Sunday, August 19, 2007

A Word About Choice

It seems that one of the most contentious ideas put forth by the fat acceptance movement is “fat is not a choice.” Millions of fat people know this is true; our own histories tell us this is true. Important, legitimate scientific research tells us this is true.

But on the other side are millions of people who do not believe this. These are primarily non-fat people who make a second job out of staying non-fat. They all think they’re "fat"; they spend their lives pushing back the same five or ten pounds that completely color their existence. Even when they’re not dieting, they eat far less than they want to. They eliminate favorite foods. They exercise compulsively.

As a result, non-fat people manage to stay non-fat. They don’t believe that fat people have no choice, because they work at not being fat, they routinely suffer to not be fat. Most non-fat people cannot eat whatever they choose and stay non-fat – and since they believe that being ten pounds overweight and 100 pounds overweight are the same thing, just a matter of degree (aaaagh!), they reject the idea that fat is not a choice. They buy into the guilt. They buy into the false promises. Most of all, they buy into the infuriating “If I can do it, you can do it” message with which the anti-fat propaganda machine constantly bombards them.

So, there we are, the size equivalent of the Hatfields and McCoys, feuding forever, throwing our experience and science at each other, creating nothing but more resentment and resistance between us. And it’s futile. We will never convince non-fat people that fat is not a choice. Never. Ever. It is for this reason that I contend that the lack of choice should not be the factor we primarily cite to justify fat acceptance.

Indeed, in the larger, more important and more inclusive picture of individual rights, choice is not the point. In combating fat hate, prejudice and discrimination, choice is not the point. Whether or not fat people choose to be fat is irrelevant to our right to not be discriminated against or otherwise punished by fat hate and prejudice.

We have a right to be who we are, whether or not other people approve. We have a right to be visible, to be employed, to be parents. We deserve the same opportunities to dress well. We deserve equitable access to health care, health insurance and life insurance, because whether or not we choose to be fat, everybody – fat and non-fat people alike – brings their own particular baggage to the process of distribution of social services and protections.

Until we feel a sense of entitlement to be fat people – choice or no choice – we will never convince society to treat us with respect as fat people.

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