The Blatant Ableism In The Body Positivity & Fat Positivity Movement


Scary Mommy and kali9/Getty

What I’m about to say is not me declaring my own perfection. I am one zillion percent guilty of this crime against my fellow fat people. I am coming to you today in humility, recognizing that I could do so much better.

We need to confront the rampant ableism in the body and fat positivity movements.

(You can start by clicking through and following the handful of influencers I’ve showcased below, and seek out about a zillion more from there.)

For the past several years, I’ve been writing about body image as it relates to life in a fat body. I have 36 years of lived experience, and I’ve spent the last handful of those years making peace with my size of my body. For me, that doesn’t always translate to ecstatic love for every inch of what I see in my reflection. It just means that, deep in my core, I believe that my body is good and that I can be good while I live in it, as is. It means that I have opened my eyes to the anti-fat messages that diet culture has fed me for my entire life. Now I refuse to believe that I am less valuable, less beautiful or less worthy of happiness and love and sex and good things than thin people are.

I have learned how to live in my body without harboring intense self-hatred, and I support every fat person’s right to live peacefully in their own bodies, too, whether or not they are striving for thinness.

I have often said that fat doesn’t equal unhealthy. You can be healthy or unhealthy in any size body. The obsession with health is patently unfair to begin with. Some people live with chronic illnesses that mean that at any weight, they cannot claim a perfect bill of health. Health should never be a prerequisite for basic respect. You don’t have to be healthy to matter. Fat people don’t owe anyone a clean bill of health to earn our right to be treated with kindness and fairness, even in medical situations.

Fat people are whole people, and we don’t have to shrink to earn our place.

When I speak about fatness, I keep my message light and approachable. There are a lot of scholarly sources where you can learn about the politics and history of fatness. Many people are doing deep work, writing and speaking about the intermingling of racism and fatphobia across the centuries. There is a lifetime worth of information to unpack.

But my simpler voice has a place, too. I am honored to often be a welcoming, gentle gateway for a fellow fat person who has not yet been told that their body is good. It is always my hope that after they embrace the concept, they will move onto the meatier parts of the subject matter. I love my role in this conversation.

And yet, despite the fact that I’ve spent years of my life talking about this subject to anyone who will listen, I am guilty of almost constantly centering able-bodied, neurotypical, healthy or healthy-appearing fat individuals in my work.

I am always careful about not defaulting to showcasing white bodies. It’s not an effort for me to elevate LGBTQIA+ voices. When I use influencers to showcase a particular aspect of fat life, I make sure that I show women in religious dress, trans people, men. It’s not that I don’t ever pay attention to voices that are not exactly like my own.

But when it comes to the disabled community, I often tend to overlook them, and that is absolutely unfair. In the past, I may have showcased a fat woman with a limb difference or a wheelchair user once in a while, but have I elevated their voices beyond their photo? Have I sought out disabled or neurodiverse people in fat bodies and asked their experiences? No. I haven’t.

It’s not enough to occasionally acknowledge that disabled fat people exist. Their experiences in their fat bodies are different than my experience in my fat body. I can’t claim that all bodies are good bodies if I continue to ignore disabled people when I write about or discuss issues relating to fatness.

I’m far from alone in this. In the fat positive community at large, we overlook disabled bodies entirely too often. I can think of only a handful of disabled people that I personally follow on social media. That is largely because they almost never come across my feed.

I asked for suggestions of influencers to follow on my social media (where every person who follows me does so because of their interest in fat-related content) and in a handful of groups I belong to, and I got literally zero responses from anyone about disabled fat influencers that they follow.

Zero.

This is bullshit. Now that I have recognized how completely blind I’ve been to this fault, it’s my duty as a decent fucking person to fix it in my own work and actively pursue opportunities to amplify people who belong to both the fat-positive community and the disabled community.

It’s not fun to admit I’ve been shitty, but I have. Instead of making excuses, apologizing and centering myself, I’m moving forward to actively seek out people with chronic illnesses, differences in their bodies or any other conditions that are disabling to them. I am committing to including their experiences in my work from now on. I’ve got a few ideas already taking shape.

I can’t fix the mistakes that I’ve made, and there is no excuse. But I can do better.

 

I’ve found community and a sense of belonging in the fat positivity movement. It’s given me freedom to shed the skin that diet culture forced on me without my consent. Every person in a fat body should have the chance to say the same thing. We cannot call ourselves fat positive if we are only positive about some kinds of fat bodies.

We can—and absolutely must—do better.

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