I got a lot of e-mails today from people who told me that they were absolutely shocked that someone would be comfortable suggesting something so obviously horrific as “Warn a Friend They’re Fat Day.” I think it’s, very sadly, a natural extension of our culture.
I think a big part of the problem here is that the media, the government, and the diet industry have systematically dehumanized fat people. When you see picture after picture after picture of fat people with our heads and faces removed so that we are no longer a person with a face, then the world doesn’t look into our eyes, it stares at our asses and makes judgments.
Happy fat people are kept out of view, forcibly if necessary, under the utterly ridiculous premise that if you show a fat person as anything other than miserable and desperate to be thin then you are “promoting obesity” (in the same way, I suppose, that putting gymnasts on talk shows promotes shortness.)
The cycle goes like this (and is often perpetuated for profit by industries that sell thinness)
- Create an environment that encourages bullying, shame, stigma and oppression, designed to make fat people miserable
- Purposefully hide all the fat who manage to be happy regardless of the messed up culture, under the guise of not “promoting obesity” since it makes people miserable to be fat
- Use the”lack” of happy fat people – that they created – to “prove” that all fat people are miserable
- Insist that if fat people are miserable it’s because we are fat, and not because we live in a world where we face a ceaseless barrage of shame, stigma, and oppression at their hands.
- Optional: If you are a diet company, promise people that your product will make fat people thin (even though it won’t)
- Lather, rinse, repeat.
This doesn’t just affect fat people, it also affects people who feel that they are fat, and those terrified of becoming fat and being folded into this cycle. It also means that it’s extremely rare for anyone, of any size, to see a happy successful fat person and that further serves to dehumanize us, and robs us of representation and role models.
The portrayal of fat people subhuman until we become thin leads to the assumption that any and all efforts to make us thin are somehow a good and worthy deed. So instead of realizing that it is unthinkably rude and inappropriate to comment on our bodies, or the food in our shopping carts, or subject us to shame, stigma, bullying and oppression because of how we look, people think that they are doing us a favor; mistakenly believing that our fat bodies are some kind of sign that we need external guidance from complete strangers at the grocery store.
It leads people to believe that it is somehow reasonable to find a group of people identifiable by a single physical characteristic, attempt to calculate that group’s “cost” on society, and then – if it seems like the world would be cheaper without them – call for their eradication.
This stereotyping and dehumanization leads people to think of fat people as the enemy – deserving to be shamed “for our own good” at best and, at worst, deserving to be hated and attacked simply for existing in fat bodies.
We are told that the cure for all of this stigma, bullying, and oppression is for fat people to lose weight. Give the bullies our lunch money, they tell us, and they promise they’ll stop beating us up.
Of course the cure for social stigma is not weight loss – it’s ending social stigma. There are lots of ways to combat this. The first part, to me, is to constantly remind ourselves that the problem is with society – not fat people. That fat people are human and, as such, deserve the same human respect to which everyone is entitled which includes the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That these rights are inalienable, are not weight or health or habit dependent, and that we are not asking anyone else to confer these rights – we are asking people to stop trying to take them away by an inappropriate use of power.
We can also – when we feel that we have the energy and desire – speak out against this when we see it. There is never, ever any obligation to join in activism and, of course, you get to choose the opportunities you take; but every time we see fat people being stereotyped, bashed, blamed, stigmatized, bullied, dehumanized or oppressed, we have a chance to stand up against that behavior if we choose.
In this kind of activism my goal isn’t usually to change the perpetrator’s mind (that’s pretty far out of my control) but rather to make sure that the people who are hearing the message that fat people are less than human and should be treated poorly “for our own good,” are also hearing the truth, that fat people’s bodies are nobody else’s business, and that we have the right to exist without shame, stigma, bullying and oppression regardless of why we are fat, what being fat means, or if we could become thin. Fat people have the right to exist, period.
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