George Takei is awesome for many reasons. There’s the Star Trek awesomeness, the outspoken queer rights and anti-bullying advocate awesomeness, and the Facebook page with the very funny pictures awesomeness. Yesterday he posted a picture of three actors who had played Star Trek Captains. Two of them are more chunky and one is ripped. The caption said “Apparently only one of the ships came equipped with a gym.” the accompanying note said “help me spread this like a virus”.
Before I get into the whole joke thing, one thing I will never understand is GLBT people who don’t support fat rights. I don’t know George Takei’s take (except that he was ok with making this fat joke), but Dan Savage comes to mind here as well as any number of non-famous gay people who I’ve heard and seen make this argument. Let’s take a minute to examine this.
One argument often used against queer rights is that being queer is a choice. GLBT people rightly argue that we are better witnesses to our experience than those who are not us, and that even if we could choose to be straight, we shouldn’t have to because we have the right to love any adults we want.
One argument used against fat people is that being fat is a choice. Fat people rightly argue that we are better witnesses to our experience than those who are not us, and that even if we could choose to be thin, we shouldn’t have to because our bodies are our business.
Another argument used against GLBT people is that our “lifestyle” is unhealthy, both physically and mentally. Queer people rightly argue that physical health risks can be mitigated or eliminated in ways other than becoming straight (which is a good thing because the chances of that are very low) and that mental health issues that exist are most likely due to stigma and the cure for social stigma is not becoming straight, it’s ending social stigma.
Another argument used against Fat people is that our “lifestyle” is unhealthy, both physically and mentally. Fat people rightly argue that physical health issues can be mitigated or eliminated in ways other than becoming thin (which is a good thing because the chances of that are very low) and that mental health issues that exist are most likely due to stigma and the cure for social stigma is not becoming thin, it’s ending social stigma.
The comparisons go on but hopefully you get the idea. Get it together queer people and get on the fat rights bandwagon.
Anyway, back to George Takei. I left a message on his FB saying “It seems inconsistent to me that you would be against bullying and shaming people for their sexual orientation and participate in bullying and shaming people for their size. Nobody hates themselves healthy and this kind of body stigma hurts everyone.” I also posted it on my Facebook page and said that I would love it if other people who were bothered would comment as well.
And then it started. Before I had left a comment plenty of people on George’s FB had made anti-fat comments about the people in the picture. Once I and other people made comments people said that we were oversensitive, lazy fatties who don’t exercise and are fighting for our right to a double chin, that we have a stick where normally there is not one, there were a bevy of fat hating and body shaming comments, they are friends so it’s ok, or “I’m fat and I think it’s funny” On my Facebook page someone posted that George Takei is a really cool and that we need to pick our battles – like worrying about the little boy who was ripped from his home because he is fat.
Ok, first I can “take a joke”. His Facebook post did not affect my self esteem. I’m comfortable with myself and my choices, and I’m well aware that some people do jackass things. That doesn’t make it ok to stigmatize me or people who look like me. And isn’t it a problem when we tell some people that they need to toughen up and become better at being stigmatized and made fun of so that other people can laugh at our expense without having to consider the consequences?
If George is such good friends with these people and he feels the need to make fun of them for their size, he should call them up instead of body shaming them on Facebook. Because then it’s not just about them, it’s about letting everyone who looks like them know that George Takei is comfortable stereotyping them and publicly stigmatizing them.
I think each of us individually needs to “pick our battles” since we can’t do everything, but I don’t think that as a community we should tell each other to ignore people who stigmatize fat people because they are otherwise cool people, or we think the joke is funny, or if we don’t think it’s a big deal. If people didn’t think it was ok to make the original fat joke, then there is no way that they would have thought all of the fat shaming comments were ok. That 200 pound boy got ripped from his home because of an irrational wave of fat phobia and these kind of fat jokes are part of that wave. What I think makes body shaming like this particularly harmful is that so many people defend them. When we say that body shaming is ok if it’s funny, if it’s between friends, if it’s done by a person who is oppressed in another way, if it’s done by a person who is famous, if it’s done by a person who is generally cool, all we’re really saying is that body shaming is ok.
People make mistakes. I’ve made jokes on this blog that people pointed out could be offensive and I have fixed the issues. I think it’s important to point out these mistakes when people make them and I think we can see where they are at based on their response. I think that consistency is really important, otherwise we get stigma-creep wherein more and more things are considered ok, or a not worth the battle or whatever. Once it starts it’s hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube, so I think it’s far better to say that body shaming is never ok in any guise – then we don’t have to decide where the line is between body stigma that’s “hilarious” and body stigma that is shaming and wrong.
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