Power, Privilege, and Fatness: Why thin shaming isn’t on the level of fat shaming

body shame

Greetings, fellow naturally thin-ish people.

I’d say “thin people,” but most of us are a few years past the point that the angles on our face were perfect no matter what we ate, or our asses could stop traffic. If not? We soon will be. But I’m speaking, here, to the non-fat. The wee. The svelte. The thin. The fast-metabolismed. The genetic lottery winners.

You know who you are. We don’t count calories, we can spend entire days without thinking about our body sizes, and while we may feel like shit about how we look, we certainly aren’t told that it’s all our fault. That’s who we are. If not? Quietly leave. I’m not talking to you.

Are they gone?

Okay.

So hello, thinnish people.

I have some distressing news for all of us, and it comes straight from the fat horse’s mouth:

We don’t get to talk about thin shaming like it’s every bit as bad as fat shaming.

Yes, yes, I know the argument. “Isn’t making fun of anybody’s body just as bad as making fun of anybody else’s?”

No. Just, like, way no. All the no. There’s no more “no” left, because I just took it all.

Stick with me, here.

I rejected this idea for years, myself. I wanted, very badly, for all prejudicial language, and every minimization of a group of people to be analogous and equal. As a thin (not to mention white) male, I wanted very badly for any member of any minority groups’ criticism of me based on anything but my actions to be every bit as bad as every insult thrown at them for no reason. Every barb. Every discriminatory act. Every oblivious act. I wanted my resentment to be as justified as theirs. I wanted them hating on me for being white, or male, or thin– I wanted it to be just as unthinkable and obviously terrible as it would be for me to hate on them for being black, or female, or fat.

But dude, I say, hoping the colloquialism doesn’t alienate…

It way wasn’t.

I was just an asshole.

I have an analogy here that many haven’t considered. It’s obvious, which means I’m a bit of a hack. It’s simplistic, which means I’m not the academic I would love to be, but it is also accurate. When people say that shaming the thin for being thin as akin to shaming the fat for being fat, here is what they are saying:

“Whites are the new blacks.”

Ridiculous, right? But this is an argument that is currently being made. According to a recent survey performed by Harvard and Tufts sociologists, many white Americans believe that they are now the persecuted minority.

Speaking as a white man, we’re not. We absolutely aren’t. We couldn’t be less the new blacks were minstrel shows about white folks to suddenly become, y’know, a thing. I can picture it now:

“Did you file those reports, Johnson?”

“No, Thomas. I was busy getting STARBUCKS!”

<Dismissive song and dance>

<Laughter>

Almost sounds like the Big Bang Theory.

Here’s the thing: there’s no comparing the oppressed with the oppressor. Agents and targets of oppression, as they’re known among several frameworks of social theory, will never be the same thing.

And that doesn’t mean that anybody’s a bad person. Nobody’s suggesting that anybody should be shot for laughing at fat people. But, y’know, nobody was suggesting that many others should be shot for laughing at movie portrayals of House Mammies. And yes, I am comparing these things, and yes, I do believe they’re analogous. Not on the same level, sure, but the same act. The same superior dismissal. The same subjugation and disenfranchisement of a target group.

It’s unthinkable to act, consciously and publicly, as if those who are born different should be treated with malice, but it is still totally okay to treat the larger members of our country with constant disdain, and disrespect. The reason for this is the same reason you’d almost never hear somebody say “I’m fine with Mexicans so long as they’re not all up in my face with it,” but the same is said about gays on a fairly regular basis:

Choice.

Fatness, like sexuality, is seen by many as a matter of choice. And worse yet, while a gay man can’t make himself straight, nor should he, a fat person can make themselves thin, so that must mean thin is better, right? That fat means unhealthy, right? That every fat person is just lazy, right? They should be thin and healthy like us! Go health! Dog-whistles!

I eat like shit, never exercise, and spend all day sitting. My wife eats well, controls portions, exercises, and spends all day on her feet. I’m thin, she’s not. I’m considered height-weight proportionate. She’s not. Oh, and I’m at risk of heart disease. She’s not.

Bullshit it’s all choice, and the health argument is ridiculous. And I am here, in my pants that fit, gleefully doling out said ridicule.

Our differences in metabolism are ignored. People wrongly assume I’m the healthy one and she isn’t, and for this reason, she can be mocked and I can sit in my bubble of oppressive social agency, secure that I’m a part of dominant culture, body-size wise. It’s not okay to say “nigger,” or “bitch,” or “fag” offhandedly on, say, network television, but it is 100% okay to call somebody a fatass. Or tank-ass. Or lard-ass. Or bubble-gut, or even such subtle jabs as “she’s let herself go.”

So when somebody who is exposed to this every minute of every day lashes out and says, “yeah? Well FUCK thin people!” we don’t get to act as if this the same as somebody calling a bigger guy or gal a fatass, because we are told, every time we watch television, every time we see a film, every time we look at a billboard, and every time we see a fashion magazine: “You’re okay. You count. You matter.”

When a gay man says, “fuck straight people,” he is not oppressing, because he is not in power, culturally-speaking. He is not in the position to oppress. When a black man says, “fuck white people,” he is not oppressing white men, because his group is not the dominant group. When a woman says, “fuck men,” she is not oppressing men, because to oppress, your social group must be on top. That’s what oppression is. 

But when a fat person talks smack about the “rail thin,” or the “anorexic models,” or even something so naked as “those fucking thin people,” they are treated, just as their oppressed contemporaries are when they retaliate, as oppressors.

They’re not, dude. They’re way not.

They’re just being assholes.

It’s a very important distinction to make.

Fat people are a persecuted minority. If you don’t believe this, just take in all of your daily media with the idea in mind of how you’d feel if you had what I like to call The Big Gene; if your metabolism sucked, and no matter how healthy you were, you still just had some heft to ya’. Just pay attention for one day to how godawful you’d feel. Most of us don’t even have to reach too far for this, because we’re not models. We’re already facing it, just not on nearly the same level.

Nobody is suggesting that there has ever been a fat-person lynch mob. Nobody is suggesting that fat people are regularly murdered for declaring their love in public. Nobody is actually comparing the plight of the fat to the historical and contemporary plight of other minorities. Nobody who matters, anyway.

But, as always, there’s a “but.”

Fat people are consistently mocked on television and in movies. Magazines have whole issues devoted to “Worst Bathing Suit Bodies”. Fat people are told how they should (and shouldn’t) dress, how they should eat. They are judged much more critically, and much more frequently than non-fat people. They are targets, because they are at the weaker end of the power dynamic. That is what makes “fat bitch” a different insult than “skinny bitch” and why fat shaming is different than thin shaming. Neither is positive, and neither should be acceptable. But thin shaming doesn’t excuse fat shaming; if anything, it only continues to oppress an already oppressed minority.

So, y’know, try not to pile on by pretending to be a victim.

Don’t be an asshole.


UPDATE

We have been receiving a lot of feedback on this article. Check out our responses!

17 thoughts on “Power, Privilege, and Fatness: Why thin shaming isn’t on the level of fat shaming

  1. First, you compared being fat to being black. I would, before anything else, like to point out that historically, the fat were made of the oppressors – the rich, those who were able to afford a surplus of food – and were very rare. Ironic, isn’t it? According to history, fat people were the Roman emperors, the monarchs, the slave owners. You know who was thin back then? The slaves. Wonderful analogy you make.
    Second, you don’t know the meaning of ‘body image issues’. Being thin isn’t the same as being thin as a woman – it doesn’t matter what you look like, you will never be good enough to someone. Fat, thin, athletic, short, tall, pretty, ugly, you will face derision. I look at the magazines showing me about 200 reasons to feel like shit about myself – my boobs aren’t that big, my ribs/shoulder bones/pelvic bones are too visible, I don’t have perfectly clear skin or such a pretty face. Pretty? Yeah, but not that pretty. It doesn’t help I was only ever hit on by creeps. Only dogs like bones, right?
    Don’t be an asshole.

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  2. This does not negate your valid point, but it IS considered okay to say bitch or slut etc in mass media. Hatred of all genders other than cis male is endemic these days, whether the haters are gay men calling cis women and trans men “tuna” and trans women “tranny mess” or straight men using the aforementioned bitch or whore for anyone who isn’t read as cis male. Straight cis women have mostly internalized their oppression and seem to enjoy piling on the hatred as well towards those who aren’t cis male or have passing privilege as a cis male. Also note how fat people who aren’t cis male bear the brunt of society’s hatred, even though it is way harder to be thin if your endocrine system runs on estrogen and if, at puberty, your hips and ass grew the way they do if you are assigned female at birth and don’t take estrogen blockers. Hatred of fat is very much linked to hatred of female assigned bodies, female identities, and fem/me identities.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Reblogged this on Sly Fawkes and commented:
    Very well said. People in privileged groups (thin, straight, white, male, cis, able-bodied, neuro-normative) can and do encounter prejudice and dickishness. What people in privileged groups do not encounter is socially sanctioned oppression on a daily basis.
    Do I as a straight, white, cis person squirm a bit when a gay, black, trans person points out with justified anger what assholes straight, white, cis people are? Absolutely.
    Is whining that they’re being prejudiced because “not all straight, white, cis people are like that” the answer?
    Absolutely not.
    Joseph is a thin-ish ally who is doing it right.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Do NOT presume to understand institutionalized racism and homophobia enough to use it as a comparative tool in an ad hominem argument about fat phobia. They Are Not Fucking Analogous.
    AT FUCKING ALL.

    This is a continuing issue that I wish people would realize is stupid and offensive to every group mentioned. The historical background, socio-economic factors, personal narratives and physical/psychological consequences of each are NOT mix and match grab-bag of equivalent experience that you can use to explain the others. They Just Aren’t.

    Before someone tries to respond that I’m diminishing fat phobia. You missed the point.

    Continuing on. I’ll give you an example why you’re article is wrong. Logically, morally and factually.
    Anti-Semitism and Racism *might* on the surface seem like comparable instances of historically institutionalized bigotry against a group identified primarily by their ‘ethnic’ features. With a truck-load of terrible inferences made about the character of the persons belonging to that group which then ‘justified’ the god-awful treatment of them by governments and private citizens.

    But if you think that those shallow (yes, shallow) similarities make them analogous than you know nothing about black or jewish history.

    They were marginalized for vastly different reasons, in different contexts, the characterizations stem from totally different spheres. All this (and more) resulted in a FUNDAMENTALLY different set of experiences for both blacks and jews in any given period in time.

    Holocaust≠Slavery.
    Anti semitism ≠ Racism.

    And you could not adequately (i.e. Not even remotely possibly) explain, depict, enumerate, or extrapolate the nature or experiences of one by the other. To say otherwise is stupid and wrong.

    Equating fat phobia to the historically marginalized, terrorized, and (at several points in history) objectively unsurvivable experiences of other groups is completely and insanely reductive.

    Fatphobia is real. But it is not, under any circumstances, addressing civil rights issues. It is a fight against STIGMA not OPPRESSION.

    There is a difference. And that difference need not be viewed as insulting or insinuating that the experiences of fat people don’t matter. Of course they do. Of course our bodies can never be used to discount our value as a person. Of course being bigger doesn’t equal stupid, or lazy, unhygienic, disgusting, etc. Stigma should be fought, loudly and consistently until it is diminished and a mere memory.

    The key feature that differentiates stigma from oppression is the lack of control. Oppression isn’t ‘about’ control, it is the forceful *use* of control to rob those targeted of their basic civil rights. The government, nor its citizens can lawfully attack or use a fat person the way they have used and attacked others historically. If they do, THERE IS RECOURSE. They cannot deny the basic civil liberties to you based on the fact that you are fat. You are in fact free as a person (this blog would not be possible otherwise).

    In conclusion, even if you disagree with my distinction between stigma/oppression. DON’T for the LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD use marginalized persons as props to your arguments. It’s offensive in the extreme. If you have a cogent stance, you should be able state it without being so blatantly dismissive about the many factors, subtleties and issues that are inherent, different, AND IMPORTANT about those groups’ experiences (this. also. applies. to. the. experiences. of. fat. people.).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would say they are comparable. Do you know what keeps me in the house more, black or fat? Fat. What stops me from doing activities I love, black or fat. Fat. What stops me from applying for jobs more? Black or Fat, Fat. I see more black people on my Screen than fat. There is a black president. I haven’t seen a fat female president. Have you? Its comparable, at least to modern racism and sexism, maybe it does not have the same history as racism as body preference seems to have changed over the years. With fat phobia, I think the oppression is only just starting – and we have a chance to stop it before it gets too damaging.

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      • No. I am not putting up with THIS load of shit. I am sick and tired of people saying that being made fun of for being fat is equilvenlet to racism. It’s not. Cut the crap. Being fat is most of the time a choice. That’s right, say it with me kids, a choice. Consideringn that I just got called the N word, and a fag by a redneck the other day, and commonly do, I say fuuuuck that. I can’t just change myself to make people stop being dicks to me, but YOU can.

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      • First of all, holy shit. I am so sorry you have had to go through such bullshit on a daily basis just for being yourself, just for existing. It is not okay, nor should it be condoned at all, ever, under any circumstance.

        I can understand how being victimized so blatantly can hurt. It makes a person angry. It makes them resentful. It’s important to remember that there are many forms of discrimination, and many groups of people that are discriminated against. I have a close friend who is Jewish, and is the brunt of jokes and insensitive remarks on a regular basis. Should she convert to a less offensive, more mainstream religion to avoid such discrimination?

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  5. Hmm… I guess I see your point there. I was really pissed when I read the first comment by Jo. I honestly do have a slight resentment towards groups like HAES beacause they call normal people twigs, but I have realized I don’t see any of that here. I guess I should start checking myself before I wreck myself. Thanks for letting me see the other side of this.

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  6. […] My husband left me a message last night because he knew I was getting up before him, telling me to watch the new episode of Louie because it was written just for my blog. In it, Louie is romantically pursued by a fat lady played by the amazing Sarah Baker. At one point, she mentions that she’s fat, and he interrupts her to kindly point out that she isn’t actually fat. […]

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