Taking Up Space
Pattie Thomas, Ph.D.
with Carl Wilkerson, M.B.A.
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Declaration of Taking Up Space
...Even in my thinnest moments as an adult, I was considered fat.
Most of my life I have felt like I was at war with my own body. My body seemed out of control,
and I spent huge amounts of effort, time and money to tame my appetites and contain my body into a thin
version of itself. I have paid a huge physical and emotional price for those battles.
About 10 years ago, I began to suspect that the battle should not be fought within my self.
Since that time, I have earned a Ph.D. in sociology. As a result, I have given a lot of thought to how social
and cultural practices give contexts to our experiences as people.
I came to believe that I was engaged in a cultural struggle, not a medical one. Over the past
10 years, I slowly came to the realization that my body was okay and that, far from some internal conflict,
the battles I had fought were in a war that was being waged on me and other people like me, and,
to some extent, on us all....
In 1963, sociologist Erving Goffman, in his seminal work Stigma, outlined the social
interaction between people who are perceived as "normal" and people who are perceived as "spoiled." The
current language of the "war on obesity" that can be found in western cultures around the world is
reminiscent of Goffman’s descriptions.
Fat people are not regarded simply as a group of people with a medical condition. Their
identity is inextricably tied to being fat. Being fat in a world that considers fatness abnormal
means being perceived as spoiled. Thus, the "war on obesity" is actually a war not on a disease, but on the
people who are considered to have that disease. The war on obesity is a war on fat people.
For fat people, especially those of us who have a positive and accepting view of ourselves and
other fat people, such a war is disturbing. We find ourselves reluctant warriors in a war that we did not
start and we do not want to fight.
....Fat people are the first line of defense in a political economy designed to make all
people feel dissatisfied with their bodies and then exploit that dissatisfaction for profit. Fat people are
the first line of defense in a culture built upon a glorification of impossibly narrow standards of beauty
Acceptance of fat people will open up possibilities of recognition and acceptance of the
beauty and the healthiness of all bodies. As we open up spaces for ourselves, fat people can open
up spaces and make room for everyone.
# # #
The Doctor's Office
drips from his lips.
"You need to take in less calories
than you expend," he says
in slow, elementary tones.
No questions about what I want.
I guess I am just not the one to ask.
All I can think to say is
You mean to say,
‘You need to take in fewer calories...’"
I, of course,