I want to ask you a question.
If you are sick and dying in a hospital bed, what would bring you the most comfort? The idea that you are being taken care of with respect and dignity, or the idea that everyone blames you for dying?
Most people would answer with the former. We all want to feel comfort, love, and respect in our last days, especially if we are dying from a serious terminal illness. No one chooses to be sick, after all.
But there’s this pervasive thought in our culture that if you are sick by your own doing (whatever that “own doing” might entail), you deserve every bad thing that happens to you – even death. This thought begins with hatred for those that suffer from addiction (“He’s killing himself!” “She’s eating herself to death!”) to those who are fat, especially if they weigh hundreds of pounds.
I’m seeing it a lot lately. “I support HEALTHY body positivity.” “Well, certainly he wouldn’t have cancer if he hadn’t smoked.” “If she’d just lost weight when she could have, maybe she wouldn’t be hurting so much now. It’s really her own fault.”
I will also add here that if you only support Health at Every Size and look down upon those that are not healthy for reasons that you deem unacceptable, you are not being body-positive. I want to talk about those that are often overlooked in this discussion – people who are unhealthy because of addiction or obesity-related diseases. I want to talk about being respectful towards them.
And whatever you choose to support is your own doing. Whatever you choose to think is your own responsibility. But I do want you to think about what those words are doing to the ones who are actually dealing with the illness or disability that you are deriding. Because through bad choices or not, they don’t deserve to suffer any more than they already do.
Why don’t they? After all, you might say, it IS their own fault.
This is why.
People who suffer from obesity-related illness, addiction-related illness, or disability caused by any of those things, didn’t choose to get sick. They didn’t choose to lose agency over their bodies. They didn’t choose to spend their last days hooked up to ventilators and IVs in a hospital bed. They are suffering from pain and sickness. They are at their lowest. And they don’t need their noses rubbed in it.
When you say you only support healthy body positivity, you are overlooking the many people who might be disabled and doing their best to live a life in a world that doesn’t care. That person in the grocery store using a mobility cart is living a life you know absolutely nothing about. And if they did “do it to themselves”, they might be living with their own guilt and their own pain surrounding that situation. They know everything you’re telling them. They might even hate themselves.
Why would you want to make them feel worse? To be “right” and “moral”? To feel better about yourself and your own life choices? To prove some kind of point?
Fat and addiction are not moral issues. They are health issues. Fatness can be caused by genetics, disease, mental illness, addiction, and trauma. Addiction can be caused by the same things. Neither mean that the person suffering from conditions that are making them sick deserves contempt and condescension.
If it bothers you that people die from diseases that might be caused by obesity or addiction, then work to help everyone achieve health and agency at any size, any situation. Protest food deserts and poverty, both huge contributors to obesity in disadvantaged populations. Support fat-friendly gyms and exercise spaces where all body types can exercise at their own pace and at their own comfort, without judgement, upselling, and pain. Stop stigmatizing addiction and start reaching out to those who suffer from it. Recognize that everyone is fighting their own battle and that just like you wouldn’t want someone to judge you based on appearance, nor should you be judging them and making it harder for them to find health care and access treatment.
Despite the many people over the past two weeks who have told me that they’d like to see all fat people dead, I don’t believe that’s the general population’s point of view. I believe there’s a large lack of understanding of what it’s like to actually live a life that doesn’t fit into the “normal” societal mold. I believe that judgement comes from fear. No one wants to die . . . but everyone is going to, eventually. We don’t get out of this life alive.
And furthermore, people who fall into these groups may not want your help, pity, or lectures. Maybe they want to try to live their lives to the fullest, despite their illness or disability. Maybe they are in treatment. Maybe they just don’t care. Maybe they are sick of hearing the constant judgement and hatred from people every day and want to be left alone. They still deserve basic respect. No one deserves to be dehumanized because of their body shape or their health status. Everyone deserves dignity, even if you don’t agree with the way they’re living their lives – and no one owes you an explanation or excuse for the way that they are just to stop the abuse.
One thing you should remember is this: it’s not up to you to decide whose sickness or disability is more moral and deserving of dignity.
No one is asking you to agree or celebrate the way others live their lives. That’s one of the biggest myths in the fat acceptance movement – that we all want you to fall at our feet and congratulate us on being fat. We don’t care if you find us attractive or moral or right. We just want to be treated as human. And I would wager that those who suffer from addiction feel the same way.
You either believe that all human beings deserve to be treated like human beings, or you don’t. The choice is yours. But you are not body positive if you don’t believe that all bodies deserve care and respect. You are not more moral, right, or better if you believe that people who are not like you deserve contempt and hatred.
So, I’ll ask you that question again. What would you rather choose? Respect and dignity no matter what you look like, what your health status is, no matter what you eat or smoke or drink or wear or do with your life? Or contempt, condescension, and hatred for being sick, disabled, or dying, because of the way you came to that state?
I’m waiting for your answer, fellow human being.