Can I Support Fat Liberation—and Want to Lose Weight?

When I teach about smashing the idolatry of fatphobia and creating communities where all bodies belong, I am often asked this question in some form Can I support fat liberation and still want to lose weight?

Here’s my answer: My dear sweet person, there is not a single desire that you are not allowed to have. This is actually one of my favorite things about Judaism: the acknowledgement that we go astray, we sin, not at the level of desire—but at the level of action. It is completely natural to want things—like permanent weight loss—that are unlikely to come to fruition or to want two things that are incompatible with one another, because our wanting itself is beyond our control. As Paul Simon sings: “The open palm of desire wants everything, it wants everything, it wants soil as soft as summer and the strength to push like spring.” Our desires are just like a seedling pushing through the soil.It doesn’t know where it’s going. It has no morals one way or the other. It only wants.

But I hope you ask yourself what the relationship is between your desire to lose weight and systemic fatphobia. It’s this bias that leads to unequal pay for fat people, doctors’ prejudice against their fat patients, and even fat students receiving lower grades for the same work than their thin peers. Since the personal is political, ask yourself: Should my individual choices around this issue be reflective of my moral ideals and, if so, how?

Maybe it’s never occurred to you to think twice about casually, yet constantly, wanting to lose weight. Or maybe you’re well-versed in fat acceptance and wrestling with this desire nonetheless. Either way, I certainly want you to be thoughtful about how you speak about your desire. In Jewish tradition, we know that speech can be used powerfully both to harm and to heal. Praising weight loss as a goal often reinforces real harms; this is especially true when you are speaking from a position of authority—as a teacher, a doctor, a clergy person, or a parent speaking to (or in earshot of) your children.

Whatever choices you make about how to act on your desire to lose weight, please know that your desire itself is completely normal in a society that puts so much emphasis on weight loss as a cure-all—not to mention a diet industry that deeply wants you to contribute to its $72 billion business.

And even if you manage to free yourself of this desire in the moment, it is not clear to me that the desire to lose weight is ever entirely escapable.

As a large fat woman who gave up on intentional weight loss as a sixteen-year-old–having been dieting since I was seven—I still occasionally have a voice inside that wishes my body was smaller. I regard this as the kind of “strange thoughts” that Hasidic masters warn us about—thoughts that may seem dangerous or sinful but that can be lifted up and traced back to their roots in the desires of God Godself.

If the desire to lose weight arises after a particularly stigmatizing doctor’s visit, I acknowledge the thought and say to myself, “I want all people to live in a world free of weight stigma where we can be sure that our size does not determine whether we get competent healthcare.” Or when I was single and I found myself thinking that I would surely be able to find a partner if I were thinner, I would say to myself, “I do wish that everyone could be valued for who they are and easily matched with people who love them inside and out.”

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