I received a Facebook message today from Laura, who I met when I gave a talk last year at the University of Florida. She is in a community online that is supposed to be about safe, healthy foods but they are posting fat shaming things. She wrote a beautiful response here [Trigger Warning – she shows the fat shaming graphic upon which she is commentating]
She writes “I am so upset right now. Not only does this DISORDERED CULTURE violently bully, shame and humiliate people of all sizes, but the local food movements forget to welcome people of all walks of life into their communities. I AM SO CONFUSED! AREN’T WE ALL TRYING TO MAKE THIS WORLD A BETTER PLACE FOR EVERYONE?”
I think a big part of the problem here is that the media, the government, and the diet industry have systematically dehumanized fat people. When you see picture after picture after picture of fat people with our heads and faces removed so that we are no longer a person with a face, then the world doesn’t look into our eyes, it stares at our asses. Happy fat people are kept out of view, forcibly if necessary, under the utterly ridiculous premise that if you show a fat person as anything other than miserable and desperate to be thin then you are promoting obesity (in the same way, I suppose, that putting gymnasts on talk shows promotes shortness.) So first they spread the stereotype that all fat people are miserable, unsuccessful, un-athletic, unloveable etc. Then they purposefully hide all the evidence to the contrary under the guise of not “promoting obesity”, then they use the lack of evidence, that they created, to “prove” that all fat people are miserable, unsuccessful, un-athletic, unloveable etc. This doesn’t just affect fat people, it also affects people who feel that they are fat, and those terrified of becoming fat. It also means that it’s extremely rare for anyone, of any size, to see a happy successful fat person and that further serves to dehumanize us and reduces us to a stereotype, even internally.
The portrayal of fat people as miserable and desperate to be thin leads people to assume that any and all efforts to make us thin is somehow a good and worthy deed and so instead of realizing that it is unthinkably rude and inappropriate to comment on our exercise or the food in our shopping carts, people think that they are doing us a favor; mistakenly believing that our fat bodies are some kind of sign that we need external guidance from complete strangers at the grocery store.
Further, we are consistently being told the story that fat people are an expensive drain on society – and so people are lead to believe that they can look at us and know that we are responsible for all manner of problems and financial issues etc. This is in large part a result of confirmation bias – people decide that fat people cost more and then go about trying to prove it – we could do this with almost any other group: athletes, tall people, big families etc. We could, if sufficiently motivated, figure out how almost any group costs more than any other group. Now, for example according to the US governments own numbers fat people are NOT responsible for the rise in healthcare costs. But more to the point, when has it ever been a good idea to find a group of people identifiable by a single characteristic, attempt to calculate their cost on society, and then encourage society to blame that group of people for their problems?
So all of this stereotyping and dehumanization leads to people to think of fat people as the enemy – deserving to be shamed “for our own good” at best and, at worst, deserving to be hated and attacked simply for existing in fat bodies.
We are told that the cure for all of this stigma, bullying, and oppression is for fat people to lose weight. Give the bullies our lunch money, we are told, and then hope they stop beating us up.
Of course the cure for social stigma is not weight loss – it’s ending social stigma. There are lots of ways to combat this. The first part, to me, is to constantly remind ourselves that the problem is with society – not fat people. That fat people are human and, as such, deserve the same human respect to which everyone is entitled which includes the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That these rights are inalienable, are not weight or health dependent, and that we are not asking anyone else to confer these rights – we are asking people to stop trying to take them away by an inappropriate use of power.
Another option we have as fat people, is living our lives out loud. Providing an example of what it’s like to be fat and happy, fat athletes, fat actors and singers and dancers, fat people in love, fat people who knit, whatever – insisting on our right to be the best witnesses to our own experience and to tell our own stories. Refuse to let our actual experiences be replaced by someone else’s fabricated ideas of what it’s like to be fat (remembering that these fabrications are often created for profit.) Claiming our right to make decisions for ourselves, our bodies, and our health without any kind of unrequested assistance or interference. Insisting that the fact that a body is fat does not mean that body is public property or up for public comment. If you are a thin size diversity activist, then you have the option to stand up for people of size in all of these respects and, of course, to tell your own story.
Finally, we can speak up when we see these things happening, as Laura did. If you want some support doing that, you might consider joining the Rolls Not Trolls community on Facebook. The community started from this blog and now has 626 members working on the specific purpose of posting body positive comments in body negative spaces on the internet so that those reading through the comments are presented with another option. There is never an obligation and, of course, you get to choose the opportunities you take; but every time we see fat people being stereotyped, bashed, blamed, stigmatized, bullied or oppressed, we have a chance to stand up against that behavior if we choose and every little bit really does count.
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I do size acceptance activism full time. A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and want to support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.