shelley bovey
December 8, 2002 10:16 PM

I've been stewing over this comment from Shelley Bovey (a prominent fat activist known for writing "Being Fat is Not a Sin"). Bovey said, in a Herald article

I actually know from within the movement that most people who are overweight are really unhappy. I think there must be a sense of envy. I know these women. They are intelligent. But I don't know a single one of them who is happy.

She also said that she lost weight because she finally had a good life. The implication of those two statements combined is very similar to the undercurrent of self-loathing in Oprah's diet discussions [Oprah's other contributions to popular culture aside]; that fat is a protective outer coating for the pain we feel deep inside.

I understand Bovey has to be feeling pretty defensive about her demotion (from prominent to "former" size acceptance champion), but if she honestly felt that people who were fat were that unhappy, I have to question why she bothered to support size acceptance in the first place. Maybe her energies for those years would have been better spent in some quality time with her therapist making her life happy.

I guess that also calls into question the motivation of many activists. Must one be leading an exemplary life, or at least abiding by the principals of one's movement, in order to effectively advocate change? Perhaps not. But I do think as a leader of that movement, Bovey was basically cheating for years by feeling the way she did about fat. Promoting acceptance of size while saying "fat people are fat because they're unhappy" is just wrong. It's equivalent to saying "well, those Jews are stingy and unwashed, but hey, they should still be allowed to have jobs".

So of course, fat people felt betrayed when she lost weight. The reason fat people feel abandoned by her isn't that she lost weight - it's that she insulted them, while also spreading the misinformation that anti-fat people were already too willing to spread [Fat is unhappy. Fat comes from overeating.]. The weightloss is just a symptom of the deeper insult and betrayal.

That doesn't mean that it isn't and could never be okay for a fat activist to lose weight (or to start out thin), for a man to be a feminist, for a queer activist to be straight, for someone who hates racism to be white. Not being part of a minority group and still championing the rights of that group is a challenge, but also a necessity - the inherent nature of minorities requires recruitment of the majority in order to make the changes you need. The problem is - you cannot support what you actually revile, and that's a problem we've seen in all too many former fat activists recently.

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