Yes, Fat People Are Actually Human

Stand up speak up fight backI got a lot of e-mails today from people who told me that they were absolutely shocked that someone would be comfortable suggesting something so obviously horrific as Warn a Friend They’re Fat Day.”  I think it’s, very sadly, a natural extension of our culture.

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 and makes judgments.

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.)

The cycle goes like this (and is often perpetuated for profit by industries that sell thinness)

  1. Create an environment that encourages bullying, shame, stigma and oppression, designed to make fat people miserable
  2. Purposefully hide all the fat who manage to be happy regardless of the messed up culture, under the guise of not “promoting obesity” since it makes people miserable to be fat
  3. Use the”lack” of happy fat people – that they created – to “prove” that all fat people are miserable
  4. Insist that if fat people are miserable it’s because we are fat, and not because we live in a world where we face a ceaseless barrage of shame, stigma, and oppression at their hands.
  5. Optional:  If you are a diet company, promise people that your product will make fat people thin (even though it won’t)
  6. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This doesn’t just affect fat people, it also affects people who feel that they are fat, and those terrified of becoming fat and being folded into this cycle.  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 robs us of representation and role models.

The portrayal of fat people subhuman until we become thin  leads to the assumption that any and all efforts to make us thin are somehow a good and worthy deed.  So instead of realizing that it is unthinkably rude and inappropriate to comment on our bodies, or the food in our shopping carts, or subject us to shame, stigma, bullying and oppression because of how we look, 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.

It leads people to believe that it is somehow reasonable to find a group of people identifiable by a single physical characteristic, attempt to calculate that group’s “cost” on society, and then – if it seems like the world would be cheaper without them – call for their eradication.

This stereotyping and dehumanization leads 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, they tell us, and they promise they’ll 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 or habit 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.

We can also – when we feel that we have the energy and desire – speak out against this when we see it. There is never, ever any obligation to join in activism and, of course, you get to choose the opportunities you take; but every time we see fat people being stereotyped, bashed, blamed, stigmatized, bullied, dehumanized or oppressed, we have a chance to stand up against that behavior if we choose.

In this kind of activism my goal isn’t usually to change the perpetrator’s mind (that’s pretty far out of my control) but rather to make sure that the people who are hearing the message that fat people are less than human and should be treated poorly “for our own good,” are also hearing the truth, that fat people’s bodies are nobody else’s business, and that we have the right to exist without shame, stigma, bullying and oppression  regardless of why we are fat, what being fat means, or if we could become thin.  Fat people have the right to exist, period.

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Published in: on January 9, 2015 at 10:58 am  Comments (12)  

12 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thanks for the reminder, Ragen. Your blog is awesome, as always.

  2. its not just fat its anyone who is different have you not seen the endless people of wal mart videos i’m in a wheel chair i am large and beautiful with blue hair i have been chased on the streets by people in cars taking pictures of me several times why can’t they just leave me in peice

  3. You. I want to hug you. Thank you for this post! (:

  4. There is also unchecked privilege going on there as well. Whenever someone say’s “I’m surprised”, “Shocked” or some equivalent, well… how very privileged that they are able to be surprised or shocked, because fat people living and experiencing on a daily basis non-stop 24/7 our society’s hatred of fat/fat people, don’t get that luxury.

    I also hear of lot of “I’m not surprised”… which implies that the other person who shared whatever that person was “not surprised” about.. was themselves “surprised”, which is dismissive of what was originally shared. Now I realize that particular saying is part of the common language, but it reinforces the dominant narrative that by being “shocked” or “surprised” or the more common “I’m not surprised”, which implies the other person was, implies something not many people know or need to really worry about… if they did, if it was daily, constant, important, then more people would know about it, and there would be no surprise, no shock.

    • Actually, in some cases, I’m shocked! is an expression of distress that one human being can openly be such an ass towards another human being and expect to be praised for it.

  5. I once was passed over for a full time job at Merrill Lynch in NYC because I was “fat” and therefore a poor representative of the company–this was for a night job as a copy reader, with no exposure to the public! I then lost 30 pounds, re-applied, and was hired by the same person who’d turned me down–he didn’t recognize me as the “fat” person he’d originally seen. Our prejudices really run deep and unconscious, it seems. (Though who could expect otherwise, with everything negative we’ve been “fed” all our lives.)

    Betsy

    • Did you simmer with resentment at work? I couldn’t have done it!

  6. Don’t think of it as Warn A Friend They’re Fat Day. Rather, call it by its true name, Edit Your Phone Contacts Day.

  7. The first step in being able to hate a group of people is to dehumanize them. That’s what the photos with no faces do.

  8. I still can’t get over the fact that the whole name of the day suggests that I might not have noticed that I’m fat. Given that people feel free to shout at me in the streets about it, and that I am constantly bombarded with images and messages about acceptable body types, and that I can’t buy clothes in ‘normal; shops… I THINK I’ve NOTICED that I’m fat.

  9. Maybe the fat is supposed to block my ears and brain and eyes?

  10. Thank You for another terrific and eye opening post.


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