Posted by Pattie on 3/07/2006 05:01:00 AM

Top 10 Things I'm Tired of Discussing:

Number 5-- Whether fat acceptance is personal or political.

How long has the sentence, “The Personal is Political” been around? The fact that this is still a debate is beyond me. Perhaps the problem is that few people see that both personal and political live within social and cultural contexts. The truth is that neither self-acceptance nor political and legal solutions will rid us of the social stigma placed upon fatness.

Self-acceptance on the part of fat people will lead to a better quality of life, but accomplished alone, it won’t change things like employment discrimination and having seats big enough for us to sit on in airplanes. Anti-discrimination laws will give some recourse to those things, but it still won’t keep people from laughing or walking on the other side of the street when we are there.

The good news is that we do not have to choose between the two. It doesn’t hurt anyone or anything for us to work towards both and, in fact, each feeds the other. Burned out, self-loathing people generally don’t have the energy to fight for freedom (that’s a function of stigma—to keep people in their “place”). Knowing that there is recourse in the political realm can lead to a better quality of life which can lead to and/or support self-acceptance.

But if we want to really change the dynamics of fat stigma, we have to stop worrying about the behavior of the stigmatized and start concentrating on confronting and changing the behavior of those who would practice bigotry.

How do hearts and minds change? In this society through repetition. And most repetition comes from commercials. My theory is that day we become a market segment will be the day that our fate will change because businesses that go after markets, construct that market within a certain light in the advertising.

Right now fat people are seen as “dieters” and that is why we see such fat hatred in advertising. Dieting is a capitalist’s wet dream. We collectively craze a product that never satisfies and we blame ourselves when it doesn’t work so we try more of the product. Only "aging cures" seem to work on the same level as weight loss cures in our society.

Anti-dieting, of course, is a great intersection of personal and political. Anti-dieting is an efficient point around which we can build coalitions and bridges. Anti-dieting, of course, is not the same as fat liberation. There are plenty of people in the world who believe that dieting is hurtful and believe that fat is bad.

But the commonality of positions is helpful nonetheless, because if the majority of us were to stop dieting, new markets could be constructed that see fat people has consumers of a number of goods and services. Right now industries that cater to fat people's needs are stigmatized by the same fat hatred that hurts fat people. But the same was true of industries that catered to the cultural and physical differences of non-whites and homosexuals. At some point, the motivation for tapping into a new market overcame the worry about being stigmatized in these cases and now we regularly have cultural productions that feature diversity in these areas.

Jean Kilborne in her book, Can't Buy Me Love:

Advertising’s influence on media content is exerted in two major ways: via the suppression of information that would harm or ‘offend the sponsor’ and via the inclusion of editorial content that is advertiser-friendly, that creates an environment in which the ads look good. The line between advertising and editorial content is blurred by ‘advertorials’ (advertising disguised as editorial copy), ‘product placement’ in television programs and feature films, and the widespread use of ‘video news releases,’ corporate public-relations pull pieces aired by local television stations as genuine news. Up to 85 percent of the news we get is bought and paid for by corporations eager to gain positive publicity.

These mechanisms shape and reinforce cultural beliefs and stereotypes. The personal and the political live within these mechanisms. We have some power in shaping and influencing these mechanisms because of things like consumer feedback and market research. That is why much activism in the past 15 years have taken on forms like media watchdog groups, media resource groups, media literacy, and culture jamming.

But it is harder to organize around media activism. When the goal is to change a law, one knows when one has reached that goal. The second the executive branch signs it into being, the goal is achieved. When the goal is to change stigma, it is difficult to know when the job is done. Social change is complex and fluid.

It is my hope, however, that fat liberation will begin to see that there is no "either/or" question in social change. We need all of these efforts. Debates about whether or not it is personal or political will not get us where we want to go. Such debates will not end fat hatred.