On Being Believed

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As some of you know, I’ve been very much involved with autism self-advocacy and disability rights for the last couple of years. In fact, at the moment, that is what I spend most of my time doing. I go to summits and conferences and protests, I organize meetings, I plan activities, I write essays. And one of the things I can’t fail to notice, when comparing the disability rights movement to FA, is that there actually are things to do in meatspace about disability stuff. Lots of them. Things aren’t perfect by any means; there are still many, many instances of accessibility fail, and when it comes to autism, especially, nonautistic parents of autistic kids often seem to think they understand what it’s like to have our disability better than we do. But I feel like progress is being made, and most people don’t blanch in horror when I tell them what I’m up to in the neurodiversity movement. On paper, at least, “nothing about us without us” is a concept that has traction, even if people don’t always give PWD the seat at the table we’re promised.

I feel like the opposite is happening in FA; if anything, there’s been backsliding over the last 10 years, and I think I have some idea why. For starters, PWD don’t have all of corporate America driving a giant bulldozer designed to crush us all in the name of ever-increasing profit. There is so much money involved in stigmatizing the fatties that even people who don’t have a cup dipped into their money river are influenced by it. The noise machine never, ever stops. And even most fat people are convinced that they deserve it. I caught some flak a number of years ago when I said fat people were one of the last groups of people who believe almost universally that they’re getting exactly the punishment they deserve, but I still believe it’s true. Sure, people in every stigmatized group have self-esteem and shame issues to deal with, but with fat folks, there’s an extra layer of shame involved, the shame that says my belonging to this group is all my fault, and if I just tried harder, I wouldn’t belong to it. Even though there’s no evidence that more than a handful of people ever do manage to escape it.

But I think there’s something more going on. In practice, I don’t really give much of a crap about Mayor Bloomberg banning sugar-soda servings of more than 16 ounces in restaurants and stadiums; I don’t live in New York any more, don’t really care for most fountain sodas, and drinking a huge cup of the stuff would just turn me into a 100-decibel gasbag anyway. But in theory, I think it sucks, because the framing is that all fatties guzzle sugary soda nonstop and smaller cups will mean smaller asses, QED. In other words, he and his minions never actually bothered talking to fat people to see if we were actually sucking down the Pepsi like mother’s milk in the first place. Talk to us about policies that actually concern us? Why bother, when you can just look at one fat person doing it and extrapolate that we’re all such dingbats that we don’t know how many kazillions of calories that is?

In order for this policy to actually result in lowered weights, several things would have to be established conclusively:

1) Almost all fat people drink lots of sugary drinks.
2) Almost no thin people do.
3) People who do drink more than 16 ounces of sweetened drinks a day would simply stop there if no larger sizes were available; in other words, they wouldn’t instead go for a large milkshake or blended coffee drink (unaffected by the ban), a beer (offered in sizes up to 26 ounces at stadiums), or an extra portion of said drink at full price, or get their soda fix at home where it’s cheaper (since bottled soda from supermarkets is excluded by the ban).
4) People who buy 32- or 64-ounce sweetened drinks always finish every drop all by themselves at a sitting, rather than sharing it with others or saving some for another day (or, gasp, leaving some over).
5) People who are limited to 16 ounces of sugary drinks a day all lose dozens of pounds and keep them off and are “normal weight” forever.

In other words, you have to establish POPPYCOCK. Because none of that is even a little bit true.

Make no mistake, this is ALL about whether fat people can be believed or not. If they actually found us believable, they’d want to talk to us, right? Find out how we actually live, how our bodies actually function and respond to energy intake? It basically comes down to, are we reliable witnesses to our own experiences, or aren’t we? Sadly enough, I believe most people think we’re not. There certainly are plenty of liars out there, of all body types, but whether or not someone is telling the truth should be determined by observed actions, not presumed ones. In other words, believe people when they tell you how they live, unless they give you an undeniable reason not to.

And you know what else? If people do drink that much soda in a day, so what? People do plenty of things that aren’t the healthiest, for themselves or for other people, and sometimes they’re even praised for it. People get oodles of headpats for never missing a day of work even if they’re sick or injured, for sleeping only five or six hours a night, for risking their lives having cosmetic surgery or having deeply tanned skin, for being tyrannical despots to their employees as long as they get results. And I’d way rather someone drink a Double Gulp of Pepsi than get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle (or even ride a bike) in any kind of altered state, or ride a motorcycle without a helmet. Seriously, New York doesn’t have better things to spend money on than the soda police? Like making sure people don’t have to live ten to an apartment to survive? Of course, that would mean they’d have to start listening to and believing poor people, too. And we can’t have that.

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