I saw a video today about a woman who was bullied because she was fat. It was one of those click-baity “You won’t believe what she says next!” things. It turns out that what she says is that she used to be much fatter. In this case we’re told that it’s wrong to bully fat people if they are in the process of getting thinner.
Much was made of a study that found that bullying fat people may lead to weight gain. People suggested that if bullying was going to make us fatter, then maybe people shouldn’t bully fat people (of course plenty of people took to comment sections to argue that nothing should ever get in the way of people’s right to bully fat people.)
Then there are people who suggest that we shouldn’t bully fat people as long as they are “trying” – whether that means eating the way that the person who thinks that they have the right to judge wants us to eat, or moving our bodies in ways that are fatty judge approved, and usually requiring a side of self-loathing. This is also known as the bullshit Good Fatty/Bad Fatty dichotomy.
Then there is the line of reasoning that “it’s ok to be fat as long as someone is healthy.” Though these people don’t seem to run around asking thin people for the results of their latest cholesterol test in order to decide whether or not they deserve to be treated with basic human respect, so I’m thinking that, even if it wasn’t completely ridiculous to suggest that there is a level of health at which people lose the right to basic human respect, this is just thinly veiled bigotry.
There’s also the suggestion that fat people who have a “valid reason” – PCOS, medication that causes weight gain, a health condition etc. – don’t deserve bullying.
Now, of course I’m all for not bullying fat people. But when we suggest that some fat people don’t deserve to be bullied because they meet criteria above, we are also (intentionally or not) suggesting that people who don’t meet those criteria do deserve bullying. And that’s crap.
These ideas are perpetuated in lots of ways and for lots of reasons – by well-intentioned people who don’t think through the implications of suggesting that a subset of fat people should be protected from bullying, to bullies trying to justify their right to bully a subset of fat people, to fat people themselves who are trying to escape the stigma, bullying, and oppression that they are experiencing by suggesting that they are better than “those other fat people” for the reasons listed above, thereby throwing those “other fat people” under the proverbial bus. Herein we often find the intersections of sizeism with healthism, ableism, classism, racism et al.)
When we say “Bullying fat people is wrong” we are making a statement of fact that needs no qualifiers.
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20 thoughts on “Reasons Not to Not Bully Fat People”
I’m intrigued by the language in this post because ultimately, every individual has a “right” to say stigmatizing and oppressive things to anyone. Yes, even to bully others.
Just as much as we have a right to speak back, remove ourselves, tell an adult (in case of a young person), or report such behavior to others (ie Twitter, etc.)
In this post you’re primarily talking about unkind speech and behavior – not actual harmful areas of fat oppression such as employment discrimination. And I do understand that one can lead to the other.
And I think it’s good/great/awesome practice to call out nasty people’s behavior whenever possible and I do love what you have to say. I guess I think it’s important to honor the right everyone has to say what they want. Of course I don’t think that means a person saying nasty things shouldn’t have societal consequences. I’d love to see the day where mocking someone because they are fat had the tantamount effect in response as someone saying the “n-word” does today. And there were people (ugh still are actually) who wanted to defend their right to say it. Yes, anyone has the right to say it, but I’m going to think you’re a racist asshole if you do (this excludes hostile work environments, etc).
I do agree, COMPLETELY, that there’s no reason to bully a fat person. People just shouldn’t be assholes. On the other hand, it’s important to me to say that they have a right to be those assholes just as much as we have a right to exist in our fat bodies.
I’m pleased that you completely understand the concept of free speech. There are too many assholes out there who believe that freedom of speech means a lack of social consequence, and/or a guaranteed right to be ugly (with minimal consequence) in someone else’s personal space.
I think that you are talking about what the United States Constitution dictates because there are many countries where hate speech is specifically excluded from free speech provisions. The US Constitution says that “Congress shall make no laws… abridging the freedom of speech,” though it should be noted that there are places including, as you pointed out, workplaces and hate crimes legislation where hate speech may not necessarily be protected and, as you stated, does not protect people from social consequences.
I would also ask that you not compare oppressions in this space. Also, racism is sadly alive and well and there are still plenty of places where the n-word is used as a tool for derision and oppression and there is none of the negative reaction that you are talking about.
Still, I’m not talking about the Constitution here – what I’m talking about what I consider to be required by basic human respect as it relates to discussions that are taking place where people are suggesting that some fat people don’t deserve to be bullied, but others do.
So this post isn’t about asking the government to step in. I’m suggesting that we recognize that common decency dictates that bullying and verbal abuse are wrong whether the US Constitution permits them or not, and that in doing so we make it clear that we needn’t add qualifiers to that when it comes to fat people, or anyone else. Of course, as always those are just my thoughts and people are free to disagree.
Great reply Ragen,
I would add thought that it is time the government steps in and protects us (and everyone else who is marginalized) from bullying and hate speech.
Yep, it’s nice to contemplate the possibility that people would do what’s RIGHT, not only what is legal. Imagine the restructuring corporations would have to do? the pollution problems that would abate? … as well as the asshole-ishness abatement.
Sometimes when I watch Star Trek, I wonder how writers ever imagine that humans could become so noble.
We have a long way to go.
I’m strongly in disagreement with your first comment. Everyone has the right to THINK what they will, but your right to say anything you want stops when it infringes on others rights and decency. That’s my stance and it is why I don’t often share my thoughts and opinions. If what I say is bullying, then it should stay in my head where I can wrestle with that issue later and try to rise above my biases and stigma.
Though I’m not sure I agree entirely with your argument that everyone has a “right” to be verbally hateful or abusive, nowhere in this post did I see Ragen suggest that people don’t have a right to that. What I did see was her saying that it’s wrong.
It can be legal and still be wrong.
It’s amazing to me that the US is the only country where hate speech a bullying is protected. We need to be much more like Canada. Last year this vulgar American comedian bullied an over weight, trans person at a live comedy show and he had to go in front of the Human Rights Tribunal. He could have done jail time but basically they went easy on him and revoked his passport so he can never go to Canada again. But he’s free to say whatever he wants here which is just ridiculous.
Bullying is a big thing here. On the news almost everyday for the last year, we’ve heard of another suicide due to bullying, or some project the kids devized to reduce bullying on the playground, and “make more friends”.
Of course they never look at medical bullying, which is the biggest and most dangerous form of all.
That is just ridiculous. Why do they let people get away with this? This is like the Civil Rights movement all over again. Back then, It didn’t matter what you said or did. As a society, we have progressed to the point where hate speech is a specific crime. But not everyone is covered. Religion, race and sex is covered. Disability is covered. But not every disability. We aren’t included. Like Lady Gaga said – we are born this way.
As many times as our mommies said that sticks and stones can break our bones, but words can never hurt us, our mommies were wrong. Words can damage us to the core of our beings. I’m fifty-two, and there were things said to me when I was six or seven that still sting and ache while physical injuries I suffered much later in life have left no scars at all.
Whenever anyone suggests that there is an entire group of people – fat, black, a religious minority, gay, trans, whatever – that everyone is entitled to speak ill of without reservation, it damages our collective humanity. To suggest that there is a subset in the ritual societal whipping boy based on trying not to be so fat, black, gay, etc. turns that group on itself, further debasing us all.
The law is one thing, basic human decency another. I’d rather try to be a decent human that simply one that isn’t being prosecuted.
There is a difference too between personal prejudice and societal acceptance. By voicing our disdain for personal affronts, we help to keep them from becoming (or help them un-become?) socially acceptable. (I can dream, anyway!)
I’ve always hated that saying.
I have had this discussion with friends before. The bullying is outwardly about the assumption of health based on physical appearance. It primarily originates from a discomfort or fear within themselves based on the programming of the media, diet industry, and upbringing. When I call them on it, using myself as an example of how THEY CANNOT POSSIBLY BE QUALIFIED TO DEFINE MY HEALTH OR THE HEALTH OF ANY OTHER FAT PERSON and should never shame someone for their physical appearance, I am told that because mine isn’t because I eat fast food then I am an exception and that the majority still deserve the bullying (but I’m special). Really?
In these conversations, it’s nearly impossible to get any farther once they’ve said that. The surprising thing is, not a single one of them would admit to thinking negative thoughts about someone with any other visible difference, let alone bully them.
I engaged in some activism over the weekend. It’s on a news site I regularly comment on anyway. However, some commenters really get my grind. Sp!ked posted an article last Thurs. about “thigh gap”. http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/obesity-obsessed-policymakers-dont-mind-the-thigh-gap/16460#.VL11dkfF-So
Anyway, the usual “they’re just coach potatoes”, “pay more for airplane seats” business started. One BrS is of the opinion that all ppl who “spill” over the seats should have to pay more, including the NFL. I’m not sure if I should take it further, as other comments and articles show that there is a sizeable resistance to gov’t control and busybodying of our lives. I think my comments hold their own water, and I even got 2 upvotes already, plus a Vicki called him out on his hate.
If anyone wants a go and has more balls than me, have fun with it. Otherwise just read the article, and see that there is resistance to the nanny state.
Any activism is good activism. If we don’t stand up for us, who will?
We shouldn’t bully anyone! Seriously the fact that other’s are making it okay not to bully someone because it fits their standards. ..it’s just wrong. I think your message of being happy with our own body types is the best thing I’ve seen. Keep spreading the word.
I’m still baffled by the overwhelming need some members of the human race need to hold onto their ability to put others down.
Its the insecure people that put other people down to make themselves feel better. If they were truly happy with themselves, they wouldn’t bother. So if it ever happens, just take comfort in the fact that they don’t fell as good about themselves as we do.