Food, Fat People, and Double Standards

What a Load of CrapIn response to reactions to my post yesterday about Ariana Grande’s #DonutGate, I wanted to revisit a post I wrote a few years ago about the double standards we have around eating in our culture when it comes to fat and thin people.

I’m watching the show Friday Night Lights, it’s the episode where one of the tall thin beautiful female characters decides that she is hungry, she asks her boyfriend for a long list of junk food from the convenience store, and reminds him that she was going to eat all of it (so he better get other food if he wanted something.) He smiles at her.  You can see this repeated all over the place in pop culture.  This is iconic – she is a hot chick who is “one of the guys”, she can eat her body weight in wings, she orders beer and not wine, she orders her hot dog with chili and extra cheese and in the event of a break-up she eats a gallon of mint chocolate chip punctuated with sprays of whipped topping directly from the can into her mouth.  She looks like a model but eats like a linebacker. She’s cute, adorable, hot, sexy, quirky.

But what about this girl:  She’s fat, she can eat her body weight in wings, she orders beer and not wine, she orders her hot dog with chili and extra cheese and in the event of a break-up she eats a gallon of mint chocolate chip punctuated with sprays of whipped topping directly from the can into her mouth. She is a fat woman who eats like a linebacker.  She is the subject of shame, stigma, humiliation and ridicule by everyone from random strangers on the internet to her doctor. She is disgusting, she is everything that’s wrong with the world.

Why if someone is thin are these behaviors considered some combination of hot, sexy, adorable, and quirky, but if she’s fat the exact same behaviors are irresponsible, disgusting, creating diseases that she “deserves”, costing tax dollars etc.?

I was going to give a hint, but let me just take a stab at the answer – it’s because it isn’t about health, it’s about our cultural bias against fat people and all the ways that people find to perpetuate it. It’s about the way that fat people are used as a target – including and especially by the government – for people looking to blame their misfortune on someone.

I’m kind of surprised it isn’t already a Twitter hashtag. Healthcare costs too high?  Blame fat people (even if the evidence doesn’t support it.) Taxes too high? #blamefatpeople (even if it makes no sense) Licked some donuts and getting (rightly) eviscerated in the media? #blamefatpeople

There is an answer.  It’s not to stop “condoning” these behaviors in thin women or to start “condoning” them in fat women.  The answer is for each of us to realize that, just like our personal choices aren’t other people’s business, their personal choices aren’t our business. Other people’s food choices are not really ours to condone.  The answer is to learn the ancient art of minding our own damn business.

We are allowed to have all kinds of opinions, but nobody else has an obligation to care about what we think. If we start to insist that they do, i think we’ll soon find that this slope is very slippery –  whose behavior do we get to choose and who gets to choose our behavior for us?  It’s a lot less fun when someone gets to tell us how to live.

While we’re at it, let’s stop making assumptions.  Let’s not assume that the way someone is eating tonight out at dinner is the way that they eat all the time. Let’s not assume that we can look at someone and know what they eat.  Let’s not assume that it’s any of our business what people eat.  Let’s stop creating a culture of guilt and shame around food, and we can also stop creating a culture of guilt and shame around bodies, mind our own business, make our own choices, and live happier ever after.

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Published in: on July 21, 2015 at 8:51 am  Comments (18)  

18 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. As always, thank you.

  2. I loved this the last time, and I still love it. It hits so many nails squarely on their heads. Particularly,

    “I was going to give a hint, but let me just take a stab at the answer – it’s because it isn’t about health, it’s about our cultural bias against fat people and all the ways that people find to perpetuate it. It’s about the way that fat people are used as a target – including and especially by the government – for people looking to blame their misfortune on someone.”

    Bingo. If you don’t care when a thin person participates in a certain activity, but find that same activity scandalously immoral when a fat person participates, there’s a word for that. No, it’s not “healthy.” It’s “bigot.” Also “hypocrite.”

    “There is an answer. It’s not to stop “condoning” these behaviors in thin women or to start “condoning” them in fat women. The answer is for each of us to realize that, just like our personal choices aren’t other people’s business, their personal choices aren’t our business. Other people’s food choices are not really ours to condone.”

    Exactly. When I (or any other fat person) says, “It’s okay for me to be fat and do the same things thin people do,” *that is not a request for permission that you then have the authority to deny.* It’s a statement of bald fact. Permission to exist and enjoy the same basic human rights as everyone else is not the government’s or any individual fatphobe’s to give a fat person. As it logically follows, it’s not theirs to give a *skinny* person, either.

    “Let’s not assume that the way someone is eating tonight out at dinner is the way that they eat all the time.”

    I can’t count the number of fatphobes who’ve tried to “prove” fat people overeat by telling me about this one time they went to dinner/a party and one of the fat guests ate [immoral food], only to protest when asked if anyone *else* ate [immoral food] that it’s not the same thing because they don’t do that all the time. How do they know the fat guest eats like that all the time but the others don’t? Because he’s fat and the others aren’t, duh. It’s like an oroborous swallowing its own brain.

    Good essay.

  3. So glad for the re-post, I must have missed it first time around! Great post!

    I long made myself a victim of the food double standard: “Oh, you’re thin? You get to eat anything you want. I gain weight easily so I don’t.” ARGH. I see now the harm that kind of thinking caused: I went around thinking I was unworthy of the same things I felt other-shaped and other-sized people were worthy of. It’s dehumanizing. I’m so happy I’m WAY over that kind of thinking. Everybody gets to eat what they want, when they want, no judgment!

  4. This reminds me of the Trader Joe’s “Reduced Guilt” food products, a subject I know you’ve blogged about before. I hate that they market them that way because a. it fuels that notion that food has morality and b. it clearly implies we should STILL have some guilt.

    Sorry, I’m not going to feel guilty about my 300 or so calorie (I’d have to look to actually know) baked ziti lunch. And I’m even adding grated cheese!

  5. I had an interesting experience with this. I used to go to the county fair and get a lot of fried food or taco salad or whatever I wanted at the time for dinner. When I was close to 300 pounds, people gave me the side eye when I’d sit down to eat. Occasionally when I’d be out somewhere eating I’d hear a snide remark. Well a few years ago I lost a lot of weight, 100 pounds, and went to the fair, Got my taco salad (in the fried shell) and sat down to eat. A couple sat across from me and actually made conversation with me, asked if the taco salad was good, decided the lady wanted one too. I was treated like a normal human being eating dinner and not like an omg fat person eating something she shouldn’t. I have regained the weight… and I am acutely aware now of how differently people respond to, say, a large woman eating ice cream vs. a thinner one eating the same thing. Kind of upsetting. Wish people weren’t so judgmental.

  6. Audrey Hepburn’s role in “Charade” is a classic example of a thin character who eats voraciously being presented as “cute” and “quirky.” Hepburn’s character eats just about all the time in that film, gets comments from Cary Grant’s character such as “you can’t be hungry again!”, but it’s all played as cute and charming and sexy because, well, she has Audrey Hepburn’s body. It’s still a great film but this really did leap out at me when I watched it recently.

    • See also David Tennant’s character in “Blackpool.” It was the same with him. Thin man can eat and eat and eat, and it’s just a quirky character trait. Also, it’s used to illustrate his state of mind, as there comes a time when he STOPS EATING, and you’re supposed to realize just how upset he is, because he’s not eating, as if his facial expression and his lines aren’t enough. Hungry person isn’t hungry? Stuff must have hit the fan, alright!

      But had he been fat, that would have been played for laughs, or for disgust.

      Everyone knows, and will admit to knowing, a thin person with a fast metabolism, who can eat everything without gaining weight. They usually call this person “healthy,” because of their weight, without any regard to the actual quality of their food choices. But a fat person who eats half that much is automatically considered unhealthy (regardless of the actual nutritional value of the food), and gross.

      • Heck, one of the oldest examples I can think of is Shaggy from Scooby Doo. His appetite is such that not only does he make quadra-decker sandwiches, *he eats his dog’s treats,* and this is all funny and endearing and cute. Imagine how a show would treat a fat character so desperate for food they ate doggy biscuits.

    • Geez, but if you know Audrey Hepburn’s story, that she almost starved to death as a girl in Nazi occupied Holland, and all the health problems that followed her malnourishment…you never want to have her body to suffer through what she had to.

  7. I think some of it is the old belief that fat people already have plenty of energy stored in their bodies, so they shouldn’t need to eat. Whereas a thin person has no stored energy, so it is okay if they eat constantly.

    The whole calories in should equal calories out has been drummed into people’s brains.

    • That’s a really good point, lsstrout. I think you’re probably exactly right that this is yet another manifestation of “calories in, calories out” thinking.

    • That is the general thinking driving the medically prescribed weightloss during pregnancy: you’ve got energy stored, so you don’t need any more. Even though 100% of the science says dieting and weightloss during pregnancy leads to more negative health outcomes for both mother and baby.

      • Ugh, are people seriously still promoting that horrid “Perfect Parasite” theory?

    • So if it’s all just a simple matter of calories in vs. calories out, and a calorie is just a calorie…

      http://www.ketogenic-diet-resource.com/rabbit-starvation.html

      Why does this happen?

      Seriously, though, I Am Not A Doctor, but here’s a worksheet detailing how white adipose tissue responds to starvation for the two people who are actually interested.

      http://www.med.upenn.edu/biocbiop/faculty/vanderkooi/chap7-9.pdf

      In essence (again, IANAD), while (white) adipose tissue offers some protection from starvation and a fat person has a better chance of surviving than a thin one in extreme famine… it’s not complete nutrition and it’s not a substitute for food. There are cells and organs that can’t use the energy from white adipose tissue and once sufficiently deprived, they will *break down your muscles and bones* looking for what they need. It’s impossible to survive on just body fat.

      • Pretty much everybody who doesn’t study this has no idea how the body copes with lack of food. Why doctors who SHOULD know better still prescribe starvation for fat people is beyond me.

        All most people hear is – eat less, use more energy, lose weight. It doesn’t work because the body is a complicated mess of bio-chemicals trying to stay alive.

    • People don’t even get the whole calories in=calories out thing right. If the number of calories you take in is more than the calories you lose you should GAIN weight. Meaning if you’re fat and your weight is stable? You ARE using all the calories you take in. That is, in fact, what is required to support your body.

      People who insist that fat people stay fat because they’re eating more than their body can use fail basic thermodynamics.

      • HOORAY!!! Another solid argument for logic!

        Seriously, why can’t people understand this? Either thermodynamic works, or we are not mechanical engines and our biological bodies follow different rules than mechanical things. Either way, though, they need to be consistent with the rules.

        What really gets me is the “calories in/calories out” rule for fat people, but not for thin people.

        People who are thin, but eat loads of junk food all day, while sitting on their couch doing nothing active are still considered “healthy,” and nobody says “calories in/calories out, it’s simple thermodynamics, you stupid, ignorant, lazy, fat, ugly, immoral *#*&%,” to THEM. They only apply the laws of thermodynamics (which are MECHANICAL engineering, not biology!) to us fatties.

        You can’t have both ways, bigots!

  8. This. Yes. All the time. I started looking at people’s food choices and asked myself, how would I judge them differently if they were fat/skinny instead? The answers to my own questions shamed even me. Get to know people and watch them struggle over making healthy food choices and beating themselves up for enjoying a piece of birthday cake.


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