On Spanx, Dillards, and the Fat Acceptance Movement

People are talking these days. About:
1. Body Pride;
2. Sizeism (discrimination based on size); and
2. The fat acceptance movement

Just the other day, Arie announced it’s new campaign featuring size 12 model Barbie Ferreira. And perhaps you’ve come across one mother’s viral post floating on the internet:

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I believe strongly in body pride and self-confidence, no matter what. Everyone should love themselves. But I DO take issue with certain aspects of the fat acceptance movement.

The Dillards Incident

I was overweight as a child. I specifically recall an incident when I was about 10 years old. I went to children’s boutique named Denny’s in central New Jersey, to buy a Spice Girls T-shirt. The clerk came up to me and told me there was nothing in the store for me. I wish I could remember if we ended up buying the shirt.

I won’t forget that moment for as long as I live. Even though I was overweight, I always felt like a cool girl, and I didn’t think anyone at school made fun of me. But in that moment, it was like a grown woman was making fun of me. I wanted to shrivel up and die. I always wondered why the clerk felt the need to come up to me and say anything at all. Was she afraid I’d stretch out and rip all of the clothes?

Girls – young girls – are particularly susceptible to the influence of those around us, including  older women. Human beings are simply designed that way. There are so many influences telling us we are not good enough the way we are – whether its because of body weight, body hair, body features, or just whatever. Tina Fey wrote about it hilariously in Bossypants. These constant little signs of rejection are tragic.

But when it comes to the Dillard’s clerk (or in my case, the Denny’s clerk),  I’m going to go ahead and assume there was no ill-will intended. That’s because I feel comfortable assuming that the clerk at Dillard’s was not the brightest bulb, just as the clerk at Denny’s was not the sharpest pencil. These women are more likely socially inept than anything else. They don’t deserve our contempt, they deserve our empathy.

What’s more is this – the girl pictured above is adorable, and she is in fine shape. She has nothing to be embarrassed of, and nothing to hide. She wasn’t put on this earth to be an artificial construct, she is here to be herself. And if that means wearing Spanx, or if it means not wearing Spanx – then that’s her prerogative.

I personally choose the Spanx for myself, and maybe that’s because I’m a coward.

To her and her mother, I say “right on!”

The Fat Acceptance Movement

All of this is separate and apart from the fat acceptance movement, which I actually do take issue with.

But first, let me clarify two points.

  1. I’m a Libertarian. In every sense.  What I’m about to say here is only my opinion. I don’t claim to be right in any objective sense. It’s just what feels right for me – and I share my view because maybe it will resonate with you. So if you think the fat acceptance movement is the greatest thing to ever happen on earth, then great. But I don’t. I’d still love to break bread with you sometime. Preferably cheesy bread.
  2. What qualifies as fat?  When I say “fat” in reference to the body acceptance movement, I am not referring to people who are pleasantly plump, delightfully chubby, or even moderately obese. I’m talking about people who are well beyond anything that could possibly be considered a good weight.  And I’m not talking here about obesity in terms of BMI. I’m talking about obesity in terms of “you are fucking undeniably fat.”

The Good Aspects of the Fat Acceptance Movement

Fat acceptance advocates bring awareness to important issues such as weight discrimination in almost every single field. And that’s important.

I know for an absolute fact, as someone who has been at both ends of the spectrum, that fat people are treated differently. Very differently. By employers, professionals, doctors, teachers –  everyone. Even slightly overweight people are treated differently than their thin counterparts.

And this is something we should be mindful of. Both out of respect for others, and also to improve ourselves.

My Problems With the Fat Acceptance Movement 

People are not meant to be fat.

Yes, some of us are meant to put on weight easier than others. Some of us are not meant to be thin.  But with the exception of some very rare illnesses, no one is genetically destined to be very obese.

Obesity is a product of a modern lifestyle based on unnatural foods. These foods are marketed at us constantly from a very young age. We think these foods should make us feel full, but they don’t because they are devoid of nutrition. They are often designed to addict us, physically.  These foods are dangerous, and as far as I’m concerned, marketing them to children is criminal.

Obesity is not inevitable. I love that someone who is obese might love themselves, because I never could.  I also love that someone who is obese might feel nothing but pride and a positive self image. But I believe very strongly that obesity is nothing to celebrate. And having a positive self-image in an obese state does not preclude you from having an equally positive self-image in a healthy state.

That said, you should live your life however you want to live it.  But when Fat Acceptance Advocates begin to denounce doctors for blaming everything on their weight, what they forget is this – fat, itself, is an organ which promotes inflammation and injury. Fat changes your hormonal profile. If you are female, fat is very likely to make your period heavier, more difficult, and more irregular. Because of this, you might experience terrible mood swings, and become anemic. These aren’t rare side effects of fat – this is basically destiny.

Staying overweight also has negative effects on brain function, and increases how quickly we age. Waist circumference is a predictor of so many terrible outcomes.

But I don’t even need studies to know that being lighter feels better. I don’t sweat as much. There is less strain on my heart. I am no longer pre-occupied with food (says the girl with the fitness blog).

Now your health is not my business. And your appearance is not my business. But doctors are supposed to be healers. If anything, they don’t do nearly ENOUGH to promote sound nutritional choices, and to remind patients of the importance of maintaining a healthy weight. In fact, there are plenty of THIN people who are filled with dangerous visceral fat. These thin people may be at just as much risk of disease and cognitive decline as their overweight counterparts. And for the most part, doctors are failing them too.

This doesn’t mean overweight people shouldn’t be treated with respect. It doesn’t mean doctors shouldn’t take them seriously. But it does mean that it’s the doctor’s job to keep telling them to lose weight. Because whatever problem they are facing – it is exceedingly likely that its complicated by extra weight. And that might be true for even marginally overweight people. The same goes for thin people with dangerous visceral fat, or with poor blood results. Nutrition is medicine, and it is key.

In Denial 

When I read the literature of from fat acceptance circles, sometimes I am just surprised. Take this article from Every Day Feminism, for example, which suggests that being overweight doesn’t necessary mean you have poor nutrition. The author states that making assumptions based on weight is “oppressive” and suggests it is harmful for overweight people, “..to hear assumptions from dietitians and other healthcare practitioners that because of a physical characteristic, their weight, they must be unhealthy and engaging in poor self-care.”

The problem is simply that yes, being very overweight DOES mean you have poor nutrition.  And you might not even know it. Because nutrition is about more than how many calories and what nutrients go into your body. It’s about the health of your blood, your levels of inflammatory cytokines, your insulin and glucose levels, your gut microbiome and health, your arterial plaque, and your prevalent metabolic states. These factors are inextricably intertwined with your body weight and body fat percentage. This is basic. You can’t wish it away. And it’s not your doctor’s or nutritionist’s job to make you feel good about yourself. It’s their job to provide you with factual information.

There doesn’t have to be a disconnect between loving yourself and wanting to be healthy.

In fact, you don’t even have to be  healthy if you don’t want to be. Maybe you love being a giant fatass, and that’s great. Good health is not a mandate, it’s just a good idea.

But I won’t stand quietly by in the face of delusion. I’ll say my piece, especially since I’ve been there before. Every pound extra takes a toll on you health. It simply does. But that’s nobody’s business but your own.

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18 thoughts on “On Spanx, Dillards, and the Fat Acceptance Movement”

  1. I love and support this post not because we are friends or blog partners, lol but because I agree with you. No matter what, people should love themselves. Everyone is beautiful. However, you should never accept an unhealthy lifestyle. As a former fat person…. someone who has struggled with weight for over 20 years… someone who has struggled with many health issues over the years…being fat is not the answer. I always loved myself bc I am an awesome person but I understood that if I kept this lifestyle, I would die at a very young age. I was told having babies with my weight and health conditions would put me and future baby at risk. I couldn’t walk up a flight of steps without feeling like I ran a marathon, there were times I couldn’t finish a story because I would run out of breath, the constant worry of not fitting in a chair or on the airplane, and the shitty feeling of not being able to wear what you want to wear because of your size. It was emotionally distressing and of course not healthy. Once I decided that enough was enough, my life changed for the better. I no longer have any of those health complications, I can shop where I want, fit into any seat without problems, and walk 5+ miles without wanting to die. Moral of the story is: health affects quality of life. You only life once so make it the best life ever.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you Rach :DD

      I’m always thinking about how much I love hiking, and how much easier it is now. I always liked it even when I was heavier, but now the experience is just completely different.

      I also notice I used to always be hot all the time and get hot flashes. No more. My period is so much easier than it used to be. I just hope more people read this and feel empowered.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I always loved physical activity too but it was draining and taxing on my joints. Now I feel light as a feather lol. The sweating this is not an issue anymore for me either! Can’t wait for it to get warm out so we can go explore places.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Once you talk about what humans are ‘meant to be’, you stop being a libertarian. There is no way that we’re ‘meant to be’. Nature is a sham. It always changes and is never static. We didn’t have oxygen until algea decided to form an empire.

    Second, fat acceptance is about PSYCHOLOGICAL, not physical health. Talking about physical health in the context of fat acceptance is like talking about how bleeding isn’t good in the context of self-harm. We’re dealing with psychology, not the physical health. It’s way easier to live a socially-approved lifestyle once you’re not busy hating yourself (and maybe thinking about suicide or stabbing yourself).

    How common are these ‘morbidly obese’ people?

    Also, is it really all food? Why is our lifestyle so static? Kids are forced to sit for hours in school an get punished for socializing. We’re promoting an idle lifestyle in the education system. Nutrition won’t help if all they do is sit and be silent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with a lot of your points.

      And of course, from a philosophical standpoint – there is no single way we are “meant to be”. We are meant to be whatever we are. Whatever anyone else is, is not for me to judge in a moral sense.

      As someone who’s been through it, though, I want to be there for people who might be on the cusp of thinking “should I just accept this as what it is?” versus “I am strong enough to make changes.” I want people to realize that they aren’t simply “fat” because they were born that way. They’ve been taught terrible nutritional habits – and of course breaking out of those habits will be hard. They are eating addictive poison not suited to good health.

      What I meant by my “meant to be” statement is that our bodies were not designed to be marketed crap from disinterested corporations without any consequence to the system.

      You’ll notice there are a few contributors to this blog. We each have different approaches. I actually don’t believe in dieting, cheat days, any of that. I just believe in making good choices as often as possible, and not beating yourself up over bad ones. I think that once people change their attitude about what constitutes a meal, you don’t have to worry about losing weight because it will come off itself.

      Yes – inactivity is an issue. I find it tragic and insane how we strap kids to a desk all day. My bigger theory (and I’m not a scientist) is that our portion control is out of whack because we don’t eat foods that are optimal. Once you eat natural foods, it’s very easy to get full, and I always feel satisfied. That’s just my experience.

      Of course it’s a psychological issue too. I think most everyone wants to feel like they are living their best possible life. And in my experience, being overweight made me feel sluggish and trapped.

      No one should hate themselves. My message is this, to anyone who is struggling – there are so many people who have been there. It’s ok to try and it’s ok to fail at losing weight. You’re beautiful no matter what. Just try replacing synthetic foods with natural foods, and see how you feel. It’s not about the number, but the number is generally a symptom of a bigger problem. And if you’re not struggling, then great. Stay you.

      Like

      1. ‘Acceptance’ isn’t given up. ‘Acceptance’ means not judging people for their looks. Fat people ask you not to judge their value based solely on looks, so you telling them they shouldn’t give up is going off-topic.

        It’s really that simple. Mind morality. People have a right to self-destruct.

        It’s also not all food. Physical activity is just as important. That said, companies can’t make off money by people just walking around so they advertise food more.

        Like

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughts.

      I just checked out your post on the same subject, and I think we are 100% on the same page. Really love you blog – looking forward to reading more 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. So we are assuming that because someone is working retail they are not the “brightest bulb”??? Seriously? That’s pretty offensive.

    Like

  4. I love this, “there doesn’t have to be a disconnect between loving yourself and wanting to be healthy” that’s exactly the conflict I’m struggling with right now. Great to see someone else able to articulate it so well. Would you mind if I quote you in my next post?
    EB

    Like

  5. I have to agree with you. I’m fat and I accept that, but that doesn’t mean I am not working on losing weight. Being fat is not healthy and you are absolutely right. If you are fat, you are not eating correctly (given those few exceptions with thyroid, medications, etc).

    We joke at work (my friend is also fat) about some of the new diets out there. There is one that supposedly scans your body for the issue that is causing you to be fat. We laugh and say that it’s going to come back with an image of your hand going to your mouth over and over again. We as a culture need to stop blaming everything else and look at ourselves. We choose to be fat and lying about that does not help solve the problem. I think once people are honest with themselves then the next step is easier. I don’t want to be fat, but I do choose it every time I decide to sleep in and not exercise or when I choose french fries and candy over and over again.

    Anyway, loved the article.

    Like

  6. Sorry to comment so late in the game, but I just found your blog (thanks for “following” my blog). I have no desire to “fat shame” anyone, first of all, because it’s a cheap shot, and more importantly, there’s no reason to go out of your way to make someone feel bad about an aspect of their life that seems difficult if not impossible to change.

    That said, I think it is possible to change. My blog (sorry for the shameless self-promotion) is dedicated to making the (seemingly) impossible possible. In my case, my secondary goal is to lose about 15 pounds (of fat), but my primary goal is to build as much strength as I possibly can. I’ll be turning 62 years old next July, so that’s not as easy as it once was.

    I don’t think that being comfortable in your own skin and wanting to become a better person physically and emotionally are mutually exclusive. Loving yourself, if you want to use that term, doesn’t mean allowing yourself to continually exist in a less-than-healthy state, habitually engaging in activities designed to damage your health (imagine eating at McDonald’s every day of the week). It means realizing that it’s possible to change, to become better tomorrow than you are today, and to take steps to make that happen.

    Many roads lead to becoming better in a physical sense, and the one I’ve chosen, because it fits my interests and my capacities, is using barbells for strength training (it’s completely different than bodybuilding, but a long explanation is attached to the differences).

    One thing I have discovered is you “can’t outrun your fork.” Any exercise program can be overwhelmed with food (unless maybe you’re a manic triathlete). That’s the tough part for me. I fell off the wagon during the holidays and gained back 10 pounds that it took me months to lose.

    I know most people think you can’t lose fat weight while you’re trying to gain muscle weight, but I disagree. For a while, it was working. Now I have to get back at it again. If discipline was easy, everyone would have it.

    We live in a culture that encourages being sedentary and that tends to glorify overeating and eating the wrong kinds of food. Becoming a better person (in any way) means you have to take ownership of your life and make decisions independent of cultural norms.

    This morning, I was at my gym when it opened at 5 a.m. (and I wasn’t the only one) and (you may not relate to this next part), I set a new personal record lifting a 260 pound barbell off the floor for a single rep (that means lifting it up and then putting it down one time) for the bent leg deadlift. It’s the heaviest thing I’ve ever attempted to lift, and a few weeks ago, I doubt I could have gotten it off the floor even once.

    I’m not some incredible athlete, I don’t consider myself super-strong (by comparison, I can only bench press 160 pounds for one rep), but I am passionate and determined.

    What I do isn’t for everybody, but I believe everybody can find some form of exercise that they can become passionate about. But even with that, your weight rises and falls with your fork. That’s my next challenge.

    Keep up the good work. Sorry about being so “wordy”.

    Like

    1. Thanks so much for the comment. Nonsense about being too wordy. 😛

      I agree that everyone can find exercise they can be passionate about. I used to push myself to go to the gym all year, and I was just fighting against myself doing these extreme workouts that I didn’t 100% enjoy.

      I do love exercise, but I prefer doing it outside and not in a gym setting. Now I don’t push myself to do exercises I don’t 100% enjoy. I walk, jog, and I just give in to the fact that I’m a bit less active in the winter. I also work in NYC, so a lot of my commute is walking.

      I agree with you also that in the end, what goes on the fork has a huge outcome. I think eating healthy whole foods is the most important thing for me personally.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. You have a lot of courage to explain the obvious fact that consuming excess amounts of processed and fat-genic foods while also living sedentary lifestyles isn’t healthy for humans, the environment, or the animals we exploit for food. These are themes I will also eventually explore on my vegansamurai website. One thing I already did write about there is that even though I was eating organic vegetarian diet, and exercising daily, I was overweight and it wasn’t natural, it wasn’t Nature, it was unhealthy and it was bad for me. When I went vegan, I immediately started losing fat, and I now am 40 pounds lighter, way healthier, my food bill went down, and I no longer contribute to the death culture that our food systems promote. Keep on telling the truth:)

    Like

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