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When a Prominent Fat Activist Dies

A prominent fat activist, not just any fat activist but the chairman of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, has passed at the age of 46. He died of pneumonia which can strike young, healthy people and kill them within days but the “Fitspiration” crowd is too busy gloating and crowing to get the facts. It’s all quite offensive but as is popular to say in the media now, the optics don’t look good.

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Defining my own position on what is unfortunately labeled “fat acceptance” is problematic for me. I vehemently oppose character judgment. It’s never justified to make character assumptions against a person based on their appearance. There’s simply no viable argument that can be made, still, I started an entrepreneurship class this week and a guest speaker was discussing what she as a Human Resources executive likes to see on resumes. Sports activities. Participation in endurance activities such as IronMan and marathon running are considered to communicate that you are disciplined. OK, a lot of personal interests would say positive things about someone. Volunteerism. Musical performance. Bilingualism. Arts & Crafts. Writing. Going back to school. Maybe you devote all your time to your children and family. Maybe you’re already perfect for the job and your personal interests are irrelevant.

Bottom line, bias based on appearance is just irrational, illogical, ignorant, WRONG. Everyone should agree on that. but where does that leave us with the other aspects of “fat acceptance”? It’s a term that emerged from the sixties and it’s ambiguous today. Is it legal or personal? Is it about laws against discrimination or is it about individuals accepting themselves as fat? Does one require the other? I say no. I know from my personal experience that I never wanted assumptions made about me when I was over 300 lbs. But I wasn’t 300 lbs because I wanted to be and I spent decades trying to change. It was never about hating myself but I was never comfortable or happy to be very fat and as I got older I worried about my health a lot. Someone once described her slimmed down body to me as “convenient” and I think that’s the perfect term to use. It’s MUCH more convenient to fit in chairs, fit in clothes, and to be able to stand and walk and run as much as I need or want to. As for my health, I feel good every day.

I admit to a kind of bias because of my own past. If someone is genuinely content and happy and comfortable at whatever their size, that’s for them to decide. Where I’m conflicted is to say I hope it isn’t about surrender. I hope they’re not making that decision because they think it’s impossible for them to improve their health even though it can seem impossible. For long periods of my life, I couldn’t even envision myself at a lower weight or being able to do what I’m physically able to do now. At 54 years old, I’m grateful every day that I’m not 340 lbs anymore but I know what a monumental struggle it was to get here and what it will continue to take to stay here. No one EVER deserves to be judged for what they do or don’t do. We can never know what someone else deals with.

I will also admit a personal view that I’m sure will garner me criticism. I always hope no one is using their body to make a political statement. You can say and write and speak out and stand up for anything you want, any time regardless of what you weigh. Losing weight does not mean you don’t care anymore. A fat activist wrote that losing weight allows someone to “opt out of the struggle.” I have one thing to say to that. I don’t have to be a minority to oppose racism.

Being fat did not kill the chairman of the NAAFA but no matter how he lost his life, gloating over his loss and ridiculing him is viciously offensive.