What About Fat Voices? Our experience with fat invisibility - Part 2
Part-two of this three part series by Claudette Largess, Rachel Millner, and Sarah Thompson.
Our writing collaboration grew out of a conversation that we had together. As we discussed our experiences, we noticed a common thread that linked our experiences together. We were discussing the patterns we were seeing where fat people were being discussed, but that fat people weren’t actually included in these discussions. Noticing how this contributed and compounded the invisibility that often comes along with being in a larger body in our society, we decided to write about it together. When we shared what we had written with each other, it became obvious that it made more sense to separate them into a series.
Part one kicked off the series with Claudette Largess, MA, writing about her love for Julia Louis Dreyfus, Seinfeld, and her experience writing her dissertation on Fat Acceptance. You can read it here. The series continues today with part two where Sarah Thompson writes about her experience in Health at Every Size® professional spaces. Finally, the series will wrap up with part 3 where Rachel Millner, PsyD., writes a letter to her friends and colleagues in larger bodies.
Today is the second part in the series, then the third part will be released next Wednesday. We hope you join us!
Fat Invisibility in Health at Every Size® Professional Spaces
For thin professionals who say they work from a Health at Every Size® (HAES) philosophy, I interpret this to mean that they support people in larger bodies. They have a critical understanding of what it means to be fat in our fatphobic and sizeist society. But this isn’t generally the case.
Thin HAES providers, are you aware of how thin privilege might get in the way of knowing what you don’t know? Have you taken time to think about how you can reduce harm to your colleagues of size? Many people are quick to point out the amount of harm being done in the eating disorder treatment field, yet few people want to address how this might seep into HAES professional spaces.
When providers say that they support their fat patients, and are weight-neutral or weight-inclusive, but haven’t done the work to unpack their own internalized weight bias, it shows. It goes far beyond saying these words and having chairs that fit a variety of body sizes. How do you conceptualize the problems that fat clients face? Do you locate the problem outside their body? Do you expect fat colleagues that you have no relationship with to educate you for free? Do you ask them if they are okay with providing you their opinion and experience without compensation? Do you recognize how fat individuals have been socialized to not value our time, experience or expertise, so we will probably say it is fine, even though it is not?
It should be easy to expect that everyone in a HAES space would be on the same page with supporting and celebrating professionals of size. I am realizing that if we are not actively working against fatphobia and sizeism, then we are being complacent. To be complacent is to be complicit. I think this is particularly true in HAES spaces which have the potential to be safer places for people in larger bodies. BUT, they will only be safer if everyone agrees and is actively working towards this.
Don’t take up space.
Don’t be angry.
Yet, I AM fat.
I DO take up space.
More physical space than thin professionals
Sometimes at least two or three times as much space.
And there IS plenty to be angry about.
And does EVERYTHING I say have to interpreted as angry?
I have hesitated to write about how HAES professional spaces lack tangible ways of supporting larger bodied colleagues, because it may be seen as divisive. It might be taken as too much. It might be interpreted as me being too angry. Then, I remember that, part of white supremacy and cis-hetero-patriarchy, which we all have been steeped in, wants me to stay silent. So that I can try to stay as comfortable as possible, so that I don’t have to deal with conflict, and to not disrupt the status quo. The truth is overall HAES professional spaces often do not cultivate support for the most marginalized among us, and in my experience that is those of us in larger bodies.
In a space where it is implied that it will be safer for larger bodied people, ie.: HAES, it is extra disappointing when this is not the case. It leaves me feeling invisible and silenced. It leaves me wanting to give up on trying to be a part of these communities.
It usually ends up in having to educate other people about the dynamics that make it feel not so safe. And to educate people constantly about how fat people are oppressed is exhausting. Because it is literally all the time. At graduate school with classmates, professors, staff, and administrators. In my family. With my thin friends. With my health care providers. With people on Facebook. With people I date.
I have to educate those around me, in part because sizeism isn’t a federally recognized systemic oppression. There is no universal language that the general population has for this framework. On top of that, many people outside of HAES circles think that I bring on the way I am treated, because I am lazy, eat too much, and/or don’t care about my health. So, maybe if I cared and lost weight, I wouldn’t have to deal with discrimination on a daily basis.
So, you see when I step into what is considered a HAES professional space, I don’t expect that I’ll have to do the educating and advocating that I have to do with the general population of people. Sure, maybe people have more of the language and framework for understanding this, yes. Regardless, it should absolutely not be up to the larger bodied colleagues to educate and address the issues that we face. Granted if you want to pay me to educate you, that’s a different story. I’ll gladly consult with you.
Thin HAES clinicians need to dig deeper and think about the ways they can show up and take action on a daily basis. The people with the dominant systemic identities in these spaces need to take ownership in the culture that is created and see how there can be a shift to center the people with non-dominant systemic identities.
For example, Maria Parades and Melissa Carmona of Three Birds Counseling and Clinical Supervision created Diversity Is A Good Thing: 80+ Eating Disorder & Body Image Providers & Activists to "highlight and center eating disorder and body image providers and activists who have experienced being marginalized because of an aspect of their identity, and showcase the rich diversity of providers and activists we have in the field of body liberation." Most recently, Deanna Belleny and Tamara Melton launched a Diversify Dietetics to fill the need to cultivate "community to attract, encourage and empower students and young professionals of color who were seeking careers in the field of nutrition and dietetics." If you are looking for a wonderful place to get connected and learn, please consider attending the Association for Size Diversity and Health Bi-Annual Conference in Portland, Oregon. The early bird deadline continues until May 31. You will have the opportunity to learn from A LOT of brilliant people, plus we are a really fun loving bunch of people!
The last suggestion I'd make is for thin HAES clinicians, anyone new to HAES, and/or anyone who has been around HAES a while who wonders how they can take action on a regular basis to work with a consultant, get supervision or join a mastermind group of someone with lived experience in a larger body and/or has been doing this work for some time and is willing to have these difficult conversations with you. It really was not my intention to use this essay to highlight my consulting work, and learning from people with marginalized experience is the best way to continue understanding what we don't know that we don't know. So much of what I've written here is what motivates me to do consulting, particularly with healthcare professionals.
This is what contributes to a truly inclusive space. This is what contributes to creating more inclusive eating disorder spaces.
This is what contributes to people that are generally left out and ignored being able to access treatment and health care.