12/18/2016 0 Comments
In what has quickly become a recurring theme, Everyday Feminism has published an anti-feminist and illogical article -- this one arguing that "smaller fat bodies are crowding the conversation on fat acceptance."
That's funny! It's really, really funny. Because, basically what they're saying is, "Let's exclude most fat people from fat activism!" It's a super basic stats thing.
I'm sure we're all familiar with the idea of the bell curve / normal distribution. It's when most people are grouped in the middle, but some people deviate from the median a little bit in both directions:
Height is an example of a human trait that is pretty normally distributed.
But weight is not. Take a look at this graph, from Business Lesson: If Plus Size Fashion Were Truly a Big Pile of Easy Money, Someone Would Take It.
See that long tail on the right? It's there because, while there's a lower limit to how small a person can be, there is no upper limit to how fat they can be. A "fat" person can be 160 pounds or 230 pounds or 400 pounds. It's a really wide distribution.
But look where most fat people land on this distribution. There are way more "smaller fat bodies" (say, women who weigh between 160-200) than there are "larger fat bodies." Even if you combine all of the women who weigh between 200 and 400 pounds -- that's a 200-pound range! -- there still aren't as many of them as there are of women in the 160- to 170-pound range.
So, basically, social justice warriors think the vast majority of fat women should not be a part of the body acceptance/fat activism conversation, because they "erase" larger fat women.
This argument doesn't make no sense. When I was at Stanford, social psychologist Greg Walton told me, "A wise intervention helps the people who are worst off the most."
I more or less accept that statement. After all, look what happened with the No Child Left Behind Act. Because it tied funding to how many kids could pass a standardized test, teachers began completely neglecting the kids who were worst off (because they're not going to pass the test, anyway, so what's the point?) or best off (because they'll pass either way). The only students it helped were the ones who were very average (because they were the ones who had a shot at passing). In that way, it was an unwise intervention.
That said... would No Child Left Behind be "wiser" if it ignored the majority of schoolchildren (the average and the brightest), in favor of the worst off?
No. Definitely not. The 45-year Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), which is the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children, has tracked the careers and accomplishments of over 5,000 individuals, many of whom have gone on to become high-achieving scientists. The ever-growing dataset has generated over 400 papers on several topics. But one of the most compelling findings of SMPY is that investments in gifted children yield a much greater return to society than investments in average or under-performing children.
From: Nature, "How to Raise a Genius."
But I digress.
The point is, it is unwise and unreasonable for fat activists to complain about the majority of fat people's voices.
Let's look at some of the specific points in the article:
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen presumably fat positive articles circulating that are attempting to challenge ideas of fatness. Sometimes they will be claiming to praise the fashion sense of this group of people, or provide proof that fat people can be attractive, too.
Social movements tend to work by moving slowly to the left. What can you reasonably expect? That, suddenly, because you want them to, all the men are going to dig 400-pound women?
Also, these women in the articles. They have to be pretty, right? That's why they're being featured in articles. Pretend obesity has no bearing on your appearance, and beauty is randomly distributed. Based purely on statistics, which group is more likely to have more attractive women: the one that contains the majority of overweight women, or the one that contains a small (err... you know what I mean) minority of women?
You're not being excluded and marginalized. You just don't understand statistics or social change.
Over the summer, I moved to a new city where I am in community with a bigger range of fat people, including folks who are fatter than me. This has forced me to reimagine my fat identity, along with my relationship to it.
It is my personal opinion that you would be happier if you weren't so obsessed with your various identities -- and/or, if your sense of identity weren't so flimsy. But it might help explain why you feel so easily "erased" by pictures in magazines.
Focusing on smaller fat people not only redefines what fatness is, but also obscures the goals necessary to achieve justice for those most affected by fat stigma.
Couple of things. First, no one's "redefining what fatness is." There are very specific medical definitions, from the quick and easy BMI, to more involved body fat percentage tests. I know you probably think objectivity is "oppressive," but it's actually hugely important in science and medicine.
Second, serious question: what's really important? Creating a better world for the majority of fat people? Or creating a better world for the fattest 1% of fat people? This shouldn't be an easy question to answer... but I'm sure that, either way, you don't want to exclude the majority of those who support your cause.