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!

Reblog: Why to love your double chin

The Offbeat Empire is one of my favorite repositories for body-positivity content. I was particularly pleased with this article:

Why I love my double-chin laugh (and hope to see it at my wedding).

This article because it expresses genuine joy about one’s appearance, not in spite of “flaws”, but because of them. When the author sees pictures of herself laughing with a double chin, she knows she is ACTUALLY laughing, and actually happy.

Body Competition as Anti-feminism: A Pinterest Round-up

A reader recently suggested a topic for The Fat Word, namely the incessant fat-shame/thin-shame nastiness that is flung back and forth in the name of “self-love”. Now, while I do not consider “fat shaming” and “thin (fit) shaming” to be truly comparable (a topic for a future lengthy article in the works), I do think the struggle represents something else even more unsettling. Not only are we allowing societal norms to dictate how we feel about ourselves, we are allowing a gut, reactionary response drive us away from fellowship with other women. Somehow, body empowerment has become a form of anti-feminism.

I myself have a bit of a Pinterest addiction. I use it for many diversions, including fatshion/style, home decor ideas, and as a depository of fatbulousness in the form of The Fat Word pin board. I have created a new board in search of the sort of divisive body “positive” propaganda that undermines the progress of women in society. I would like to share a few particularly aggravating images, along with a brief discussion.

This is probably one of the more aggressive pins I have found on the “fit” side of the fence. The pin reads:

“Fuck yeah, I’ll show off the body I slaved for. You can cry all day about my so-called arrogance, but if you worked as hard as I did for what I have, you would be flaunting it to (sic). Enjoy your jealousy. I’ll enjoy looking good.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Come on, girl! I am proud of you! You clearly work hard to maintain a certain body type. Hard work is commendable, and feeling proud about your hard work is natural. You have obviously received some degree of flack for your body, but do you really think jealousy is the problem? Maybe your “jealous” critics simply feel bad about themselves because of unrealistic societal expectations? Oh perhaps, they feel bad because they are being aggressively told that they AREN’T working hard, and that this perceived lack of effort makes them inferior in some way.

As you can see, us chubby chicks are equally responsible for this divisiveness. This pin reads:

“Thigh gaps are so last year.”

Um, what? Firstly, I am pretty sure the lack or increase of thigh gap-iness isn’t something in the Sportsbook at Ceasar’s. It’s not something that varies year-to-year, and certainly isn’t a fashion trend. Thigh gaps, or a lack thereof, are physiological. They aren’t something invented by the Fashion Industrial Complex, and they definitely aren’t something you can pick up at Macy’s. The insinuation here is that a certain physiological feature makes one more or less fashionable. This alienates thin women, rather than unites all women together against the common cause of fashion bias.

Here we have a double-whammy (really, it’s more like an exponential whammy) of two different “Love Your Body” campaigns smooshed into a single pin. If that isn’t direct comparison, I am not sure what is. First of all, my body doesn’t look particularly like the body of any of these women, so there is some alienation right there. Each ad by itself is harmful because it proclaims what “real” beauty is. The mad-pinner that mashed them together is the real trouble-maker, however. Together, these images create the message that there are super-thin women, and “regular” women, with “regular” women being more deserving of respect and admiration. The point of this pin is to make the viewer of the pin look at one graphic or the other and say, “Ew”.

Here is another highly aggressive pin. The stance is aggressive. The facial expression is aggressive. What it literally says is:

“Fat? No, I prefer too wide for your narrow mind.”

This pin does not say, “Cross this bridge with me.” Instead, it seems to say, “Get off my fucking bridge because I am hot and you can’t handle it.” This pin is divisive because it tells people their perceptions are not only incorrect, but that they are, in fact, stupid. As a hypothetical thin woman, am I supposed to feel unity with this pinner? Shouldn’t it be women vs societal oppression rather than aggressive, militant fatty versus poor, thin victim?

Okay, y’all… one more and I promise the torture will stop.

I think this is technically a “thinspiration” pin, to help motivate the pinner to work out and lose weight. It reads:

“Make them regret the day they dared call you fat.”

There are so many layers of malcontent discord-mongering in this one pin, I feel like I need a toothpick to hold it all together. First of all, who is “them” in this scenario? A particular person? Ex-lover? High school bully? Or is it society in general? If it is the latter, then doesn’t “them” encompass everyone viewing the pin with the exception of the original pinner? Secondly, I am really fixating on the phrase “make them regret”, as it implies there will be some sort of dire consequence exacted by the pinner against all who implied her fatness, because “fat” is a terrible, shaming insult. This pin suggests that being called fat is something so egregious that a POUND OF FLESH SHALL BE EXACTED FOR EVERY POUND OF FLESH IMPLIED. Again, a wedge is being driven between women of different body types under the guise of “fitness”.

If we really want to make progress in the arena of body positivity, we need to stop driving a wedge between ourselves. This isn’t just an issue of body type, it’s a fundamental feminist issue. We shouldn’t be on Team Fit, Team Thin, Team Curvy, or Team Fat. We should be on Team Woman, working together towards goals that will benefit ALL women, not just a small subset. Petty infighting will only further the agendas of others who look to oppress women and keep us feeling bad about ourselves.

Whitney Thore is My Fat Girl Soulmate

You may have seen posts lately about Whitney Thore, a fat and fabulous body-positivity activist with an inspiring series of YouTube videos entitled “A Fat Girl Dancing”. She has a great new campaign to spread her body-positive message, called the No Body Shame Campaign.

Her homepage sends a resonating message that I don’t wish to paraphrase:

Preach it, Sister.

A little background about Ms. Thore: She is a current radio show producer and personality. She started gaining weight in college around the time she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. She has dealt with self-esteem problems. She has travelled the world. She is a FIERCE dancer. 

Check out her videos. Here’s my favorite:

What is extra exciting is that Whitney will be on the Today Show on February 28th talking about her campaign. I love seeing a fat, beautiful, charismatic young woman such as herself on the public stage, proud, unapologetic, and flat-out amazing. My dreams are smaller. For example, I’d be happy just being able to have her as my Twitter follower.

Fierce.