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Allies in Ending Fat Oppression

I’ve been thinking about what it would look like to have solid allies as a large woman. And I’ve realized that until I feel aspiring allies’ passion and determination to end fat oppression, it will be hard to use them fully as client.

Recently I was targeted in my personal life by a lot of fat oppression. As I tried to client on what I was up against, I noticed how many counselors tried to redirect me to work on how I felt about myself. Fortunately, I am a strong leader of my own re-emergence and could redirect my counselors to stay where my mind was and where I needed to discharge—on my heartbreak and feelings of separation from loved ones because of the viciousness of fat oppression. However, after a few sessions like this, I realized that my counselors were not quite able to wrap their minds around fat oppression beyond the idea that it was an internal struggle.

I think thin women’s confusions about fat oppression lead them to see it as an issue of how you feel about your body. I assume this is because, under the influence of sexism, thin women often obsess over their bodies and their feelings about their bodies. To me as a large woman this looks like “going small”—believing that the fight is with your own body, or your feelings about your body, rather than with a big oppression that impacts the lives of large women economically and socially. I cringe every time I hear someone say “weight issues” or “body issues” rather than naming fat oppression for what it is—the vicious targeting of people of large body size.

My best experience of a Co-Counselor being an ally to me as a large woman was when I counseled regularly with a short, thin man. The targeting he’d experienced as a “little man” may have played a role in his ability to develop some perspective on me. He worked hard to have an independent perspective on fat oppression.

Early in our relationship he attended a gather-in I led on being allies to large women. I talked there about the contradiction [to distress] of just acknowledging the oppression at all. In our weekly sessions I would talk about my life, and he would figure out how to independently identify, in what I was describing, that I was being targeted with fat oppression. He would often say something like, “Well, that’s the fat oppression.” Perplexed, I would ask what he meant. Then he would say something he knew about fat oppression, for example, that someone was treating me like I could not think, or acting disgusted by me, or discounting me. I could cry for hours because of how he could independently see and acknowledge fat oppression as it operated in my life. At first he would stumble and stammer as he tried to say something about fat oppression, but his attempt was good enough. It was such water in the desert that I could reliably use it as client. Over time he got stronger and clearer and could talk solidly about fat oppression. The stronger he got and the more he could show he was outraged by how I was treated, the more voluminously I could discharge.

If you who are allies could discharge systematically on the following, it would make a big difference in your effectiveness in ending fat oppression. Most of these things relate to how society encourages you to attach early feelings to fat people, including scapegoating us to make you “feel secure”:

  • Fear of getting fat
  • Feelings of disgust attached to fat
  • Fears about mobility, and confusion that mobility equals health
  • Feelings of superiority
  • Feelings of security in society, including from being liked, accepted, included
  • Noticing where you have access to things that large people may not (relationships, everyday kindness, jobs, money, leadership roles)
  • Noticing who can access public space (for example, I once led a topic group for large women at a workshop, and every woman in it had struggled to use the bathroom because the toilet stalls at the site were too narrow)
  • Noticing fat oppression
  • Making noise about fat oppression, not accepting it, and publicly standing with large people against it
  • Noticing who you are close to, who you are friends with, and if any of them are large, and fully facing how they are treated (which may include how you treat them)

I guarantee that any slack you gain in any or all of these areas will be felt and used by your large woman Co-Counselor.

Nikki Stewart

Washington, D.C., USA

Thank you, Nikki. This is helpful in thinking about fat people, and about all our counseling as allies.

Oppressive systems always try to make us think that when we feel the effects of oppression, we are having a personal struggle. I came to RC through Ricky Sherover-Marcuse, a white U.S. Jewish woman. We would be in political meetings together, and Ricky would sit next to me. When someone would say or do something unawarely racist, she would lean toward me and say quietly, “I saw that.” Having a white person independently recognize racism is why I joined RC.

I always find it useful when my counselors are able to name the oppression I’m experiencing. It helps me stay clear that I am fighting to resist something outside myself, not trying to “improve myself.” The United States has a very big “self-help” industry—books, classes, experts, and so on. Some of the ideas can be useful for figuring out how to have easier lives, but they usually encourage people to “fix” themselves instead of end oppression.

“Jeanne D’Arc” [the International Liberation Reference Person for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Queer, and Transgender People] reminded us at a workshop for LGBQT people and allies that having an individual good life is much too small a goal. We need and deserve much more.



Reprinted from the RC e-mail
discussion list for leaders of women

Last modified: 2019-05-21 23:34:07+00