Sometimes I break the cardinal rule of being fat on the internet and I read the comments. I’m always a bit taken aback by the way people who have no health knowledge tell us all about our health, and in particular by the tone of superiority that people take against fat people:
“Fat people need to be shamed. I have always been a big believer in shame; it is the most human emotion and impetus for corrective behavior.”
Some of the most difficult comments for me read are like this one: “I’m fat and I think that we deserve to be shamed. I know that I could eat less and exercise more but I let life get in the way. Maybe if we were more humiliated we would be more motivated to do something about our fat, lazy asses.”
Today I was pondering how people develop such a sense of superiority that making comments like this seems like a reasonable thing to do. And why do fat people allow it, sometimes even joining in? Then I remembered a couple of experiments that I studied in school:
In an effort to explain racism to her third grade students, Jane Elliot conducted a two day experiment. On day one she told her students “This is a fact. Blue eyed people are better than brown eyed people.” Moments later a girl took longer than the others to get her book prepared. One student immediately said “She’s a brown eye” and the other blue-eyed students all chorused in agreement. The next day she changed the groups, telling the class that brown-eyed students were superior. According to Elliot, “I watched what had been marvelous, wonderful, cooperative, thoughtful children turn into nasty, vicious, discriminating little third graders in the space of fifteen minutes”
In the Stanford Prison Experiment Philip Zimbardo, a psychology professor chose twenty-four students out of 75 to play the prisoners, the remainder to play guards, and live in a mock prison set up in the Stanford Psychology basement. The participants quickly adapted to their roles even beyond Zimbardo’s expectations. Within a couple of days the “Officers” displayed authoritarian measures and eventually tortured some of the prisoners. Many of the prisoners developed passive attitudes and allowed the abuse, and, when asked by the the guards, inflicted punishment on other prisoners who tried to stop them. The experiment was stopped after six day and remains controversial.
Imagine what would have happened if the experiments had continued for the rest of these people’s lives. How would the brown-eyed kids be now? How much money do you suppose people would pay to try to change their eye color? How about the students who, after just a few days, allowed themselves to be subjected to torture just because someone told them that they are second class citizens? Can you imagine what state they would be in after years of believing that they deserved to be treated so poorly?
I wonder if that’s how it became ok to treat fat people as if we’re a lower form of life? It seems that at some point we started being told that fat people aren’t as good as thin people. That you can look at the size of a person and tell what they eat, how much they exercise, how much self-control they have, their physical fitness level, even how smart they are, and that you have the right to judge them. Of course that’s not supported by the research, but based on the experiments above, all it takes is an authority figure. (A role filled by plenty of “scientists” and doctors on the payroll of pharmaceutical companies and the diet industry that makes $60,000,000,000 a year by telling people that they can move them into the superior group.).
Are fat people the brown-eyed students and inmates of the present day in a grand, unintentional social experiment? Let’s all remember that it’s not just a day, or a week of being called names and told the we’re less valuable than thin people -it’s a lifetime. And it’s not an experiment. The comments that I copied above aren’t third graders learning a lesson, they are regular people who’ve taken to heart the idea that they are better than us because they look different than we do, and they are perpetuating that just as Ms. Elliot’s third graders did by calling us names, putting us down, and adopting an air of superiority.
And I don’t believe for a minute that most of these people care at all about my health. I think the “it’s for your health” argument to justify this type of behavior is nothing more than a tattered life-raft in a sea of bullying behavior – something that people can hold onto that they feel justifies actions that they know, deep down, are wrong.
Unfortunately we can’t just end the experiment like Jane Elliott and Phillip Zombardo. But we can fight back. And before we do I think that we might want to take a good hard look at our behavior and be sure that we don’t end up like the Stanford inmates – allowing ourselves to be subjected to horrible treatment and putting each other down to try to gain the acceptance of the “superior class”. We can refuse to buy into the lie. And when we read or hear people who are trying desperately to stay in the upper group by putting us down, we can realize that these people are behaving like confused third graders, sheeple who have fallen into a classic psychological trap.
Perhaps we can’t change their behavior, but we can support each other to stay out of the trap and, over time, expose this War Against Obesity OMIGODDEATHFATISCOMINGFORUS bullshit for the baseless, highly profitable, discriminatory, power trip it really is. Until then I offer you this mantra: The world is fucked up. I am fine.
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