May 26 • 31M

Do We Owe It To Our Kids To Be Healthy?

The Fat Girl's Guide to the World with Amanda Martinez Beck

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Virginia Sole-Smith
Weekly conversations about how we dismantle diet culture and fatphobia, especially through parenting, health and fashion. (But non-parents like it too!) Hosted by Virginia Sole-Smith, journalist and author of THE EATING INSTINCT and the forthcoming FAT KID PHOBIA.
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We have to disconnect the idea of good parenting from health and fitness. Because people don’t have a moral imperative to health.

You’re listening to Burnt Toast! This is the podcast where we talk about diet culture, fatphobia, parenting and health.

Today I am chatting with Amanda Martinez Beck. Amanda is a fat activist, author and host of the Fat and Faithful podcast. She focuses on the ways that fatphobia and ableism have intertwined with American Christian culture. We are discussing Amanda’s second book, More of You: the Fat Girls Field Guide to the Modern World which came out this week.

Some news: Beginning with today’s episode, I’m now able to pay every podcast guest a $100 honorarium, to compensate them for their time and labor. This will make it easier for the podcast to center the voices of marginalized folks (a goal I previously discussed here). And our incredible community of Burnt Toast subscribers is making this possible! So thank you so much, if you’re already subscribed, for helping me do this. And if you’re not, but want to hear more conversations like this one, consider joining us. (I also offer comp subscriptions—just email if that would be helpful to you.)

PS. If you enjoy this episode, please also subscribe, rate and review us in your podcast player! That’s free and a great way to help more folks find the show.

And: I wanted to note that Amanda and I recorded this conversation before news of the Uvalde school shooting broke, so you won’t hear us discuss it, though of course it is now all I can think about. As I said, all too recently, after the Buffalo shooting: Remember that gun reform is now a states issue. Everytown has a website that lets you see — state by state — what the laws are in each state. We know that electing new majorities in our target states will make it possible to pass gun safety legislation. The States Project helped flip Maine in 2018, and were able to deepen that new majority in 2020 — this was an outcome in their 2021 session. So this is, yet again, where the Burnt Toast Giving Circle can do some good. Join us, if you need a place to put your rage.


Amanda Martinez Beck

Episode 45 Transcript

Virginia

Hi Amanda, I’m so glad to have you on! And big congratulations on the new book. Why don’t we start by having you tell us a little bit about yourself, your work, and your family?

Amanda

Okay. I am a fat activist. My middle name is Martinez, which alludes to my Cuban background. My dad was a Cuban refugee, so I grew up in a home that was half Latinx, half white. My husband Zachary is a university professor and we have four kids, and they’re in bodies that don’t conform to societal standards, most of them. So I’m doing this work for myself and for my kids. I have a podcast called Fat and Faithful, which talks about fat liberation through a Christian lens. I wrote a new book, which we’re going to talk about. And I have an Instagram, which is called @your_body_is_good. In addition to my body image coaching that I do, that’s the work that I’m doing right now.

Virginia

That’s not a short list of work, so thank you for all of that. We met when I interviewed you for a story on how anti-fat bias was impacting the treatment of fat folks with COVID. You were in early recovery, at that point, from COVID. I would love, if you don’t mind, to talk a little bit about how that’s gone. How are you doing?

Amanda

I’m doing really well, but it has been a long road. I was hospitalized for 40 days and was on a ventilator for two weeks and lost the ability to walk, in addition to just all the respiratory things that come along with COVID. While I was in the hospital, I encountered fatphobia in some very glaring ways and some very systemic ways—you wrote a whole piece on that. But I am on a good path right now. I have been off of oxygen since October of 2021. I was on oxygen for about a year. My lungs are doing really well. And I have more mobility than I did even before going into the hospital. I credit that to a fabulous doctor who’s taken my post-acute COVID syndrome really seriously, or what we call long COVID, to help me with getting on the right medicines, and specifically, to help with the brain fog, to get on medicine for that, and I feel like a new person. Really.

Virginia

I worried about you for a long time. I know there are a lot of us who have been rooting for you. I’m glad to hear you’re in a better place and also so grateful that you did share your story, because it was so important, I think, for us to continue to follow this path, past the initial COVID and through long COVID. I know when you’re in the middle of something like that, I know how much additional labor it is to share that and put that out there, so thank you for doing that. 

I’m curious to hear a little more about what misconceptions came up the most? What do you still find yourself having to challenge or correct with folks around COVID and weight?

Amanda

In the beginning, I felt really guilty for getting COVID because there was definitely a narrative that fat people were at higher risk for developing complications from COVID. Even though those risks were correlated, not necessarily caused by, body size, I always felt like people were blaming me. I got blamed explicitly by people on social media for catching COVID in a fat body. I think that people still believe that fatness is an underlying condition or a precondition to getting COVID—which, it’s not. People of all sizes get COVID complications. And long COVID is affecting all types of people. COVID is an equal opportunity virus.

Virginia

We have so much work to do to reframe that conversation. People want to be able to say like, “Well, I’ll be safe, because I can blame this person for getting it. I don’t have the same risk factors,” or whatever, but it’s such a callous way to approach this global pandemic. 

Amanda

For sure. Not necessarily connected to weight bias, but I think one other misunderstanding about long COVID is the effect that it has on mental health. You remember watching update videos from me in the hospital, and I go back and watch those now and realize just how impaired COVID had me. I’m also encountering heightened mental illness in long COVID. I think that’s something that’s a part of COVID that people are still not taking seriously, which affects so many aspects of health.

Virginia

And again, there’s the stigma. Anytime there’s a mental component to it, it’s very easy to stigmatize that as well.

Well, somehow, while you’ve been doing both your own recovery work from COVID, and putting the story out in the world, you’ve also been writing a book.

Amanda

I have. 

Virginia

So, let’s talk about that. The new book is called More of You. Tell us what inspired you to write this. I also do want to hear how you got it written during all of this.

Amanda

The memory of writing is a bit of a blur, but I have a fantastic editor, who walked me through the process very graciously. So the book is called More of You: the Fat Girl’s Field Guide to the Modern World. Before I had COVID, I realized I’d stumbled through fatness, learning how to exist in my today body and how to take up space. I wished that I’d had some sort of guidebook that could walk through these different things before I had to experience them. And I didn’t have anything like that. And so I wrote More of You to be the guidebook that I wish that I had had, when I was first coming to accept my body and not wanting to take up less space. Specifically, I targeted it towards what I wish I had known in grade school: That I have the right to exist in my body today, that I have the right to take up space, that I have the right to wear what I want, and eat what I want, and that I have the right to compassionate medical care. And just stating those things, what I call The Fat Girl’s Bill of Rights, is transformative for me today. I can’t imagine how transformative it will be for my own children and the children who get to know these truths that their parents are trying to put into practice in their lives. I know that you’re doing that work, too.

Virginia

One of the things I find most valuable about the book is the way you hold fatphobia and ableism accountable for each other. I think this is a common tension in the disability rights and fat rights communities. We often see fat folks leaning into “But I’m healthy” as this defense against anti fat bias. I’ve certainly done it. And I would imagine there may be a parallel experience of wanting to perform being a “good” disabled person through your thinness. And we know that relying on health as this sort of marker of virtue is really problematic. How does this hold us back from making progress on both of these issues?

Amanda

So I first encountered the idea of performative fatness, “I’m healthy, so I’m a good performing fat person,” in a web comic by the fat activist Stacey Bias called The Good Fatty Archetypes. And she has a list of 12 different ways that fat people can adapt to their environment to prove that they’re worthy of dignity. And one of them is the Fat Unicorn, where it’s like, “I am just fat even though I exercise all the time. I’m just, you know, a unicorn.”

She talks about the different ways that you can perform fitness virtue signaling. And it’s setting up this idea that we have to earn our our position of dignity, to earn respect. That’s really a very capitalistic idea, which Stacy talks about in her comic. We don’t have to earn dignity, we possess inherent dignity. To be able to look at a fat body as morally neutral or even morally good takes digging below those good fatty archetypes of, “but I’m healthy, but I’m an athlete.” In a disabled fat body, there is inherent goodness. So we have to look at how assuming that someone’s health and ability is based on their moral virtue, how that is not a fair assumption. That’s actually ableism.

I’m coming from a Christian lens, so we see this in the Christian scripture when there’s a man who was born blind, and the people asked Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” And Jesus is like, “Neither.” And so I really feel that for a parallel to fatness. It’s not a moral failing of anyone that someone is fat. It just is. And fat people themselves perpetuate this idea that “as long as I’m healthy, it’s okay to be fat.” I say, “If it’s not okay for everyone to be fat, it’s not okay for anyone to be fat.”

Virginia

I’m just looking at how Stacy explains the Fat Unicorn here and she says, “What does it mean to seek legitimacy for the fat body on the basis of its capacity for health? Who gets excluded or silenced when we do so?”

Amanda

Someone much wiser than me has said that ability is a temporary condition. We are all headed towards disability of some sort or another. We have to separate that from morality. In the same way we have to separate body size from morality. Because body size and ability are a lot of genetics, systemic issues, and societal issues. We can’t just say A plus B equals C when we’re looking at a body like that.

Virginia

Another line that really resonated with me from the book, is when you wrote that “Nobody has a moral obligation to be healthy, and we don’t owe health to our community or our families or our kids.” And that believing that you do is this cornerstone of ableism. I think this is often a line people come up against where they may say, Okay, i’s fine to be unhealthy. But of course, we we should all be trying to be healthy for our kids. And I think particularly for mothers, right? There’s this huge pressure that being a good mother is synonymous with being a mother who can chase your kids around the playground.

Amanda

The question that I probably get asked most frequently, when I talk about being okay with my fatness is, but don’t you owe it to your kids to be healthy? To live a longer life to be with them? There’s two layers happening there.

One, I’m accused often of being on the verge of death, like I’m just about to keel over—which, post-COVID, okay, there were some rough moments. But just because I inhabit a fat body does not mean that I am more susceptible to early death. The numbers actually show that people in the BMI category of overweight live longer than people in the normal category. People assume that I’m going to die young, which is really hard to encounter day in and day out. When I was young, someone I loved, told me, in tears, “I just don’t want you to die of a heart attack at age 20.” Which is a very emotionally manipulative thing to say to a teenager—and to anyone, because none of us is guaranteed another day. We’re all in the same boat. My life is lived, as as much as I can choose, in a morally upright way. And I define morality as treating my neighbors as I would treat myself.

So, number one, it’s not good for mental health to live with that assumption. Number two: The claim that I can’t be a good mom, if I’m in a disabled or, quote, “unhealthy” body is really an ableist thing to say. Because there are parents of all stripes, with all different levels of ability, who are amazing parents. And just because someone’s in a wheelchair, we don’t automatically assume they’re a bad mother. But if I’m fat and walking with a cane, there is that assumption. And it is inherently ableist to say because you don’t have full capacity of your body, you cannot be a good parent. And this has real consequences, because children are being taken from their fat parents. It’s not something that we’re just fearmongering about. We have to disconnect the idea of good parenting from health and fitness because people don’t have a moral imperative to health.

Virginia

It’s such a narrow definition of good motherhood. And it’s implying that there’s only one way to love your kids. That there’s a right way to love your kids, as opposed to allowing for this diversity of experiences. I’m glad you brought up the issue of how it gets used around parental rights. I did some reporting on that for Slate and what I heard from lots of folks in the foster system is that it’s not always the top reason that parents lose parental rights, but it’s something that caseworkers know to look for. It’s something that they can add to the list when they’re building the case. That struck me as, in a way, almost more chilling. Because if you’re a parent going through a really hard time with mental health, addiction, whatever, the knowledge that your body will also be weaponized against you in that conversation is really scary.

I admit I myself, in the past, have started and stopped at well, of course, I want to be healthy for my kids. But it’s just like, “of course, you want a healthy baby” without unpacking the ableism of that. Children are born with disabilities every day, and they are very worthy of our love.

Photo by Alex Potemkin via Getty Images

Amanda

I think that we all have this innate desire for goodness. We’re looking to be good, to experience goodness. And I think a lot of people assume that to have a good body means to have a healthy and fit body. But I like to go old school and look at Aristotle. Aristotle says that a thing is good when it fulfills its purpose. So this is where the conversation about what is the purpose of my body comes to the fore. And when you say that the purpose of my body is health, then you have to also acknowledge that health is much bigger than just physical health—it’s also emotional health, mental health, and spiritual health. If you have an ATV four wheeler and you just pump up the air on that one physical health tire, it’s gonna be a rocky road. So, even if we agree at some point that health is the purpose of my body, we have to recognize that physical health or the way that we look cannot be the end all be all.

But I say that the purpose of my body isn’t health or thinness or perfection. It’s relationship. My body can be good, no matter my ability or my size, because I can have relationship with anyone and it can be a fruitful and deep relationship. And that’s what really keeps me going with my kids. When I do feel that shame of sitting in my car when they’re playing on the playground. I know that the other 95 percent of the day, they’re with me, and we’re investing in our relationship. And it’s part of my relationship to let them go and experience things that I don’t have experience with.

Virginia

I love reframing it around relationships. That’s so beautifully put.

Amanda

When we treat health as a moral imperative, we wind up applying individualistic “answers” to a complex, system-wide situation. Because if we see morality on an individual basis, which we do, then person A, person B, Person C all have the same responsibility to health, but they might have vastly different access to resources. We don’t have universal health care. That’s a big deal. And then the racism, transphobia, and fatphobia that exists in our current system makes it look like certain types of people are not being morally upright if they don’t achieve some sort of health level that we think they should. 

Virginia

You also talk a bit in the book about the anti-fat bias you’ve experienced in the church, and as someone who’s not Christian, I would just love to understand this a little more. How do diet culture and Christian culture intersect? And how do we start to untangle them?

Amanda

I grew up believing that thinness was next to godliness. That the smaller I was, the more my body would reflect the submissive woman that I thought God was calling me to be. And there’s nothing small or submissive about me. I’m very big and my personality is big, my voice is loud. I take up more space than a lot of people. My journey of clawing my way out of a fundamentalist, elitist version of Christianity to find that that’s not what God is requiring of me showed me that diet culture and Christian culture in the United States have a lot in common. Number one, that idea that being smaller is morally better. Number two is purity rules. Christian culture is full of ways that you can be sexually pure, but also there’s this idea of being dietetically pure. In diet culture, we see that where we talk about “clean” and “unclean” food. We’re moralizing food. Bad and good food, that all that kind of language is religious language.

Virginia

Now that you spelled that out, that makes total sense that that didn’t just begin and end with Gwyneth Paltrow, but has deeper roots. It’s fascinating.

Amanda

I’m reading the Christian New Testament, and there’s a scene where the The apostle Peter, who’s the first pope, right? This really important guy gets his vision of all these different kinds of foods, foods that he thought were unclean. And God says, “Don’t call what I’ve made clean, unclean.” And there’s this way that Peter applies it. “Oh, I can’t call people who eat unclean foods unclean either because God has made them clean.” And so what for whatever reason, there’s this thing that we do when we talk about clean and unclean foods, we apply it to the people that eat those things. 

Virginia

Yeah, we go right to their bodies.

Amanda

We go straight to their bodies, and that is classist AF. Because access to fresh fruits and vegetables, and what we our culture considers, quote, “good food,” it’s just inaccessible to a large swath of the population. It enables people to discriminate against the poor, those who live in food deserts, people who eat free lunches at school, like my kids. There’s there’s just a huge amount of classist behavior there—and of course, racist and fatphobic behavior. So really finding that all food is good food is has been something instrumental in my journey towards fat liberation.


Butter For Your Burnt Toast

Amanda

I am lately obsessed with Jon Batiste, the musician. He is the leader of the band on the Stephen Colbert show, but he is much more celebrated than that. His album called We Are won Album of the Year at the Grammys this year, and he helped write, or did most of the writing for the soundtrack to “Soul.” the Pixar movie.

Virginia

Ooooh, excellent.

Amanda

And I’m just obsessed. I highly recommend his new album and also the Soul soundtrack.

Virginia

Amazing. We have not watched “Soul” yet. My kids adore “Inside Out,” but I’ve been holding off on “Soul” because my four-year-old is in that phase of being very anxious about death.

Amanda

Been there. Yeah, I have one sentimental kid who laments over the death of leaves. 

Virginia

The other week, she picked a flower and said, “Can we put it in a vase?” And I said, Yes. And she said, “But will it die?” And I said, “Well, yes.” And she was like, “I don’t want it in the house then, it’ll make me too sad.”

Amanda

I feel you strongly.

Virginia

But I am dying to see “Soul.” And in the meantime, I can listen to his music. So that’s a great recommendation. 

My recommendation is a podcast. I just listened to the first episode of Ghost Church by Jamie Loftus. Sara Louise Petersen, who was on the podcast a few weeks ago, recommended it in her newsletter, and I checked it out. It is fascinating. She is investigating American Spiritualism, which is the tradition of communing with the dead. It’s a fringe religion, I guess, is the technical term. I just knew nothing about this whole world. And I think it’s always challenging with this kind of journalism, trying to understand a culture in a world that you don’t belong to, whether you’re going to come in and completely interrogate it and take it down, or whether you’re going to fall on that spectrum. And she walks the line really nicely. She’s very respectful of the people. She is herself, somewhat of a believer in some of the concepts, but also has a lot of questions. It’s a really well done exploration where you’re sort of allowed to draw your own conclusion. She’s not saying it’s all garbage. She’s not saying it’s all true.

Well, Amanda, thank you so much for being here. I really loved this conversation. And again, cannot encourage readers enough to get your book. We covered some of the heavier aspects of the book, the book itself is a really delightful read. Amanda is a very light and fun writer. So I hope people will check it out. Tell us where we can find more of your work and support you!

Amanda

I am on Instagram as @your_body_is_good. I’m on Twitter at @AmandaMBeck. And I am on the interwebs on Facebook, too. I’m a millennial, so good Facebooker. I have a group on there called All Bodies Are Good Bodies. It’s a fat positive, body neutral space where people can have community apart from diet culture. 

Virginia

Thank you for being here!


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The Burnt Toast Podcast is produced and hosted by me, Virginia Sole-Smith. You can follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

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