Saturday, April 05, 2008

Being Fat-Hateful Is Not Okay

Yesterday, Huffington Post published yet another fat-related story, this one entitled Study Concludes “Fat-ism” More Widespread Than Racism, which naturally brought out the fat-haters, this time outraged that something as inane as discriminating against fat people would be compared with real discrimination, like the kind based on race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

The core arguments for hating and discriminating against fat people with impunity seem to be the following:

  1. Fat people are ugly and when they eat, they’re downright disgusting;

  2. Being fat is an unhealthy lifestyle choice and everyone has an obligation to be as healthy as possible;

  3. Fat people make life logistically uncomfortable for everybody else;

  4. Obesity is weighing down the health care system and healthy people have to pay for it;

  5. Fat people want everyone to feel sorry for them, but they don’t do anything to help themselves;

  6. Fat people bring derision on themselves by being what they are.

I’m starting to feel that fighting these arguments is like pissing in the wind, but I’ll take another shot (and I’m sure this won’t be my last…)

Fat people are ugly and when they eat, they’re downright disgusting – There’s no sensible way to argue aesthetic values and people can’t control their visceral responses. Fat people can be ugly; anyone can be ugly, if they’re dirty, or poorly groomed and dressed, or rude, or ill-mannered. Lots of fat people are none of these things – and lots of thin and normal-weighted people are all of these things. But it’s been my experience that thin people can do (or wear or be) anything, even if it’s unpleasant, and nobody says boo. But put an ice cream cone in the hands of a neat, clean, nicely-dressed fat person and passersby go ballistic. Contemporary culture – virtually around the world – has decided that fat is ugly; it’s a learned response and it’s ingrained early. Not that long ago, being black was seen as ugly by people of no color; that’s what gave birth to a “Black Is Beautiful” campaign in the 60s. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. A picture of Dawn French, the well-known English actress and fat advocate, illustrates this post. Is she ugly? I contend that if you think so, you’re prejudiced – or at the very least, possessed of a very limited idea of what can be considered attractive.

Being fat is an unhealthy lifestyle choice and everyone has an obligation to be as healthy as possible – This one troubles me the most, because it reflects enormous ignorance about the dynamics of obesity, as well as a twisted view of social responsibility. If you’d like to see documentation of the facts, just do a search for “obesity” in the archives of New York You’ll learn what many fat people already know: that actually very little is understood about what makes people fat and keeps them that way. Losing weight is not nearly as simple as eat less/exercise more. Of course some people are fat because of what they eat and not exercising. But many fat people go to great lengths to maintain healthy eating habits and a regular exercise regimen; it’s the core behavior of the Health At Every Size (HAES) component of the Fat Acceptance Movement. But doing so does not ipso-facto make fat people thin, it just makes them healthier. To a far greater extent than is known by the general public, fat, particularly what is called morbid obesity is NOT a choice. But even if it were, when did being healthy go from being a personal priority to a social responsibility? I think it began with the anti-smoking movement, as well as several decades of religious fundamentalism and largely conservative government, which also put affirmative action and welfare in such disfavor, and the availability of birth control and abortions in such peril. As a society, we’ve become more puritanical, judgmental, mean-spirited, ungenerous and unaccepting of individualism than we’ve ever been. We had a brief respite in the 60s (my formative years), but we’ve returned to our old ways (think Pilgrims, Pioneers and Prohibition) with a vengeance.

Fat people make life logistically uncomfortable for everybody else – When the fat-haters post on blogs, they always complain about fat people on planes, buses and subways; we take up more than our fair share of room. I don’t doubt that some fat people indeed spread themselves out in public spaces without concern for the comfort of others. But many fat people – myself included – are obsessed with not doing so. When I fly, I go First Class or buy two Coach seats. When I ride buses, I make a bee-line for the row of single seats. I haven’t taken a subway in years. I also haven’t gone to a theater or cinema or most restaurants because I’m not comfortable and I don’t want to crowd other people. But fat people aren’t the only ones taking up an inordinate amount of room. So do men who sit with their legs splayed (got to give that package room!), shoppers who plunk their parcels on the seat next to them, and [generally] young people who think nothing of putting their feet on your arm-rest or intimidating everyone they encounter into making way for them. Fat isn’t the culprit, rudeness is the problem and it comes in all sizes.

Obesity is weighing down the health care system and healthy people have to pay for it – This is the big one, the reason that the haters cite most often to justify themselves. “Do whatever you want, you fat pig, but don’t expect me to pay for it.” Again, I refer you to the literature and data on health care costs (the New York archives can help you here, too). Fat folks are not the culprits. As I’ve said before, fraud, mismanagement and greed are what cost the most. The most expensive patient population is comprised of (formerly) healthy thin and normal-weighted people who are living longer than human beings ever have and are incurring enormous long-term care and end-of-life costs. Personally, I wish everyone a long, happy life; live `til you’re 150 and God bless you. For the record, fat people die younger and faster.

Fat people want everyone to feel sorry for them, but they don’t do anything to help themselves – Fat people aren’t looking for sympathy; we just want to be left the fuck alone and not be burned at the social stake. And unfortunate but true, most fat people are fat-haters themselves. They hate themselves and they hate other fat people and they spend their lives struggling to not be fat. The insidious weight loss industry in America alone is now raking in $64 billion annually (it used to be $40 billion). For the most part, fat people and people who just think they’re fat (such as most women who aren’t a size zero) are constantly fighting the battle of the bulge. Why do you think fat people are increasingly submitting to radical weight loss surgery (WLS)? The sad irony is, now that some time has elapsed since WLS became readily available, science is learning that not even surgery consistently produces permanent weight loss.

Fat people bring derision on themselves by being what they are – And women who dress provocatively in public are asking to be raped. Fat and fat people have been turned into a long-running joke by a culture that hates fat. I mentioned in a previous post that virtually every movie and TV program I see contains either a fat joke or fat insult or expression of dismay/concern about being fat. Movies from the 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s, now, it doesn’t matter. Television sitcoms, shopping channels, game shows, reality shows, even news programs and documentaries: fat is fair game everywhere and one of the few areas of nearly complete social agreement. Everybody hates fat! So what’s wrong with me??

Today, Huffington Post published another article about why [romantic] relationships make you fat. For the moment, I just don’t have the strength…


Karyn Ann Bosso said...

Thank you for this post. I found it when I googled "fat is not a crime" - I am a 54 year old outgoing and ebullient widowed redheaded Big Beautiful Woman. I love myself, but I face constant consternation from society, the media, (and even from my own mother) for being fat. I reject the idea that fat people are to blame for the ills of society - and I agree with your position. Fat is a state of being - we are fat, but we are not criminals. We are not without worth just because we are fat. Every fat person is not ugly, smelly, unkempt, lazy or bad any more than every thin person is attractive, fashion conscious, industrious or good. Again, thank you for your blog - and for putting it out there.

MizB said...

Thanks, Karyn. It's always gratifying to know that this message is getting out and, if not changing minds, at least comforting the oppressed. You go, "Red"!