Normalizing Obesity

Before After
Not hating ourselves shouldn’t have to be a revolutionary act.

The concept of normalizing obesity is used to justify practices including only showing fat people as a collection of negative stereotypes, only showing fat people as being miserable unless they are succeeding at weight loss, only promoting the voices of fat people who have succeeded at weight loss, and actively silencing the voices of fat people who speak out against the idea that the only positive fat identity is a self-loathing dieter.   Any media outlet, television show, movie etc. that shows fat people being successful at anything other than weight loss will be immediately criticized for normalizing obesity.

The theory that we are apparently currently working under,is that fat people will all get thin based on the “motivation” that we will never get to see anyone who looks like us shown in a positive light until we are thin.  I hate to have a Dr. Phil moment here, but hey how’s that workin for ya? Based on a preponderance of the evidence, not very damn well.  I get e-mails all the time from people who are new fat acceptance blogs or the Fit Fatties Forum, and they are so excited because they just found out that there are fat people doing whatever it was they thought they couldn’t do because they were fat.

It turns out that most people aren’t motivated by seeing everyone who looks like them portrayed as tired and worn out stereotypes. But heavens forfend we have a fat role model  or we’ll be accused of the (completely ridiculous) crime of “promoting obesity“ or its evil cousin “normalizing obesity”.

Who is anybody kidding, this is not about our health. So what is it about?  Maybe that if we stop shaming fat people then they might stop pouring money into the diet industry for a solution that almost never works, and then they’d lose our sixty billion dollars a year.

That’s not a good enough reason for me.  I don’t buy the idea that showing fat people in a positive light will make other people want to be fat (because I don’t think this is a V8 commercial where people see a happy fatty, slap their forehead and say “I coulda been fat”), and I don’t think that a ceaseless stream of shame is doing anything good for fat people, and oppression for fun and profit is not ok.

So let’s try a new experiment. Let’s normalize bodies of all sizes. Can you imagine if size was not an issue.  Movies with fat leading ladies, magazines filled with people of all sizes, billboards with fat people selling dish soap, a world without fat jokes, a world without articles about how Santa Claus promotes an unhealthy body image.

Take a minute to realize that everything fat people accomplish today – starting with finding the courage to leave our homes in fat bodies –  is done in spite of the fact that we live under the crushing weight of constant social stigma. Imagine what fat people could do if we didn’t have to live with a, ceaseless stream of societal stigma and shame -if the government wasn’t waging war on us and enlisting our friends, families, and employers to help.

Research from Columbia shows that stigma is correlated with many of the same diseases as obesity and that women who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental health issues regardless of their weight. Imagine how positively the health of fat people would be affected if we took away the stigma.

Hey wait, you don’t have to imagine… just admit that the current plan of making us feel like crap about ourselves is not working, stop shaming and stigmatizing us, normalize obesity, and see what happens!

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Check it out here
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40 thoughts on “Normalizing Obesity

  1. I love this quote by Junot Diaz: “If you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves.”

    In this case, I think the “monster” ends up being a form of self-hatred that drives us to spend a great deal of time, money, and attention (that could be spent on building a life that is not focused on a practically unattainable goal. Great post!

  2. The other week I saw an awesome clip of an interview with Whoopie Goldberg. She was discussing her career and of course Star Trek TNG came up. The interviewer asked her if she had been a fan of the original series. She said she absolutely was. Why? Because original Trek was the first time she knew there would be black people in the future.

    Think about it. As of 1966, there had never been a single black person portrayed in any sic-fi TV show or movie set in the distant future.

    How many black kids saw Star Trek and started realizing they, too, could enter the sciences if they wanted to? How many little girls suddenly discovered they could dream of space travel just as much as boys could? How much amazing potential was lost in the decades when they didn’t have a role model to dream of emulating?

    Right now little fat kids are being told they don’t belong in the future… that they don’t belong here, now. They are being told they are ugly, lazy, stupid, naughty, broken, and destined never to be loved. How much potential are we destroying by fighting the fact that some bodies are just fat?

  3. II agree with your major points, but I’m not convinced that fatphobia is just about money– I think cruelty is a strong impulse in a lot of people, and the commercial side builds on a pre-existing desire to hurt and fear of being hurt. There’s been a lot prejudice in societies which weren’t as commercial as ours is.

    “that women who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental health issues regardless of their weight. ” The causality could partly go the other way– women with physical and mental health problems could be more vulnerable to fat-shaming messages.

  4. I saw the movie Nebraska over the weekend. One thing that I really liked about it was that it had a number of fat people in it (including the girlfriend of one of the main characters), and their weight was entirely beside the point. They were just people like the other people in the movie. It was very refreshing.

  5. Of all the “arguments” to come out of the War on Fat People, this one has the dubious honor of being the most ludicrous. Fat people exist. Everybody knows at least one. This is not a mind-over-matter trick where you pretend you don’t see us with enough conviction and we disappear. Dropping the charade and admitting that not only do we exist, but we *deserve* to do so without constant fear, shame, hate, and threats of violence, is not “glorifying obesity.”

    THIS is glorifying obesity!

    Svetlana the Viking
    brought her battleaxe down
    with the force of a thousand swift fleets
    and the Dark Lord’s cold armor
    was sundered in twain
    and his head hit the floor at her feet
    Then from the body erupted
    the wraith of his Master
    for one final desperate attack
    But Svetlana broke through
    and with one mightly pull
    she yanked out that cold specter’s heart
    through his ass
    And the people that day
    cheered with freedom and ale
    of the tyrant defeated at last
    at the hands and the steel
    and unstoppable rage
    of Svetlana the Viking,
    who’s fat.

    *guitar riff*

    (Yes, I am always this much of a nerd.)

  6. Here is the thing though, there have been happy successful fat men on TV with beautiful wives/girlfriends, etc. forever… it is not about not promoting obesity, it is about not promoting women being fat and happy.
    That is not to say that fat men haven’t been stereotyped and slighted, but I have never heard anyone say, “DON’T SHOW RALPH KRAMDEN HAVING A WIFE WHO LOVES HIM AND PUTS UP WITH HIS CRAP, EVERYONE WILL WANT TO BE FAT!”

      1. And fat men are always lovable old lugs: Kevin James, John Goodman, Ralph Kramden’s cartoon alter ego Fred Flintstone. What about Mike and Molly? Are Melissa McCarthy and her lovable ol’ fat TV hubby, whatshisname, normalizing obesity? I’ve seen a few episodes that were mostly fat-joke free, but don’t watch regularly.

        1. On the TV show Mike and Molly they are both in OA so the weight is always addressed as a negative. There is a show from the 50s that I’ve watched on JLTV called “The Goldbergs” not to be confused with the new program I believe is on ABC. She was a fat Jewish woman/mother/wife from NYC and I like how they handled the weight issue even back then. During one episode she was convinced to do some kind of WW diet program and also to go to what they called “The Milk Farm” where they dieted but it never worked and was made to appear a stupid thing for her to do. I really enjoy the show and had never seen it on TV as a child like Lucy and don’t know why it was never on in reruns.

        2. It’s okay for men to be fat, if they are funny. It’s still not okay for women to be fat. Look at who weight loss commercials are aimed at for the most part.

          If 60% of the population is fat, isn’t it already normal, just not accepted?

          Mike and Molly do make fun of fat, but they also make fun of a lot of stuff, it is a comedy after all. They show fat people in love, having jobs, just generally living life so I can live with the fat jokes.

          Also, I’m still completely ticked that they had to teach Cookie Monster that cookies are a “sometime food”. He’s COOKIE MONSTER!

        3. On Big Bang Theory they always have fat-jokes levelled against Mrs. Wolowitz, it’s sickening. I think they may be combining an old (really old) stereotype of the “fat Jew”, that morphed into the anti-Semitic imagery that the Nazis used.

          1. That’s an example of how negative stereotypes aren’t just silly harmless fun. Fat characters, especially fat women, in pop culture are nearly always lazy, stupid, whiny, greedy, self-loathing, BAD. The images are relentless, and they always lead to harassment and discrimination. Young people see fat women continually being bashed in the media, and they see that fat bashing is not only OK, but entertaining as hell.

    1. It is silly to use the few fat men on TV to make a statement about the Millions of fat men in Society. The ratio of fat men to fat male actors would be so low that the data is meaningless.

        1. Well if we are only talking about the fat men on TV and the movies few of them play roles that are successful in their careers and few are happy men. Most are silly and the butt of jokes and if they have a thin wife she plays the “straight man”.

          Most of the time it is the reverse of Burns and Allen where the husband was the “straight man” and the wife was the simpleton.

          1. Yes, as I said, they were slighted and stereotyped, but the mere idea of showing a fat woman on tv doing anything but dieting and hating her life is met with OMG IT ENCOURAGES PEOPLE TO BE FAT, when men have been fat on tv for ages and it hasn’t made people desperate to be fat.

  7. * trigger warning *
    I just ticked my mom off by using your research to tell her I couldn’t really ” control” how big my belly gets over time. My dad an avid baseball player tried and failed for many years. He finally ended up getting surgery . 😦

  8. I still have to review info about weight to remind myself that it isn’t entirely in my control. After reviewing what Wikipedia has to say about obesity, I’m once again frustrated by the attitudes to weight.

    The article covers the fact that genetics plays a role, pollutants play a role, increase in some ethnic groups, choices in mating and a few other things play a role in weight. This clearly demonstrates that the causes are not fully understood.

    It admits that diet/exercise; pills; and surgery don’t result in more than 3% to 24% weight loss for ten years and that just the diet/exercise is hard to maintain. Also, all these have their own sets of risks, even if this article glossed over those risks.

    It also discussed the economic impact of weight, but it didn’t compare that impact to anything else, say the dangers of driving, or underage pregnancy or drug abuse, so it’s hard to say what that really means.

    So nobody is really sure what the causes of obesity are, nobody knows how to fix it, and the ‘problems’ associated with it for society aren’t put into any meaningful context.

    And I’m still resentful that most photos I see of fat women are the ones with the hourglass shapes. I know I whine about that a lot and I’m sorry, but it is one of the things that bugs me a lot about my body.

    1. I also wish that Fat Acceptance would depict a wider variety of fat women bodies in their subject matters and photos used. Do you think that Fat Acceptance shies away from those types of fat female bodies because the fat fetish communities are so fixated on them?

        1. Considered sexy by who? By people in Fat Acceptance?

          Is a Fat Acceptance with a body shape hierarchy really what Fat Acceptance is suppose to be about?

          1. By our culture. Big boobs and hips and skinny waist are what is pushed as sexy. Extremely skinny is what is pushed by ‘high fashion’. Big bellies with no heads is what is pushed by fat haters.

            I don’t think Fat Acceptance is doing it on purpose, but when you want to show a fat woman all glammed up, odds are she will be the hour glass shape. Those are the women chosen as the fat models for clothes most of the time.

            Even the people that make the clothes still build a thinner waist into them because the perception is that women will naturally put most of their weight into their hips or boobs, even though a casual ten minutes of people watching will blow that theory out of the water.

            One of my fantasies is to design a line of clothes for women shaped like me, narrow hips and thick waist. Unfortunately I’m not much of a sewer and I have no clue how to design clothes.

            I’m rather fond of this skirt I made, but it isn’t creating that ‘hourglass illusion’ that lots of magazines try to push.


            1. You look great in the photo, I will not say more because it always seems like when people do that they are promoting one type of body over another and fat people get enough of that from Society.

              When Fat Acceptance uses slogans like “All Bodies are Good Bodies” it should be for more than show, it should be how people in Fat Acceptance think.

            2. Wow I love that dress. Sometimes I feel like wearing a dress, but I’ve only got 2, and one is jeans, the other is more “showy”, not an everyday dress.

              1. If you know someone who sews, and can bribe them, that skirt is not bad to make. It’s straight seams. The worst bit is getting measurements right. I messed up the waistband three times, but I don’t sew much.

                Gertie (the woman in the blog) is an experienced sewer and it took her eight hours, but she had to redo some stuff too. I took three or four days.

  9. TW: Eating disorder, depression, former size-ist speaking

    I love your dancing videos, Regan. Especially the one on YouTube where you dance solo. You look amazing when you do the jumps and rolls!

    I have suffered from an ED for about ten years now – and holy crap that is a long time for a 21-year-old woman. I daily feel repulsed by my body and am terrified to become fat, which is why I’ve started reading your blog and watching your videos every day. I love them. You have shown me how fit, gracious and beautiful I could be even if I was double my size. And I don’t personally know you, but judging from your writing, I bet you are intelligent, warm and welcoming, too, which is far more important than any outer grace or beauty.

    Why I love this blog over all the other self-acceptance blogs I tried is your attitude – you speak up when people are inappropriate, but your way of patiently explaining plain facts to uneducated people (such as me) made me want to read more. (It’s no fat persons duty to be patient to ignorant people, I’m just saying that your personal choice of approach has converted my opinion.)

    I’ve recently started a few medications due to my depression and anxiety, and side-effects include heavy weight gain. If I do gain weight, you will know that you could have been part to saving my life, because I know my ED is (or was?) severe enough to destroy my life if I gained a single pound more. Thank you for everything, Regan.

    1. Hi Melina,

      Congratulations on your recovery, your story is incredibly inspiring and I’m really glad that you are finding peace with your body. I’m glad for any opportunity to support you in your journey and if there is ever anything I can do to support you just let me know!


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