If you’re concerned that Fat Liberation doesn’t make room for talking about thin people, or about weight loss and dieting, then you’re probably missing the point of Fat Liberation.
There are two issues for discussion here, which can sometimes be conflated, so I will try and address them separately. One is the issue of individuals, fat or thin, who wish to deliberately lose weight for whatever reason. It might be that they perceive their current size as a threat to their health, or an impediment to living the kind of life they wish, be that physically or socially.
I and plenty of other fat liberation advocates believe in the importance of individual bodily autonomy. A big and very important part of Fat Liberation is supporting every person’s right to reign supreme over our own bodies, and to deny any and all others the right to judge, shame, touch or alter our bodies in any way. This does mean that fat AND thin AND middle-sized people have that right of bodily self-determination, and it does mean that some people will choose to deliberately lose or gain weight and that’s entirely their prerogative.
But if you want to lose weight, you need to understand that the vast majority of fat positive spaces (including this one) are not the appropriate place to talk about it. It’s not that you should be ashamed about dieting or losing weight (whether accidentally or on purpose) – I dot think anyone should be shamed for actions that don’t hurt anyone else – but that talking about dieting and weight loss is de rigeur in most places. For those of us who find those discussions hurtful, triggering and traumatic due to our own painful experiences with dieting or disordered eating, or just find them boring and annoying having decided not to try and lose weight ourselves, these fat positive spaces are the only areas of life in which we will not be expected to listen to or engage in diet talk. Please respect our choices and boundaries, as you are expecting us to respect yours, and keep diet talk to spaces where such things are appropriate.
The other issue is that of Fat Liberation somehow excluding or “silencing” thin people. It is true that body policing, which is ubiquitous especially towards women but increasingly towards men as well, hurts everyone. I believe very firmly that body policing in all its forms is wrong, and I don’t support “fat-positive” messages that throw thin women under the bus to buoy up the self-esteem of fat women. “Real women” may or may not have curves (hell, not all fat women are “curvy”!). Thin people, whether they are thin due to genetics or due to dieting or even due to disordered eating do not “need to eat a hamburger”. The crucial message that you cannot determine a person’s health* by looking at their body size or weight is true for thin and medium-sized people just as it is true for fat people. It is true, and awful, that very thin people can be targets of abuse and ridicule for their size as can fat people.
But it isn’t the same. It’s not that we don’t need to change the way we, as a society, talk about other people’s bodies in a general sense. It’s not that being very thin isn’t difficult at times. But it’s a different kind of difficult. I hope it does not sound cruel and exclusionary when I say that Fat Liberation isn’t for thin people (the clue is in the name). This doesn’t mean that thin allies are not welcome in Fat Liberation communities, or that thin people cannot or should not benefit from the efforts of fat activists. It means that it is not fat activists’ responsibility to make thin people feel included, and it is not fat activists’ responsibility to make sure they are speaking for the interests of thin people. Telling fat activists that they need to campaign for thin people’s rights is like telling feminists they need to campaign on behalf of men; it’s derailing and it often makes you sound like an entitled jerk. Likewise claiming that fat hatred is not a big deal or that you know exactly how it feels to be a target of fat hatred because “body policing happens to thin people too” is misunderstanding the complexities of body policing. I can’t remember the last time I heard someone wailing about the “skinniness epidemic” or widespread arguing that parents with underweight babies should have their children taken away from them; although I do not for a second doubt that very thin people are targets of these kinds of attacks and that insulting thin people is deemed to be socially acceptable by many, thinness is not currently constructed as the bogeyman responsible for all the western world’s ills in the way that fatness is.
I recently heard about some thin people derailing a discussion of fat liberation by claiming that thin and medium-sized people “feel fat” sometimes too. But the problem here isn’t about thin or medium-sized people being made to feel their bodies are bigger than they really are. The problem isn’t about calling America Ferrera or Christina Hendricks fat when they aren’t really fat at all. The problem with those comments is that having a fat body is still perceived as negative. There would be no issue at all with “feeling fat” or calling medium-sized actresses fat if real fat people, and fatness in general, were not vilified and ridiculed. If someone calling you fat makes you feel hurt and insulted, think about where that feeling is coming from, and consider what it would mean if you were really fat and not able to take comfort from the fact that your outfit or water retention or the angle of the photograph is “to blame” for the insult.
When fat people are liberated and free to live their fat lives without prejudice, thin people will not have to worry about “feeling fat” because it will no longer be an insult.
*And then of course there’s the problematic nature of assuming that “health” is or should be a priority for everyone, or even means the same thing to everyone. But that’s a a whole different post for another day!