We’re Fat People, Not Metaphors

Actual SizeOne of the ways that weight-based bigotry is perpetuated is the use of fat people and being fat as metaphor.  Recently reader Jen commented about a situation where this was happening to her and gave me permission to blog about it.

I am the only fat person, in a group of 14 people, for whom issues like alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic partner violence seem to play third chair to the issue of: “at least I don’t look like her.” And no, I can’t prove this, but when half of the examples from the books that the groups’ facilitators use have to be examples of how “not to eat too much”, “because that is a short time reward vs a long time goal” (ie a cookie vs weight loss), I get sort of…paranoid. Like one can BE paranoid about an issue that seems to run 24 7 in every element, aspect and goal of modern American Society.
Seriously, have they NO other examples?

As they say – it’s not paranoia if they’re actually after you.  Fat bodies, being fat, and stereotypes about being  fat are used to represent everything from  greed to laziness to capitalism and more.  Our bodies are freely used for whatever the negative metaphor, comparison, or representation of the day is.  As if we have no feelings about seeing people who look like us constantly used to represent everything bad in the world, or as if those feelings aren’t important.

Our bodies are not yours to photograph and throw all over the internet as a metaphor for anything (or as some bullshit People of Walmart nonsense.)  We are PEOPLE, these are our BODIES, and EVERY BODY deserves respect.

Of course we each get to choose how to deal with the oppression we face. For me, when this happens in person I’ve found that one of the most effective tools is to use confusion, acting like I don’t understand the comparison and making the person explain until the problem is obvious and they get too uncomfortable to continue.

When it happens online, I propose a little bit of simple at-home activism.  Every time you see fat people or being fat used to represent something negative, leave a comment like “Fat people aren’t yours for the metaphor-ing. Every body deserves respect!” If you want to take it one step further send an e-mail to the source of the story – tell them your personal story, send them this blog whatever, but let’s teach people that this behavior isn’t ok.  Also, I’ve found that this kind of activism can reframe this issue for me – now instead of feeling angry or hurt or ashamed when I see this happen, I can look at it as a chance to educate, and advocate for myself.

I am super excited to announce the 2017 Body Love Obstacle Course!

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12 thoughts on “We’re Fat People, Not Metaphors

  1. Yeah, it’s just sooo very frequent that a fat character is also bad, in some way, either outright villainous, or pathetic.

    I saw commercials for the new Wonder Woman movie, featuring a cheerful fat woman, who seems neither villainous nor pathetic, and I hope, I REALLY hope, that she turns out to be just a character. Even better if she’s a good character, but you know, I’ll settle for fat person playing just a character.

    Why? Because frankly there are not enough “just a characters” played by fat people. When fat actors get work, it is almost always as some sort of a stereotype. Even bit parts seem to require thin actors, because heaven forbid that Man #4 or Woman with a Bag be played by fat people.

    1. :::::Puts on geek hat:::::
      If they wrote Etta Candy true to the comic books, she’s a positive character and has been written in some books as Diana’s first female friend after leaving her home. I hope that characterization survives the Hollywood fatphobia machine #PleaseDontSuckPLEASEDontSuck

    2. I enjoyed Melissa McCarthy in St. Vincent. She was just a mom who cared for her kid and her cantankerous old fart neighbor. Not a fat joke in sight. How refreshing and how rare for a successful comedy.

  2. There are so many other short-term / long-term examples. I agree with Jen that using “cookie now vs weight loss later” so often seems rather suspicious. So sorry that Jen is having to deal with this in a what seems to be a support group (was not exactly sure what kind of group it is). Does not sound very supportive.

    Seems like a more common example for short-term vs long term goals would involve money. For example, spend now on an impulse buy vs. save up for larger purchase or to spend down debt.

    Many thanks to Ragen for listing some concrete examples on how to fight against this.

  3. Mindfulness group…No laughing. I know. It is weird (pathetic) to be in this situation again but it happens (esp in the medical field). You have to help them, to help themselves, to be able to help you, or they just don’t see it. It is so bizarre, in so many forward thinking, anti bias, let’s be all people together settings, you still have to educate people that you are not going to be their “worst case scenario”.
    Intelligent and fat is sometimes a hell of a combination.
    Let’s hear it for: “You’re so well spoken…”
    For YOU….. tee hee tee hee.

  4. I know I’m new here, but can I make an observation? I noticed there is no simple symbol I could use on my cubicle at work that designates “safe space” for weight acceptance. Kind of like the rainbow-triangle for LGBT. I tried searching for one. Looked at the NAAFA site, nothing I could identify. The best I can think of atm is to post a few of the I Stand pictures.

    Nobody at work would ever think I’m not ambitious, haha, I’ve been criticized for that too. People will criticize anything, especially if they want a prize for themselves and fear you will take it. I think this is why we need federal legislation for this issue, especially in the South where obesity is even more common. Having a discreet sign would help because it’s a polite way to state your opinion without rubbing your boss’s nose in the issue or lecturing him or her. And if many people had it posted, it would help people decide if they will accept a job at that company because during a walk-through, you’d have a chance to look for the symbols you care about.

    I think the paranoia issue is just another effect of assuming someone who is fat is also stupid. It’s obviously a weight-shaming culture, so it’s not paranoia to be afraid of other’s reactions.

  5. Oops forgot to say: The ‘everybody deserves respect’ statement can be tricky. I can just hear the trolls saying “Respect has to be earned.” Would it require less back and forth if it said “Everybody deserves to be treated with neutral civility”? Or is that too complex? Or is there a response to the earned statement? I guess maybe “Earned how?” or “Who keeps track of who has earned it or not?” and then let the person talk themselves into a corner.

    1. I think it’s a (probably deliberate) misunderstanding of what’s meant by “respect.” If you google the word respect, among the definitions given are these two:

      A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.
      “the director had a lot of respect for Douglas as an actor”


      due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others.
      plural noun: respects
      “respect for human rights”

      It is painfully obvious when we say we want basic respect, we mean that second definition. We want acknowledgement of and due regard for our basic humanity, which includes not withholding basic human rights from us because of the way we look.

      Trolls, however, will insist on pretending we mean the first… that we’re asking for their *admiration*… because they then get to say, “You can’t force me to admire you!” And that’s true; you can’t force one person to admire another. I certainly don’t admire diet culture or anyone who supports it while knowing how it ruins and ends lives. However, I’m not asking society for admiration, just the same *unbiased* disregard they have for everyone else. To say otherwise is a straw man and a derailing technique.

      Unfortunately, I think the easiest way to thwart that straw man is not to give them the opportunity to tilt at it, which means I’d go with the “everybody deserves to be treated with neutral civility” line and not bother with the word “respect.”

  6. I just watched a commercial for a live broadcast of “Hair Spray”, which is one of my favorite movies/plays as the main character is fat and that’s not made a MAJOR deal over. However, the commercial showed about TWO SECONDS of the main character and spent most of the time showing the thin blond girls. Really? Even the MAIN CHARACTER gets seconds of air time for a commercial for a story ABOUT that character – and instead the most air time is given to the villain of the story …the thin blond girl? Ugh. I’m saddened but not at all surprised.

  7. Saw that too, kinda of kept waiting for it. You know it is bad when the subject of fat, being the main theme of a show or event, has to be couched in non-fat images and words. Maybe they figure Turnblatt can become a side character to the the rest of the cast…

    Jarrah “neutral civility” That’s it! That’s what we need. You don’t even HAVE to respect people per say, just stay out of their face and not threaten or assault people. But civility has been dying a long death these last couple decades. Come’s a time we are going to wish we didn’t set that one aside.
    When the bulk of philosophy and religion deals with how wee can deal with people we don’t want to deal with, since time immemorial, there is a reason these tenets were set in place. We have to be reminded not to be jerks, constantly.

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