I got a question from a blog reader today who asked:
You speak a lot about how fitness and not weight is the best measure of health and you rationally prove your point against all the negative messages. However, how does one counter those negative inaccuracies when you’re fat and not healthy, as I am? I’m not disabled or even close to it but I have a couple of chronic health problems. This stops me from countering all the negative comments I hear from those around me. It makes me feel as I don’t have a right to speak up.
First of all, the only thing that is required in order to have the right to demand basic human respect is a pulse. The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not size or health dependent, nor are they dependent on looking or acting the way that someone wants you to look or act.
I discuss the evidence that health and weight are separate, and that the best chance for our healthiest bodies lies in healthy habits (rather than attempting to reach a specific height/weight ratio and hoping health will follow) because I want to let people know their options. But don’t get me wrong – even the healthiest habits don’t guarantee health for anybody of any size. Health is complex and multidimensional and never entirely within our control. Our health is a reflection not just of our habits and actions, but also of our genetics, our environment, and our access – to healthy foods, safe movement options, and affordable evidence-based healthcare.
But it goes deeper than that – we talked about what happens if our fat is our faultd, but what if our poor health is our fault? Well, that’s what’s happening and we get to choose how to deal with the situation. Nobody is obligated to choose healthy habits. Our health is for us to make decisions about. It’s none of anybody else’s business how highly we prioritize our health or what our habits are. We do not owe anybody else “healthy” no matter what size we are, and not choosing to prioritize health does not mean we forfeit our rights to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
I have a friend who lost a leg because, when he was much younger, he got drunk and crashed his motorcycle. He often expresses his outrage at people who feel free to curse fat people and try to deny us healthcare, all the while being incredibly kind, sometimes even pitying to him; actively ignoring his assertion that his disability was the result of an “unbelievably stupid decision”, telling him not to be so hard on himself and encouraging him to fight for rights for the disabled. There are all kinds of things that people of all sizes choose that don’t prioritize health – People are allowed to jump out of helicopters wearing skis, drink a bottle of vodka a day, take stressful jobs, work the night shift, forgo sleep, not look both ways before crossing the street etc., but nobody is suggesting that people who don’t get enough sleep should lose their healthcare or that people who take stressful jobs should have to pay more health insurance. My point is that this “naughty fatties need to be punished” talk is often, if not always, about trying to justify bigotry.
Do you notice that the people who feel like they should have a say in our health never think others should have a say in theirs? This whole idea is a tremendously slippery slope. Do people who think that veganism is the healthiest diet get to decide that we all have to be Vegan? Do people who practice the Atkins diet get to decide that we should all have a bacon double cheeseburger – hold the bun? It’s like driving – everyone who drives slower than them is an idiot and everyone who drives faster than them is a maniac. Except here everyone who they think is less healthy than they are needs to do what they do, and everyone who does more than them is some kind of “health nut” who needs to calm down. They live in a world of rainbows and butterflies where they are always Goldilocks getting it juuust right and everyone else needs to follow their lead.
When it comes to telling other people how to live, I think it’s a bad idea. I think that we should probably confine ourselves to saying “This is how I live, it works great for me” and then we can shut up and respect other people’s right to make choices just like we want our choices respected.
I do think that we get to choose how we allow others to treat us. For my part I don’t particularly care if people accept me, but I do require respect or people simply don’t get to interact with me – not because it punishes others, but because it rewards me. And I never, never, never relinquishment my right to stand up for myself and demand respectful treatment.
Ragen Chastain is a dancer, choreographer, writer, speaker, and fat person. She has just authored the book Fat: The Owners Manual – Navigating a Thin-Obsessed World with Your Health, Happiness and Sense of Humor Intact, which is still available for pre-order. Her website, Dances With Fat, will inspire you to think, feel and take action towards creating a better world where all people truly are treated equally, regardless of their shape, size or weight.