Hello! This is The Fat Lip, I’m Ash, and today I’m talking about what it seems like everyone in the fat pos community is talking about—Ashley Nell Tipton, plus size fashion designer, winner of Project Runway season 14, and up-to-this-point vocal fat advocate revealed last week via a People Magazine interview that she had weight loss surgery last month.
The thing about this is that we’re not unaccustomed to announcements like this. Gabby Sidibe made hers a couple months ago. Fat people are used to their heroes succumbing to the pressure to take up less space. We’re used to it among our friends and family, too. But the Ashley Nell Tipton announcement really smarts.
I say this over and over, but I truly believe in unconditional body autonomy. Everyone gets to do whatever they want with their body including having weight loss surgery. So let’s just get that out of the way. I’m not mad at Ashley or Gabby for making a decision about their body that I wouldn’t make.
It’s hard, though, when another of the very few fat people to achieve mainstream notoriety decides to opt out of being fat.
To be clear, Ashley Nell Tipton doesn’t owe it to us to remain fat. But it does hurt a little when we lose another fat hero. Representation is important and we already have so little.
But the Ashley announcement (and the Gabby one before her) are even more painful because of the language they used to justify their decisions.
Let’s start with Gabby. Since her breakout role in Precious in 2009, Gabby Sidibe has been unapologetically fat. She insisted to the media that she was beautiful as she was. She would hear no Hollywood shit about “weight problems” and she insisted that her characters were seen as sexy in their fat bodies.
But when she announced earlier this year that she had surgery in 2016, her People interview was full of quotes about how long she spent hating herself, how she dieted for 10 years, and how now that she’s meeting her weight loss goals she finally loves her body.
And it’s just such a record scratch moment for the fat community. I mean, she said she had loved her body all along. It’s just hard to hear that someone we saw as an icon for our movement didn’t actually believe in it. Was she just lying the whole time? Is she rewriting history to fit her current narrative? Because it sounds a lot like she’s trying to justify her decision to have surgery the rest of the world.
And she also does this by talking about health.
I think it’s worth mentioning here that for all of the talking that we do in fat activism about how one’s physical size does not determine how healthy or unhealthy they are and how health isn’t a moral imperative anyway, this messaging never fully seems to reach our mainstream-famous fat heroes. To be fair, I have no idea what it’s like to be a fat famous person. I imagine that the messaging they’re getting from industry professionals and healthcare providers must be even more intense than we fat plebs get. But it is interesting that we rarely hear fat famous people saying “But I am healthy even though I’m fat” or better yet “whether or not I’m healthy is not your damn business.” So is the health at any size message just not making it to the top?
The one time we do hear famous fats talking about health, it seems, is when they have decided to become not fat. In Gabby’s case, in her People interview, she talks about the most famous of diseases that ONLY fat people get: diabetes. Oh right. That’s not actually true. Because thin people get it too. But her doctors seem to have told her that being not fat was the cure for diabetes. They also told her, apparently, that having weight loss surgery would change her brain chemistry and her relationship with food.
Imagine my face with a lot of question marks over it right now.
Like, if a medical professional actually told this girl that having her stomach amputated would magically change her brain so she would only want carrots and kale, I am really, genuinely concerned. The way the medical establishment sells this surgery to people is disturbing and unethical. And like did Gabby and Ashley Nell Tipton have the same surgeon? Did they have the same anti-fat therapist? Because the things these women were told that lead to the decision to have surgery is very similar and very scary.
Okay, more on that in a minute.
So this brings us to the Ashley Nell Tipton part, Tipton, as I said, is a winner of Project Runway and the designer of a plus size boutique line that makes JCPenney one of the only major retailers making sizes up to 34. She and the company have enjoyed tons of support from the fat community for this effort. Ashley made a name for herself telling the world that it was okay to be fat—she actually used the word fat, which is something that our other fat icons had not done in on a mainstream platform up to that point. She insisted that fat women deserved fashionable clothes, and plus size women all over the world have purchased her clothes and supported her brand.
But her interview last week with People was shocking—not for it’s weight loss surgery revelation but for the anti-fat sentiment that flowed through it.
First she talks about her health. She says she had high blood pressure and a fatty liver. Also things that happen to thin people all the time. Then she says that she had a hospital stay for a skin infection. People makes a point of saying that it was in her skin folds, of course, for maximum gross-out effect for the normies.
But skin infections can happen to literally anyone who has skin. Bacteria lives on our skin constantly, and all it takes is a tiny scratch to turn into an infection. I’ve had this. It’s called cellulitis and it sucks. Mine was on my lower leg—as far as I know that’s a body part that most thin people also have. I probably got it from a hot tub because those things are dirty people stew.
The point is that being thin would not have prevented it. And the point is, her doctors should have told her that. And all fat people know that most medical professionals conveniently leave out any information about a fat person’s ailments that suggest that they aren’t fat related. Most doctors would have you believe that every cold and every stubbed toe can be blamed on your fatness. As members of the fat pos community, we know this, and we know it’s not true. But medical professionals keep pushing that narrative anyway. Again, like I’ve said before, I have serious problems with the way the medical establishment sells major, life-threatening surgery to fat people.
So anyway, the skin infection seemed to be the turning point for Ashley. She started pursuing weight loss by dieting and undertaking an intense gym routine. When she wasn’t seeing results, she decided to have surgery. And honestly, if she thought that was the right decision for her, then I support her. Even if I don’t agree, I support her right to make her own decisions about her body.
What I don’t support, though, is what came next in the People interview. In justifying her decision to have surgery, Ashley begins talking about how surgery isn’t the easy way out and how much of a challenge she’d have ahead of her. She says “the next challenge was going to be an intense, life-changing experience that you do because you love yourself and you love your life and you want to continue living. I knew that I loved myself enough to get help to make myself feel better.”
Okay, let’s talk about this. She had her breakout moments on Project Runway by talking about fat empowerment and self love. She had the support of the fat positive community. She built her business by using fat-positive language. But now she’s using self-love as her justification for losing weight? And she’s suggesting that surgery is just what you do when you love yourself?
That’s such a huge, fucked up betrayal. You can’t just use fat positive concepts until they’re no longer convenient and then turn them around to use against fat people. Suddenly Ashley Nell Tipton hated the way she looked when she was fatter. She thinks she looks so much better now that she’s thinner. She can’t wait to lose even more weight. And she did it all because she just loved herself so much!
And like, I don’t know who to blame here. We know how pervasive diet culture is, and again I can’t even begin to imagine how much extra pressure women who work in mainstream entertainment are under. There certainly seem to be some common talking points among these cases.
For instance both Gabby and Ashley made it a point to talk about how weight loss surgery wasn’t the easy way out. We’ve heard that from countless other people who have gone under the knife. And that “not the easy way out” talking point certainly isn’t for fat people. Fat people know how hard and ultimately fruitless dieting is, but they also know that weight loss surgery is still major surgery. It is in no way easy. The only possible target for the “surgery is not the easy way out” line is the fatphobes who just think fat people are lazy slugs with no willpower. It sounds like when they decide to have surgery they have to make it a point of saying “don’t worry! I know I’m supposed to be punished for being fat. I know I’m supposed to torture myself with diets and fasting, but don’t worry! Surgery is its own torture! I’m going to be shitting non-stop for years!”
That’s how it goes in my mind anyway.
And it also seems like whatever weight-loss surgery marketing machine is out there is also making sure that these women sell it to others. I mean, towards the end of the interview Ashley says “I’m not telling anyone to get this surgery, I’m just telling you to love yourself enough to know what’s best for you and your health.”
Which sounds a whole lot like “I’m not telling you to get this surgery, but if you love yourself I think you know that you have to.”
And that’s the problem with this whole thing. Ashley Nell Tipton has every right to have weight loss surgery. But shitting on fat people— telling us that we should love ourselves more so we can make the decisions she made— is really, really awful.
Now all we have to do is wait for cheesy magazines to post before and after photos of Ashley’s weight loss with captions about how brave she is and her heroic journey. Because being fat makes you a loser, but if you lose weight you can be a hero to the entire Woman’s Day audience. Be sure to throw in some fluffy bullshit about how you’ll always be plus size and how you made this hard decision (that of course wasn’t the easy way out) for your health.
There has to be a way to make autonomous decisions for yourself and your body without disparaging the decisions others have made for theirs. Actually, I have ideas. Here’s a script for anyone who has made a controversial life/body decision that doesn’t berate people for their own decisions.
It goes like this:
“Hi. I’d like to announce that I have undergone an arm transplant. This decision was based on factors that don’t apply to anyone else because you are not me. You and your arms are none of my business either. Thank you and goodnight.”
There. It’s really that easy. And you’d be doing a service to the rest of us! The more often people feel the need to justify body decisions to the world. the more pressure the world puts on the rest of us to do the same. And that pressure helps no one. In fact it sometimes drives people to make decisions that aren’t actually in their best interest.
So let’s make a pledge that we won’t ask for justification for decisions people make about their own bodies and we won’t provide those justifications to anyone else. If we could manage a campaign like that, we’d seriously change the world. And it definitely needs. changing.
Now someone find Chrissy Metz before the Weight Loss Surgeries R Us panel van pulls up and tries to lure her inside with a puppy.
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