Not Yours for the Metaphoring

I have had about enough of fat bodies being used to represent everything from  greed to laziness to a supposed health crisis.  Pictures of headless fatties – who were typically not compensated or asked for their permission – litter the internet accompanying articles about rising healthcare costs (even though the CBO’s independent report showed that we’re not the issue), representing over-consumption of fast-food, even though there is no proof that fat people eat any more fast food than people of other sizes.  Our bodies are freely used for whatever the negative metaphor, comparison, or representation of the day is.  As if we have no feelings about seeing people who look like us constantly used to represent everything bad in the world, as if those feelings aren’t important.

People don’t take care of things that they don’t think are worthy of care, and so I consider the use of headless fatty pictures – which are designed to show fat bodies as shameful and bad –  to be detrimental to public health.

Our bodies are not yours to photograph and throw all over the internet as a metaphor for anything.  We are PEOPLE, these are our BODIES, and EVERY BODY deserves respect.

Of course we each get to choose how to deal with our oppression and nobody is under any obligation to do it as I’m suggesting.  I propose a little bit of simple at-home activism.  Every time you see a picture of a headless fatty on the internet representing something negative, leave a comment like “No More Headless Fatties – Every Body Deserves Respect!” If you want to take it one step further send an e-mail to the source of the story – tell them your personal story, send them this blog whatever, but let’s teach people that this behavior isn’t ok.  Also, I’ve found that this kind of activism can reframe this issue for me – now instead of feeling angry or hurt or ashamed when I see a headless fatty picture, I can look at it as a chance to educate and stand up for myself.

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26 thoughts on “Not Yours for the Metaphoring

  1. I don’t know the name of the company creating this but I do think they need to be stopped…They put up these billboards of little girls with sayings like “It’s hard to be a little girl when you’re not” or “Being chubby takes the fun out of being a kid” Every time I see these billboards it makes me want to slap the person who thought that shaming little girls was a good idea…and yes it’s always little girls…never boys…and the the girls are always looking miserable and greyscaled with those horrible phrases in blazing white letters…and the website in big red letters in the corner…I think it’s strong something or other dot com. If anyone knows what I’m talking about (I live in GA and I always see those signs along the main highways in Atlanta) please link to them…I believe Ragen might be just the person to tell them what for and be a person these little girls can look up to.

      1. The fact that the people behind this are supposed to be the “authorities” on healthcare and think that “tough love” is the way to go about it is sad. Just sad. 😦

    1. Ashley, I live in Atlanta too and I know exactly what you mean. They make me want to scream. My heart especially goes out to that little girl in the photo–what where her braindead parents thinking when they allowed them to put her image up for ridicule like that? Did they think they would shame her into putting down those cookies or something? I hate people sometimes.

      1. Yep…that’s them alright :(…this is just so sad…I mean do their parents even stop for one minute to think about what they are doing? Thousands heck maybe even millions of people are seeing pictures of these poor kids…did they really think that this was for the best? Oh and the kids names are on there as well…how delightful.

      2. I heard about this campaign before but wow; “Ignoring THIS problem…”

        Underneath the picture of a child is something else, big liberty is right, “child obesity”=children.

        As for the above slogan “being chubby takes the fun out of being a kid” it’s more like, “Being chubby is the excuse we use to take the fun out of being a child.” Rather like other adults who feel children exist as a vehicle for their opinions.

        There is some deep child hatred being accessed through “child obesity campaigns”.

  2. I love you, Ragen. As always, an awesome and important post. Just wanted to give readers who are interested a heads up that I have an easy reading document that I always send to the press to help educate on how to write sensitively about fat issues (and of course brings up the “headless fatty” issue), called A MESSAGE FOR JOURNALISTS/WRITERS/PEOPLE IN THE MEDIA: COVERING WEIGHT CONCERNS. It’s here : A series of educational letters related to other professions/attitudes can be found here (or in my book):

    1. Hi Linda,

      Thank you so much! Sorry it took me awhile to approve this comment (I’m not even sure why it ended up in moderation…) but I’ve been traveling, I’ll make sure to point people here when I do follow up blogs. You are such an amazing person and such an amazing resource, thank you for everything!!!


  3. That website sounds godawful & I pray that my granddaughters never see it & especially that my older son does not, because he would agree with it. It is his life’s mission to make certain that he, his wife, & their daughter never get fat.

    BTW, my d-i-l has worked for McDonald’s for years & I have heard from her & also read many places that the typical most frequent customers of fast food restaurants & the ones who eat the most are thin young males, from mid-teens to late 20’s or so. People of all sizes eat fast food, of course, myself included at times, but virtually NO ONE, regardless of the stories circulated, lives on fast food & the ones who eat it most are usually thin people.

    And regardless of what you eat, how much you eat, whether or not you exercise, whether or not you have health issues, what size you are, you are a human being, you are entitled to your dignity, to respect, to access in the world, to ownership of your own life & body. You indeed are not public property & you are not a metaphor; you are a unique, individual human being.

  4. The campaign with the billboards is It’s a campaign to stop childhood obesity in Georgia. The interesting thing to me is that the little videos they have on the website refer to how miserable fat kids are and how they get picked on. Maybe it would be good to target the bullying and the cultural biases, not just the fat kids??

    1. Oh no, Chris…that would make sense. They can’t go around spreading that those bullies are to blame! Why, the very Earth itself might implode from the sheer magnitude of the Noshitsherlocks colliding with the atmosphere.

  5. Here in the UK, the BBC are especially guilty of this – not only do ‘obesity’ news stories on their website usually feature headless fatties, but on TV news items they keep using the same old news footage of headless fat people walking down the street.

    Just checked the website and, ah yes, here we are, there’s one there right now:

    This is our national, license-fee-payer-funded (i.e. supposedly non-commercial) TV station, and they’re totally in thrall to the myth.

      I was just coming here to post about that one! It’s especially sick because of the misogynistic angle and the fact that it practically ends by implying that all fat people are uneducated and dishonest about what they eat. Because someone has to be eating those 5 billion extra calories!

      I particularly hate the way the BBC will end any article about a HAES-positive study with the disclaimer that obviously being fat is still bad, and we should all eat less and move more! I would like to be able to expect better from such an authoritative voice as the BBC!

      Also – what sort of person sits on a street waiting to snap photos of strangers’ backsides?

      1. theHuldra: Stock photographers, that’s who. It’s cheaper and easier for editors to look for an existing image on a stock website than to commission their own photographer.

        Out of curiosity, I just went and checked out one stock agency. A search on ‘fat people’ brings up over 9000 results – some of them obviously posed (e.g. people in their underwear being measured or on scales), but many taken in public, from behind or from a distance. The law (here in the UK) states that model release isn’t required for photos in which the subject isn’t identifiable, but I’m betting a lot of those people would recognize themselves. You can also look for images by the same photographer, and it’s clear that yes, some of these people do go out with their cameras looking for fat people.

        It’s no doubt easy for the photographers to say that this stuff sells, but they have a choice. My husband, while he’s a stock photographer himself (that’s how I know of this particular site), would never photograph anyone without their consent. Especially not for this purpose.

      2. Because someone has to be eating those 5 billion extra calories!

        And of course, it’s necessarily the fatties. Thanks, BBC.

        I also felt like this part was at best incomplete — at worst, dishonest:

        “The figures suggested that the proportion of women who are obese or overweight falls as the educational level rises.”

        What it fails to address is that there are links between education and income — and between income and access to affordable, nutritious food and safe and practical exercise options. What that says to me is that we should be working to remove systemic barriers to health — rather than shaming fat people by projecting all sorts of negative stereotypes onto them.

      3. Re: On streets waiting to snap photos of stranger’s backsides.

        I don’t quite understand. The same people who are saying that fat people don’t exercise are the people who can’t bear seeing all the fat people ‘waddling around’. Well, isn’t that exercise??? If the fat people really didn’t exercise, there’d be no-one on the streets to be photographed.

    1. That’s a great resource and a good start, but they need to expand their images. Those all look like casual senior portraits–I used to work in a photo lab and I’d see a ton of these each spring! They need more cityscapes, people working, people eating, people sleeping, people with the flu, people on the job, medical stock art, office stock art, and for the good health people: happy fat people jogging, taking exercise classes, walking on the beach, cooking healthy food, acting all excited about salads, and biting into apples (all stock art stereotypes)–just normal people doing normal things.

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