I think one of the hardest things to overcome in fat activism for Latin@s is that the promise of being thin is often held out as a promise of assimilation, of acceptance, of being upwardly mobile and “making it” especially in the U.S. Being fat is held out as an example of being a bad representation of your community i.e. you are being a bad Chican@ for being fat, don’t you want to help “your people” by being a good example and being “healthy”? It’s insidious.
I’m white, but not. My dad is Cuban, and I have been aware that I’m not white for as long as it matters. But just about everyone assumes I’m white. My experiences with fat are informed by my dad’s experiences. He has achieved the American Dream, from poor immigrant to the quintessential middle class suburban family, and he is firmly invested in maintaining this status. In elementary school, I remember trying to go to school in clothes that were wrinkled, and my dad forbade it. He wouldn’t let me because I would look “poor.” Having his daughter go to school looking sloppy is not part of the picket-fenced ideal.
This is but one example from my childhood, but it sticks out in my memory because it shows how tied my dad’s identity was to my appearance. It’s striking because it’s still relevant. I’m fat, and my fatness affects the ways in which people read my class status and, by extension, the class status of my family. Regardless of what I’m wearing, fatness can always be seen as sloppy because fat is read as downwardly mobile. I’m Ivy League educated, shop at Trader Joe’s, and vote liberal—I ought be upwardly mobile! But diet culture has constructed fatness as a problem with poor people. (The subject of why poor people are fat is worthy of inquiry far beyond the scope of this article.)