Transcript: Fat Lib 101 for Not-Fat Partners of Fat People

[INTRO MUSIC: The Station by Starcrusher]

(Ash)

Hello, welcome to The Fat Lip, the podcast for fat people, about fat people. I’m your fat host Ash and today I’m changing it up and making an episode specifically for not-fat people. As you can tell by our title today, I want to focus on a brief lesson in Fat Liberation specifically geared towards people who are not fat but who date or partner with fat people. 

I get so many questions from thin people about basic fat lib stuff, and a lot of those are from people who date fat people, so I thought it might be helpful to do a dedicated episode about this. And, to be honest, one of my biggest pet peeves is when someone who is attracted to fat people or even prefers fat people has no understanding of what fat people face in our daily lives. So I’m going to tackle that a little bit today. 

I know that a lot of times people who prefer fat people think that fat people’s main struggle is seating. And seating is important! But I want to dive a little deeper into this–how seating is only one aspect of accessibility and how accessibility is only one aspect of fat liberation. Yes, being mindful of whether a restaurant has sturdy, armless chairs is an important part of dating a fat person. But I want you to think about the bigger picture, too, and about how you can advocate for change so we can move toward a world that is more accessible and welcoming to fat people in general.

And some of this is also going to apply to not-fat *friends* of fat people also, but I think there are specific differences in what you need to know as a fat person’s friend vs. a fat person’s partner, so today I’m going to focus specifically on the partner stuff, and maybe I’ll do another of these for not-fat friends of fat people down the road. 

So the first thing I want to say is that we are all carrying some degree of anti-fatness around with us. Even fat people and even people who are attracted to fat people. Because the first lesson of fat liberation is what anti-fatness actually is. 

You may have heard people talk about fatphobia. I’ve talked about fatphobia a lot. Historically when we’ve talked about “fatphobia” in the fat lib community, we are talking about the belief that fatness is inferior to thinness and the behaviors and systems that exist in our culture to reinforce that belief. 

More recently, though, the community has moved away from using “fatphobia” for this because “fatphobia” kind of infers that we’re talking about a fear of fat people or of fatness. A phobia is a legitimate psychological phenomena that causes an excessive and irrational fear reaction. And *fear* of fatness or becoming fat is absolutely part of the story, but not the whole thing by far. 

So now in the fat community and here on this podcast you’ll hear me making an effort to use the term “anti-fatness” instead. It still means the same thing, though. Anti-fatness is the broad belief, conscious or unconscious, that fatness is inferior to thinness as well as the behaviors and systems that exist in our culture to reinforce that belief. 

And that second part is super, super important. Because as you may not think you perceive fatness as inferior, we are all living in a culture that reinforces this belief and that constructs values around it. We’ll get into that more as we go along.

Because I can hear you from here. You’re saying “Well if I prefer fat people and/or am attracted to fat people, how can you suggest that I have a belief that fatness is inferior?!” 

And the true answer to this is that we all do. We have all been conditioned to believe thinness is the ideal that we should aspire to. For some people that conditioning took a lead role in their lives and they actively despise fatness and fat people. For others, though, anti-fatness is lurking in statements like “I like fat people as long as they’re healthy” or “I’m attracted to fat people as long as they’re not *too* big” or even the fear that your fat partner is unhealthy or that you’re glorifying unhealthy behaviors by being attracted to them. 

I still hear you protesting. And I get it! Maybe you don’t think you have any anti-fatness in you. But we’re going to talk about some things today and I hope you start to root out the places where you’re harboring an anti-fat belief or two because finding these things and examining them helps you eradicate them. 

And also from the outset I want to express clearly that fat liberation is not about you, a not-fat person. But it does affect you. Fat liberation aims to fight for equitable treatment for fat people, but thin people would undoubtedly benefit from a cultural shift in our beliefs about fatness and fat people. It’s ultimately about the freedom to exist in our bodies without judgment, and all of us could use that. 

So there are some very clear and urgent ways that anti-fatness is dangerous to fat people. The first and most important is anti-fatness in healthcare. Maybe you’ve noticed your fat partner doesn’t trust doctors or that they’ve had bad experiences with them in the past. There is a very real, documented bias towards fat people from healthcare providers. A 2014 study published in a medical journal called Obesity found that 67% of medical students exhibit overt bias against fat patients. Over half of respondants admitted that they found fat people “lazy, unmotivated, noncompliant, and unhealthy.” Doctors spend less time with us, consider us less cooperative, often ignore our health concerns, and many blame our size for all that ails us. 

What this means for you, a not-fat partner of a fat person, is that your partner’s fear of doctors is valid. Most fat people have run into more than one doctor in their lives that has treated them like they are less than human. I certainly have. So if your partner has a health concern, simply suggesting they go see a doctor isn’t terribly helpful. We know what we face in those offices. What has helped me on occasion is taking my not-fat husband with me when I see a doctor. I find that health professionals are much less likely to treat me like shit if there’s a not-fat witness in the room. So if your partner really needs to see someone, offer to go with them, and when you get there, be ready to advocate for them.

Well, ask your partner ahead of time if they’d like you to act as an advocate if the appointment goes off the rails. Only step in if they’ve asked you to. 

But what does being an advocate look like in this case? A lot of times fat people find that doctors ignore the symptoms we’re presenting and focus only on our weight. Sometimes we’ll say over and over why we’re there and the doctor keeps coming back to a suggested diet or surgery. Again, you want to have a plan ahead of time, but if you notice that your partner’s concerns are being ignored, calmly bring up their specific symptoms again and ask the doctor to address those directly. Sometimes it takes persistence, and even still some doctors will never come around. 

The number one thing for you both to remember is that the doctor works for the patient. It is your doctor’s job to listen to you and treat you with care. if your partner’s doctor is continually ignoring them or continually prescribing weight loss, then your partner can fire them and find someone else. It can be hard, but there are other doctors. 

What’s important to acknowledge here is that healthcare can be incredibly traumatizing for a fat person, so your partner needs your patience and understanding around their healthcare concerns. At the very least we need you to believe us when we say that these things happen to us. 

Related to this, it’s important for you to know that everything you’ve heard about “obesity” —

Actually, let me insert a pretty important side note here. More and more fat people in fat lib have started to consider the word “obesity” a slur. And like that should be the end of it. If someone is telling you that a word you are using is harmful to them, you believe them and, if you care about them, stop using it. But for argument’s sake, let’s break this down. People that defend the use of the word “obese” insist that it’s just a neutral medical term. But the origin of the word “obese” is from the Latin “obesus” which means “that which has eaten itself fat” which is from the word “obedere” which means “to eat all over; to devour.” This is clearly not based in medical science. It’s a judgement of consumption. And it’s not even accurate, as we’ll talk about later. 

Further, though, many fat people are tired of their bodies being pathologized by the general public. We don’t call thin people by their health diagnoses because it’s rude and minimizing. We don’t call a person with cancer “cancerous.” Can you even imagine? 

So what I’m trying to say here is you, a not-fat person, should never be using the words “obese” or “obesity.” There’s just no need for it. I was going to say “there’s no need for it unless you are a fat person’s doctor” but like we don’t need doctors to say it either. 

ANYWAY, back to what I was saying before the “obesity” tangent…

What I was saying was that it’s important for you to know that everything you’ve heard about quote “obesity” and its quote “related conditions” like diabetes and high blood pressure is probably incorrect. Yes, it is true that being a higher weight is correlated with certain conditions and that diabetes and high blood pressure are among these. However, correlation is not causation. There is very little evidence that being fat *causes* these conditions. In fact, there is considerable evidence that weight stigma and fat shame are more harmful to our health than being fat itself is. 

That medical discrimination towards fat people directly affects the health of fat people often because fat people avoid seeking care. So many fat people I know have had such bad experiences with doctors at best ignoring us and sometimes being openly cruel or deliberately withholding care that we have just avoided seeing doctors sometimes for years. So if you’re fat and experiencing pain or illness, you may just endure it rather than subjecting yourself to medical mistreatment. And then sometimes that condition gets worse and worse and by the time you absolutely have to seek care, it’s a much bigger problem. That’s just one way that weight stigma worsens health outcomes for fat people and why you may perceive fat people as less healthy.

And it’s important that you think critically here about what you truly believe. Even if you are attracted to fat people or love a fat partner, you are probably still harboring some belief that being fat or fatter is unhealthy. And this isn’t me accusing you of anything here. We all have these beliefs deep down because we’ve been conditioned to believe this stuff our whole lives. 

Here are some specific things I’ve heard from people who prefer fat people that exhibit anti-fatness:  

“I like fat people, but there is such a thing as too fat.” 

Or 

“I love every inch of my fat partner, but I’m concerned that their weight may affect their health.” 

Or 

“I will find my fat partner sexy as long as they don’t need a mobility scooter.” 

Or even

“I love my fat partner but I’m afraid they’ll die young.” 

Every one of these things exhibits anti-fatness, and there’s also some healthism and ableism thrown in there for a nice discrimination cocktail. 

The reality is that none of us can control what might befall us. You wouldn’t say “I love my thin partner, but I’m concerned that they might get cancer.” or “I will find my thin partner sexy as long as they aren’t disabled in a tragic accident.” 

Of course you wouldn’t. Because these things are tragic accidents! Of course a thin person can’t control these. 

But our culture has convinced us that fat people do have the ability to control these things. Fat people are considered responsible for the health tragedies that befall them. Fat people who die are blamed for their death. As if we aren’t all, regardless of body size, one tragic accident or unlucky fuckup of internal body plumbing away from death every day. 

It’s kinda fascinating, right? That for thin people a sudden health event that is debilitating or deadly is considered tragic but for fat people it is the person’s own fault. Truly so wild. 

To be absolutely clear, none of us really has that much control over our body size, statistically. Thin people for the most part remain thin regardless of behavior, and fat people for the most part remain fat. That means that no matter what you eat or how much you exercise, most of us will remain close to the same size. Around 95% of attempts at sustained weight loss will fail. So even if fatness were a dire and immediate health threat, we are very unlikely to be able to change it. And, in fact, dieting to lose weight and then regaining it (which again is very likely to be your outcome) is probably worse for your cardiovascular system than just remaining fat. 

So the moral here is that maybe your fears about your partner’s health are based on misinformation and, if acted upon, could end up making them less healthy in the long run. 

But what about those of you (because I know you’re out there and listening) who would like your partner to be even fatter? 

My message to you and to everyone really is to let your partner exist peacefully in their body. It is the one thing that only they own, and they get to make literally every decision about it. What you prefer doesn’t matter. It’s not about you. 

Okay, now that that’s out of the way. 

There are other major places that your fat partner will face discrimination. They are less likely to get hired and, when they do have a job, they are generally paid less than not-fat coworkers. They are less likely to be promoted or given raises. Anti-fatness literally affects fat peoples’ livelihoods. And housing discrimination against fat people is a real problem too. 

Fat people also find that their size can affect their social status. Anti-fatness is pervasive and some people legitimately don’t want to socialize with fat people. As a person who is partnered with a fat person, this can affect your social status as well. It is very likely that you have a friend or two in your social circle who is fatphobic. Maybe family members as well. Perhaps you won’t be invited to gatherings as often because your friends and families don’t want your partner around. 

What’s important to know here is that if your partner’s size is an issue for a friend or family member, that’s their failing, not your fat partner’s. You should avoid putting your fat partner in situations where this conflict will come up. If it becomes a problem, you need to handle it with your friend or family directly. Never make your fat partner be the one who has to stand up to these people.

And be aware that sometimes you have to let people go. If you’re not willing to consider that, I’d ask you to just not date a fat person. No fat person wants to be the wedge between you and your parent or you and your best friend. If you can’t handle this conflict yourself, you shouldn’t be dating a fat person. 

Okay, *now* let’s move on to accessibility issues. First and foremost, I have to say that every fat person’s needs are different. You should be having an ongoing conversation with your fat partner about their accessibility needs and how you can help with those. Some fat people experience very few issues fitting in chairs or walking long distances or up stairs. For others this is a much bigger struggle. And you can’t assume what those struggles will be based on your partner’s size. Many ability concerns are less visible than you think, so keep an open dialogue with your partner about this stuff. 

Speaking generally, though, you want to be paying attention to seating wherever you go. Even if your partner isn’t with you. Because I can’t tell you how lovely it is when my husband comes home and says “I walked past this cafe today with really nice, sturdy benches and I think you’d be really comfortable there.” There are so many cafes I can’t go to, and just knowing that he saw one and thought about my needs makes me feel so supported and cared for. 

And the other thing is to be flexible. Your partner knows what they are able to do and where they are able to go. If you want to grab dinner out, let them pick the spot. They know where the seats are going to be comfortable for them. Or, alternatively, if they ask you to pick the spot, check the place out on Google. Look at the seating and show it to them and ask if it’d be okay. I promise you that they will appreciate it. 

Ultimately, though, you need to know that there will be some places you love that your partner can’t go. And sometimes you can do something about it. Maybe the comic book shop you love has a gaming table with chairs that you know won’t work for your partner. It’s totally worth talking to the owner or manager and just saying “Hey, I love this place and come here all the time and would like to bring my partner but the seating wouldn’t work for them.” And then ask them if they have another option or if they could look into a sturdier seating solution. It can’t hurt. 

Now this is all great stuff, and on a micro level it is very good practice, as a partner of a fat person, to be aware of seating. But I also want you to think about seating as just a small part of the much larger issue of accessibility and then think about how you can use your power as a not-fat person to improve accessibility for fat people on the whole. Because making sure your favorite comic shop has wider aisles helps your fat partner, but advocating for wider aisles and sturdy seating everywhere helps all fat people. 

What I’m getting at here is that I want you to start noticing inaccessible public spaces all the time. Even if you don’t have a fat partner. And then I’d like you to do something about it. Maybe get a form letter together about the importance of sturdy armless seating and when you go somewhere that this is a problem, take down the address or email of management and send them the letter. Or flag down a manager and mention it to them. Yes, you’re only one person and maybe you think it won’t do much. But if two people or three people or twenty five people sent letters and emails about the restaurant’s seating, maybe the owners would make a change. 

You have to start thinking about the ways you can use your voice or your patronage to ask for change. And you can start with seating. 

And then start using your voice to correct the people in your life that say blatantly shitty things about fat people. Even if all you can muster is “Mom, that’s very rude.” or “Please don’t say things like that around me anymore.” 

Societal change for fat people has to start somewhere, and if you care about fat people or are attracted to fat people, it needs to start with you. 

And finally I know that some of you who are listening to this exclusively prefer fat people sexually. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with fat fetishes as long as you are only acting upon them with consenting parties. Some fat people do not consent to being fetishized and that must be honored.

But I’m here to tell you that the most ethical thing that you can do as a person who is exclusively attracted to fat people or as a fat fetishist is to pay for your porn. With real money. Because the fat people who have made that content have consented to your consumption of it and because they use that money to pay their bills. If you are a person who watches fat porn, pay for it. 

Like if you’ve listened to this entire podcast enough that you care about fat liberation, I need you to care about when you’re sexually aroused too. The fat people in porn are still fat people who still face all of the discrimination that other fat people do. They still have the same barriers to access, the same health discrimination, the same job discrimination. If you are consuming their work, pay for it. Period. 

It’s not even expensive! If you can pay Netflix $15 a month, you can pay a fat person whose porn you enjoy $5 a month on OnlyFans. Seriously. Pay for your porn. 

Bet you didn’t think I was going to go there in this pod, did you? 

Okay, that’s all I have for you today! 

Thank you to Starcrusher for the music you heard on today’s show. To hear more go to cstarcrusher.bandcamp.com.

Thank you as always to our Patreon patrons. The patron of the week is Jenny. Thank you so much Jenny for your support. 

If you would like to support the show for as little as $2 a month go to patreon.com/thefatlip to find out how. 

Don’t forget to follow on social media. All of those links can be found at the top of thefatlip.com. I’m most active on Instagram, and we have the Infinifirst of September coming up in just a few days so now is a great time to follow so you don’t miss that! 

Okay, that’s all from me today. Thank you so much for visiting and I’ll see you next time. Bye bye! 

[OUTRO MUSIC: The Station by Starcrusher]

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