OPINION: Your Eating Disorder Does Not Give You the Right to Derail Conversations About Fatness
By Ella Scott
This is an opinion piece and does not reflect the opinions of the USU or the Pulp editorial staff
I raise the topic of fatphobia a lot in my day to day life. As a fat person, it’s a conversation I feel needs to be had, and as a fat person who has come to terms with their fatness (which admittedly has been much easier given my position as a small fat), it’s a conversation I feel obliged to have with the thin people around me.
In my crusade to educate folks on the oppressive nature of fatphobia and the importance of body positivity to fat people in particular, I have been too often met with a very blatant form of resistance from one particular group of people. I am talking about the thin folks with a history of disordered eating, who feel it necessary to centre themselves in nearly every conversation about body positivity whilst refusing to recognise the very specific and systematic form of oppression fat people face.
Here’s the thing, thin friends – your struggle with such an insidious illness is valid, and I wouldn’t ever say otherwise. What I am saying, however, is that there are multiple spaces that exist for you and for conversations around your illness. Discussions about fatphobia, particularly within the body positive movement, are not yours to derail and they are not yours to claim.
The experience of living in a world that prioritises one very specific beauty standard is exhausting, and there is no arguing the fact that such a standard places strain on absolutely everybody. However, your personal experience of general societal beauty standards does not give you the right to have a tantrum when a conversation specifically for fat people does not make space for your own narrative of insecurity.
The truth is, I do not believe the consistent derailment of conversations around fatness and body image can be combated until these often-well-intentioned people I’m talking about admit to one big, uncomfortable truth.
Eating disorders are inherently fatphobic.
Admitting this does not mean dismissing the validity or seriousness of such disorders or suggesting that all people with eating disorders are awful, fatphobic people.It does mean recognising that these illnesses most often develop out of a fear of getting larger and more blatantly, a fear of fatness. It’s a seriously daunting thing to confront and to sit with, but it’s necessary.
Too many people tout themselves as radical body positive advocates, priding themselves in saying that they would date a fat person or that they love all bodies. Yet they’ll often follow their fat loving sentiments with a statement about how they couldn’t personally imagine being happy in a body larger than their own.
It’s all good and well to say you’re not fatphobic and add it to your list of cool intersectional values, but it means absolutely nothing if you’re taking up space in conversations about fatness to talk about your experience as someone suffering from an illness that quite blatantly fears the very topic of discussion.
I need for you to understand, thin friends, that your refusal to acknowledge your own fatphobia and to separate your lived experience from a very real structural oppression is causing you to silence voices that need to be heard.
As a fat person with a continuing history of disordered eating, I have had to seriously grapple with the blatant irony of so staunchly believing in body positivity, whilst dealing with my own fatphobic biases. It is an irony that is difficult to face up to, because it means coming to terms with a part of myself that I don’t want to admit exists. But without making the effort to truly confront my internalised fatphobia I do not believe my road to recovery would have been possible. It has forced me to recognise my privileges and come to terms with my body in a way I never thought possible. More than anything it has helped me to recognise when and where my voice should be prioritised and when it should not, particularly when it comes to conversations about fatness.
We have all been fed a lie that equates health to thinness and we’ve been conditioned to view beauty within a very rigid set of parameters. Within such limited parameters, it is inevitable that we will all be met with feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing at some point in our lives. For some this may result in an illness that will unfortunately plague them for years at a time. I do not wish to discount such an experience.
What I wish to convey to thin folks with a history of disordered eating, is that there are people whose mere existence subjects them to a form of marginalisation you do not experience. By virtue of being fat we are subjugated to a level of societal oppression that you, a thin person, cannot fully understand. So please, when we talk about fatness and call out fatphobia, do not interject to tell us the tale of your own personal sufferings as if they somehow give you a right to make the conversation about you.
I want for you to talk about your illness and I want for you to feel validated when you do. I will not however continue to sit by as my experience and the experiences of countless other fat folk get pushed to the side by your need to explain why your illness makes your voice as important as ours in conversations about fatness despite your thin privilege. We are not attacking you when we discuss fatphobia. We do not ever suggest that your illness is not worthy of recognition. We are simply asking you to let us have our space, and to stop claiming it as your own.