My Big Fat Romantic Rebellion

[CN: eating disorders and disordered eating, fat hatred]

So yesterday I was reading a a piece in Slate by Amanda Marcotte, about a new book called How To Disappear Completely. It's written by Kelsey Osgood and draws on her own experiences with anorexia. She argues, in part, that modern anti-anorexia campaigns are ineffective and harmful. The images of starvation used in these campaigns, she suggests, actually read as aspirational to some women and girls, because of our culture's overwhelming adulation of thin-ness.

Now this book seemed pretty interesting, and I was nodding along in the first couple of paragraphs. I was also nodding at the opening of Marcotte's third paragraph, noting we do a bad job in general of talking to teens. Then my brain came to a screeching halt at these amazing sentences [emphasis mine]:

We may think we're saying, "If you make these choices, scary things will happen to you," but what younger audiences often hear is, "These choices are daring and rebellious—even romantic." Need proof? Kids brought up in sex-negative religions have sex on average at younger ages than kids who get more sex-positive messages. One possible reason is that teaching that sex is the forbidden fruit tempts teenagers to get swept up in the moment, whereas sex-positive kids have a more nuanced understanding that allows them to plan their sexual debut carefully. Anti-drug education programs often end up leading kids to believe that all the cool kids use drugs. Research shows that anti-bullying programs, because they detail bullying behavior, often end up teaching kids how to be better bullies. Fat-shaming causes people to eat more, possibly because of stress, and gain weight.

This is truly a marriage of the ridiculous and the obscene.

For one thing, I'm wondering when in the world "obesity" became romantic and rebellious. Don't get me wrong; I think that would be cool as hell. Picture the film scenes:

Fat Rebel Girl roars up to school on her motorcycle in her cool black leathers. She swaggers in the door. Boring teacher-types wag their fingers at her fatness as she strides disdainfully down the hallway. But in every classroom we see her peers straining to catch a glimpse of the Fat Rebel Girl, whom they emulate from her pixie cut to her unfeminist heels. She steps though the swinging doors of the cafeteria like a gunslinger of the Old West. But more fabulous, more fat. A server asks her "Hey, Janey, what are you eating today?" Janey cocks her head and responds with a practiced sneer, "Whaddaya got?" Teens swoon. Authority figures disapprove. And Janey, romantically and rebelliously, eats her damn lunch.

However much I like this scenario (and I do!) I think that the simple act of listening to fat people will confirm it's pretty much fictional. Unlike thinness, fatness (with a few exceptions) is considered axiomatically ugly in our society. Not romantic. Not rebellious.

The entire list of comparisons has some serious problems (having sex is like being a bully?), but I find the embedded fat hatred especially troubling in a piece about finding better ways to address anorexia. For one thing, the linked article doesn't actually support the assertion that fat-shaming causes people to eat more; the study under discussion mentions a range of effects from fat-shaming stress, including binge eating. Binge eating is disordered eating. It is not simply "eating more." Not all fat people are binge eaters. Binge eating does not necessarily make people fat. Again, this is pretty obvious stuff if you listen to fat people.

And reinforcing that if we "eat more," we will develop the dreaded fat, is not exactly helpful in a piece about anorexia. There are people struggling with anorexia and anorexic thinking patterns who are, have been, or will be fat. There are people recovering from anorexia for whom accepting fatness as a normal human state is crucial. There are (many) people who are fat or thin for reasons that have little or nothing to do with their eating. And there are many, many more people whose oppressions intersect in some other way with prejudices regarding fatness and thinness. None of these people benefit from the lies that (a) magical eating formulas keep you from being fat, and (b) you must not be fat because being fat is a terrible thing.

Take it from a Fat Rebel Girl: we cannot tear down one oppression by reinforcing another. It always ends up reinforcing the bullshit idea that any of these prejudices are acceptable, and is especially damaging to people caught in the axes of said oppressions. The really radical rebellion lies in learning to listen to other people's experiences of oppression, to draw the connections between them, and to work on undermining the whole damn kyriarchal mess.

Now excuse me. I'm going to swagger down the hall, and eat my own damn lunch.

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