People Aren’t Vegan Because of YOUR Body

By on July 16, 2013

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Is Shame Vegan

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.

When I shared this blog on The Thinking Vegan Facebook page, I did so because I was moved by the writer’s story, and to remind people that fat shaming is wrong.

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.

 

 

 

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Comments

  1. Corey Lee Wrenn
    July 16, 2013

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    I LOVE THIS POST!
    BRILLIANT! I love the other post this built on as well!

  2. Curran Russell
    July 17, 2013

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    Almost to tears. I am sick sick sick of people’s superficial & antagonistic dictatorship about weight. I’m not heavy, but was when I was young (and bullied). Once upon a time it was the height of fashion to be plump (Rubens). Bravo Gary! xXx

  3. Gabi
    July 17, 2013

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    Being a fat vegan myself, all I can add is thank you. In the name of the animals, and in the name of the fat vegans.

  4. Plump Pinup Life and Style
    July 17, 2013

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    Fat vegans are awesome. People are always shocked when they tell me I’m vegan. They ask how long I’ve been vegan, and I tell them about 5 years. More shock. They cannot compute how I can be obese and vegan and awesome.

    Personally, I try to make choices that make my body feel best. I bike nearly everywhere and generally eat natural foods. When I go to the grocery, I usually come back with nearly all produce, supplemented with whatever else I’ll need to make a complete meal. I also don’t drink, smoke or do drugs. I literally have the healthiest habits of everyone I know, and yet, I’m still fat. Skinny does not equal healthy!

  5. Jan
    July 17, 2013

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    I agree with you 100%

  6. David
    July 17, 2013

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    Thanks for sharing this. It’s easy to come to the table with a closed mind when one’s focus as a vegan is on health or appearance!

  7. Simon
    July 17, 2013

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    while I don’t necessarily agree with fat “shaming”, I think it’s disingenous to compare it to other forms of discrimination as you have. “and it’s no different than shaming or judging vegans based on race, sex, sexual orientation, or physical disability” – it actually is wholly different, in that you choose to be fat. You do not choose any of these other things.

    • bloree
      March 10, 2014

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      …just as, many people believe that it is a person’s choice to be gay, trans, or, in some cases, disabled. They are, in fact, one and the same. Shame is shame, no matter what the source of it is. And no one deserves it regardless of what choices they did or didn’t make.

  8. Sal
    July 18, 2013

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    Yes well said and thank you for putting it a lot more eloquently than I could. Body shaming of any kind = never ok. Ever.

  9. Traci L
    July 18, 2013

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    And three posts later, some commenters here *still* don’t get it. Being overweight this image-obsessed society is not easy. Fat-shaming in ubiquitous not only in general society, it’s also ubiquitous in the vegan community. Being on the end of it hurts. The majority of overweight people have been advised of every diet, every diet book, every fitness plan, etc, in existence, and have actually tried at least a portion of them, with limited success. Don’t you think if your conception of calorie counting, dieting and exercise–or whatever you’re thinking “fat people” are *choosing not to do*—worked, there would still be so many overweight people around? Given all I’ve just said, do you honestly think anyone would CHOOSE to be fat? Do us all a favor and RE-READ Gary’s post.

  10. Jewel j
    July 18, 2013

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    This is great to have brought up like this. a bonus sometimes when people go vegan is they can look more fit. it makes sense that it would be brought up in a debate sometimes. But you’re right. Its not about our bodies. Keep it to the real point. Being an ethical vegan has a much more solid foundation than how we look.

    Plus, a lot of people that want to help or save the vulnerable have been in places they should have been saved from in their past. when people have been through trauma or real difficulties they didn’t have the tools to cope with… They can develop other coping skills. Like trying to control their physical body, because its the only thing they can control. there may be some deep, isolating reasons for people to over eat or not eat at all. We don’t know where people are at.

    I hope that makes sense. I’m on my phone. The screen is useless.

    But i’m really glad you brought this up, because I’ve been guilty of saying nasty things about peoples bodies more than once. I will not do it ever again. I know better.

  11. Kezia
    July 18, 2013

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    “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.”

    This part is so important, thank you. There is an image associated with “animal activists,” and yes the image the mainstream has may be skewed and unfair, but it is hugely important to show that you don’t have to be a skinny tattooed anarchist, or a skinny unshaven hippie, to fit in.

    Animal activists are doctors and lawyers and teachers and graphic designers and moms who sell handmade jewelry on Etsy. We’re thin and fat and gay and straight and old and young.

    I would love people to “out” the orgs and campaigns that tell overweight people to stay home.

  12. Kezia
    July 18, 2013

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    It’s comments like “you choose to be fat…you do not choose any of these other things” that warrant this discussion taking place at all.

    Simon, that blanket statement shows insensitivity at best, and as Traci pointed out, a lack of understanding of the many challenges people – including vegans – have with their weight. (Thyroids, pancreases, metabolic systems, and even medications work differently in different people.)

    And let’s say someone truly chooses to be fat – who cares? You may not like that choice, and I know you didn’t say so in your post, but judgment, alienation, and discrimination from other vegans is still unacceptable.

  13. PJ
    July 18, 2013

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    Simon,
    Being fat is not always a choice. I have Lupus and my medications keep me a constant 20 lbs overweight. I eat 1500-1800 calories a day of raw vegan food (no processed crap here) and walk a minimum of 1 1/2 hrs a day as well as 20-30 minutes of yoga. My doctor is amazed at my lack of inflammation and pain. I am a good poster child for controlling Lupus with a vegan diet, but not a suitable spokesperson for veganism? I became vegan strictly for the animal welfare aspect and my decrease in Lupus inflammation was a happy side effect. In all honesty even if my symptoms had increased as a vegan I would still be one, as the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the one. To say that being fat is a choice is ignorant and unfair. I can only hope for you to never have a condition that causes a societal stigma. Some would say I should wish for you to have that happen so you would know how that feels, but how you treat me is your karma and how I respond to it is mine. May the universe be kind to you and may you open your heart of compassion to be inclusive rather than exclusive <3

  14. Robin
    July 19, 2013

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    @Simon – and there you go right there playing into the fat shaming that you don’t “necessarily” agree with: “it actually is wholly different, in that you choose to be fat.” It is like you didn’t really read this whole blog; the research on obesity IS extremely complex. It takes a huge degree of self-complacency, not to mention a lack of compassion plus incomplete knowledge of the subject (complicated and confusing at its best) to make such a blanket statement, covering every obese person/vegan: “you choose to be fat.” Nice to know there is someone that knows every one of us so very well.

  15. luminousvegans
    July 19, 2013

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    Great post. I am shocked to hear that vegans themselves are ostracizing other vegans for their body types. That is crazy! There are omnivores of all shapes and sizes, so why not vegans?

  16. Lisa
    July 19, 2013

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    Body types vary, widely. The average woman can naturally fluctuate in weight 15-20 pounds in any given month. Additionally, thin at any cost, vegan or not, does not make a healthy body or person.
    This belief that a one size fits all BMI model is accurate creates a standard of measurement that’s often highly inaccurate and dangerous. A vegan is much more likely to be healthy at any weight.

    The type casting is funny. Because a lot of traditional meat eating folks imagine all vegans are skin and bones, with pale skin, and frail bodies. To think that those folks are shaming others for being bigger than they are cracks me up.

  17. Heather
    July 22, 2013

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    Oh Simon, Simon, Simon… considering the abuse, oppression, and discrimination face, why would anyone CHOOSE to be fat? the fact is that weight is mostly dictated by genetics then, secondarily, environment, and thirdly and least of all, lifestyle. you have thin people who eat like crap and never exercise and fat people who do exercise and eat very healthfully- explain that for me in your world where fat is a choice? the science doesn’t support your claim- fine me a single study where a majority of participants went from fat to thin and maintained that weight loss for 5 years or more (I say five years because studies show that 95% of people regain lost weight within five years and 2/3 of them regain more than they lost. in other words, weight loss makes you heavier in the long run). I recommend reading Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon PhD for all the studies your heart desires and great explanations on why “fat is a choice” is wrong. it’s a fatphobic thing to say and that means it’s also oppressive and discriminatory. as a fat bisexual woman this posts’ comparison to lgbt rights is right on. I’ve received far far more hate and abuse for being fat (including leading to a suicide attempt at just ten years old) than I ever have for being queer.

  18. Butterflies
    July 23, 2013

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    This is overall a good article, but I disagree with a few points.

    One time PCRM did a campaign on pay $10 extra on a plane to sit next to a thin vegan…perpetuating the idea that all vegans are thin. I hated this campaign, as not all vegans are thin. And veganism is not about us, but about the animals.

    I don’t believe in fat-shaming. But my last husband didn’t go vegan for 2 decades before meeting Gentle World, because he only knew a very unhealthy vegan. If people don’t see healthy examples of vegans, that might deter them from going vegan…there is truth to that. While I would never want an overweight vegan to stop advocacy or participating in vegan advocacy, I do think people should try to keep in mind that their example is being looked at by nonvegans who might be interested. I believe vegans, if they don’t have a health issue, should try to be mindful to be healthy examples. I’m probably going to get hated for this comment, but it is honestly how I really feel.

    I don’t think I agree with the statement: and it’s no different than shaming or judging vegans based on race, sex, sexual orientation, or physical disability. It’s always wrong.” In most cases, we can help if we are fat, but we can’t help what race or sex we were born, so I don’t see them as the same. In most cases, we bring being overweight on to ourselves…not all, but most.

    Beside that, it was a really good post as usual.
    Oh, and P.S. – I’m a bit chubby these days myself. But I will fast twice a year to keep myself in control and that is largely based on my ideology that it is important to be an example of a vegan that will inspire others to want to become vegan too. I do fall short, but I do hold this mentality.

  19. creem
    July 24, 2013

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    Only Fat people will love this post!……..wait a minute..why don’t I agree….I am fat…..I am 88 pounds overweight.
    Because I know its my fault I don’t stop eating junk.

    I for a fact know that half of these claims are lies and exaggerations. The vegans who workout and lose weight and post their pictures inspire. They have never shammed people they only inspire.

    Only someone who does not want to change complains

    What can you expect from an ex-meat eaters. I bet these were the ones who were bad mouthing vegans saying that they were making them feel bad for eating meat.(before they went vegan).
    As you can see just being a vegan and/or speaking about it is enough to SHAME meat eaters.
    Well Now I guess just being thin and healthy is enough to SHAME these “fat” vegans.

    I had a thyroid problem I knew it, I slowly reversed it and now I only have to work out and stop eating like crazy. I don’t eat junk or soy anymore but I eat a lot and I don’t exercise.

    And I am not ashamed of my body I am just ashamed I am not doing anything to live up to the true potential of my body.

    I am ashamed that I get tired, can’t run for more than 100 meters without hyperventilation.
    If I was not ashamed do you think I would even bother changing?

    If you want to change you will change. otherwise you will simply blame people.
    I think fat people are just trying to shame thin people for being thin and being healthy.
    They should be ashamed of themselves and instead of blaming take responsibility and become thin.

    No matter what your condition is if you want to be healthy you will find a way. I found a way with my thryriod. I still don’t lose weight when I eat healthy I know because its my sleeping habits.
    If a dietician or a dcotor sees me they might call my inability to lose weight a mystery.
    But I know I stay awake whole nights sometimes sleep once in two days even though I am eating health(which helps me not put on anymore weight) I am not losing weight cause I eat at odd hours. And when I am tired in the morning I crave carbs and end up eating lots of snacks(even if they are baked chickpea snacks they still contain lots of calories)

    I think this bullshit should stop and people should not be brainwashed into accepting that they cannot grow thin. The mainstream medical community/Big Pharma wants us to believe that so we are sick and they make money.

    I say I would rather someone make me feel ashamed and I lose weight than go in for Lap Band surgery.

  20. Marvin
    July 24, 2013

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    Thank you for posting this article. It points to one of the fundamental destructive issues with our collective human experience. They underlie so much of the pain and suffering that is a part of life.

    Shaming and blaming are the root causes of many problems, especially so far as mental health is concerned. However these issues go far beyond that. We judge each other as individuals, and on a larger scale as groups hold beliefs or ideas which differ from ours. Fat shaming is yet another example of this.

    Vegans really do need to be extra cautious about being judgemental. If we think of ourselves as being morally superior, then perhaps we may then feel justified to look down on those who don’t see things our way. This is faulty thinking which can only lead to conflict.

    I have offered up my opinion on these points on other forums. I hold the idea that being angry, unhappy and self-righteous is not a good way of promoting a healthy vegan lifestyle. After all, who would want to join a group which sets themselves above everyone else using some kind of elitist ethics? More to the point, a group who fights among themselves because they can’t entirely agree on what standards you must meet to be a member.

    Morality is a very slippery slope. After all, Cannibals did not think themselves to be immoral because they killed and ate other humans. Cannibalism evolved as a religious practice, not a dietary one. Killing an enemy and eating their flesh was thought to be a way of gaining their strength.

    So called civilized people find that idea absurd and barbaric. We think of it as being primitive. But, within in the confines of isolated tribal societies in various parts of the world, cannibalism was simply a part of the culture which evolved. It was a product of a particular way of seeing the world which formed over many generations and the environment, circumstances and challenges of their localized existence.

    Today we face a new set of challenges. We too are evolving as a society and the rise of veganism is a reflection of those challenges. It is important to note that cannibalism only disappeared as a cultural norm over time. It did not disappear suddenly because a few missionaries showed up in the jungle and told all the cannibals to stop their behaviour.

    Cannibals only gave up their old ways over time. I rather suspect that the transition from those old ways to a less violent more civil may of living was not smooth or without difficulty. Major cultural changes are rarely free from complications and conflict.

    Vegans are at the tip of a huge cultural shift. We should expect more than a few bumps in the road along the route. Carnism is not going away any time soon. Shifting from an established cultural norm towards a less violent, more civil and just society isn’t going to happen overnight.

    However, if vegans continue to hack at each other over things like appearance, we obviously are not ready to move forward towards a kind, peaceful and just world.

    My idea is to be cautious and careful about what you say to others. Pause before you speak and ask one simple question, is what I am about to say kind?

    Consider if you will, are you judgemental? Do you think yourself to be better than others? Are you pushy or arrogant? Do others see you as being self-righteous, pompous, intolerant?

    If you really do want to promote vegan ideals or ideas, you won’t get to far if you are judged by others as being any of those things.

    It might be worth remembering that more than one missionary became lunch while trying to covert the cannibals. If you go out into the world with such a missionary zeal for conversion, you too might be lost in the figurative jungle.

  21. LiseyDuck
    July 30, 2013

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    Butterflies, I am a healthy vegan – well, got a bit of a cold right now, but nothing curry and sleep won’t fend off. I walk long distances and lift weights. I can spend hours each day cooped up with students and their coughs and sneezes and only usually get mild sniffles from it. In the interests of full disclosure, I have rather hellish periods, but these have been a constant my whole life whatever size I am and whatever I eat. I am not thin. Maybe not everyone’s definition of fat, but certainly fat enough to get jeered at in the street for it. Fat enough that many vegans doubt I am vegan, because of the prejudices outlined in this blog post, because in some people’s eyes you only get over a UK size 10 by eating live puppies. My point is, you worry that people will be put off veganism if the first vegan they meet is unhealthy – fine, that may well be true in many cases, but the thin=healthy/fat=unhealthy equation isn’t helpful here. It makes me think of the whole Skinny Bitch vegan-as-pro-ana business, which personally I found much more offputting. Hey, as far as I’m concerned even the most hardcore junk food vegan serves some purpose here. Many people do live on junk food. If they could be convinced to switch to vegan crap rather than animal-killing crap I would be delighted.

  22. Kristie
    August 14, 2013

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    Cream the problem here is that you are applying your situations to everyone else who is fat. Not everyone is fat because they are lazy. In fact, many people who are fat are so because they bought into the dieting myth cycle and their body fought back as a result. Also many fat people are so because they had medical conditions that their body couldn’t cope with properly without proper advice and now their body is fat as a consequence. Please remember your laziness is not proof of anyone else’s situation. It is just a proof of yours.

    Another interesting side effect to the attitude that vegans must be thin to prove it is healthy is that not everyone chooses to be vegan as a health benefit but for ethical reasons. I think this can undermine the vegan cause because it should not be pushed as another “diet” in order to be healthy or thin. It should be pushed as a lifestyle change for varying reasons. Veganism is not a FAD, so let us not make it into one!

  23. Lynne
    August 22, 2013

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    Thank you so, so very much for this.

  24. Rick
    September 15, 2013

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    I was told by a fellow activist once that I should keep my hair short, because, as a guy, I would be more acceptable to the mainstream public. Therefore, she said, your message will be more readily heard. She then insinuated that I was actually hurting animals by insisting on growing my hair long, which pleases me. My response to her was that as long as I am living MY truth, and living honestly, with integrity, then people will be receptive to my message. If I am not happy with myself, it will reflect to the world, and in my opinion, will make me not as effective as an activist.

  25. Ashleigh
    February 10, 2014

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    I wish I could give you a hug for this post. I’m sick to death of people who know I’m a vegan, and a fat woman, (even my father, who is neither vegan, nor a small person himself) who think that SOMEHOW, they are owed a justification for me being fat and vegan. Meanwhile, most of them don’t do squat for animals or the earth, so it really pisses me off how accepted this attitude has become in the vegan community. Veganism isn’t an “it’s-all-about-me” attitude, or a diet, or some other self-absorbed nonsense. So, thank you for this (and your other two posts).

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