Monday, November 21, 2005

The Culture of Fat

I hope you all will pardon me while I climb up on my soapbox for a while and rant. I don’t normally go all postal, but I’ve been slowly boiling for a while on this topic. I wanted to wait until I had some uninterrupted time to gather my thoughts. I do have the habit of going off half-cocked, and I wanted to scrape together the two or three brain cells I still possess and try to sound halfway intelligent.

Lots of women out there have a bad body self-image. They hold this bad self-image because society tells us that we are unworthy unless we are rail-thin. They are quick to criticize their own flaws, and often imagine that they look worse than they actually do. I’m sure that everyone is guilty of this at some point, myself included. We over-emphasize our flaws to where we see a wrinkle as a yawning chasm, a little pooch of flab as a huge expanse of cottage cheese cellulite, and a slightly rounded derriere signaling all the hallmarks of steatopygia.

I understand all of this. What I do *not* understand, however, is how a culture so obsessed with political correctness can still be not only biased against fat people, but completely unrepentant about being so. In a culture where even the slightest ethnic joke can earn you stares and mutterings as if you’d just heinously farted in a packed elevator, you can bash the fatsos with gleeful abandon. Most people feel no sympathy whatsoever for the fat, assuming that they ate themselves into that situation.

There is also the assumption that the fat are inherently lazy, and in some cases, less mentally agile as well. The thinking is – “If they’re stupid enough not to know to stop eating, they must just be stupid all around.” I know a lot of people self-medicate by overindulgence in food, but people do that with booze and illicit substances as well, and there’s not the pervasive feeling that they’ve somehow failed. If a normal man drinks too much, and ends up with a massive hangover, he’s just a party animal who had a little too much fun. If the same man eats to excess and gains too much weight, he’s a fat pig. And, usually, the censure is not really placed too harshly on men – men can be overweight and just be labeled as “husky” or “beefy.” Women, however, are always just plain “fat.” Humongous. Gargantuan. Fat pigs. Obese.

There have been celebrities who have donned a “fat suit” to experience what it’s like to be a fat woman in today’s culture – most recently, I saw Tyra Banks on a news show, talking about how horrible it was for her to put on a fat suit, and the discrimination that she experienced while wearing it. Tyra explained that she had people whisper about her, laugh openly at her, and refuse to go out with her due to her size. Poor, poor Tyra. Yet Tyra got to go home, shed the suit, and go back to being a fabulous thin person instantly. Fat people have to deal with it every day. I have had people tell me what to order in restaurants, as if I’m not capable of putting anything that’s not loaded with saturated fat and cream sauce into my mouth. I have had people make fun of me within my hearing. I’ve had people make fun of me to my face. I’ve had people tell me that I was too fat to be friends with. I’ve had to pay twice as much for clothes because things at the Gap (or Old Navy or Banana Republic or wherever) aren’t made in my size. I’ve had saleswomen tell me while I browse in their stores that I must be in the wrong place, because nothing they carry will fit me. (Never mind the fact that I might have been shopping for someone else.) I have had too many men tell me that I am unattractive because I’m so fat.

I don’t expect sympathy. I don’t expect people to pity me. I just want people to understand that we know we’re fat. We’re dealing with it. We’re having a hard enough time without you making it harder for us. Some of us try every diet that comes out and exercise rigorously, to no avail. Some of us are afflicted with medical conditions that make us retain weight. Some of us eat too much and exercise too little. Some of us hide behind fat to escape loss or pain. There’s no one thing that causes us to be fat. Your comments about how fat we are do not help. Just as you wouldn’t make fun of an obviously disfigured person, you should not deride and make fun of the fat. We do have feelings, and our ears work. We can hear you.

The next time you get ready to judge someone else based on looks alone, stop. Stop and think. Does this person’s weight really have anything to do with the kind of person they are? Does it make them less kind or less intelligent? Does it make them less of a person? Is it right to crack a fat joke? Just as you wouldn’t make a joke about “homos” or “wetbacks”, you shouldn’t insult us by making fun of us, either. I’d like people to get to know me, and decide what they feel about me based on my personality, not my weight. I’d like people *everywhere* to STOP (for God’s sake) saying “But you’d be so pretty if you’d just lose some weight!” That’s a slap in the face. It implies that not only are you NOT good enough how you are, that you never will be until you lose some weight. Don’t make fun of us, or talk about us as if we’re not there. We can hear you.


Running2Ks said...

You couldn't be more right. And it needed to be said.

Beanie Baby said...


All kinds of prejudice are wrong. And it's so not ok to decide what someone is like or how they live from what they look like.

jo(e) said...

You said this so well.

Phantom Scribbler said...

What jo(e) said. This is very eloquent!

corndog said...

As a fat man, let me thank you for putting into clear and strong words what I've been feeling for awhile, but couldn't seem to express.

It especially drives me crazy to see liberal bloggers, who would never use an ethnic slur, or call someone who says something stupid "retarded," acting as if it's the height of humor to make fun of Jonah Goldberg for being fat. I've easily got 50 pounds on the guy, so regardless of my political persuasion, or my insight or my humor, I guess I'd also be an object of derision to them. We're supposed to be better than that. Thanks for reminding us.

KLee said...

Thanks, guys. For letting me rant, reading it, and being so supportive.

Dr. Dog -- you're not what I would call "fat." I'll have to post a picture of myself soon. That's fat. Like I said, men can get away with being "Big and Tall" and women are "whales." Besides, I knew I liked you long before I saw a picture of you.

I'm just tired of people talking about me as if I weren't there. Or, as if I'm nothing more than a "fat person." That my life has no other meaning. Never mind that I'm a mother, a wife, a teacher, a leader, a friend, an artist. All of those things are codicils, adjuncts. It's very frustrating. And, it makes me feel hopeless sometimes.

Songbird said...

Well said, KLee.

Yankee T said...

Thank you for writing this, KLee. One of my favorite lines ever from a celebrity was when Camryn Manheim accepted the Emmy for The Practice, and she said, "This is for all the fat girls out there!"
I constantly worry that I won't be taken seriously because of my weight.
And, by the way, in addition to all the other things that you listed yourself as being, you are a brilliant writer.

ccw said...

Very well said.

yankee, is absolutely right, you are a brilliant and honest writer and your blog is a pleasure to read.

liz said...

You said this so well.

halloweenlover said...

Beautiful and SO SO SO right, Klee. I think it is so easy to assume that a person is overweight because they choose to be, and are therefore "worthy" or deserving of discrimination. That is WRONG WRONG WRONG and besides, unfair and cruel.

Thank you for writing this.

KLee said...

Thanks, all. YT: I love Camryn Mannheim's attitude. She has made the most of what she's got, and I truly admire her for it.

As for being a "writer", I'm not sure that I'd classify myself as one, but I do occasionally play one on TV. :) No, I consider this blog not so much "writing" as "cheap therapy." It's much more healthy for me to gripe and get it out than mull it over and stew about whatever it is.

CCW: thanks, and ditto! I know I always find stuff on your blog that I could have written. You also are a wonderful writer, and I can very well imagine I'm a fly on the wall in your living room a lot of the time. :>)

Liz and songbird: Thanks! I appreciate your visits and comments more than you know.

HL: It is wrong, but we all are still trained to think that it's not a big deal to make fun of the fatties. It's not so much that most people are *trying* to be cruel, they just don't realize how adversely they're affecting the people around them. How many times have we said (me included0 "Oooh, I'll get fat if I eat that!" Like "fat" automatically equals "bad." It's become so ingrained, such an automatic response that we don't even realize how biased we are.

purple_kangaroo said...

Why do people feel a need to comment on people's size or treat people differently because of it--whether larger, smaller, taller or shorter than the "norm"?

Why can't people just see people as people?

allison said...

Fantastic post. I am one of those (I'm ashamed to admit) that over critisizes her body. It's something I've got to learn to drop, for my fear of passing that irrationality and self absorption on to my daughter, or sons. And for my own sense of peace and acceptance of myself. But what you are describing is an ongoing converstation between my mother and me, as making fun of fat or overweight people seems to be the last acceptable form of discrimination. As my sister is what has been described as "morbidly obese" (by her doctor), our children have gotten an earful of how we do and don't treat peopl, and how we do not judge people for their outsides. And we're a bit hypersensive to the issue in general, seeing the hurts she receives on an ongoing basis. It is a sad situation when we as people will forgive just about anyother thing under the sun, but being "fat" (have to put that word in quotations, my mom drilled me from a young age that was nearly akin to those other words you mention, like "homos". It may not be to you, or someone else, but it is to her).

Thanks for your honesty.

KLee said...

Allison -- I know what your sister feels, because I, too, have had the label "morbidly obese" slapped on me for many more years than I care to admit.

The sad part is, you and your mother probably know only about half of what has been said to her, and done to her. We typically don't tell people (or confront people who say rude things) because we are so ashamed ourselves. We are taught from a very young age that this is something we can -- or should be able to -- control. That our weight is our fault (and to some extent, that's correct) and that we *made* ourselves this way on purpose. It's like the fundamentalists saying gay people *choose* to be gay. They don't choose that! That's part of who they are! Some people who come out are treated terribly -- why would they choose that pain for themselves? Why would a fat person *choose* that sort of ostracism? (To all of those out there who are gay, and who are struggling with coming out -- please don't mistunderstand...I'm not trying to ridicule you, or to imply that your pain is somehow less. My point is that some of the issues you may face and the responses you see from friends and family are on a parallel with some of the things fat people face. We both get constant censure from our families, we may lose friends, etc.)

I'm glad to see that you have worked so hard to make your sister feel loved and special. That's her right. I only wish more parents and siblings were as similarly open-minded. Please tell your sister that I'm thinking of her. And that I know what she's going through.

Friday Mom said...

Beautifully said, KLee. You're absolutely right. I hate the way people seem so self-righteous and justified in their critiques of others who are overweight. The impact it has on body-image, for women in particular, is devastating.

Just wanted to wish you a Happy Thanksgiving.

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