The alternative to fat suits

No, not fat actors. God forbid. Making thin actors gain weight is the sign of true authenticity.

Did you really need to make Jared Leto so upset having him gain weight for a movie about John Lennon's murder? Is it that hard to find a fat actor who looks like Mark David Chapman? Hell, I'm a fat actor who looks like Mark David Chapman. There must be thousands of Was the awe-inspiring star power of Jared frickin' Leto that important? He's Jared Leto. One of those names you recognize, but ultimately can't place in the pantheon of boring and unsuccessful and increasingly not even young actors. Unless you were REALLY into Jordan Catalano, he's already interchangable.

Leto is now going on a media tour complaining about how hard it was to be fat. Poor little Jared was too fat to walk. I'm serious. He gained 60 pounds and suddenly he needs a wheelchair. Well, I must just be Jesus walking on water to get around then because I'm fatter than poor little Jared was. Of course, it might have been that he had gout. Yeah, the idiot gave himself gout, either by rapidly gaining or rapidly losing this weight. Many stories don't even point this out, acting like becoming disabled by gaining 60lbs is just obvious.

Poor little Jared also complains about he'll never be the same again after getting fat, like he's damaged goods. Yeah, because rapidly and intentionally forcing your body to gain weight is such a normal experience. Lets be clear here. You forced your body to gain weight rapidly and then starved yourself to lose 62lbs in time for your next movie role. I don't doubt that you screwed up your body, but it had nothing to do with being fat.

Lets save the next poor little Jared from himself, Hollywood. If a role is for a fat character, try hiring a fat person.


Invisible prejudices

There is been discussion lately on the "last acceptable prejudice" moniker often used for fat bigotry. There is more truth to that motto then is being let on, but it is ultimately far too imprecise. It requires too many qualifications and clarifications to usefully communicate the intention of identifying what makes fat prejudice unique. This is often how we are called up to look at our experience because all too often, looking at ways fat prejudice is alike to other forms of bigotry brings cries that this is an inappropriate line of discussion. We can't talk about how fat prejudice and gay prejudice or racial prejudice intersect because we are told that this would devalue some other prejudice. Likewise, I don't doubt that there are those who profess to believe in FA who do the reverse. Fat prejudice is a problem, but homophobia isn't. This is something that has hampered a greater discussion of how fat prejudices interacts and intersects with other forms of social and cultural oppression.

To the end, while the consequences of fat bigotry can be very serious, they are also inconsistent. I recognized this when last week when David Paterson was sworn in as Governor of New York. Paterson is only the 4th African-American governor in the history of the United States. Even more uniquely, though, he is the thought to be the first legally blind governor in American history. Which illustrates a key difference in the structure of fat bigotry. We don't have to fight for our first fat mayor, first fat senator, first fat governor, or first fat President. Its already happened and no one thought to notice.

Nor should they have, really. While fat prejudice can be strong, for certain people it can be overcome. Indeed, for some, its not much of an obstacle at all. Which ultimately contributes to it being a prejudice no one needs to think about having. Indeed, for most who harbor fat bigotry the power structure has become completely inverted. Instead of recognizing the ways fat people are disenfranchised, they instead presume us to actually be the party in power. That the problem is that we are not attacked enough.

So, why do some people have no problem getting ahead while fat, while others don't? This is clearly a place where the intersections of other prejudices has a significant impact. Not all fat people are treated equally. For some, people genuinely don't see it as a problem, while for others it is all people see. Gender, race, class, all these things play a part and there are no easy ways to identify it, much less respond to it. Very often, all these prejudices blur together and all become invisible.

Which isn't a reason not to respond. But this ultimately needs to be a two way discussion. While it is healthy for fat acceptance to be challenged to think about these intersections, those who make that challenge need to understand that they need to be part of the process of identifying them. You cannot just say, "you don't represent me". There needs to be a willingness to share your perspective for other people to really learn from it.

That doesn't mean that sharing that perspective should be polite, mind you. I'm reminded of growing up in a lower middle-class, racially diverse community. My understanding of the privileges I experienced as a white male was informed vividly by black classmates and female classmates who talked about them without pulling punches. I saw how some responded to this with hostility, but it did help me to really focus on the advantages I had gotten without every asking for. I learned to respect that I was privileged by our culture, and that I needed to recognize this if I wanted to be part of a solution to this problem.

When I got to college, this all turned around and I got a lesson in class privilege from the side of the lower-middle class. I went from an environment where I thought my family was pretty well off, to one where I was the poor kid. Instead of a thriving and diverse community, my private university was overwhelmingly white. Looking back, I have to say that I'm not happy with how I responded. Because I didn't talk about it. Didn't even like thinking about it, really. Slowly I recognized the divide and how alienated I felt by it. My classmates spoke of summer internships and spring break vacations. I went home to work during the summer. My first two years at college, I spent spring break in my dorm room. I only ever went on trips my last two years as part of a scholarship from the school's choir. A scholarship I didn't really ask for and which no one talked about. I saw they way economic class advantages people, but I never tried to instigate a discussion about it. I should have. I think it would have been a healthy thing for my classmates to be exposed to, but I held back because I didn't want to be seen as attacking them. But we need to share our experiences, so others can learn to recognize and respect these differences. I did my classmates a disservice by withholding my own experiences from them. It was a learning opportunity for them that they didn't get.

They couldn't start that dialogue, though. Which is the challenge. I think sometimes, the concern that people will be defensive, ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can't hop into a room, say "fix it", and not expect a possible honest response to be "fix what?" from people genuinely interested in social justice. Especially when you're not even talking about the macro issues of privilege, but the micro issues of the intersections of different privileged groups.

We also need to recognize that we have all these different civil rights fights for a reason. Feminism cannot be racial equality which cannot be gay rights which cannot be fat rights. Each of these groups should have a unique and distinct voice, because collectively we will be more powerful. Which again, isn't a reason not to foster dialogue and understanding nor to hold back from challenging other progressives causes when they trample upon our own. But there are also a lot of reasons why there needs to be a focus on what differentiates us, too. It is part of the process of identifying what is fat prejudice, what fuels it, what will defeat it. We need to own that fight, so that we can, ourselves, be advocates of understanding to others. The final result of a pan-humanity movement of togetherness and distinctiveness might one day come, but until then our separate "fiefdoms" can actually serve a meaningful purpose. They are the means to that end. No one group can be everything to everybody. Right now, no one group can be everything to everybody who believes in that one group. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try to be better. Try to advance our positions and commitments. We need to own that process so we can lead it where we want it to go. We cannot change society but just sitting back and telling it to change. We need to act. Waiting for things to come around to a marginalized point of view isn't good enough.

This is, of course, why we also need to be willing to listen when others engage us about things we may not fully understand or appreciate. We need to welcome that input and foster a constructive atmosphere. No one gets to abdicate responsibility. Just as we cannot sit back and wait for the world to change, it is not okay for the world to sit back and wait for us to change it. Both sides need to be engaged for an understanding to come out of it. That's the hard part. Like so much, there isn't a simple answer. Both sides need to find a common ground of good faith. The world cannot sit back and dictate the terms of its willingness to change, either. That is unacceptable, and no one should feel pressured to find a false common ground. That just falls back onto reductivist approaches that make a civil rights struggle into the least it can be so the most can agree. If someone doesn't want to accept that, good. They should challenge attitudes and press for change. They shouldn't hold their punches. Change won't always feel good for those in a hegemony, but that's how its always going to be. While defensiveness can sometimes be a self-fulfilling prophecy, it sometimes is just defensiveness. I'm not saying its easy to distinguish, but its worth trying and pushing. Holding back because someone might be defensive isn't acceptable, either. Quite the opposite, I'd say. That's why we all need to be agents of the change we desire.


Normalcy isn't perfection

Usually when looking at parallels between fat acceptance and gay rights, one is apt to strike upon the genetic arguments both groups make. And indeed, there is a lot to learn there. But with all the talk of "good" and "bad" fatties, I'm actually more reminded of the Gay Marriage issue.

While marriage equality is something that I'd say a vast majority of gay rights activists are fighting for, its not something every gay person agrees with. There have been vocal concerns among some gays that this fight will lead to a social obligation to marry for gay people that they are opposed to. Not every gay person wants to get married, they say, so why fight for it? Isn't this only going to make it acceptable to be a married gay person in a society?

While I understand the reasoning behind that concern, I've always found it to be self-defeating. Its like stopping a field trip because one child decides he doesn't want to go to the state capital. And ultimately, I think the concerns are proving unfounded.

Its not that marriage equality activists are saying every gay person must get married. They just want the right to do so, if they wish. And gaining this right, in turn, will actually benefit those gay people who don't want anything to do with marriage for any number of reasons. Maybe they think its sexists or inherently straight-centric. Maybe they don't believe in monogamy at all. The movement, though, hasn't tried to suggest that all gay people are the same, and the risk that opponents would try to force that compromise hasn't come to be. Just like people are not becoming tolerant only towards genetic gays, they also aren't becoming tolerant only towards married gays. Its about achieving normalcy. Normalcy isn't perfection and it isn't uniformity. Not all straight people believe in marriage, and that's fine. Sure, there is some social pressure, but its not outright bigotry. Not all straight people believe in monogamy, either. All of these perspectives exist in the straight community, they just aren't used to define the straight community. That's what gay rights activists are looking for. Normalcy. Gay marriage isn't about conforming to a heterosexual ideal. Its about recognizing that gay people and straight people aren't that different. Married gays aren't "good" gays, but they are gays. They can be a unique and vibrant community, but there is also so much that brings us together, too.

That's what fat acceptance is going for, too. Its not about confirming to an ideal of the "good fatty". Its about achieving a normalcy where fatties aren't judged to begin with. Its not about achieving a segregated tolerance where the only acceptable fat person plays by the "rules". Its about getting the same opportunities as thin people. Thin people eat "healthy", or don't. The exercise, or not. But none of that defines their existence. Not all social pressure will get wiped off the map, but the way bigotry is tied to body size will. Talking about "good" fatties isn't about enforcing a aspirational conformity, but about achieving normalcy by showing that we're just like everyone else. That's the attitude we're combating. Where any "bad" behavior becomes a moral failing on a magnitude unlike anything a thin person would every experience for the same actions. This normalcy will undo those notions of good or bad, and we can all just be. Its not about being perfect. Its about being normal.


Defining Healthy (the end of good and bad)

I thought of an illustration of my last post a little bit late, but I think its apt to show why defining ourselves as good or bad by the dictates of a fat hating society is a futile effort. Let me offer you two descriptions of a fat individual.

Person A is a classic "bad" fatty. They eat tons of cheese, never enough veggies, and always load up on dessert. They drink at least 24 oz of soda daily and often snack on candy or salted treats. They never go to the gym and haven't done organized exercise since high school. They've gained more than 100lbs in the last 10 years.

Person B is a classic "good" fatty. A vegetarian, they also enjoy healthy seafood like steamed white fish and salmon. They drink plenty of water all day. They don't own a car and walk to the subway. During the spring and summer, they try to go hiking as much as possible, often on challenging rock hiking trails. Though fat, their weight has remained mostly steady since college.

Forget about whether one is more deserving of fat rights over the other. Both are completely fair descriptions of myself. For all we are told about how "their" definitions of health are absolutes, they are still extremely subjective. I can be a "healthy" person and an "unhealthy" person all at once. In our culture, though, fat people are coached to magnify and concentrate at how we are unhealthy. For us, that's the only stuff that matters. Because this is such a powerful message, we've come to do it to ourselves.

We need to push past this. Look, there is no guilt that should be had for falling into these mindsets, but that doesn't mean we should justify or affirm them. It is a powerful message, and we'll fall into traps. We can't be perfect. We can only try. Its the trying that is important. It is what will allow us to look past our set-backs rather then letting them define the limits of our possibilities.

When we feel like we are being a bad fatty, we should remind ourselves to question the standards we are holding ourselves to. These are standards set out by a culture that despises us. We must not let them define us. This is not something that Fat Acceptance is causing. Its part of the culture of fat hatred. Accept that we will all have moments where fall prey to these dictates. Don't beat yourself up over that. But define yourself not by the moment of doubts, but the goal we are reaching towards. You can accept that you will have moments of self-negativity without accepting those moments of self-negativity.

We need to come with a new definition of healthy. One that lets everyone be as healthy as they can be in the bodies they have, instead of defining them by their failure to have a body they do not have. "Good" fatties are not offered as aspirations, but as refutations of a culture that says that this cannot be. We show this to be false not to move the fence of what is acceptably fat, but to tear down these suffocating barriers entirely.

There is NO good or bad

The whole idea of "good" or "bad" fat people that's going around right now feeds right into the culture of fat hatred. That is the culture which defines good or bad and that is what we need to confront, instead of trying to reduce our message to fit into their standards.

In our fat hating society, ALL fatties are bad. Not only bad, but far worse than the most "bad" fatty you'll ever find. Our self-inflicted notions of what makes a "bad" fatty are still miles away from the prejudiced assumptions made about all of us. We made label ourselves "bad" if we don't excersise daily or eat more than 2,000 calories, but that's not the "bad" we're dealing with. We are dealing with a culture which is convinced that our bodies are proof that we eat thousands of calories a sitting, that we are virtually housebound by our sedentary lifestyles. They really do think we are sitting on our couches all day shoveling candy into gaping maws. That we sometimes watch TV and that we allow ourselves to eat isn't the "bad" they are talking about.

We can't play under their rules. The so-called "good" fatties aren't the end, but rather a means to an end. Its not about showing that we can be good by their rules. Remember, THEIR rules don't allow us to be good at all. That we can eat little, excercise plenty, and still be fat shows that THEIR rules are complete garbage. It shows that the way they define good and bad is dangerously misguided. It shows that their definition of health is a farce. "Healthy by their rules" fat people don't defend these rules. They tear them down completely.

That is where FA must step in to provide an alternative. Not an alternative which retains the restrictive dictates of health, but one which is properly expansive and inclusive. We tear down their system, and then call for a new one which is not simply a slightly adapted version of what exists now, but which is better for all people.

We need to stop seeing things the way a fat hating culture wants us to. We must stop labeling ourselves "bad" because we don't follow their rules. We must not reduce fat acceptance so as to not disturb their rules of what is good and bad. What we must demand is change. Genuine and radical change. "Good" fatties are part of that in that they show that the emperor of fat hatred has no clothes, but that doesn't force us to accept that their definitions of bad are bad. It doesn't force us to preserve their prejudices and exclusions. We're not talking about tweaking fat hatred, we're talking about overthrowing it.

In that fight, we cannot afford to give up our most powerful weapons against fat bigotry. We will not change a culture of fat hatred by saying "So what if all the reasons you hate us are right?" They already think they are right and they've concluded that this culture of fat hatred is a just response. We cannot change it by saying, "So what if we choose to be fat," because they already believe we have a choice and that this is the proper reaction to that choice. Those are not arguments for change, and they aren't arguments we need to make.

So you are a "bad" fatty. What makes you think that has any impact on your size? There are "bad" thin people out there. Why should you think your body is the result a "choice" when they made the same choices and have a different body? So you have diabetes. Does that mean you aren't healthy? No less so than anyone with diseases commonly associated with thinness. There have been diabetic fat activists for decades. There have been fat activists with PCOS for decades. There has never been any contradiction there, because that's not what fat acceptance is advocating. Its never said that only some fat people should be accepted. Its shown why all the reasons we are not accepted are false, unreliable, and unproductive.

Should it matter if being fat is a choice? No. But it does matter to the culture of fat hatred, and playing "but it shouldn't" won't change a thing. It shouldn't matter if being gay is genetic to advance gay rights, but gay activists recognized the ways homophobia perpetuates itself. Sure, there are some who will hate gay people anyway, but by educating people on how there is no choice for most gay people, they've torn down the intolerance. And when someone becomes accepting on these grounds, it doesn't matter if a gay person choose to be gay or not. Once you tear down the intolerance, those issues really don't matter anymore. I don't doubt that we'll be offered conditional acceptance, but we have no obligation to take that. We have no obligation to say, "good enough". We can reject it for the false compromise that it is and keep pressing our case to undo fat hatred's notions of good and bad.

We shouldn't be identifying ourselves as "bad" fatties. That's playing by "their" rules. We're going beyond that. That's the destination of fat acceptance. That is where "fat is not unhealthy" and "fat is not a choice" is taking us. We'll never get anywhere if we try to reason within a fat-hating system. We need to confront THEIR standards for hating us and show them to be false. We need to take this fight head-on.



I'm not sure what's sadder. That this happened, or that its so expected in the entertainment industry that its so unsurprising.

I've gotten roped into watching some of American Idol this year, which at least allows me to read the snarky reviews of the show at Television Without Pity. Especially fun is all of the rumors they hint at in their recaps that usually send me googling to get the in-jokes about gay strippers, wigs, and unspeakable acts by Santa Claus.

One bit of snark led me to the story behind one of this year's contestants Carly Smithson. Seems just 7 years ago, Carly had her first chance at stardom which also led to her being a famous "cautionary tale". At 18, the Irish singer was tapped to be the next big thing. Her record company spent more than $2 million promoting her, including setting her up with an apartment for 2 years while she worked on her very carefully and corporately crafted first album. It was a spectacular failure, though, selling fewer than 400 copies and earning write-ups in papers like the Wall Street Journal for the debacle.

It was that write-up that caught my attention thanks to a throw-away tidbit the author makes in her introduction. Referring to that bankrolled apartment, the author mentions something the then teen singer had scrawled on her fridge in marker.


As you can see in the promo picture above, this was an exceptionally thin young woman. Indeed, she'd spent years in modeling and performing up to that point, too. This is still how she saw herself, though. As not good enough. Not pretty enough. Not thin enough.

While these pressures are so insidious as to not require outside influence, I still suspect there was an executive somewhere that cautioned the thin teenager that she needed to bring her weight down to be a hit. I'm reminded of the horrifyingly funny bit in the movie "Knocked Up" when E! network heads urge the obviously thin Katherine Heigl to drop 20lbs in her on-air role. This is just how the entertainment industry works and no one is supposed to be surprised.

To some degree, we need to reclaim the shock and horror that this sort of thing should elicit. The way women's bodies are turned into commodities and products under tight control and specifications. We need to be stunned at a story like this because it simply is not acceptable.