When you speak, who listens?

Imagine a (pre-COVID) concert hall, filled with a cheering, applauding crowd. Imagine a stage full of performers in bright colors and full voice. Imagine a marquee on the front of the hall, flashing brilliantly in the darkness with the words,

LET’S TALK ABOUT FAT!

And imagine that, as you skim that concert hall again in your mind, it’s odd, but you don’t see a single…fat person.

In fact, there’s not one in the entire hall. Not on stage, and not in the seats, which you realize as you re-examine them are (like every concert hall in the real world) too small to seat them.

When you speak, who listens?

Thin privilege is being listened to when you speak about fatness and weight stigma. I am absolutely awash this week in articles and books on fat and fat people, written by thin people without any input from or collaboration with people in actual real fat bodies.

And the thing is that people in smaller bodies will be listened to and taken more seriously. When I talk about how diets don’t work, it’s an “excuse.” When a thin person talks about how diets don’t work, it’s a startling new fact. This happens even when we write or speak with equal skill, and are backed up by the same research.

So there’s an argument to be made here: Should we be elevating the works of thin people on fatness, and giving thin people the opportunities to speak and write on fatness, simply because their words are more likely to be effective?

No. Not only is it bigoted and wrong to erase fat people and deny us opportunities in this way, we will never erase weight stigma if fat people are not allowed to be the experts on our own bodies and lives.

If you live in a thin body, you may find that you have some — or lots! — of opportunities to write about or speak about fatness or weight stigma.

If this is happening to you, consider whether you’re the right person to take this opportunity or whether you should be referring the work out to a fat person. (It’s likely the latter.) If you are the only possible person who can do this work, how can you involve fat people in its development or review or presentation so that you not only help fat people develop the skills and opportunities that are being denied us, but avoid doing yet more harm because you lack the lived experience in a fat body to keep from inserting fatphobia into your work?

Just because you have the opportunity doesn’t mean it’s right. Stop stealing the stage from fat people and, at the very minimum, share the microphone.

No, I’m not angry at people in thin bodies.

When I talk about this topic, I often get these reactions:

You’re just prejudiced against thin people, who have valuable perspectives and are affected by diet culture, too!

Well, no. Though people in all sorts of bodies are affected by diet culture, people in larger bodies are the ones primarily affected by weight stigma and thus most qualified to speak about it.

There’s a role for every single voice — and we need every possible voice! — in the fat acceptance, body positive and health at every size (HAES) movements. That role may just not be leadership.

Why are you so mean? You just want to silence thin people!

Pro tip: Asking someone to take a seat isn’t telling them to shut up.

Are you talking about Author X?

When I talked about this topic on social media earlier this week, a few folks were insistent that I give them a list of exactly which books and articles I was referring to, so that they could argue endlessly with me about each one.

Having been on the internet for more than a minute now, that’s not argumentational avenue I’m willing to enter. Not only is pestering me about this obnoxious, it’s a derailing tactic used to draw focus away from my larger point.

The point is not that any particular thin author or speaker is bad or evil or problematic or wrong. The point is that fat people continue to be crowded out.

Well, that’s not nice.

There’s also a fear I see coming up — over and over again in my fellow fat folks — that if we aren’t nice enough to our thin allies, they won’t advocate for us any more. And given the power that people in thin bodies hold over us and our careers and our healthcare and our lives, abandonment is a completely reasonable fear.

But just as we shouldn’t need to pre-emptively offer up our lunch money to the school bully, we shouldn’t need to pre-emptively placate people in smaller bodies simply so they won’t turn around and abuse us. If your allyship is so fragile that asking you not to take paid speaking and writing opportunities that could best be filled by a fat person is a dealbreaker, then you were never an ally all along, just another person using fat people’s bodies and work to build your career.

Let’s dig deep.

Every Monday, I send out my Body Liberation Guide, a thoughtful email jam-packed with resources for changing the way you see your own body and the bodies you see around you. And it’s free. Let’s change the world together.

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