I got some great comments from people on yesterday's post, and one basically triggered another post, so thank you, lovely people, for being encouraging and smart.
Here is the comment that resulted in the following mass of words:
The compulsive eating behavior has absolutely nothing to do with being fat. You could be thin or average weight with compulsive eating, and your feelings and reactions to it would still be the same. Being fat and being a compulsive eater are two separate things.
This is true. And then again, it's not really the whole picture, especially in the FA community.
I understand why fat acceptance activists, who are usually trying to disrupt the stereotyping of fat people, harp on about health at every size and how fat people don't eat more than thin people and all the rest of it.
The thing is, though, if you have a person who, like myself, is inclined by nature to be less thin than other people (if not fat), and who then goes on to eat compulsively for twenty years, you'll get yourself a fat person, who probably got fat by trying to not BE fat. And although I love to hear that being fat is not the end of the world, that it isn't the end of your health, that the stereotypes don't hold up, etc etc etc, I am still a fat person who got fat, primarily, by eating too much. And there is a strong tendency amongst FA activists to reject that as a reason for a fat person to be fat. It doesn't have to be the reason they are fat. It doesn't have to be the reason most fat people are fat - as I say, even if I wasn't this fat, I still wouldn't be exactly thin. But it is a reason that some of us are fat, and pretending that we're not part of the fat spectrum kind of hurts.
It's kind of like if you got a bunch of gay activists together, and one of the things they wanted to do was bust the stereotypes of gay men as "effeminate", and so they spent a lot of time proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that that you can be gay without being effeminate, that gay men are, on average, no more effeminate than your average straight man, and that there's nothing wrong with being a non-effeminate gay man (replace "effeminate" with "unhealthy" and "gay man" with "fat person", and you'll see what I'm saying). Those things may all be true, but you can imagine the feelings of gay men who actually are camp.
And that's without considering the feelings of any effeminate man who isn't actually gay (who would be the thin compulsive eater). I'm not, by the way, trying to draw comparisons between anti-gay and anti-fat prejudice, to engage in comparative suffering, nor to imply that there's anything wrong or self-destructive with being a camp gay man, because obviously it's an entirely different thing from having an eating disorder. I'm just trying to highlight that any group exists on a spectrum, which includes real life realisations of identifiable stereotypes, even if those stereotypes are representative of only a small proportion of that community, and other members of the community would prefer that people did not assume that everyone in the community is the same way. Fat people are not a homogenous whole, and, just as there is a section of the gay community which is identifiable as being stereotypical, there is a section of the fat community that is that way as well.
Fat people who got fat by compulsive eating are not necessarily naturally fat, and are certainly not healthily fat. But we're still fat. And a lot of us got that way by behaviours which our culture identifies as "fat person" behaviours, i.e. eating too much, regardless of the mental illness which drove us to develop those behaviours. And yet the only place we can come to which tells us it's okay to be fat still emphasises the notion of having the habits we recognise as "thin person" habits (even if that's not true) and which we know we don't have.
Now, I get it. If you're a fat person who lives a very healthy life, it must be frustrating and depressing to feel like the compulsive eaters at the other end of the spectrum are dragging down your public image. And I understand that healthy fat people would love to stop being stereotyped and suffering from prejudice because of those stereotypes, and that part of doing that is educating themselves and others about the fact that fat =/= unhealthy and/or greedy.
But becoming fat accepting is, in my experience at least, a vital part of recovering from an eating disorder, because we can't really release this problem without accepting that our bodies are going to end up where they end up, and that getting better may not equal getting thinner (this is not easy when you're obsessed with that notion). And yet being immersed in the "we are healthy fat people" culture in the FA community can actually be just as freaking depressing and alienating as reading a magazine with five articles on how to lose weight, and two photo spreads on how Posh Spice and Lindsay Lohan are too skinny.
The thing is, of course, that those of us who got fat via an eating disorder aren't REALLY stereotypical. We're not "just" gluttonous – we have a mental illness. But it looks exactly the same from the outside. That guy watching me eat my donut at lunch isn't thinking "well, I bet she spent an hour thinking about that before she ate it, and I bet she'll be agonising over the decision for the rest of the day, and that must be very hard". He's thinking, "wow, no wonder she's so fat". And you know, part of me, even while I'm acknowledging my issues, is thinking the same thing.
And more importantly than that, we're people who already have a tendency to beat ourselves mercilessly with our supposed moral failure to control our eating. So sometimes, being surrounded by fat people who have exemplary eating behaviours and an agenda to demonstrate that you can be fat and yet completely "good" (even while they decry the moralisation of food, as they should) results less in feeling better about being fat and more in feeling worse about being such a bad example of a fat person.
Please understand, I am absolutely on board the FA train in theory. There are a lot of really important messages that everyone needs to hear about what constitutes actual health, and how thinness is not the only or even main goal of health, and I don't want the train stopped at all, not least because the external pressure to lose weight would be significantly reduced if people would stop going "OMG U R OBESE U WILL DIIIIIIIIE".
But. That doesn't mean that I'm unaffected by the fact that the people I look to for a reminder that my being fat doesn't equal hideous, worthless and on death's door usually defend fatness with the (perfectly true on average) weapons of "fat doesn't mean being unhealthy" and "fat people are not greedy".
As for the thin compulsive eaters, yes, absolutely, we share an illness and I have no doubt that it is as destructive for them as it is for me. But, as is often discussed in FA circles, thin people with terrible eating habits are not subject to the same scrutiny as fat people, because thin and healthy are so equated that no one pays any attention to the five donuts being devoured by the 95lb girl at the next table. She may be eating a lot of donuts, but it can't possibly habitual, because, hey, 95lbs. (This is probably a bad thing, actually, because it means that compulsive eating disorder is harder to identify amongst the thin, because it's culturally okay for thin people to eat like horses as long as they don't gain any weight, and less support is likely to be available, because eating too much, even in a crazy way, doesn't seem that abnormal as long as you don't end up fat.)
But you see, thin people with compulsive eating disorder are unlikely to seek out fat acceptance, because they're thin. They don't need it. They certainly will need some of its principles, IMO, if they're going to recover, because they'll need to learn to accept and love their bodies whatever weight they turn out, but they don't need to learn to personally accept bodies that are culturally unacceptable. I'm not saying that they are at a particular advantage in that by any means - I'm sure there's a whole other bundle of troubles for the thin compulsive eater - but they don't need to seek out an environment where people will say "there is nothing wrong with your body", because most people will say that of a thin person – even if the eating disordered person doesn't believe it. Those of us who are fat, on the other hand, often find comfort in FA blogs and communities because here, at last, are people who are telling us that it is really okay to be fat, which we, in the midst of our war with our bodies, really need to hear.
It's just that sometimes (I do note significant exceptions to this, such as Meowser's excellent post about mental health counting as part of Health At Every Size) the framework for it being okay to be fat is that it's okay to be fat as long as you're healthy, and you defy greedy, unhealthy fat person stereotypes. And, you know, I just don't.
Of course, the thing about any movement is that there's always a need to raise public awareness, and change public perceptions which are based on harmful stereotypes. I even agree that that's a need. Activism and individualism are an uneasy mixture at best, because any activism is about a group of people who are disenfranchised in some way, and, outside of the one thing disenfranchising those people, they may have little in common. What we fat people have in common is that we're fat. Some of us lead healthy lives, some of us don't. At the moment, in an effort to try to have our existence legitimised, a lot of FA supporters are emphasising the fact that you can be both fat and healthy, and that's fine, because it reverses a lot of assumptions held by society at large.
I suppose just, as a minority within a minority, I occasionally want to put my hand up and point out that the unhealthy amongst us are still people. Occasionally crazy, self destructive people, sure, but we're probably trying really hard, even if we're failing.
So yes. Two different things, fatness and compulsive eating, but when you're a fat compulsive eater, quite often you have to deal with them as part of the same package. For me at least, I'm this fat because of the way I have eating for decades. I need, badly, to know it's okay to be fat, because it's only when I stop warring on my body that I stop eating like this. And maybe that'll result in me being less fat and maybe it won't. But I also need to know it's okay for getting better to take awhile and for me to not be able to be "healthy" at the moment, because the last thing I need is another weapon against myself.