Jill recently wrote a terrific post taking feminist fat-haters to task. She was responding to the comments at this post at Feministing, in which the point of Jessica’s post — that the fat-shaming and abusive behavior depicted in a commercial for a Denver gym is unacceptable and the kind of thing nobody would accept if it were directed at (almost) any other group — got lost very quickly as soon as someone calling herself “raginfem” showed up, and she WAS JUST CONCERNED about the HEALTH of all those UNHEALTHY FAT PEOPLE who MUST NOT KNOW THEY’RE FAT and therefore CAN’T KNOW that they’re UNHEALTHY, and they MUST BE ADVISED that they’re FAT and UNHEALTHY because FAT IS UNHEALTHY and raginfem is CONCERNED. Concerned, I say. IT’S JUST that she’s CONCERNED ABOUT THEIR HEALTH. Especially THE HEALTH OF THE CHILDREN. Who have NOBODY WHO WILL TELL THEM THE TRUTH, THAT THEY’RE FAT.
And, of course, it’s not like nobody’s ever heard that one before, and we were off to the races.
These posts play out in remarkably similar ways, don’t they? After a few on-topic comments, there’s always somebody who decides that life will no longer be worth living unless he or she informs those benighted souls who are promoting obesity by, say, showing pictures of fat women who are happy and confident and (gasp!) sexy, that they’re FAT! and obesity is DANGEROUS! and they’re going to DIE RIGHT NOW! and COST THE HEALTH-CARE SYSTEM MILLIONS OF DOLLARS AND THIS IS WHY WE CAN’T HAVE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE! YOU’RE JUST TOO BLIND TO SEE!
Which, as we all know, is crap, through and through. And there’s always someone who will try to patiently explain that to the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog, often citing studies and statistics and figures and reminders that there is a whole lot of territory between “like to starve to death” and “not leaving the house without a crane.” Frequently, someone will point out that what lies behind this “concern” for “health” is simply disgust (which is often borne out by some dude offering his opinion of the fuckability of fat women, and voicing his terror that if he has to accept fat people as human beings, he’s going to be forced to find fat women sexy, up with which he cannot put). Usually, a reminder is issued that YES, WE KNOW WE’RE FAT.
And, of course, the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog refuses to concede any ground. Because it’s all about CONCERN. For your HEALTH. Yes, the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog is CONCERNED for your HEALTH, and you should TAKE SOME TIME OUT OF STUFFING CHEETOS IN YOUR GAPING MAW TO SAY A WORD OF THANKS. Not that the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog is really in it for the thanks, because the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog knows, just knows, that you’re UNHEALTHY. Why, the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog knows someone who DIED from BEING FAT, and it’s a compulsion to TELL YOU HOW YOU CAN AVOID THE SAME FATE. It’s about SAVING LIVES, PEOPLE, and sometimes, the TRUTH is UNPLEASANT. And hard to SWALLOW. But if you SWALLOWED some TRUTH occasionally instead of that ice cream the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog just KNOWS you’re cramming into your mouth RIGHT NOW, so much you MIGHT AS WELL JUST HAVE A BEN & JERRY’S DRIP, FFS, the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog COULD FINALLY REST.
And then a funny thing happens: in the face of this intractability, people start buying into the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog’s frame. They start to offer their diet and exercise routines along with their sizes to show that THEY ARE TOO HEALTHY, DAMMIT.
That’s always really, really bothered me. And it wasn’t until I started thinking about frames that I realized why: offering justification for your weight (in the sense of, “See, I’m healthy because I eat right and exercise, but that hasn’t made me thin) is just buying into the worldview of the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog. It puts you on the defensive, and shifts the debate from the initial topic of discussion — typically one either of maltreatment of fat people or of efforts by fat people to fight back against maltreatment — to why you’re a worthy fat person due to your healthy habits. A couple of commenters in that huge Feministing thread really got at it:
I don’t know why people are arguing over how ‘being overweight is unhealthy’ as if that has ANYTHING TO DO with the point of this ad.
It’s cruel, inhumane treatment of someone, period. Of a whole class of people actually, since this guy makes a pattern of being an royal asshat to fat people just because they’re fat. That’s indefensibly wrong.
It is true that often overweight people could eat better or exercise more. I don’t think that’s the point of this story, and I think that bringing it up in a thread about this story reinforces for overweight people the idea that their weight is, in fact, a valid reason for verbal and physical attacks. And that they shouldn’t whine too much because, after all, they could control themselves if they just tried a little harder.
There is a place for people to focus on healthy eating and exercise, but why does that have to be here, in the shadow of that asshole shouting ‘moo!’ at that poor, underpaid actress?
I would hope that this would be a place where we could all agree that nobody deserves to be humiliated or abused just because of the way they look. That’s the only point that should be derived from this particular story, and having it be a springboard for fat-blaming is upsetting.
One of the things that bothers me about this justification business (as well as the whole “Diets Don’t Work!” mantra, which also usually puts in an appearance) is that it puts the focus on the individual fat person rather than on the treatment that the fat person is having to deal with. Indeed, this is a good example of the “personal is political” phenomenon as it was originally put forth: our weights may be within our individual control, but the way society treats us because of our weight demands a collective solution. Being turned down for insurance because of your BMI isn’t truly a personal problem, it’s a political one — why should insurance companies get to draw arbitrary lines to deny coverage, and by the way, why is it we still don’t have universal health care, again?
And your doctor’s berating you about your weight may seem like an individual problem, but the fact that fat hatred kills demands a collective solution. But if shame keeps us off-balance and justifying why we weigh what we weigh, or why we should (or shouldn’t) do something about that, then we never really think of the problem as being bigger than ourselves.
The self-justification also sets up a certain group (those who engage in healthy behaviors) as more worthy of being left alone by the Obesity Crisis™ Watchdog than those who don’t. But why should healthy lifestyle be the ticket to being treated as a human being? I shouldn’t have to do a damn thing to claim my right to being treated equally other than exist. Who the fuck has the right to deny me that just because I like to have a piece of cake every now and again, or because sometimes I eat too much or don’t exercise?
Fuck that noise.
A suggestion, going forward, about dealing with the inevitable Obesity Crisis™ Watchdogs who will pop up in comments: don’t engage their arguments. Call them out on their bullshit, fine. But don’t take their health-concern claims seriously. Because it’s not about health with them, it’s disgust, and no amount of exquisitely crafted debunking of their claims by your own personal example is going to sway them (because, come on. Have you ever seen one of them change their mind? No, you haven’t. Neither have I).
- Happy “I Hate Fat People” Week! by Jill July 26, 2007
- Ways I Will NOT Be Celebrating Earth Day by Cara April 22, 2009
- Black women are promoting obesity with their big booties by Jill June 17, 2007
- Big fat news by zuzu September 13, 2007
- Shocker: “The Biggest Loser” promotes unhealthy weight loss practices by Jill November 25, 2009