Changing Hearts is Sometimes Easier than Changing the Patterns in Our Minds

I have recently been reminded that even when we “get” it, even when we are 100% on board with the struggle to undo our culture’s fat-hating tendencies, we can still easily slip into patterns that understand fat as negative and thin as positive.

Some of you may know me well enough to know that fighting sizeism is basically my main gig. I write about the fight for fat rights a lot and I’m making a movie about it, so as you can imagine my dinner table conversation is pretty saturated with all kinds of fat-positive chatter and discussion of why this or that is fat shaming.

A side effect of my dedication is that my husband has become ridiculously informed about the state of fat hate in our culture. He can explain to you why he feels we should reclaim the word “fat” and critically analyze scenes from any number of popular references that demean the fat body. He knows the names of people like Marilyn Wann, Virgie Tovar and Tess Munster. Honestly, he could and has handled spats with many a fat-hating and health-concern trolls. If you asked me if he was onboard with the work I do and the work other fat activists do, I would say, “Yes. Absolutely. 1,000%”

This is one of my cats who I didn't mention in this post but I didn't want her to be jealous that her brother's picture was in this post and hers wasn't.

And yet, these two things happened recently, both in the same week — and after getting his permission — I want to share them with you.

First, me and my hubby were having dinner with a friend who we haven’t see in a while. The friend tells us that another friend is getting divorced. She left him. He’s sad. The conversation is filled with placations — “Oh, that’s sad.” “Yes, very sad.” “They seemed happy.” “Yes, they did.” It’s not so interesting. Then my husband says, “I saw him on Facebook recently. He looks great, healthy.”

“Really,” I reply genuinely. “That’s good. Has he been exercising or something?” I ask.

“I don’t know,” my husband says.

Admittedly, I’m a little slow, but it starts to dawn on me that something about this off-handed comment is suspect. “Why did you think he looked great and healthy?” I ask.

“He just did,” he shrugged. “In the picture he looked really thin.’

As expected, “OMG. Really?? Are you really standing here telling me that you think he’s healthy because he’s thin. You’re married to a fat activist. Really? Did it ever occur to you that his wife left him and maybe he’s depressed and not eating? Or something equally unhealthy.”

He rolled his eyes for a brief second but then quickly conceded that I was right.

This is me and the other cat, the fat, fuzzy, love potato.

A couple of day later there was another incident. But before I can explain what happened I have to tell you that I have a very sweet, big, fat cat who loves to cuddle. He sleeps on my head and pretty much follows me wherever I go. His name is Oliver — Ollie to those who love him. As I mentioned, he is a fatty. I often tell him that he takes after me. About a week after the thin/healthy incident, I’m in the kitchen; my husband is gathering his things to head off to work and I am cooing/mewing with this delicious cat of mine. The conversation went something like this:


“Good morning to you to Ollie-bear.”

“Meow, meow.”

“That’s right you are my big, fat boy and I love you.”

Despite himself, my husband got offended. “Don’t do that,” he said.

“Do what?” I asked, confused.

“Call him fat.”

“He is fat. He’s a perfect fatty boy.”

Lightning flashed. “Sorry,” he said, and he was out the door and off to work. Later that evening when my husband returned home he brought up both incidents. I am paraphrasing — but basically what he said was that he was really sorry. He’d been thinking all day about the thin/healthy moment and the fat cat moment and how they proved that even when you want to shift your perspective and shake off the fat-hating lessons the culture has drilled into your brain, it is still easy to slip into the old familiar patterns.

And it is.

Clearing the mind of all the bullshit we’ve been taught to think about fat and fatness is a hefty endeavor. Like many well-intentioned spring cleanings, sometimes you get one closet done and save the other one for another day. It will happen though; one day you’ll clear out all the old roller skates and photo albums, wipe down the shelves and vacuum, and then there will just be this gorgeous empty space where you can house all the new amazing body positive stuff you’re acquiring.*

One day, you just break the pattern and the negative stuff you connect to fatness just doesn’t come up anymore. I guess the moral of this story is that change takes time. We have to be patient, and keep fighting the good fight.

*Metaphors aside, if you’re just starting your collection, I recommend Fat! So? by Marilyn Wann and if you’ve been around a while, did you read What’s Wrong With Fat? by Abgail Seguy?

What’s the Takeaway from the Walmart “Fat Girl Costumes” Debacle

By now, many of you may have heard that Walmart recently came under scrutiny because one of the pages on its website listed plus-sized Halloween costumes as “Fat Girl Costumes.” Lots of news outlets reported that Walmart wasn’t aware of the issue — and as soon as it was discovered they removed the offending words. Walmart also issued this apology from multiple Twitter handles, “This never should have been on our site. It is unacceptable, and we apologize. We worked quickly to remove this.”


People out there are debating whether this was intentional, overlooked or whatever, and news media, like CNN and HLN are saying things like “Walmart apologizing as they should…” and “who thought that would be an appropriate title for a public sales page?” It’s also worth noting that the ladies of The View used this mishap to raise awareness about fat shaming.

From my perspective, this is an opportunity to discuss the terminology that we use when we discuss bodies that are culturally deemed larger than normal — or rather bodies that I happily call fat bodies.B09menLCQAEn3xI

Basically, the reason that the news media, Twitter-ites and other gabbers are scolding Walmart is because we culturally understand “fat” as a dirty, shameful word and, in turn, when we call someone “fat” we are saying something nasty. “Fat” is a term that bullies and internet trolls use to illicit shame, humiliation and embarrassment; it’s a thing that all sizes of people say when they feel unsatisfied with their bodies.

To be honest, I believe that whoever designed that particular page of Walmart’s website was using “fat” in a derogatory way because very few people stop to think that “fat” is an actual thing that people are and that being fat might not be this terrible, awful, no good, very bad thing if the culture didn’t shame every fat person everywhere.

My point is that “fat” is a painfully-abused word, and one that needs some reevaluation.

I am fat. Not kinda sorta — I weigh around 220 lbs. and I wear a size 18. There are people who are fatter than me and people who are thinner than me, but there is no debate. I am fat.

Now, people can argue all day about the repercussions of my fatness, but that will not change the reality that I am a fat person, like many other people who are part of the earth’s human population.


By shying away from the term “fat,” we are perpetuating the idea that fatness is shameful. I refuse to be ashamed of my fat — or rather I refused to be ashamed of who I am. So, when I describe my body I use the facts, one of which is fatness.

And honestly, the other terms the culture gives me to describe myself are often troubling, sexist or derogatory. Take “plus-sized” for example — the term which the news media and many people view as Walmart’s appropriate choice. The term “plus-sized” is inherently prejudiced. “Plus” means more than something. More than what? Let’s be not beat around that bush:“plus-sized” is a term that implies more than “normal.” Only, if you think statistically, fat is looking pretty normal.

Give me any of the words you can think of to describe a fat body and I can give you a reason why describing me as that word implies something more than a description. Obesity? I’m a disease. Curvy? What does that even mean? Am I a street? Or is curvy like voluptuous, which implies that my body shape is characterized by luxury or sensual pleasure. Really? What if I just want to be a person, not a sex object?

The thing is, I get why Walmart shouldn’t have called the costumes that come in sizes 1X and higher “Fat Girl Costumes” and why people were offended. I acknowledge that “fat” is still a hateful word, even though it should just simply be the opposite of “thin.” And yet I can’t help asking: when will we realize that fatness is just part of life? That it’s not something shameful that needs renaming, so we can stop being offended that people are fat and move on to the idea that Walmart referred to adult women as “girls.”

Louis C.K and Megahn Trainor Just Aren’t Getting it Right!

A while back there was that Louis C.K episode with the fat girl that goes on a diatribe about life as a fat girl. Did you see it? You can watch it here:

When it aired there was a lot of noise about how amazing and groundbreaking this scene was and as a fat activist, I find that anytime popular culture takes up the voice of the fat person and allows that fat personal to express the injustice fat people face, it’s a win – even if that scene doesn’t even come close to portraying the reality of the fat experience – because right now very few representations are even acknowledging that a fat person has a right to feel angry or upset about the discrimination that he or she faces. So, conversation starters are good.


That said, when you break it down, the moment is problematic. I was interviewed by RH Reality Check about this scene and I had this to say:

I see a lot of good. For example, it is amazing to see someone on television acknowledge the fact that the way we lie about the reality of a person’s body size is insulting and demeaning. Regularly –  I refer to my body as fat and people try to tell me it’s not. Obviously, they are lying to me because they believe that being fat is something to be ashamed of, something ugly, something awful. Of course, in reality being fat is just a fact. It doesn’t have to have moral or aesthetic resonance – and the attempt to “hide” me from my fat points out that they believe that if I know I’m fat then I can’t possibly like myself.  So, I think the fact that this character, Vanessa, is on television pointing out the ugliness that is intrinsic in dismissing the reality of a person’s body size is amazing and I also really unheard of in the mainstream media.

That said, while Vanessa’s speech has great moments, it also relies on popular cultural lies – like the idea that fat women are not desired or that men are “ashamed” to be seen with fat women – and the speech makes some really limited assumptions about the issues that fat women struggle with and in turn obscures the systemic reality of fat discrimination. For example, I would argue that most fat women – who have dug their way out from under the bullshit that says they are not attractive enough to warrant love – have found that there are many people who find them attractive and who are desirous of their bodies. So, just strolling in public with a man willing to hold their hand isn’t the issue they are facing.  I think the conversation about fat discrimination is more concerned with the reality that fat people make less money than their thin counter parts, that they the often receive sub-par medical care and that they are assumed to be lazy or stupid.

Arguably, I also think this scene gives fat men an edge over fat women – which is debatable. It’s true that historic understandings of femininity have relegated women to the role of object and therefore “beauty,” and in this context long-term relationships are understood as defining and significant factors in a woman’s life and not a man’s.  This, of course, is an archaic idea and yet popular culture still perpetuates these stereotypical gender concepts. That said, ultimately fat men and fat women suffer. We can’t sit around comparing oppressions. Instead we need to work on eliminating the causes of discrimination.

I still think all this is true but the more I think about it – the more I am certain that this moment on Louis C.K. is emblematic of a the larger issues I see in when people are conceptualizing fat acceptance and body acceptance. Media that promotes body acceptance maintain the status quo when it comes to other social justice issues and questions.

Basically, I feel like (watch out ‘cause I’m getting all academic up in here) – the message of body acceptance that is being packaged by the media is not considering intersectional realities and injustices. In less academic-y speak, the fat acceptance movement and the body acceptance movement aren’t about one voice – a chubby white woman who wants to love her curves and have a straight thin man love them too. The body acceptance movement should be about “all” voices and all kinds of bodies. It should be about empowering people to be comfortable in their own skin and giving them a space at the table to voice their needs and desires. It should be about the fundamental feminist notion – “my body, my business” –  No matter what that body entails.

By the way, I’m having the same issue with “All About that Bass” Did you see this:


(Honestly, this ditty has a few issues like the whole “skinny bitches” bit), But really – “boys like a little more booty to hold at night.” Really? Why do we so often envision fat female empowerment as accepting that marginally fat women are pretty and desired by men? I’m not looking to be pretty. I’m looking to be valued and respected.


(Side note: That shit is catchy though, isn’t it? If you see me later, I’ll be humming “All About that Bass,” but that doesn’t mean I agree with all the lyrics, okay?)