Where Does Fat Activism Really Happen?

Obviously, I’ve been following along with quite a lot of FA (Fat Acceptance*) stuff on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and various other parts of the Internet for some time, but I have lately been truly galvanized by the back and forth at #notyourgoodfatty on Twitter. I have been exceptionally moved for three main reasons:

1. Being in the midst of a major weight loss project, I feel personally resentful that people who don’t know me see fit to judge my life and behavior. It makes me angry. (40lbs in 3 months).
2. I realize that I’m at a moment where I need the support, camaraderie, and visibility of my fat peers more than ever because part of my weight loss experience, though empowering, also makes me very vulnerable. I am more aware of my body than before, and having the chance to interact with brilliant people who seek the same self love I do is helpful.
3. I am stunned, shocked, and repulsed by the righteousness, hypocrisy, and thoughtlessness from people who have lost weight, large or small amounts. I know that my weight loss is much faster and easier for me than it would be for many, and yet, I would never presume to tell anyone that it is “easy.” Describing major, long-term weight loss as “easy” is nonsense.

Recently, I’ve noticed that in addition to criticism of fat people, and now they chose to live, there is a rash of criticism of fat activism itself. The root of this seems to lie in the fact that a great deal of fat activism occurs in online spaces, and people don’t believe that fat activism “extends beyond the keyboard.” This falls into a larger conversation about whether hashtag activism is productive and what social media has done to and with activism and advocacy in a larger picture. What I can say is that the Internet is real, online spaces are real spaces, and things that occur there are, and can be, very real. You may disagree with this, but I say this from the perspective of someone who has actually studied this. Internet scholars in fields of communication, cultural studies, and IT agree that the boundaries between RL and notRL grow ever thinner. Don’t believe me? Ask anyone who met their partner online, got a degree online, deals with online money, or perhaps most importantly, was present for and affected by the Arab Spring.

Firstly, in order to work through this, it’s important to have a working definition of “activism.” I’ll use the Merriam-Webster definition as a starting point: a doctrine or practice that emphasizes direct vigorous action especially in support of or opposition to one side of a controversial issue.

Now, I would readily argue that fat activism hits this definition head-on, both online and off. While you may never have seen a large group of fat people marching in your city, I assure you that they are visible. Just yesterday, San Francisco had a fat flash mob. SF is a pretty special place though, but there are examples in NY through the NAAFA, and in Toronto (and these examples are the product of a couple minutes of investigation.)
There are tangible examples of fat activists going out and physically promoting their cause.

One of the major challenges that fat people face is one of visibility (I know, there’s a joke here.) with regards to the constant emphasis that we have dress to make ourselves smaller, or actually take up less space than our bodies do. Furthermore, because there are hardly any fat people in cinema, or television and when they are they are portrayed badly, as jokes, and for their fat, it’s easy to see how feeling invisible and perpetually shamed fuels this activism. With that said, visibility and being visible forms a valuable part of fat activism.

While you may never have seen a group of fat people protesting, you may have seen a shameless fat girl in a bikini, or short, tight skirt. You may have seen a fat person unapologetically take up space, you may have found this disgusting, but for fat activism, this is a form of action. Just by being visible, by not hiding our bodies, and by not apologizing for those bodies fat people push against norms, and articulate, perhaps not with signs or banners or megaphones but, with our visible thighs, backs, knees, rolls, dimples, and cellulite that we are demonstrating our position on a controversial issue.

In addition, the argument online that fat activism is invalid because it supposedly fails to exist offline, can equally be leveled at the opposition. The argument equally applies to fat hate, or those in favor of fat shaming. While many fat people will experience personal interactions on a near daily basis, and they will push back against those interactions, I fail to see where the pro fat stigma movement holds its rallies. Surely, if FA can be debunked due to our apparent silence offline, and thus be declared ridiculous, then the same can be said of the other side, when the most vitriolic language comes off of Reddit and Return of Kings, these movements have failed to transcend into the real world. Apart from the odd asshole calling some fat person “land whale” in a bar, and if that counts, it also counts when she hikes up her skirt, and stomps over to give that asshole a piece of her fat mind.

*Fat Acceptance is a form of body acceptance that refutes the idea that social, sexual, intellectual, or ANY kind of value is tied to the body. It accepts that different people have different preferences, but that bodily autonomy is important, and that abuse, discrimination, bullying, and erasure is harmful and wrong.

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