The media is doing its best to make my friends and family into total jerks. We talk a lot about how the rampant fat stigma, bullying and shaming hurt fat people, but it also harms our relationships with our friends and family when they act on all of the false information and bad ideas the media feeds them about how to interact with us. Some examples:
Being Thin Makes you an Authority on How to Be Thin
Since the media says that being fat is completely the “fault” of the fat person, thin people often erroneously get the idea that being thin is all to their “credit” and that they therefore are experts who should be dispensing advice. This is stupid on a number of levels. The first being that body size is about much more than just choices – it also includes genetics, environment, metabolism etc. Almost everybody knows a thin person who eats a ton of food but never gains weight – while that person is often treated poorly, typically people accept the situation as true. But let a fat person say that they eat moderately and don’t lose weight and people can’t call us a liar fast enough. People come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons and just like being naturally blonde doesn’t give you the ability to teach other people to be naturally blonde, being thin doesn’t give you the ability to teach other people how to be thin.
Every Fat Person is a Walking Stereotype – Make Assumptions and Freely Give Advice Based on Them
The number of people who have told me that I just need to start an exercise program – not as a question but as a statement – is astronomical. When I explain that I am a professional dancer they express complete disbelief. A fat vegan friend of mine who cooks all her food from scratch mentioned that she constantly has people tell her “you just need to cut out the fast food and eat some vegetables.” The media goes to great lengths to give only a single portrayal of fat people and often the repetition works and people believe that they know everything about our life and habits from our body size. What they don’t show us is that fat people have as wide and varied health practices and life habits as thin people. The only thing that fat people have in common is our body size, other than that when it comes to variety of health practices, eating, exercising, habits or anything else, we’re just like thin people, only bigger.
Every fat person wants to be thin – encourage them
The tendency of the media to use e-barrels of e-ink telling the stories of fat people who want to be thin lends to the belief that all every fat person wants in the world is to lose weight. Oh the joy of being congratulated on starting an exercise program (though I’ve been lifting weights since I was 12), being asked how much weight I’ve lost “so far” (lest I make the mistake of thinking that however much weight I’ve lost is enough), or being told that I just need to keep it up and the weight will come off. Then there are those who treat my ordering a salad as if it’s my first day of sobriety. Here’s a little rule of thumb about people’s bodies and health – don’t guess. Also, unless someone is asking for your opinion, keeping it to yourself is a spectacular idea. Which leads us to…
Fat people need “tough talk” from you to make good decisions
We’ve all seen the stories in the news where the formerly-fat person thanks their friend, partner, or whoever for giving them the “tough talk” about their weight and health that they needed to lose weight. Then the “tough talker” praises the former fatty like they just cured cancer. The reason we read these stories is because the media likes to tell them – not because it’s a good idea, or because it typically works. What we don’t read about are the people who had a relationship destroyed because their friend, partner, or whoever couldn’t respect their boundaries and treat them like an adult capable of making their own decisions. What we don’t see is the awkward conversations that happen when, like almost everyone, that former fatty has gained the weight back and is a fatty once more.
A fat body is public property and a cry for help
Pictures of fat people without heads, fat people discussed as “epidemics” and “cost centers” leads to many people forgetting that fat people are, in fact, human. This leads to people getting the idea that it’s ok to comment on fat bodies like they are cars, and that debating about fat bodies as if they are inanimate is cool. Wrong on both counts. My body is also not a sign that I am incapable of making decisions for myself. It’s not a cry for unsolicited advice. This is not a tree, I am not a kitten.
You should abuse and shame fat people for their own good
Around this blog we call this “Pulling a Jillian” since Jillian Michaels has made a career out of being proud of abusing fat people. Shows like The Biggest Loser are teaching our workout partners, personal trainers, and fitness instructors that fat people need to be screamed at and treated like petulant children and that any amount of abuse is ok because you are “saving our lives.” The only life to save here is your own – and you can do that by never treating any person like this.
If fat people say they don’t fit your stereotypes, they are liars
The media is full of stories of formerly fat and fat-but-trying-to-lose-weight people who admit to eating in secret and lying about their habits, and dieticians saying that it’s impossible to be fat if you “eat right.” Again, they print this not because it’s the dominant experience but because it makes “good news” in the sense that people read it because it makes them feel somehow insulated from the possibility of ever getting fat if all the fatties are lying about what they eat and how much they exercise. So people feel free to replace our actual experiences that we share with them with experiences that they make up in their heads based on stereotypes. The truth is, people’s habits are nobody else’s business to begin with and if there wasn’t so much shame and stigma around being fat and eating (which we all have to do to survive) people would be less likely to eat in secret and assume that whatever amount they are eating is “too much” because they are fat.
If fat people ask for the same things you have, they are asking for special privileges
Thin people expect that when they get on the plane there will be a seat that fits them, that when they go to a mall they will be able to find clothes that fit them, that if they go to the hospital there will be a bed that fits them, that however much space they take up in any situation is a completely appropriate amount of space. But when fat people suggest that everyone else has a seat on the plane that fits them, so all we are asking for is what everybody else has; or when we suggest that the amount of space we take up is just as appropriate as anyone else, we are told that we are wrong and that we don’t get to make that determination. The media perpetuates this idea with articles about how fat people are making people miserable on planes (rather than asking why the airlines aren’t accommodating all of their potential passengers), or how we have the audacity to suggest that the hospitals that have taken on the job of providing healthcare to the community have the proper equipment to take care of the fat people who live in the community (rather than asking why the facility was created as if they didn’t know that fat people existed when they built it.) Asking for the same things that other people already have is not asking for special privileges.
As a thin person you are better than fat people
The media depicts fatness as a moral failing, social irresponsibility, and a drain on society. In contrast they tout thinness as a moral superiority and proof of social responsibility. In this way the media works to make fat people into second class citizens, assuring us that we can tell if people are good or bad by looking at their body size. I submit that any time we’ve ever attempted to categorize and judge people based on the way they look it was a massive mistake, and so it is with judging people based on their body size.
Speaking out against the media’s treatment of fat people isn’t just for fat people, it’s also for the people who know fat people and who are taking their queues on how to treat us from the media. Of course you are never under any obligation to do any kind of activism, but if you are interested there are activism opportunities in commenting on stories and sending letters to writers who are perpetuating this nonsense. There are also activism opportunities talking to our loved ones about this as a way to stand up for ourselves and others. We can help others to avoid following the media into a pit of fat bashing fueled by stereotypes and sensationalism.
Happy HAES Holidays Teleconference Workshop – less than a week away – Name Your Own Price
6 Speakers, 2 days, all by teleconference! Registration is name-your-own-price, and all of the calls will be recorded so that you can listen to any talk that you missed or want to hear again. Workshops by: Marilyn Wann, Golda Poretsky, Jeanette DePatie, CJ Legare and Tanisia Smith.
Like the blog? Check this stuff out (and you can help support my work which would be awesome):
The Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here to order
The Dance Class DVDs: Buy the Dance Class DVDs (hint: Free shipping was supposed to end on Monday but I haven’t had a chance to make the changes to the pricing so there’s still free shipping until I get it done)! Click here for the details
Become a Member and Get Special Deals from Size Positive Businesses
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.
Speaking Schedule 2013 – I am now working on my speaking schedule for next year. If you would like me to give a talk at your university, job/company, or organization just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org and we’ll talk about the options to make it work for your situation and budget.