Thursday, February 12, 2015

Fatty On the Commons

Note from Kim Klein: 
     This week I am very pleased to introduce a guest blogger, Amy Benson.  Amy is Project Coordinator at CompassPoint Nonprofit Services and I got to know her because she was an early adapter of the idea of talking about the commons in the context of nonprofit work.  She is a friend and colleague and a very strong ally with my pet project, Nonprofits Talking Taxes.  Amy provided a lot of thought guidance for that project as well as an enormous amount of technical support.  Among other things, she asked me to consider the impact of a common nickname I was using for a proposed tax on soda.  The nickname was ‘the obesity tax.’   Thanks to her we stopped using it and came to see how this discussion belongs squarely in the commons.

Fatty On the Commons
Hi, my name is Amy, and I’m fat.  I’m also attractive, nice, and funny (and humble!), and if you were standing here with me right now, odds are, you would try to argue with my opening sentence.  People hear the word “fat” and all kinds of unflattering assumptions come to mind.  I suspect that’s why people argue with me when I try to state a very basic fact, saying “no, you’re not fat! Don’t say that about yourself!”  It’s absurd.  I’m 5’7” and I weigh about 275 lbs.  I’m fat.

If you’re uncomfortable saying or even hearing that word, then we have some talking to do.

I assume you're here "on the commons" because you're interested in co-creating a space that's welcoming to all people.  You wouldn't want the commons to be hostile or uncomfortable for fat people, right?  As a person who's navigated plenty of fat shame in my life, and as a person who's been Fat Activist for the last 15 years or so, I have some tips and ideas for our work together to make sure the commons is welcoming to people of all shapes and sizes.

1. Don't medicalize fat.  Words like "overweight" and "obese" assume fatness is a medical problem.  Do you assume fat people are unhealthy?  That is a very common myth!  Many many resources* exist to debunk that notion, so we’re not getting into it here (because the commons should actually be available to people regardless of how much wellness they’ve got, right?).  Your choice of words can be tricky, though, since a lot of fat people don’t embrace the word “fat”.  Other possibilities include thick, curvy, chubby, chunky, fluffy, voluptuous, big, BBW/BHM, or something else that doesn't imply there's such a thing as a "normal" weight.  In a fat positive perspective, the word “overweight” doesn’t make any more sense than “overheight” as a synonym for tall.  Weight diversity is a normal part of human diversity.

2. Challenge your assumptions about fat people.  Think of the stereotypes you hold about fat and fat people.  What if you had to say them out loud to a fat person you know?   Consider that you may be unconsciously communicating those biases to the people around you.  We can tell (sometimes) when you're silently judging us.  It's okay, don't get lost in a shame spiral.  We've all been affected by fat phobic messages.  Start noticing when you're making assumptions about fat bodies or using fat-negative language, and ask yourself to stop.
This can be extremely difficult when it comes to our own bodies, especially if you're fat.  Seek out fat community, fat-positive photography and fashion, fat-affirming books**.  Notice the diversity of bodies around you in the world!
*Note, as you take this journey, and start challenging stereotypes in your mind, it's normal to want to talk about your transformation.  Please do not tell a fat person about how you used to stereotype them or people who look like them!  Those gory details are hurtful.  If you must discuss, tell a thin person who understands the changes you’re trying to make but hasn’t been as impacted by weight oppression.

3. Use your positions of influence and power to hire fat people, promote fat people, introduce fat people to influential people in your field, invite fat people to serve on boards, use fat people in your advertising in respectful ways (no headless fatties! hyperlink:, go see fat dancers and actors and performers, elect fat people...and make sure you have chairs and bathrooms to accommodate us!

4 - Incorporate an intersectional approach in creating a space free from size hostility
Fat oppression affects people differently depending on race, class, age, gender, ability and disability.  As you reflect on your biases and notice the structural advantages and disadvantages in the world around you, notice how these factors interact.  Systems of oppression enforce the idea that one type of body is better than another one.  We must challenge and dismantle all these heirarchies if we ever hope to take advantage of the full brilliant potential of the commons.

There's a lot to be gained for people of all sizes by changing the way we think and feel about fat.  We could get better health care, if our medical professionals weren’t invested in blaming any and all problems on fat.  We could stop competing with each other in a beauty culture where there is just one (thin, white, young) beauty ideal, and start appreciating the diversity of human beauty that’s around us all the time.  We could start living our lives more fully!  I know far too many people who won’t take a vacation or a dance class or a date until they lose some weight.

When I picture the commons, fat people are there and we’re smiling.  We’re smiling because we know the commons is a safe place for fat people, and that no one will try to take away our humanity by reducing us to a stereotype.  What do you picture?

* Resources about health and weight:

**Some of my favorite fat-positive resources:


holly said...

Amy, this is a great, approachable fat primer.
thank you!
fat solidarity,
Holly H.

Anonymous said...

Fatbulous. What a wonderful post! Thanks so much for this, good things to consider. I loved "Over-Height."