Real Woman, Meat, Bones, and the Last Acceptance Prejudice

Wrong RoadToday I want to talk about some things I see around body positivity and size acceptance that I think are problematic.  As always, people are allowed to do and say and believe these things, and all of us have said things that we didn’t think all the way through or that we didn’t know was problematic. My  goal here is to take a closer look at some of these things.

Real Women Have Curves

First of all, I notice that “curves” is often interpreted as “the right curves” which is to say hourglass –  big boobs, big ass, small waist. Beyond this, it suggests that women who aren’t curvy are…what…fake women?  I’m pretty much against any definition of “real woman” that isn’t “anyone who identifies as a woman.”  Anything else is suggesting that we get to determine what is real and who is a woman and I think that’s severely messed up.

Fat is the Last Acceptable Prejudice

No, it’s really not.  People are currently fighting to overturn a law that allows trans* people to choose what bathroom they use.  The Arizona legislature has just passed a bill ensuring that companies can discriminate against customers people based on the idea that discrimination is the same thing as “practicing religion”  (WWJRS – Who Would Jesus Refuse to Serve?)  Florida juries seem to think that white men’s right not to be “scared” trumps young black men’s right to be alive.  Prejudice is all around us and is sadly accepted in many places and many ways.  Suggesting that the real oppression and marginalization that we deal with is the last acceptable form of it and ignores the lived experiences of many other marginalized groups and is an invitation to engage in the Oppression Olympics  – I think that winning is about successfully fighting oppression, not being named the most oppressed.

Dogs like meat, not bones.

Let’s rephrase:   “Men are dogs, women are dog food, and the goal of women should be becoming the kind of dog food that men most want to eat.” Holy shitballs this is messed up.  I’m think that the word “empowered” jumped the shark when Mattel tried to use it for Barbie  but if disempowerment is a thing this would be it on every level –  I’m still struggling to find out how this is a good situation for anyone.

It’s okay to be big, as long as you’re healthy.

Nooooooooooooooo. I think we have got to separate weight and health.  The rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and to be treated with basic human rights) are inalienable.  They are not size dependent, health dependent, or healthy habit dependent.  Fat people don’t lose the right to exist if they have health problems and it doesn’t matter why we have those health problems. Let’s remember that health is multi-dimensional, not entirely within our control, not an obligation, and not a barometer of worthiness.)  Like everyone else, fat people have the right to make choices about how we prioritize our health and the path we are going to take to get there. Regardless of the choices we make, or our health status, or any thing else, we never stop being allowed to exist. (And that would be true even if weight loss was actually likely to make people thinner or healthier.)

Maybe there are exceptions, but in general I feel like I might be veering off the path to self-esteem and (forgive me) empowerment when I do to someone else the exact same thing I’m asking people not to do to me, compare oppressions, dictate to other people how they have to be in order to deserve to be treated well, or compare myself and others to animals and their chow.  I’ve heard women say that in order to fix their hurt from the way that they’ve been put down in the past they have to put other women down.  Maybe that’s true, I’m not going to tell anyone how to live, but I think it’s worth a second thought.

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46 thoughts on “Real Woman, Meat, Bones, and the Last Acceptance Prejudice

  1. All of this. Yes. Thank you.

    It drives me NUTS when someone on my FB feed shares one of those “real women have curves!” or “Men like MEAT!” pictures, and I am quickly running out of spoons with which to deal. I just want to print out your post and staple it everywhere…and maybe to some people, because I am just *that* frustrated with this BS.

    And being the last acceptable prejudice…I just. What. I can’t even. I CAN’T.

    1. I dislike that too, I usually comment on those and tell them that , in other words real women need the approval of men? who cares what men want. Women come in all shapes and sizes.

  2. I do think prejudice against fat is more socially acceptable than a lot of other prejudices– it gets less pushback than racism does. On the other hand, there are prejudices which are probably more socially acceptable– for example, prejudice against teenagers.

    There’s probably some way of saying prejudice against fat is pretty socially acceptable without saying it’s the last prejudice.

    1. Honestly, I think it comes down to money/power. Racism marches on, to be sure, and I would suggest that there’s been more pushback against it with Obama being elected the first African American President. LGBTQ issues always get pushback because as a market (definitely NOT on a personal level!) queer folk have a lot of disposable income. Well-off gay people have the money, time and inclination to engage in a decade-long legal battle for marriage rights (which, basic though they may be, hardly seems more important to me than making sure our trans* brothers and sisters can use the damn bathroom or not be fired or evicted for being themselves). But when it comes to fat, well, the money goes the other way. How are we supposed to truly push back against a 60+ BILLION dollar industry when we’re not the Koch Brothers? As long as it remains profitable to stigmatize fat people and spread disinformation about fat and body size and health, this will continue to be an acceptable prejudice…

      1. Pushback comes from those who are oppressed pushing back. Others tend to be drawn to those efforts. Black people, have fought racism in every form with sometimes mind boggling courage.

        Fat people are some of the biggest promoters of fat phobia and creators/diseminators of thin privilege you’d ever hope to meet.

        Until that really changes, other people will continue to see that. How can you fight for people who openly state they wish to be abused harshly? At best they’ll abandon you. At worst they’ll attack you.

    2. “Less pushback than racism”? Please tell me your are a person of color saying this and even then please realize that your experiences don’t speak for all of us.

      Also take into account that many MANY people exist at the intersection of racial and fat prejudice. And as a fat Black woman I can tell you that we have very few people in our court when it comes to our right to live and take up space without being ridiculed – few people it seems, even from the FA community.

    3. There was a recent case in a neighboring county where a White supervisor made a “joking” point about a Black subordinate’s career insecurity by leaving a noose in her work cubicle.

      Apparently there are plenty of people who’ve yet to get the news yet that public displays of racism aren’t socially acceptable anymore. Powerful people, at that. :/ And the point to me isn’t who gets the most pushback but why there’s still this constant need for pushback in the first place.

      I mean, this jackass supervisor must have worked around this woman for years. He’s lived in the same world we all have for years. How the blazes does he still manage to claim that a noose is just a harmless little tee-hee on par with dribble glasses and plastic vomit?

    4. I completely agree! While fat isn’t the only prejudice left; fat is the one that people feel free to express anywhere and anytime! It is the one night talk show host feel free to joke about in their monologue!!! So no, fat isn’t the last prejudice. It IS the last that is socially acceptable!

      1. Really not the last– every once in a while, there’s a “funny” story about store keepers driving teenagers away by playing Frank Sinatra, or (worse) using high pitched sounds that (theoretically) no adult can hear.

        Also, there’s evidence that teenagers have circadian clocks which run later than adults– they *can’t* go to sleep early and wake up alert early. Experiments with schools have shown that a starting an hour or two later makes it much easier for teenagers to learn, but it’s not as though a later start has been generally adopted.

    5. I’ve found that it tends to be generally acceptable to ridicule both heavy people and the mentally ill. However, I may be more sensitive to these things, seeing as I am both fat and mentally ill.

  3. Amen. I get sort of wild eyed when people start that “last acceptable prejudice” talk about anyone or anything. Last acceptable prejudice where? Among whom?

    But more than anything, that “last acceptable prejudice” line always strikes me as reeking of self pity. “Oh poor me, I’m the last acceptable pariah on earth!”

    I am a fat woman, and I don’t need anyone’s pity, especially my own.

  4. I never had ‘the right curves.’ When I was thin I was pretty much a flat board of a girl. Now that I’m fat, my belly is noticeably bigger than my bust and I still have a relatively flat posterior.

    Funnily enough, Mr. Twistie has never complained about the shape of my body… and he’s known it since it was thin and through all stages of fatness.

    Totally agreed that a real woman is someone who believes herself to be a woman, full stop. I don’t get to tell her she’s not real, and I don’t get to tell her she’s not a woman.

    I know how easy it is to get drawn into hyperbole, but the ‘last acceptable prejudice’ trope really steams my corn in a big way. Sexual, gender, racial, religious, and economic prejudice – off the top of my head – are alive and well and people are encouraging them all to be codified into law. You may get less obvious squiggle-eye for saying fat people should all be forced to suffer like contestants on The Biggest Loser than you do if you start loudly calling for the reinstatement of Jim Crow, but Stand Your Ground has by and large resulted in white men not getting convicted when they kill unarmed young black men. Efforts to end a nonexistent rash of voter fraud is resulting in measures that every study indicates will keep the very young, the very old, people of color, and the poor away from the polls. Women are still blamed for their own rapes. Transgender people are murdered at astronomical rates simply for being who they are.

    Do we suffer prejudice? Yes, we certainly do. But the answer is not to set up false dichotomies or proclaim ourselves the most victimized people in America. We need to stand up for ourselves. Further, I intend to stand up for any group who is marginalized or mistreated due to prejudice. There’s enough justice to go around, if we make it.

    And I have a right to be treated fairly with my healthy body. And so does my husband with his congestive heart failure, type II diabetes, and hypertension. Why? Because we are human beings.

    As for the men like meat… there’s not enough yuck in the world. Plus I’ve known several men who are vegetarians or vegans. So no, not all men like meat. And I have no intention of being dog food.

    1. The whole “women as dog food” is exactly like “women as cat food” that that Malaysian imam got slammed in the international media for. This was his reasoning for hijabs and covering up women, so that men wouldn’t get tempted by the morsel dangling in front of them.

    2. Even when I was thin I had the reviled “pear shape.” I spent all together too many years trying to find clothes that would hide my “unsightly” thunder thighs and “titanic” ass.

  5. Yes, yes, yes, and yes. And has anyone seen the meme that shows the skinny girl snarking at the fat girl for wearing skimpy clothing and then the fat girl replies with something about sleeping with the skinny girl’s boyfriend? There’s so much fail in that thing that I don’t know where to start. It’s not empowering (gah!) to be someone’s side piece of tail and your self-worth is not defined by who finds you sexy. Every time I see that thing I want kick a mudhole in someone and then stomp it dry.

  6. You know, I’d never thought about some of those phrases and ideas that way. You hear them and never think much of them, or hear them and get incredibly offended, etc.

    One that always bothered me was the one I was raised with, “You have a great personality.” It was my mother saying, “Sorry you’re the fat, ugly sister.” (Believe me, I know my mother well enough to understand a veiled insult when I hear one.) But as I became older, I realized, yes, I do indeed have a great personality, and I shouldn’t let that comment become a hang up. Just because people don’t know what else to say, because they don’t find me media/magazine standard beautiful, doesn’t mean I’m not. That’s their issue, not mine.

    Very eye opening. Thank you. 🙂

    1. I always heard that I had a “great personality” and a pretty face. I was smart enough to know that this meant I didn’t “measure up” in other ways.
      I would now rather have a great personality and be considered plain as an old boot than to be conventionally pretty and have nothing else going for me.

  7. So tired of hearing about the “last acceptable prejudice.” I have to wonder about people who say things like that. Do they live under a rock? Do they not know about all the horrible things happening in Florida, Arizona, Uganda, Russia? People are being murdered because of prejudice. And the murderers are getting away with it.

    1. I’ll confess, I’ve said that phrase. And, I’ll tell you where I was coming from on that comment. When I first said it, there was active groups to protest biases and prejudice against people of color, religion, age and gender. But, at the time.. not against size/fat. It seemed like you could get in trouble legally for all the others, but not for fat shaming. I don’t say it anymore because I’m better educated and more worldly in my understanding of injustice.

      I know better now… but sometimes it still feels like it is a socially acceptable prejudice to express in too many places.

      1. I’ve had to work on that one myself. Trying to remember that the issue is that it IS still socially acceptable, not whether any other bias is.

        Because in truth, the Oppression Olympics suck, and I’m not interested in playing.

  8. Because I write a blog about fat issues, people like to post things to my FB wall that encompass of all these. I delete them.

    The other day, I was trying to explain what I write about to someone and they said, “It’s okay to be fat as long as you are not morbidly obese.” Nope, no. Sure, I write about health and fitness, but no one is obligated to do or be anything other than what they choose to do or be.

    Thanks for another great post, Ragen. You always nail it.

    1. Thank you! It drives me crazy to hear the “It’s okay to be fat if…” examples.

      It’s not that it’s not okay to be fat under x, y, or z circumstances. It’s that it’s not okay to tell people they have to adhere to your specifications to be a valid person.

    2. I experienced exactly that reaction from people on one fat acceptance blog I joined. Shortly after I joined the conversation, people on that blog were saying, essentially, that people who are morbidly obese, like me, should be excluded from mainstream fat acceptance activism, because we really ARE responsible for causing our own problems, whereas people who are only kinda fat, are not …. They seemed to feel that including the morbidly obese would invalidate their case for fat acceptance …

  9. As someone living in Arizona currently… yeah, there are plenty of other prejudices that are alive and well. I would agree, though, that there are less people willing to step up and say, “Hey that’s wrong,” when it comes to bullying a fat person, but obviously it’s not the only minority status left. I really love WWJRS, though! xD

    The “It’s OK to be fat as long as you’re healthy” one is really what gets to me. Because you’re SO CLOSE to acknowledging that body size is body size and it’s irrelevant to worth, but still fall back into the disinformation ball pit of “Body size is health! Health is mandatory!” bullcrap. I’ll admit, I don’t know that I thought about this kind of concern-trolling much before I started reading your blog, Ragen, but now I sure as heck do. And now I realize that health is NOT something we owe anyone accept ourselves, and even then only if we choose to prioritize it. Also, the “as long as you’re healthy” line does come across as pretty ableist to me.

        1. It’s a semi-joke.

          One of my friends spent something between five and ten years learning how to deal well enough with rich people to eventually raise a good-sized chunk of money.

          A lesson from the Koch brothers should be that you don’t need to get a very high proportion of rich people or a very high proportion of rich people money. Like the rest of us, most rich people aren’t on quests.

          You just need one or two very rich people who care a lot.

  10. I’ll admit that I once spouted the real women comments, but that changed several years ago when I examined the true meaning of those words. I realized how insulting and cruel that was to my friends who were not the ideal of curvy, as well as my transgender friends. Women are women, whether they’re fat, skinny, cis-gender, trans-gender.

    1. Yep. Real women can also be shy or outgoing. They can sit reception for a living or play semi-pro football. They can love Tony Bennett LPs or head-bang to death metal. They can love to cook elaborate meals or live for those one-dish “emergency” casseroles built on Campbell’s soups. They can, etc…. 😉

  11. I’ve been trying to think what the correct ending to the “real women are/have…” statement to be.

    And for the life of me, all I can come up with is “real women… aren’t imaginary women.”

  12. Who would Jesus refuse to serve? Um, absolutely no one and nothing. That was kinda the point of the whole New Testament thingie, right?

    Actually dogs do like bones and cheese and sniffing butts and a bunch of other cool doggies pastimes. And all of that is a great example of why animal studies are not a definitive way of identifying suitable human behaviours.

    Death is most certainly not a decision-based situation for humans and neither is ill health and sickness — even when behaviours are not conducive to “optimal health”.

    As a very wise friend of mine once said (when our employer at the time was contemplating punitive health benefits coverage to those who smoked) if you are quick to assume that such behaviour removes an individual’s right to respect and equality then you will have no demarcation beyond accepting that all sickness is self-imposed and worthy of discrimination.

    I am not saying that a smoker has the right to impose his or her smoke on non-smokers by any means, but to quote a philosopher who has been much quoted in the past:

    “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” [John 8:7 New Testament].

    As usual Ragen, you cover all the bases. Thank you for your indefatigable efforts to keep pushing. G.

  13. Thank you Ragen for this wonderful and enlightening post. I think we are all guilty of spouting some form of all of these sentiments at some time or another without really thinking about it. I like that you point out the fallacy, without judgement,

  14. I appreciate this column and its comments. I started life as a skinny kid and then became a fat adult. While I don’t enjoy being the target of fat-haters any more than anyone else does, I can honestly say that I tolerate it more easily than I do the sexism I’ve lived with pretty much my whole damn life. (Because, well… I haven’t had decade upon decade to get bone-weary of fat-based prejudice, obviously.*) And unfortunately, I’ve stormed off enough allegedly “progressive” websites to know that sexism, like hatred of fat folks, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. :/

    *No, I’m not saying every fat woman has to feel the same way I do, obviously. We’ve all had different life experiences and react to them differently. I totally understand that, believe me.

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