Mo Pie at Big Fat Deal has received a large number of comments on a recent interview she posted with PastaQueen (Jennette Fulda) of Half of Me, a prominent weight-loss blogger who has lost roughly 200 pounds over the past few years. I started to type out my response at BFD in an effort to help clarify to some commenters why other commenters identifying as FA advocates might have taken issue with certain things PQ said. But as usual, my “comment” started to look more like an unworkably huge single-paragraph rant, so I decided to put it over here instead to allow readers to avoid it at their discretion.

First, I wanted to say that if you are a reader of or commenter to the thread, and your response to the critical comments on the thread was to think that those FA people sure sound jealous, angry, radical, “snarky,” or rude–or if you thought something like “why would they rather someone be fat than happy and healthy?” –then this post is not really directed at you. I don’t think one post is going to help us understand each other. I don’t mean to be totally dismissive of your viewpoint–I probably sound like I don’t think you’re worth my time to address. And that is not really true.

Don’t get me wrong; it irritates me to hear many well-thought-out comments from people who I know to be intelligent and reasonable dismissed as simple anger, bitterness, or jealousy. I mean, come on, people online get orders of magnitude more heated about, like, TV shows than any FA advocate on the thread did about the very personal, sensitive issues of body image, health, and discrimination that were raised by PastaQueen’s comments. In fact, I sort of agree with (Another) Christine, who characterized the level of discourse as “Sunday Tea,” all things considered.

But I can understand why, if you are relatively new to the concepts associated with fat acceptance and were sort of cruising through, evaluating comments at face value, that to your mind certain of the comments may have had a somewhat… impatient… flavor. This is because most of us have had this type of discussion many times before, and I’m not sure there is any way for those of you who haven’t seen such discussions play out to really understand where we are coming from without immersing yourself in the fat acceptance movement for a while. (This won’t really be as difficult as I am making it sound. Just read some posts and analysis at a few FA web sites; try starting here as well as familiarizing yourself with horror stories like these and “101”-style explanations like this post on dieting and WLS.)

I would also point out that if you are thin and especially if you always have been, it may take extra effort to put yourself in the shoes of a fat person and really understand how fundamental some of these issues are. I mean, for god’s sake, they’re denying people health insurance, and it looks like it won’t be long before they start taking people’s children away. And it is much less possible to “just lose weight” to avoid these consequences than most people think. Mulling over such basics for a while may help you to connect with why many FA people seem so “angry.” They are angry, and with good reason.

(As an aside, although I can’t swear that this is what was going on here, it occurs to me that I have often seen weight-loss discussions before where the room is sort of unusually sensitive to “negativity.” The people who call out this “negativity” are often either that type of thin person who for some reason feels compelled to hang around weight-loss threads and condescendingly cheerlead fat people who have made “lifestyle changes” — “Good for you! I just know you’re going to keep the weight off and feel great! Believe me, it’ll all be worth it when you finally fit into those size 6 jeans!” –or fat or thin people who are currently dieting. For example, I once asked a diet blogger who was writing about dating experiences whether she missed having her fat to help “weed out” jerks. I expressed no negativity about her weight loss at all, just my honest curiosity about her perception of the difference between dating while fat and dating while thin, since I married at 21 and don’t have a lot of data points of my own. The blogger herself gave me an honest and unoffended answer–you know, having actually been fat so she could at least understand where I was coming from even if she personally didn’t experience her fatness as a “weeding-out” device–but another commenter lectured me in a rather outraged manner about what a downer I was being, like there couldn’t possibly be any more to the story than “person decides to lose weight, person loses weight, person keeps it off forever with no regrets or ambiguous feelings on the matter whatsoever, person is healthy, person buys cute clothes, person finds perfect mate, person is happy, the end.” Like we all had to put on a happy face as if discussing Santa Claus with a two-year-old and pretend there was no downside to dieting or weight loss or else the entire thing would collapse like a house of cards. Which, come to think of it, is sort of telling.)

So anyway, for those of you who do feel that you are familiar enough with FA and HAES concepts to “get” fat acceptance but still are unclear as to why people might have had a problem with PastaQueen’s comments in particular, I can offer my personal opinion. I start with the disclaimer that I actually have a lot of respect for PastaQueen, who from what I have read of her work (and I have been reading her for a long time, though not so much lately since I’ve been cutting down on diet blogs) is clearly a very smart woman who doesn’t see the world in the same black-and-white, good vs. bad, unexamined terms that a lot of diet bloggers seem to.

Also, PQ is a human being, and the degree to which I am about to shred and parse her statements may not be totally reasonable. If I were held accountable for every single turn of phrase that exited my mouth, I would be in big trouble. But for purposes of this post, I have to assume that she deliberately worded and sincerely meant everything she said. And if that is the case, I do have some issues to raise.

First, the following applies to most of these points: I know PQ made a point of strongly and repeatedly stating that her experiences were hers alone, and I appreciate that. However, Mo quotes her as saying, “Whenever I tried hanging around fat acceptance sites, I felt as if they were trying to make me feel bad for wanting to be thin” (emphasis mine), which is part of why I think readers cannot be blamed for to some extent taking her statements both in the book and in the interview as broader-brush characterizations of fat acceptance. You may or may not also agree with me when I express my opinion that in some of the quotations below, it certainly sounds like she is speaking in generalities and not just about herself. For that reason, I am going to point out where I don’t think her experiences are particularly representative of FA. That doesn’t mean that I reject her right to call her personal experience in FA as she sees it; it does mean that I haven’t seen many of the things she complains about and I think it is fair to say so. In other cases I just think her way of looking at “fat vs. thin” has some logical flaws that could be damaging. So, first off:

I just had to admit that I didn’t like being fat and I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. If I didn’t like being a brunette, no one would give me shit about dying my hair blonde. At the same time however, I believe that fat people should not be discriminated against or made to feel bad because of their weight and that fat people deserve equal rights. I just think it’s okay if you prefer not to be one of those fat people. […]

So, the difference I see between fat acceptance and self acceptance is that self acceptance means you are cool with whatever you are – fat, thin, a fat person who wants to be thin or even a thin person who wants to be fat.

I’ll say right up front that I really appreciate PastaQueen’s statement on fat rights in this quotation, since this message can get lost sometimes. That being said, my problem here is not with anyone wishing they were thinner (how could you not in our society?). I don’t even think the problem is with individual people dieting in an effort to become thinner. The problem is with the implication that dieting is as politically neutral or, and here is the truly important part, effective as simply dyeing your hair. And that is a non-trivial point. I have read horror stories in FA circles that make my heart ache–and not just a few, but many–written by people who have virtually starved themselves and undergone punishing exercise regimens, often damaging their mental and physical health, in an effort to be thin. For these people, thinness proved either impossible (that is, and I want to be very clear about this, they remained fat despite eating extremely sparse diet rations or even developing anorexia) or impossible to sustain. The nice-sounding binary concept of “be thin if you want to, be fat if you want to, either is OK” completely belies most people’s experience that it is impossible or near-impossible to change your natural body shape for the long term.

Most FA advocates are opposed to dieting in general (typically believing that it is ineffective at producing lasting weight loss as well as bad for your health), and the communities I participate in do not allow diet talk, but they also subscribe to the belief that what you do with your body is your own business. Nobody is going to prohibit you from dieting if that’s what you want to do. But for the most part FA will not support you in your illusory belief that being thin is simply a choice you make. To the contrary, for most fat people, being thin is not an option in the real world. To imply that people simply “choose” to stay fat is to negate the years of backbreaking effort that most of us have expended fighting a losing battle against our own bodies, and contributes to pressures on women that are already far too onerous out in mainstream society.

Heck, technically I happen to be a “successful” dieter; the jury is far from in on the “keeping it off” part, but I was one of those dieters who was able to lose weight without starving myself, in the process changing my body weight by over 100 pounds. The difference is, I think my experience is neither widely applicable nor relevant to FA, whereas PQ seems to require that FA grant her that fatness and thinness are two equally valuable choices that are accessible to everyone. And while I do believe fatness and thinness are equally valuable states of being, I do not believe that they are realistically a matter of choice for the vast majority of people.

Just as fat acceptance members don’t want people to give them crap about being fat, people who are losing weight don’t want people to give them crap about eating salads.

This one actually makes me a little mad, and I hope it wasn’t the entire quotation. Surely she meant “people who are losing weight don’t want people to give them crap about dieting,” right? Because salads and fatness and/or FA are far from mutually exclusive–almost all FA sites that I have encountered have not only “allowed” but actively endorsed healthful eating and exercise. And all this statement does is throw fuel on the fire of the idea that all you need to do to go from BMI- “obese” to BMI- “normal” is cut down a little and eat a salad now and again. Frankly, it’s condescending and insulting.

For instance, I’ve read threads on message boards where overweight women justifiably complain about how women are mocked on tabloid covers for being fat. Then those same women will make jokes about Kate Bosworth for being a “bag of sticks” and say she should “eat a cheeseburger.” How is this any different than saying a fat girl is a “tub of lard” who should “get on a treadmill?”

I personally think this is a straw man argument. I have never been on any FA site where this kind of behavior would be condoned or tolerated. I’m not saying PQ didn’t experience this somewhere, but it is not the least bit representative of the fatosphere in my experience.

Ultimately, everyone has a right to do with their body as they chose, so they get to lead whatever lifestyle they want to, be it fat or thin, fit or unfit, or any mixture of those adjectives.

Fat is not a lifestyle. “Healthy” and “unhealthy” may be lifestyles (not that I’m saying that I get to be the arbiter of what constitutes either of those), but you don’t have a “fat” or “thin” lifestyle. You have a series of behaviors and because of or partially because of or in spite of or for reasons having nothing to do with those behaviors, you are fat or thin. The person next to you may practice the exact same set of behaviors you do, but have an entirely different body type. Again, this quotation implies that your body shape is completely within your control. What you do is within your control, but your body shape may very well not be.

Just as people who are fat don’t want to be attacked for not being thin, people who used to be fat don’t want to be attacked for having become thin.

Again, who does this? The interview was obviously not the type of situation where you have to provide citations, so I’m not blaming here, but I can’t think of an FA site where being attacked for being thin is considered OK. I am 100% in favor of people being whatever size they are personally supposed to be (that is, the size arrived at as a result of natural, non-disordered eating and activity patterns), whether that be very thin, very fat, or somewhere in between, and I strive not to judge others’ bodies for any reason. And in my experience FA is quite supportive of these ideals.

So that is why I took issue with some of PQ’s statements from an FA standpoint. In case you didn’t make it all the way through (which, OK, I can’t really blame you for), I will note that in no instance was my reasoning “because she’s thin, and I hate skinny bitches they should eat a sandwich blah blah blah ‘real’ women rule” or “because if people get thin then there will be nobody left in FA” or “because fat is better than thin” or “because I think more guys should want to have sex with fat girls” or “because I’m jealous.”

I still respect PQ and enjoy her writing, and her running accomplishments kick ass. I just think we have some disagreements on how possible it is for most people to permanently change their weight. I hope that what I have written makes this clearer rather than even more confusing, but probably not.