Seriously, have you looked at yourself?
This morning the Inter-netz delivers me Laura Washington’s fresh column regarding Kevin Smith’s recent flying debacle. A recap for those not in the know: mid-February of this year the Hollywood director was kicked off a Southwest Air flight for being too fat. He proceeded, in view of his 1.6 million Twitter followers (and though a podcast), to object to a “sizest” and “rude” policy of the airline, his objections – to my view – equally eloquent and profane (a mix I myself enjoy muchly). Mr. Smith is a vociferous tweeter – he sends out about a couple dozen messages a day. The story was likely featured in our media as much as it was because, A. we love talking about celebrities who are fat, B. Kevin Smith is vocal – and eloquent and profane, and C. Kevin Smith is much-liked and much-followed (whatever you, dear reader, may think of him, if you think of him at all).
Ms. Washington’s column this morning is completely familiar and, sad to say, typical: “fat people are unhealthy and gross, and they should all lose weight, because it’s wrong to live that way.” I don’t know Ms. Washington and up until this morning had not read a column of hers; I have no reason to believe she would care at all for my thoughts or that she would be interested in challenging her worldview. I probably shouldn’t write her an email – as a friend quickly tweets to me this morning: “I thought I heard the rule ‘Don’t feed the trolls’ from you”.*
But you know, some of the best things that happen for me are the day-to-day discussions between people trying to understand one another. It’s true that finding other like-minded people is an essential supportive mechanism that many, myself included, employ. But I also know healthy changes (individual or society-at-large) are threatened by encampment with only those who share similar ideologies. So, a letter I decide to write:
Your recent column is troubling because it is seems to be more fat hate. Shaming the obese does not help them make positive changes in their life; there is every piece of evidence to believe it actually makes things worse for them. Shaming the obese is quite trendy in the media these days.
You also seem to not understand Fat Acceptance; your assertion the proponents avoid the phrase “fat” means you have not read some of the more important sites regarding Fat / Body Acceptance. But I must admit, when I first read into the subject I was confused, a bit disgusted, and it seemed contrary to everything about health that I had previously understood. Fortunately, because I’d heard from credible sources it really is a human rights issue, I kept reading, and reading. I’m glad I kept reading and I wish more would consider doing so. It is a challenging subject but it has improved my life in so many ways – many seemingly entirely unrelated to body acceptance and much more along the lines of clear thinking, compassion, and a more fine-tuned ear to our social environments today.
I’m always sad to read another author who jumps on the all-too-common “fat people are gross and unhealthy and causing us all these problems” bandwagon. Just know you’re in – I won’t say, “good company”, but, lots of company. I’m sure your comments section will be full of, “fat people are gross and wrong”, etc.
If you are interested in continuing a discussion I would be happy to send a few links that I have found wonderful, relevant, and helpful for my own life, as well as share some of my own experiences.
I sent the email; it bounced immediately. Looks like the Chicago Sun-Times needs to update their author’s email information.
But: I’m not sure I’m the best person to address random online Fat Haters directly (you know a couple who really, really are? Michelle Allison and Kate Harding: see links below). It’s not that I don’t fully relate to Fat Hate – I do: I used to be a card-carrying Fat Hater. And these days, although my mind has changed, it’s not as if I am neutral or laissez-faire on the topic – I fully comprehend it is a terrible, terrible thing that so many in our culture engage in (including, it would seem, our own First Lady; her well-intentioned – uh, I choose to believe – “Let’s Move” campaign, entirely focused on the word and concept of “obesity” – thus framing a “health” debate irrespective of health, conjuring up images of lazy, bratty kids sitting on couches playing video games and fisting snack mix into their faces). I take Fat Hate seriously because A. I am friends with actual fat human beings, and even if I weren’t, I object to seeing any human denigrated, B. We have health problems in our culture and those aren’t being properly addressed by the OBESITY SCARE; C. worse than that, we have those who are large, obese, and really, really obese being shamed constantly by the media and culture around them; they visit their physicians (if they can afford one) and are often told their weight or size is a problem (even when it isn’t, and sometimes when more pressing problems need examination and treatment). After such experiences some don’t return to doctors, ever. Many don’t get their health diagnosed properly. I could write more about Fat Hate and just how pervasive, destructive, and obfuscating it is, but believe me when I say I have read, read, read on the subject and I remain convinced – net gain for our public health/well-being: negative.
What I’ve found works well for me is to try to have discussions with the Real Actual People in my life – when the subject comes up. Unsurprisingly, these conversations don’t always go wonderfully – but at least in face-to-face contact with acquaintances and family who – for whatever reason – do not believe I am sticking up for TEH FATTIEZ because I, personally, want to lie on a pudding-encrusted beanbag chair all day and inject bacon grease – well, these conversations have gone well enough. If nothing else, I am glad to startle my friends and family, who have come to rely on the songs of diet and self-loathing so much that any other response is a surprise. My friends simply aren’t hearing the typical litany from my lips.
In other words, when my girlfriend says, “Oh ugh, I’m so fat,” she expects me to say something like: “Oh my gosh, I know what you mean, I am simply bulging out of my jeans!” What she got instead: “Do you think you’re fat?” a considered question on my part. At this she says, “Well, yeah, I mean…” and I watch her puzzle over her answer: isn’t it obvious she is So Fat? Why would I ask her this? She definitely expects that as she shames herself I will respond either of two ways: “You’re not fat!” (the knee-jerk response some men Har-har over as the ONLY correct one, because Oooh ladies are scary and silly and neurotic when they call themselves fat!), or “I am fat too! Yay verily, I am in the same Wretchedly Inadequate Boat as you; let’s hate ourselves together”.
After a bit, listening to her experience and her feelings of fatness, I tell her truthfully, “I think you’re beautiful the way you are.”**
My in-person conversations are going well enough, although they have their roadblocks and speed bumps. I was recently treated to a long, mansplainy lecture by a beloved friend who told me no really Kelly, Calories In – Activity = How Fat You Are, including the use of various dinner utensils at the table to illustrate his point. More personally – and more painfully – I have witnessed my mother’s arguments with her new boyfriend, who praises her for her weight loss efforts and will not allow a Genuine Fat Person to pass them on the street without saying, “That’s so sad.” Last summer my mother, likely influenced by our conversations together, told me how she defiantly said to this man, “I’m not losing weight for you or for approval, I’m losing it for my health!” She wanted me to Yay-Sister! her, and to agree this dude was seriously overstepping. Instead I said, “What’s the difference between the entitlement of his comments about your person and your body, and the fact you’ve been dieting your whole life?” It hurt a little, because contrary to what you might think I don’t always enjoy challenging someone in a vulnerable area. It also wasn’t a sudden flower of Understanding opening up between us, either; in that moment my mother was not willing to understand and admit that she’d spent her life calorie-counting in an effort to be smaller – and she was definitely not in a position, challenged suddenly when she thought she’d be getting a feminist fist-pump from her adult daughter, to even consider what effect her constant weight-loss efforts and poor body image might have had on her children.
You may be surprised to know how many people – even when they don’t enjoy feeling bad about themselves, when they are not willing to give up Fat Hate or The Fantasty Of Being Thin (dear reader, if you click-through none of my other listed links, please do read this essay as linked below), when they know their personal efforts of dieting and excercise only result in temporary weight-loss – are simply not wiling to change their worldviews. I wish it were so simple, but what I am discovering is that body intolerance and self-loathing, besides being the morally correct de rigueur lifestyle, have a few very seductive upsides – sure, it’s a poisoned apple, but it tastes so sweet going down and besides, everyone else is doing it.
I can still fight the good fight of talking to friends and family; I am learning from them and, I hope, they learn from me. But tackling someone online whom I don’t know? Someone who seems entrenched in the “hate people for their own good” mentality? Should I attempt to speak to or dialogue with this person?
Sure, why not? I just know it might not go very well at all.
Oh, and please note – I actually think the accompanying picture here is of an adorably cute animal, lest ye think I am a porcine bigot.
“Kevin Smith is in denial, and it’ll kill him”, online at the Chicago Sun-Times
Kevin Smith’s Twitter feed
* What’s a troll? This. Also: Concern-trolling techniques, addressed.
Michelle Allison, The Fat Nutritionist
Kate Harding’s site, Shapely Prose
“Let’s Move”, Michelle Obama’s anti-childhood obesity campaign
A response to Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move”, by Kate Harding
** You know what’s funny? Fat Haters claim that by proclaiming a compassionate message – or hells, even saying, “You are beautiful” to someone who may actually be fat – we are personally giving someone a Lifetime Fat-Ass Voucher that they will immediately employ to disgusting, disastrous affect. But you can absolutely not tell by this anecdotal (and true) story how “fat” my friend is. Like, is she a “fat” size 6, or 12, or 32? The reason you cannot tell is because So. Many. Women. (& some men) believe they are “fat” and flawed – irrespective of their actual body mass and size.
“The Fantasy Of Being Thin”, at Shapely Prose
A response to Jamie Oliver’s latest effort, more anti-obesity FOR THE CHILDREN