Big Fat Facts Big Fat Index

What's So Special About Dan Savage?

So here's the thing.

This past week, Dan Savage reared his ugly head again and wrote another "But wait, fat people? Suck!" column. Rachel called him out on his lackluster advice which in turn led to massive trolling of her site by Savage's readers. As an impressive bonus Savage linked back to Rachel more than once this week.

My initial opinion is that, holy crap, that's a huge recognition of the impact of the fatosphere. Huge. Dan Savage doesn't have to give us the time of day, nor does he need to. And one thing to keep in mind is this Savage quote from a great post by Kate Harding at the old Shakesville:

I’m all for fat rights.

There you go. He's for fat rights. Just not... well, anything else but saying he's for fat rights. His next sentence:

What I’m against is the notion that pretending obesity is healthy is somehow a “right” to which fat people are entitled, or that it’s some sort of social justice issue. It’s not. Also, people are not violating your “rights” if they don’t find you attractive for whatever reason.

Setting aside the claim that it's not a social justice issue (!) for a moment, to be totally fair, Kate and many others deconstructed his comment in that Shakesville thread. But that last sentence... that's what we saw again this week.

This is something that's important to separate: not everyone will find fat attractive. It's true. And The Rotund put a finer point on it at her site in response to an anonymous (surprise) commenter:

Anon, you totally have the right to think I am unattractive. That is actually the point - we all have the right to our personal aesthetics. Acknowledging that doesn’t hurt the cause - because the cause is not making everyone think fat people are attractive.

But here is the difference: if someone thinks a thin person is unattractive, they don’t fuck that person. If someone thinks a fat person is unattractive, they throw things or verbally harass the fat person as they walk down the side of the road.

Exactly.

That's something that, apparently, hasn't sunken in for Dan Savage in the five months since this last incident. I suspect that it may not sink in, either, because it's way easier to just write some BS and get a rise out of fat rights bloggers than be open-minded. Being open-minded isn't in Dan Savage's public persona so, there you go.

It's frustrating, sure. But Rachel was totally on target by bringing up comparisons to the "gay people can change!!!" stance put forth by gay hate groups, for we face the exact same argument from people such as Savage's supporters and, Savage himself. He makes his opinion very clear: if fat people just didn't eat So Damn Much, everything would be fine and people wouldn't write him bitching about their shallow perceptions of attractiveness and beauty, and everything would be just fine.

A dilemma comes up here: do we even need to argue against that outmoded We Just Eat image anymore? Part of me says yes, we do, as there are many many people whose heads explode when they hear about HAES. But another side of me says no, it's time to move on from this little BS and point towards bigger issues - issues of equality and rights. Maybe we don't need to choose, though. Maybe we just need to put on a continual full-court press and tell people about the real issues while combatting their ignorance.

Tough job, yes, but someone's gotta do it. Again, big props to Rachel for her work this week.

Fluffy, Big-Boned, Curvy, Well-Rounded, Large and In Charge | Fat Revolution Work in San Diego

vidyapriya December 8th, 2007 | Link | ". . . we all have the right

". . . we all have the right to our personal aesthetics."

True, of course -- but I'm so bloody tied of people speaking of their personal opinions as if they were factory installed in the womb. "Personal aesthetics," like our other views, are the products of social forces, relations, and institutions. That almost everyone 'just happens' to prefer thin people, white people, wealthy people, or whomever is a reflection of the inequity of our present (changeable) social structures.

MichMurphy December 8th, 2007 | Link | Yes, yes, yes, vidya. I have

Yes, yes, yes, vidya. I have been thinking about this point myself recently.

Of course, no, we can't force anyone to find anyone else attractive if they just don't. But I think it is worthwhile for people to question themselves about the qualities they do find attractive, and why they do, how they came to that particular preference.

I do not think it is a coincidence, or the product of an inborn genetic imperative, that I married a white male close to my age and socioeconomic status, who shares my same cultural identity. Anyone who thinks attraction is totally unique to the individual, and not influenced by cultural standards, is kidding themselves.

fat_chic's picture
fat_chic
December 8th, 2007 | Link | the attractiveness dance

It's going to be a long time before people get educated into the attraction/attractiveness dance when it comes to us larger folks. And while Dan Savage can be a narrow-minded twit, I may forgive him his stupidity when it comes to those who are plus sized because he's pretty good at bringing people around to face their own bullshit in other arenas. The Fat Peoples is just his own bullshit he hasn't faced.

The converse issue I see is the area where fat isn't just an attractive/unattractive thing, but where it's fetishized. I've been in one or two fat fetish relationships, and they're just...gross. The attraction is entirely based on the idea that everyone else supposedly thinks I'm unattractive, and screening out the type can take real work.

You can find me at:
http://fatchic.dianarajchel.com
http://magickalrealism.etsy.com

Fillyjonk's picture
Fillyjonk
December 8th, 2007 | Link | A dilemma comes up here: do

A dilemma comes up here: do we even need to argue against that outmoded We Just Eat image anymore?

Yeah, I was just talking to Kate about this, actually in relation to the analogy between "curing" fat and "curing" gay that Savage objects to so strongly. (Hm, "nobody's saying you have to be attracted to us, just don't try to "cure" us of something that isn't a disease... it sounds so familiar!) Obviously healthy habits aren't the real issue at all, because people ignore or rationalize mountains of evidence that there's no direct relationship between healthy habits and fat. But, like proving that being gay is genetic, debunking it removes a convenient smokescreen excuse. It shows disingenuous and deceptive arguments for what they are, and exposes the real issues (mostly fear and moral panic -- again, familiar!). I compared it to taking off the argument's shell to expose the soft underbelly.

Meowzer December 8th, 2007 | Link | Touch on the "We Just Eat"

Touch on the "We Just Eat" stereotype, yeah. Dwell on it, no. Because if people want to hate us, they'll remember that one fat woman they saw walking down the street eating ZOMGHANDFULSOFFRIES and "decide" that we all eat like that secretly and that that's reason enough to hate us. They're not gonna remember the Fat Girl on a Bike. The reality of it is that most of us are neither of those. Just like most thin people aren't either Amy Winehouse or that skinny guy from Scooby Doo who was always eating.

And some random douchehound being Concerned About Your Health is not the same thing as your mom, or even your doctor, being Concerned About Your Health. The latter actually probably do care and are just operating with bad information. Them, we can concentrate on giving better information to. The douchehounds don't give a fuck, they would be perfectly happy to see us puke ourselves to death so they don't have to look at us. The only reason to bother with them at all is because of the lurkers, people (like my mom, for example) who might be sitting on the fence. But I don't see any reason to get in a protracted argument with haters about it, unless creative insults are your metier and you just can't resist polishing up your skill set.

stef's picture
stef
December 8th, 2007 | Link | I wish

I wish more people just ignored Dan Savage. He clearly keeps bringing up this issue because it gets him more attention than the other issues he writes about. That's the definition of a troll.

thorswitch December 8th, 2007 | Link | Face-stuffing fatties

I think in most movements that are trying to change a well-ingrained view or belief that the majority of the people hold there needs to be a two-pronged strategy - one aiming to educate people, and the other working to promote policies - in both the corporate world and in government - that are more inclusive and help to prevent abuse that serves only to further isolate a class of people that have already been marginalized.

Both sides of the movement are necessary because as long as people continue to hold on to false stereotypes, the less likely they are to be willing to support any of the other actions on the part of the movement. Likewise, even if policies or regulatory measures are put into effect, people will be hesitant to take them seriously or enforce them in their own sphere of influence.

Plus, as long as fat people are the target of public humiliation - especially in the form of multiple people yelling at us or throwing things at us, a lot of us will be afraid to draw any attention to ourselves, such as attending a protest or doing other kind of work on the behalf of the movement if it requires us to be out in public.

So, yeah, I think we still need to work on changing the stereotype, but that can't be the ONLY thing we focus on - we need to keep up the pressure on companies and public officials to help ensure OUR freedoms are protected, too.

--
"Ignorance and prejudice and fear go hand in hand" - from "Witch Hunt" by Rush
-.-- -.-- --.. -.-- -.-- --..-.-- -.-- --..
world | time | life | dream | night | heart | day | light | eyes | love
-.-- -.-- --..-.-- -.-- --..-.-- -.-- --..

Parrot December 8th, 2007 | Link | One podcaster I know

One podcaster I know mentioned once that he'd had conversations with an overweight woman who claimed that she had a right to be considered attractive and that people who didn't find her attractive were violating her rights.

He said it happened a long time ago, and I don't know if he perhaps misunderstood her position on the issue. But if his memory and understanding are accurate that means that there are people out there with the silly idea that we need to force people to find fat attractive.

If that's the case then it's no wonder people are making comments like that.

The kinds of people you find attractive or unattractive is, of course, not a conscious decision. To blame people for it is ludicrous. I would hope that nobody here feels that they're entitled to be found attractive by everybody they meet.

What we ARE entitled to, though, is common human decency.

sarahj December 8th, 2007 | Link | What's So Special About Dan

What's So Special About Dan Savage? Short answer: nothing.

And I could care less what he thinks about, well, anything. Nor should any other fat person. He's not entitled to tell us how to live or how to think. Quite frankly, he has no freaking clue.

Meowzer December 8th, 2007 | Link | One podcaster I know

One podcaster I know mentioned once that he'd had conversations with an overweight woman who claimed that she had a right to be considered attractive and that people who didn't find her attractive were violating her rights.

I'll betcha a Pepto Bismol donut that's not really what she said, that's just how he interpreted it.

But if his memory and understanding are accurate that means that there are people out there with the silly idea that we need to force people to find fat attractive.

If that's the case then it's no wonder people are making comments like that.

If she really did say that, all that proves is that there are nut jobs of all sizes. Not getting laid is not a violation of one's civil rights. What is a violation is when someone who is attracted to a fat body is treated like a lesser form of life because of it. And of course, when the reason millions (yes, millions!) of people who might otherwise express an attraction to us don't do so, is widespread unwarranted assumptions about our behavior (Twinkies Twinkies Twinkies) and what people will assume about them if they're seen in public appreciating us.

The kinds of people you find attractive or unattractive is, of course, not a conscious decision. To blame people for it is ludicrous. I would hope that nobody here feels that they're entitled to be found attractive by everybody they meet.

I'd find that kind of exhausting, actually.

Parrot December 10th, 2007 | Link | If she really did say that,

If she really did say that, all that proves is that there are nut jobs of all sizes.

That fact doesn't surprise me. I've talked to too many nut jobs to believe that that it's impossible for somebody to hold those kinds of views.

I'm perfectly willing to accept that there are at least a few nut jobs out there who believe that they are entitled to be found attractive by everybody they meet.

wriggle99 December 9th, 2007 | Link | Offensive?!! How/Why?

In a funny kind of way I think we ought to almost thank Dan Savage, finally somebody is genuinely offended by something we've said. I mean real emotion not the endless false posing. Sorry to be bad, but good, I've said along that it's time for other people's cages to be rattled. That is the way they will learn manners. Why should we have to beg for common civility and put on constant trial like criminals?

Let me also say that like I'm sure many others this 'offensive' analogy between ex-gay and ex-fat had occured to me when I first heard about it on a TV documentary, I was watching and all of a sudden I heard the voiceover state that the failure rate of the ex-gay process was 95%, (I think it was because that is the figure I've heard associated with diet failure) the connection was immediate and obvious, my first thought was 'ditto dieting and nobody cares about that!' I then proceeded to laugh like a drain. So where that becomes offensive to gay(men?) I really don't know. But it is fascinating, I'm sure it tells us something but what exactly?

Apart from the obvious fat people are scum so being compared to them in any way is 'offensive' to humans of higher status(that's everyone else, presumably). It is an entirely valid comparison, but hey if I'm wrong I'd love to know how/why?

Oh yeah, how many people are offended if even one person doesn't fancy them? Yup, millions, any fat person that has the capacity to overlook constant jibes enough to expect to be fanciable to everyone and offended if they are not is in my view to be congratulated on their insouciance. To hell with fat haters they don't run us. Cool

Kate Harding's picture
Kate Harding
December 9th, 2007 | Link | rambling

The thing that baffles me about criticism like what Rachel's been getting over the last few days is that so many people seem to assume fat activists are all brand new to social justice in general -- that we have no historical understanding of various civil rights movements, no experience working within other movements, no understanding of the concept privilege... We just woke up one day and went, "Gosh, I feel all empty inside because some people don't find me attractive. Hey, I know! I'm gonna compare myself to ACTUALLY oppressed people! Then I'll feel better!" (And of course, the corollary to that is that there must be no fat activists who are queer and/or disabled and/or people of color. Which... yeah.)

That might offend me more than anything else in these conversations -- the assumption that if I really thought about the comparison between the ex-gay movement and weight loss programs, and edumacated myself about gay rights, I'd obviously see that I'm being ridiculous. Um, no. I mean, I can't get around being white, straight, and middle- class, and therefore sometimes blinded by privilege. But you cannot accuse me of not putting in the friggin' critical thinking time, or of being woefully ignorant of other social justice movements.

Many of the white, straight, able-bodied fat activists I know -- myself included -- deliberately avoid making comparisons to other marginalized groups, because sometimes, it really IS overstepping the bounds of compassion and common sense -- and even when it's not, it's a minefield. But there are so many parallels between fatphobia and homophobia that are useful to discuss because they illuminate the underpinnings of bigotry, of a certain brand of irrational hatred -- not because fatties just want to co-opt gay folks' social justice cred.

And one of the most obvious is the argument: "You can change, so you have no right to expect to be treated as fully human until you do, freak." When of course, even if being gay or being fat were a choice, there is nothing about gayness or fatness that makes a person intrinsically less deserving of human dignity. But because I AM aware of the history of social justice movements, I know that argument's not very compelling to many people. You have to explain again and again that it's not a real choice, to -- as Fillyjonk said -- crack away at the bigots' protective shell and expose the irrational, hateful underbelly of their argument.

So the fact that Savage is willing to flat-out make the, "You can change, so quit whining" argument kinda tells me all I need to know. A) He's plain ignorant about the causes of fatness, and not willing to educate himself on the matter. B) He has no problem throwing a bigoted argument traditionally used against his own marginalized group at another one. Charming.

I might even be surprised by that behavior if I didn't know a little something about the history of social justice movements.

vesta44's picture
vesta44
December 9th, 2007 | Link | But see, Dan Savage's group

But see, Dan Savage's group is still marginalized in a lot of ways, in spite of the progress that's been made, so why wouldn't he want to further marginalize another group? That makes him feel superior to fatties, kinda "I'm marginalized, but you're marginalized more than I am, so even though I don't have full privilege yet, I have more privilege than you do and I'm damned if I'm going to give that up so you can be on a par with me, or heaven forbid, get ahead of me."

it's all right to be crazy, just don't let it drive ya nuts!

Mandark December 10th, 2007 | Link | A couple of thoughts about this

There are a couple of things that came to mind for me, reading about this, which I don't really have the energy to elaborate on at the moment:

1. Does it really matter if being fat is a choice or not? Or if we really are sitting around stuffing our faces with some unhealthy snack food? The way I see it, it doesn't make any difference whether or not I choose to be this way--I still deserve basic human respect. So does everyone else, regardless of what kind of asshat they are.

2. Is it just me, or were many of the "I lost weight and so can you!" comments really describing eating and/or exercise regimens that could be defined as pathological? As far as I knew, compulsively hitting the gym for several hours a day in order to lose weight was not especially healthy, either.

paul December 10th, 2007 | Link | Not to me but...

Does it really matter if being fat is a choice or not? Or if we really are sitting around stuffing our faces with some unhealthy snack food?

It doesn't matter to me, and it probably doesn't matter to most BFBers here (except for people who are curious for the sake of being curious). But opponents of fat rights are quick to make it a choice issue because then it can be dismissed as a conscious choice, one which isn't genetic and thus can be changed - proving that we're all just being lazy and/or not doing enough of whatever we're supposed to be doing this week for their approval.

JoGeek's picture
JoGeek
December 10th, 2007 | Link | I just wrote half a book

I just wrote half a book about this in my blog on Wednesday so I won't re-hash too much here. I do think that the "fat as a choice" myth is the primary obstacle to be overcome in FA, because it is one of the twin pillars of every argument used to dehumanize us. 1. Fat is unhealthy. 2. Fat people choose to be that way. One or both of those pillars needs to be eliminated at some point in seeking fat acceptance. I don't mean just scientifically, but on a gut level for the fatphobic shmuck screaming "soooooey!" out a passing car. Yes there's other fights to be fought as well, but I think these two are definitely not ready to be abandoned yet. In order for any other part of the Size Acceptance movement to gain a popular foothold, one or both of these have to be pulled out from under sizist thinking, because any argument will crumble for all but the radical extremists if the foundations are removed.

vidyapriya December 10th, 2007 | Link | Is it just me, or were many

Is it just me, or were many of the "I lost weight and so can you!" comments really describing eating and/or exercise regimens that could be defined as pathological? As far as I knew, compulsively hitting the gym for several hours a day in order to lose weight was not especially healthy, either.

Unquestionably. Years ago, I exercised 3 to 4 hours every day to keep off a bit of weight I lost when I was sick and couldn't eat. I now have permanent vital organ damage as a legacy. (Also, the weight came back anyways.)

I do think that the "fat as a choice" myth is the primary obstacle to be overcome in FA, because it is one of the twin pillars of every argument used to dehumanize us.

I concur. We also have the advantage of being able to cite statistics about this, and thus appeal to the cultural authority of science (even when said authority is only socially constructed anyways).

Mandark December 10th, 2007 | Link | I just want to be careful not to marginalize anyone

I think what I mean in saying that it doesn't matter if being fat is a choice or not is that it is too easy for the fat hater crowd to perceive that as an excuse. I'm not saying that it isn't true that most, if not all, of us don't have a choice, or that it isn't important to present as much evidence as possible to demonstrate that this is a false idea. But I also think this has the potential to marginalize fat people who really do have poor eating habits or whatever (assuming they exist, of course). I'm not calling for a radical change in strategy or anything like that, it's just something that struck me.

vidyapriya December 10th, 2007 | Link | But I also think this has

But I also think this has the potential to marginalize fat people who really do have poor eating habits or whatever (assuming they exist, of course).

Yes, I agree with this, too. Accessing 'healthy' food is, in many cases, a privilege of those with financial means. When I'm on campus, I will often eat fries or a veggie dog because they are the only affordable vegan options for me. I don't think anyone should be publically shamed by 'concerned' strangers for this (as I have been), let alone by those eating supposedly 'healthful' animal parts and/or their bodily secretions. What a horribly distorted sense of morality our collective culture fosters. I say, as long as it's production is not exploitative of humans or nonhumans, and not particularly harmful to the environment, it's all 'good' (ethical) food, and we should be able to enjoy it without guilt.

rachelr's picture
rachelr
December 10th, 2007 | Link | I said this over at Kate's

I said this over at Kate's blog with her post urging folks to help me battle the Dan Savage loyalists and I'll say it again here: I am so, so awed at the outpouring of support from the fat acceptance community. Thank you all so much for your support for the movement (and me).

My intent in making the ex-gay and ex-fat analogy was not to demean or minimalize the struggles of gay people, but to draw attention to where they converge. Like Kate noted, I think many people in the fat rights movement are drawn to it because of our experiences with other social justice issues. I've long been an activist for homelessness and poverty issues, race and gender relations, gay rights, and in issues of U.S. foreign relations. My involvement in and awareness of these issues contributed largely my own personal revelation that fat rights, too, is a social justice issue.

Here's my personal take on the movement: One of our largest handicaps in having fat rights viewed as a social justice issue is not in outside social forces, but in the fragmentation of forces within our own demographic (although the two are largely interconnected). How many times have you heard a black person support race-based discrimination? Have you ever heard a gay person say that gay people don't deserve the legal benefits of marriage? For a movement to be successful, you need strength and solidarity in numbers. Unfortunately, too many fat people buy into the anti-obesity hype and internalize the "I deserve to be treated as a human being but only when I lose weight" rhetoric.

Anyway, I do thank everyone who contributed to the SL discussion and debate. I doubt Dan Savage has changed his mind or if it even made a dent in his consciousness but I do know he read through the comments (he left a comment on the site indicating he had done so). More importantly than some hard-headed, sensationalist sex advice columnist, I think it raised the issue on a larger scale and hopefully got others thinking about what fat is and isn't.

Charlottery December 12th, 2007 | Link | I'm gay and I can completely

I'm gay and I can completely see the fatophobia/homophobia analogy, and the comparison between ex-fat and ex-gay. And the whole "being fat/gay is a choice you've made" thing -- especially since sure, some people manage to avoid being fat by managing every single thing they eat and exercising for hours a day, just the same as some people "avoid" being gay by marrying someone of the opposite sex, having kids and living a lie every day. All you have to do is spend your whole life denying who you're supposed to be because society tells you to, and then the fatophobes/homophobes will accept you as a worthwhile human being. Everybody wins!

Insofaras my opinion is worth anything, absolutely use the analogy. It's true, and it works.

Also,

"Have you ever heard a gay person say that gay people don't deserve the legal benefits of marriage? "

Yes, I have. Something to do with it being a way tie queer people into the conventional morality of a corrupt patriarchial society, rah rah rah. It's a view out on the fringes and I don't get it at all, but some gay people do reject gay marriage completely and look down on those who seek it, so be careful with your comparisons there.

rachelr's picture
rachelr
December 12th, 2007 | Link | Oh, I know that there are

Oh, I know that there are gay people who reject gay marriage, but I have yet to encounter a gay person who says gay people shouldn't be entitled to the benefits of marriage, like the right to made medical decisions for your partner or the ability to collect social security,

Charlottery December 13th, 2007 | Link | Oh, fair enough well.

Oh, fair enough well.

paul December 12th, 2007 | Link | Flattered?

I'm kind of flattered, I guess, that Dan also reads BFB, as I discovered thanks to an email pointer back to his blog. Remember - he's for fat rights!

wriggle99 December 14th, 2007 | Link | Angry yet.......caught.

I guess, that Dan also reads BFB

Maybe you've answered the title question of your post. Dan seems to be stuck between his belief that it is his duty to fight his 'inner fat man' to be worthy of love, and the corollary of that which is, that as he believes he truly is, he is unworthy of love.

He has to fight for the privilege of love every day, it's not the effort that's insupportable, but the belief and it's implications. He knows this but cannot or doesn't want to free himself from it, or does he? Why else does he keep being drawn to fat acceptance?

How he resolves his dilemma will be moderately interesting.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

© 2000-2014 Big Fat Blog and its authors, all rights reserved. Big Fat Blog, Big Fat Facts, and Big Fat Index are our trademarks.