A lot of the time, within the fat-o-sphere and the fatshion community, you find words being bandied about referring to ‘Size Acceptance’, ‘Body Acceptance’ and ‘HAES’ (aka Health at Every Size). They all come under the same umbrella – the one that encourages everybody to learn to love their bodies, imperfections and all. A few years ago, I had no idea at all about such a liberating concept. I was at the beginning of my journey with feminism and blogging, and was more concerned about (and still am) sexual violence, sexism and misogyny. It has taken me a while to develop a more rounded view – one that takes stock of my own experiences and develops my opinions from what I actually feel and believe (as opposed to following any one strand of feminism).
Body image has been something I’ve thought about and debated about from the beginning, but I didn’t see anything (within the feminist community online that I was involved with at the time) much about size acceptance or HAES. I’ve said in earlier posts that this education came when I went out into the world to study Women’s Studies for my MA, where the first Fat Studies conference in the UK was held.
Size Acceptance (or, Fat Acceptance), by and large (see what I did there?), is all about accepting that bodies come in all different shapes and sizes and that fat and skinny are both part of the human condition. It seeks to expel the myth of an ‘obesity’ epidemic and is an offshoot of Body Acceptance. It is another tool for a healthy and happy life – accepting that nobody is perfect, that you can be fit and fat, and that crash diets are unhealthy. Our society is a moral panic society – the next big scare comes along and gets absorbed into our language. The word ‘obesity’ and ‘epidemic’ suggests something akin to bird flu or swine flu, when it is just another word for ‘doesn’t fit the mould’.
I have always been a big person. When I was a kid, I was chubby, but this wasn’t because I didn’t run around or dislike exercise. My parents fed me healthily – plenty of fruit and vegetables, treats in moderation. I loved (and still do) love swimming, and though I am not at this point as fit I would like to be (who is?), I believe that whether or not you are fat, it is perfectly possible to be fit. There are many examples of people who are fit and fat.
What we see in the media is rarely a true, unbiased view of the world. When there is a news story about ‘OMGObesityEpidemic’, fat people are dehumanised, their heads chopped off, a camera zooming into their belly or bum. I’ve been noticing this a lot more recently. Generally, these news reports also show fat people walking along in a city centre eating something, ignoring the fact that there are also thin people walking along eating something.
Society’s relationship with food, particularly women (although I know men also have much more pressure now), is seriously screwed up. Who doesn’t know somebody in their office or workplace or family who is on their newest ‘diet’? Rather than just having a well rounded relationship with food (eat well, have occasional treats, don’t beat yourself up), we instead have to constantly ‘purge’ ourselves of something or other and then begin a cycle of self loathing when you slip off the bandwagon.
Isn’t it healthier to just let it all go and appreciate food for what it is – food? Some people can’t afford to cook fresh food all the time – because tinned food is cheaper. Who’s to say that baked beans aren’t any more healthier than chickpea curry? Food is just food. Once you realise that, you begin to eat more healthily anyway, and don’t freak out if one day you would like to have a doughnut. Food is one of the things our bodies need to function, and it can also be a huge pleasure.
The same goes for bodies. Our bodies are just bodies – the vessel in which we experience the world. They come in all shapes and sizes, thin, curvy, boyish, fat, pear shaped, straight up and down. They are shaped by all sorts of things – genes, environmental factors, age and so on. They are not a moral compass – we have needs but we also have a will of our own.
Bodies let us feel the wind on our faces, the rain trickling down, the heat of a fire. Some of us can hear, others can’t (I’m deaf but can hear quite a bit with hearing aids). Some people are blind, whilst others have perfect sight. Its all a different experience and I personally find it amazing that there is such a wide spectrum of ways to experience the world with different bodies.
Yet society is notoriously discriminating. People’s ignorance gets in the way of greater understanding of each other and the world. This is why I am so passionate about questioning, about being curious, about not taking things at face value. You can’t tell about someone’s health just by looking at them. It doesn’t matter if they’re fat or thin, the thin person may have a junk diet whilst the fat person is a vegan.
Size Acceptance isn’t HAES (Health at Every Size – I’ll be writing a post about this later on), but it is one step towards understanding that everybody is different and that bodies come in many different shapes and sizes. You are not a number – throw away the scales and learn to live your life, enjoy food, find exercise that you enjoy doing (going for a walk in the woods, cycling, swimming, whatever) and don’t feel guilty for indulging in something.
Links discussing Size Acceptance/Body Acceptance:
Definatalie: You Sound Fat: Fat Embodiment Online
Definatalie: About Fat Acceptance
Fat Heffalump: Coming Out of the Fat Acceptance Closet
Shapely Prose: Fat Acceptance and the Acceptance of Fat
Shapely Prose: FAQ: Don’t You Realize Fat is Unhealthy?
Some Recommended Reading:
Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body – Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby
Fat is a Feminist Issue – Susie Orbach
Fat! So?: Because You Don’t Have to Apologise for Your Size – Marilyn Wann
Fat and Proud: The Politics of Size – Charlotte Cooper
Fat Chicks Rule!: How to Survive in a Thin-centric World – Lara Frater