This Just In – Fat People are Human

Design by Kris Owen

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.

Like the blog?  Check this stuff out (and you can help support my work which I would really appreciate):

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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.

Published in: on October 22, 2012 at 7:41 am  Comments (11)  

11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. “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 just blew my mind a little bit. I mean, independent of each other I knew these things already, but put together like that … Wow, this goes in the “must be remembered” pile!

  2. I am at a major national conference in a five star hotel/resort in FL. The resort has 2 lovely swimming pools and the weather here this week is perfect. I take a water aerobics class 4X/week at home and thus am pretty comfortable in my swimsuit around people of all sizes. I had some down time on Saturday afternoon so went to the adults-only pool to swim and sun. As I was walking back to my lounge chair I heard a male voice declare, certainly loudly enough for me and many others to hear, “Now that is just disgusting”.

  3. OT question — I have an appointment in a week to get my knee looked at. I did something to it when I was stuck in SRO at a basketball game a few years ago and it hasn’t felt right since. Since this is an issue that *is* aggrivated by my weight, and since this particular practitioner specializes in sports medicine, I’m really worried I’m going to get the Lose 300 Pounds And Call Me In The Morning speech. Is there a script you’d suggest for handling such a problem in an adult and reasonable manner? I tend to come unglued when talked to about my weight, and when it’s a doctor doing the talking I regress straight to preschooler. If I have to slink out and look for another doctor I’d like to do it with my dignity somewhat intact.

    Thanks! Looking forward to my DVD,

    • I suffer from the same issue. I think I’m doing okay at the doctors office until the WLS talk comes up, then I just get humiliated and leave.

    • I’m not sure if this is the sort of script you’re looking for, but I do have hip issues that some of my previous doctors have attributed to my weight. (Me, I attribute them to the fact that I have uterine lining growing through all sorts of my soft pelvic tissues.) The script I’ve used has gone something like this, “I am currently [insert relevant activities WRT food and exercise here]. I am not willing to [things that are off limits]. However, I am interested in [types of suggestions that would work for you].”

      When I do it, it says, “I am currently exercising regularly and am eating foods that best fuel my activity level. I am not willing to consider a diet plan or weight loss surgery as they’re both contraindicated by other factors in my medical history; I’ve made an informed choice that the risks outweigh the benefits at this time. However, I am interested in specific strength- or flexibility-building exercises or activities that you could recommend to me.”

      Sometimes, what happens is that the provider happily offers suggestions in the area that I’ve okayed. Sometimes, I get a little pushback — where I have to reject specific suggestions, for example — but repeating myself and sticking to my guns convinces my doctor that I’m serious and they offer (sometimes more reluctantly) suggestions in the areas that I’ve okayed.

      That said, sometimes providers either can’t or won’t offer me those suggestions. In cases like that, I ask, “Then can you please give me a referral to someone who can/will?” If it’s just a provider outside their field of expertise (e.g., since my problem is uterine in nature, I see GYNs a lot), they’re generally happy to refer.

      However, there have also been doctors who think I’m being unreasonable for wanting to discuss options that will work for me, and I have been labeled non-compliant… a few? some? several?… a certain amount of times. Which, when I’ve been used to it and have had the privilege of being able to switch providers, hasn’t bothered me. But when it’s come as a surprise or at a time when I really couldn’t afford the switch for whatever reason… that has not been good, so it’s something worth knowing in advance.

  4. The crazy thing I keep seeing is people making hugely fat-shaming comments about third parties to their fat friends and never noticing the disconnect. I mean, you’re standing there with your friend who weighs something like 200 lbs. and then you see a person who weighs around 175lbs. go by, and it seems like a good idea to turn to your friend who is fatter than the person who just walked by and snigger about the fat bovine?????

    And the weirdest thing of all about it is the number of even fatter friends who don’t make the connection that THEY HAVE JUST BEEN INSULTED TO THEIR FACES BY FRIENDS. They join in the sniggering.

    How sick does a society have to be before people don’t even notice how hard they are working for their own oppression?

    I know it’s something that has always happened. Hell, there were enough Jewish women in Nazi Germany married to party members that there was a term for the practice: ‘U-boats.’ But that doesn’t make it any less mind-blowing to me.

    If someone who calls me friend starts staring and laughing at someone who weighs less than I do because they’re ZOMG so FAAAAAT!, well, all I can say is they damn well better be ready for an earful of douchebag shaming. That goes for staring and laughing at people for being fatter than me, way thinner than me, wearing odd clothing combinations, or having less teeth, too.

    I refuse to be complicit in my own oppression.

    • I’ve had trouble with this, in a different sort of way. I was at a Ren Fair (yes, geeky, I know, but awesome too, so there :)) and one of my fat friends (300+ lbs) pointed out some random woman’s cankles and started criticizing them. My face dropped, and I didn’t really know what to say. She caught my look, and said, “Well, I might be really fat, but at least I don’t have cankles.” I didn’t say anything. Then later on, she saw an average-size girl in leggings, and said that she thought it looked “wrong” and that only women who look like anime characters (long, thin legs, small bottom, tiny feet) are allowed to wear them without a skirt. I didn’t know what to say. This happens to me over and over again. Like a fat friend and his girlfriend were discussing their day, and when he got to the part where they had eaten dinner at AppleBees, he interjected, “Because that’s what fat fucks do!” I didn’t know how to respond to his self-deprecating humor. My body tensed up and I inaudibly said, “What?”, and then rolled my eyes and shook my head.

  5. And along with the fat shaming graphic (which is still there) are the comments that continue to spread shame, fear and misinformation. Ignorance can be so sad and pathetic.

    Even the page owner has commented (which I personally find ignorant as well so I’m a tad irritated in my own commentary below):

    “Diet and lifestyle are the primary factors for obesity, which is why it has become an epidemic in the US and some other nations. It’s no coincidence that it came about in conjunction with the introduction of fast foods, corn syrup, etc. We’re not fat shaming in any way, we’re shaming McDonald’s and friends for feeding people addictive, toxic, fattening, hormone imbalancing, and organ damaging “foods”.

    — Great, I’m an epidemic. I think I shall take pride in my celebrity status now that I’m famous. (Yeah, I know we’ve been a big old wart on the lovely skin of society for some time.)

    — And this is not fat shaming? Why aren’t there pictures of skinny people that look “sick”, “unhealthy” or whatever it is that would exemplify how MDs affects them? Waaaaaaaaaaaait…no can do…that might create a panic and us fatties would be accused of diverting the “real” issue at hand. While I don’t approve of many of the food industries way of doing things, this is no better.

    original comment continued:

    “If you claim it’s all genetics than why don’t Europe, Japan, and so many other countries not have the same issues that we’re having in the US, Australia, and increasingly in the UK? Of course genetics and illnesses play a factor and even if a person doesn’t have any “good excuses” it’s not reason or acceptable to shame anyone for whatever struggles they’re dealing with. However, that doesn’t mean we should ignore health epidemics of any kind and all related causes of such important issues.”

    — well, perhaps size of populations? closer knit familiar structures in some countries? does it really matter? Shaming a group of people is shameful. Period.

    — Oh, so now we need “good excuses”? Love the quotes there, great way of being “supportive” while you continue to parley the fat shaming as a means to your end.

    It continuously amazes and saddens me how ugly people are. How afraid of themselves they truly are and so they must project that onto everyone else. blah.

    Thanks again for another fabulous post!

  6. Wow. She is spectacular.

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