Today I’m not talking about the kind of drive-by fat shaming where people moo at us from their cars (though they do, sometimes they even throw eggs, and it’s super messed up.) Today I’m talking about the small incidents of fat shaming that happen daily, often as casual asides.
This post was inspired by my attempt to watch the show Jessica Jones. Roughly a million people have recommended this show to me as being amazingly feminist and all girl power-y. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, there is an incident of fat shaming. It is apropos of absolutely nothing, it doesn’t “advance the plot” she is surveilling someone in her job as a private investigator, she sees a fat woman exercising in a random window and makes a nasty comment, then the show moves on. Like the writers had 20 extra seconds so they decided to fill it with a cheap fat joke. Or they were scared that the show would be seen as all scary and feminist so they wanted to reassure people – we’re not too revolutionary, we still hate fat people.
This is drive-by fat shaming. Just a quick reminder to everyone watching/listening that it’s hilarious and cool to make fun of fat people – even on a show that is supposed to be feminist. I’m told that it never happens again in the show, and that many people have enjoyed the show, and I get that. Maybe I’ll keep watching, but my enjoyment is going to be marred by the fact that I know that the character I’m supposed to be rooting for isn’t rooting for me, and doesn’t see us as equals.
It might seem like a small thing and, taken by itself, I suppose it is, which is why many people who are reading this are already trying to explain it away, justify it, or decide if they want to leave a comment to tell me I’m oversensitive. Newsflash – it’s not this one moment – it’s the number of times this moment happens to me on a daily basis.
I’m in a hotel and Friends is on – I have to hope that it’s not a Monica-was-fat flashback episode. Big Bang Theory marathon – I can look forward to a fat joke almost every episode. I was watching the movie Secretariat – about a damn horse – and there’s a jab at fat people. I love stand-up comedy but I don’t love sitting in an audience while the person takes their time on stage to stigmatize and stereotype people who look like me.
At a show I was at, the most laughed-at joke a comic had during 15 minutes on stage was that he worked in a sporting goods store, a “kind of big lady” came in looking for a sports bra, and he said “what sport are you playing there chief.” That was the entire joke, a fat woman came to a store that sells sportsbras to buy a sportsbra (in a world that constantly – incorrectly – insists that fat people have some obligation to exercise until we are thin) and the store clerk was a total dick to her, and he’s so proud of it he tells the story to hundreds of people a day. It’s so funny I forgot to laugh.
All day, every day. Casual fat jokes, fat people used as “shorthand” for being lazy, un-athletic, unattractive, unmotivated, unsexy, unhealthy. Fat people as metaphor for greed, capitalism, and lack of discipline. Television shows, movies, articles, stand-up comics, workplace wellness programs, conference speakers. It’s a straight male friend of mine whose friends got him an “I’ll fuck the fat friend” shirt as a joke. It’s the fact that a shirt like this is for sale. Take a few days to notice how many times you hear a negative message about fat people.
And then of course there are people who have multiple marginalized identities, who deal with this for each of their identities and at the intersections of those identities. (And let me take this opportunity to be clear that fat isn’t “the last acceptable prejudice” – racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, classism, and more are sadly alive and well and far too acceptable.)
And when we speak out about it, there’s always someone who can’t wait to try to justify it, or claim that it’s not worth fighting, that we shouldn’t care, or tell us how they wouldn’t care if they were fat, which matters not at all and only serves to make the situation even worse. Meanwhile, all these “little things” chip away at our humanity while reinforcing to others that fat people deserve to be treated poorly, which in turns leads to fat people being treated poorly – hired less and paid less than our thin peers, discriminated against in healthcare settings, and fat people’s treatment online that borders on being criminal.
Nobody is obligated to engage in activism, nobody is obligated to speak out about these things, nobody is obligated to take offense. But if you do notice these things, if you are offended, I want you to know that it’s not in your head – it’s not you. Fat shaming is ubiquitous, it’s incessant, and it is wrong. Wrong wrong wrongity wrong. 100% wrong, and no number of excuses, justifications, accusations of being over-sensitive, or dismissive sighs will ever make it right. And you have every right to insist that it needs to stop.
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