sons can grow up in a world where their emotions are validated, and heard with out fear of ridicule. We need feminism so we can stop perpetuating expectations like, “act like a lady” or “be a man,” “men don’t cry.” These notions are problematic and gender roles and expectations affect women and men alike. My daughter should not feel pressure to be thin, to have big breasts, big ass, or to be perfectly toned (but not too muscular!) and my son should not feel less than if he is not muscular or “built.”
I think we all need feminism. If we can move the needle to being more accepting of all humans, the affects will trickle down across the board, and in turn benefit us all.
So what do you have to lose?
It’s hard to really dive into this work of body positivity and body acceptance without talking about privilege.
It is so easy, and also very important to focus on our own relationship to body positivity within ourselves, but we won’t start to move the needle for the human collective until we talk bigger picture, and the bigger picture at play here is size discrimination and fat phobia. The movement of body acceptance wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for a society that makes women of all shapes and sizes scared to death over becoming, or being fat. It doesn’t help that we have fear mongering from the medical field at play here as well, throwing around bad science and bad research that fat automatically equals unhealthy.
Every day I wake up in a body that society deems acceptable. I walk the streets, grocery store aisles, and shopping malls with out getting dirty looks or obscene things muttered about me. I don’t get a second glance if I order a double cheeseburger or a slice of pizza. I have the luxury of being able to shop in any store I am drawn to, with out fear of them not carrying my size. I can sit on an airplane comfortably with out discrimination. These are the experiences of thin and normal sized bodies. The same cannot be said for people that live their life in a larger body.
It is not to say that fat phobia doesn’t affect women of all sizes, but I think it is important for the sake of this work to teach that it does not affect thin women nearly as badly or even in the same ways. It affects thin and normal sized, able bodied women by inflicting fear of losing their privilege. It literally has us terrified of becoming fat out of fear of social isolation, lack of health (so they say), and over all unacceptable-ness. We would rather die than become fat, and ironically we are killing ourselves trying to avoid it.
So many people are offended by the fat movement, and thrown off by the reclaiming of the word “fat” by fat people, but the more we perpetuate fatness as something not to be talked about or recognized, the more we encourage the dehumanization of these people, thus the dehumanization of all women living in diet culture.
As a feminist, and an activist in this body acceptance movement, I want nothing more than every single woman to be able to look in the mirror, accept her body for what it is and to love herself for more than her body; to be able to go out into this world and do the important things she was put here to do rather than spending her energy counting calories or inflicting shame over a piece of pizza. But all women will not have that privilege until we start recognizing our own privilege, and also talking about fat acceptance as the forefront, and most important issue in this movement as a whole.
I have nothing but compassion for the fellow thin woman who was raised in this culture hating her body, calling herself fat, and inflicting self hate. I don’t want to negate your experience, I want you to know that you are heard, and understood as I, and many others in this movement have lived that life. It is much easier for me to arrive at self acceptance in this culture than it is for my fellow woman in a fat body. She not only has her self to convince, she has to live in a world that is not convinced that she is even worthy of being accepted as a human being.
The bigger goal at hand here in the body positive/health at every size movement is not only that all bodies be accepted, but all human beings. That’s why this is such an important part of feminism, and in my opinion needs to be one of the main subjects we are discussing. Now more than ever we have so many people upset in this country, so many marginalized groups are finally being spoken for, and fat people have to be one of them. As a women with privilege I use my gift to be an ally for all women and people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, races, ethnicities, genders, and orientations.
Every day size discrimination sneaks under the radar so much more easily than that of race or gender because we have the human collective convinced that fat people are unhealthy, and their “issue” is something “under their control,” thus unworthy of being treated as equal human beings. If you’re here, reading this, I ask you to listen, I ask you to accept whatever amount of privilege you may have and get up and speak for those that have no voice. Refuse to participate in discrimination of any kind, and speak up next time you see it taking place. I need your help, your fellow woman, and human being needs your voice, so hers can be heard as well.
Something you probably all hear me talk about frequently is self compassion and self care. I feel like those two things must be at the forefront of this work because such an important, and pivotal point in recovery ( I mean recovery from being ruled by food, not just full blown EDs) is shifting food and movement choices to come from a place of self care. Choosing to eat a certain food because it will leave you feeling satisfied, energized, and nourished. Or sometimes choosing to eat a food because we fucking want to (that is more than okay too). When we have our entire self in mind when making all of these choices we can really make an important shift in how we relate to food. This looks like giving yourself the room and permission to make all food choices free of guilt and judgement.
For example: I was vegan for 4 ish years and within the past year I discovered I was doing it for the wrong reasons and it really was not serving me any longer. I used to drink smoothies for breakfast during this time period because it was my way of getting out of eating a real breakfast ( I have never had a big morning appetite) but come lunch, I was always starving and always ate way more, and probably things I wouldn’t have eaten if I was properly nourished from the start of my day. So now I sleepily cook eggs every morning, and pack it with me to eat when I get to work. I make this choice because I know I need to be properly fueled to take care of myself and feel good in my body.
Self care is such an important part of this dynamic but it truly applies to all walks of life. When we decide to live our life from a place of compassion, and understanding for ourselves it’s much easier to tune into our needs and honor them. It is much easier for us as human beings to have compassion and understanding for others but to apply that with the relationship with ourself is truly a practice.
One way I have learned to practice compassion with myself is with forgiveness. I have forgiven myself for perpetuating diet culture with my very public and often shame-y vegan practice. This was a hard obstacle to overcome because man was I passionate about veganism being the right diet for everyone and literally not understanding how anyone could disagree. Holy shit was I wrong. So I have forgiven myself, we truly cannot move forward from something until we forgive ourselves and that is what is most important here.
Diet culture likes to hold people responsible for their bodies by saying things like, “This is the only body you get, take care of it!” (aka buy our protein shake, our juice cleanse, or take my crossfit class) While this sentiment is right I think it usually falls at the surface. We do in fact only get one life in this body, but we only get one life in this soul, in this mind, in this spirit. You only get one life to share the beautiful lessons you have learned from the trauma you’ve endured and the strength you’ve gained, with others.
When I say “self care” and “self compassion” I truly mean our self. Do not mistake these terms for “body care” or “body compassion” the lesson is not in how you treat your body, it is in how you treat your true self. I have gotten to know myself better in the past year than I have in the past 25 of my life. So many conversations have been had with myself sometimes it feels like I am really meeting myself for the first time.
This past weekend I practiced self care by spending time with my husband. I took Thursday to just hang out with him. Since I have started working our days off never line up and this often leads me feeling emotionally drained by the end of the week when I finally get to see him come friday night. We grabbed lunch together, we watched a movie, and then we picked Zelda up from school and watched more movies and drank wine on the couch together. It was so simple and so amazing. When life was running circles around us we had the strength to turn to each other and say, “Fuck this you want to do something else for a bit?” It felt so good to be able to tune into what I really needed right then, and then meet my own needs (with my best friend by my side).
So what can you do in your every day to practice self care? It looks different for everyone and I encourage you to turn on that self talk and figure out what it is you need. It is an amazing skill to be able to be so in tune with yourself that you can honor your every need. Whether it be a night in, a night out, an icecream cone on the couch, or to lock yourself in the shower with a bottle of wine while the hubby entertains the kids; it is a necessary part of life. Inevitably the walls around us will crumble at some point and the starting point is to be able to have the strength to say, “Ah this is the brick I put back first” and we tap into that ability when we listen to ourselves with love, care, and compassion.
So let’s navigate these next couple topics carefully. This movement in general is something that can easily be received the wrong way, or more likely not received at all. The truth lying at the bottom of it all is very counter cultural. To tell someone that people can be fat and healthy is like literally fucking mind blowing to most people ( I get it, I was there once). We will reach these topics eventually and in depth, trust me. Today I wanted to touch on motivation.
I (when I say I in these posts I mean the whole entire collective of people that believe in these messages and core values that I preach) am not against the inherent act of losing weight itself. Weight loss is perceived as neither a positive or negative thing, just a thing, just a byproduct of living a human life. Instantly when people come across Health at Every Size and the BOPO (body positive) community they think we are telling people to not care about what they eat or about being healthy. This is extremely wrong so if this how you feel we are presenting these things, then I invite you to continue to read with an open mind.
The motivation behind what we do is where almost all of the danger comes from in these behaviors. Exercising is not bad for you, nor am I prescribing that you stop doing it, or stop caring about it. However, exercising to be thinner, or to manipulate your body is not healthy and what I urge everyone to stop doing. Have a conversation with yourself about this and get to the source of why you want to exercise. Do you want to exercise as a form of punishment or compensation for eating a certain way? Is it really because you want to be “healthier” or because you want to be in a different body? And maybe even deeper than all of that is where you’re truly unhappy with yourself or have some stuff that you need to sort out (that was definitely the case for me) that endless hours on the elliptical will never give you.
When I first devoted myself 100% to true recovery I stopped working out cold turkey. I recognized that I was moving in a certain way because I felt like I had to, and I couldn’t do it from a healthy place yet so I needed some time off. I am just now able to recognize whether the need to move my body is coming from a place of self care or self control. When I stopped and had a conversation with myself initially about exercise I realized there was a lot of it I had done my whole life that I truly hated. I hated running but I always did it anyway, because in diet culture we all just adapt to exercise as self punishment under this guise of health. So I decided I was never going to do any form of exercise or movement that I didn’t fully enjoy. Being able to move our body is a true and honest privilege and we should honor that in a way that feels good. The only movement I have ever really enjoyed was dance and yoga. I even stopped doing yoga at the beginning of my journey because even that was easily coming from a place of self control. So now I only dance, and do yoga. The more I have eased back into it I have realized it’s a lot easier to tap into my body and decide okay this is the kind of physical movement I need today.
Maybe sometimes it’s every day, maybe sometimes it’s once a week, or no times a week, but I always include my body in the conversation about what it physically needs and listen to myself about what I truly want in the moment. Sometimes the answer is to hang out with my husband watching Black Mirror and eating a pizza, and that’s okay. That is a form of self care! Rest is also such an important part of movement. Being able to listen to our bodies and not just what we think we are supposed to be doing and really honor our needs is a great skill to adapt.
As always I prompt this conversation with compassion. You are making your way through this diet-y world of course you’re going to have these preconceived notions, we all do at some point. But when we can include the body in the conversation and really analyze our motivation we can really start to evaluate what is isn’t a healthy relationship with something with in us.
So if you work out five times a week I just am curious as to what the answer would be if you asked yourself, why? I assume a lot of people’s answer might be “to be healthy” but let’s remember health is a combination of our physical, mental, and spiritual faculties without ignoring one for the others. So is it truly healthy for you to work out five days a week without rest? Spoiler alert, it’s not. Most importantly I want you to enjoy the movement you’re partaking in. This life is too short to torture ourselves on any level. Being able to exercise is a wonderful gift we are given by this one amazing body we have, let’s honor that body and move in way that feels enriching and loving.