So. Here’s the thing about “body acceptance.” The notion of “body acceptance” — i.e. that we should all just “like ourselves” when it comes to our physical form, and anything we dislike about our bodies is a psychoemotional problem not a physical problem — is an “argument” often used by uncomprehending cis people to deny trans* bodily autonomy, by the abled to minimize the suffering of people who are disabled in ways they find physically painful or personally limiting, by misogynists to gaslight women, by technophobes to mock and shame cyborgs, etc. But “body acceptance,” as a reductionist and often violent framework for coping with the diverse tribulations of embodiment, developed as a sort of mutant outgrowth of “fat acceptance” — which is a whole different ballgame.
"Fat acceptance" is specifically the notion that those of us who have a BMI that is defined by the state as “inappropriate for our height” should consider the possibility that our bodies are still worth living in.
Supporting a fat person to accept their fat body as-is is meaningfully different from encouraging a trans* or disabled person to simply “get over” whatever they dislike about their current embodiment. Trans* people, people with disabilities, people who want to fly and yet can’t, etc. are typically dealing with various degrees of internal desire to change their bodies, often in a way that society deems inappropriate, in order to feel embodied in a more authentic and liberated way.
But (except in some edge cases, mostly re: professional athletics that aren’t attainable by the majority of median bodies anyway, fat or otherwise) there’s nothing inherently limiting or inauthentic about adipose tissue. Fat people are most often far to the other side of that spectrum, responding primarily to extreme external pressure — not simply to change but specifically to destroy — our bodies in response to the threat that potential employers perceive fat cells as the physical manifestation of incompetence and that in the realm of human intimacy a fat body is an instant boner killer.
The exhortation for fat people to “be comfortable with our bodies” is not an empty platitude about psychoemotionally boosting one’s self esteem; it’s about actively rejecting the notion that only thin people are permitted to exercise, that only “height-weight proportionate” people may dress appropriately for the weather, etc. and physically doing what it takes to be comfortable in our bodies e.g. working to develop the musculoskeletal strength required to carry our fat, using assistive technology when we need it, wearing clothes that are well-suited to squishing and sweating, eating the kinds of nutrient-dense foods required to sustain and power a larger body, taking our health seriously instead of writing it off as a lost cause because “fat people are unhealthy,” and getting in the goddamn pool when it’s 97 degrees out.
Most importantly, fat acceptance encourages fat people to ask ourselves, whenever we are tempted to mortify our flesh through starvation, surgery, pouring thousands of dollars into the maws of “miracle cures” like Weight Watchers or meth, etc. about where those self-destructive impulses are coming from. It’s not simply about learning to “love ourselves,” it’s about learning to turn a really critical eye towards which aspects of our fat-focused self-loathing are echoes of institutional violence. Because chances are pretty good that in this specific instance, when we try to make ourselves and other fat people smaller at any cost, we are embracing institutional violence, not resisting it.
The point here is that giving people tools to accept a body the institution doesn’t want them to have is qualitatively different than giving people tools to accept a body they don’t want to have but that the institution won’t allow them to change. The fact that the same tools can be used in both instances is a problem, and that strategies of resistance developed by fat people have been co-opted as tools to oppress trans* people, disabled people and others is fucked, but the solution is not to take those tools away from fat people.
I remember, back in my early 20s, how I used to make little suicide pacts with myself as “motivation” to slim down. I would solemnly commit to them as I was standing on the bathroom scale. The ones I remember most vividly were that if I ever reached 150lbs, or if my belly ever grew to stick out further than my breasts, I would kill myself. Honestly, I was pretty suicidal as a kiddo, so I’m actually really glad I came across some articulate and persuasive political writing on fat acceptance before I reached those milestones — because I’m well past both of them now and, even though I still think about starvation and surgery constantly, I’m glad I chose to live.
But the key point here is that fat acceptance is not about a blanket wholesale resignation to everything about whatever body you happen to have, it is about accepting your fat specifically. It seems utterly uncontroversial to me that a politic of fat acceptance is necessary to the healthy survival of fat people in capitalist patriarchy. It also seems obvious that trying to apply that politic in sweeping brush strokes to all other forms of “deviant bodies” is monstrous and ripe for abuse. This is not to say that trans* people, disabled people, and others might have “deviant” elements of their embodied experience that they would prefer to embrace rather than alter — but powerful, nuanced, specifically relevant discourses about bodily-change and internalized oppression already exist in each of those political milieus. And there is some valuable intersectional and strategic overlap in these conversations, just as there is some valuable intersectional and strategic overlap in conversations about e.g. asexuality and relationship anarchy. But the awkward and violent attempt to simply stretch the “fat acceptance” framework universally over other types of bodies is pretty much only participated in by outsiders.
Here’s what’s really gross about this, though: Why do you think that “fat acceptance” — a highly specific politic which, on its face, appears to have nothing to do with gender identity, and only a tiny bit to do with disability — originally got distended and distorted into “body acceptance”? It’s because people are that terrified of saying the word “fat.” Even fat people. Even fat acceptance activists. The word “fat” is considered so disgusting, disturbing, insulting and offensive in our culture that even people who were working to help fat people not hate our fat to the point of self-injury felt like it was inappropriate to say the word “fat” in public — and so “body acceptance” became a polite euphemism for “fat acceptance.” And then a bunch of assholes decided that meant it was an okay way to think about all bodies.
TL;DR: There is no such thing as “body acceptance.” Fat acceptance is a legit and important politic. “Body acceptance” is a “polite” way of talking about fat acceptance — one that people who advocate for fat acceptance are often forced into using by an awareness of the violence done against people who cast even the word “fat” in a positive light. When you use the term “body acceptance” to talk about any bodies other than fat ones, you are likely doing oppressive harm to the people whose bodies you are talking about — and you are also appropriating, distorting, oversaturating, and watering down a concept that I need to get through most of my days. So, fucking cut it out.
I feel like the “we should all just “like ourselves”” form of body acceptance is just really messed up to begin with - it promptly becomes an instance of making morality a matter of emotions, where to be ‘good’ you have to have the right ones. Which is just as incorrect as ‘to be good you have to have the right body’, and also really mind-screwy. It’s also entirely counterproductive. When you want people to do things that are positive for *them*, the way is to support them in it, not demand it of them. ‘Your body does not make you a bad person’ is a helpful statement. ‘Love your body or you’re not accepting enough’ isn’t.