Racialized, Sexualized, Dehumanized Fatness & Getting Fat Studies Totally Wrong
I caught wind of this gag-worthy article in the New Yorker--wherein the author mostly provides a lit review of people trying to solve the problem of our existence--thanks to the wonderful Susan Stinson.
First, check out the graphic. They created a fat-woman-of-color monster just for this piece! How delightful! Really, it's completely repugnant...but it's not like the New Yorker isn't famous for it's repugnant imagery.
The implication that (all) fat people are insatiable for fast food is the least of my worries about this image. It's the monster aesthetic--huge mouth, no eyes, disproportionate body, i.e. not human--and the woman-of-color harlot allusions all wrapped together that especially bother me. The dehumanization and fear-mongering is self-explanatory. The racialization is also pretty clear. The Jezebel stereotype as part of that racializaiton really stands out to me. They don't paint the fingernails of a fat-woman-of-color monster and put her in heels for nothing. The colors they choose are also telling. This cartoon from the Jim Crow Museum online comes to mind, but there are many other racist depictions that would illustrate the overtones of this image. The "threat" depicted is more than the threat of a voracious fatty, let's just say that. It's not by chance that Fat Studies scholars are thinking about how race and racial stereotypes intersect with fat and fat stereotypes. Fat gets racialized (and classed and sexually stigmatized), especially in the war on fat/against fat people, and we have to keep our eyes out for these things and be as pissed about those stereotypes and that already marginalized groups are special targets of fat hate as we are about the stereotype that frightening, selfish fatties will kill you for some damn food.
The article itself is less noteworthy in my opinion. I was annoyed at first sight, but tried to read through it anyway. The author's use of the word "tubby" on the second page really set the tone for me. Eventually, I skipped to the part I gave a damn about on the bottom of page 3, top of page 4 where the author talks about the Fat Studies Reader.
The author has clearly done some research. She gets it right that we prefer the word fat. She even name drops the PCA Fat Studies panels and "Fat and the Academy" run by the fatosphere's Sheana way back when. The real problems start at the middle of page 4 where Kolbert clearly misunderstands the term subversive and perhaps didn't read enough of Katie Lebesco's work to understand the quote she uses in the article. (I recommend reading Katie Lebesco's work--it's fantastic!) Then, Kolbert proceeds to mis-characterize Fat Studies, and by extension everyone in the fat movement:
In contrast to the field’s claims about itself, fat studies ends up taking some remarkably conservative positions. It effectively allies itself with McDonald’s and the rest of the processed-food industry, while opposing the sorts of groups that advocate better school-lunch programs and more public parks.
How do we "end up" despite our "claims"? By what means she does not state, but only implies. That's a terrible case of conflation, not to mention that she clearly cannot fathom why anyone would want better school lunches and more public parks other than the "obesity epidemic." IT IS THE REASON FOR ALL!!!! IF YOU DISAGREE YOU ARE FOR THE EEEEEEVIL.
Then, there's this gem:
To claim that some people are just meant to be fat is not quite the same as arguing that some people are just meant to be poor, but it comes uncomfortably close.
Um, not so much. Honestly, I don't even know what to say to that it is so ridiculous. It's like we have damned all fat people to their assumed horrible existence. Why would we do such a thing!?!? Perhaps Kolbert has read about Fat Satan.