We’ve started watching a television show called “I’m Alive” about people who have survived wild animal attacks. It’s the kind of show where they mix interviews with re-enactments. I became aware of something super cool – in the re-enactments they really work to use actors who look like the actual people including their weight. So if someone in the actual situation was fat, so is the actor who plays them. I’m seriously excited about this, since I rarely see people who look like me represented on television. I even e-mailed Animal Planet to thank them (email@example.com).
While I’m excited and I celebrate the victory, it also brings the issue of fat representation into sharp relief for me. I read a quote today from Junot Diaz: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.” That is exactly what is happening to fat people right now.
Fat people rarely see ourselves represented in the media as anything other than a body without a head meant as a cautionary tale. Fat people are as different as any group of people who share only one characteristic and yet we see almost no evidence of that in popular culture, and in many cases we see the exact opposite.
First and foremost is the War on Obesity. I think the clearest way to see the issues with the war on obesity is to notice that a common and popular way for politicians to gain favor among voters is by promising to eradicate everyone who looks like us. There are major problems with the way that the “cost” of fat people is calculated but the biggest problem is that the cost is calculated at all. There is nothing ok about finding a group of people who can be identified by sight, calculating their supposed cost on society, and using those calculations to call for the eradication of everyone who shares that single physical characteristic.
Then there is the myth that showing fat people being successful at anything other than weight loss is “promoting obesity.” This is among the most ridiculous things that I’ve ever heard. As if someone will see me dancing and think “I wish I could dance like that. I guess I’ll gain up to 300 pounds and then go from there.” It’s insulting to my years of hard work and training, and it’s insulting to others’ intelligence. Like it’s the new V8 commercial: millions of thin people, who see the same 386,170 negative messages a year about fat people, will see one of us being successful in some way, smack their foreheads and say “I coulda been fat!” The end result of this is that fat people are robbed of both representation and role models.
And so we are made monsters – blamed by shocking shoddy research for everything from workplace costs, to healthcare costs, to fuel usage; unwilling combatants in a war by which the government seeks our eradication, preyed upon by a $60 Billion industry that sells snake oil in the promise of weight loss that will cure our social stigma by working the wrong end of the problem.
I think it’s fantastic when someone outside the fat community reads my work and gets something out of it, sometimes I get e-mails from people who tell me that my blog has helped them identify their own fat bigotry and I’m always happy about that. My focus, though, is that fat people knowing and remembering that we have the right to exist, that hating our bodies is not compulsory, that we are not required to be complicit in our own eradication, that we are the best witnesses to our experience and that we can demand to be treated with respect.
Sometimes I wish that I could put on some sort of fatty tent revival, I’d call it Fat, Fat, Fat Fest and travel from city to city and set up a huge tent, gather all the fatties that I can and have speakers, poets, and all manner of fat performers who help fat people know they have options, to let them see people who look like them being happy and successful (with their heads attached), to see people who look like them who love and appreciate their bodies and reject our culture’s fat bigotry and claim and own their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. You know, if I start now it could be my project for next summer….
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