Burn the Underpants: What happens when those you love don’t understand fat acceptance?

underpants

A lot of us have come into conflict with others close to us who just don’t understand the fat acceptance and body positivity movements. Some of our loved ones openly disagree with the concepts involved. These conflicts can be damaging not only to our relationships with these people, but damaging to our psyche.

Ragen Chastain has spoke frequently about the “Underpants Rule”:

The Underpants Rule is simple: everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do. To illustrate, if you’re considering saying something that starts with

  • People should
  • Everyone ought to
  • What people need to do
  • We should all
  • Nobody should
  • You shouldn’t
  • blah blah things that have to do with underpants that aren’t yours blah blah

then there is a 99.9% chance that you are about to break The Underpants Rule.

This makes a lot of logical sense. We don’t want others to tell us how to live our lives, that we are doing the wrong thing, making wrong choices about our bodies. But then, by the same logic, it is not our place to tell others that they are living their lives wrong. This puts us into an uncomfortable position, one resigned to not actively engaging with those who disagree.

I don’t subscribe to the Underpants Rule, because I see the fat acceptance movement fundamentally as a civil rights issue, and as such I see the sort of passive resistance the Underpants Rule requires only promoting the visibility of the issue to a small degree. It does not actively challenge the damaging viewpoints and actions of others.

Chances are, there are many people, people close to you, who don’t agree with the fat acceptance movement. The Underpants Rule tells us to leave them and their beliefs alone. Let them change their own underpants over time. Unfortunately, some people have some awful, stinky underpants — underpants that are nearly impossible to be around. What if you love someone with horrible, shit-stained underpants who also hate your underpants?

There are two choices: stick around the stinky underpants and not acknowledge them, forever exposed to their aroma, or go find others with less offensive skivvies. Essentially, what is most important to us? Our objective (commitment to the movement), our self-respect (maintaining one’s feelings of self worth), or our relationship with the other person?

Because of the intimate nature of this issue, many people keep a lot of their emotions and struggles to themselves. It’s pain we all carry so as to not push our views and decisions on others. The Fat Word would like to offer an opportunity to share your stories of frustration, rejection, conflict, and pain, without fear of reprisal or hurting the feelings of others. Please take the time to fill out the form below. Write as much or as little as you’d like. We’ll be collecting submissions for a week or so, and then compiling the responses to feature them in a future article.

Reliably, Dr. Douchebag Keeps on Douching

While standing in line at Fred Meyer this weekend, I made the common mistake of looking around. As my eyes scanned the impulse magazine stand, I saw something that gave me the impulse to flip over my grocery cart and Fat-Hulk through the store terrorizing patrons and throwing bottles of Slim Fast into displays of Smart Ones with my +4 Fists of Douche-smiting.

Table Flip

Thankfully, I was able to restrain myself just enough to pull out my phone and snap a photo. Like HELL I was going to actually pay money for the damn thing. The clerk looked at me strangely, and I prefaced it with, “hold on just a sec, gotta take a picture of this offensive magazine”.

Dr. Douchebag

Ah, First for Women… confusing advertising with reporting and body shaming with empowerment since 1989, from the same media company bringing you other high-end publications like In Touch Weekly and Life & Style.

My regular readers already know my disdain for Dr. Oz. What a puzzling contrast between his Ivy League education/surgical expertise and the constant shilling of woo-woo pseudoscientific miracle “cures” with a strong bias against fat people. It’s good to know that there is something I can do about my “ugly fat”, so that I am left with only my non-ugly fat. Thanks to Dr. Oz and the fine reporting of First for Women, I know I am only part ugly.

URGENT! Fat Filmmaker Being Harassed by Haters

Shiloh Marie:

There is a line between trolling and harassment, and this dude pole vaulted so far over it he might have broken a record in the Douchenozzle Olympics.

Originally posted on Dances With Fat:

fight back Lindsey Averill is in the process of co-creating the documentary “Fattitude:  A Body Positive Documentary” which the kickstarter page describes as “A feature-length documentary that exposes how popular culture fosters fat prejudice, and then offers an alternative way of thinking.”  She is working to crowdfund the project and has created the Kickstarter and a trailer on YouTube and then, she told me, this happened:

It all started when I reported a YouTube user, “GODBLESSADOLFHITLER” for copyright for posting my trailer verbatim on his youtube channel – I also reported another video of his that featured my film and horrible images of 9/11 hate speech, etc. YouTube pulled down his videos and he and his followers began to torture me. They were calling our house till I changed our number. They are now calling my family, my husband’s business and the have collected all the information on my interviewees and posted…

View original 413 more words

The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part Three: F.A. Confidential

for your eyes

The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part Two: Too Fat, Didn’t Read, focused on the opinions of those who oppose Fat Acceptance, culled from +150 submissions I received based on a questionnaire written by supporters of Fat Acceptance. What happened when I provided a similar questionnaire to FA supporters, written by those who oppose their beliefs?

Firstly, I had trouble even finding people willing to write questions, let alone fill out the questionnaire. It took me days and days to get enough responses to create a reasonable analysis. Without a large enough focus group, it becomes difficult to write much more than possibly specious summative statements that may not accurately portray the movement as a whole. This lack of participation is probably rooted in the belief that by engaging in this activity, FA advocates are validating the opinions of people with whom they disagree. Thanks to a close group of supporters of varying backgrounds, I was able to generate enough questions to have a fairly well-rounded list.

  1. Why do so many in the FA/BA community try to pick apart scientific studies that prove that obesity is harmful to individuals?
  2. Where do you see the fat acceptance movement going in the next five years?
  3. What sorts of research (or even your own experience) would lead you to reconsider your beliefs?
  4. Why is “fat-shaming” considered worse than “thin-shaming”? Aren’t both considered insulting and demeaning someone by their body and therefore against the BA movement?
  5. Why do you perceive any attempt to address the underlying problems with fat in our society as a personal attack?
  6. Why shouldn’t doctors comment on a patient’s weight, especially in regards to medication potentially being less effective, or when it is exacerbating problems?
  7. Why do you choose to focus on accepting “fat” in our society rather than addressing the underlying social issues that have resulted in 60% of our society being overweight with a further 30% being obese?
  8. In your own words, why do you think that This is Thin Privilege and other similar sites are listed as self harm sites?
  9. Do you think telling people they have “thin privilege” is going to make them more sympathetic to your cause? What do you expect them to do with said privilege? Do you think there is a better way to get your message across than the privilege movement?
  10. The title “Fat Acceptance” is problematic because it puts the focus on the fat, and not the person. Isn’t it more important to accept the person, instead of the fat attached to them?

Just as before, I went through all of the answers, looking for redundancy based on specific key words. The answers featured in this article are representative of the majority of those who filled out the questionnaire.


Question One: Why do so many in the FA/BA community try to pick apart scientific studies that prove that obesity is harmful to individuals?

“If those who are hostile to us are actually concerned about our health, and if we [show] them how the stigma they place on us is more dangerous to our health than our fat, it can be good for reducing our chances of being discriminated against. Much of their hatred toward us is based on false information about how obesity works, how we become obese, and how obesity affects the body. By debunking the false information, we hope to take away their reasons for making negative value judgments about us.”

“BMI is used as the basis for many of these studies. BMI in itself is not meant for individuals but population groups and is based on white men.”

“Your very question hints at the answer: there is a pervasive misunderstanding about what scientific proof is. The gold standard of scientific proof are double blind, replicable studies which establish a causal link, in this instance, between obesity and harm. These studies simply do not exist. The research has many correlative studies, which definitely point the way to more research, but are not a basis for diagnostics and treatment. Therefore, assuming proof with correlations leads to guessing about obesity and health.”

It is clear that the fat acceptance movement views current scientific research as very flawed, and corollary in nature. There is further concern that these flawed conclusions are frequently used to denigrate fat people, and that by promoting more rigorous research a common ground might appear.


Question Two: Where do you see the fat acceptance movement going in the next five years?

“I see the FA/BA movement going similarly to the Gay rights movement. People will continue to bicker, many people will come to accept it and understand it, but there will still be many people who completely disagree regardless of what the science says.”

“Continuing the battle to try to overcome the brainwashing that most of us have been and are being subjected to tells us that one particular physical appearance and size is acceptable.”

“Hopefully it will become more popular, but right now there is a lot of backlash by people who think they can shame us and bully us into looking the way they prefer. Whenever fat acceptance is mentioned, someone inevitably asks “at what cost to our health?” and makes the argument that accepting a variety of body types will only increase obesity, even though research shows that fat-shaming and discrimination do not reduce obesity rates.”

“Hopefully toward PERSON acceptance!”

This paints a picture of a battle against brainwashing and discrimination, where healthism is used as a battering ram to break down the gates of personhood. These comments hint that a lighter touch might be appropriate. If victorious, what are our spoils of war? Acceptance of all bodies, regardless of type.


Question Three: What sorts of research (or even your own experience) would lead you to reconsider your beliefs?

“Research about health is … unlikely to change my mind, because even if it could be proven that obesity always caused poor health, and even if it could be proven that obesity was always the result of lifestyle choices that were certainly within every person’s control, each person would still have a right to make his/her own decisions regarding the health of his/her body.”

“Nothing would lead me to reconsider size acceptance and an end to discrimination.”

“My only “belief” in this matter is that fat people deserve the same level of respect and dignity as thin people, including such things as equal access to adequate health care, clothing options, employment opportunities, public transportation, and the like. To me the entire argument over whether or not it’s healthy to be fat is nothing more than an irrelevant distraction from the larger issue of how fat people are treated.”

“None. I have no reason to believe that my body is an enemy or causes anyone harm. My body is not an indication of my medical or health status. Self-love and acceptance was the key to losing weight, and that is only achieved when ignoring cultural bullying about being fat.”

Question three elicited strong, poignant emotions from nearly all responders. The bottom line? No research could convince them to view their bodies as anything other than something to be accepted and respected. No scientific evidence exists that warrant bullying and discrimination, both major perceived problems in Fat Acceptance communities.


Question Four: Why is “fat-shaming” considered worse than “thin-shaming”? Aren’t both considered insulting and demeaning someone by their body and therefore against the BA movement?

“All shaming is awful, but I think the reason some would give is that society does not go out of its way to insist that thin people ought not to exist. But society DOES try to keep fat people as invisible and made to feel unworthwhile as possible. This is a form of oppression.”

“Because thin people don’t have an entire social system telling them that they are less than, worthless, etc. Yes, it’s wrong to make fun of every body type. But fat-shaming comes attached to a society that hates fat people, denies fat people equal access and opportunities on a regular basis, and turn fat people into scapegoats for just about everything. When thin people are treated in the same way and thin-shaming is part of an overarching anti-thinness message in society, it will be the same as fat shaming.”

“Both are against the goals of the size acceptance movement, but in the same way that calling a white person a “cracker” isn’t on the same level as using a racist slur against a black person, insulting a member of the privileged class by pointing out that s/he is skinny is not as potent as calling someone fat, because it doesn’t have the power of the entire oppressive system behind it. Fat people are openly hated in ways thin people are not. We are shouted at, criticized, beaten, threatened, and treated as though we were inferior. Fat people face systemic oppression. We are more often denied jobs, romantic opportunities, and respect. Thin people are represented in positive ways on television, in movies, in magazines, and have a full range of opportunities … Thin people are constantly having their bodies validated by the surrounding culture.”

The fat shame/thin shame debate is a hill this blog frequently dies on. It seems my participants feel largely the same way. The two takeaways? Firstly, fat shaming and thin shaming (and all shaming) are terrible and antithetical to the body positivity movement, including Fat Acceptance. Secondly, there is a socio-power dynamic at play when someone is fat shamed that is not present when thin shaming occurs, as evidenced by our interactions with others, and in areas of media and consumerism.


Question Five: Why do you perceive any attempt to address the underlying problems with fat in our society as a personal attack?

“I am fat. I cannot separate myself from my phenotype. Attacking fat is attacking me.”

“Fat is not a problem, and by turning our bodies into a problem, you are essentially saying that we, the people who identify as fat, are something horrible that you hope to get rid of. You are saying that fat people only deserve respect if we are trying hard enough to become thin people, because really, only thin people are acceptable. The main problem with fat in our society is how it is being stigmatized. Discrimination is a much more serious problem than obesity, and the complications it adds to our lives are much more damaging for our health.”

“I think the premise of this question is immediately problematic because it assumes that “fat in our society” is a problem. Why are we even concerning ourselves with others’ bodies? It’s a matter that should be between them and their doctors. People feel attacked because the attacking is typically relentless, and when one has experienced it so frequently, one feels very defensive, because someone has just referred to our bodies as ‘a problem in our society’.”

This question makes clear a key dichotomy in the FA community: We do not suffer from obesity. We don’t have fat. We are fat, and when people talk about our bodies as inherently flawed and in need of fixing, how can it not be personal?


Question Six: Why shouldn’t doctors comment on a patient’s weight, especially in regards to medication potentially being less effective, or when it is exacerbating problems?

“I think that doctors most certainly have the right to discuss weight in this way. There are millions of reasons why people may be perceived as ‘fat’, but that shouldn’t preclude my ability to be treated for the non-weight related issues that I have. I was told by the medical system for 20 years that my joint pain was due to my fat.When I was diagnosed with a genetic disorder that causes joint pain I realized that I had been ‘fat-washed’ as a patient for decades, suffering needlessly. It is not always so clear that the weight is exacerbating problems if you aren’t willing to look at the patient as a whole being and not just a ‘fat’ being.”

When a doctor graduates and becomes a doctor, they take what’s called the Hippocratic Oath. The first part of that oath states that the doctor commits to doing no harm, first and foremost. Commenting on a patient’s weight can be harmful to that person’s psyche an it isn’t very helpful.

“Fat people *know* they are fat. Being condescending to a patient serves only to breed distrust. Doctors who treat their patients as whole organisms, instead of reducing them to something short of an ideal, will achieve much better patient compliance.”

Responders expressed concerned that they weren’t being looked at as a whole person by their health care professionals. This oversimplification is seen as discounting, with a strong negative stigma attached. This “fat washing” creates a hostile atmosphere where further critique emotionally damages the patient.


 Question Seven: Why do you choose to focus on accepting “fat” in our society rather than addressing the underlying social issues that have resulted in 60% of our society being overweight with a further 30% being obese?

Fat people have always existed and will always exist. Why should fat people have to change to gain the privileges society gives to thin people (e.g. clothing options, fair treatment in employment, seats that fit us on airplanes, the basic dignity of being treated in a humane fashion at all times or at least of being able to accept such treatment, etc.)? The answer to oppression and unfair treatment isn’t for the oppressed and unfairly treated to change. It’s for the oppression and unfairness to end.

For me, it isn’t about accepting “fat”. It’s about accepting my body as it is and loving it. My depression, anxiety, and negative feelings for my body all stem from the hatred and disgust I have been shown through other people my entire life. Loving and accepting my body as it is means that I can be free of all of my pain, my tears, my depression, my anxiety, and my fear that people won’t accept me as I am. Who wouldn’t want that feeling of love and peace for themselves and for everyone in the world? That’s why I focus on love.

First, let’s address the issue of obesity – the BMI is flawed. It was never intended for individual assessment but for use in studies of a mass population. It was developed at a time when people were several inches shorter, when deprivation and starvation were common and therefore the ‘base’ scores were founded in an underweight, unhealthy and underfed population. It was based on men – not women or children. Even so, there does seem to have been an increase in overweight people in our western culture … so what? Does that mean that overweight people don’t deserve to be treated as human beings with the same level of respect that thin people do? We are being brainwashed into believing that fat people should be treated with contempt because they are gluttons, pigs, unhealthy etc and are a burden on our health systems and our society in general.

Those polled did not like this question. Frequently, they questioned the statistics, taking issue with their relevance and accuracy. The take away, however, is that love (both inward and outward) is the driving force behind participating in the Fat Acceptance movement, and that everyone is deserving of it.


Question Eight: In your own words, why do you think that This is Thin Privilege and other similar sites are listed as self harm sites?

“I did not know they were.”

“I have no idea. I certainly don’t consider them to be self-harm sites. This Is Thin Privilege is a place where fat people go to share the difficulties they experience as fat people. I fail to see how that is self-harm in any way, unless you suddenly believe that acknowledging and sharing the realities of how someone is treated is somehow harmful to them.”

I’ve had no exposure to them, so I cannot comment.

Many of the responders were not familiar with This is Thin Privilege at all. The ones that were didn’t seem to know about it being listed as a self-harm site. I took it upon myself to research why TiTP was listed as a self-harm site, and all I could find was that Symantec, a company that makes computer protection software, has a blocker in place for TiTP. I could not find other similar sites blocked in this way.

Symantec

As far as I can tell, there was a campaign against the site comprised of people who oppose the Fat Acceptance movement, citing that promoting fat acceptance was tantamount to promoting a detrimental, self-harming lifestyle.


Question Nine: Do you think telling people they have “thin privilege” is going to make them more sympathetic to your cause? What do you expect them to do with said privilege? Do you think there is a better way to get your message across than the privilege movement?

“Stating someone has privilege is fact, not an attack or an insult. I have white privilege. I do not mind that people tell me I have white privilege, but because of that privilege, I am going to be ignorant of some things. As a good person, it’s my job to shut up and listen, to not speak over the oppressed group and then call out any racism I see. I keep my privilege in mind when I act and speak and it makes me a better person. I expect the same courtesy from my thin friends, none of them have an issue with it.”

“I would hope that for some people if they were told they had thin privilege it might make them ponder what that meant and look it up. I was in a situation where I had not heard of white privilege, but now I am aware of what it is and aware of the fact that I have it. This means that I can start to notice my own white privilege and where I see it in others, which allows me to try to address problems caused by it. I would hope that some people who become aware of their thin privilege would become allies. I have thin friends who understand their thin privilege and are amazing allies.”

Many answerers questioned whether the question writers had a solid grasp on what “privilege” was. They point to awareness of privilege as a transformative experience, showing the world through new eyes. They see the “thin privilege” movement as an invitation to become an ally.


Question Ten: The title “Fat Acceptance” is problematic because it puts the focus on the fat, and not the person. Isn’t it more important to accept the person, instead of the fat attached to them?

The term fat is the defining adjective that pertains to members of this group. Should we accept all people? Absolutely. Can this term still be an effective tool to use in working to promote acceptance? Yes.

I think the important thing is to take the negative association away from the word Fat.

“Fat Acceptance is important because we’re fat and that’s what needs to be accepted. What about Gay rights? Would you say it should be called “people” rights? No, that’s ridiculous because it erases what society has a problem with. I am a FAT person, it is not an insult, it is not something to be ashamed of. It is something I am that everyone else has a problem with. I accept it and I feel so much better about myself. I didn’t need to learn to accept myself as a person, I knew I was a person, I needed to accept myself as a fat person.

Answerers uniformly felt that being accepting of all people is important, but fat acceptance is a different, more specific issue that deserves attention all its own. Fatness is a visible attribute, and one that faces daily criticism and scorn.


Overall, these responses show genuine confusion and concern about the reasons why people oppose the fat acceptance movement. Responders spoke of feelings of fear, rejection, exclusion, discrimination, and displayed anger when posed questions invalidating or diminishing those emotions. Participants questioned the validity of scientific research, and emphasized that regardless of size or medical status, everyone deserves to be treated with kindness and respect.

Writing this series was an emotional journey for me. It grew from a desire to be more educated, and to promote awareness of the topic among those perhaps unfamiliar with Fat Acceptance and its opponents. I faced stonewalling and ridicule during the seemingly simple act of data collection. People on both sides diminished my cause and dismissed my efforts. Even those close to me told me I was wasting my time, or looking for negative attention. During the analysis stage, I read seemingly endless tales of degradation, denigration, abuse, and bigotry. I read stories about people fighting for their lives, and for the lives of those they love. I read about science, both legitimate and faulty. I respect and love science; I see it is a tool to help us understand the world around us. It saddens me when I see it used as a weapon in a fight about social justice.

This brings me to my final point. Why can’t we discuss? Why can’t we have an open dialogue? Why does it fall to me to force these opinions out into the open? Are we so hopeless that we think we can’t sway people? Change someone’s mind for the better? Can we really expect to create social change without the “social” part?

The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part 2: Too Fat, Didn’t Read

tfdr

As I learned in The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part 1: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Stonewalling, the mere idea that the opposing sides of the Fat Acceptance movement could have a productive, positive discussion was dismissed out of hand by most parties involved. Still, I persevered and compiled a list of questions written by those who support the Fat Acceptance movement geared toward those who oppose it, as well as a list of questions written by those who oppose FA to be answered by FA supporters. This article will focus on the first set of questions, those written by supporters of FA.

Procuring the questions, as stated in the previous article, proved to be challenging. Many people in the Fat Acceptance camp didn’t want to engage in the activity at all, claiming doing so would “legitimize the toxic viewpoints” of people who didn’t agree with FA principles. Through this blog and its Facebook presence, I was able to cull a relatively anti-inflammatory set of questions from readers and friends supportive of the FA movement.

  1. Do you feel that others’ weight affects you directly, and if so, why?
  2. Do you feel that people you consider to be overweight are unqualified for certain jobs? If so, why?
  3. What are your thoughts on the behavioral psychology research proving that lowering someone’s self esteem is much less effective at changing behavior than raising self esteem?
  4. Do you think that every action a stranger takes or body condition a stranger has, which affects the healthcare system similarly, should be commented on in the same way (e.g. smoking, being sleep deprived, having cancer)?
  5. Why do you think that someone else’s body size affects people on such a visceral, emotional level?
  6. Fill in the blank: Fat equals ____
  7. Why do you think America is experiencing an “obesity epidemic”?
  8. What should the role of government/health care providers/the media be in addressing the “obesity epidemic”?
  9. How do you feel about your body?
  10. What is the best way to motivate people to be healthy?

I posted a link to fill out this questionnaire on Reddit and immediately received responses. Overnight, I had reached over 100 submissions. By midday, I had to close the questionnaire because I had more responses than I could possibly analyze. The first comment on Reddit was fairly telling of the overall response to the questions:

reddit questionnaire comment

This reply demonstrates three key principles of the anti-FA movement:

  1. They believe that the Fat Acceptance movement, or at least part of it, ignores scientific evidence that shows that being fat is unhealthy.
  2. They believe being fat is a choice.
  3. They consider thin privilege and oppression models to be invalid.

Do the answers to the questionnaires mirror these principles?

I went through, question by question, looking for redundancy based on specific key words. The answers featured in this article are representative of the majority of those who filled out the questionnaire.


Question One: Do you feel that others’ weight affects you directly, and if so, why?

“In certain understated ways, I actually consider the large bodies in public spaces to be “micro aggression” against people with smaller bodies. In my experience, large bodied individuals will not hesitate to let their body infringe on others personal space in public transit, while in a queue, or other spaces of modern urban environments. I consider these things “micro aggression” due to the unwillingness of large bodied peoples to not force their bodies on others. I am expected to move, or to get out of way in a lane even when I do not know anyone is there, I am expected to be accommodating at all times.”

“Yes. Normalizing unhealthy weight ideas, disregarding science, and forcing me to see things I really don’t want to.”

“In Canada our healthcare is covered by taxes. People who have obesity related diseases are therefore a drain on this and are directing resources from diseases that can’t be so easily changed. I pay taxes, I pay for the obesity related diseases.”

“If I know that person, hell yeah it affects me.  My mom is slowly killing herself.  She won’t live to old age. How the fuck do you want me to feel?  And she’s not enjoying herself, either. Her joints hurt, she has breathing problems, she can’t find clothes in her size, medications don’t work properly at her weight, and when she needs a surgery she will be at a considerably higher risk of complications.  The FA movement would have me applaud her for this.  Well no.  Fuck that.  She’s my mom, and when she hurts herself she hurts me too.  You wouldn’t stand idly by while your friend committed suicide or spiraled into drug addiction, would you?”

This first question is very illuminative. A fat person is seen as a drain on society, and an abuser of resources and space. They are also seen as pitied individuals, whose choice to remain fat ignores science and the advice of health professionals, and that not taking action constitutes standing by and letting someone self-destruct.


Question Two: Do you feel that people you consider to be overweight are unqualified for certain jobs? If so, why?

“Yes. Anything involving a lot of physical activity or requiring attractiveness, e.g. model, demoing stuff, etc. In general, obesity is an indicator of other traits undesirable in an employee such as a lack of impulse control.”

“No, I don’t feel that just because someone is overweight or obese that they are automatically unqualified for a certain job. If you are physically and mentally able to do something then, by all means, do that thing.”

“Yes. There are many jobs that require strenuous physical activity. If you cannot pass the physical qualifications for that job you should not be hired, as simple as that. If you are unable to perform your job and you were, for example, a firefighter you would be putting other people’s lives at stake because of your weight/physical condition.”

“I … think that obese doctors, nurses, nutritionists, personal trainers, and the like, would suffer from a credibility problem if they are obese and may not be as qualified for their position, vis a vis giving advice on health and weight.”

There are two lines of reasoning emerging from this question. Firstly, it is assumed there is a level of fatness that would inhibit a person from physically doing a job. Secondly, there is stigma that would preclude a fat person from being a successful model, or credible health professional.


Question Three: What are your thoughts on the behavioral psychology research proving that lowering someone’s self esteem is much less effective at changing behavior than raising self esteem?

“This question makes a pretty big assumption that is flat out wrong. Most people against the FA movement aren’t trying to just go around hurting fat people’s feelings. Yes, sometimes there are some unfortunate truths and harsh realities but saying that obesity is unhealthy, that it takes hard work and discipline to drop the weight and that most people that large lack the willpower isn’t about being mean. It’s just the way it is. No one will make any changes if they have convinced themselves nothing is wrong and that they are perfect and enclose themselves in an echo chamber of like-minded people.”

“Completely irrelevant. It’s peoples’ choice what they put in their mouth.”

“I agree with the sentiment, and therefore think that we should be motivating overweight people to lose weight, instead of telling them that they’re simply ‘disgusting’ or a ‘waste of space’. Promoting healthy eating, ease of exercise and education is essential to reversing the obesity trend of today.”

“Effective at what, exactly? Accepting lower standards for yourself?”

“Very much agree with this; however, I don’t really see this movement advocating change, just advocating acceptance. Acceptance is a wonderful thing, and people should be accepted for who they are, but I think one should always work towards bettering oneself. Having a healthy self-perception is a thing to work towards, but I think the extreme to which this movement takes it leaves individuals less capable of dealing with real life stressors involving weight issues. While advocating for acceptance is noble, it will more than likely not change societies perception about weight as a whole, therefore if you build your platform on just accepting individuals for who they are you ultimately are setting them up for failure when they leave your bubble of protection.”

Question three allows us to see the crux of the anti-acceptance argument: fat people should want to lose weight. They struggle with problems like a lack of will power, discipline, and education, and by ignoring these problems while surrounding themselves by people who encourage them to love themselves for who they are, they are ignoring the reality that there is something fundamentally wrong with themselves that they should be trying to better.


Question Four: Do you think that every action a stranger takes or body condition a stranger has, which affects the healthcare system similarly, should be commented on in the same way (e.g. smoking, being sleep deprived, having cancer)?

“Obesity and smoking fall under the same category of being under the person’s control. Insomnia and cancer are out of a person’s control. So no, they should not be commented on in the same way.”

“I usually do not begrudge smokers for smoking, because most will readily admit that, yeah, they know it’s bad for them. So I, personally, comment on smokers pretty neutrally. There seem to be a lot of fat people, on the other hand, convinced that they are somehow fat without over-eating, or that they’re perfectly fit and healthy despite their weight, or that their various bodily ailments are not caused/exacerbated by their excess weight. We all know that that’s bullshit, and because (some) fat people say a lot of bullshit like that, I personally will comment on them with a fair bit more scorn.”

“The reason obesity is so widely commented on as a major issue in healthcare is because of its prevalence and visibility in everyday life. We can’t always tell when a person is a smoker or a drug addict, but we can immediately see when someone is overweight, so it seems like a prominent issue. Therefore, we see obesity as a bigger issue than many other health problems.”

“I’m not sure what this question is actually asking… but not getting enough sleep, smoking cigarettes, and being overweight are all unhealthy. The difference is that there are no advocacy groups encouraging people to smoke and not sleep.”

Question four raised the hackles of quite a few responders. Many responders became very irate at the comparison between being fat and having cancer, but I think that was the point of the question. How ARE they related? What are the similar threads? Responders point to the visibility of fatness as a major reason it is commented on frequently, and that it should be commented on negatively as a choice people make to be unhealthy.


Question Five: Why do you think that someone else’s body size affects people on such a visceral, emotional level?

“When it comes to fat people, it’s like passing a car wreck. It’s utterly fascinating, yet horrifying and disgusting. I mean you’re PUSHING THE HUMAN BODY TO LENGTHS IT IS NOT SUPPOSED REACH.”

“It goes against everything we know on a basic biological level. We aim to be the best option for procreation that we can be. That’s literally our goal. We need to be good enough that someone we find good enough returns the feelings and decides to have children with us. Morbidly obese people are the bottom of the barrel especially if they cannot provide financially or have poor social skills.”

“A team is only as strong as its weakest player. In this sense we are all judged as members of society. If the majority deems that you are not up to standard, you will face stigma.”

“First, outward appearance has been used to determine if an individual is sexually fit (as in genetically fit) for breeding … Being fat can, in some instances, be a massive indicator of mental health problems as well as physical health problems. Not always but when someone is obese one has to wonder how it happened, is it an addiction, is it a lack of self awareness, is this a reaction to an event?”

Here we start toeing into the waters of bigotry. Fat people don’t meet acceptable, biological standards for reproduction. One’s fatness is indicative of other issues, such as mental illness and addiction. Is that why fatness is stigmatized? We are flawed on a basic, genetic level?


 Question Six: Fill in the blank: Fat equals ____

“Gross. Squishy. Unhealthy. Ugly.”

“Do you mean fat as in extra adipose tissue or the idea of fat people? If you mean the latter, I see it as a resignation that life cannot be improved upon.”

“Reduced willpower.”

“Lack of discipline.”

“Lipids. For real, I know this question is baiting me. You’re expecting me to say “unhealthy”. It is less healthy than being fit. And we’re not going to get into the “fat athlete” myth.”

“Adipose tissue in the body formed when the body’s energy input exceeds it’s output. Also a descriptive term for someone who has a large volume of this tissue, resulting in negative physiological changes to body size and shape.”

This simple question actually opens a big window into the anti-FA argument. A large proportion of the answerers commented on how the question was loaded, and that it was just meant to illicit answers like “gross” or “lazy”. A larger proportion actually answered with responses like “gross” or “lazy”. Very few answers listed any sort of neutral or positive connotation, outside of dictionary definitions.


Question Seven: Why do you think America is experiencing an “obesity epidemic”?

“Our body is designed to crave fats and sugars, a necessity when there is not enough food. Our society now has too much food, and companies are preying on those designs and ease of access to market unhealthy food to an entire populace.”

“Lack of self control. The entitled “me” generation that can’t stand to hear the word “no” and the parents who didn’t say no often enough.”

“Poverty, lack of education, lack of intelligence.”

“Because people are overeating.”

“The nature of our food has changed (intensive farming, processing, GMOs, pesticides), the abundance of our food has increased, our food is engineered to encourage overeating, our daily activity levels have decreased, our stress levels have gone up, our environments are polluted, we’re too distracted, we put too much emphasis on competitive sports and not enough on activity, we don’t get out in nature enough, the ‘worst’ foods are the most affordable and the ‘best’ foods are more expensive, we don’t have walkable neighborhoods.”

I was surprised by the amount of blame most responders put on society itself. There was the token “BECAUSE HAMPLANETS CAN’T STOP EATING HURR HURR”, but mostly answers focused on specific, systemic problems rather than individual actions. No one questioned the term “epidemic”, though; it’s clear this focus group equates fatness with illness.


Question Eight: What should the role of government/health care providers/the media be in addressing the “obesity epidemic”?

“Education about how to eat properly would be helpful for K-12 students. They should learn about portion control, exactly what foods will lead to weight gain, what is a good any time food vs. what is a good sometimes food, how to be critical of the media and advertising, how to avoid common pitfalls like ruining the healthfulness of a salad by smothering it in ranch or eating more to keep your metabolism from slowing down.”

“Joining in with us healthier people to shame you about your terribly stupid decision-making.”

“Research obesity related issues, develop ways to reduce the problem, and inform the public of these ways.”

“The media is concerned with entertainment, so don’t go looking to them to fix any problems. Also consider the amount of self generated content that is overtaking traditional forms – breaking through people’s self constructed echo chambers will only get harder.”

“The government and health care providers should stop giving money to non-disabled fat people. As for the media, how about some healthy fat-shaming?”

I like this follow-up question; it’s the seasoning bringing out the flavor profile of the relatively benign responses from question seven. The obesity epidemic? It’s a systemic problem. The solution? A healthy portion of “education” with a side of fat shaming. Unfortunately, we keep ourselves from being educated through the creation of our own fat-accepting media.


Question Nine: How do you feel about your body?

“I am 400lbs and very unhappy with my body.  I am currently doing what I can to lose most of the weight.”

“I love my body. I am a healthy weight for my height, and after recently losing some weight (about 10 pounds) I have become more confident.”

“I feel great about my body.  I’ve lost 80 pounds with a healthy diet and exercise and know it is possible.  I’ve never been happier.”

“Unhappy. I’m morbidly obese. Two weeks ago I changed what I eat and began walking some evenings and I’m already down 8lb. Aim to lose 100lb.”

“I love my body. As should everyone.”

“Why should I accept it if it makes me unhappy?”

This question generated the greatest diversity of answers. One surprising thing is the number of answerers who identify as being fat and unhappy. They see the relinquishing of “fat logic” as the first step in a transformative journey toward non-fatness. It’s reminiscent of Stockholm Syndrome; people repeatedly hammered by the rhetoric of one’s persecutors until they start to sympathize with the message.


Question Ten: What is the best way to motivate people to be healthy?

“The best way to motivate people, I’d say, is to make obesity illegal and arrest obese people on sight (barring those who can prove they have conditions that make weight loss impossible). Why I say this is because there are people in the world who believe they are healthy no matter what … With these kind of people, you cannot sway them to even think there is or will ever be anything unhealthy about them, and they will never do anything about their weight or general health.”

“I can say that the worst way is by making fun of people. Nobody should make fun of fat people, and I would never promote such a thing. But people should encourage fat people to exercise more and to eat better. They should be shown support.”

“Stop the fat acceptance movement. Once people stop believing that their doctors are shaming them and their family members are shaming them and start believing that people around them actually care about their health, they may realize they actually have a problem. If people are unwilling to get healthy, they need to shut their mouths. This is Darwinism in action. Adapt to the world around you or expect your bloodline to disappear.”

“Education.”

“Provide incentive and a conducive environment for health.”

“Have all obesity-related expenses come directly out of obese people’s pockets. This would include disability payments, knee braces, gastic bypass, ambulance calls for heat attacks and type II diabetes treatment.”

What a strange combination of positive reinforcement and punishment! The solutions involve education, denial of access to crucial services, access to incentives, removing support systems promoting fat acceptance, and criminalizing how someone looks. Can all these options exist simultaneously? Many answerers of this question strongly blame the Fat Acceptance movement for the problems faced by fat people, and many of them suggest penalizing fat people in some way just for being fat, but earlier, the “obesity epidemic” was blamed as a societal problem.


The responses to the survey paint a very clear picture of the anti-FA movement. The emphasis seems to be on promoting individual and public health, but the execution leaves something to be desired. The loathing (both outward and inward) is palpable. Guilt is seen as the primary, most effective motivator to make changes in one’s life, and that people should want to make that change regardless of how they feel about themselves. People filling out this questionnaire see fatness as a disease needing to be cured, and that any other viewpoints ignore science and are therefore invalid. Fat people who promote fat acceptance are seen as promoting disease and contributing to societal crisis, and therefore are treated with hostility and scorn.

Want to know what questions were asked of those supporting the Fat Acceptance movement? Want to know their answers? Stay tuned for The Fat Acceptance Fight, Part Three: F.A. Confidential.

Fat Tropes: Stupidity

fat stupid

“Fat” has a lot of negative connotations: lazy, gluttonous, slothful, helpless, ugly. One of the worst, most damaging associations is the idea that fat people are stupid. This stereotype is prolific throughout popular culture, reinforced under the guise of “humor” and “life lessons”.

Homer Simpson:

Homer Simpson is the quintessential stupid fat character. He makes decisions at a very base level, with food and drink serving as primary motivators:

This donut has purple in the middle, purple is a fruit.

He is uncultured:

Books are useless! I only ever read one book, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” and it gave me absolutely no insight on how to kill mockingbirds! Sure it taught me not to judge a man by the color of his skin…but what good does that do me?

He is ignorant of basic science and math facts:

The sum of the square roots of any two sides of an isosceles triangle is equal to the square root of the remaining side!

His diminished intellectual capacity is inextricably tied to his comedic value.

Augustus Gloop:

Augustus Gloop is a “gluttonous” boy motivated by the consumption of sweets and chocolate. In fact, he’s so wholly dull that eating is the only thing he cares about:

‘I just knew Augustus would find a Golden Ticket,’ his mother had told the newspapermen. ‘He eats so many bars of chocolate a day that it was almost impossible for him not to find one. Eating is his hobby, you know. That’s all he’s interested in.

He doesn’t listen to simple directions:

‘The grass you are standing on, my dear little ones, is made of a new kind of soft, minty sugar that I’ve just invented! I call it swudge! Try a blade! Please do! It’s delectable!’

Automatically, everybody bent down and picked one blade of grass — everybody, that is, except Augustus Gloop, who took a big handful.

In fact, he’s so singularly motivated that he’s likened to an animal:

Augustus was deaf to everything except the call of his enormous stomach. He was now lying full length on the ground with his head far out over the river, lapping up the chocolate like a dog.

These tropes are so pervasive that they are self-perpetuating. There are openly hostile individuals that claim fat people are stupid because they allow themselves to be fat despite purported “health risks” and “easy access” to diet and exercise products, though they only fan the flames of an already robust fire.

Labeling fat people as unintelligent is more symptomatic of a cultural problem then it is causal. The internet doesn’t help, serving as a opaque curtain behind which people can manufacture new examples of the same old hate, and the anonymity seemingly amplifies the aggressive nature of these memes.

The Counter-productivity of Craigslist Revenge: How Jezebel got it wrong

Jezebel recently featured a Craigslist “missed connection” where a woman read the riot act to a man for making another woman cry on the subway by calling her fat.

First, the ad-writer describes the initial interaction:

You got up right before the Stony Brook stop and said something in a low voice to the woman next to you. You exited the train and she burst into tears. I asked her what you said—-and in between sobs she goes, “he said ‘Have some respect for yourself and lose some weight’

This is classic thin privilege — someone concern-trolling a complete stranger, not knowing their history or a thing about them. The man clearly has no concept of what his comment actually meant. Shaming a total stranger under the guise of helping them? Despicable. Inexcusable. Disgusting. How does the woman respond? What is her logical, convincing argument to help coach the behavior of the Subway Concern Troll?

Here is the full Craigslist post:

Craigslist Revenge

She insults him. Not just his behavior and actions (“dog”, “miserable coward”) but his personality — something she can infer based only on the one transaction she observed on the train, combined with (drumroll please…) his appearance. Here is her analysis (emphasis added by TFW):

You: blond, slicked hair, hipsterish. You manage to be both tasteless and sanctimonious, and something tells me you brag about loving Bukowski even though you only made it 80 pages deep into Women. You definitely think you’re smarter than everyone, and you love reflective surfaces. You work in design/tech/oh wait, who cares, you don’t fucking matter. You treat women like garbage, but don’t worry—-we hate you. You have a stank on you, and a lot of us can smell it…truly a dookiestain made flesh. You don’t have an original thought under that stupid haircut. You are a straight up fucking bully, and you should be ashamed of yourself. Bullies are the absolute worst.

The thing is, part of you knows this, and you’re upset that no one treats you like the special snowflake you believe yourself to be. So you say horrible things to strangers in public to make yourself feel better. Stop being such a fucking bully and shitting on other humans just because your wounded-ego feels like taking a dump. No really, just fucking stop.

Any of my fellow feminist vigilantes who might be reading this: keep an eye out for a white dude, around age 30, who looks like a wacker version of Macklemore, if that’s possible. Make sure you remind him of his insignificance.

Notice the repeated references to his appearance, and what his appearance must mean. He dresses like a hipster, therefore he must be pretentious and full of himself. He must work in tech or design based on his haircut. He has no original thoughts, and is vain, and resentful of women for not appreciating him. But none of that really matters, because he himself is an irrelevant human being.

Someone making judgements about another person based on their appearance does not make it okay to tear into them based on their own appearance. It is not okay to use a haircut and one comment as a baseline for inferring the entire world view and personality of another person. Nor does it do anything to convince the man to understand his mistake. It doesn’t serve to educate, just alienate. It is no better than telling the woman on the subway to have respect for herself. He doesn’t know her. His behavior could be coming from a place of genuine (albeit prejudiced and misguided) concern. Do you think he’ll feel concern now? Probably not. He’ll be angry. Defensive. Resentful. And he’ll have no reason to feel otherwise.

Jezebel provides very shallow commentary:

How many Craigslist missed connections/personal ads include the word “dookiestain”? More than you’d think, I bet!

As is the case with anything on the internet, there’s always the chance that this isn’t real, but what is real anyway? Are you real? Am I real? PROBABLY NOT.

Anyway, see it as a win-win. If it’s fake, then some poor woman wasn’t verbally harassed on the train. If it’s real, then the person who wrote this just delivered a slam dunk ass whooping AND coined the phrase “like a wacker version of Macklemore.”

Thank goodness we now have the phrase “like a wacker version of Macklemore”. It’s so much better than genuine social change and respect for each other as human beings.

Adventures on Reddit: How I discovered Hamplanets and lost part of my soul

trollbridge

This blog has pushed me out into the internet in a mean way — sink or swim — CONSUME ALL THE MEDIA. I noticed we were getting a lot of traffic from a site called Reddit. Having never used Reddit, I decided to mosey on over there and see what was what.

Later, I was telling this same story to a friend of mine, and when I got to the part where I said, “and so then I headed over to Reddit-”

“NO! WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!”

Why, indeed.

Reddit is the Bridge under which the Trolls live.

Now, there are a few sub forums on Reddit that aren’t soul-crushing. Body Acceptance is one of those forums, and was very supportive of our recent Fitspo/Thinspo/Fatspo article. Fatosphere is also a good subreddit, though with fewer subscribers. However, on the whole, it appears REDDIT HATES FAT PEOPLE.

FatPeopleStories is #1 on TFW list of WTF: Reddit Edition. Let’s take a look at their Rules Section (underlining added by TFW):

FPS rules

Hamplanet? Hambeast? Hamentality? What do those words even mean? Maybe I should use some context clues. Let’s look at the logos:

FPS logo

A fat man on a scooter with a pizza flag

FPSlogo2

A laughing whale

A Reddit ranking button with a hamburger and an apple instead of arrows

A Reddit ranking button with a hamburger and an apple instead of arrows

Clearly, it has something to do with fat people. Or sea-going mammals. Or hamburgers. Dammit, Reddit! Explain yourself!

whatishamplanet

Like a ham needs her McDicks? Oh yeah… hamburgers again.

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 9.54.17 AM

Hamplanet = Obesity + Shittitude

Hamplanet = Obesity + Shittitude

HAMPLANET = OBESITY + SHITTITUDE

Still confused? Here is further clarification:

hamplanet

This person has added “delusions” to the list of hamplanet requirements. These delusions, in the Redditverse, are known as “fat logic”:

hamplanet

To learn more about fat logic, let’s turn to #2 on TFW list of WTF: Reddit Edition — The FatLogic subreddit.

Example 1: There is an entire thread dedicated to bringing down This is Thin Privilege. The thread claims that not only does TiTP embody and embrace fatlogic, but it perpetuates it to the ruin of all. Here is an exerpt from TiTP explaining the relationship of thin privilege and health (emphasis added by TFW):

Let me make it completely clear from the outset that I do not believe ‘health,’ however defined, is a reasonable measure to determine whether or not someone deserves respect, civil rights, and fair treatment. If you have a problem with how health markets apportion your premiums or where your taxes go, then by all means, rage against the system. But do not think for a minute your assholish behavior towards people you imagine use more than their ‘fair share’ is justified.

In fact, I’ll go further and state that in my opinion the modern conception of ‘health’ is bullshit. It’s an ever-changing, largely arbitrary definition that seems to serve a single purpose: to blame modern ills on so-called ‘unhealthy’ people then define so-called ‘unhealthy’ people as unpopular social ‘deviants’ like fat people, poor people, and the disabled. The philosophy of vaunting the modern notion of ‘health’ to some kind of societal/moral imperative is called healthism.

According to the FPS subreddit, this is classic fat logic.

fatlogic

A obese person recognizes that their increased size means certain problems might arise. They anticipate and accept this. They realize that this is not “oppression” because they have the same rights to marry/adopt/own stuff/use establishments/free speech like everyone else…

… a hamplanet is defined by their delusional and self-centered perception (fat logic), not taking into account courtesy to others.

In sum, Reddit says a hamplanet is a fat person who uses fat logic to justify not taking care of themselves, as well as not taking responsibility for their unhealthy body size and the impact it has on others, and therefore has no business sticking up for themselves against the ridicule and persecution because they brought it on themselves.

My definition of “hamplanet”?

HAMPLANET:

A derogatory term used to describe a fat person who refuses to accept discrimination and derision as part of their daily existence, who strives for positive self-image amidst a mine field of prejudice and thin privilege, and who insists that no matter what someone looks like, they deserve be treated with kindness and consideration.

Your comments answered!

Here at The Fat Word, we’ll get comments from time to time that warrant lengthy, thoughtful responses.

Here’s one responding to Power, Privilege, and Fatness:

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.36.45 AM

No one is saying you have it great. No one is talking about YOU, specifically.

On the whole, most people feel bad about their bodies in some way. This essay isn’t about the individual slights against innumerable targets, each contextually unique. This essay is about sociology — the dynamics of fat and thin shaming working on a societal level.

Just because there are people made to feel badly about themselves for their appearance doesn’t automatically make them a member of a target group when studying systemic discrimination. On a societal level, fat shaming is different from thin shaming because fat people belong to a target group with less power and influence than the agent group of thinner people. Because society on the whole treats fat people with less respect, and fat people can do little to change it, they are the persecuted minority.

This sociological assessment most certainly doesn’t discount the individual suffering of people made to feel ugly and worthless for reasons other than being fat. Everyone has the right to feel good about themselves regardless of their position in any given power dynamic.


We another comment we wanted to address, this time on When Does “Fitspo” Become “Thinspo”:

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.35.15 AM

Weight loss is not the same as being healthy. Being fat isn’t the same as being unhealthy. A person’s body type and body size is not carte blanche to make judgements about them, their life, or their habits. In fact, unwanted, unwarranted judgement is DETRIMENTAL to one’s self-esteem and mental health.

The analysis of the “fitspo” pictures is to show that “motivation” can be unhealthy. Belittling others, making people feel bad about themselves, and promoting extreme and unhealthy means of weight loss creates an adversarial relationship with not only our own bodies, but with the bodies of others.


Lastly, we have one more comment from Power, Privilege, and Fatness:

Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 9.36.15 AM

Joseph, the original author, wanted to respond to it himself:

I may not have made something as clear as I ought to have, as several posts have been brought to my attention by this blog’s founder from Facebook, Reddit, and even our own comments section, and I have been asked to respond. The posts in question read something like this:

“This jackass is comparing being fat with being black!”

I may be a jackass, but I am not, nor will I ever, compare the plight of the fat to the plight of any other target social group. To ensure that most got that message the first time around, this paragraph sat near the end of the original article:

“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.”

I hoped the paragraph would curb that particular line of thinking before it began, but I may have been too cute with it (it’s a problem I have), so let me state it here again, clearly:

In no way are any two minority experiences are analogous or interchangeable. They’re not even the same between two different members of any one target group, much less across categories.

And in no way are fat people analogous to black people in terms cultural experience.

The actual comparrison being made was of dismissive behavior from agent groups. And again, as stated in the article, while I certainly don’t view them as in the same ballpark, I do firmly believe that they’re playing the same sport.

The wonderful thing about encouraging people not to be dicks to each other is that it isn’t a zero sum game. We don’t have to focus on one target social group and fix everything, then move onto the next only if there’s time and energy left over. We can be nice to everybody, surface our assumptions, challenge damaging cultural norms, be aware of how our actions play out on a societal level as well as the individual level, and all come out ahead.

Thanks for reading, and I’m glad the article resonated with so many.


We here at The Fat Word appreciate all of the feedback we’re receiving, both positive and negative. We are not here to preach to the choir. We are excited to be able to encourage critical thinking and discourse by sharing our messages of body positivity and respect for all.

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!

And with that, she fell down the Tweet-hole and was never seen again.

https://twitter.com/TheFatWord/status/442379798656978944

Reblog: The Tyranny of the “Normal”

BMI

Reblogged from Riots Not Diets

Margitte Leah over at Riots Not Diets wrote a thoughtful, analytical essay of the bullshit of the BMI. It starts:

A few years ago I was getting a pap smear. The doctor—whom I had just met that morning—had me in those cold metal stirrups and was rooting around in my vagina when she asked, ever so casually, “so, do you know what the BMI is?”

I laughed.

As if a woman who has been fat all of her life might have never heard of the BMI.

The thing is, we all know about the BMI. It’s a simple chart that measures our height against our weight, right? The number that comes out of that equation places us into categories—underweight, normal, overweight, obese.

The BMI is supposed to be a value-neutral way to assess bodies across populations.

Except that, did you know that the BMI has never been neutral?

Read the rest over at her blog, Riots Not Diets.

Jennifer Lawrence: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

lawrencewalters

First of all, Jennifer Lawrence is dynamite in every movie she does. She is lovely. She seems fairly intelligent. And then she goes to Barbara Walters and says this:

Transcript:

BW: “You criticized the people who judge other women especially on the red carpet, you’re very sensitive to that. Why?”

JL: “Because why is humiliating people funny? And I am also, and I get it and then I do it — we all do it but, I think when it comes to the media — the media needs to take responsibility, for the effect that it has on our younger generation, on these girls are watching these television shows and picking up how to talk and how to be cool and how to be — then all of a sudden being funny is making fun of the girl that’s wearing the ugly dress and making fun of the girl that’s, you know… and the word fat. I just think it should be illegal to call somebody fat on TV, and  if we are regulating cigarettes and sex and cuss words for the effect it has on the younger generation, why aren’t we regulating things like calling people fat?”

Okay, let’s break a few things down. What is and is not seen on broadcast TV is largely determined by two groups; the Standards and Practices departments of the given cable television network, and (for broadcast television) the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC bases their guidelines mostly around the concept of “obscenity” as it is vaguely defined by the US Supreme Court. Specifically, it looks for material that:

  • An average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find, as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
  • Depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by applicable law;
  • Taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value

The Standards and Practices departments of television networks are beholden to no one but their potential advertisers. Obscenity, or sex, or smoking, or drug use, is not banned from television.  And when those behaviors AREN’T shown, it’s usually because it would upset the advertisers and the network would lose revenue as a result.

Banning the adjective “fat” from TV is not the same as banning smoking. The problem with how “fat” is used on television isn’t that it glorifies the use of the word. It is that it glorifies the use of the word as a derogatory term. If anything, “fat” should be used more often, in more positive contexts. More fat characters with positive story lines and comedy that doesn’t revolve around body type. The only way to get the networks to discourage fat caricatures and fat shaming for comedy would be through the manipulation of ad revenue. Unfortunately, there is BIG BUSINESS in fat shaming, and even more in “body improvement” and “health” (think low-fat anything, makeup, SPANX).

Asking for someone to ban a word like “fat” does not deter fat shaming behavior. It simply increases its already negatively charged stigma. I say, bring on the “fat” words! Proliferate them! Take their negative power away. That is something that would actually help little girls… to hear words that describe their bodies that aren’t “bad words” that you can’t say on TV.

Where are the fat Disney heroines?

Ursula from The Little Mermaid

An online petition exists, created by a high school junior in Virginia, asking Disney to feature a plus size heroine in one of their movies. Specifically, the petition mentions making “plus size princesses in Disney movies”, but I find the “princess” concept in Disney to be generally anti-feminist and wearying. It’s one of the reasons I enjoy this new music video about the real messages our classic Disney princesses send to girls (even though Frozen isn’t exactly a beacon of feminism itself):

I thought I would go through and just do a roll call of fat female Disney characters, in either a major or at least visible supporting role:

As you can see, we have a stunningly diverse array, ranging from soft, grandmother-types, all the way to vengeful, angry, exaggerated villains. Oh wait, those are just two types. Oooh, we also have a little girl! (An aside, Lilo and Stitch is my favorite animated Disney movie. It’s perfect in every way.)

My Ursula ears from Disneyland

My Ursula ears

Now don’t get me wrong, I love me some Ursula. She’s always been my favorite villain, and I honestly think she’s a better role model for female empowerment than the vast majority of princesses. She knows was she wants, she pursues it ruthlessly, she’s a business woman, she’s powerful, and she’s persuasive. All of this brings me back around to my original point: Where are the fat heroines?

Well, some people flat-out claim it is a bad idea for “health” reasons, like Kathryn Darden, the author of this ugly article from theexaminer.com. A plus size female role model would “only enable and encourage the obesity problem” because girls would emulate the character and subsequently overeat. Darden compares having a plus size heroine to having one who smokes, abuses pills, purges, or cuts on herself. Sorry, Ms. Darden, but your article kind of makes me want to do all four.

Anyhow, we should be happy with what we’ve been offered by Disney so far. They’ve already thrown us fat chicks a few bones:

“Disney has already created Merida with her “plus-size” face, so it’s not like all Disney heroines are stick thin. Snow White is also usually portrayed with a soft, round face. Apparently these heroines are not fat enough…”

Oh, how stupid of me! How could I not think face shape and body type were the same thing? I mean, I should really just stop complaining, because while none of the female characters look like me, at least they don’t ALL look like yard sticks. Maybe the obesity epidemic in America started with Snow White. Everyone saw her fat face and immediately started scarfing down popcorn so they could emulate her. Maybe that’s why movie theaters started upsizing all their snack offerings; they needed to keep up with the Snow White Fat-Face Fad.

Okay, back to the petition. I am signing it. This is my rationale, which I included on the petition itself:

I am signing this petition, not because I actually believe that these sorts of internet petitions actually result in the desired change, but because I want the issue to be considered and discussed. I am a plus size, body positive blog writer, and I strongly feel that all people deserve to feel loved and valued regardless of appearance. Whether or not someone is fat should not impact whether they live “happily ever after”, or are deserving of a Prince Charming to love them unconditionally. In truth, it never really bothered me too much that all of the female leads had cartoon Barbie bods until I read this petition, followed by all the counter arguments. Disney is a mega-corporation in the business of making money, and unless they think a decision will be financially rewarding, they won’t make it. What really pushed me over the edge was the hate. Every argument I read against this petition screamed “FAT IS BAD FAT IS UGLY OMG GROSS”. People are making fun of fat people, curvy people, and even the thoughtful girl who wrote this petition in the first place. Detractors are disguising their prejudice and condescension as “concern” by setting up straw men labeled “Health” and “Obesity Epidemic”. People need to see this hate, READ this hate, and know that it is, in actuality, hate.

I hope you will take the time to go and sign the petition as well, if for no other reason than to promote the dialogue.

Fattertainment: Body Shaming for Fun and Profit

In movies and on TV nowadays, you very rarely see people being made fun of at the expense of their race or gender. Sexual orientation is improving too, though decidedly not as much. You know who are still hilarious, despite the passage of time and the supposed increased levels of sensitivity? Fat people. We’re so hilarious that it has become deleterious to our mental health.

Ha! Look at that fat boy! He just can’t stop eating! He’s so fat he got stuck in a pipe! Now he’s going to be boiled alive for his gluttony. Let’s sing about him! Hilarious.

Look at that kid, performing for his friends. His existence is amusing enough. He’s lucky to have such normal friends who can really appreciate his body for what it is. Hilarious.

I see what he did there! That used to be an actual song about someone who stuck up for himself and stood his ground. Now that he’s fat, I guess the only think left to sing about is sandwiches. Hilarious.

Speaking of sandwiches, did you know that the only time a fat person can joyfully express their fatness in dance is while they are eating? Unfortunately, we become quickly out of breath and collapse to the ground. Hilarious.

What’s wrong, Shiloh? Can’t you take a joke? Why are you so sensitive?

Guess what, folks? I have SCIENCE on my side. Science that says this pervasive media blitz of fat shaming DOES BAD THINGS.

There is such a thing as fat stigma. It is when people are blamed for being fat because they are lazy, or don’t care about themselves or their health. The same thing happened to those infected with HIV/AIDS in the 80′s and 90′s. People were blamed for a condition that they had no control over. Not just blamed, but VILIFIED. HIV positive is synonymous with “lesser” in the same way fat or plus-sized is.

A recent study has revealed several important facts. First, assumptions about why people are overweight translate into negative attitudes about the people themselves. Secondly, these negative attitudes lead to discrimination, and verbal and physical bullying. Lastly, these misperceptions have deleterious psychological consequences, including depression and decreased life-satisfaction. Fat stigma extends past the internal experience; overweight people are more likely to experience employment discrimination, and have problems with personal relationships. They are even more likely to receive sub-standard healthcare. Overweight people who are stigmatized and experience discrimination are 2.5 times more likely to become obese when compared to people who were not victimized for their weight. People who started the study obese were 3 times more likely to stay obese when subjected to fat stigma.

These problems start early in our lives. Caregivers often provide kids with confusing messages. I myself was always required to clear my plate. My husband had to eat quickly, because if he didn’t he wouldn’t get the same amount of food as his sister. My grandma got me a Spanx-like control-top pair of shorts to wear under a dress when I was 11, so I wouldn’t look “bulgy”, and was constantly telling me to slow down and chew my food. Don’t get me wrong, my grandma was the raddest old lady, kind and compassionate; she was just parroting societal norms.

Social media reinforces these societal norms, as evidenced by the earlier videos. Another article from the American Journal for Public Health breaks it down into numbers. When examining primetime TV shows, heavier characters are less likely to have positive interactions with other characters. For women, 32% of women categorized as heavy have positive interactions, compared to 51% of characters labeled as thin. The numbers for men look similar. Besides interactions, overweight characters are portrayed as less attractive, less competent, less polite, and less charming. Millions and millions of people watch these shows every day.

One of the key things we can do for our mental health and spiritual well-being is to work to remove the stigma associated with our physiques. My body is not comical. My body is not grotesque. I do not deserve being mocked neither for choices I made that caused me to gain weight, nor external or psychological factors. I try not to see movies and watch shows where fat characters serve as comic relief. I choose to say something when someone is making a fat joke or a derisive comment. I like to think I am making a difference.

How do you promote body-positivity in your life and community?

Know Your Fat Meme — Anti-Joke Chicken

Today’s macro is a version of the Anti-Joke Chicken,  a meme that starts with a joke setup and then subverts the joke with a non-punchline.

Some sample Anti-Joke Chicken macros include:

Knock knock / Come in.
Your Mama is so old / She’s probably going to die soon.
Why doesn’t God like fruitcake? / Because He doesn’t exist.

Most fat jokes rely heavily on the idea that a fat person is somehow lesser or substandard in comparison to people who aren’t fat. This Anti-Joke Chicken macro does something different, but I still don’t like it:

HAR HAR HAR

Obsessive exercising, or activity disorder, is a serious condition tied to anorexia and bulimia, where suffers have cognitive distortions about their body.

The Association for Body Image Disordered Eating (ABIDE) out of U.S. Davis has a clear description of such disordered thinking:

  • Dichotomous, Black and White Thinking: “If I don’t run, I can’t eat.”
  • Overgeneralization: “Like my mom, people who don’t exercise are fat.”
  • Magnification: “If I don’t work out today, I’ll gain weight.”
  • Selective Abstraction: “If I can go to the gym, I am happy.”
  • Superstitious Thinking: “I must run every morning or something bad will happen.”
  • Personalization: “People are looking at me because I’m out of shape.”
  • Arbitrary Inference: “People who exercise get better jobs, relationships, and so on.”
  • Discounting: “My doctor tells me not to run, but she is flabby so I don’t listen to her.”

The Anti-Joke Chicken is supposed to be humorous via shock, but I don’t think it counts as subversion when the original joke is demeaning, and the subversion is not only demeaning, but also grim. It minimizes both the problems with weight-centric jokes and the realities of living in a society that supports self-loathing as motivation.

I made my own AJC. I hope you like it.

Comedy gold.

 

Dr. Oz’s Bottomless Bag of Body-Shaming

I could write an entire blog just discussing the douchebaggery of Dr. Oz.

For those of you not acquainted with the wonders of daytime television, Dr. Mehmet Oz is a cardiac surgeon. He went to Harvard. Then Wharton. Then the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He currently teaches at Columbia, where he directs the Cardiovascular Institute and Integrative Medicine Program. He has patents. He has authored many papers. He got his showbiz career start as a guest on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2004. He then received his own spin off series produced by Harpo (Oprah’s production company) called The Dr. Oz Show. He’s won Emmys. Sounds legit, right? Right?

He’s wearing scrubs. Take him seriously.

Dr. Oz uses a lot of decisive language, claiming “revolutionary” “miracles” and “cures” for a whole host of health problems. One particular hill Oz has decided to die on is the horrible burden of fat. Not necessarily obesity (a nebulous term at best), but fat of any kind. I decided to spend some time over at his website watching episodes, and I think I killed off a small part of my soul in the process. The search term “fat loss” returned 752 results when I searched episode topics. I present a small sample of episode titles:

21 Days to a Flat Belly

Dr. Oz’s Two-Week Rapid Weight Loss Diet

Melt Your Fat Fast

Three Teas That Will Shrink Your Waist

The Next Big Weight-Loss Superstar

New Ayurvedic Fat Fighters

The Secret World of Squashers (wait, how is this even a health topic?)

Oz starts most episodes talking with guests (mostly women), encouraging them to speak about their bodies under the pretense of helping them to self-actualize and appreciate themselves for who they are, after which he promptly prescribes that they lose weight. I found a particularly shaming episode about bedonks that… well, see for yourself:

Bust Your Butt Fat, pt 1

Bust Your Butt Fat, pt 2

Bust Your Butt Fat pt. 3

I need to face my “rear-ality” and “bust (my) butt fat” with a “butt busting brownie”. Oh, to be as lucky as the guests on his show, standing around in nothing but panties and a t-shirt, encouraged to disparage my tush on national television in front of millions of people.

Apparently, there are only 4 steps I need to follow to fix my derrière dilemma. If you watch more Dr. Oz (though I don’t recommend it) you’ll notice a similar trend: “3 Ways to Get Your Fat to Eat Itself”, “The 3-Step Action Plan to Supercharge Your Hormones and Melt Fat”, and “4 Ways to Flush Fat From Your Body” are some examples. First, I find the numerical aspect interesting. Is there something innately appealing about a checklist? From my experience, quick fixes and fads do not make for sustainable weight loss. However, lists like these prey on the insecurities and frustrations of plus sized women, telling them that now, finally, there is an easy solution that will work for them. They just need to try! The other critical feature of these titles is that they heavily imply negative connotations. “Bust Your Butt Fat” evokes a feeling of combativeness, while “3 Ways to Get Your Fat to Eat Itself” implies some sort of weird, alpha-fat cannibalism super-struggle within your own body. I never understood the use of “melt” as a verb for weight loss, because it implies that the body is interacting with fat in a way that isn’t even scientifically accurate, and the same goes for “flushing” fat from one’s body.

Dr. Oz’s manipulative phraseology and imagery conveys a message that is just wrong. Millions of women watch his show every day. Millions of women hear Dr. Oz, a physician, telling them that their body is malformed and that they are unhealthy. Just in case you were wondering, there is no revolutionary miracle cure for “obesity” that involves shock, humiliation, and manipulation of statistics. That’s called bullying. In Dr. Oz’s case, it’s the bullying of millions of people for the sake of profit and renown.

What a douche.

Literal Fat Shaming

Usually, when you think of fat shaming, you think of people making fun of fat people for being fat. Well Casey Chan over at Kinja has taken fat shaming to a whole new level: he’s berating fat itself. Fat, as in the substance that makes up a significant portion of everyone’s bodies.

Sad Adipose is sad.

I feel bad for the poor little Fat Blob. What did he ever do to Chan? As far as I can tell, he’s just chillin’ out with his homies at AnatomyWarehouse.com, minding his own business. Apparently, he is vile. Not only that, but Chan said he would feel like throwing up every time he saw him. I guess the part that really rubbed Blobby the wrong way was when Casey started talking about life choices:

“But as disgusting as this pound of fat is, I think if I put this blubber model on my desk, I would instantly make better life decisions. The all seeing eye of the one pound god of fat would prevent me from ordering fatty feasts during lunchtime, make sure I get up to walk around every hour and cause me to shudder and hurl every time I look at it.”

The implication is that fat comes from making poor life decisions. The further implication is made that fat itself is frightening, something people should fear. Truth be told, fat outside of the confines of one’s body is pretty weird looking, but so is someone’s brain or left deltoid. How far does the fat-fear go? When does the All-Seeing Eye of the One Pound God of Fat relent? Can you breathe easily at 20% body fat? 15%? 5%? Will sinners roast in Fatty Hell? I bet it’ll smell delicious.