What Size Acceptance Isn’t

With increased media attention for the size acceptance movement inevitably comes gross and astonishing misinterpretation, as well as deliberately poor reporting. The size acceptance movement is by no means unified, just like many other social movements, but it is safe to say that there are a few things which the majority of the movement is not about.

One of the most common pieces of misinformation I see distributed about size acceptance is that members of the movement are promoting fat, discouraging weight loss, and encouraging society as a whole to get fatter. Since fat and health are so closely married in the minds of many people, the assumption is that the size acceptance movement is also opposed to healthy people. I can’t figure out if this misinformation is just the result of rank journalistic stupidity, a deliberate and willful decision to ignore the facts, or an attempt to actively discredit the movement by people who find the idea of size acceptance icky.

Size acceptance is not about encouraging people to get fat. Straight up. It is about encouraging collective social acceptance of people who are fat, and about promoting the idea that fat people are also human beings, who deserve to be treated with respect. Nowhere in this mission is the idea that members of the movement are all out to fatten everyone up. In fact, there are people of all sizes involved in size acceptance, and many people, like me, prefer to use the term “size acceptance” rather than “fat acceptance” to stress the idea that bodies of all sizes and shapes are included in the movement. I care just as much about a slender woman being called “scrawny” and insulted for her body as I do about a large woman being called “repulsive” and insulted for her body.

I don’t think that the size acceptance movement has done a poor job of pushing its fundamental message, which is about equality for all bodies, and promotion of the idea that all humans deserve equal treatment and respect. But I do think that the message is often twisted in the media, just like the core missions of other social movements. Organizations which promote the welfare of minorities, for example, are accused of being “racist” just because they focus on a particular race, or feminists are accused of being manhaters because they have the shocking and revolutionary belief that women are people.

People also seem to believe that the size acceptance movement is anti-health. We aren’t. Well, I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m not, and most of the people in the movement that I am in contact with aren’t anti-health either. We are actually all pretty huge fans of health. It’s just that we don’t believe that size is necessarily a good measure of health, and science agrees, actually.

In fact, we have a very vested interest in getting people to eat healthier diets. By “healthier diets,” we aren’t referring to caloric restriction or fad diets which will force people to lose weight, but rather to diets which are balanced and healthy, with an ample supply of fresh fruits and vegetables, and other sources of healthy nutrition. Many of us feel very strongly that diet does play a critical role in health, and that healthy diets make for healthier and happier bodies. There are a lot of problems with the American diet which we are concerned about, not because these problems make people fat, but because they make people unhealthy. We’re also big fans of exercise, because exercise promotes health, and we like healthy people. No one in the size acceptance movement is going to dispute the argument that exercise is beneficial, and that everyone should do it. But we’re also not about telling people what to do or eat, or how to live, because the primary core here is acceptance of the fact that people come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s their business.

We have no intentions of pinning everyone to couches and forcing them to eat doughnuts all the time. But we would like a world in which all people have access to fresh, healthy food if that’s what they want to eat. In which fat people feel comfortable exercising, and welcomed at gyms and other athletic facilities. We want to live in a world in which people are allowed to be fat, and in which fat isn’t treated as something evil, or as a character negative which makes someone fundamentally flawed. We want to live in a world in which the desire for weight loss is not considered a norm, in which a naturally thin and a naturally fat woman are both equally welcome, and in which both are recognized as healthy, happy human beings who just happen to have different body types.

We want to live in a world without bodysnarking. In a world where fat isn’t a four letter word, in which people of size who are confident and happy are not treated as reprehensible or unusual. We want to live in a world in which health for all people is promoted, in which health and fat are decoupled.

Tell me, please, how exactly this is promoting fat? Or how it’s anti-health?

4 Replies to “What Size Acceptance Isn’t”

  1. Hmm. What you’ve described is certainly the ideal. But when I dipped into Shapely Prose, I saw a lot of sentiment against thin people in the comments, and Meg Cabot’s whole “Size 12 Is Not Fat” thing was followed by an afterword in which she… encourages readers to eat lots of junk food. Which was, you know, probably just in the spirit of general jolliness and not meant to be taken straight, but it does give people the wrong impression.

  2. I think that the Shapely Prose moderators are pretty on top of comments that are anti-thin, actually. If you noticed some, you should call them out in the comments or email the crew, because that sounds very out of character for Shapely Prose. Granted, I don’t read a lot of the really really long threads, but for the most part the readers there are not encouraging people to fatten up, and people who talk trash about thin people are usually reprimanded for it. For that matter, participants on the site are quite varied in size.

    That said, there is some caustic humour there which is sometimes misread by people who aren’t well-versed, which could be termed a form of communications failing. I will say that SP is pretty anti-weight loss, and some threads on that issue have become very fraught, but I really would like to see some specific examples of the sentiment against thin people you’re talking about, since I haven’t really identified any (or if I have it’s been called out and removed or discussed, not ignored). It may be that I am not as ready to identify anti-thin rhetoric, for various reasons, and the same failing may be occurring with the site moderators, in which case they would appreciate hearing about it.

    I’m not familiar with Meg Cabot’s thing; a book, I’m assuming? I would be curious to see the text for myself because I’m wondering if it’s sarcasm, or a screed in which she was saying that eating junk food is ok, which is not the same thing as “encouraging people to eat lots of junk food.”

  3. Well, seeing that kind of turned me off the blog; the last time I visited was well over a year ago. Could have changed. I’m talking about straight-up comments of the “ew thin people are unnatural” type, and not in an anorexia/fleshless supermodel/etc. context.

    S12INF is a novel, probably aimed at teens since that’s all my younger sister reads. As I’ve said, Cabot’s exhortation to eat lots of junk food probably was more of a lighthearted semijoke than anything else, but it really does help create the wrong impression.

  4. Ergh, yeah, that is pretty inappropriate. I would encourage you to dip your toes in to SP again, because that kind of behavior is not tolerated there these days, although it was to some extent in the past. Don’t be afraid to call out things which violate their comments policy or which seem logically inconsistent, and if you ultimately still don’t feel comfortable there, you might want to consider checking out some of the fat/size acceptance sites I’ve linked, if you’re interested in more perspectives in the size acceptance movement. (I’m only one person, so….yeah. Much like feminism, fat/size acceptance comes in a lot of flavors, and the movement is getting bigger all the time.)

    I will have to check out Meg Cabot’s book for myself to get a better handle on what you’re talking about; I wasn’t aware that she was active in the size acceptance movement, let alone being treated as a spokesperson for it. My personal stance on food is that people should eat what they want to eat, but informed consent is critical. The diet which I (and many nutritionists) think is healthy includes lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and beans, with not so much in the sugars, processed foods, and animal products categories. But I’m not going to tell someone else how/what/when/where to eat; if someone wants to eat junk food, that’s their choice, and I’m not going to try and tell them otherwise.

    I also think it’s *really* important to stress that dietary needs vary from body to body, and that eating a lot of junk food is not necessarily unhealthy. Furthermore, even it was proved to be categorically unhealthy for everyone *and* being fat was unhealthy *and* the matter was as simple as calories in, calories out, it’s still not my place or anyone else’s to dictate the choices of others. Just as I would never tell a woman to abort her child, I wouldn’t tell someone not to do something I think/know is unhealthy, because they are exercising personal autonomy over their own bodies and lives.

    What worries me is people who aren’t eating junk food out of choice, but because they haven’t received balanced nutrition education, or because they can’t access healthy foods. As I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, you can be pretty much any size and live exclusively on junk food, and junk food is primarily a health/social issue, not a size one. This is a classic example of intersectionality: food issues intersect with size, racism, classism, and feminist issues all at the same time!

    One of the big points of the size acceptance movement is that fat hatred is *not* about people being concerned for the health of others. It’s about the fact that people think fat people are disgusting. So, while food is definitely an issue and there are serious cultural/class issues which need to be addressed, these should not undermine the fundamental point, which is that no matter *why* someone is fat, ou deserves to be treated like a human being.

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