Guest Blogger

A radical notion: Choosing to be fat is OK

Filed By Guest Blogger | January 12, 2011 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: eating disorders, fat gay men, fat people, fat phobia, obese

Editors' note: This entry is a guest post by Melissa McEwan. Melissa is the blog mistress behind Shakesville, and she's kind enough to let us cross-post this classic post on fat hatred.

MelissaMcEwan.pngI would like to put forth the radical notion that, if a fat person is fat by choice, it's okay.

I'll give you a moment to sit with that idea--that it's okay for someone to choose to be fat. Because it really is a radical notion, and, like other radical notions, it is both has the capacity and is likely to evoke visceral reactions of protest. Like: "But being fat is (potentially) unhealthy! And that's not okay!" But, if you give yourself a moment or two, you'll probably realize there are other potentially unhealthy things that people do, which you would probably argue in favor of allowing them to continue doing.

It's more dangerous to ride in a car than be a pedestrian. But if a person capable of walking to the store wanted instead to hop in their car to pick up milk a mile away, you'd probably think that's okay. Because, hey, maybe they have a good reason for preferring to drive.

More people get hurt jumping out of airplanes for fun than get hurt gardening for fun. But if someone prefers the adrenaline rush of skydiving to the relaxation of gardening, you'd probably think that's okay. Because everyone's different, right?

Sometimes, doctors tell patients that a surgery, or an experimental treatment, or a new drug, might actually be more likely to kill them than cure them. But if someone decided to opt for the risky cure, you'd probably think that's okay. Because it's that person's body, not yours.

So maybe it's all right for you to think it's okay, if someone chooses to be fat, rather than thin.

Because, the thing is, holding in judgment people who are fat by choice doesn't make a whole lot of sense, given our general tolerance for all sorts of things that people do which carry with them risks to their health (like being born, or giving birth, and things way more controversial). And people are going to be fat, or not fat, irrespective of your judgment about fat people. Letting go of fat hatred won't change anything--except, of course, to make the world a little bit better a place for its fat inhabitants.

It can be a hatred that's hard to let go of, even for fat people, because letting go of that hatred, and replacing it with acceptance, can feel akin to giving fat people permission to be fat.

But being in the position of feeling like permission is yours to give is a manifestation of privilege. And maybe it's all right to let that privilege go.

Maybe it's all right for you to hold the position that if a fat person spends hir days as a walking stereotype of a "bad fatty," eating mass quantities of unhealthy food, that is hir right.

Maybe it's all right for you not to draw a distinction between "good fatties" and "bad fatties," even as you recognize not everyone is fat for the same reasons.

Maybe it's all right for you to consider that if a fat person is spending hir days eating mass quantities of unhealthy food, it's none of your business (unless zie invites you to make it your business) whether zie is doing so because zie has an eating disorder, or because zie has an addiction, or because zie is self-medicating with food, or because zie is insulating hirself from abuse, or because zie is creating a barrier of flab against real intimacy, or because zie is bored, or because zie is self-destructive, or because zie has no will power, or because zie is just a gluttonous foodie who loves the taste of rich foods.

Maybe it's all right for you to acquiesce that you cannot tell just by looking at hir for what reasons zie is choosing to be fat, or even if it's hir choice at all.

Maybe it's all right for you to treat fat people with dignity either way--and let fat people sort out for themselves the business of their being fat.

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How about you address this:

1) Fat people, particularly the obese, have significant risk of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, requiring health insurance payers to pay more to take care of them. This, in turn, causes companies to have to pay more, raises health insurance premiums for healthier employees and costs the economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

2) Fat people take up more space. I recently had to spend more than 10 hours on a flight from Tokyo to Detroit with some fat guy spilling over into my seat. And if I had a nickel for every time I ride the subway and am literally squeezed in my seat by two fat people on either side of me or every time I get stuck behind one on the sidewalk...

Reading this, I'm reminded of smokers who think their habit is their own private business, but show no consideration for those around them or the economic costs they pass on to others.

I don't know how Melissa would respond, but for my part:

1. It's weird how often people make the health insurance argument after we just had an entire year of in-depth health care policy debate in the media, in politics, on blogs.... I guess people just didn't learn much from all the hot air that was being produced.

Either way, you're right, Americans do pay substantially more for health care than other industrialized nations do. The reason, though, isn't obesity, it's the fact that health insurers have to post 30% profits to keep Wall Street happy, that cheap generics are blocked from importation so that drug companies can make a big profit, that our usual solution to high health care costs is to just subsidize the system even more, that health care is distributed so unequally that some people really do have "the best health care system in the world," complete with overtesting and overtreatment, while others don't get access to jack taco, etc., etc.

2. On the planes, I fly quite a bit and I've never had a situation where someone was "spilling over" into my seat. If that's the case and you literally can't sit down because of someone else's size, why not ask a flight attendant to move? Somehow I have to wonder about that story....

And I've never seen a metro system in the world where able-bodied, nonpregnant people had a right to a seat. If you're being squeezed to death in the seats, maybe it's time to stand up? I usually don't sit down on the metro if I have to sit between two people at all, but that's just me.

Either way, I don't think that was the point of Melissa's post since fat hatred doesn't solve either of those problems.

Alex, criticize the U.S. healthcare system all you want, but for the time being, it's a fact that people with chronic health problems brought on by their own irresponsible behavior (e.g. eating too much fattening food and smoking) drive up the cost of health care. Ultimately, it doesn't matter who the payer is, whether it's a private insurer or the government -- managing Type 2 diabetes, chronic heart disease, COPD and other disease states that result from personal behavior costs a lot of money.

And yes, I did have a fat American guy next to me on the plane whose heft was spilling over into my seat, and the plane was packed because it was the holiday season. I'm not making that up or imagining it.

As for the subway, my commute to and from work is 45 minutes each way, and I like being able to sit for that time and take a short nap or read a book instead of having to stand. A responsible person who takes care of himself shouldn't have to accommodate someone else's "right" to be fat.

It's one thing if someone has a bit of a belly or love handles -- some people are just predisposed to having a low metabolism -- but overweight/obesity is called an "epidemic" in this country for a reason.

1) There are plenty of health risks out there for everyone; human beings have a 100% mortality rate. No one group and no one set of diseases or disorders single-handedly affects insurance premiums THAT much. Furthermore, the health risks you site-heart disease and type 2 diabetes-are caused by lots of things, and lots of people of all weights have them--and lots of people of all weights don't. There are also studies which have shown that yo-yo dieting (which is all any weight-loss program is; no diet has yet to be shown as effective five years later on a wide scale) is just as, if not more, likely to trigger these health concerns for individuals who are predisposed to them as just carrying more weight.

2) The average airplane seat is 17 inches across, which is the length of a legal-sized sheet of paper. MOST adults need more room than that, especially when seated. Airline seats are always too small, and no one gets the space they need. The fat guy you sat next to? He'd probably have been more comfortable if YOU weren't taking up room in the seat next to HIM, too. You paid the airline to get you to Tokyo, not to make it a comfy experience. I take the bus and subway regularly. Sometimes is a fast, pleasant experience with lots of room for me and maybe even my bag in its own seat; other times I'm crammed up next to someone who has put on so much perfume I can barely breathe and the bus has to move slower because it's full. You know what? both of those situations cost the same amount of money--I'm paying for the travel, not the company. Sometimes we have to be near people we'd rather not be, and it really doesn't make them bad.

The average airplane seat is 17 inches across, which is the length of a legal-sized sheet of paper.

Factually incorrect on both counts. The industry standard width for airline seats is 17.2", whereas a legal-sized sheet of paper measures 8.5" by 14".

MOST adults need more room than that, especially when seated.

Again, incorrect. Most adults easily fit in a 17.2" seat. I'm a big girl, and I still fit quite comfortably in a standard airline seat.

The fat guy you sat next to? He'd probably have been more comfortable if YOU weren't taking up room in the seat next to HIM, too.

The difference is that both of us paid for a 17.2" seat. If he is taking up more room than 17.2", he is depriving me of space that I paid for; he is stealing from me.

No, neither of you paid for a seat, no matter what its size. You paod to get to your destination.

No, neither of you paid for a seat, no matter what its size. You paod to get to your destination.

No, neither of you paid for a seat, no matter what its size. You paod to get to your destination.

What the fuck are you on about, jennikins? That's an asinine statement. When you buy a plane ticket, you're paying for the seat. By law, the airline has to provide each passenger with a seat. That's why passengers get bumped off the flight when it's overbooked and why regulators didn't let RyanAir put "standing class" areas on its airplanes. So when an obese passenger's thighs are spilling over into your seat, he or she is taking up space that you booked for yourself.

Yes, by law everyone gets a seat--for safety reasons, not for comfort. Flight prices are determined by the distance traveled from the departure point to the destination. They are NOT determined by the size of the seat, except in first class. Yes, when you book a flight, you get a seat. But you are PAYING for your transportation, not the bubble you think you deserve.

Jennikins, you're sounding increasingly absurd.

If you pay for your transportation on a plane, you're also paying for an allotted amount of space, also known as a "seat" and whatever services come with the ticket. If you take up more than that allotted space, the airline can charge you for two seats, as airlines often do in the case of very obese passengers.

He's being ignorant as well as absurd -- passengers do pay for seat size; that's the entire point of not only first class and business class, but also the "economy plus" or "coach plus" seats that almost every single airline has introduced in the past few years.

Fat people, particularly the obese, have significant risk of developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes, requiring health insurance payers to pay more to take care of them. This, in turn, causes companies to have to pay more, raises health insurance premiums for healthier employees and costs the economy hundreds of billions of dollars.

I wouldn't worry too much about that; fat people are also less likely to see doctors, since they know the doctors are more likely to harangue them for their weight than address any actual health problems they might have.

For that matter, fighting fat hatred would probably do more good for the health care system than disapproving of fat people; if they could get health care that focused on their health instead of their weight, they'd be more likely to catch those health problems early and be able to avoid them.

Do you disapprove of motorcyclists, too, because their accidents are more likely to lead to expensive injuries? Is there any area other than fatness and smoking in which you think people have a moral obligation to avoid the risk of expensive health care?

People choose unhealthy behavior all the time. Smoking and obesity are two examples of putting some sort of pleasure before health.

I think it's just a matter of time before health care costs are based on how fit or healthy a person tries to be. Smokers and obese people (those without a health condition, but as the author suggests a 'chosen' behavior) should pay more because their choices cost more in healthcare.

Smoking and obesity are the two largest preventable behaviors and the two leading causes of healthcare costs and premature death.

Healthy is a better "choice."

Regan DuCasse | January 12, 2011 7:42 PM

Hi Melissa!
I'm with you girl, when it comes to how the aesthetic might be judged. But there are consequences not just to the individual who is obese, but those around them too.
It's true, different people have different levels of health, sometimes no matter their weight, but weight and proportion to matter beyond an individual.

In certain situations, especially emergencies, it would be difficult to carry, rescue or treat you. You might not be able to save yourself.

There are big and little things that don't make being fat or obese something to encourage. I agree that no one should be subject to humiliation or indignity with regard to their appearance, but there are other issues that would happen in that regard that have nothing to do with how someone ELSE treats you, but what weight is and does and how much control you have over your own agility, strength and endurance for whatever activity. And whatever control you have in optimizing your health and well being. Or how much someone else could help you if you needed it.

A time might come, that weight will hinder something that would otherwise be simple and done independently.

I come from a family of heavy women. This concerns me. And as a black woman, almost half of black women out there ARE obese, and suffer much health detriment because of it. I have avoided this very thing, that runs in my family and stayed trim and fit, despite a heart pacemaker and systemic lupus, to keep that way.

Perhaps being fat, and militantly so, is something you can afford and more power to you. But that's not true for everyone who IS fat, and I appreciate the struggle with it, on say a civil rights and legal rights level.
But as I said, it's not to be encouraged and our society develop a laissez faire attitude when there ARE real societal and medical costs that occur.



I wish I had read this much earlier in my life, but I'm glad to have it now.

Thank you for this. There is so much fatphobia and fat shaming the the LGBTQ community and it really doesn't make sense to me. I feel like queer people and fat people (and, of course, there's overlap in those communities) are both fighting for the same thing: the right not to have our bodies and what we do with them judged, policed, regulated, or made the subjects of violence for something that we probably can't change.

It's disgusting to me that arguments against fat acceptance turn to health insurance costs as a reason for discrimination and hatred against fat people. Fat people are human beings, not financial transactions.

I believe that two basic lines need to be drawn when it comes to social interference with other people's lives:

1. It is acceptable to encourage people to make good decisions; it is not acceptable to try to compel people to make them.

2. The right to freely make personal choices does not entitle people to impose on others.

Bravo for this article! How wild that the first few comments are so fat-phobic. Maybe read the article again?

All people deserve health care, regardless of size of behavior. I'm far more worried about the bureaucracy, bullshit and bloat in the health system than a fat person who hypothetically might need more care.

And if we are really worried about the cost of health care, rescinding a couple of corporate tax cuts should cover the whole thing.

What I like is how fat shaming is sometimes justified by health issues, either with the "it's for your own good" version or "onoz we'll have to pay more taxes because you're fat omg".

The thing is, fat shaming doesn't cause fat people to be "healthier", actually quite the contrary. E.g. when my doctor convinced my parents that my weight was a top priority problem and decided to solve that with authority, they managed to turn a fat child into a self-harming fat child. Wonderbar.