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Body Liberation Must Be Anti-Racist

A group of 4 diverse young women, with text overlay that says "Body Liberation MUST Be Anti-Racist!"

Learn about the link between racism, fat phobia and diet culture and why speaking up against racism needs to be a part of speaking up against body shaming and dieting.

Real talk: I’ve been delaying publishing a post like this because I feel like I don’t know enough, haven’t taken enough anti-racism courses, am not an expert, am afraid of messing up, and feel like I don’t have the perfect thing to say. And to be honest, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed with work and life and have taken a break from blogging for the past couple months. But, this is important and it deserves more than just a blog post. 

I don’t want to continue delaying this until I have lots of free time, until I feel educated “enough” or until I have the “perfect” words to say. The truth is this is lifelong work and as a white person, I will never understand racism the way Black people and people of color understand and live racism. Of course I won’t have the “perfect” thing to say. I don’t care – I am willing to show up imperfectly because we need to talk about this. It’s OK to admit that you don’t know everything – that doesn’t mean you should be quiet. 

In fact, I think showing up imperfectly and having these open conversations is incredibly important to making strides and moving forward.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide to anti-racism and I am not an expert on this topic. I am writing this as a person with white privilege and thin privilege to help open the eyes of my white readers and invite you to learn and grow alongside me. 

I see it as my responsibility as a white person and body liberation advocate with a blog and social media following to speak up, share resources, educate and provide calls to action. Which I’ve been doing lots of on social media, but it’s time to get some content up on my website as well.

While I’ve written about intersectional feminism, there is a glaring lack of content about racism on my blog. Which is embarrassing given how much I talk about body liberation for human and non-human animals. That’s my white privilege. I see that gap and I’m working to fill it. 

You might be wondering, “Why should a dietitian write about racism?” Well, as a healthcare professional, I care about people’s health. And systemic racism is killing Black people. It doesn’t get more unhealthy than that. The New England Journal of Medicine published an article titled Stolen Breaths that beautifully explains this and includes fives calls to action for healthcare – I highly recommend reading it!

Also, the field of dietetics is overwhelmingly white and there are serious barriers to entering it as a Black person. The grassroots group Diversify Dietetics is doing fantastic work to empower students and dietitians of color. I want my field to be accessible and inclusive. Not only because the opportunity to be a dietitian shouldn’t be limited to white or wealthy people, but because communities of color deserve dietitians who look like them and can relate to their lived experiences.

And finally, my personal and professional philosophy is rooted in the belief that everyone deserves body autonomy and respect, including non-human animals. We cannot adequately address body politics and diet culture without addressing racism. 

Enough about me. Let’s dive into why anti-racism is a requirement for body liberation. 

Young black woman with larger body and text overlay that says "Anti-Racism is a Requirement for Body Liberation"

First, a few definitions:

White supremacy: The belief that white people are superior to other races and should dominate other races. White supremacy results in the oppression of people of color. White supremacy has a long history and is deeply embedded into our culture. When I reference Black people in this post, I’m referring to Black people in the U.S. and their unique history of enslavement, imprisonment, disenfranchisement, murder, discrimination and soforth. 

White privilege: Benefits and economic advantages white people receive for being white (resembling those who dominate power structures). This doesn’t mean that white people don’t have struggles, it means that white people don’t have struggles because of the color of their skin. White privilege is something you have, not something you choose. It exists whether or not you believe in it. White privilege is the default for white people, so much so that they often don’t recognize it. 

If reading the last two paragraphs makes you defensive or uncomfortable, I invite you to sit with that. I invite you to learn about white fragility. I invite you to work through that and continue to learn and actively do anti-racism work. Please, do not run away. This work is not supposed to be comfortable. And it is our responsibility to do it. 

Understanding Body Liberation

Simply put, body liberation is about abolishing hierarchies and oppression of bodies. This includes fat bodies, Black bodies, disabled bodies, trans bodies and more. 

To only talk about size in the context of body liberation is to ignore and perpetuate racism and other forms of oppression. Not only are Black bodies also oppressed, but the intersection of various marginalized identities compounds oppression and creates unique experiences of marginalization.. 

Many of the body-positive groups and spaces are dominated by white people and center the white experience. They are rooted in white supremacy and shut out people of color. This is a problem.

The Intersection of Racism and Sizism 

Not only does experiencing racism and sizism at the same time compound these issues, it creates a unique form of oppression. That is to say, being Black and fat is a unique experience that is not simply the sum of its parts.

If we only talk about thin Black women when we talk about intersectional feminism, or only talk about fat white women when we talk about fat liberation, we’re ignoring the important intersection of these identities and experiences. We must include, promote and amplify people who live at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression (and step aside and let them lead). We need to consider who we’re focusing on, who we’re leaving behind, and who we’re harming. We must be inclusive to be effective. Otherwise we’re choosing the role of the oppressor. 

Fatphobia has Racist Roots

The first time I learned about the racist roots of fat phobia was when I heard Sabrina Strings, PhD, on Rebecca Scritchfield’s Body Kindness podcast (listen to part one and part two). Strings wrote the book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia and details the ongoing fear of Black women’s bodies.

Diet culture is a product of patriarchy (this seems to be a common understanding) and it’s also a product of white supremacy (not-so-common understanding). This is imperative for anyone in the anti-diet space to understand. Rather than try to summarize it here, I highly encourage you to listen to those podcast interviews and read Strings’ book. 

Quote from Sabrina Strings book Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia

Using a Consistent Anti-Oppression Approach to Liberation for All

Liberation for everyone means abolishing all forms of oppression (see: total liberation). This is relevant to every social justice movement, including fat liberation and animal liberation. 

It may seem overwhelming to fight all forms of oppression at once. Take a deep breath and accept that there’s a lot of work to do and you don’t have to do it alone. We’re literally reimagining society as we know it and advocating for a more just world. Of course the animal rights movement will focus on animals and the fat liberation movement will focus on fat people, but that doesn’t mean that these movements have a pass to ignore other forms of oppression (especially how they intersect with the cause they’re fighting for). And it certainly doesn’t give them a pass to use other oppressed communities to further their work and participate in the oppression of other groups. 

It means that we need to learn about other forms of oppression, include people who hold those identities in our work (and let them lead), and work to abolish those systems alongside the primary cause. 

Action Items for Anti-Racism Work

This is a call-in to all white people to do the “behind-the-scenes” work. Read books. Watch documentaries. Sign petitions. Make donations. Take courses. Buy from Black businesses. Contact your legislators. Get involved in your community. Attend protests, demonstrations and marches. Engage in discussions about racism with your white friends and family. Speak up when you witness racist words and actions. 

Posting on social media and denouncing the state-sanctioned murder of Black people is great and that’s just a tiny fraction of the work that needs to be done.

Here are a few ways you can get started:

This is just a tiny sliver of anti-racism resources for those who are relatively new to this area. There are loads more available to you with a simple internet search. And the more Black people you follow, the more you will learn.  I recommend starting with the list above, creating a plan for your anti-racism work moving forward, and dedicating time and energy to it. There is no point where you will know everything or do everything. This is a never-ending practice so it needs to be sustainable.

I commit to never stop learning and growing and doing anti-racism work. I commit to showing up imperfectly because to wait until the “perfect” moment means to be complicit. Will you join me?

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