Hey, hey, hey, it’s fat shaming!

Feb. 9, 2017

Let’s be honest, this is a blog. It’s not an academic research journal. It’s not Time Magazine. It’s my personal weekly spiel, so it’s both my take on things big and small and a refection of my own evolution as a woke humanoid. If there are some fools that want to hold something I did or said in the 1980s over me, let them. That person was. Even the cells in his body are long gone. If I share my journey, maybe others (perhaps you, my beloved reader) will reflect on theirs. We are on a path, trying not to be dragged backwards by the trolls tweeting at our heels. The key is intense self-reflection. Sometimes you don’t like what you see.

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Some of the big ticket items of oppression come through pretty clearly for the people that are ready to see them and the impact on their world; racism, sexism, homophobia, even Islamophobia. People might even be able to make it from there to discussions of white privilege, intersectionality, and queer identities. But start talking about fat people and things fall apart quickly. “But…. But… But…” Suddenly there are lots of reasons not to practice empathy. It’s still safe to look down on the large.

I’ve been one of those people. Like Donald Trump, I’ve been on three sides of a two sided issue. Obviously, America (and Donald Trump) has a weight problem. I noticed it when I lived in Europe. You could pick out the Americans in any crowd by their waist size. According to the CDC, 36.5% of Americans are obese. Those folks suffer all kinds of medical woes, including early deaths and their health issues are a part of are swelling health care costs that get folded into our insurance premiums. In 2008, the CDC pegged the medical cost of obesity at $147 billion. So it’s right to get angry at fatties, right?

If anyone knows this anger it’s a heavy person. And that’s the problem. The sociological causes of high obesity rates is one discussion (as well as what is defined as “obesity”). How we treat heavy people is another discussion. And why there should be anything close to a “perfect” weight is a third. I’m going to ignore the first discussion, and only say that scones are not supposed to be the size of your head, to focus on the other two.

She’s a perfect 10

It’s no shocker that we want women to look like “girls.” I mean, just ask why we demand that women shave their armpits. What’s the function? You can look like a pre-pubescent girl maybe into your early twenties if you work at it. But after that, it’s a losing battle. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try! And there are several industries to help you out.

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In the early 1990s, I religiously assigned Naomi Wolf’s first book, The Beauty Myth: How Images of Beauty Are Used Against Women. College women were suffering from record reports of eating disorders and American women were dying from botched liposuction surgeries and it just seemed like the right book at the right time to put in front of female and male people. It’s based on the staple of gender socialization that boys are raised to be judged on their actions and girls are raised to be judged solely on their looks. I’m certainly going to write more about this complex issue, but their is one easy way to fit it into this topic; the perfect 10.

Is your butt too round or too flat? Are your boobs too big or too small? Are you too short or too tall? What about your nose? And how is your skin? While these questions might impact males, they define females very worth from an early age. There is a narrow window where each characteristic is in the acceptable beauty zone. But there are a hundred moving parts (Maybe your ass is fine but your knees are knobby) and it’s a constantly shifting matrix (Is the thigh gap in or out this season?). It’s enough to cause a girl to lose her mind and that’s the point, according to Wolf. Drive females crazy with anxiety and keep them away from the thrones of power.

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The women in Trump’s beauty contests are held up as the “ideal,” but they all look very similar in their proportions. A gold medal swimmer, like Missy Franklin, wouldn’t have the body to compete for the Miss USA crown. Neither would comedian Amy Schumer for that matter. How dare they not at least try to be a Trump 10? “It makes me so angry. Amy Schumer would be so hot if she lost like a hundred pounds.” Every woman should do everything possible to make it to TEN and if they don’t there’s something wrong with them. Maybe they’re “lesbians.” (Because any female who doesn’t rank her evaluation by men’s gaze first and foremost must not like men. Right, bros?)

Forget the fact that even the “perfect” women don’t actually look like that. Can we get some non-airbrushed pictures of Ivanka Trump up in here? I bet even supermodel Gigi Hadid has parts of her body she hates. Self-hate is the goal of the beauty myth. It’s not what you’ve accomplished in life, it’s how the guys rank your hotness. And after about age 21, it’s a losing battle. Better fit Botox into your budget.

Add the majority of women who are not a size zero into that anger at the imperfect. Here is the genesis of fat shaming. “How dare you be fat? What’s wrong with you? I have to look at you!” So it’s not about the issues of the looker, but the issues of the looked upon. Sociologists call this attribution theory. We can make up a whole story about people we define as somehow deficient. “I bet she goes all in for Venti Caramel Frappucinos.” Fat people are lazy, gross, ugly, selfish (and, oddly, self-hating), unhealthy, but, hey, they’re funny as hell.

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This topic reared its ugly head after last month’s Women’s March. I saw a meme that tried to make a joke that Trump got a bunch of large ladies to do some walking. Because 1) feminists are fat, 2) liberals are fat, and 3) hot skinny chicks would never waste their time marching when they could be getting their boyfriends buckets of fried chicken before the big game. Let’s put aside the reality of who is heavier, liberals or conservatives (here’s a link) or if your are more likely to see an abundance of plus-sized women at a NASCAR event, and focus on the message. Women who stand up for their rights are fat and any women who is not this week’s definition of a “10” is to be devalued. Those fat, hairy lesbian feminists are barely people, let alone women. Right, bros?

The emotional impact on the women we love

Devaluation and dehumanization are the most accessible tools of oppression. Calling a grown black man a “boy,” or a person with disabilities a “retard,” or a woman a “bitch.” It’s all the same. The perpetrator might say, “It’s just a word. Lighten up!” But to the recipient there is a cumulative effect that is emotionally and psychologically devastating. The constant message that you are “less than” erodes a person’s self-worth. Plenty of research backs this up. Just ask a fat person. I did. There are women in my circle that have struggled with their weight and, being an ethnographer (and someone who has probably made a few fat jokes in his life), I wanted to shut up and just listen. What does it feel like to be shamed because of your weight? I got so many responses, I just had to sit with them for a while. Some had me in tears. And some said they were in tears while they wrote their answers to me.

Many were first fat-shamed by their mothers and then by other women, showing how these values become internalized, like one group of slaves being used to keep watch over another group of slaves. Some became fat after the birth of their children or injuries, and for some the shame was there as long as they could remember. Some were body-shamed for being “too thin,” but continually felt fat. All were people I cared about. Suddenly I wanted to write a book on the topic. But for now, listen to some of their truth.

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I was a size 6 until at age 40 I had another baby and then 2 years of surgeries. I am an 18 now. The people who hurt me are actually acquaintances and old friends that haven’t seen you in a while. I’m sure they aren’t trying to hurt me, but when someone says something like oh my god what happened to you? Or you’ve gotten so big I wouldn’t have known you. I have literally stopped being social over this I am terrified of being in public and someone saying something like that even if they don’t mean it to hurt me. (S)

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Before my 48th birthday my mother announced with a huge sense of glee that she knew what she was going to give me for my birthday. I said, “What?” She said, “Liposuction.” To be honest, I’m about 15lbs over the weight I should be. (C)

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“If you could see yourself from behind, you’d shoot yourself”….My mother to me at 13 years old. 25 years of therapy later, and 2 Master’s in Mental Health…here I am living that moment. (A)

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I am told I look better than a 25 year old and I am 45, but when I look in the mirror I see an overweight, blob of laziness. I try to challenge my thoughts of myself but when I continuously get praised for my physique I cannot help but hang on to it. I don’t agree with what others see but I know I do not see my body how it is so I trust that others do. Its like being in prison and I am unable to break free from it. (M1)

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I can’t imagine living in a world where I actually feel good about my body. I watched some clip of an athletic, slim woman walking on a beach in a bikini and thought “I can’t imagine putting on a bikini and walking on the beach. What would that be like? What would it be like to walk so confidently, openly, unafraid that you’ll be trolled or insulted, content in yourself?” (M2)

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When I was younger, I was always on the heavier side. I dealt with bullies my entire life calling me “fat” and saying just awful things. From the age of 7 on. My own father used to fat shame me and say awful things. “If you would get your fat ass out of the refrigerator, maybe you’d be able to finally listen to me!” I always struggled with being heavy. My thighs always touched, my ass was always bigger and I got boobs earlier than all the other girls. One second, a guy would call me a “slut” for having big boobs and then next, I would be called a “cow” because I was big. (C2)

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This is just a tiny slice of what I received. Women who work in the media got it in email and Facebook comment form and women who stayed at home got it from the family members who loved them. The body shaming came from friends and strangers because everyone has permission to comment on a woman’s body and where it is in relation to Trump’s 10.

While there is a parallel narrative of men who are fat shamed, men have the privilege of plugging into the patriarchal power structure. When I was a kid, many overweight boys found refuge on the football team. It’s surely a struggle for larger men in the competitive GQ work world, but there are infinite messages that still tell them they are their accomplishments, not their belt size. You can even become president!

There is a ton of research on this subject I could cite but the message I got was how many women I know suffer in silence. Heartbreaking silence. The internet is on fire with fat shaming “humor,” but we tolerate the suffering of people we love. Why?

Recovering asshole

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Can I be a part of the solution? I’ve certainly made comments about the obesity issue that were cloaked in concern about health issues (and insurance premium rates). But I have to wonder if I’ve avoided relationships out of fear of fatness. I’ve always been pretty slim (even when I played high school football) and been dedicated to healthy diet and exercise. I know I’ve thought of heavy people as not caring about those things. In many cases, it’s the exact opposite – they care and engage more. The fat = sick assumption is hugely problematic. It’s so much more complex than that. But stereotyping is so much easier than wading into the complexity. (Just ask a Trump fan about Mexicans and Muslims.) And liberals are just as guilty. Spend some time on the People of Wal-Mart website for a good dose of liberal fat and class-shaming.

It doesn’t do any good to tell a fat person they are fat. They know, believe me. In fact, it’s likely to have the opposite effect. It’s not like someone hears a comment and thinks, “Oh, shit, I might be obese. I’m going to cut carbs out of my diet today!” These are life long struggles, fueled, at least in part, by the belief that there is some perfect body size that will get you back into the “fully human” category.

Think of the human potential that has been lost because of the impact of that shame, of people who hide their talents because of one category of evaluation. And think of people  who just gave up on their own health because it is impossible (impossible) to ever truly reach this socially constructed ideal of perfection. And think of the woman who really deserves some Ben & Jerry’s and the simple joy a mouthful of ice-cream can bring, standing in the check-out line next to air-brushed magazine cover models, diet books, and the National Enquirer beach bodies issue with the teaser, “Whose disgusting fat ass is this?”

I want to write more about this issue, but for now I want to just say we are all fully human with a right to be here. It doesn’t matter what your size is. But we need to hear the stories because anyone who cares about a person who is suffering should care about why they are suffering. Things are changing. People don’t care as much about beauty pageants as they used to (Sorry, Trump.) Real people have stretch marks and bounce around on the scale and have days when they feel like not leaving the house. We’re probably more ready for the Rosie O’Donnells (Trump’s “fat pig”) and the Alicia Machados (Trump’s “Miss Piggy”) of the world than the Ivankas and Melanias, but there’s room for all to exist without being placed under our microscope of evaluation. Your ass is fine.

To be continued.

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9 thoughts on “Hey, hey, hey, it’s fat shaming!

  1. Randy, thank you for this thoughtful, somewhat painful essay. To know that there’s even one man looking critically at the issue of this particular aspect of internalized sexism is hopeful and reassuring in itself. I look forward to the next installment.

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  2. First, I laugh because you manage to take something about obese people and still make a statement against Trump. I’ll say the same thing liberals said to conservatives when Obama was elected, “He’s the president now. You have to accept it.” That’s all I’ll say about that.

    When it comes to overweight people, there’s certain groups I do blame: the government, celebrities, media, and the person.

    The government: they are first because they actually allow corporations like Monsanto to mess with our food supply. Their philosophy is quantity, not quality. It doesn’t matter if it’s our meat, fruit, vegetables, sweets, or whatever else, there’s something in everything that has been tampered with. I saw the other morning on TV that scientists are in fact doing something to make tomatoes taste better by crossing it between two different tomatoes. Our food supply was never meant to be tampered with.

    Celebrities: so many people who are celebrities have this mindset that people are supposed to look like them. An overweight person will eat more because they know they’ll never look like that person, while the skinny anorexic person who weighs 90 lbs soaking wet says they are fat and overweight. I love celebrities from the early turn of the century to the 40’s/50’s. They actually had meat on their bones and looked really good.

    Media: coming back to the philosophy of celebrities, media actually tells us how we are supposed to look. With media telling us this, there’s no hope for the overweight person.

    The person: they do know that being overweight isn’t good for them. They know they need to do something about it, but there’s one word that summarize it why they won’t do anything: dedication. If you want to do something, you have to be dedicated to it. One reason why people don’t do that is because they are scared of failing, hitting a road block, stumbling along the way. If you hit an obstacle, stumble, or fail but you get back up, that’s what makes you successful in life. When it comes to weight-loss, the first time and overweight person doesn’t succeed at something, they quit.

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    1. “First, I laugh because you manage to take something about obese people and still make a statement against Trump. I’ll say the same thing liberals said to conservatives when Obama was elected, “He’s the president now. You have to accept it.” That’s all I’ll say about that.”

      Because Trump is obsessed with women’s looks and has been known to call them fat pigs, and barge into the Miss Teen pageants when they are getting dressed, and he rates women on a scale, moves in on them “like a bitch”, obsesses about pussy and admits he can’t keep his hands out of there.

      And during the Bush administration, we were called unpatriotic, traitors “you’re either with us or against us” “you have to get behind a war president” if we ever dared speak out against Bush. The Dixie Chicks had their careers ruined. It’s just remarkable how conservatives manage to erase the Bush years out of existence and all the commands they decreed when a republican was president somehow vanished when it’s a democrat, like they never just spent 8 years saying all the things we all heard them say. Now they’re back all over the Internet all giddy and gleefully criticizing and mocking liberals and then when they get done bitching at liberals, they sanctimoniously say that they’re lifting their glistening, self-righteous eyes to the heavens and “praying for unity”. Which is actually their new word for “shut up”, “submit” and “obey”.

      As supposedly freedom loving real Americans you call yourselves, you should be supporting dissenting voices, not mocking them, but then again, you never hold yourselves to the high standards and ideals and strict conservative constitutionalism you all claim you hold so precious to your heart. The minute you feel threatened a teensie itty bit, you happily shred the constitution.

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      1. During the Bush administration, I was hardly ever on American soil. Being in Delta, I spent more time away from home than I did at home. I share that because rather than “shredding the constitution” I served and protected the constitution. I did had to do and see things because it was my job. I really believe that we as a nation should have everyone (men and women) serve in the military for at least 4 years. I honestly believe it would make a difference in our country. Yes, I didn’t like Obama and didn’t vote for him. However, he was my commander in chief and I had to respect that title because he earned it. I understand that you and so many others don’t like Trump and I respect that. He is still our commander in chief and that title needs to still be respected.

        Growing up, my parents taught me it doesn’t matter who the president is, his title needs to still be respected. During Vietnam, Kennedy didn’t want to go to war there. In the end, he was killed and LBJ (who was a Democrat) gave our military the war they wanted which cost the lives of over 50000 men and women. People criticized H.W. Bush for going to Kuwait for Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm. Then there was Clinton worth his bag of issues that led to him being impeached. And the pattern continues.

        The point I’m making is every president in history has done or said something that the American people didn’t like and didn’t/doesn’t support. All this rioting/protesting or whatever people call it doesn’t do anything but cripple us as a nation. Trump isn’t going to step down. Rather than attacking people because of their political beliefs, talk to the person rather than talk at the person.

        I may not be an educated person like you. I’m a country boy who served his country, served with one of the most elite combat units in the army, and now working for Border Patrol. I’m a guy who love this country and sees hope for this country. It may not be this year, next year, or the year after that, but there’s hope. I hope and pray that we as nation can hold our neighbors hand in unity rather than attacking them for who they voted for.

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      2. Was it not you who said this: “I’ll be honest, I’m glad Trump signed this. You have the luxury not seeing the things I’ve seen and encountering the things I’ve encountered. As a retired Army Delta Force (Army’s Seal Team 6), I’ve seen terrorism at it’s best….” and then went on with some gish gallop argumentation as to why it’s ok to ban people ostensibly based on religion, when they come from countries that have been known to never have attacked us on our soil, so that you feel all better.

        ” I understand that you and so many others don’t like Trump and I respect that. He is still our commander in chief and that title needs to still be respected.”. No you do not. Was it also not you who said: “Let me ask, how exhausting is it for you to keep talking about Trump?”. That is not “respect”. Besides, you were the guys who wanted to “shake things up” to “do things differently” and “stick it to the elites”. And yet you sanctimiously draw from the lessons your parents taught you years ago while you demand that others honor the titles and positions that you apparently didn’t want “shaken up”. You reap what you sow.

        All this rioting and protesting is bringing the nation together, doing what the corrupt republicans in congress should be doing but aren’t. You’re just all mad that the patriotic stands you think you’re taking aren’t met with the applause you think you deserve so you can’t see it that way.

        “Rather than attacking people because of their political beliefs… talk to the person rather than at the person…” you may want to start by practicing what you preach, country boy. The one time I reached out an olive branch to a conservative on this site, it got batted away.

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      3. “I hope and pray that we as nation can hold our neighbors hand in unity rather than attacking them for who they voted for.”

        Laughing at the blog poster, then praying for unity. Did I not call it? Yep. I did. I rest my case.

        So hypocritical, respecting the office of the presidency and blah blah blah, considering you voted the head of the birthers into office, with all his “people just want to know” and “just asking questions” insinuations. You should go be their queen.

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  3. Yes, I did say that. However, if people want to come here, live here, and citizens here, they need to do things the proper democratic process according to our Constitution.

    When people talked negative about Obama, they were and still are called racist. So you’re racist for standing up against Obama and you’re a sexist, racist, and homophobe for voting for Trump.

    Let me ask you, what’s more important: taking in refugees and accepting illegals or helping our veterans? We are helping all these people from other countries, but we can’t even help our veterans. 22 veterans a day are committing suicide and over 400,000 veterans are homeless. The Veterans Affairs had always been a broken system and don’t have the full capability of helping the very same men and women who served and fought for this country. So why are we helping others before helping our own?

    Coming from the view of a veteran, we have to seek alternative resources of treatment and pay out pocket. I rarely go to the VA because I know I can use my health care from my retirement and my health care for border patrol to see a civilian doctor.

    How long will it go on until our veterans needs will get recognized rather than disregarded?

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    1. Oh, please. Anytime someone avoids the topic and instead dives into whataboutery about something else, it’s pretty clear they don’t give a crap about either issue. If they did, they would raise it in good faith, they wouldn’t use it as a weapon to deflect from a different conversation. I’m sure veterans really appreciate that.

      The topic was “First, I laugh because you manage to take something about obese people and still make a statement against Trump. I’ll say the same thing liberals said to conservatives when Obama was elected, “He’s the president now. You have to accept it.” That’s all I’ll say about that.”

      Yeah, you thought you were making a snide score against liberals. Then you whine “but liberals said we were racists for not voting for a black man and then said we were racists for voting for a white man” (ahem, head birther), or something that’s somehow in your mind supposed to make it perfectly reasonable for you to make snide comments, and then sanctimoniously claim that you’re “praying for unity”.

      Then when I pointed out to you that all we ever heard under Bush was you have to support a war president, you went all noble and sacrosanct with the traditional lessons your parents taught you and “The point I’m making is every president in history has done or said something that the American people didn’t like and didn’t/doesn’t support. ” Oh, what an unmitigated load of crap, that is not at all what you were doing. And again, you were the ones who wanted to shake things up in Washington, so so sick of politics as usual, and then disingenuously calling upon tradition and “you have to respect the presidency”. This is exactly what you asked for, stop complaining that you now have it.

      So no, I’m not about to continue to follow you down your little holier-than-thou deflection tactic of “let me ask you what is more important” bs rabbit trail, except to say go ahead, you can subscribe to the zero sum us vs. them mantra if it means that much to you. Others believe that America’s ideals go beyond that.

      “When people talked negative about Obama, they were and still are called racist. So you’re racist for standing up against Obama and you’re a sexist, racist, and homophobe for voting for Trump.” As I said to the last person who said this exact thing on this site, since it looks like someone is out there winding you all up like little toys and sending you mechanically waddling in here babbling the exact same talking points, cry me a fucking river. Every day of every week, forget about just elections, please, it’s every day, all over talk radio, on tv, liberals are called evil, demonic, Satanic, pinheads, libtards, Nazis, babykillers, fascists, the REAL racists, mentally deficient, immoral, I could go on, and that’s on a normal day, and that’s just for just for existing, all part of the rhetoric of eliminationism. Oh and in addition to that, it’s now it’s also snowflake crybabies who need safe spaces and demand participation trophies or whatever else story rightwingers hear and blow way out of proportion and can’t stop howling about. You all bitch and whine and complain and bellyache about how much political correctness has ruined your lives, elect someone who ran an anti-political correctness platform and bitched and whined about unfairness and now finally, finally, you get to “tell it like it is”. then bitch and complain when people say stuff about you. And then you act snide and holier than thou and demand that we give you respect and kowtow to your leader. Utterly pathetic.

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    2. Albert, you do make a good point about our veterans needing help. Yes, there are organizations that are geared to helping our veterans, but mostly recreational. However, here in Oregon, there’s an organization called the Returning Veterans Project and they not only help our veterans medically, but also the dependants.

      Randy, I know what you are talking about with the fat shaming because I have many friends who have gained an excessive amount of weight because of the medications the VA gives them.

      As there are so many issues in America, not everything has to be political. We can help overweight people and not make it be political. We can help our veterans and not make it be political. Even help those who are addicts. I didn’t watch it last night, but that’s all I heard about this morning was how’s political the Grammys were. My mouth dropped when I heard someone refer to Trump as Agent Orange. For me and many others in America, that’s very sensitive because that’s the chemical many of our veterans (including my father) was exposed to in Vietnam and either A) is sick from it or B) has died from it (my father died after fighting the most rare brain tumor at that time because of it). So many people were concerned about how political the Super Bowl was going to be. When Lady Gaga didn’t really male a political statement, many people were upset with her.

      All I’m saying is that we as a country have other issues at hand which we are all passionate about. For me, my passion is helping the veterans (as you’ve known for many years Randy). I know what your passion is Randy. I’m sure you’ve been able to make a difference in the skin head community without bringing politics into it.

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