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Kataphatic linked this essay by Linda Bacon (pdf) taken from her keynote speech at the 2009 NAAFA conference, and it is seriously blowing my mind this morning. I strongly encourage you to read the whole piece (it’s about 12 pages long, so perfect for printing out or loading on your mobile device and reading on your commute home (unless you drive, in which case don’t do that)). Two parts that made me, like, roll backwards from my desk and put my hands on my head and with awe whisper, “Oh my God!” are this one, in which Bacon perfectly manages to compare methods of oppression without going for the gold in the Oppression Olympics, and reminds me that as much as I like to think I have my FaD (Doctor of Fatlosophy) in Fat Acceptance, I still have a lot of inner junk to overcome:
As positive as an appeal to fairness may be in some regards, however, when it gets conducted without substantive challenge to the weight paradigm, it backfires. Because thinness is still seen as normative and ideal, even when well-intentioned potential allies get involved in these issues, the tendency is to fight fat bias in order to support fat people in getting thin. The Rudd Center is classic in this regard. Theirs is a dual mission: at the same time that they conduct anti-bias work, they undermine it through their other mission: fighting “obesity.”
Put in other terms, their platform is one of “love the fat person, hate the fat.” Historically, we know that this attitude stands in the way of civil rights. Consider the common religious belief to “love the homosexual, yet hate the homosexuality.” That attitude may have supported my in-laws in loving their daughter and her partner (me) – or at least their conception of who we are – but it sure didn’t help them to celebrate the announcement that we were having a baby, which was viewed as a product of our sin. It also required that we maintain superficiality in our relationship because there were so many aspects of who we are that they couldn’t engage with because they didn’t want to acknowledge as a part of us.
It’s just not effective to tell someone to “love the sinner but hate the sin” when the “sin” you’re referring to is integral to who they are. It’s just not possible to separate me from my queerness, just as there’s no guarantee that you can separate a fat person from their adiposity in a healthy manner. The result is that you end up instead giving power to the “thin person within fantasy,” all the while denying the reality of the real person in front of you.
And then this one that so perfectly explains why I don’t post Fat Acceptance links on my own personal Facebook page that I almost posted this essay along with a truncated version of this except, just to see what would happen:
I used to believe that education was the cornerstone of change, before I actually started doing this work. If only people knew the truth, they would act in ways that support what they know. But this just isn’t true. Certainly we need to provide education on these issues and expose the myths. Indeed, a large part of my career is dedicated to educating people about the myths and realities associated with fat. And I applaud NAAFA for the recent Size Discrimination Toolkit, another crucial component in our arsenal. I don’t want to suggest that attempts at education are unimportant –– just that, when it comes to weight, academic and other rational arguments hold limited independent value as social change strategy.
Most people have internalized fatism and believe that there is something wrong with fat, from the perspective of appearance as well as health. We’re all subject to what psychologists call “confirmation bias.” Once a belief is in place, we screen information in a way that ensures our beliefs are proven correct.
Also, because we like to believe that our values are derived from a well-reasoned thought process of our own volition, there’s a natural resistance to the notion that we’re basically pawns who have absorbed an oppressive system, actively complicit in our own oppression and that of others. It makes sense that people have a strong defense system – denial – that prevents many people from seeing this.
People also reach for denial when an intolerable situation has been pointed out to them but the means for change are hard to grasp and the penalties for contributing to that change are high, causing even those who may be more willing and capable of challenging hegemony to get suckered back into the denial. Myths about weight are so deeply entrenched that it is difficult for some people to imagine that they can live happily and successfully in a large body. Similarly, it is hard for professionals to believe that they can capture an audience if they support size acceptance.
Okay, I thought about excerpting more bits, but I realized I was pretty much just copying and pasting the entire article and interjecting such trenchant commentary as, “Holy shit, is this genius or what?” and “Dude! DUDE!” I will thus leave well enough alone and let you all run along to enjoy some pretty amazing, goose-bump raising insights into the concepts of thin privilege and the inner workings of fatphobia.