“What are you doing for the holidays?” Once upon a pre-pandemic time, this question seemed straightforward. But since I’m choosing to stay home for the holidays again this year, it hits me differently these days. Despite stricter vaccine mandates and relaxed COVID-19-related travel restrictions, in person celebrations still feel a bit complicated. For one, there’s still a pandemic raging on. For two, I’m a brand-new mom.Now when a friend or acquaintance asks me about my holiday plans, my mix of strong feelings—safety and pride from my commitment to abiding by CDC guidelines, but also sadness and isolation—makes it difficult to respond coherently, so I usually just say, “Probably staying home.” I then quickly ask about the questioner’s plans, hoping that I won’t have to explain why I’m spending the holidays at home: I have a new baby who can’t be vaccinated or wear a mask, so I’m not yet comfortable being around family and friends (yes, even when they’re vaccinated, and, yes, even for the holidays).I developed this diversion tactic for good reason. My previous attempts to state my reasoning for celebrating the holidays at home were often met with responses like: “You’re being too cautious,” “Babies don’t really get COVID,” and “Don’t you miss your family and friends?” Responding to these dismissive remarks, however well-intended, was emotionally draining, so I decided to start changing the subject—while reminding myself that it’s totally okay to not be ready to spend the holidays with loved ones in real life again this year, for any reason at all.Everyone has the right to decide whether they’re comfortable with in person holiday get-togethers, and I know that opting out of gatherings with people outside of my household again this year is the right choice for me and my family. We’re still in a deadly global pandemic—according to the CDC’s COVID-19 data tracker, nearly 800,000 people have died from the virus in the U.S. alone, as of December 15, 2021—and I want to stay vigilant to protect my little one, especially with the emergence of a new worrisome variant.Yes, more people are getting the COVID-19 vaccine—as of December 15, 2021, 72% of eligible people living in America have received at least one dose, according to the CDC. But only 61% have had both doses (and just 27% of those folks have gotten a booster). So, while I commend the nearly two-thirds of eligible people in the U.S. who are fully vaccinated, I also find it terrifying, especially as a new mom, to know that roughly 40% have yet to receive the vaccine.To make matters more concerning, the COVID-19 omicron variant has arrived just in time for the holiday season. The first U.S. case of the newest coronavirus strain (which sounds like a Marvel villain if you ask me) was reported in California, but the variant is now present in more than half of all states. Even though it’s seeming like omicron may be mild, the strain is still causing concern among experts, as SELF previously reported, because it’s potentially more transmissible than previous variants. As scientists are working around the clock to learn more about it, experts say our best line of defense is getting vaccinated and boosted. And since there are still millions of unvaccinated people in this country, and my baby isn’t eligible for the vaccine, I’m choosing not to travel to see family this year—or spend time indoors with nearby friends—so I can protect my little one against COVID-19 and a possibly even-more-contagious strain.
The impacts of workplace wellness programs aren’t just likely ineffective; they can also compound existing inequities. First, workplace wellness programs that focus on managing employees’ weights may directly increase the wealth gap between thin people and fat people. While the numbers vary, studies have repeatedly found profound gaps in income between fat and thin employees, with some research showing people with only slightly overweight BMIs making up to $9,000 less annually than their thinner counterparts. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black, Latinx, and low-income Americans are among those most likely to be fat, which means that programs like these can disproportionately impact communities that are already marginalized. In a 2021 Society for Human Resource Management article, Soeren Mattke, M.D., D.Sc., physician, professor of economics, and director of the Center for Improving Chronic Illness Care at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, said, “With unhealthy lifestyles and poor health more frequent in lower socioeconomic strata, such incentives, especially if they go beyond token amounts, shift costs to the most vulnerable employees. And that is not responsible stewardship.”Workplace wellness programs can also stoke stigma in the workplace, inviting more hostility toward fat workers. Research shows that even limited exposure to messaging that frames fatness as an issue of public health or personal responsibility may directly increase prejudice against fat people. Weight-centered workplace wellness programs seem to be constructed around the idea that weight loss isn’t just possible; it’s a worker’s responsibility to their colleagues and employer. That’s likely to increase antifat bias and bigotry in the workplace—which, in turn, makes the simple act of going to work a stigmatizing one for many fat people.For those with eating disorders, workplace wellness programs can make work a minefield. Workplace wellness programs don’t just normalize deeply triggering diet talk; they often prompt and celebrate it. For people with restrictive eating disorders, these conversations are indeed frustrating, but they can disrupt months or even years of work in recovery. And for many a relapse can be a matter of life or death. People with eating disorders shouldn’t have to choose between a relapse and a paycheck. But weight-centered workplace wellness programs encourage a diet-focused work environment that too often leaves workers with eating disorders to do just that.Even programs that aren’t explicitly weight-focused, but instead focused on activity levels, biometric screenings, or other measures can feed into eating disorders, excessive exercise (sometimes called “exercise addiction”), and other disordered behaviors surrounding food and exercise. And programs that offer financial or health care incentives for meeting biometric targets tend to systematically disadvantage people who are already disabled or chronically ill. For example, those with advanced diabetes may not be able to meet a blood glucose target designed for nondiabetic people. Workplace wellness programs that center on step counts typically exclude those who use mobility devices, like wheelchairs or walkers. Holding them to the standards of nondisabled people isn’t helping their health—it’s ignoring their disability.But even without these specific pressures on employees, conceptually, workplace wellness programs simply don’t hold water. They often ask employees to attain and maintain a “healthy weight” BMI—something that very fat women have a 0.8% chance of doing in our lifetimes. Overwhelming evidence indicates that nonsurgical weight-loss attempts simply don’t work, whether we call them diets, lifestyle changes, or cleanses. Workplace wellness programs ask their employees to do something that science simply doesn’t know how to accomplish: to maintain long-term, major weight loss. Which means that, functionally, many programs simply reward those who were already thin and penalize and scapegoat workers who were already fat.Ultimately, many of these workplace wellness programs set to police individual behavior in the interest of an employee’s health, but only insofar as it financially benefits the employer. Altruistic as they may seem, this kind of workplace wellness program often winds up as a shrewd attempt to undercut employer-provided health care and lower costs—even if they harm workers’ health in the process.Life is hard enough for workers of all kinds. Weight-focused workplace wellness programs could harm employees’ mental health in the short term, their physical health in the long term, and their pay in the immediate future. As we return to in-person work, let’s make the choice to decrease stigma and increase equity. Let’s leave workplace wellness programs in the past where they belong.Related:
For decades now, some fat people have been proudly using the word “fat” like any other descriptor, accurately and neutrally. The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) was founded 1969, proudly using the word “fat” in its name. Books like Happy Fat, Things No One Tells Fat Girls, and Fat!So? Have been written by and for fat people for years. But still, people who aren’t and haven’t been fat often studiously avoid the word, even going so far as to correct fat people when we name our own bodies.I’ve been fat since childhood and have worn plus sizes since high school. I have had “fat” hurled at me as an insult more times than I can count. It stung because it was intended to: Not only was it a condemnation of my body, it was a reminder that I didn’t belong. But even as a child and teenager, being called “fat” paled in comparison to how I was treated, even by those who diligently avoided the term.As an undeniably fat person, being called “fat” is the least of my problems. I am more concerned with the rampant discrimination that people like me face in employment, health care, education, and more. I am much more concerned about the ceaseless street harassment and sexual harassment that follow very fat people wherever we go and about the countless bystanders who too often say and do nothing to intervene. And I’m much more concerned with the number of straight-size people who refuse to say the word “fat” and, as a result, refuse to acknowledge the lived experience of fatter people. Because I know, from a lifetime of experience in a fat body, that if someone is afraid to say fat, chances are they’re not standing up for fat people. If simply naming our bodies is too much to bear, that’s a sign that one’s relationship to fat people is far from neutral, much less accepting or supportive.Of course, not everyone is comfortable being called “fat.” But that discomfort can’t override fat people’s body autonomy. And that means that all of us—fat or thin—are going to need to get comfortable enough to hear someone else say the word “fat” without objecting (unless it’s used in an abusive way, of course). Regardless of the speaker’s size, we’re going to need to get comfortable asking, “What does that mean to you?” and accepting whatever answer we get. We’ll need to relearn to see the word as it is: a neutral descriptor that can hold different kinds of power for different people. Recognize that where you see a minefield, others—including many people who, like me, are undeniably fat—find liberation and joy. In a word you’ve redacted from your vocabulary, many of us find ourselves. And when you cannot name our bodies, when you cannot regard our skin neutrally, what chance do you have of treating us respectfully or lovingly?If you’re recognizing your own habits as you read this, instead of centering your own discomfort with the word “fat” when you hear other people use it, try getting at the root of that discomfort. And instead of simply avoiding the word “fat” out of an attempt not to hurt fat people’s feelings, focus on making the world a safer place for fat people to begin with. Here are a few ways to work on both of those goals.Challenge your own discomfort with the word “fat.” Try saying the word to yourself, over and over again. Note how it feels in your mouth. Say it until you can hear it neutrally, and until you can say it like any other physical descriptor: tall, short, fat, thin. If you need to describe a fat person’s body for any legitimate and inoffensive reason (so, one that has nothing to do with any body talk they didn’t consent to), ask them what words they’d like you to use, and then use those words. Including “fat.” Show up for fat people by honoring our wishes—not just what you think our wishes ought to be.
Last week, my best friend sent me a text asking, “How are you feeling about everything?” By “everything,” she meant the state of the world, and more specifically, the state of the pandemic. When I really started to think about it, the only answer that seemed appropriate was: “Depressed.” She felt the same.What makes things especially hard is that I feel as though I’m living in some sort of alternate universe from so many other people. A coronavirus twilight zone. Most people I know, including many friends and family, have let their guards down when it comes to precautions like masking and avoiding indoor gatherings, even if they’re not vaccinated against COVID-19.Not me. I’m vaccinated and still wear a mask everywhere I go. I don’t feel at ease visiting unvaccinated family or friends inside. I don’t feel comfortable getting a massage or going to the gym. I wouldn’t feel okay on a flight that was more than four hours long, especially if it meant taking my mask off to eat or drink.I realize that other vaccinated folks may be more relaxed with precautions because of the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines suggesting that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks in most situations. That’s their right! Still, I feel more comfortable continuing to wear a mask until we have more information about SARS-CoV-2 transmission between maskless vaccinated and unvaccinated folks. I’ve received so much pushback on this from some people, but I shouldn’t feel shamed for doing what feels safest for me.Thankfully, I do have a few friends who are on the same page as me when it comes to this. And I do feel solidarity in seeing others wearing a mask, both indoors and outdoors. However, when I think about America as a whole, and many of my loved ones and family members, I feel alone in my concerns.I want to be clear about one thing: I feel deep empathy for people who have been isolated for over a year and are now yearning for social contact again without safety precautions like masks. I have many family members who have been in complete isolation throughout the course of the pandemic. It’s understandable that people would want things to “go back to normal” already. I get that. As someone who is married, having an IRL companion has been one of the main ways I’ve been able to get through this pandemic. But none of that erases the fact that I personally do not feel 100% safe during indoor, maskless social gatherings when not everyone is vaccinated—even now that I’m vaccinated.Many of my friends and family tell me that I’m being fearful or ridiculous about sticking to masking. Numbers are down, they say. You’re vaccinated, they remind me. Risk is low. But, for me, low risk doesn’t equal no risk. And even though I may be able to recover from COVID-19 if I happen to get it, I don’t want to chance passing it on to someone in the high-risk category. I wear a mask to mitigate my own risk, but I also do it in solidarity with people who are more compromised.As someone with generalized anxiety disorder, people sometimes write off my desire to uphold masking as anxiety. But for me, it’s just common sense. Yes, I live with a backdrop of anxiety every day. But it’s my belief that anyone who is taking this pandemic seriously would still feel a little anxious. More than half a million people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S. alone. Although cases are declining in the U.S., this virus isn’t gone, and vaccination doesn’t offer 100% protection against getting this illness. Even if you are lucky enough to have mild symptoms and “recover” from COVID-19, about a third of people in one February 2021 JAMA Network study reported still having at least one persistent symptom nine months after getting the virus. The CDC says that even people with asymptomatic infections can have what they’re describing as “post-COVID conditions,” which could present as a range of health problems. And as a registered dietitian, the thought of even temporarily losing my sense of taste or smell, a well-documented post-COVID symptom, is absolutely devastating.
With states such as New York, Virginia, Mexico, New Jersey, and New Mexico moving steadily toward various forms of cannabis decriminalization, legalization, and adult-use openness, many people will soon have more choices to consider regarding who and where they buy their products from. But what cannabis consumers may not know is that melanated people face excessive hurdles when it comes to starting a cannabis business, due to deeply embedded racism, which has left the current industry overwhelmingly white while the war on drugs continues to disproportionately affect Black and Brown people.At least 80% of the cannabis industry is run by white founders and business owners, according to a 2017 Marijuana Business Daily survey, and about 6% of business owners or founders identify as Hispanic/Latino, 4% identify as Black, and 2% identify as Asian. Only 8% of cannabis CEOs are women, according to a white paper published by the National Cannabis Industry Association and the Arcview investor group. People of color are disproportionately affected due to racism. Period. But melanated people, including Chinese, Japanese, and Indian people, have historical connections to this plant as traditional healers and horticulturalists—and they deserve to have a place in the legal industry.At this point, it’s time for consumers to be part of this movement for inclusive cannabis. You may not realize it, but the choices you make about the businesses you support can have a huge impact on the industry. Below is my advice for those who are interested in supporting cannabis, hemp (which comes from cannabis plants that legally contain 0.3% THC or less), and CBD businesses in a way that helps make the entire industry more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.Buy from inclusive, diverse-owned, or ally-owned cannabis businesses.Cannabis is now a multi-billion dollar industry mostly led by wealthy white men who are usually interested in market proliferation over everything else. Part of that is due to the extremely high barrier to entry when building a business. For a small cannabis operation (including retail, farming/grows, processing, and manufacturing businesses), costs generally start between $250,000 and $2 million dollars in just about every state. That means most of us can’t start a plant-touching business (a cannabis-related business that directly deals with the plant), let alone access funding. Because cannabis is still a schedule 1 drug federally, banks are not giving out loans (which already reject Black applicants far more than white ones). So you would need ready access to large amounts of money or investments to even have a shot.Add to that the fact that, in some states, a past conviction for cannabis offenses still prevents people from entering the industry, and you’ve got a recipe for a marketplace that systemically favors white owners over people of color.And with so many roles in the industry requiring access to capital and an understanding of complex regulations, many people are simply unable to compete. But this isn’t just an issue for people of color or poor white people—even those legacy operators in Humboldt county (who became well-known for their marijuana farms pre-legalization) have been affected by the new regulatory climate of legal weed.You can help brands that face higher barriers to entry by buying products from the few diverse companies that exist and the smaller-scale legacy farmers that helped make the current industry possible. That’s why our goal at Cannaclusive, the organization I co-founded, is to facilitate inclusivity in the cannabis industry among business owners and consumers in part by making it easier for people to find diverse brands they can feel good about supporting.Ask companies and brands what they are doing to support cannabis equity and automatic expungement for all of those imprisoned for marijuana offenses.It’s crucial that brands that are profiting from legal marijuana also contribute to cannabis equity efforts, including the expungement of records of people who are or were formerly incarcerated for marijuana offenses. At Cannaclusive, we receive a fair amount of inquiries from consumers who want to know which companies are doing their part in supporting and promoting cannabis equity and decriminalization efforts. Truthfully, it is quite alarming how many companies and brands truly do little to the bare minimum when it comes to this aspect.
A simple way to show up more fully for your fat friends and family: Make sure to choose activities we can and want to participate in. Solicit fat folks’ input when you’re making plans to ensure we’re able and excited to join in. Check apps like AllGo, which reviews spatial and seating accessibility for fat people, or just Google the establishment and the word “accessibility” for more information. If you want to go shopping with your fat friend, make sure they carry your fat friend’s size. Better yet, ask them whether and where they want to shop. Whatever your plans, if you want us to join you, first make sure that we can.2. Let your fat friends choose where to sit.Seating can be a real minefield as a fat person. Beyond booths, tables, and chairs sometimes being be locked into place, chairs may be flimsy. Some may buckle under our weight, and others may threaten to, leaving us half-sitting and half-crouching, more aware of our swaying, creaking chair than our beloved friend’s company. Even in thinner friends’ homes, those friends rarely know the weight capacity of their own furniture, and assume that fat people’s seating needs are the same as their own: simply a place to sit, with any seat as good as the next.This may seem like thorny territory to address (how do I ask a fat friend if a chair will hold them?), but there’s a simple, elegant solution. When you enter a bar, restaurant or room, simply ask your fat friends where they’d like to sit. Let them pick, and take their lead. It’s accessible for them and easy for you.3. Ask for consent before talking about your diet and body image issues.Too often, my thin friends who don’t feel at ease in their bodies assume that, because I’m so much fatter than them, I must feel terrible about my own body (I don’t) and assume that I will welcome discussion of those perceived insecurities (as someone with an eating disorder, I don’t). And because of that assumption, they’ll launch into a litany of complaints about their own body. I’m so fat, it’s disgusting. Look at my thighs—no one wants to see that. I can’t have any more carbs today. I’m such a pig.While I empathize with their body image struggles, it’s also tough to stay in those conversations. Because while they’re hyper-focused on their points of dissatisfaction with their own bodies, my body becomes collateral damage. Even if I’m having a good body image day, hearing someone half my size bemoan their “fat thighs” reminds me that, as a fat person, my body is their nightmare. If you think you’re impossibly fat, what must you think of me?And research shows that these kinds of negative body image conversations can, indeed, harm self-image—not just for us, but for our friends, coworkers, and whoever else we might invite into the conversation. We tend to think of these conversations as a way of venting our insecurities, blowing off some steam. But they can cause significant harm to us and to those around us.So instead of launching into these thorny conversations unannounced, take the quick step of asking for consent before digging in on diet talk or sharing body insecurities. It’s a small step that can save you, your fat friends, and your friends with eating disorders a whole lot of heartache.4. Stand up for them even if they’re not around.When I think of returning to the world after over a year of isolation, I feel hope and excitement, yes, but I also feel dread. The last year has been a welcome respite from the onslaught of in-person street harassment, casual office diet talk, and leering stares that too often follow me as a fat person. Given the sharp rise in proud, public, anti-fat rhetoric over the last year, I’m quietly resigning myself to an increase in negative comments, harassment, and overt discrimination. And, based on a lifetime of experience, I know that when that happens, my thin friends are unlikely to interrupt it. I’ll be on my own.
In the UK, the hammering of nails into the gas-powered engine’s coffin has begun. Late last year, the Conservative, pro-business prime minister Boris Johnson made the dramatic announcement that sales of cars with conventional internal-combustion motors would be banned from 2030, 10 years earlier than initially proposed, and sales of hybrids banned from 2035.
The aim is to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, the same target President Biden has committed to. The UK is not the first administration to set such a deadline. Norway seeks to ban sales of conventionally powered cars just four years from now, and within the US, the state of California will too, from 2035. But the majority of Norway’s new-car sales are already electric, and it has no native car industry to imperil with such an alarmingly close cutoff. California’s only major carmaker is Tesla. The edict from the British government is significant because its native carmakers—and especially luxury marques such as Bentley, McLaren, Aston Martin and Rolls-Royce—are huge employers and export earners, and are still overwhelmingly dependent on gas.
The Artura, McLaren’s new plug-in hybrid supercar.
Photo: Courtesy of McLaren Automotive Limited
Is all this mad? I don’t think so, and neither do those storied brands. Even before the ban was announced, McLaren said it will launch only hybrids for its major models from 2021 on, will cease development of conventional engines from 2030 and expects to end their sale in 2035. In Q4, after McLaren made its stand, Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark said all of his cars will be all-electric by 2030 anyway. The shift will suit some blue-blooded British manufacturers very well, particularly Rolls-Royce, which has always majored in refinement, and Bentley, for which thumping, low-end torque has long been part of the DNA.
Given the readiness of these luxury automakers for these bans, I wonder if what looks like a cliff edge now might feel like a speed bump when we finally get there, or even pass under our wheels unnoticed. Governments may simply be putting definite end dates on the combustion engine’s pre-existing, gradual but terminal decline in some developed markets. The signs are there—the rate at which EV sales are increasing, the frequency of new-model launches, the boosts in battery-energy density and the falling charge times—pointing to a clear direction of travel that politicians have recognized and perhaps just positioned themselves ahead of.
The explosive growth in the share prices of Tesla and Nio—and the implied value of not-yet-listed EV makers like US-based Rivian—might befuddle and enrage the established carmakers, but their valuations let these firms access cheaply the funds they need to actually make this electric future happen and are a clear indication of how the world thinks this is all going to go. Of those entrenched global players, General Motors became the first to commit, in January, to replacing combustion engines—including hybrids—in its passenger cars, its self-imposed 2035 deadline unrelated to the British ban, as GM no longer sells cars in Europe. Others will follow.
Mercedes-Benz 2022 EQA
So does the UK’s 2030 ban—or Norway’s, or California’s, or France’s in 2040, or those being considered by Germany and others—really matter at all? “I think they do, because there’s just no way around them anymore,” Arndt Ellinghorst told me recently. The hawk-eyed German analyzes the car industry for Bernstein, the US research and investment house, and speaks directly to automotive CEOs. “In the past, when there were just emission targets, then yeah, there were ways around them. But if you just can’t sell these things anymore, then that’s it. The industry needs clarity, it needs certainty. I think it’s almost a win for them. There’s almost a sense of relief.
“More companies now tell me they’re not spending money on engines because the incremental improvements aren’t worth it. There’s very little we can do to engines now to make them significantly more powerful or more efficient. The engine has been engineered to its end.”
Of course, attitudes to motors are very different beyond Europe and California. As a means of propelling a car, the internal-combustion engine is far from dead. In parts of the developing world, a gas engine is seen not as an environmental crime but as a means of self-advancement. The UK ban is only on domestic sales, meaning it could still make engines for markets that don’t ban them. But it wouldn’t be a good look. There might be a short period in which luxury carmakers build engines there that we can’t buy, but it won’t last long.
And, frankly, I can’t wait. I’ve made what passes for a career driving and writing about internal-combustion engines for more than 20 years now. The first letter my son learned was the “M” on the engine cover of a BMW Motorsport straight-six. But I now do maybe half my daily driving in EVs, and I feel like I’ve stepped back into the 20th century whenever I drive a conventional car. The first EVs I drove, in the early aughts, were like science-fair projects. Now they’re often the best cars on the road. There are issues still to resolve, but I can’t believe they won’t be fixed in another decade of the fastest transformation ever to hit transportation.
2021 Porsche Taycan Turbo S Cross Turismo and 4S Cross Turismo
But if you remain an acolyte of engines that breathe and burn stuff, and of transmissions that you operate yourself, you might not be denied your fix. Of Europe’s other luxury carmakers, electric drive might be good enough for Pininfarina already, but Ferrari says it won’t be good enough for Italy’s grandest marque until 2025 at the earliest and probably later, implying that its operatic gas engines will continue alongside EVs for some time, and perhaps to the bitter end. Porsche has already launched the sensational Taycan EV but is also working hard on carbon-neutral synthetic fuels, which, if it can beat their considerable challenges, might extend the life of engines and force legislators to rethink those bans.
All the proposed bans have been solely on new-car sales: No administration is yet proposing taking our vintage weekend wheels off the road. I’d expect values of quick, usable “modern classics” to spike upward as collectors seek to secure the best examples to drive regularly alongside their daily EVs. If you want to get ahead of this curve, go buy yourself something with a naturally aspirated engine, a manual gearbox and rear-wheel drive, because it’s almost certain that soon we literally won’t be making them like that anymore.
Of course, nearly any description of discriminatory attitudes or behaviors can be pushed aside by those doing the discriminating. But rooting a conversation in implicit and explicit bias—which we increasingly understand to be universal—creates a more nuanced conversation, and one that isn’t so readily shrugged off.It invites defensiveness rather than transformation from the very people who most need to change. Prior to beginning my writing career, I spent a dozen years as a community organizer, predominantly working in LGBTQ communities. In those spaces, when someone was accused of being homophobic or transphobic, they didn’t respond with introspection, apology, or an expressed desire to change. Instead they seemed to feel cornered, opting to defend their actions as unbiased and free of prejudice. Even when their actions demonstrably harmed LGBTQ people—that is, even when we were correct—calling them homophobic or transphobic derailed the conversation into one about their intentions, not the impact of their actions. What most effectively moved folks forward was a conversation that acknowledged that while their intentions might be good, their actions created impacts that weren’t.And right or wrong, many of us experience terms like homophobic or transphobic as assessments of our character, not our actions. So rather than focusing on the behaviors and attitudes that need to change, we end up mired in meandering and painful conversations about whether or not someone is a good person with a good heart. And in the process, we lose track of facilitating their growth and our own healing. Of course, no marginalized community is required to use terms that make our oppressors comfortable. The choice of what language to use is a deeply personal one for those who’ve been targeted by oppressive systems, and whatever words marginalized people choose to use to describe their experiences are valid and not up for debate.But as an organizer, my job was to deliver change for communities that urgently needed it. And while it was both true and satisfying to call bigotry what it was, the most effective way to deliver a change in individual behaviors and in institutional policies was reliably to simply illustrate how those behaviors and policies hurt our communities without using language that made them think their character was being judged.Given all of these pitfalls, a number of alternatives to fatphobia have emerged in recent years. Some use the term fatmisia, using the Greek miso-, meaning “hatred” (think misogyny). Fatmisia is certainly more focused on the hatred and bigotry of anti-fat attitudes, though it’s less intuitive to many and takes some defining with each use.Others use sizeism, defined as “discrimination or prejudice directed against people because of their size and especially because of their weight.” While sizeism is more easily understood than fatmisia, it isn’t inherently explicit that fat people bear the brunt of anti-fat behaviors and policies. And when we aren’t explicit about who pays the price for anti-fat attitudes, it opens the door for those with the greatest privilege (in this case, thin people) to recenter themselves as the primary victims of a system designed to underserve and exclude fat people. Still others use fat-shaming, which reduces a complex oppressive system to individual acts of aggression and frequently invites derailing arguments about skinny-shaming. As ever, any term we use to describe a vast and heterogeneous community united by one characteristic will fall short for some.Personally, I use the terms anti-fatness and anti-fat bias. Neither is perfect, but both are clear, descriptive terms that are easier to understand and more difficult to derail than the above options. I use both interchangeably, defining both as “the attitudes, behaviors, and social systems that specifically marginalize, exclude, underserve, and oppress fat bodies.” They refer both to individual bigoted beliefs as well as institutional policies designed to marginalize fat people. Both are clear that the issue at hand isn’t an oversimplified, internal issue of “body image” or “self-esteem”—a subtle kind of victim-blaming used to minimize our collective biases against fat people. These terms both underscore that the issue is those biases themselves. And neither requires extensive definitions, nor do they limit conversations about oppression to those well-versed in often inaccessible, academic language.All of us are free to use whatever words we choose. My choice is to use terms that invite the change I’d like to see, that are accessible to anyone who’d like to converse about these issues, and that don’t further stigmatize communities on the margins.Related:
I refuse to allow this to be my day-to-day. It’s a promise I made right after Drew’s funeral. And it’s a promise my friend Brandon Wolf, who survived the Pulse shooting, has made as well.“A few days after the shooting, we held a funeral service for Drew,” Brandon told me. “His mother asked me to be a pallbearer that day, and as I helped carry his casket down the aisle, I found myself gripping the side so tightly, I thought my fingers might snap off. I didn’t want to let go until I’d found the right words to say goodbye. When we got to the front of the church, I looked down at his polished wooden box and made a quiet promise: that I would never stop fighting for a world he’d be proud of.”Brandon and I didn’t even know each other before the Pulse Shooting, but I consider him a best friend and brother now. We have bonded over our mutual promise. We, along with our organization The Dru Project, have worked tirelessly to ensure that Drew was not just another number or statistic. We have worked together along with our board president, Shawn Chaudhry, for almost five years now to speak out about the aftermath of gun violence on marginalized communities as well as help support LGBTQ+ youth to honor our friend and his life. Unfortunately, while we’ve moved our anger into action, we still have anguish to endure as senseless shootings continue to occur in this country.How many more times must we be re-traumatized? Especially when we are expected to “remember self-care” while also answering the dozens of texts, calls, or messages that feel so familiar.I discussed this with Brandon the night of the Boulder shooting. “When we get these messages, people are asking how we are holding up,” he said. “But then we have to hold our feelings as well as theirs as we navigate through another traumatic experience. I want to be there for people, but sometimes it becomes overwhelming when ‘How are you holding up?’ is followed by ‘Gosh, these headlines are just suffocating. COVID ends and it’s back to all this. Think this time will be different?’”This tragedy once again underscores the fact that America is in the grips of a gun violence crisis that includes both mass killings and daily shootings plaguing communities around the nation. We can’t and won’t accept gun violence in our supermarkets, our spas, our schools, our clubs, or our homes as just another fact of life. This cycle of gun violence is unacceptable, particularly since the majority of Americans support life-saving background checks and common-sense gun violence prevention legislation.So, if you feel angry, it’s because we deserve better.If you feel sad, it’s because we deserve better.If you feel numb, remember that we deserve better than slogging from one collective traumatic experience to another.I have been working as hard as I can over the last five years to honor my friend, and I hope you will join in our efforts. The work that Everytown and Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety does is paramount to saving lives. The legislation that they have helped pass at the state level has been so helpful for that cause, but we need more than thoughts and prayers from our national lawmakers once and for all. The ball is in the U.S. Senate’s court: The House passed background checks legislation earlier this month, and it’s time to turn these horrific headlines into problem-solving action in DC. The time to take action to save lives is right now.It’s been more than 25 years since our leaders passed a federal gun safety law—that’s 25 years of survivors mourning their loved ones, 25 years of tireless activism, 25 years of senseless shootings like those in Boulder, Atlanta, Orlando, and the countless others that do not always make the news. That’s 25 years’ worth of people missing from their friends’ and families’ dinner tables, birthday parties, weddings, and normal nights out. I don’t want to lose another loved one—no one does. So the change must begin with each of us doing our part to build a better and safer America.Related:
My parents left post-apartheid South Africa for Georgia when I was six, fleeing violent systemic oppression against people of color—including the Chinese community—for a better, safer life in suburbia. For them, assimilation was a survival tactic, a means of advancement. As a child, my mother stopped speaking Chinese in favor of English, and my father speaks Cantonese but never passed it on to me and my siblings. Having moved to America at such a young age, I took up the same mantle. I quickly picked up an American accent, and wanting to belong, I became the quintessential “twinkie,” as my middle school friends liked to call it: yellow on the outside, white on the inside.When has the constant striving and posturing ever been enough though? The perceived proximity to whiteness hasn’t completely shielded us against violence or discrimination, and has only made it easier for people to ignore the very real struggles of AAPI. This myth of a hardworking, successful Asian minority has also been used to pit us against other oppressed people, and downplay the very different systemic injustices and police brutality that the Black community faces in particular. In writing this, I wavered over what details to include about my family’s socioeconomic status, or privilege (or lack thereof), in order to justify that I have the right to speak on racism, but I also don’t want to promote the idea that anyone discussing their experiences with hate and discrimination needs to come from a place of “hardship” to have a voice in this. All marginalized groups and people of color experience racism in some form, no matter what our status is, simply because of the nature of how white supremacy works. This flawed notion that “Asians have always had it good” only normalizes erasure around issues of othering, invisibility, and bigotry.I will never forget the girl in my high school literature class who looked me in the eye and told me that I was not American, or the waiter who praised me for my polished English (my first language). Or the white boys in middle school who routinely harassed me by hurling my last name “Keong” with the force of a slur, as if it were the resounding boom of a gong. White men have objectified me, and tokenized me as “the first Asian woman they’ve ever dated,” or “complimented” me on looking half-Asian. People have assumed I am a Chinese tourist simply because of the way I look, and customs officers have spoken to me as if I didn’t have a perfect command of English. Strangers have asked me and my brother if we’re married or siblings, as if it were a binary—or peppered me with questions about my background, never satisfied until they’ve identified a “foreign” country of origin.The othering, microaggressions, blatant racism, and “jokes,” are little stings that fade with time, but never go away. They’re easy to recall when you find yourself, with a certain amount of dread, in a room full of people who don’t look like you.I am complicit in this, too. I have certainly dodged racist comments and behavior in the past, but also occasionally furthered them: Signaling to people that I was “down with it” by openly distancing myself from my Chinese origins and self-deprecatingly perpetuating harmful Asian stereotypes at my own expense. As someone who has spent my entire life shrinking and contorting myself to be accepted, I am still doing the work of unpacking the mindfuck of what it means to reject your heritage, and model your identity after someone else’s. It has taken me a very long time to get to the place where I can recognize and acknowledge the extent to which white aspirationalism has distorted my sense of self, but working through the anger and pain has made me even more committed to fighting white supremacy in all its myriad, small and large, forms.