Invoking the language of self-love and body-love to rationalize weight loss surgery is gaslighting. Period.
CW: This article will discuss weight loss surgery (WLS), including reference to direct quotes from a People magazine article on Ashley Nell Tipton’s recent decision to undergo WLS
I woke up this morning to learn that Ashley Nell Tipton (ANT) under went gastric bypass surgery. This comes a few months after news that Gabourey Sidibe got weight loss surgery as well. What is a fat femme to do watching all of these once fat-positive heroes undergoing these drastic measures to lose weight, so clearly fueled by society/internalized fat-phobia? I am all for body autonomy, but I can’t help but feel hurt and confused.
Do you have any tips for staying positive, loving ourselves as fat femmes, and feeling confident with ourselves in light of this news?
I don’t know that we need to stay positive right now. I think we need to be fucking pissed right now. There’s redemption in anger, girl. ANT in particular built a brand upon the work of fat activists, co-opted language and then threw fat people under the bus.
Is she the first person who’s done this? No. Will it continue to happen for as long as the intentionally unclear rhetoric of “body positivity” is maintained? Yup. Did it happen in a vacuum? No. Do you/I/we have the right to pissed? Yes.
I am frankly aghast and utterly enraged by the gaslighting language that ANT used in the People article about her choice to undergo weight loss surgery. I am referring to verbiage like:
“…I’m not telling anyone to get this surgery, I’m just telling you to love yourself enough to know what’s best for you and your health.”
^my face when I read that line
There is some conversation happening online around where that language came from – was she given that language by doctors, her therapist, the editor at People, the culture at large? Was it her authentic voice? I want to name that nuance. We all know fat people are treated like total shit in our culture, and obviously this is further complicated by where you are on the weight stigma spectrum and whether you are a person with multiple marginalized identities.
I think it’s important to start with the language, though, because that is where, I feel, the greatest harm has taken place.
Obviously, witnessing high-visibility fat femmes getting WLS is hurtful/oppressive/dispiriting, but to then be told that these decisions were undertaken as a gesture of self-love is actually legit crazy-making.
Let me say it again – invoking the language of self-love and body-love to rationalize WLS is gaslighting. Period.
So, I think the advice starts there. Rather than skipping over the anger or sadness or rage or mourning and going straight into recovery mode, I think we need to feel the feelings. They are probably uncomfortable. That’s ok. Give yourself permission to feel hard feelings. Don’t emotionally bypass. Ask yourself: “what’s coming up for me?” And rather than attempting to take immediate action to ameliorate, just give in and witness yourself. Recognize that feelings are transient. This moment(s) will pass.
Once you’ve let those feelings happen, then work on the recuperative piece.
I think more than confidence, we need space to genuinely heal. For me, that healing always begins with truth-telling and a stark evaluation of what I’m dealing with. In this instance that looks like talking myself through the facts:
I live in a toxic culture that dehumanizes all people and compels us to take up the fight of becoming as completely un-unique and homogeneous as possible. As a fat woman, in particular, I am being encouraged to undergo unnecessary and barbaric surgery by a heavily biased industry (medicine). Further, I am being gaslit by people I admire who are suggesting that this unnecessary and barbaric surgery is something I should do if I love myself.
I begin to remember and look back on the words of actual fat liberationists (like The Fat Underground and activist Charlotte Cooper who has a new book out) who have written extensively on themes like freedom, stomach amputation, oppression, self-love and self-care. Their clarity and conviction make me feel clearer and more grounded in my understanding of what an oppressive culture I live in and that I do not need to feel afraid of my own fatness.
For me, analysis is part of my healing. The writing of other freedom-oriented people is my church. I don’t know what your church is. But find the things that remind you that you are not crazy, that you do not need to be afraid, that you don’t have to change your body, and that help you keep a great psychic distance between yourself and this toxic culture of which we are a part.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help women who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.