When Fat Acceptance Stars Get “THE” Surgery

In the past year or so, many women at the forefront of the fat acceptance movement opted for bariatric surgery and/or major weight-loss: Melissa McCarthy, Gabourey Sidibe, Roseanne Barr, Ashley Nell Tipton… More recently, Roxane Gay, feminist and body activist author I admire, went under the knife to get the weight-loss surgery.

I have to admit, it really shook me up when I found out about it. It struck me especially strongly since I am more familiar with her work (than Tipton’s or Barr’s, for example). Because I have the utmost respect for her contributions to the cause of women’s rights and size acceptance. And I really didn’t expect it coming from her.

Egotistically, I thought… What would happen after we “lost” such a vocal role-model? What would happen… to “us”? You know, “us”, the fat people “left behind”. Who do we turn to now? 

The Weight of the World

Gay made a – personal – choice. A choice, she said, to no longer live in a body that was bringing her more sorrow than happiness, among other reasons. (Reasons invoked by others who also got the surgery are quite similar.) It’s important to remember that it’s their body and their choice. We all know that a fat body can bring its fair share of unhappiness. We know too well the mockery, the hate and judgement that come from living fat and how heavy this burden can be. Honesty check: how many of us have tried, successfully or not, to lose weight, because of that exact same pressure? (Probably most of us.)

Coping When Fat Acceptance Stars Get THE Surgery

Betraying the Fat Acceptance Cause?

Some people might / will see Gay’s (McCarthy’s, Sidibe’s, Tipton’s, etc.) choice to lose weight or to get the bariatric surgery as a betrayal to the fat acceptance cause. As if they “failed” us.

I don’t. At least, not anymore.

Before doing the soul-searching that led me to write this post, I did feel a bit “betrayed”. I felt a strange mix of sadness combined with a sense of loss and abandonment. I thought that if, of all of us, Roxane Gay cracked under the pressure, then who can resist the call of the scalpel? If it was too much for her, what about us, in the shadows, who looked up to her? How can we still stay strong in front of adversity when our role models can’t even take it anymore?

(This speaks volume on how violent fat-phobia can be… in case anyone had doubts. Add to that that Roxane Gay is a woman of color, meaning she already has to live with discrimination, whatever her size is… That makes a heavy burden to carry. Whatever your actual weight.) 

“We, The People…”

Coping When Fat Acceptance Stars Get THE Surgery

Think about it: it is us, collectively, who made the choice to stand behind women like Gay, McCarthy, Sidibe or Tipton.

At some point in our individual lives, their messages worked for us, spoke to us. Collectively, we chose to listen to them and propped them up to be the voices to speak out for us on fat acceptance matters.

As individuals, we always have the possibility to place our attention on other people, if one’s voice stops advocating, or if its message doesn’t feel right anymore. It’s as simple as that.

But we don’t get to judge them for the – personal – choices they made for themselves.

If my favorite singer releases an album that sucks (according to my taste)…
Does that mean I have to give up on all I have previously enjoyed from that artist before?
I don’t think so.
I can still appreciate this artist’s previous work. But I also have the possibility to open up to new artists that now hits closer to my interests.

So, like Paul McCartney (that I loved with the Beatles and in the early post-Beatles year), Roxane Gay’s past work got, and still gets, to me. I don’t know what is coming next from her, or if I will get on board. And it’s totally OK.

Coping When Fat Acceptance Stars Get THE Surgery

Same Great Recipe, Without The Fat?

Could a thinner Gay still be a fat acceptance advocate? Why not. As much as all of us, she went through the struggles of living fat… So much in fact that she decided to undergo a surgery that is far from being without risks and serious, life-altering consequences (like an increased risk of suicide and/or developing an alcohol addiction, for example – more here).

I think it’s important to remember that we hardly question or judge people who were always “regular” sized people when they agree and/or defend fat acceptance.  We are much tougher on “ex-fats” though, especially if they spoke out, when plus-sized, then lost weight… Possibly because of that false impression of betrayal I mentioned earlier.

I might stretch this a bit thin (pun intended!), but… But when you think of it, policing” what people do with their bodies and deciding if their size is a factor in their ability to represent our interests is strangely close to what often happens to us and angers us so bad: the judging of a person’s capacities / intentions based on this same person’s body.


  1. I agree with the points that you made, but I have never pinned any hopes on public figures being size-acceptance advocates. Those in the public eye (especially show business) are forced to have some priorities that the rest of us don’t have to deal with. And in the past, I have noticed that it is rare for people of size in the public eye to want to be considered fat role models. It is better to not depend on their being so. And ultimately, decisions they make about their bodies is really not our business. I feel the same way about other participants in size acceptance. It should be where my head is at, not the size of my body, that determines whether or not I am a good activist.

    • I wholeheartedly agree with you on this Bill! I think we have everything to win at being more confident ourselves about our size and not put all our eggs in the same basket, blindly trusting a celebrity to advocate in our name… Who’s a better advocate than ourselves, after all… 🙂

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