When Politics and Professions Collide

Social justice related to the non-dieting movementThe Weight-neutral Self-assessment offers four categories starting with weight-centered, moving to a weight-neutral stance, expanding to weight-inclusive, and ending with a weight-liberated view. Many professionals may incorrectly assume that the last category, weight-liberated is the same as Health At Every Size, HAES.

Health At Every Size is identified with many things ranging from the non-dieting movement, size acceptance, and body positivity. What many professionals find confusing is that the HAES movement is the social justice aspect of this movement.

How can HAES be a social justice movement?
Many professionals have shared with me that they are uncomfortable advocating for fat acceptance. I nod and can empathize completely with this discomfort, not because it is ‘right’ but because thinking that being fat is ‘bad,’ is familiar.

A Personal Reflection

After the recent presidential election I found that protesting left an empty feeling in me because more action was needed. This caused me to venture into the world of politics. As I connected the dots politically, I began to see that the same issues were happening in the nutrition/health profession. Soon there was a collision between politics and my job as a white, cis, thin-privileged female.

It all began a few years back when I learned that racism was just one of eight types of discrimination. This information allowed me to see that I wasn’t fighting for gays or Latinos, I was fighting against all kinds of discrimination equally. It didn’t matter how a person was discriminated, whether it was race, sex, gender, size, economic, disease, physical and age, discrimination to me, in any form, was the poison that was rotting this country, my profession, job, and clients.

Seeing discrimination as a single poisonous pie that is served in eight slices expanded my thinking. If discrimination was the issue, regardless how it was served, there wasn’t a ‘better’ piece of poison or a worse slice of it. All eight were harmful and would injure me, my family, friends, clients, nation and the world equally. This understanding energized me to take action, and as you can imagine, this opened the door to a whole new lesson regarding my white privilege that I can share when we meet in person.

Size discrimination is complex for lots of reasons. I don’t believe nutritionists fully grasp the many nuances because as a whole, the helping profession, has been marinating in diet-culture for the last 75 years. It is difficult to explore and unpack size discrimination because of it so ‘familiar.’ This familiarity becomes your blindness, and your blindness turns to righteous ignition fueling the cycle of fear. Fear can make a person do a lot of things. It threatens us and causes the knee-jerk reaction of doubt, anger, or dismissal of HAES assuming that supporting size acceptance means you no longer value healthy eating and activity. HAES does support healthy eating and activity but before you get to give advice, you have to pause, and see that everyone gets to be, before they have to change. Everyone regardless of size, gets to eat, and be treated with care and compassion. Everyone, regardless of size needs help understanding and navigating choices to ease their physical or emotional suffering. Everyone, regardless of size needs help learning and understanding what health means to them. When these fundamental rights are denied, discrimination specifically size discrimination, appears.

The unspoken issue is it’s hard to be with suffering and to avoid this difficulty; the mind is tempted to jump into a vortex of defensive thoughts, specifically, blame, that doesn’t promote change. Blame, and shame are how most people defend themselves from witnessing suffering. This blame habit, makes it challenging to pause and see that physical suffering is present in all humans, not just in those in higher weight bodies.

It is okay if this is hard for you. It was hard for me and it is STILL hard for me to be with suffering. This difficulty and struggle doesn’t make you wrong, it give you an opportunity to seek help. There is a lot of people that would like to assist you to untangle size discrimination and discrimination as a concept. One step is to participate in the Weight-neutral Self-assessment. The goal of this self-assessment is to show professionals no matter where you fall on this spectrum, we all can work to understand discrimination. Even if you aren’t ready to embrace the social justice movement of HAES, there is still things to learn and work to do. “Understanding how social justice is related to the non-dieting movement is a personal journey that everyone is encouraged to take.” The weight-neutral self-assessment is to help you see, that no matter where you are on this journey, you aren’t alone.

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