I notice that sometimes the stereotyping of fat people that is encouraged by our current culture leads to a conversation about fat people that makes us sound as if we’re a different species, or that our rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is somehow a pursuit for “special privileges” rather than the pursuit of what everyone else already has, and I wanted to take some time to examine that today.
I think that, as a society, we can forget that body size is simply a physical characteristic – like hair color or eye color or height- and that the reason fat people’s lives are different is not necessarily because we are fat, but because we face completely unnecessary shame, stigma, oppression, stereotyping, and lack of accommodation. Were it not for all of that, the only thing all fat people have in common is a single physical characteristic- otherwise we are as varied in lifestyle, opinions, politics, habits, health, dis/ability and everything else as any other group of people who share one physical characteristic.
So let’s look at the idea that fat people who ask to be accommodated are asking for something special, rather than just asking for what everyone else already has. For example, I’ve heard thin people say that it’s not fair that a fat person needs more space on a plane. Broken down, their argument is that people at least up to their size take up “the right amount” of space, but people who are larger than them by some arbitrary standard (although not so arbitrary that it could ever include they themselves) should have to pay extra to get a seat that fits them because they take up “too much space.” From this fat person’s perspective, everyone else on the plane has a seat that fits them and fat people are just asking for the same thing that everyone else already has.
I wonder how many people ponder the fact that they could have been born into a culture where fat is the standard of beauty, thin is seen as unhealthy, and everything is built around that. That’s not better than what we have here but it does help illustrate the fact that just because someone happens to have been born into a culture that is constructed to suit their body does not make that person’s body a “better body”, nor does it make them somehow “deserving” of a world that is built for them. It also doesn’t mean that those of us who aren’t accommodated by this culture have “worse bodies” or are somehow “deserving” of a world that is built to exclude us. Sometimes I get push back about the idea that fat people are oppressed at all and I talked about that here.
I think that a big part of the solution is for us, as a culture, to properly acknowledge, celebrate, and accommodate the diversity of body sizes (not to mention dis/abilities which is a whole other blog). We certainly have a long way to go, but I believe that we can get there.
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