A Skinny Girl On Fat Phobia

10 Aug

Today I lift a post completely from somewhere else because it’s already perfect.

From One Skinny Girl To Others: A Few Words on Fat Phobia

July 5, 2012

I have often made the argument that white folks ought to talk to other white folks about racism and white privilege. As people of color, we get tired of having to always be the ones to talk about these things, always having to be responsible for other people’s education and understanding, when these issues are not our issues, but the issues of a whole country and a whole world. It is important for white people to educate themselves about race, racism, white privilege, and white supremacy. It is necessary. In the same way, it is necessary, and in fact ideal, for men to talk to other men about misogyny and rape-culture. That should not always be the job of women. These things are everyone’s problems.

Yesterday I watched this great video

by Meghan Tonjes and was reminded how little I have been talking to other skinny (or just not fat) women about fat phobia lately. And I thought it was time to write a lil blog about it.

I have often had the experience of hanging with women who are thin like myself, or bigger than me, but not fat, and hearing fat-phobic comments. Once, I was chatting with a co-worker who was flipping through an entertainment magazine, and she was going on and on about how good all these thin women looked, from their bodies to their hair and their clothes. Then she got to a photo of a fat woman. And her face got all twisted up. “Ugh. She needs to lose some weight,” she said.

I was like, “Dude. That’s not cool. You’re being fat phobic.”

And she was like, “No, I’m not! I just think it’s bad to be that fat. I mean, it’s just so UNHEALTHY!”

And you know I had to call bullshit. You just sat here worshiping ten different women who probably barely weigh a hundred pounds apiece soaking wet with a million dollars worth of jewelry on, and now all of a sudden you are worried about women’s health? I’m not buying it.

As a skinny woman, and at times an under-weight woman, I can say there is nothing automatically healthy about being thin. Being underweight is a health risk. Not eating properly, not getting enough fat, is a serious problem. Some of the risks of not being fat enough:

  • weakened immune system
  • fragile bones
  • infertility
  • vitamin-deficient anemia
  • osteoporosis
  • amenorrhea

I rarely hear anyone talking about these health risks. Skinny women are plastered everywhere, held up as an ideal, and nobody ever says, “Oh my God, Reese Witherspoon probably has a seriously weakened immune system!” Yet when talking about a fat person, everyone assumes they know everything about that person’s health, just because they are fat.

Can you be thin and be healthy? Sure. Of course. I am thin and I think I am pretty healthy. I have friends who are not thin, and friends who are fat, who are as healthy as I am. I have friends who are fat who are much healthier than I am. Our weight does not automatically determine how healthy we are.

And, really, let’s be honest, little of this is about health anyway. Talking about it in terms of health is just a convenient way to make fat people, especially fat women, wrong. We live in a society that takes great pains to control women’s bodies, to make sure that women have as little say over their own bodies as possible, and this is no different. If a woman is fat, and God-forbid, happy with her fat self, we are deeply offended. How dare she not let us control her?? Who the hell does this fat bitch think she is??

Maybe she thinks she is a human being with a brain and a soul and myriad experiences that make up a three-dimensional life. Maybe that’s who the hell she thinks she is.

Mia McKenzie is a writer and a smart, scrappy Philadelphian with a deep love of vegan pomegranate ice cream and fake fur collars. She is a black feminist and a freaking queer, facts that are often reflected in her writings, which have won her some awards and grants, such as the Astraea Foundation’s Writers Fund Award and the Leeway Foundation’s Transformation Award. She just finished a novel and has a short story forthcoming in The Kenyon Review. Her work has been published at Jezebel.com, and recommended by The Root, Colorlines, Feministing, Angry Asian Man, and Crunk Feminist Collective. She is a nerd, and the creator of Black Girl Dangerous, a revolutionary blog.

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One Response to “A Skinny Girl On Fat Phobia”

  1. tara December 16, 2015 at 12:39 am #

    hrm…yes and no.

    Yes because it’s not a moral issue.
    No because it is a health issue.

    I don’t know what to tell you about that second one. We have long-term, large-population studies now on these things, and two things stand out:

    1. The correlation between being medically overweight, we’re talking BMI-land, and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint deterioration, you know the drill is actually quite strong;

    2. These diseases start in childhood.

    Overweight kids already have early atherosclerosis, inflamed and fatty livers, etc. They seem fine, of course, because they’re not so sick they’re having heart attacks, and they’re kids — they’re running around. But the damage has already begun and most fat kids will become fat adults. Even if they stay active, the damage starts affecting their lives, their ability to feel well and run around and not be dependent on drugs, by the time they’re in their 40s. Things hurt. Exercise is difficult. The arteries are stiffening, the organs are trying to compensate for damage. It’s difficult, after injury, to get back to moving around.

    And that’s not true, or is less true, of healthy-BMI people. At nearly 50 I’m not thin, and I sure don’t run as fast as I used to or as far, but when I go for checkups the nurses are…well, I’ll tell you, they’re mostly a lot younger and a lot heavier than I am. And they’re not as healthy, they’re diabetic and have bad joints and what have you, and they accept that as normal. Which is a problem, because when I go in and say, “Hey, something’s going on, I’m usually like x and this weird thing has been going on a while and it’s giving me trouble,” they use their own health and activity level as a yardstick and figure I’m just fine. I also wind up feeling like we should switch places, which is troubling when you’re talking to someone 20 years younger.

    What I don’t think makes any sense is to pretend people can follow some regime and lose weight. It’s ridiculously difficult to lose weight, let alone keep it off. The emphases should be on preventing weight gain (or further weight gain) and health maintenance.

    I’ve got a kid who’s always run to the heavy side. Just how she is. She is, of course, beautiful and adorable, but I would also like for her to someday be beautiful and adorable and 70 and in good shape. Do I push her to be a string bean like her friends, no, of course not. Do I freak out at her when she’s looking kinda chunky, no, because this is what kids do as they grow — they go out, then up. But she knows what’s healthy and what’s not, in food, and what a portion is, what calories are, and why less exercise means you need less food. A scale is useless when a kid’s growing fast, but a mirror is not, particularly when shame is not part of the picture. What will probably be difficult for her is what happens when she leaves home, and she’s in the land of junk food and beer. It’d be no trick at all for her to put on quite a lot of weight, and without great effort she’d be stuck with it for a long time. But that’ll be up to her. I hope the education she’s had since she was little will help her figure out how to make smart choices.

    Anyway. The politics are one thing and the moral scolding should be run over in the road unrepentantly. But the health business is another matter, and we kid ourselves expensively when we say obesity has no effect.

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