July 16th, 2013 by Gary Smith
Recently I wrote “People aren’t vegan because of YOU,” and today I’d like to add to that: People aren’t vegan because of YOUR body.
I’ve written about fat shaming in the vegan community twice (here and here). The responses to Fat Girl Posing’s blog were vitriolic. They included “overweight vegans make us look bad,” “they have no self control,” “they eat vegan junk food and need to eat healthier foods,” “being fat is not healthy and taxing on the body,” “our message will be taken more seriously if we look the part,” “it serves as a bad role model for children, who will inevitably become exactly the same mess their parents are,” “I shudder at proudly fat campaigns.”
Saying that I was surprised or shocked by the responses to the blog post would be disingenuous, since I see fat shaming in the vegan community on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media vehicles often, not to mention ads by large nonprofits and the vain “before and after going vegan” selfies people post.
Many overweight vegans chimed in (publicly and privately) to share their experiences, including being told that they should not show up to demos because their body wasn’t welcome. They were told they were poor role models, meaning they were not attractive enough to be effective advocates for animals. Some stopped going to animal rights events in their communities, feeling ashamed of their bodies because they’re told they are poor role models.
Wow. Just wow. It’s hard enough to get people to show up for a demo, and we’re turning people away because they aren’t thin enough? It’s like the fat-shaming person’s own special form of public service, telling a fat person to stay home. Think further about the message conveyed to the 67 percent of Americans who are overweight and obese –if we don’t show them that people who care about animals come in all shapes and sizes, we’re alienating them before they even hear our words or accept our leaflets. The animal rights movement is growing broader and more diverse – the proverbial Big Tent – and fat-shaming vegans need to wake up to the notion that we don’t all need to look a certain way, which is of course superficial to begin with.
The personal stories from overweight vegans continued, and so did the shaming – and the unsolicited and inappropriate dieting advice. I honestly don’t know why some, whether vegan or not, think the shape or size of the bodies of ethical vegans is any of their business. It’s unacceptable, and it’s no different than shaming or judging vegans based on race, sex, sexual orientation, or physical disability. It’s always wrong.
Maybe I’m sensitive to the issue because I was born with cerebral palsy and walk with an exaggerated limp. Is my body acceptable to vegans? Do I do a disservice to the vegan cause and message because I don’t have the perfect, healthy vegan body? I also have close friends who have experienced vegan fat shaming and it breaks my heart. They are some of the kindest and strongest people I know.
Breaking news: there are plenty of unhealthy skinny people, and healthy overweight people. Health is not the issue, diet is not the issue, eating nuts or cupcakes isn’t the issue – justice for animals is. Veganism is not a diet. Period. Full stop.
No one knows why someone is overweight, including in some cases the person him or herself. Not even experts.
“As a dietitian, I can tell you that the idea that “being fat is 100 percent the fault of the person” is dead wrong. There are hundreds and hundreds of studies on obesity and scientists still don’t have the answer about what causes it. Please be careful about placing blame when you don’t understand the science,” said Ginny Messina, R.D., M.P.H. “The obesity research is extremely extensive and complex and the one thing that obesity experts agree on is that no one has the answers about this difficult problem. It’s extraordinarily unkind – and completely unscientific – to insist that anyone can be thin if they want to.”
Got that? It’s also unkind to give your unsolicited, unwanted opinion about another vegan’s health, weight and fitness, no matter how much you think it may serve the cause of helping animals. What you’re telling them is that having a perfect body – thin, but not too thin, able bodied – is their contribution to the cause, and they are falling short. You’re telling them people aren’t going vegan because of how they look.