Guest blog by Chelsea Lincoln
“Unwelcomed”. “Forgotten”. “Like an afterthought”. “I don’t matter”. “Not accepted”. “An imposter”. “Less than”. “Angry”. “Like a ‘bad’ vegan”… These are the feelings that fat shaming in the vegan community causes—and it is not okay. These feelings are understandable when you see all the fat shaming memes and images on social media. One particular image is a thin family on the left and the father figure is wearing a no meat shirt. On the right is a fat family with the child holding a meat product and them asking the thin family where they get their protein. The image implies that if you are vegan you are thin, and if you are fat you eat meat. As if fat vegans do not exist.
I remember being at a circus protest and a patron in line yelled at me that I couldn’t be vegan. I knew what he was trying to say, but I still made him say it. He used his hands to show he was referring to my size. This way of thinking has always angered me. How dare people make assumptions about my body when I haven’t eaten meat or dairy products in over 25 years! How dare people promote a falsehood that going vegan means you will be thin. How dare people ignore fat vegans’ voices and experiences.
Have you heard the term sizeism before? Simply put, this is prejudice or discrimination based on a person’s size or weight. Fat people face discrimination in their everyday lives, and this is compounded if the person has another marginalized identity such as Black, queer, and/or disabled. This is a systemic issue that can be seen almost everywhere, once you start looking for it. In the workplace, discrimination includes fat people being paid less and are less likely to be hired or promoted. There is a lack of seating accessibility in most environments, from offices to restaurants. Then there is the medical field in which fat bias is not only experienced, but often seems encouraged. There are too many stories of fat patients being dismissed by blaming any and all issues on size, and even having serious issues such as cancer being dismissed. This has not only put people at risk, but has resulted in death in some incidentances.
I have experienced a lot of forms of fat bias and discrimination in the vegan community. Besides being a target for the public at protests (and there are many more examples of them), I have experienced being left out of organizing, being told I am not a good vegan, and my voice being dismissed. Imagine trying to fight for something you are so passionate about and care deeply in and being treated in this way. Most people would stop participating in these activities, become less vocal, and/or not have the energy since they used it up trying to protect themselves. No one should have to tolerate this type of treatment.
I know people would then argue that this is about the animals, not fat people. I have personally heard it myself from other activists when I tried to speak out against both fatphobia and sexism in organizations. It is an unacceptable response. Not only do we have the ability to care about both animals and fat people (and other marginalized identities), but if we do not care, then we are harming our fight for animal liberation. Fat liberation is a social justice issue, and animal liberation is a social justice issue. They are connected. Since no one can be free while anyone is oppressed, we cannot find animal rights unless we also find fat liberation.
Personally, after dealing with this type of discrimination for years, I completely changed how I approach activism. I did not feel comfortable in group settings since I could not trust people. It never felt like a collaboration since I was so often dismissed. That is why I started Fat Vegan Voice, a blog and social media presence that is about creating a more inclusive vegan community by honoring body diversity, supporting fat vegans, educating allies, and calling out fatphobia.
I could discuss the harm of stereotypes or how you can be fit and fat. In my 20s, I focused my fat activism on this notion of being fit and fat, since that was my experience. I was more active and fit than most people I knew and was eating vegan before all the processed food options. (By the way, arguing that there are fat vegans because of processed foods is stereotyping and false.There are fat vegans because body diversity is real.) So I was doing everything “right” and was still fat. I started to realize there was not something wrong with my body, there was something wrong with our society. If you want to argue about health, please stop. I realized after all my efforts that this is not anyone’s real concern. No one cared about the science or the fact that fat shaming itself causes a lot of health issues. Ragan Chastain with Dances with Fat discusses this in great detail if you would like to learn more. Besides, a person’s size (or health) does not matter since everyone is deserving of respect and kindness. We don’t always have control over our health and if we as a society treat people differently based on their health status, that is ableism and it is a problem.
This is why I fight for fat liberation. But don’t just take my word for it. This is what other fat vegans have said about why they fight for fat liberation.
Andy from Compassion Co. said, “I fight for fat liberation because my ethics and activism emanate from a deep respect for bodily autonomy. I went vegan because it is unjust to participate in the exploitation, humiliation, or harm of another. Beyond that, I think we should strive not just for the absence of harm, but to work to make a better world for everyone. And it is for that same reason that I believe it is crucial that we fight not just for the mere acceptance of fat people, but to understand that fat people are a vital part of our society and to dismiss our struggle is to demean the goal of collective liberation.”
Heather (@officialfatvegan on IG) said, “Making people feel ashamed of their bodies has not only been proven to be an ineffective tactic at encouraging folks to lose weight, it actually often has the opposite effect. When we remember that more than two-thirds of Americans are considered “overweight,” that’s two-thirds of the population we stand to lose when we advocate for a vegan diet using memes, images, or language that belittles and mocks them. The vegan movement can’t succeed until each of us recognizes that we need to embrace and welcome fat people into this movement, and accept them exactly the way we are. If our goal is to create more vegans, we simply have to create a more welcoming environment.”
The feeling of not being included or supported in a movement I had complete commitment to, limited my activism over time. I know there are many other people out there interested in learning more about veganism, but due to the messaging they receive, either never show up, or they give up. How many potential vegans are we losing because we are not inclusive? Studies have shown that people are more likely to be persuaded by others who look like them. If we push all the fat vegans to the back, we are telling others they are not welcomed here.
So what do we do from here? Let’s create a welcoming and inclusive vegan community that recognizes fat liberation as a part of social justice. Be an ally! Act against fat hate and bias you see. Recognize your body privilege. Take weight out of the discussion when speaking about health. Elevate the voices of fat vegans. When organizing an event, invite vegans that discuss fat liberation in the vegan community instead of doctors that spread fat hate. Then, be sure to promote the event rather than have it live in the shadows. Educate yourself about fat liberation! Some great places to start are Sonya Renee Taylor with The Body is Not an Apology, Ragen Chastain with Dances with Fat, activist Saucye West, and books like Belly of the Beast, Fearing the Black Body, and What We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Fat.
We need to liberate our ideas of what a body should be and embrace acceptance for everybody. Although bodies can be incredibly complicated, being kind is fairly simple. It is vital for our community to embrace people of all sizes in order to create a truly compassionate and accepting movement. Welcoming people of all identities without judgment will allow for our message to strengthen to create the real change in the world we all want to see.
Chelsea Lincoln is a social justice activist, focusing on animal rights, veganism, disability justice, and fat acceptance—and how they intersect. She founded Fat Vegan Voice to tackle fatphobia within the vegan movement, ensure visibility of body diversity, and to support fat vegans. Chelsea has been on The Bearded Vegans podcast, written for TOFU magazine, and wrote a guest blog for Crip Humanimal related veganism and a recent diagnosis of Crohn’s Disease. Chelsea spends her free time going on nature adventures, photographing wildlife, and playing with her cats, rats, and guinea pig.