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Back You are here: Home Feminism & Pop Culture Feminism & Pop Culture Body policing and fat hate are related, but they are not the same

Body policing and fat hate are related, but they are not the same

fatacceptanceThere’s a near constant stream of non-fat people who want to horn in on fat acceptance spaces, who want to identify themselves as “fat” or say they feel “fat”. Meg Freeman feels the constant need to remind these people of the title statement, particularly those who say they are just like her because they’ve had someone say they should lose weight or make a remark about their body that was unkind.

10 April 2011

The problem with this is that when you, a thin or “average” (I use quotation marks because what’s considered average is, well, not so average) or non-overweight person tries to appropriate that to cover anything that you don’t like about your body, you’re not only erasing me but you’re trying to steal words and concepts that I desperately need, concepts that I need to reclaim so that I can talk about my body and myself in positive ways, so that I can express to the world what I need and who I am.

See, here’s the thing. People, especially female-bodied people and/or those who identify themselves as women, get a lot of body policing. It’s part of the patriarchy’s strategy to break folks down and get them to obey. And that’s wrong and I have no problem with such folks wanting to reclaim pride in their bodies and give a big ol’ middle finger to anyone who says that if you don’t look a certain way, you can’t be beautiful or you can’t be a real woman. I’m really down with that.

But there’s a reality to being fat that’s not just about having, say, a pooch to your otherwise flat stomach you don’t like, or a little cellulite on the back of your thighs or a slightly bigger booty or slightly smaller breasts than you want.

See, when you’re actual fat, you enter a whole other world where it’s not just that you feel bad, it’s that you get treated even worse.

When you’re actually fat, this is what you get:

- Almost nobody looks like you on TV, in the movies, in pop music - in anything that is remotely construed to be positive. If they do, writers for magazines call the very act of those people kissing gross, or those people are villains because their size conveniently shorthands for their moral failings, or they’re just side characters.

One way or the other, you never just get to enjoy seeing a show or a movie where there’s a protagonist, in the fore, who looks like you and gets to be as cool and awesome as everyone else. You don’t get to see people who like you as reporters, even.

Or in commercials that aren’t directly related to weight loss. You never just get to see a fat person shilling detergent or toothpaste or, hell, food products. All those things are sold to you by thin people.

The musicians that get popular enough to make it onto the charts do not look like you. You have to look outside the mainstream to find fat artists, because most pop musicians these days are chosen for their looks.

Consider American Idol for a moment. It’s amazing how many of them are very young and thin. It’s like fat people can’t sing or something! All shows that do feature a lot of fat people will focus solely on weight loss, and will encourage people to do extreme things to lose that weight even when it hurts them. And people will use these shows as evidence that you’re just not “trying hard enough”.

- When you go into a doctor’s office, you may not receive health care. If you do, it may be low quality health care. Things like scales and blood pressure cuffs and other equipment may not fit you or accommodate you.

Nurses and doctors may conspire to say that your numbers (blood sugar, blood pressure, etc) are higher or worse than they are to motivate you to become thin. You may receive dirty looks, even outright scorn.

You’ll see the very health care professionals you need to help you posting things like this on the internet about how disgusting they find you.

Now, try having that going through your head the next time a doctor or nurse has to touch you to examine you. Try having it go through your head when you’re deciding whether you’re sick enough that you will risk the negative consequences to go see a doctor (if, indeed, you can).

Because when you are fat, a trip to any health care setting is a gamble at the best of time. You may go for a minor problem, say, allergies and end up having a doctor who will not take more than one minute to do that and spends 30 minutes lecturing you while you’re trapped on an exam table, telling you that you should stop eating french fries and not drink anything but water and when you tell him that your allergies are so bad you have trouble breathing he simply says, “Just breathe through your mouth” and continues to tell you that you’re going to die at 50 and demands to test you for diabetes and declares you to be diabetic before doing any tests.

You may go to a gynecologist and have her immediately begin by talking about weight loss when really, you’d like to explore options for birth control or you’re having other symptoms like painful periods or periods that are absent for a year when you’re not pregnant or fatigue that is so staggering that you cannot function.

When you want to talk about a different birth control because yours is giving you migraines or depressive symptoms or completely robbing you of libido or causing epic cramps, she’ll say, “But this one can help you lose weight!”

When you turn on the news, not a week will go by that someone doesn’t say you are part of an epidemic. An obesity epidemic. They will talk about how more and more Americans are becoming like you, and how this is bad, and how it will mean that we die sooner, get sick more often, and burden other people.

They will show shots of people with bodies like your (not thin bodies with pooches or cellulite - actual fat bodies) with no heads, usually with a soda or food in hand or a shopping bag in hand, people who don’t seem to realize that they are being filmed at all, people who obviously didn’t get asked their permission. Showing their bodies is meant to scare thin audiences and shame fat ones. And when you are fat, it is everywhere.

When you are fat, public transport becomes a whole new battle. You will wonder if you will be allowed on this flight or kicked off if a thin passenger complains about you even being there. Not that you’re doing anything to them besides just existing in their space, but if they complain likely they will either get reseated or you’ll get kicked off the flight that you paid for.

Or you’ll be told to buy two tickets. When you get on a bus or a subway or a train, you may have to stand because the seats aren’t wide enough to accommodate you unless the train is empty. And if you’re in the NYC subway system you will have to ride underneath "pouring in the pounds" ads that show mounds of disgusting fat cascading from soda bottles, a clear campaign to make the very tissue that makes up your body as distasteful to everyone as possible, to draw a falsely clear line between your body and the food and drink choice you make (and are able to make).

Everywhere you go, there will be ads telling you to lose weight, lose weight, lose weight. But the happy people in them will be the thin people or average sized people. Beside those thin people will be dumpy, badly lit home photos of a fat person, a person like you, as proof that somewhere inside there’s a thin person who wants to come out of you.

Because when you’re fat, you’re not really who you are, you’re not really even a person. You’re a thin person silenced by layers of blubber. You’re a person who can’t possibly be happy or active or healthy until you take this or do that or get your digestive system mutilated surgically so that you become thin.

If you go outside to exercise you may have people taunt you, glare at you, stare at you, throw things at you, shout at you from moving vehicles, call you names, and otherwise harass you. Just for jogging or walking or doing any kind of exercise where other people can see you.

And yet, you will be told by those obesity epidemic newscasts and those weight loss ads that you should continue exercising at all costs, that it’s your fault if you’re not.

If you don’t have anywhere to exercise or if you have a disability or other circumstance that prevents you from exercising or makes it 1000x as hard as it is for other people, you will still be told that it is your own fault because you are a fatty and your fat is causing this.

If you go to a gym, you may find that the equipment was not sized for you (a bitter irony considering that everyone and their uncle loves to tell you how badly you need to exercise). You may find that weight machines or stationary bikes are uncomfortable or impossible to use. You may find that you get ugly looks from thin people who think that you are invading their space by being there.

When you eat at a restaurant, servers will assume that you are the one who orders the diet soda and the salad even if you ordered a cheeseburger and a coke. What you order will be scrutinized by everyone who sees you ordering it or eating it.

People will stare, people will make comments. Some people will even come up to you and say these things. Your family may say these things. Your family may specially plan “low calorie/low fat/sugar free” meals when you come over or make those foods for you and eat regular foods for themselves because they’re just trying to help you and they love you and they’re concerned.

You will sit at a table and eat a sugar free cake that tastes like crap while your relatives eat something else and you will feel like crawling under something. People pity or disdain or hate you if you order something that isn’t a salad or a diet soda.

If you do get a salad or something, people will still point and make remarks, either saying “oh, well, at least they’re trying” or “that isn’t a really healthy salad is it?” or even “yeah, fatty, eat a salad for once!” - and many will not care if you can hear them JUST FINE when they say this.

When you are fat, you will have people encourage you to lose weight, but not just with diet and exercise. They will encourage you to get major surgery, to take this pill, to go to this person.

They will show you reruns of episodes of the Biggest Loser and say that you should do that, and they will ignore it when you tell them that some of those people either got hurt or dehydrated themselves until they peed blood to get that thin.

Or they will say “that’s not so bad, you should try it!”. This topic will come up regularly, perhaps constantly. This topic may come up every time you see a certain person, or certain people. You will have to decide whether it’s worth a weight loss lecture or concern trolling to interact with them.

People will compliment you if you look like you’ve lost weight, even if you lost that weight by being so ill that you couldn’t eat or keep your food down for two weeks straight, or because you’re so dehydrated that you’re about to pass out.

You will be told that your outfit makes you look a bit fatter than usual, by someone who is just concerned about you. You will listen to smaller, thinner people telling you about every diet they’ve ever been on and how if it helped them lose 10 pounds to fit into a wedding dress or to get into a certain outfit, it will obviously be successful in taking 100 pounds off yours.

You will listen to people point to people who are your size and say, “God, it must be so sad to be that big!” or “Shoot me if I ever get THAT fat” or “How does someone let themselves get like that!” Often, they’ll say it while you’re right there. They’ll expect you to comment on it.

If you dare to speak up and say that no, that person is not fat or pathetic, you will get an argument or you will get people denying you and saying that your lived experience is wrong and false.

When you are in certain public spaces, people will feel free to take pictures of you, stare at you, point at you. If you have a mobility or assistive device, people will assume your weight is the reason and that you don’t really need it, you’re being lazy.

Sometimes these pictures will get posted, without consent, on the internet. Dozens, sometimes hundreds, of people will comment about how pathetic you are, how you’re a worthless person, how you’re everything that’s wrong with your nation, your race, your gender, your age, your region, your type of person.

They will laugh. They will make jokes. If you want your picture taken down, if you’re hurt by this, you will be told you deserved it. You will be told that you shouldn’t have been so fat.

The question of what you’re supposed to do if you’re already fat and you need groceries will go unanswered with the assumption that if you’re fat, you probably just shouldn’t eat.

Other people who may be slightly overweight or less overweight will will play the “am I as fat as that person?” game when you walk by or when they see a picture of you. Thin people will play the, “How much do you think they WEIGH? *boggle*” game when you walk by or they see a picture of you.

Your body and the words to describe it will become insults. Any insult is magnified by putting fat in front of it! “Fat bitch”, “fat whore”, “fat cunt”, “fat faggot”. All worse for the “fat” being there, because any of these things is a little bit better if you’re not fat.

People will use this word liberally and will make fun of you or yell at you or outright get hostile if you tell them to stop it, that you deserve respect. They will use these insults in all sorts of settings, all around you. They will say them at you, and others will laugh and think they are clever.

When you go to apply to a job, the decks will be stacked against you. You will get laughed at sometimes if you go to apply for a server at a restaurant where the owner obviously wants to hire only skinny, blonde teenagers and college students to serve hot wings to his clientele.

You will have an HR manager or an interviewer raise an eyebrow and ask you what you’re doing there.

You will walk into an office full of people who look at you and wonder where you came from because you can’t possibly there to work with them in that smart, high pressure environment. You’re too fat to keep up with them.

You will have your very ability to do a job put into question at first sight just because of your size. You will have your work ethic put into doubt.

You will have your intelligence and morality put into question. You will have someone calculating the costs of giving you employer-provided health insurance if they hire you as part of consideration as to whether to hire you - and the thin applicants won’t.

When you go to malls, department stores, and other places where clothing is bought, you may often find that nothing in the store fits you. You may go to entire malls where you can’t buy anything clothing-related. You may have to travel to another town or a much larger city that’s an hour or two away from you to get clothing that both fits and makes you feel remotely attractive.

You may have to scour the internet, you may have to cling to the few larger size stores you can find, hoping that they’ll continue carrying items that you like because they’re the only places you can shop.

You may have to master the art of making your own clothes out of necessity as much as being a hobby because otherwise, you’ll be stuck wearing clothes that make you feel bad about yourself.

You may find that there is only one store in three story mall that carries your size or sizes, and that you are forced to buy from there even though the prices are often higher and you may not like anything there, but you have to. Because otherwise, you won’t have ANYTHING to wear. Literally.

And when you are fat and you find a blog that highlights people like you, that’s made for people like you, you will find that thin people try to co-opt it. They will submit pictures of themselves in clothing they bought in a store you’ve never been able to shop at, they will talk about “feeling” fat and never wonder if the scale will go up to their weight at a doctor’s office, if there will be a hospital gown in their size.

They will talk about their body woes while talking about how they flew on an airplane with no fear that they’d be kicked off or on a bus with no worries about finding a seat to sit in that would accommodate them.

They will talk about going to school and not worry about whether the desks and chairs will fit them comfortably. And while they are doing all this, they will act like their lives are just like yours.

They will insist that they are JUST LIKE YOU and they know what you go through because they went on a diet once or they don’t like a part of their body. And you will have to fight and struggle and sputter to try to explain that it isn’t the same at all.

And they will not listen. Because you are fat, and your body has always been there to serve thin people, to make them feel better, to be their sin eater.

So when you say you “feel fat”, or when you point to some other part of your size 6 body that you don’t like?

What you’re really doing is saying that it doesn’t matter what I go through, because if I manage to scrape together some space of solidarity and acceptance for people like me, it’s still yours to take over whenever you like, because feeling sorry for and celebrating a thin person who learns to like their stomach pooch is more important than giving some space to people who are ostracized, criticized, hated, marginalized, erased, ignored, pushed out, pushed away, and constantly berated.

If you want spaces for body pride of all sizes, that’s fine. But create those spaces or seek them out. Don’t try to wedge your thin self into our spaces because you saw something you liked and wanted it for yourself. Because it’s less important to you that fat people have even one place to be comfortable than for you to have everything in the whole world when you already do.

Author's Note: If you'd like to see my response to Tiara the Merch Girl’s commentary on this topic, feel free to go to my blog.

Meg Freeman is a pansexual woman living in Queens, New York City, a Southern girl originally from Tennessee. She works as a researcher for a travel information company and whenever she can, she writes whatever she can. She blogs at Madame Thursday where this article first appeared.



0 #3 Lia 2011-05-08 02:03
Jacko, you seem to have missed the point that there is more to health than fat -- and that the way fat and health intersect is often not what you might assume.
0 #2 Jacko 2011-04-12 21:56
What utter lunacy. There is a difference between accepting variation within normal limits and promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. Spare me the martyr act.
0 #1 Fran 2011-04-12 09:03
Great work.

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