Hiding the Fat People

Reality and PerceptionMany readers have sent me the story of Amani Terrell who, having become tired of Hollywood’s perfection obsession,  rocked a bikini on Hollywood Avenue.  I love what she did and I congratulate her for her message of body positivity.  That said, every article that covered her that I saw included the phrase “she knows she needs to lose weight.” I find that odd, not “she wants to lose weight” nor “she believes that losing weight will offer [whatever benefits she believes it will offer]”  not even a quote from her about weight loss.  Just the writer saying “She knows she needs to lose weight.”  Like  they might say she knows that she needs oxygen.  Unfortunately, this is all too common.

I think that one of the things that reinforces ideas about fat people hating ourselves and our bodies, is the stories about fat people that the media chooses to tell. The media can be a gatekeeper that decides what stories make it into wide publication.   Fat people who love our bodies and/or who have exchanged dieting for Health at Every Size rarely get to tell our stories, and it’s rarer still that we get to tell them without an opposing view, or a phrase like “she knows she needs to lose weight” or [insert obesity hysteria here] etc. to “balance the story.” The opposite is not true, stories of weight loss, body hatred, and dieting are told as stand-alone stories with no need to “balance” them by providing a Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size perspective, or a story of a fat person who improved their life through a means other than weight loss.

We are sometimes allowed to suggest body positivity, but usually it has to be qualified by admitting that we want to/are trying to lose weight, and it’s helpful if we do it in concert with discussing conditions that might be responsible for our being fat – PCOS, thyroid issues, medication, etc. (Though in the double edged sword that oppression so often is, people with these issues face criticism including being accused of faking it, being told that their condition doesn’t really exist etc.)  It’s not that these stories don’t exist, it’s not the these stories aren’t valid, it’s that they aren’t the only stories, but you wouldn’t know it from the most popular media.  Fat people who are happy, successful (at something other than weight loss), and/or completely disinterested in weight loss are often kept from public view by the media, often under the ridiculous premise of not “promoting obesity.” 

There are fat people who love our bodies and aren’t interested in losing weight.  Most of us had to go searching for (or stumble upon) that as an option because we never once saw it in mainstream media.  There are fat people who choose to pursue health in ways that don’t rest on the manipulation of our body size.  There are fat people who don’t prioritize pursuing health (just as there are thin people who don’t) and are still very happy with their lives.  Fat people are as varied in our behaviors and choices as any group of people who share only a single physical characteristic.  What we do share is the oppression we face which is made worse by the media’s tendency to hide happy fat people at worst and, at best begrudging suggest that it might be ok to love our fat bodies as long as we know that we have to change them.

If you want to go beyond mainstream media messages, I would suggest starting in the the fatosphere.  Some of my favorites are here.  I think it’s always good to remember that there are more options, more nuances, and often more facts than we might see and that, in a world that stigmatizes people based on our size, we might not be getting the whole story.

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35 thoughts on “Hiding the Fat People

  1. Amani’s story was so frustrating to read! I felt like she was so close- SO CLOSE- to hitting on an incredibly powerful message, but then it has to be qualified with OF COURSE she’s not “promoting obesity” and OBVIOUSLY she wants to lose weight. If Amani wants a smaller body then that’s her call and I still really respect the way she’s putting herself out there, but just ONCE can we have a fat woman make a statement about body confidence without the “good fatty” caveat??

  2. I am more often than not just a lurker on your site, but I find the messages you give to be very inspiring and, on some level, reassuring. Keep doing what you do!

  3. I love your blog, but I have one issue with it that bothers me every time I read it, here or elsewhere. It is the expression “Healthy at any size” and how it is used to justify being fat. I am fat (over 300 pounds at 5’4″) and I am happy with myself as I am, even though I am not ‘healthy at any size.” Perhaps that whole expression can be stricken from the all the blogs and talk about being fat and fat acceptance. Maybe we could just say “happy as I am” without trying to justify things to the public about why one chooses to be fat.

    1. Hi Barrettclan,

      Thanks for your comment. To start, Health at Every Size isn’t an expression, it’s an optional, evidence based health practice wherein the focus is on supporting our health (within our own prioritization of it, and understanding that it’s not entirely within our control) using behaviors rather than attempting to manipulate body size as a path to health, with the understanding that there are not guaranties and no obligations. It’s also a paradigm from which to practice healthcare for people of all sizes (to avoid the issue of doctors just diagnosing people as fat and prescribing becoming thin regardless of our actual health complaints). It is also completely separate from the civil rights movement of Size Acceptance.

      I try to be very careful in my work to point out that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are not size, health, or healthy habit dependent (in this post I said “There are fat people who don’t prioritize pursuing health (just as there are thin people who don’t) and are still very happy with their lives.”) That said, their are fat people who are interested in pursuing health and are getting the message that the only way to do that is through dieting which isn’t true(but is highly profitable for the diet industry) so I think it’s important for people to have the opportunity to know that Health at Every Size is an option, understanding that there are no guarantees or obligations, and so I’ll continue to talk about it, and try to be as clear as possible that practicing HAES is not a requirement for being granted our civil rights.

      If you are interested in reading more about this, you might want to read this post: https://danceswithfat.wordpress.com/2012/09/28/are-health-at-every-size-and-size-acceptance-the-same/



    2. I do not feel the need to “justify” being fat any more than I need to “justify” being tall or dyeing my hair.

      Ragen is an elite athlete and she is in great health. Many fat individuals who are and are not in great health practice healthy behaviors without a weight loss focus.

      I wish you all the best. I hope one day you realize you do not have to “justify” your existence to anyone.

  4. The radio announcers in my area – Tallahassee, FL – have just announced that Tallahassee has been found to be the “fattest city” in Florida. Now, they’re calling for a city-wide dieting campaign so that we can rid ourselves of that shameful label. How would they come up with the stats to figure that out? Ridiculous!

    1. I wouldn’t be surprised if that was a defense mechanism meant to head off the inevitable accusation from others that her body’s “wrong” and needs “improvement” before she has “earned” the right to wear whatever the frack she wants in front of others.

      Some people do respond to the idea that it’s okay to do enjoyable and fun things before the do-er has achieved “perfection.” I’m not saying it’s always the best tactic to use, or even that it works all the time, but I understand what drives people to use it.

  5. I am really getting fed up with people who write about personal fat shaming incidents, because they always feel the need to apologize and insist that they are “working” on their weight “problem.” It’s more “good fatty” bullshit. It hurts their argument because they have already bought into the shame. They are basically saying “Well, I guess I *do* deserve to get crap from others about my body, but why do they have to be so darn *mean* when they justifiably criticize how I look?” They are missing the point: the criticism is not justified.This is how the concern trolls win – by convincing us that our bodies are everyone else’s business.
    Unlike those in the FA community who say “STFU about my body and MYOB,” it seems people in more mainstream media can’t write about body policing experiences without policing their own body and acknowledging their own shame and dissatisfaction about it.
    Instead of saying “I know I”m fat but [excuse] and I’m working on it so please don’t be mean to me,” we should be saying “I know I”m fat, and I also know it’s none of your fucking business, so fuck off with your bigotry.”

    1. It takes a long time to get there. I would still be the “good,” self-shaming fatty if it weren’t for having discovered size acceptance, which didn’t happen until I was 45 years old.

  6. That’s the most telling part of any story like this… they’re not ashamed of who they are. Except of course they are, deep down, and if they say they’re not, they’re just in denial about their body size and probably the emotional issues that got them that way, too, right? smh

    Just once, I’d love to see someone in a situation like that say “I know YOU THINK I need to lose weight. That’s not the same as me needing to lose weight.”

  7. In the second volume of the FatLand trilogy, FatLand: The Early Days, the TV reality show “Living Fat and Happy” is canceled after five episodes because the participators state that they are happy as they are and show no desire to lose weight. Thus diet companies advertising on the show cannot market their products. So scary and real sounding. And I’ll bet anything that is also why fat people who are not interested in losing weight are not shown much on the media.

  8. And when I saw her pic the first thought I had was, “I love the print on that bikini!” Closer scrutiny showed it was a typical tie-behind-the-neck top, which I can’t wear (need a “bra strap” style).

    1. I’m having the same issue finding suits this year. I’ve never been able to wear a halter style — not even back before puberty. To each their own, but they’ve always struck me as having been designed by someone who didn’t have a whole lot to keep reined in.

      1. I recently bought a plain black bikini top from Simply Be, which was about $40. I can buy the bottom anywhere, Simple Be had plain black briefs which were also about $40 but for that type of swimsuit I can spend a lot less at Venus or similar vendors. The top is bra sized and the sizes start at 34C and go up to 46I. It does kind of look like a black bra. There is an underwire, no padding and adjustable straps. For me, it’s also not about reining in- I can’t stand anything on the neck. Can’t even wear a necklace!

        1. Thanks, FC! I’m definitely going to check that out. Underwire and adjustable straps sounds much more doable for me!

  9. Hear, hear! This is such a powerful example of how our narratives, our rights to construct and tell our own stories in the public eye, are withheld from us. Luckily, we have spaces for resistance (hence, you!), but it’s such a long, uphill battle.

    Also, I linked to this article for my PCA fat studies presentation. I’m discussing, in part, the symbolic absence of fatties. Thanks for posting such a timely topic! 🙂

  10. Update on my ongoing survey of the Weekly Greatest Diet Ever department in Woman’s World. In short: I think I found a winner. Feast (sic!) your eyes on this cover blurb:

    Lose a pound a day! GET-HEALTHY MEDITERRANEAN TURBO CRASH DIET! 95% of dieters lose 6 lbs of fat their first week!

    I mean, how many other sales pitches could you jam in there? Organic? Acai berry? Parkour?

    (The actual diet involves alternating extreme and slightly less extreme calorie restriction for a month during which you drink a laxative-laced “smoothie” for breakfast and eat totally Mediterranean products such as reduced-fat Cheddar cheese at the other meals. Then you practice lifelong calorie restriction plus avoidance of “bad” foods. Not sure where the turbo crash part comes in. Aren’t highway medians usually involved in something like that?)

      1. Oh, it gets better. While the person who developed this “turbo crash” thing (seriously every time I read that I seem to hear a roaring engine followed by a smashing sound) insists that his diet is healthy for people without preexisting conditions, the same issue of the magazine warns that restricting calories to the number called for during the “turbo crash” period may make your hair fall out!

        He has a book for sale, bee tee dubz, which is why I haven’t bothered to give his name. Why increase his online presence?

        Back on topic: Persistent and consistent conflation of “unselfconscious fat person” with “headless body in schlumpy clothes used to illustrate an article about how we’re all gonna die if we do dumb things like exist while larger than socially smiled upon” . . . honestly, it makes me tired. I know people, real live fat people, who do log birling for a living–not as a sport but because that’s how you keep the logs moving so they won’t jam. I know fat people who can put a three-foot piece of double-edged steel clear through a human body. I know fat people who bulldog their own cattle. I know fat people who can tell you from memory exactly where to go to find a book on any topic in the library where they work, and can remember the reading preferences of all of their many regulars. I know fat people who drive drunks and jerks around night after night in their taxis and somehow resist the urge to pitch them out the door. I know fat people who play musical instruments most people have never heard of. And none of their expertise, NONE of it, matters in the public square unless they first give the expected ritual apology for the size of their asses!

    1. The most recent headline on Woman’s World (or one of its clones) is the Paleo Extreme diet (or something like that) where you can lose 40 pounds in a month, apparently.
      I always thought that weight loss of this nature indicates a serious health problem. Silly me.
      Woman’s World has a new diet (almost spelled that “died”) every month, which is the one that’s really going to work. Of course if one of these diets actually worked, they’d go out of business.

  11. I know I’m way behind on the American “The Office” because I’m stuck in season 8 now, but the last three eps in a row made the plot revolve around Phyllis, Stanley, and Kevin’s obesity. And I’m ready to give up on it entirely because I’m SICK of the fat shaming/fat mockery.

    “Friends” did it too, but I wasn’t as aware of it because I just sort of tuned it out. But watching the re-runs I can see the eps are RIFE with fat-shaming. I actually don’t mind the occasional fat jokes because I’ve found that shows which do that tend to mock other body types/races/etc. as well…it seems to be how American humour operates, and I haven’t the energy to get worked up each time I hear it. It’s probably not great, but it helps me cope.

    But I am sickened by how the creators of The Office play off of SO MUCH fat-shaming that I’m ready to stop watching altogether.

    1. I settled down to watch Animaniacs with my kids because I remember the show fondly. So of course, smack in the middle of the sidesplitting classic “Potty Emergency,” there’s a joke about Yakko trying to get out of a row of theater seats past a woman who’s so badgreedyuglyfat (audience: how badgreedyuglyfat was she?) that she brought a layer cake to eat along with her popcorn, candy bars, and soda pop, and instead of just getting up and standing in the aisle for a minute she must snarl at Yakko until he intimidates her into grabbing her badgreedyuglyfat with both hands and moving it to one side so he can get out.

      For crying out loud, really?

    2. the Office is all – ALL – mean humor anyway. I refuse to watch it and now I’m glad I don’t.

    3. That is one of the reasons I’ve stopped watching Big Bang Theory. Another is the anti-Semitism and Jew jokes.

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