Everything we know about obesity is wrong, and everything about who we listen to on the subject of fatness and fatphobia is bullshit.
By Hess Love
I can’t blame Michael Hobbes for writing “Everything you know about obesity is wrong” or for writing what seems to be meant as a compassionate piece. It was well written, factual, and even my fat Black ass learned something. It is not necessarily Hobbes who is the problem when it comes to thin white people writing these articles. It’s the people who value to voices of thin white people who write about fatness over the voices of actual fat people. Those that rely heavy on “Ally Culture” to introduce them to perspectives outside of their own experiences—the Jane Elliott or Tim Wise effect. It’s a phenomenon where those who have the most privilege exercise that privilege in a way that ironically continues to elevate them and sideline the voices of the marginalized people they attempt to speak on behalf of. I cannot count the number of people who bypass my fat Black ass and my social media posts about fatness and fatphobia, bypass me and my physical and rhetorical loudness, but shared Hobbes’ article with glee. A performance of acceptance and progression that they themselves do not possess. I, and many other fat Black women, have been saying the very same things that Hobbes writes in his article for years, but they don’t listen to us.
Our society sees Blackness, fatness, and oftentimes even “womanness” as unhealthy, disqualifications, and ultimately as sins. Many people believe Blackness is the mark of Cain, that fatness is the mark of gluttony, that untamed womanhood is the mark of disobedience and chaos. A walking embodiment of the Pandora’s Box, “apple-shaped” bodies symbolize the forbidden fruit that caused the world to fall. To embody all of those things in a Judeo-Christian society, and then to have the audacity to talk about our right to happiness, leaves us being unheard. Happiness, in the form that people feel it is, is supposed to be, and the way that they have been programmed to believe it is, is not a right of ours. We are a living and breathing sin in a world where people hate both the sinner and the sin, no matter how much they tell themselves that they can separate the phenomenon from its actualizer.
But fatness is not a sin, and fat people do not need visiting pastors to proselytize on our humanity despite our conditions. Fat people do not need translations of how we move in the world. The language that we use to talk about our experiences are not foreign, however our bodies are seen as alien and intrusive. To exist as a fat person is to be seen as a societal burden, so to talk about that existence, especially in a way that indicts society, is seen as a nuisance.
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If not a white and/or thin person, the “body positivity” movement propels the voices of smaller fats or formerly fat people. Proximity only works to your benefit as a speaker when you are closer to convention. There’s is no second-hand fatness, same as there is no second-hand Blackness or femmeness. It is seldom that proximity props true compassion, proximity is not a qualifier for authority. You cannot fuck, befriend, or witness your way to being in authority on an experience outside of yourself. When you do not listen to marginalized people on the subject of their marginalization, instead listening to people with no direct knowledge of the experience who see themselves as some sort of savior, we do nothing to really solve the issue because we are merely pacifying it. The adage of “listen to the message and not messenger” only works when we exempt privileged people from responsibility for the harm they have caused. When a harmful and/or more privileged person says something that is of a sociopolitical and equitable truth, we often tell people to disregard the embodiment of the messenger.
Fat people aren’t even taken seriously when we speak on our desires. Missy Elliott, for example, is often made to be a hype-man to her own sexual desires because we do not trust fat people, especially Black fat and women, as people to live vicariously through. We do not want to be those people, and so this turns into who we listen to, because we listen to people that we want to be like. The problem is that the people that we want to be like are those that embody or are closer to the embodiment and attitudes of those that are white, male, straight, thin, wealthy, and able-bodied. That is not the end-all be-all, we have yet to deprogram from pedestalling those identities.
Everything we know about obesity is wrong, and everything about who we listen to on the subject of fatness and fatphobia is bullshit. We need to listen to the people that live this day in and day out and do not intend to ride on the boundaries of it or escape it, but to be liberated within it.
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