Why Fat Acceptance
The other day, a new Facebook acquaintance asked me why I was involved in the Fat Acceptance movement—particularly, a Fat Acceptance Facebook page—and why I considered it “awesome.” I answered thusly:
A. I know and have seen that health is something you can have at every size. Unfortunately, it is difficult to convince others of this. So, I was delighted to see that many people have dedicated their time, intellect and overall brilliance to this endeavor.
B. I believe that beauty comes in all sizes, and am happy to see a community that not only believes this but PROVES it.
C. I think through my standpoint and intellectual interests, I can contribute to the mission of Fat Acceptance.
I then directed her to a prior blog post about my understanding of my own intersectionality and how it may inform my participation in the movement.
The Strangeness of Why Fat Acceptance
Although I meant what I wrote, I felt odd about it. As “not-fat” and male, I had this keen feeling that any reasons I gave for my interests in Fat Acceptance would be met with rolled eyes or simply seen as less authentic than those of fat people, specifically fat women. What’s more, my race raised other questions about my perceived interest in the movement. On the one hand, I suddenly felt like some kind of colonizer: an archeologist living among the natives as authentically as possible but knowing he’ll be able to go back to his cozy suburban home at the end of it all. On the other hand, I felt the potential for mis-recognition based on my race, an all too familiar feeling. Although I already knew that my interest in Fat Studies and Fat Acceptance would and should be analyzed in the name of standpoint epistemology, I never welcome the difficulty and pain that could potentially accompany this analysis.
What is motivation, after all? From where does passion for something derive? I can say that I recognize and empathize with the pain of stigmatization. I’ve weathered more privileged people’s attempts to humiliate or silence me based on my difference. But there are many groups that deal with this, not just fat people. So, why have I gravitated toward the Fat Acceptance movement instead of some other marginalized demographic . . . like my own?
The Move to Multiplicity
The honest truth is difficult and multifaceted, but I’ll try to narrow it down. In an attempt to psychoanalyze myself, I recognize that my own experiences with race have both fatigued and agitated me. In my youth, my presence as a black boy in a predominately white environment was full of intentional attempts to humiliate me and “break” me by both my peers and adults. Until the 8th grade, I figured things would improve when I went to the more diverse regional high school and found fellow black students. However, upon getting to high school, those black students quickly decided I was “too white” and set out to humiliate me as much as my white peers. White students did not accept me because of how I looked; black students didn’t accept me because of how I acted.
This experience and subsequent revelation moved me out of a concern with race and into a concern with diversity and the individuality and intersectionality therein. The writer Toure, who had a similar childhood experience, ventures to call this new concept “Post-Black,” a mindset that recognizes “a multiplicity of ways to be Black” (Location 337). Although I understand Toure’s position and see the logic in his neologism, I suppose I resolved to focus more on multiplicity, itself, than the particular multiplicity of blackness.
Fat Acceptance and Diversity
This multiplicity is reflected in the concept of diversity. My latest stint as a diversity “officer” (I am the current chair of my institution’s diversity committee) led me to Fat Studies and Fat Acceptance, and it felt like love at first sight.
I just think it’s cool. I love the collective “fuck you” this movement is giving to the ignorant, sheltered and, unfortunately, powerful people defining beauty or health based on their preferences. I love the intersectionality of this movement: it affects people from all walks of life in differing ways that are inherently informative and interesting. I love the beauty, bravery and brilliance of its scholars and/or activists. The Greeks had a term that I love, “kalokagathia,” which is “an ideal that unites physical beauty and moral value in a human being” (Dürrigl 208). I recognize this concept throughout the movement, and I am drawn to it.
But am I being selfish? Am I into this for the sake of the movement or for my own sake? I think that is what made me uncomfortable about my Facebook acquaintance’s question. Am I enjoying this too much? I feel the way I do when going to a bike race and drinking my 5th beer while watching several hard-working professional athletes peddle their asses off as they race up the steepest hill I’ve ever seen; I feel guilty for enjoying myself on their sweat and tears. Am I the privileged spectator in this movement? Am I a postmodern (post-black?) manifestation of the kind of privilege Peggy McIntosh called “foolish, ridiculous, infantile or dangerous by contrast” (155)?
And what of that last adjective: dangerous? It is here where my fears of misrecognition rear their ugly heads. In a recent episode of his Comedy Central show, Daniel Tosh (yes, him again), while making fun of another fat woman, ended the segment by saying, “I don’t know what black guys see in this. Maybe it’s a status thing.”
Now, I’m not going to quote Frantz Fanon or cite sociological studies on interracial or “mixed-size” relationships—perhaps that is fodder for another blog post. I will tell you that I see beauty in all sizes, but I am not invested in this movement for such reasons. However, this does not stop others from assuming that I am. So, I have to ask myself a tough question: as a black male in a predominately fat, white female movement, is my visible support and involvement a benefit or a detriment. Am I promoting Fat Acceptance, or does my mere presence add deviance for the aforementioned ignorant, sheltered and powerful “fattist” that would shun the movement? Is my involvement more reason for people like Tosh to debunk Fat Acceptance?
The thing that gives me the most solace is a Buddhist concept simply called “Beauty, Benefit and Good.” The advice behind this concept is that, no matter what you do, make sure you create beauty (of looks and/or character), benefit (self-benefit), and good (benefit for others). As long as these things are there, do what you will. I resolve to follow this advice (Makiguchi 75).
Although this concept assuages my disquietude a bit, I am one person in this movement. I would like to solicit your honest thoughts and opinions. Frankly, do I belong here? If so, what should my role entail? I have a lot to say, but does that mean I should say it or keep my mouth shut? How can I best manifest beauty, benefit and good in the Fat Acceptance movement?
Dürrigl, M.A. “Kalokagathia – beauty is more than just external appearance.” Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology,. 1.1 (2002): 208-210. Web. 19 Jun. 2012. http://jrscience.wcp.muohio.edu/humans_web_04/beauty/beauty.pdf.
Makiguchi, Tsunesaburo. Education for Creative Living: Ideas and Proposals of Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. Ames, IA: Iowa State University Press, 1989. Print.
McIntosh, Peggy. “White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming to See Correspondences Through Work in Women’s Studies.” Privilege: A Reader. Ed. Kimmel, Michael S. and Ed. Abby L. Ferber. 1st ed. New York: Basic Books, 2003. 147-160. Print.
Toure, First. Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?. New York: Free Press, 2011. eBook.
Erec Smith holds a Ph.D. in English, with a concentration in language, literacy and rhetoric, from the University of Illinois at Chicago. He is author of the novel Creamy Nougat and currently teaches at a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania. His interests revolve around diversity and rhetorics of marginalization regarding race, gender, weight, or their potential confluences.