Drive-By Fat Shaming

You Forgot Your BullshitToday I’m not talking about the kind of drive-by fat shaming where people moo at us from their cars (though they do, sometimes they even throw eggs, and it’s super messed up.) Today I’m talking about the small incidents of fat shaming that happen daily, often as casual asides.

This post was inspired by my attempt to watch the show Jessica Jones. Roughly a million people have recommended this show to me as being  amazingly feminist and all girl power-y. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, there is an incident of fat shaming. It is apropos of absolutely nothing, it doesn’t “advance the plot”  she is surveilling someone in her job as a private investigator, she sees a fat woman exercising in a random window and makes a nasty comment, then the show moves on.  Like the writers had 20 extra seconds so they decided to fill it with a cheap fat joke. Or they were scared that the show would be seen as all scary and feminist so they wanted to reassure people – we’re not too revolutionary, we still hate fat people.

This is drive-by fat shaming. Just a quick reminder to everyone watching/listening that it’s hilarious and cool to make fun of fat people – even on a show that is supposed to be feminist.  I’m told that it never happens again in the show, and that many people have enjoyed the show, and I get that. Maybe I’ll keep watching, but my enjoyment is going to be marred by the fact that I know that the character I’m supposed to be rooting for isn’t rooting for me, and doesn’t see us as equals.

It might seem like a small thing and, taken by itself, I suppose it is, which is why many people who are reading this are already trying to explain it away, justify it, or decide if they want to leave a comment to tell me I’m oversensitive.  Newsflash – it’s not this one moment – it’s the number of times this moment happens to me on a daily basis.

I’m in a hotel and Friends is on – I have to hope that it’s not a Monica-was-fat flashback episode. Big Bang Theory marathon – I can look forward to a fat joke almost every episode. I was watching the movie Secretariat – about a damn horse – and there’s a jab at fat people. I love stand-up comedy but I don’t love sitting in an audience while the person takes their time on stage to stigmatize and stereotype people who look like me.

At a show I was at, the most laughed-at joke a comic had during 15 minutes on stage was that he worked in a sporting goods store, a “kind of big lady” came in looking for a sports bra, and he said “what sport are you playing there chief.”  That was the entire joke, a fat woman came to a store that sells sportsbras to buy a sportsbra  (in a world that constantly – incorrectly –  insists that fat people have some obligation to exercise until we are thin) and the store clerk was a total dick to her, and he’s so proud of it he tells the story to hundreds of people a day. It’s so funny I forgot to laugh.

All day, every day.  Casual fat jokes, fat people used as “shorthand” for being lazy, un-athletic, unattractive, unmotivated, unsexy, unhealthy. Fat people as metaphor for greed, capitalism, and lack of discipline.  Television shows, movies, articles, stand-up comics, workplace wellness programs, conference speakers.  It’s a straight male friend of mine whose friends got him an “I’ll fuck the fat friend” shirt as a joke.  It’s the fact that a shirt like this is for sale. Take a few days to notice how many times you hear a negative message about fat people.

And then of course there are people who have multiple marginalized identities, who deal with this for each of their identities and at the intersections of those identities. (And let me take this opportunity to be clear that fat isn’t “the last acceptable prejudice” – racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, classism, and more are sadly alive and well and far too acceptable.)

And when we speak out about it, there’s always someone who can’t wait to try to justify it, or claim that it’s not worth fighting, that we shouldn’t care, or tell us how they wouldn’t care if they were fat, which matters not at all and only serves to make the situation even worse. Meanwhile, all these “little things” chip away at our humanity while reinforcing to others that fat people deserve to be treated poorly, which in turns leads to fat people being treated poorly –  hired less and paid less than our thin peers, discriminated against in healthcare settings, and fat people’s treatment online that  borders on being criminal.

Nobody is obligated to engage in activism, nobody is obligated to speak out about these things, nobody is obligated to take offense.  But if you do notice these things, if you are offended, I  want you to know that it’s not in your head – it’s not you. Fat shaming is ubiquitous, it’s incessant, and it is wrong. Wrong wrong wrongity wrong. 100% wrong, and no number of excuses, justifications, accusations of being over-sensitive, or dismissive sighs will ever make it right.  And you have every right to insist that it needs to stop.

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35 thoughts on “Drive-By Fat Shaming

  1. Fat shaming is just another microaggression that people face everyday and holy god is it pervasive. I’m saddened that Jessica Jones does that. Like you a million people have told me to watch it for the same reasons. That’s irritating that a show that supposed to be if that caliber resorts to a tactic as lazy as they claim fat people to be.

  2. Yeah, that joke really stood out on the show, to me. It’s true that it never happens again, and I was able to fall in love with the show in spite of it. But it was just such a weird moment.

    Jessica Jones doesn’t make a habit of making snarky comments about the appearance of people in other ways, or even in that way, ever again. It’s got nothing to do with the story, or even what she’s doing at that moment in time. There was absolutely NO reason for it to have been included, and it took me out of what was otherwise a really engaging story. One I identified with, for all kinds of reasons I don’t want to get into.

    It’s indicative of how deeply ingrained this stuff is that the writers of the show – who’ve put a LOT of effort into the writing overall – didn’t even think twice of putting that in there and it’s not even *for* anything.

    It’s like there’s some unconscious urge people have where, if they’re putting a fat person on-screen for even a second, they *have* to make a fat joke. It’s a lack of self-control that rivals the supposed lack of self-control people say we have.

    1. There was a lot I identified with in the show, also: (This is not really a big spoiler, but for anyone who hasn’t seen the show and is very sensitive to any kind of spoiler, stop reading now.) There is a villain in the show who can control minds and make people do whatever he tells them to do. I kept thinking about that a lot. How the worst kind of torture is what we do to ourselves because it’s what we are told we must do. I thought about all the horrible stuff I did to myself and my body and how I did it *willingly* because I was told I had to in order to be acceptable. I hurt *myself* willingly and I was adamant about it, even somewhat dangerous, if you tried to stop me.

      1. Well, if that’s true, and the fat joke was completely out of character for her, perhaps they’ll come back to it later, and she’ll realize that she only did it because the villain MADE her do that out-of-character-cruelty thing, because by enforcing thin privilege on her, she would waste a lot of her time and energy trying desperately to avoid getting fat, herself.

        This really could become a viable, and powerful, plot device, if used properly.

        Unfortunately, I doubt they’ll go there.

        I haven’t seen the show, yet, because I hear it’s very dark, and I don’t do well with dark or suspense, because I get tense, and pull my back/neck out and suffer for days. Mind you, some shows are absolutely worth it. But it sounds like this one is not. At least, not yet.

        If they ever actually do address the fat-hatred issue in a positive way, then perhaps it will be worth it for me.

    2. I too was pretty confused by it. I guess the point was to establish that JJ is a fucked up person because of what happened to her? But even with that it didn’t need to be there we get plenty of that message without her dehumanizing other people. It completely brought me out of the show and made me not want to keep watching.

  3. Every time this sort of thing happens, in whatever format, I wonder “Who do you think your audience IS?” Do authors/performers/scriptwriters think that everyone in their audience is thin? Because they aren’t.

    Do they think that fat jokes are so HI-LARIOUS that even those of us who are fat are going to laugh at them? I don’t think that’s it.

    I think they forget, time and time again, that fat people EXIST, and are sure to be a pretty significant part of the audience for ANY performance. And this shit just. isn’t. funny. It isn’t even interesting. It’s cheap and stupid and needs to be called out every single time.

  4. It’s the out-of-nowhere, out-of-context appearance of these, ahem, “jokes” that makes them so weird and annoying. They feel like the PSAs in old eighties cartoons where like Flint would freeze the firefight with Cobra so he could turn to the camera and say, “So remember, kids, recycle your glass and plastic bottles.” That’s what these fat “jokes” feel like – insulting, ham-fisted PSAs for grownups in which the character halts the narrative, breaks the fourth wall, turns to the camera and says, “So remember, it’s morally wrong for fat people to exist.” And then the plot goes on like it never happened, leaving the viewers who noticed to wonder if anyone else just saw the story crack and leak bullshit on them. They’re not jokes, they’re Public Service “Jokes” (PSokes?); their purpose isn’t to make you laugh, but deliver a message and subtly coerce your agreement. Which is why they are, to a man, unfunny. They aren’t supposed to be funny, any more than Flint reminding us all plastic goes in one bin, glass in the other was supposed to be funny.

    And, yeah, PSokes have reached such a critical mass they’re not just soiling a show here and there, they’re ubiquitous, and impossible to miss unless you were to swear off fiction entirely. Which means us fatties have to sit through a lot of fourth-wall ruptures that only happen to remind us we live in a society that really, really wants to be rid of us.

    1. Re: Swearing off fiction entirely – there’s some truth to that. More and more, I become aware of the fat-hatred all around me, and I get jarred out of enjoying a really good book, because of the drive-by “this fat character is unsympathetic” thing that happens. It’s upsetting, and really can spoil a story for me, if it happens too much, or too intensely.

      I recently saw an interview of the actors involved in Game of Thrones. The one major sympathetic fat character in the entire series, so far, is played by an actor who had an interesting story to tell. He said that he actually got a comment from a fan, asking him why Sam is still so fat, after all the traveling and hard work he’s done. “You’ve been trudging all over the place! Shouldn’t you be thin, by now?”

      What got me the most about this is that another actor on the show, the young woman who plays Arya, was sitting beside him, and we got to see her silent, shocked reaction. It was wonderful! She was shocked at the comment, and then got this “is the commenter stupid?” look on her face, as she smiled at her co-worker, of whom she apparently thinks well. YAAAAY! She hasn’t bought into the baloney, yet! I hope she never does!

      Of course, this is TV. The books still make fun of him for being fat, even if he is a Big Damn Hero.

      The last several books I’ve read have jarred me with the drive-by fat-hatred for some minor character or other. However, most recently, I read a Jane Austen novel, and never once felt the attack. Either she’s just that good at subtlety, or she just never fat-shamed her characters. I do believe it’s the latter. I’ll have to read all her works again, to be sure.

      1. Re: Jane Austen – I think in the Victorian era, and earlier, fat-shaming either didn’t exist, or it was so minor in the day-to-day events that no one really cared about fatness. It was more the morality/did you go to church/rich vs. poor that was a greater concern, and probably also the Irish. At least that is my general takeaway from British literature of the 19th century, before that it was the French.

        I’m currently reading another book by Frances Burney (her 2nd) and there are loads more French-isms and terms in the book than her 1st (which involved a French heiress who was raised on a country estate in England). Her 4th novel is set entirely around the French Revolution. I also have started to delve into French and Spanish lit, and the 16th century French stuff is concerned with class divisions and extra-marital affairs. If someone is fat, it’s not stated, and we know from art and portraits that there were plenty of fat people then!

        1. Jane Austen was Regency, actually, and Victorian period was when the “wasp waist” became popular, thanks to tight-lacing corsets. Yet, there wasn’t as much fat-shaming then as there is now.

          In Jane Austen’s era, the Prince Regent was fat-shamed by Beau Brummell, and the Beau, who had been THE leader of fashionable society, had to leave the country, because the Prince had been so offended that Beau was basically blackballed from society, and because of that, his creditors hounded him. He had been able to live in debt because he was basically good advertising, as long as he was so popular. The tailors and such were willing to let him have his clothes on credit, since so many people were copying him, it was good business. But once he fat-shamed Prinny, he was shunned, and the bill collectors came calling, and he had to leave the country! Prinny was fat, and he liked fat women, and fat-shaming just didn’t fly with HIM.

          Victoria, however, started out slim, and got fat as she got older. Her era lasted a good long time, though, so it gets confusing. When she first took power, it was very similar to the Regency, but then, WOW, what a change she made. She was strict and moral, and straight-laced, and made sure the rest of the country adhered to those standards, too. And that’s when the corsets came in.

          A century or two before, corsets were a thing, but they weren’t so much about making a woman *small* as they were about making her *tubular*. Shape, versus size.

          You’re right about the Victorian era being more about morality and did-you-go-to-church, though. Unfortunately, that’s when they started writing children’s books which really hammered home the stereotypes of beauty=virtue and ugly=evil. Talk about twisting the minds of the youth! So, as soon as thin became considered more beautiful than fat (wasp-waist), fat became considered evil, and the slippery slope got greased.

          Frances Burney – Did she write “Secret Garden” and “A Little Princess”? I quite enjoyed those books, but I’m not quite sure of the name of the author. I believe they did have a lot of French in them, though. That was a popular thing in the 18th and 19th centuries.

          Even during the Napoleonic wars, the upper class wanted French fashion (except for riding habits – they believed the French couldn’t make good riding habits, don’t know why), and they would frequently invite enemy officers to dine. And the upper class all HAD to be fluent in French, and would frequently speak in French, because… They were English? Norman blood? Who knows. They were weird.

          Hey, have you read Ann Radcliffe’s “The Mysteries of Udolpho”?

          1. Trying again.

            “Secret Garden” was written by a man in either 19th or early 20th century. I don’t know who wrote “Little Princess”.

            Fanny Burney used to be the most canonical author until about the 1950s, when scholars stopped reading her, and only recently has there been a renewed interest among the general public. I tried recently to read “Udolpho” but the Penguin edition had the font size too small, and I was getting into another book at the same time, so I will have to read that later (supposed to be a ghost story). I saw the Oxford World’s Classics ed. had better font size. I’m finding I loooove these old novels!

            Is there some way of contacting you?

        2. I just realized – 16th century French lit would be about extra-marital affairs, considering life in the French court, wouldn’t it? Hahaha! And yes, they had fat people. It just wasn’t considered a thing, I guess.

      2. I haven’t read P&P since I thought of this, but I have a suspicion that Jane Bennet is fat, or at least the least slender of her sisters. I can’t go look for anything now, but I think there are hints. And if there is any truth to my suspicion, clearly it’s not considered unattractive because Jane is always described as the most beautiful of the young Bennet ladies.

        1. I just read it last week, and I can’t answer your question. LOL.

          Seriously, Jane Austen left so much physical appearance up to the imagination. I remember ONE woman being described as having a “light and pleasing figure.” That’s it. Oh, and Kitty says she’s the tallest. It’s really a rare thing. Why? Probably because she recognized that fashions changed, tastes vary, there is no universal standard of beauty, but that human foibles are always intriguing.

  5. I had the exact reaction to that joke that you did. I stopped the show and seriously considered whether or not to even continue watching it. I eventually did. I’m glad you said something about this. I hope the writers listen. It’s such a slap in the face that this was included in what is supposed to be a feminist, empowering show. My heart was broken.

    Evidently, I’m not part of the women this was meant for. 😦

    1. I know I’m not part of the women the show was meant for. Along with the drive by fat shaming, there are no WoC of substance in the show. I stopped watching after the scene where Jessica kills a WoC, at Killgrave’s order. It just took me too far out of the show, for me to get back into it.

      I’m glad white women love the show, but ultimately I got the impression that women like me were not thought about, or that we would see it.

  6. I don’t even remember hearing that scene. I may have missed it because I often paint or do something else while watching my shows in another browser window. I mainly watched JJ because I’m a crazy fan girl of David Tennant. Having said that, and noting those things would certainly have influenced my experience, I watched the whole series and didn’t find it to be all girl power and pink “POW!” It felt, to me, like women were constantly being abused. Yeah, they were often bad ass and capable of taking care of themselves. Still, it was the non-stop fighting against oppression that spoke more loudly to me.

  7. Thanks to educating myself and following blogs like yours, I now notice these types of “jokes” in shows and recognize them for what they are. Lately I have been watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix and there are many things I love and appreciate about the show. However, they constantly make jokes about the residents of the (fictional) town of Pawnee, Indiana and their obesity rates. They get all kids of mileage out of storylines including 500 oz. sodas, a restaurant called Paunch Burger, diabetes, obesity rates, etc. It all boils down to the old “fat people are lazy, greedy, don’t exercise, eat only junk food, and are nothing but a drain on society.” Drives me nuts.

  8. Both my husband and I flinched at that moment – but I felt it was more of a nod to establishing Jessica’s flawed character than anything else, since it was an isolated incident in the show. Thank you for bringing it to our attention, as it DOES highlight the trend of Hollywood writers to gratuitously pepper their scripts with fat shaming.

    1. “I felt it was more of a nod to establishing Jessica’s flawed character”

      What? Really? I’m not sure how you could come to that conclusion when it’s something that is a common sentiment shared by many (maybe even most) people in today’s fat phobic society. I’d say they knew exactly what they where doing when they gave her that line and it wasn’t, imo, a way to “establish her flawed character”. To be honest, I believe this is exactly the low brow response they where hoping for: [Link redacted – leads to a troll site]

      Such a shame that a supposedly female oriented and “empowering” show has such blatant fat shaming like five minutes into it.

  9. Excellent blog! I truly hate that fat people are seen as lazy, boring, unkept, etc. Just last week, I saw a photo an old co-worker of mine put on Instagram and Facebook of herself and 2 other nurses who had jammed themselves into a pair of 5X scrub pants. They hilariously wanted to see how many people they could fit into pants that big. Except it wasn’t hilarious to me. I wear 5X scrub pants. It hurt my feelings and made me so angry I was practically in tears. But did I say anything? No. Because I was too chicken to confront her on social media and make things awkward. Why? She didn’t consider how that picture would effect me or any of her other overweight friends. For God’s sake, I assisted at the birth of both of her sons, but I didn’t want to draw attention to myself and be seen as the fat girl who can’t take a joke. How sad is that?

    1. Hugs to you for having to deal with your coworkers thoughtlessness – and disappointing that people with those attitudes are in the health field.

  10. YEP! I was recommended Jessica Jones and as soon as that scene came on I was like “HELL NO” and turned it off immediately. There was a day when I’d just cringe and be sad but keep watching it anyway “because that’s just how the world is”, but not anymore. I refuse to give ratings to bullshit fat shaming and if a show has ANY blatant fat shaming it’s suddenly got one less viewer. No second chances, no “oh but it was just that once”, no “but otherwise it’s a good show”. Nope.

    I don’t care how much I like a show, as soon as they cross that line I’m done. Sadly, almost all the shows that I’ve seen in the past few years does this at one point or another. I can’t stand that they take perfectly good shows and ruin it with fat phobic bullshit.

  11. If you want to see wonderful, snideness-free depictions of fat women, I can recommend the movie “Nebraska” directed by Alexander Payne. There are two great fat female characters presented without jokes or meanness about their size – just as people who are part of the story. So refreshing, and unfortunately so rare.

      1. I don’t know if it’s on Netflix – might be. It’s definitely overall a gentle movie, though it’s about dealing with old age and disappointments in life so some might find it depressing. I loved it. I’ve liked all of his movies. He is very non-Hollywood.

    1. “There are two great fat female characters presented without jokes or meanness about their size – just as people who are part of the story. So refreshing, and unfortunately so rare”

      I’ll definitely have to check that out! I think the last time I saw that was the ORIGINAL Hairspray. Watching that, with Tracy as just a normal every day teen girl and no one really makes a big deal about her size or makes her out to be a walking stereo type – it was like a breath of fresh air when you have been holding your breath for so long that you nearly pass out. lol There NEEDS to be more movies like that. Sadly, that’s the only one I can actually think of right now. That’s how rare it is.

      1. Although there was the Hefty Hideaway or whatever that dress shop was called. With the tacky commercials and the owner pushing chocolate eclairs. But — since it’s John Waters, somehow it didn’t bother me much.

  12. I just watched the first few episodes last night, keeping your caution in mind. I’ve got seriously mixed feelings. The fat-shaming was just as useless and mean as you said…

    [spoiler alert, just in case]

    …and then later they did a scene where a cyclist almost hits her neighbor as he’s crossing the street—and the cyclist dismounts, gets in her neighbor’s face, and starts yelling about how he rides a bike because he cares about the planet. Ah, cyclists, always so aggressive and arrogant, amirite? Especially to poor, hapless pedestrians.

    So the show was written by a thin motorist.

    Oh, and the fighting Jones hears from the apartment above her? Don’t worry, it’s not a woman being abused or beaten, it’s just a mean crazy lady screaming at her brother and bossing him around. Jones has to go up there and threaten her with violence because she just won’t shut up. Women!

    Mixed feelings.

  13. I am so glad that I’m not the only one to have seen this. It just felt so unnecessary and it made me feel so sad to see another otherwise good show stoop to this. I mean I felt so exhausted after hearing these kind of “jokes” at our expense I could almost her thin people in my mind telling me to calm down, that i shouldn’t get so worked up about it. A lot of people don’t seem to understand that small things pile up and every time a comment like that is made i can’t help but think
    ” This shit ? Again?”

  14. Yes! I was so disappointed. I was also told by a friend that it was supposed to show that Jessica is an “anti-hero”… but that doesn’t work because society agrees with her in most cases! Also, the ludicrous scene of the woman getting back on the treadmill while eating a burger. Have they tried to walk and eat at the same time? It’s doable, but not fun. Why oh why would that woman not just sit and eat the burger and then treadmill?

    I did force myself to continue, but then I found out that when other superheroes like Daredevil get to fight crime and beat people up, Jessica’s big fight… is to avoid getting raped again. FOR AN ENTIRE SEASON. One episode, maybe.

    Not for me.

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