super quick: thoughts on fat & disability

Over on my other blog, somebody asked me what I thought about fat as a disability. The following was my response:
Fat people and people with disabilities have a LOT in common. We live in a world that is not meant to accommodate our bodies—a world that, in fact, actively *excludes* our bodies. Our bodies are demonized, because we are not “normal”—and if there is a way to make us “normal” (i.e. surgery, etc.), we are expected (shamed, forced) to take that route. People stare at us, we have stareable bodies. They feel like they are allowed to talk to us about our bodies, ask us how we “got this way”.

People think they know something about us—our histories, our habits, our health—just by looking.

We incite fear in “normal”-bodied people; we are what they could be if they ever lost control. Indeed, most people will become fat, and almost everyone—if they live long enough—will become disabled.

I know this is probably not what you meant when you asked about my thoughts on fat AS a disability, but here is the thing: fat people—just like all people with devalued, non-normative bodies—are disabled. NOT because our bodies can’t do things, but because we live in a world that STOPS our bodies from doing things.

A fat studies scholar whom I really respect and admire wrote to the fat studies list-serve sometime last year, to discuss why there aren’t more intersections and collaborative projects between work done in fat studies and work done in disability studies. She speculated that part of the problem, at least, is a phenomenon called ‘mutual recoil.’ (Basically, this happens when each side of a group hasn’t worked through their own negative beliefs about the other group, and thus do not want to be associated with them.)

Then she asked what I believe to be a really radical question:

“What would happen if, as politicized fat people, we embraced the word ‘disabled’ and used it in the same way disability studies scholars and activists use it? Not as a label denoting a body that needs to be fixed, adjusted, cured, or sanitized, but a body that challenges narrow and normative constructs of the body and an environment that literally oppresses many of us in terms of mobility and existing in space.”

In the incredibly (emotionally, physically, mentally) exhausting world of social justice movements, the more we can work together, the better. The more we can share our experiences with each other, the better. We need more listening, more pooling our resources, more collaborative work. We need less ‘mutual recoil’. We need to recognize how society disables all of us, and we need to work together towards a world that isn’t set up to exclude any bodies—fat, disabled, or otherwise.

2 thoughts on “super quick: thoughts on fat & disability

  1. And also – I recently wrote a blog post about this – fat and disability aren’t mutually exclusive, even if they are unconnected. Aspects of disability can lead to weight gain, but not necessarily, of course. But it’s not an either / or.

  2. I find myself coming back to this subject a lot. I do agree that part of the issue is multual recoil and not having done enough to unpack that sort of thing. I also, however, worry that a lot of additional baggage comes along with using the world disabled. Most of it legal/buracratic stuff I guess. Perhaps my ignorance is showing hardcore.

    Being a student, it is hard to get accommodations for my fat body. This includes having appropriate seating or being able to access classes in buildings that don’t have elevators. However, I feel as though I can’t approach my Uni about these because I am not legally classified as disabled and therefore they will not be able (or willing) to give me any accommodations. Yet, having a fat body be classified as disabled is a whole another thing, which I’m sure you can see the reprocussions of because you’ve been in the trenches much more than I have.

    So, if we fat folks are just claiming disabled as an identity, are we co-opting? I am wary of using other people’s identities as my own. I worry the response will be 10-fold the amount of hatred fat folks receive, because we are encroaching on folks who “can’t help” their disability, while it is believed we can be not-fat any time we try hard enough.

    Though perhaps all this thinking and worry is just because I haven’t gained the right insight yet. I still feel guilty/dread when I use a stall made for the disabled, even though I can’t fit into any of the others, because I feel like I am taking something away from people who actually need it.

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