Monday, February 11, 2008

The Formerly Fat, and their hatred of FA

It amazes me that some of the angriest comments come from formerly fat people. Fat acceptance bloggers often experience these folks marching into their blogs and leaving behind vitriolic remarks on all manner of subjects. Some say that fat acceptance is wrongheaded and dangerous, while others deny that being thin confers social benefits based on discrimination. Yet others just leave nasty insults with no real clue as to what they're disagreeing about.

So I have to wonder: Why are they so upset by us? Was becoming thin not the panacea they'd hoped for? Are they afraid we'll succeed in our quest to make life better for fat people?

One formerly fat person* was extremely agitated by the suggestion that thin fat-haters are threatened by the idea of fat acceptance. Yes, she came in here, huffed about being absolutely NOT being threatened, no sir, no way. What's that line about protesting too much? If you're not threatened by us, then why do we upset you so much? Why seek us out to berate and insult us?

I have to wonder if formerly fat people lost all that weight, only to find that it didn't make their lives perfect. Losing weight is something that you never stop doing once you get started. If you do manage to stay thin, you have to put a tremendous amount of time and effort into it. You are fighting against your body's very nature, battling hunger and pain to prevent the storage of energy in the form of fat tissue. Many people will never be satisfied; they'll always want just five more pounds, or they'll fret when they gain a little bit, because it feels like backsliding. Becoming thin is difficult, and many people go through hell and take significant risks to get there.

Why would a person put forth so much effort into becoming thin? Well, partly because the social rewards for doing so are enormous. If you are fat, you are treated really badly by other people. You're judged for eating, you're judged for not spending every spare moment running on a hamster wheel, and you're judged for just taking up too much space. It is really difficult to put up with that kind of pressure, and a lot of people choose weight loss over social stigma because of that.

So now, someone has put themselves through a gastric bypass, spends all of their free time exercising, and cannot eat anything larger than an iPod shuffle, if that. They've lost the weight and have a socially acceptable body. The rewards are often immediate and immense. And then, they find this whole group of fat people who think they ought to get for free all those things that they worked so hard to achieve. It just doesn't seem fair--those fat folks should have to put forth the effort that the formerly fat did in order to reap the reward of basic common decency. What's more, if the fat acceptance movement succeeds, then those in the currently privileged class will find themselves losing their advantage over that class. It's a lot easier to get ahead if you always have an oppressed group to which you will always be favorably compared.

I understand the frustration. I really do. But the fact that you worked hard to conform to a fucked up system does not mean that the system does not need to change. One person's past struggles should not hinder the progression toward a fair and just society.

Formerly fat folks, I am sorry that you feel that fat acceptance invalidates the struggle you underwent. I am sorry that the idea of people shedding their body issues in favor of self-acceptance reminds you that you could not do the same. But times are changing, as they absolutely must, and, regardless of your personal history, they should change for the better. Bigotry and oppression, whether based on physical characteristics or cultural ones, should always be fought against--and if you surrendered in the past, it is never too late to change your position.

* And you know, I've just done my best not to give this person the attention she craves, because she is so self-absorbed as to believe that I was referring to her in a post, when the information she was responding to could not even slightly be construed as to apply to her. I was talking about having written a thank-you note to someone (a donor), and mentioning one of the things I'd written in that note. Somehow, this paranoid, delusional fatophobe thought I was talking about her(?!) and a snotty comment she'd written to me in a previous post--when my response to that comment had been simply to delete her comment, and say something to the effect of, "Not getting enough attention lately?" Talk about your wackos.


TropicalChrome said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head, both with weight loss not being the panacea we're all told it is (along with bringing a whole host of new problems few people ever mention), and the idea that if they had to suffer, SO DO YOU. Except...that's not true.

And the ipod shuffle comment made me laugh out loud!

Heather said...

Pretty much anyone who has "It's All About Me" syndrome can be dismissed wholesale, I think. Too bad they have to spend their spare time throwing temper tantrums.

vesta44 said...

Kinda makes me wonder if throwing temper tantrums isn't something the formerly fat have added to their repertoire of ways to stay thin once they've gotten thin. It does expend energy, after all, even if that energy could better be spent elsewhere.

April D said...

As someone really new to FA and accepting it and being surrounded (at work especially) with many people dieting or "Formerly Fat", this post really hits home.

The whole reason people feel good dieting and berating the fatties is that dieting is the "Moral good!". Why not berate (whether openly with blatant hatred or even worse, I think, with subtle comments and actions) those fatties who are now beneath your moral standings? I mean, they've worked "So hard" and if they can do it, "everyone can!!" so the fact that some people DON'T join the moral band-wagon gives them license, no gives them the DUTY, to reign in on those slackers!

I was trying to just bring FA and HAES up last week and based on comments from a former fat woman I know that in addition to the moral high-ground stance, there are also a LOT of in-grained beliefs (namely that fatties are lazy, lying slobs stuffing Baby Flavoured Donuts into their pie-holes all day) that cripple people's thinking.

The woman at work couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that "No, not everyone you see who is "fat" in your eyes is that way from never exercizing and having no food "discipline"!" Its just frustrating because I'm so sick of hearing "Well yes but IN MODERATION" to any comment I might if fatties MUST be fat due to a total lack of MODERATION!

Sorry for that side-note but the main gist of my response is that if the only reason you ended up dieting was to avoid that stigma of "Fat=lazy, lying, eater" then how can you possibly forgive in others for what you yourself had to condemn in yourself in order to get THIN?

mumboj said...

In a way I don't blame them, I can get very angry about the time I wasted trying to reduce my weight, doing nothing but hurt myself ( that reminds me of that Nine Inch Nails song covered by Johnny Cash 'you can have it all, my empire of dirt..'.

Yes they really can have if they want, I'm happier now, although I'd rather be unhappy FA than 'happy' making a mess of myself.

Rachel said...

I also wonder if formerly fat people transpose their former lifestyles onto all fat people. Every single weight loss "success" story I've always read always emphasizes how poorly the person ate before, and how healthy their diet(ing) is now. Perhaps they feel that because they think their unhealthy eating habits contributed to their former sizes, that all fat people must naturally eat that way.

After I lost a drastic amount of weight, I think I became that former fat person for a while. No, I never would seek out people and berate them nor would I ever vocalize my opinions. But I really did have an elevated sense that I possessed more self-discipline than fat people and because I had now been admitted entrance into Club Thin, that I have a one-up on them socially. (Keep in mind, I also had an eating disorder, which may have inflated these emotions)

Of course, being thin wasn't the panacea it's cracked up to be. I still had trouble finding a job. I still had the same family problems as before. I didn't make tons of new friends. Guys were not beating down my door asking me out and thrusting bouquets of roses in my face. In fact, the only attraction I did manage to attract from the opposite sex was largely negative attention.

When you have to "work that hard" to be thin, you have to find some reason to justify the sacrifices. This is at the heart of the former fat person's mentality, I think. They may feel personally superior to other fat people, but it's borne of desperation - they're afraid that they can oh, so easily revert back to being fat, too, and with the weight gain, they'd lose that new-found sense of self.

Former fat people are frustrating, for sure. But I think they deserve our sympathy, not our anger. Keep in mind, former fat people were just that: formerly fat people. They've probably been discriminated and judged according to their size just as we are today. Some people are able to take a stand for their rights and seek to reform culture. Others, who aren't as strong-willed, instead buy into the culture and adapt to it, instead. It's as if they want to get as far away from the stigma of being fat as they can.

If all you have to write about and share with the world is how many times a day you go up and down the stairs and the amount of food or lack thereof you consume each day... well, I find that pretty sad and tragic, indeed.

Kate Harding said...

And then, they find this whole group of fat people who think they ought to get for free all those things that they worked so hard to achieve. It just doesn't seem fair--those fat folks should have to put forth the effort that the formerly fat did in order to reap the reward of basic common decency.


I've described it as the formerly fat -- and even the naturally thin, for that matter -- believing that we are getting way with a crime they work very hard not to commit.

I also think the vitriol from former fatties is the dark underside of weight loss evangelism. I never got angry at fat people when I was thin -- but I would pity them in an incredibly condescending way, based on making a million assumptions about their lives just because of their bodies. I didn't want fat people to feel bad about themselves, I just wanted to help them get thin like me, 'cause it was SO MUCH BETTER!

And god, my poor sisters (both of whom had dieted a bunch before and gained it back, whereas I lost 65 lbs. on the first sincere try and thought I'd be thin forever, natch). I was constantly sending them e-mails about how it REALLY IS POSSIBLE, and it gets so much easier after a while! Part of me truly just wanted them to be happier (and accepting yourself as a fat person had literally NEVER occurred to me as one way of doing that), but another part of me wanted... company. And validation. If they had done exactly what I did and lost weight from it, that would have proven that A) I really HAD found the solution, and B) It was a worthwhile pursuit. As it was, I was kinda hanging out in the breeze, always secretly wondering if I'd really end up in the 5-10% who don't gain it all back (nope!) and whether there was any real point to having done it (nope again!).

In retrospect, I am just so grateful my sisters didn't strangle me.

Julia said...

Losing weight is something that you never stop doing once you get started.

Exactly. It takes over your life.

I hope - I truly, sincerely hope - that while I was temporarily thin, I wasn't one of the formerly fat jerks. I don't think I was. In fact, I remember being very envious of people who weren't dieting, regardless of their weight. I often thought "I wish I could be as comfortable in my body as s/he is," about fat and thin people alike."

Amazing how much better it feels to be moving toward being one of those people now. :D


ohplease said...

Good points, but I also doubt that many of the "formerly fat" people leaving trollish comments are actually formerly fat. It's the internet. We have no idea who they are.

I wouldn't be surprised if some of these trolls claim to be "formerly fat" simply to boost their credibility. "If I did it, you can too, lazy fatty" is at least a tiny bit more persuasive than "Well, I've always been thin, so I have no idea if losing weight is actually possible, but lose weight, you damn lazy fatty!"

Of course, then there are the "formerly fat" whose definition of "fat" is "I lost five pounds once."

Shannon said...

I love this post :) I have another thought to add to it though. I think part of it is that a lot of the Formerly Fat (FF?) people who post are brand new to being FF. As in, they just lost the weight and haven't started to re-gain yet.

I think finding a group of people talking about how weight loss doesn't work because most people re-gain the weight is threatening for them. They did it, they got thin, all that work and now we're saying they're probably going to gain it all back. It's got to be scary hearing that after all the deprivation they went through to get where they are.

Karen said...

Personally, as a naturally thin person, I found FA and my first thought was "Fantastic! You mean that there's nothing wrong with me doing exactly what I've always done and still gaining a bit as I get older? I can be normal without having to explain what I do to be this way? Yay!!" And, yes, some of those who think of themselves as Formerly Fat did go from the high end of normal to midstream and think that's an accomplishment worth bragging about. I mean, seriously, you guys are the only people who disagree with them, so obviously they must be right. To reword a bumper sticker, "Whoever dies with the skinniest thighs wins!" right? Right? But then the Subway Jareds and those others can't quite wrap their minds around the idea that no, who ever has the healthiest and happiest life wins. It's not just that they'd have to accept that their sacrifice was invalid, though that is a major point, it is that they have to accept the idea that they were lied to. That their sacrifice may have made them less healthy. I think it would be along the lines of deciding you'd been a tool of the Dark Side. Ignorance is bliss.

Pem said...

I may count as formerly fat--went down from 215 to 160 in 2003-04, now finally truly into menopause I'm around 170-175 . At 5 ft. 6 I'm still in the overweight category.

I don't feel virtuous--I got diagnoses with diabetes and started controlling my blood sugar. I refused to make losing weight my goal but it happened anyway when I controlled my blood sugar by limiting carbohydrates (eating more fat and protein). I was worried for a while the weight loss wouldn't stop, though when it did I was sorry because I think I would be a faster runner if I were lighter. It drove people crazy when they would compliment me on losing weight and I would tell them it was because I had diabetes. They couldn't congratulate me any more.

I never saw it as about weight loss, but I did for a while want to tell everyone I met with type 2 diabetes that all they had to do was eat low carb and they would feel so much better, as I did. The annoying thing is that doctors particularly see my weight loss as the proof that my way of managing my diabetes works, while I think only blood sugar levels matter.

My experience says that formerly fat is a very odd place to live, so I can see why people take the easy way out and see it as a measure of virtue. That way they can make the fantasy of being thin come true for themselves--they may not be happier but their virtue is inscribed on their body.

I don't feel like a new person, no longer fat, in fact I was talking to someone recently and would have said I was the same size she was until she mentioned that she wears a size 18. I wear a size 12 mostly, so apparently my self-image is way off.

Stefanie said...

Formerly-fat people are still fat people. In other words, their basic genetics - their physical constitution - hasn't changed. They know that all it takes is a jogging accident or illness to lay them up, and boom - on go the pounds again. Danger lurks around every corner, because the "formerly-fat" are essentially fat people who are starving, physiologically. People can put up with semi-starvation for years, but it is a daily struggle not to go where their genes want to take them.

I also wonder how many of the truly trollish comments are made by the "formerly fat," and how many are just garden-variety internet b.s. There's a lot of posing online, and anyone can say, "I lost 100 lbs and so can you!" when they're really a prankster with too much time on their hands.

Shira said...

Another reason the fromerly-fat hate the FA types so much is because part of our message terrifies them. We say "Well, good for you and all, but you know you're 95-98% likely to regain all the weight you lost and then some? Even if you don't increase your food intake?" We can point them to studies that back up what we're saying. We can point them to real-life examples - and they can think of many off the tops of their heads without our help - of people who worked damn hard, lost a shedload, and gained it all back. It's a horrible thing to hear. They don't want to know, so we must all be lying lazy fatties who just want everyone to DIE of OMG OBEEEESITY. Because the alternative is too frightening for them to consider.

Mickey Blake said...

Thank you for an amusing and poignant post. It just goes to show what a geek I am that my first thought after reading the line about the iPod shuffle was "first generation or the new version"?

Rachel said...

It drove people crazy when they would compliment me on losing weight and I would tell them it was because I had diabetes. They couldn't congratulate me any more.

I've gained some weight after seeking recovery from an eating disorder, but I'm still more than 100 pounds lighter than when I first began. People whom I haven't seen in a while still compliment me on the weight loss and when I tell them I had an eating disorder, they usually say "Oh, that's too bad. You're better now, right? Losing weight is still a big accomplishment."


Melissa said...

First off, WOOHOO!!!!! Big pat on the back. This is an excellent post and I love that you express yourself so eloquently - because you know, if you're fat you must be stupid too. I love how that little nugget gets heaped on the pile of fat hate.

Next, a few people listed thin and morality together. I'm fairly certain I'm something of an amature heathen, but I never knew that my fat made me immoral. Go figure.

Please keep writing, keep up the good work and getting the word out that fat is just fat, it's not lazy, it's not necessarily unhealthy, it's not ignorence, it's not self loathing, it's just three little letters used as a discriptive term, just like that four letter word t h i n.

Vive42 said...

i guess maybe as an eating disordered formerly fat (or maybe calling most of us the "once and future fat" would be more accurate?) i'm the exception that proves the rule. it's only when i am thin or losing weight that i can allow myself to think positively about the FA movement. when i am/was fat myself i can't bear to do anything but hate myself and all other fat people. but when i am/was thin i desperately want to believe that fatness is okay and that i could one day come to accept myself, whatever size i may be.

William said...


I find that sometimes even former fat people who are on "good terms" with people in Fat Acceptance will slip up and say something super negative about themselves when they were bigger. I then wonder well what do you think of me?


DeborahM said...


Can I please try and prove myself as one of the 'formerly fat' who is a supporter of FA?

I've only recently started reading all the FA blogs (say in the last three months or so). Everywhere I go, I read things that resonate with me, that I identify with. Yet I am 'formerly fat'. I struggled with obesity from the age of 14, and yes, I bought into all the condemnation that was heaped on me - I was less popular, I was not the object of romantic attention, I was pressured by my parents to lose weight for years and years, I was called names in the street, I had to struggle into airplane seats... everyone who is fat has had these experiences. So of course, like many, I would periodically try and diet. And it was always torture, and I usually gave up after about a day. Two extended periods of dieting (weightwatchers) seemed to work temporarily (although every day was still a struggle and i was starving hungry all the time), but I always ended up putting the weight back on - to the point that while I was pretty balanced at around 180 pounds for many years, after the last diet attempt I ended up at 250.

Whenever I dieted and got complimented for losing weight, those times, I was embarrassed. Humiliated, really, that I was acknowledging that there was anything wrong with me in the first place, that I had to fix. complimenting me meant there was something wrong before. I think I spent many years as a teen possibly eating even *more* than I really wanted to defy my parents 'you must lose weight' dictum since inside I was raging at them 'accept me as I am, love me as I am'.

But yes, I was truly miserable; society's condemnation weighed heavily on me. Then in 2001 I discovered the principles of low-carb. I looked into them because I heard that hyperinsulinemia (a precursor of diabetes) was linked to PCOS, which I was fairly sure I had. So I figured I'd try. I 100% acknowledge that I wanted to lose weight, and that was my priority, not health (although of course at that time I believed society's hype that weight loss *equals* health.

As it happens, for me, they were right. By controlling my carb intake, my periods went back to normal, the dark patches on my skin faded, and yes, I lost weight. By the end of 2004, I was 154 lbs. Today, I am 157lbs. So I do seem to fit into that tiny percentage of people who can diet and 'keep the weight off'.

BUT what happened with me was that the more weight I lost, the more fascinated with and concerned with society's condemnation of fat I became. the more i realised that for me it was a simple hormonal imbalance that put me in this situation, the less i accepted the censure and guilt i'd been made to feel by society. and then the more i thought about it, the more i thought - so what if it was a hormonal imbalance for me. why should there be censure or guilt for anyone, even if they're fat because they do eat more? so bloody what! I bought books on fat prejudice, I bought Camryn Manheim's 'Wake up I'm Fat' and various other books. Along with my books on low-carbing and health I've built up a similar library to those you'd find on FA shelves; Gina Kolata's Rethinking Thin, Paul Campos's The Obesity Myth, etc. which reaffirmed everything you guys already know about the inefficacy of most diet plans etc.

I can very much identify with what someone else said above about people congratulating her on her weight loss and she replying "i have diabetes". I felt like saying something like that, except it wasn't so simple, i didn't have an easy label to put on it. I felt like saying, would you congratulate someone for taking medication they needed? that was what eating low-carb was, for me. For the first time ever, 'dieting' was *easy*. Which is why I really do believe in it (for me) as a 'way of life' - I am not hungry, not craving, very rarely do I feel deprived - and when I do, I eat some of the foods I usually don't, in moderation. Whereas when I was a *failed* low-fat dieter, I had such *unbelievable* willpower! I was facing cravings and hunger that normal 'thin' people have no idea of. I was trying to persuade myself to enjoy feeling hungry. And I persevered so long because being fat made me feel so very miserable. but when I started eating low-carb, it was just *easy*. I didn't count calories, I ate till I was full, and then ate again next time I was hungry. Oh, I was focused on losing weight so it would frustrate me that it took a long time - 3 years to lose 80 pounds - but I didn't feel like I was dieting, at least! I felt like I finally knew how 'normal' people ate - because before, whether I was in a dieting phase or not, I was always obsessed with food, always needing to eat more, always hungry/craving.

Anyway, maybe it is true that some formerly fat people hold it up as a virtue and are scathing of those who can't do what they did, or who claim they shouldn't have to. I'm not one of them. Losing weight easily threw into relief how flipping impossible it had been before. People beginning to treat me better, and to compliment me on how strong I must be just annoyed me and enabled me to feel stronger about how awful it is the way fat people are treated. Losing weight gave me the emotional strength to stand up to say 'i shouldn't have had to, you should have treated me this way before'.

I can't deny that I personally have benefitted in terms of health by restricting my carb intake. I do think it's a healthy way to eat for many people. And yes, there were months when I felt like evangelizing. "I did it, it's so great, it really is the answer." But I also know other people who have tried low-carb and it is not the answer for them. And I have also known people who are as big or bigger than I was, who never let their size interfere with their lives - with romance, with adventure, with career. And I always admired them and wanted to be like them. Good for them if they managed to defy society and enjoy life fat! So when I see people turning around loud and proud and saying you don't have to lose weight to be healthy, and anyway, treat me with the respect i deserve as a human being, i cheer them on. i agree. I do feel somewhat conflicted sometimes, because I feel - what if I'd come upon FA before I'd found low-carb? would i have denounced all forms of dieting and therefore not found something that genuinely made me healthier? so I'm glad of where I am. But I'm also less 'scared' of putting on weight, if I do. Because now my concern is health, not weight. and i also acknowledge that even with the health it has given me, that doesn't mean it's necessary for all, or that others should have it imposed on them.

So I just wanted to give one 'formerly fat' person's perspective that is different from the norm you have experienced... I totally support FA and identify with it even if I now don't 'look' like I 'need' to.

RioIriri said...

Dear Deborah,
I am so sorry if you felt that I meant to say that all formerly fat folks are anti-FA! Looking back, I can definitely see how I made it seem that way.

A lot of FA bloggers end up getting nasty comments from formerly fat people who, for whatever reason, are very defensive about our very existence.

I am glad that FA has helped you be less afraid of what may happen in your future. And thank you for being supportive and understanding!

DeborahM said...

No need to apologise :-) I know very few people who are like me in that they have lost a lot of weight and kept it off - most of the people I know were always thin (!). So I can't say that usually 'formerly fat' people don't behave in exactly the way you have experienced, as I don't know any others, really. I just wanted to share with the FA community that not all 'formerly fat' feel that way and that you can count on me as an FA supporter!

(Incidentally, off topic - I popped over to your reading list and have read and loved many of the SF books you read last year - have you read Stephenson's Cryptonomicon? I laughed out loud reading that... his best, I think. And I have a signed copy of Sandman :-))


RioIriri said...

Crypto is on my list; I actually have a copy, as my husband had it when we met; I just haven't gotten around to it yet :)