Historically, Fat Acceptance has framed body positivity in fairly stringent and problematic ways. I think a lot of work has been done to address these issues, but oftentimes these things get played out over and over again as new people come to the fold.
When you first discover body acceptance, after years and years of hating yourself and fucked up weight loss attempts and (for many) disordered eating, it can be so tempting to latch onto this mantra of “LOVE YOURSELF NO MATTER WHAT, THERE IS NO ROOM FOR COMPROMISE”. This results in a lot of fat activists advising others to simply “accept yourself”, and anything else is automatically Bad Activism.
Of course, not understanding the nuanced ways we experience ourselves/bodies and embracing this approach to self-acceptance often means trying (usually unsuccessfully) to sweep one’s more ambivalent feelings under the rug. It also means not being open to others’ discomfort with their own bodies in ways that can be racist, ableist, and cissexist.
In The ‘Fat’ Female Body, Sam Murray writes about one of the more insidious aspects of this kind of humanist logic: it reasserts a problematic dichotomy between mind and body. It says that we must, in our minds, overcome our bodies (and hatred of them). This is problematic for a couple of reasons: 1) this is the same strategy we are supposed to use, according to contemporary fat-hating society, to lose weight and become “normal” people, and 2) our bodies and minds are not ACTUALLY split—we perceive and understand the world THROUGH our bodies, and to imply that we can just “change our minds” about how it feels to be fat in a fat-hating world—in a world not made for our bodies—disregards this pretty important reality.
Long story short: it’s really crucial that we make room for bodily ambivalence in our activism.
All of this is to say that my own body has changed a bit in the last several months. After a couple years of staying at a steady weight without dieting, I have found myself facing an unexpected shift that has added nearly 30 lbs. to my person. I wouldn’t have known it was 30 lbs. (although I did know I had gained weight—I looked and felt different, and didn’t fit in my clothes the same way), except for the fact that my friend had a scale at her house, and I snuck a peek after weeks of wondering how much, exactly, I had gained.
Prior to knowing the exact number, I didn’t feel BAD about my body. I didn’t like some of the small mobility changes I was noticing (back pain happening after only walking a mile, not being as limber or flexible, pain after any extended period of time in one position, etc.) and I definitely didn’t like my clothes not fitting, but I still loved my body, the feel of it and the look of it. I didn’t blame my mobility and pain stuff on the weight gain, per se, but on a lack of physical activity in general.
Now that I know for sure that I’ve gained 30 lbs., I still don’t feel bad about my body, but I had a moment (or two or three) of feeling like a really bad fat activist. And knowing that exact number triggered a lot of shame in me: shame that I couldn’t help wanting to know the number, shame that I had picked an arbitrary number that I didn’t want to be “over” and when I wasn’t I felt relieved, shame that the act of weighing myself triggered diet-y, weight loss-y feelings in me, shame that I felt shame.
I’m gonna be real honest with y’all right now: gaining a lot of weight really quickly kinda sucks, similarly to how losing a lot of weight really quickly, or any other swift changes in our bodies, can throw us for a loop.
And I’m struggling with What To Do about it. In the distant past when I have gained weight my response has been to crash diet. I’m obviously not going to do that; I’m not going to engage in anything that could be called a “lifestyle change” or that involves me eating less of the things I love. I might try to practice some more intuitive eating—eating that requires that I check in with my body instead of just feeding it the easiest/cheapest things. I will be moving my body more, in an effort to stave off the pain I’ve been feeling lately as a result of my inactivity. And I’ll be working on continuing to love my body, to feel good as a body, to treat me with kindness and respect. I’m going to work on the shame I feel when I experience bodily ambivalence. I’m going to work on cultivating an activism that has room for all the ways I experience being fat in a fat-hating world. I’m going to work on understanding my self as a whole, not a split between a wispy being of thoughts and feelings and a separate, solid thing made of fat flesh and bones.
And I’m maybe not gonna step on a scale again. That shit fucks with my head.
This work is hard. But absolutely, certainly, 100% positively worth it. NOW GO LOVE YOURSELVES OR ELSE.
Wow, this is really important and so relevant to things I’ve been feeling lately.