Interpreting Monica’s post both generously and narrowly, she’s arguing that in a hypothetical world in which BMI was used only to measure the body composition of large populations, then it would be an unobjectionable measure. I think she’s right about that.1
However, Monica did not, in my opinion, make her point very well. She’s wildly inconstant, saying in one sentence that she disagrees with “the notion that some body types are better than others,” and then in the next sentence saying “by and large, (pardon the expression) weightier people suffer health problems that are well documented.” In comments, she attacks the fat acceptance movement, writing that “fat acceptance may actually harm [women] — because despite the fact that posters are operating under the belief I’m unaware of the movement I’m actually very much aware, and disagree vehemently with it.” And she ended her post by saying that weight can signal “too many donuts.”
What happened next was entirely predictable: An outpouring of anger in the comments. And although I don’t like angry conversations for myself personally, I think the anger was justified.
Feministe isn’t neutral space. Like a lot of feminist blogs, it’s a space where a large portion of the community is in favor of the fat acceptance movement.2
What happened to Monica on Feministe is similar to what would have happened if a hypothetical guest blogger named Gregory Q. Example had come in arguing that — statistically speaking — workplace deaths are disproportionately suffered by men, while simultaneously making it clear in his tone and in his follow-up comment that he doesn’t approve of feminism.
If Gregory had done that, he would have faced a explosion of anger in the comments, even though his narrow statistical point — men suffer many, many more workplace deaths — is absolutely true and defensible. But Feministe readers wouldn’t have read his statistics narrowly; they would have have recognized it as part of a larger anti-feminist analysis that they’ve faced time and time again, and that they don’t expect to have to face on a feminist blog.
That doesn’t mean that you can’t talk about male workplace deaths on a feminist blog. It does mean that in order to be able to address that issue successfully on a feminist blog, you need address it in a way that shows you’re not anti-feminist, and you need to be someone who other feminists find credible.
A blogger with a history of pro-fat writing, and without Monica’s disdain for fat activists, could have made Monica’s narrow point without setting off a storm of anger. But Monica couldn’t. And I don’t think that’s unfair. Sometimes credibility is given in return for bigoted reasons (i.e., white people being seen as credible because they are white, etc). But sometimes credibility is earned. Treating people with real, earned credibility differently than people who are against your community isn’t unfair prejudice; it’s respect.
On the other hand, if anger against Monica was disallowed (where anger against a similarly anti-queer, anti-anti-racist, or anti-feminist blogger would never be disallowed), that would send a strong message to fat feminists in the Feministe community that they are not respected and not considered equal. (For that reason, I think Feministe made a mistake by closing comments on Monica’s post, and not providing a new thread where the meaning of Monica’s post to the community could be discussed. Although, to Feministe’s credit, they’ve since guest-posted two different critiques of Monica’s post.)
On their podcast, Monica and her PostBourgie colleagues reacted as if getting angry is something unique to the fat activist community. But I don’t think the dynamic is different in any activist community. Credibility matters. And it’s extremely difficult to make an argument like “let’s talk about disproportionate workplace deaths for men” or “it’s time to defend the BMI” — arguments that people have learned, through bitter experience, to associate with attacks — if you’re not part of the community, don’t respect the community, and have never built up any goodwill or credibility in the community.
- In this world, however, BMI is used frequently inappropriately as a way of summing up individual people’s health. [↩]
- I’m not clear on the views of the bloggers themselves. However, looking through the archives for the “fat” category, it’s clear that prior to Monica’s post, recent blogging on fat at Feministe has all been fat-positive. [↩]