This is exactly what I was thinking as I read Lindy West’s rebuttal to Dan Savage’s comments about fat people on the Slog Friday afternoon. Whenever something about fatness chubs out in the media, I’m often asked: What do you think, fat guy who writes about his fatness regularly? (Well, maybe not in those exact words.)
So rather than being asked at a party after I’ve had all too many beers–which is what happened on Friday night, and my response was, well, drunken–or by email (Sorry, I haven’t responded.) or over lunch at work, I figure I’ll tell you what I think here and forward the link on to anyone else who asks me about Lindy’s post.
Fat people shouldn’t be shamed for our size–I can certainly agree with Lindy there. We shouldn’t be called fat fuck, fatty, fatso, lard ass, Chunk, Fat Albert, chubby, Sir Chubs-a-lot, Bubba, pudge muffin, Stay Puft Marshmellow Man (or Woman–for the equal opportunity fat-haters out there), Chubby Checker, Biggie Smalls, Cookie Monster, Tub-O-Lard, Tons of Fun, Whale, Elephant, Butterball, Butterbean, the Blob, Sugar Tits…. (I could go on forever, but here’s a running list to get your fill. Yes, fill.) We shouldn’t be teased into doing the Truffle Shuffle or have our rolls pinched in gym class or our hair pulled in the schoolyard. We shouldn’t be made to feel inadequate because of our girth or gross because we sweat more than the average person. There are so many shaming words and experiences scarring the collective consciousness of the fat that we should not have to endure simply because some skinny (In this case, Dan Savage, who puts fat fucks on a scale somewhere between pitbulls and pedophiles. (Just kidding, Dan. I know you were once fat, too.)) wants to make us feel smaller because of our largeness.
But where I disagree with Lindy is with the insinuation that because we’re shamed for being fat we are also oppressed. For oppression to truly exist, the oppressed are subjugated by force and lack the ability to enact change. Fat people have–sorry, Lindy, I have to say it–the right to make choices. We choose to eat excessively or not. We choose to hit the gym or walk on our lunch breaks or just sit our asses on the couch with those Doritos (Thanks to all that overtime!) and we most certainly choose to eat two burgers, onion rings and a black-and-white milkshake. Truly oppressed people lack choice. People of color can’t wash the pigment off their skin. Gay people can’t stop being attracted to the same sex. Mentally or physically disabled people can’t grow new brains or legs or arms. However, as fat people, we DO have power over our own bodies. We may be shamed, but to say we are oppressed is an insult to those who are really oppressed, who do not, in any way, have the ability to change. Lindy shouldn’t make oppression a buzz word in her personal struggle with fatness.
“Pretty much all of [fat people] have tried already [to lose weight]. A couple of them have succeeded. Whatever. My question is, what if they try and try and try and still fail? What if they are still fat? What if they are fat forever? What do you do with them then?” -Lindy West
For the last month, I’ve been addicted to A&E’s “Heavy” (You can read my posts here, here, here and here. A post on last night’s episode is forthcoming.) where I’ve watched ten people who weigh far more than Lindy or me (Full disclosure: I currently weigh 242 lbs. and have weighed as much as 100 lbs. more and 40 lbs. less.), do exactly what Lindy says we can’t. They’ve all tried and failed and tried and failed, just like she and I have, until they had the proper guidance and, more importantly, the dedication to change their lives. Several of them still weigh more than we do, but they each have made the commitment, regardless of their jobs, families, schedules, etc., to make an effort to shed the shame they’ve been subjected to, the fear that made them believe they couldn’t do it, the anxiety that’s kept them up late at night wondering if they’ll ever be anything more than a fat fuck. I know it’s a TV show, but there are many more fat people out there, myself included, who have tried and failed and ultimately tried again and again. Defeatist attitudes, like Lindy’s, are common, but never help, yet somehow her justification-wrought post has received so much praise. Would you applaud a junkie who says, “I’m happy with who I am. I’ll shoot junk my whole life, and I don’t care what you think.”? I hope not.
No matter what size the tag says when we put our clothes on in the morning, we will always see a fat person when we look in the mirror. If we’ve been fat, we’ll see ourselves as fat forever, but only we can choose to let the world see us as otherwise. The walls of our lard prisons can shrink. We can climb over them. We can look in the mirror and say, “I have a problem, and I want to change.”
If Lindy is happy the way she is, I’m happy for her. When I was at my heaviest, I wasn’t happy. Then again, when I was at my lightest I wasn’t happy either. I’m happy now, right where I am because I’ve finally accepted that I have an unhealthy relationship with food and continuously address the reasons why. I have an addiction–it’s the first step in recovery.
But I want fat people to know that because Lindy failed to lose weight when she tried doesn’t mean that you, too, will fail. If you’re not happy, you can do it. You just have to be willing to try and fail and try again. Simply loving your body won’t make you lose weight, as Lindy suggests, but it may help you accept who you are, whatever size you are, and not use food as a mechanism of coping, which is what most fat people do. We get sad, so we eat, and then we feel bad that we’ve eaten, so we eat more to cope with our sadness. Trust me, you are not the only one.
And, finally, yes, thin isn’t better. Lindy’s right: losing weight won’t make you a real person or mean that you’ve succeeded as a woman or man. But healthy is better and being healthy will mean you’ll live longer and enjoy life more. (You probably know, but being fat can be pretty bad for you.) Lindy may or may not care about her health (Like she says, it’s none of anyone’s business.), but I care about mine.