Trigger warning: fat shaming, body snark, diet talk
(from the video)
"You look great. Have you lost weight?"
(my recommended answer)
"No, I haven't lost weight. I just look great, thanks."
...and I think it's fucking brilliant. Cheers, Lillian and Matt.
Trigger warning: fat shaming, body snark, diet talk
What would you add?
- You have such a pretty face.
- Congratulations. Getting active will help you lose weight (when you've been active - and the same size - for years, and are not trying to lose weight).
- You're not fat.
(or: how to survive the holidays, family, and work as a fat activist)
Size activists are often put upon by trolls, ‘concerned’ friends and family, devout healthist employees and the like, who make it their urgent business to disillusion us happy cows as to our cow-icity. They make vague future death threats, evo-psych abstractions about how fat equals fewer erections and hence is objectively bad for the race, and how they saw a fat person once who wore a crop top that exposed her rolly middle and hence BAM! all fat people are delusional liars.
Their world is rife with wandering monstrosities of muffin-top and jiggly arms, made even more frightening when those same jelly bellies join the mating pool. And of course, we must think of the children, who are being force-fed donuts and video games at alarming and increasing rates until, you know, WALL-E. And the trolls don’t want to lose their bone density, see. It’s all the fault of the fatties and their fatty culture of sin.
Sadly, these angsty fellows and fellas are a higher percentage of the population than can be comfortably laughed at. They also come by their misinformation with usually no particular malicious intent, and their invectives are backed by the power of over 300,000 blinding suns—er, fat-hating messages a year. That level of propaganda is full-out cultural penetration. It’s like being an atheist in medieval Europe. You’ve got three options: shut the hell up, pretend to agree and privately subvert, or prepare for the guillotine.
Shut the Hell Up
This one’s a daily practice for many an enlightened fatty, and comes in several forms. My favorite form is to live life the way you would if you were thin(ner) while directing an extended third finger at the heckling crowd. When you come upon the twisted specter of discrimination, avoid it. Fighting a person bombarded with over 300,000 fat-hating messages a year is often an exercise in futility, leaving each party drained and the fat-loather further convinced of his paranoid vision of impending fat doom. Your links are never read, and the smallest particle of flab on your person disqualifies you from serious opposition, like having a fat body is a conflict of interest in arguing for fat rights.
- Pros: Peace, time to do things other than be an activist, keeping your ideals intact and unchallenged, setting an example for the open-minded, keeping your friends and family as they are.
- Cons: Guilt, a sense of disconnect from the community, wondering whether or not you could do more good through direct activism, missing the thrill of vanquishing a troll, allowing fat-hating people in your life unchallenged (unless you decide to avoid them altogether).
Pretend to Agree, but Privately Subvert
This one’s sneakier and comes with ethical difficulties. It’s not for the faint-of-heart. This is when you smile and nod over a coworker’s tireless talk-up of his regimen of Splenda-flavored air after you’ve pinned an HAES flyer to the company bulletin board. Or when you get a medical degree in which you’re forced to agree with the prevailing theory of fat (where ill-health is a function of fat-related hormonal overflow and weight loss is a viable prescription) in order to graduate, though you plan to start a kick-ass HAES practice upon graduation. Or when you massage the language of a grant proposal so it seems like you’re toeing the ‘obesity epidemic’ line though your research may very well show there is no such thing as the obesity epidemic, as such.
- Pros: You’re a sheep in the wolf’s den, dressed as wolf.
- Cons: You’re a sheep in the wolf’s den, for chrissake!
Prepare for the Guillotine
And in such a way activists are born, running from an angry mob nipping at their heels, into another angry mob waving firebrands and pitchforks.
There’s no escaping the 100% penetration of fat-loathing propaganda. It’s not just the pitter-patter of hate-droplets on a misty October morning, it’s the thud of golf-ball-sized hate-hailstones into you, your prized possessions, and everything/body you love. Those fat activists who prepare for the guillotine are out in that storm, bearing down under its destruction, that they might see a patch of blue sky in their lifetimes.
- Pros: The thrill of the maybe-martyr, being able to live by one’s principles (loudly), likely changing a lot of lives with a hit blog, book deal, performance, article, or study.
- Cons: Maybe martyrdom, hate mail, the very real danger of being stalked or receiving death threats, being seen as a whacko for holding non-mainstream views and hence having a difficult time getting conventional jobs/academic positions.
Your Turn: How do you argue with fat loathers?
Author’s Note: Certainly there are multi-faceted, nuanced and complex approaches to size activism not included in this largely (ha!) humorous post. I hope you enjoyed it anyway.
I know this letter is long and that's now how you're supposed to do protest letters, but I'm long-winded, people.
Your bit with the fat suit on Monday’s show (September 14th,
2009) was distasteful, less than amusing, lazy, and sorely problematic. I know
what you were trying to do. People called you all lazy for taking three weeks
off; and since fatness is the ultimate symbol of being lazy, you got in a fat
suit. And since Jon Oliver had joked on his radio show about eating two whole
cheese steaks (or so I hear), you threw that in. Since you have a playful
relationship with Brian Williams, you took the opportunity to incorporate him.
I get that you were taunting your naysayers.
I also get that for you it (likely) wasn’t about fat people
at all—but that’s part of the problem because it was on our backs. I know it seems initially an outlandish notion, but
you being in a fat suit and TDS using stereotypes and images of fat people the
way you did affects my every day life. I’m not saying you hate fat people or
that you are responsible for all of the derision and discrimination fat people
face—certainly not. But you are responsible for what you do, the messages you
spread, and your complicity, especially when so many people regard you as
someone well-reasoned, critically-minded, and progressive, someone who engages
in smart, sharp (if silly) comedy. Hang with me a second.
See, I am a fat person, and every day I deal with people
judging me as just some lazy fatass who doesn’t deserve a god-damn thing (aside
from a good fat-shaming, for my own good).
Fat discrimination, according to a recent study,
is as prevalent as race and gender discrimination in this country. I’m not just
talking about how people judge me on the street or how there is no room for
bodies like mine on TV. Fat discrimination and weight bias are prevalent in
health care, education, and employment. It affects real living, breathing
people. For instance, it affects the quality and thoroughness of care we
receive from medical professionals, and we suffer and some of us die because of
But what does this have to do with you in a fat suit? Fat suits have
been compared to blackface. Now, that’s not a historically equivalent
comparison in any way, but the the function is similar. You can put
on a fat suit and laugh with everyone else at the fat representation of you and
how gross and disgusting and wrong it is. TDS can further dehumanize fat
people by using a picture of a (faceless) bed-ridden fat person with Williams
face Photoshopped on—participating in what Charlotte Cooper calls the parade of
headless fatties—to drive home how disgusting it is to be fat.  And
in the process you and TDS can metaphorically masturbate stereotypes that perpetuate
the bias and discrimination we face in our every day lives—all for your joke
that really isn’t about fat people, which just means you have no regard for us
in the process. And then you can take
that suit off and you don’t have to deal with the consequences.
Your promotion of fat stereotypes and dehumanization of fat people is part of a greater system of bias, discrimination, and dehumanization which directly affects my quality of life. It helps give people the idea that it's perfectly okay not to have any regard for us. After all, if we didn't like it, and if we had any dignity, we'd just put down the sandwich, right? If you had any sense, you might not assume fat people give up their dignity by virtue of being fat. For more a more
nuanced critique of “Fat on Film” you can visit the recent Newsweek slideshow of the same name: http://www.newsweek.com/id/213419.
This is why I’m disappointed in you and the TDS writers. I
expect better. And frankly, the best way to show your audience you haven’t
gotten lazy isn’t by telling lazy
There are three things you can do to help fat people and
our work toward social justice. First, educate yourself on this issue. Do not
take what you think you know about fat people for granted. Put some critical
thinking into it and be willing to challenge your own assumptions. Second,
bring critical fat studies scholars or fat activists onto your show. Open a
conversation. Linda Bacon (yes, bacon, haha) is a preeminent scholar of Health
at Every Size, who has found that fat people who don’t diet and don’t lose weight can be healthier than
ones who do. She has
just published a book on the subject. Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby also have
a book out called “Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere.” Recently, scholars in the UK
have published a book called “Fat Studies in the UK” and soon the long-awaited
“Fat Studies Reader” will be out. Finally, we don’t care if you make fat jokes,
just make them funny. Make sure that you aren’t merely reinscribing harmful
stereotypes, and make sure they are the same critical quality as the rest of
Fat Human Being, Fat Activist, and Doctoral
Student in Sociology and Women's Studies
RM., T. Andreyeva, and KD Brownell. 2008. “Perceptions of weight
discrimination: prevalence and comparison to race and gender discrimination in
America.” International Journal of
Obesity 32: 992–1000.
 See the blog
“First, Do No Harm: Stories of Fat Prejudice in Health Care”: http://fathealth.wordpress.com/ and
also the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity website: www.yaleruddcenter.org/what_we_do.aspx?id=10
 For the record, I know
TDS uses Photoshop to do much more ‘horrible’ things to people’s images—but
there is a particular history of fat people’s faceless bodies being debased and
dehumanized in the media, as your colleague, Colbert, has even pointed out.
Charlotte Cooper’s piece on Headless Fatties can be found here: http://www.charlottecooper.net/docs/fat/headless_fatties.htm
*Apparently being upset about something so trivial is just silly. And after all "The joke was funny--I'm a fat person and I thought so." And "It wasn't about fat people. C'mon, they make fun of EVERYBODY on that show." "Being angry about it isn't going to solve anything." "You shouldn't let words upset you so much--we should be showing people that words can't hurt us." And, of course, "Don't we [fat people] have bigger fish to fry?"
(These are paraphrases of claims made to me from people who identify as fat-positive, size-accepting, fat-accepting individuals. Claims that I hope to have arbitrated in this here letter.)
Edited to note: I know the racial comparisons I make are problematic. I hate to rely on comparisons to racial discrimination and bias to highlight fat discrimination and bias. I am open to finding new ways to make our cause seem serious and our claims seem legitimate without using analogies to other oppressions. I try not to. But in some cases, I just haven't quite figured out how to really put things in perspective for people without using comparisons. Even if I know it is problematic.
If you loved Joy Nash's Fat Rant II and the now apparently defunct *very sad face* Health Institute for Nutrition, you will love this article over at The Onion debating the pros and cons of abstinence-only lunch programs.
Here are some gems:
"There's no evidence to suggest that instructing teens not to chew, swallow, or even think about food is actually going to stop them from eating," Sebelius told reporters. "Let's face it: Kids are already eating. And not only during lunchtime. They're eating after school, at the mall, in their parents' basements. Pretending like it's not happening isn't going to make it go away."
"After all, they're teenagers," Sebelius continued. "Eating is practically the only thing on their minds."
An interesting commentary on how making natural things taboo (like sex and eating) only fosters obsession. Not to mention how urges for food and sex are conflated and treated as sinful.
Also, the key to not getting fat:
"I'm never ever going to eat, because eating is wrong, and I'm worth more than a chicken sandwich with asparagus and rice pilaf," Woodbridge seventh-grader Tracey Holmes said. "I heard Jennifer Hines eats all the time, like 50 times a day. I heard she eats all her ice cream upside-down, though, so she doesn't get fat. That's how it works."
Thanks to GiniLiz for this!