Fat Activism, Because Feelings Are More Important Than Common Sense…And Science


Last week’s episode of the Far Beyond The Beltway podcast focused on a few issues near and dear to my heart: raising kids, annoying feminists, and health and fitness (in one very specific context). I was honored that they asked me to join them, despite my complete lack of podcast experience. You can listen on iTunes here, but I also felt compelled to write about some of the great points that were made, and a few additional thoughts that were still on my mind when the show ended.

Thanks in part to a speech recently delivered by Virgie Tovar at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health (yes, School of Public Health), the attention called to it by Emily Zanotti at Heat Street, and an increase in Social Justice Warrioring on behalf of just about every single possible subgroup you can think of, something called “Fat Activism” has now been brought to my attention. As a professional who makes a living helping people become their own “Health Activist,” I find this discouraging and disturbing.

There is a push to make everything acceptable in the name of tolerance. Many would argue it’s also in order to escape responsibility. A push for excuse-laden self love and forcing others to love you, too, is given priority above all else because you know, feelings. This is apparently more important than being good to your own body.

My question: If you love yourself so much, why don’t you try to be as healthy as you can so you can be around for a long time, and not so sickly you can’t live your life the way you’d like?

Carrying a healthy body weight is better for you. It’s not just how you look; it’s not just how you “feel” about how you look. But your actual health is almost certainly better if you try to eat well and maintain a healthy weight for your body type and height. Overweight and obesity levels are a little over 30% among adults in the US on average, some groups are higher, some a bit lower. Among children ages 6–11 it sits at 18% and for ages 12–19, 21% (2012). People who are overweight and obese have much higher risk of, among other issues:

  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • joint problems
  • mobility issues
  • decreased life span

This affects the health care costs of the entire country, now more than ever because we are living within the Affordable Care Act structures. But economic strains are not just felt in health care. From The State of Obesity website:

Obesity is one of the biggest drivers of preventable chronic diseases and healthcare costs in the United States. Currently, estimates for these costs range from $147 billion to nearly $210 billion per year. In addition, obesity is associated with job absenteeism, costing approximately $4.3 billion annually and with lower productivity while at work, costing employers $506 per obese worker per year.

So why are “fat activists” crying foul when anyone dares hint at the fact that eating better and losing weight or inches may be actually be good for them? Why are they not only encouraging mediocrity and apathy, but encouraging unhealthy lifestyle that can shorten lifespan? Because of hurt feelings and oppression, of course. Who ever said you can’t love yourself but also want to be better? As Grant and Anna point out on the podcast discussion, activists are trying to “change normal” and “erode the sense of normality” in order to create victims and advance their agendas.

Oh, and if you are thinner than they are and have the nerve to suggest maybe they could be healthier: THIN PRIVILEGE! Never mind that some of the people they would say have “thin privilege” actually work very hard to stay at a healthy weight themselves, just in the opposite direction on the scale. Are fat activists sensitive to their struggles? Also on the podcast, Andrea was brave enough to point out from personal experience that eating disorders are also a consideration. Should they not be treated? Should people just be allowed to “identify as” any weight or level of healthiness that they like? Should we not be helping those people either? And her deeper point there was “that now we are just saying it’s OK, and you shouldn’t have to work at anything in your life.”

Look, I’m not suggesting managing weight, losing inches, and changing long standing habits is easy. I know better than most people it’s generally not. I know this because I spend much of my time going through the struggles others face with these issues on a daily basis…on top of my own temptations to stop trying so hard to be healthy. It’s not easy, and it’s definitely harder for some people. I’m also not suggesting looking “thin” is the only kind of “healthy.” I have a friend who has been a group exercise instructor for 20 years (mostly aerobic/dance styles) but she also lifts weights on the side. To look at her, you might think she was simply overweight and out of shape. You’d be wrong. She has a larger body type, but is also a mass of solid muscle and her doctor is happy with her medical health markers. There are many different body types and many people are not only healthy but also happy with curves and/or a little “meat on their bones.”

I’m not an advocate of any kind of crash dieting. I don’t even love the rate at which contestant lose pounds on reality TV shows (though, luckily, they are under constant care of doctors and medics and trainers-so don’t try that at home!). That type of weight loss can come with its own problems but that’s for another time. I’m just suggesting people try to find a balance between enjoying life, and making healthy choices that allow them to enjoy more of their life for as long as possible. Strive to be within the healthy ranges for weight, measurements and medical health markers for your age, height and body type.

I’ll leave you with an anecdote that applies some of the above considerations to another scenario. When I was teaching, I liked the way I taught two and three digit addition and subtraction with regrouping in second grade. I was good at it, I liked my strategies, I was comfortable with the methods, the kids were learning it. One day I noticed a peer using a different strategy I wasn’t familiar with and asked her about it because I thought I might like it. I recognized that her method might actually be better. I didn’t dig in my heels, cry about unfairness because she knew it and I didn’t, or accuse her of “math shaming.” I wanted to learn it to see if it made my teaching better. So I let her coach me on the methods. I did further research. I practiced. I tried it with my class. It made my teaching better.

In health and wellness, as in life, if we continually settle for the bare minimum…that’s all we’ll ever get. We only get better when we step out of our comfort zone-which sometimes also means accepting the hard reality that what you were doing before wasn’t working.

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