Well, PCRM is at it again, this time with a more subtle form of body-shaming in their latest ad campaign. In their newest campaign, targeted at an airline, they suggest a surcharge to sit next to a vegan -- who is of course portrayed as a thin, beautiful blonde woman. It's lovely that they can piggyback off of the airline industry's own record of fat-shaming and play on people's fears that others will be unhappy to share a seat with them or that they will be forced to pay for a second seat. How efficient. (For anyone who may have missed this as an issue, let me assure you, it's one of the most commonly asked questions in the popular Fatshionista community: "How will the airline I'll be taking treat me?". There are also horror stories of very public humiliations.)
Since my initial post about PCRM's body-shaming anti-cheese campaign, I've been engaged in a lot of discussion with folks about obesity and the dangers thereof, nutrition, junk-food, and stigma. I've spoken to people who are as upset by it as I was, people who respectfully disagreed (including PCRM's president himself), and one very angry fellow vegan who told me to "go have another doughnut" because my lack of sudden and startling weight-loss upon changing my diet surely meant I was a "junk-food vegan." (That's exactly the response I expected PCRM's ad to elicit towards fat folks, by the way. No surprise there.) What no one is talking about is the very heart of PCRM's campaign, similar campaigns from PETA, and the obesity "epidemic" itself: fear and shame.
Virtually every person in this country falls into one of two categories:
1. those who live in fear of being fat
2. those who are ashamed because they are fat.
Stop and think about it for a second. Isn't that sad? Where are the people who are happy with their bodies, exercising because they love the feeling of being active, enjoying food without worry, and making rational eating decisions on the basis of health rather than weight? I know they exist, but how few and far between they are! Most of us are watching every bite with anxiety, looking for ways to cram in another thirty thoroughly repetitive minutes at the gym, and still not liking what we see in the mirror.
Why is there so much fear and shame associated with weight? The medical community will tell you it's because obesity is unhealthy. Sociologists disagree, since the cultural shift in thinking about weight pre-dates most research on the related health issues. But whatever the reason, the most important thing to understand is that it's counterproductive.
There is something fundamentally wrong with the tone of our discussions about obesity and health. The proof? The majority of research about weight and health has come out in the last 30 years. What has happened to global obesity levels in that time period? Global obesity levels have doubled in that time frame, according to a 2011 study in the Lancet. The more afraid we become, the fatter we are.
Let me be clear, I'm not saying that's the reason behind the weight gain. Contrary to what PCRM's cheese = obesity ad campaign suggests, obesity is a multi-factor problem. They're right that the increase in average cheese (and meat) intake are probably big reasons. But dozens of things have happened in the last three decades that have an impact on waistlines - for example, the rapid decrease in families with the luxury of a stay-at-home parent to do the cooking, the increase in availability and affordability of unhealthy 'convenience' foods, and the decrease in levels of physical activity.
What I'm saying is that in addition to the weight we've gained as a society, we've gained the knowledge to know it has associated dangers. So why, armed with this knowledge, do we not manage to win the fight against obesity? Because fear and shame are paralyzing feelings, not empowering ones.
And that, right there, is why fat vegans matter. Our very existence is empowering to others considering taking the vegan plunge. It obliterates the gaunt-and-sickly vegan stereotype. It shows that people of any size can live on a plant-based diet without feeling like they're starving. It makes people feel that there are others still on the journey to health who can understand them. It lets them know they can be vegan without being ashamed of not being their "ideal" weight.
I'm not saying that being obese is the healthiest state of being. But isn't being a fat vegan healthier than being a fat carnist? Of course it is.
I'm proud of the positive steps I've taken for my health, and I don't make weight the measure of my success in those attempts. Veganism has given life-changing health benefits to me. I've gone from very ill to very healthy. I'd hate to think of anyone being denied that kind of improvement in their health because they felt ashamed, afraid, feared being judged, or felt that they wouldn't be accepted. So if you, like PCRM, are concerned about other people's weight issues, empower and encourage them; don't shame them.
Lest we forget, veganism is about so much more than weight and health. No matter what I weigh, my conscience is light as a feather!