“Fat activism is one of the few branches of social justice in which fellow activists seem to feel entitled to comment, degrade, harass, and otherwise police the bodies of their peers.” - Ashley Nell Tipton
Fat people receive a lot of hate. Concern trolls and internet doctors pretend to care about the health of absolute strangers. Photos of a fat woman loving life in a bikini are met with hateful comments about heart disease and BMI. While images of a fat person hiking might receive more likes. Because as long as you're making an effort to not be fat, it's ok.
Virgie Tovar defines fatphobia as such: “Fatphobia asserts that thin people are naturally better, happier, more fulfilled, and more real than us. That is patent horseshit. No human is superior to another human. No human is more real than another.”
In my opinion, fatphobia is one of the few forms of socially acceptable discrimination. In television and film, there is almost always a fat character that’s lazy, lonely, and filled with self-hatred. The Designated Ugly Fat Friend (DUFF) that’s funny or smart and easy to talk to. But no one would ever consider dating seriously.
Fatphobia is so prevalent that even people who consider themselves allies are unknowingly perpetuating it with comments like, “I’m such a fatty, I’ve been eating all day!” or, “Does this make me look fat?”
These comments make fatness the negative, something no one ever wants to be or feel. And if you’re saying these things to or around your fat friend, these comments can feel like an attack. If you’re still unclear about what fatphobia looks like, the Ultimate Guide To Fatphobia is a great resource.
What people outside of the Body Positive Community (BoPo) don’t know is that there’s even hate within the BoPo community. People are often called out for trying to lose weight, or not weighing enough to have a place within the community. It’s what I call the dark side of body positivity.
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This year, fashion designer Ashley Nell Tipton admitted to undergoing weight loss surgery and was bombarded with so much negativity that some of us at Ravishly felt the need to stick up for her right to make decisions about her body. The Ravishly article "Ashley Nell Tipton Deserves The Right To Autonomy" explains how, “Fat activism is one of the few branches of social justice in which fellow activists seem to feel entitled to comment, degrade, harass, and otherwise police the bodies of their peers.”
I recently reached out to two friends who are currently on weight loss journeys. I wanted to ask about the positives and negatives of the process. Along with some of the backlash they’ve received for making personal decisions about their bodies.
**Please note that these are the stories of two women. People gain and lose weight for a variety of reasons.
What was your weight loss process?
J: The last time I lost a significant amount of weight had absolutely nothing to do with the desire to change my body. I was living in Los Angeles and filled with depression and anxiety. I sought help from three expert women: a therapist, a psychologist, and a general practitioner medical doctor. I dug deep into the root causes of my depression with the therapist, changed medication with the psychologist, and for the first time found a medical doctor who did not put me on a scale.
All three women talked to me about food choices and exercise as tools to use on top of the work I was doing with each individually. I started paying attention to the foods I was eating and focused on whole foods, not processed foods. I stopped eating fast-food as a solution for a busy life.
The next step I took was moving my body on a regular basis. It began with 30 minute morning walks with my dogs three days a week. I slowly gained time and days until I was an hour daily walker. Eventually, I got the hiking bug. The first time I went on a hike I literally felt my heart in my ears! There was a tree halfway up a steep incline that was my goal post for taking a break. I distinctly remember the day I didn’t need to stop at the tree, it felt like a miracle.
I was careful not to shame myself if I “messed up” and skipped a walk or ordered take out. Self-flagellation is my go-to coping mechanism. I’ve learned through my work in therapy that it is simply an old coping mechanism that no longer serves me.
The result was about a 60-pound weight loss. I’m not entirely sure of the exact numbers because I gave up on scales years ago. It’s all about how I feel inside. Can I do the stairs without shortness of breath? Are my knees aching? All of these things are markers of self-care for me.
A: Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) makes is extremely hard for me to lose weight. I've done everything from meal plans and diets to training and nutritionists, none of it was working for me. This Fall, I got the Gastric Sleeve and it’s been a difficult journey. So far I’ve lost almost 50 pounds and my hormones are starting to balance out. This is a lifelong tool, and it’s been hard. I’m re-learning habits and understanding food. For anyone that thinks weight loss surgery is an easy way out, they know nothing. With the Sleeve I'll lose as much as I put it in. So I can eat junk, but I won't lose weight, and [I] might even gain weight. It helps keeps me in check but still allows me to enjoy a bit of delicious Chipotle.
Generally, what was the feedback you received before, during and after weight loss?
J: The feedback caught me completely off guard. Since I didn’t start out with the mission to lose weight and I had some body dysmorphia. Which for me meant I thought I was actually smaller than I was. The first time I realized I had lost some weight was a day I ran into a friend’s husband I hadn’t seen in awhile. He immediately started gushing about how good I looked and how he needed to set me up on a date. I didn’t know this friend’s husband very well and he had never once shown interest in my appearance or dating life. It was as if suddenly I was acceptable as a person because my body was thinner. It made me feel really uncomfortable.
"I've received comments saying that I’m not “fat enough” for the hashtags I use. Which is interesting to me because I totally identify as a fat woman. Owning the label fat was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done in my life."
A: I’m lucky that my family and core friends have been SO supportive. I actually talk to my best friend more often than before because she sends me weekly encouragement texts and is my biggest cheerleader. My boyfriend has been incredible as well. He helps me cook and talks me down when I have a moment and is proud of me. He loved me at my biggest and he loves me now. He wants me happy and healthy. My mother paid for my surgery and my brother just wants me healthy.
I’ve been relatively quiet about my type of surgery. I recently announced I had a surgery but I'm not sure if I want to share specifics with people. I’m a very open person but I think with this I need to stay quiet at the start because I am still figuring things out. Figuring out a new relationship with food and my body. For now, this is my personal journey.
How were your feelings about your weight loss journey magnified by the statements and/or judgment of others?
J: I noticed people I hadn’t seen in awhile would comment on “how good” I looked. I can shut that kind of body shaming down pretty quickly these days. But at that time I was still trying to find my voice. I would just freeze and not know what to say. It never made me feel good, always worse. I would think “Jeez, what did you think of me before?”
Returning to New Orleans in my thinner body was the worst. I couldn’t walk into a room without someone commenting on my body. I felt like I had to defend my healthier food choices and daily walking routine to my friends. Everyone had comments on how thin I was or “how LA” I had become. Somewhere between moving to Los Angeles, accidentally dropping 60-pounds and making the decision to return home, this fat girl found her voice and it was loud!
I was tired of being body shamed. Moreover, I was so tired of feeling like I could never fit into society’s box. I made the decision to become a radical self-love and body positive advocate.
A: Because I kept this fairly quiet and have a good group of supportive people around me I didn't feel judged. I did wonder if I would be called a hypocrite as this year I started embracing the word fat and writing blogs on traveling while fat. People connected with them and I got lots of messages of support. I worried that if people found out, they wouldn't be happy with me and would try to discredit this self-love journey I had with my body. I love and loved my fat body but for the life that I wanted, I needed to lose weight. I suppose that’s also why I decided to stay quiet about it.
What are some things that the BoPo Movement and Communities can do to create a safe non-judgemental space for people on a weight loss journey?
J: I feel like I’m on the fringe of the community. I definitely identify and enjoy following along on social media, but I don’t always agree with everything that’s said. It bothers me that people are chastised for being too small or attempting to lose weight. Isn’t the community about every body being beautiful? Aren’t we supposed to make room for everyone? Aren’t we fighting for choice? The right to be whoever you are, judgment-free?
I've received comments saying that I’m not “fat enough” for the hashtags I use. Which is interesting to me because I totally identify as a fat woman. Owning the label fat was one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done in my life. One of the most important things I have learned is that other people’s opinions of me are none of my business.
A: You never know someone's full story. I think it can almost feel like a betrayal to some when someone you follow or look up to decides to lose a dramatic amount of weight. I get it, I feel that too sometimes, but they have their reasons. I have my reasons, and who are we to judge? I think it is a balance issue of support but also respect. I think the internet can allow people to say and get away with things that they wouldn't do in real life. Admins and leaders need to stick up for those that decide to have a journey in weight loss and let people know it is not okay [to attack them because of it]. Support women. Support bodies.
The truth is, life is complicated. Maintaining a “healthy” lifestyle can be difficult. Being on a weight loss journey while being a member of the BoPo community can be complicated. However, “Ignoring the fact that mental and physical wellness requires regular and consistent movement would make me just as ill as diet culture ever did.”
The BoPo Movement and the Fat Acceptance Movement were both spawns of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA). The goal of all of these groups is to ensure that people of all sizes are accepted, respected, and seen as equal. Still, there is a difference between BoPo and self-love. One is built on the fact that all bodies are deserving of love, happiness, and visibility regardless of size or weight, while the the other emphasises loving your body as it is right now. Both come together under the banner of enjoying the journey with less focus on the destination, and knowing that each person's path is their own.