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

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

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