When my friend Nikkie suggested that I write my next blog on a form of bigotry that is not often discussed, I was a little unsure of how to approach this topic. I still am. I have been sitting at the computer for a few hours trying to figure out how to write this particular blog entry. I realize that my own prejudice is likely to weigh heavily in my writing seeing as it is a topic of such discomfort for me. When Nikkie brought it up, though, I immediately thought of one of my recent presentations of “The Wall” from a Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership seminar this summer.
After I presented, a young woman came up to me and told me that she loved the presentation but that she thought it was lacking in one important way. I had left out an incredibly common form of bigotry that needs to be addressed: “weight hate” or prejudice and bigotry based on someone being overweight. Her comment struck me because she is right in that issues of “weight hate” are not ones I often consider in my anti-oppression work.
For me, my own prejudice and bigotry enters the picture so easily. I carry my own baggage. I remember being pretty young and having my friend Kyle constantly comment on the fact that my mom was fat. I carried a lot of shame in that . . . though I do want to throw a quick shout-out to my mom who, through healthy diet and exercise, has managed to lose 90 lbs in the last few years. Due to my own baggage, though, it is so common for me to simply think, “If you’re overweight, it is a choice that you have made to live an unhealthy lifestyle.” After all, we live in a country where 25% of folks are considered “obese.”
What is frustrating for me is that I think things like this, yet I know the reality of obesity politics in the United States. For instance, I cannot tell you how many times I have heard people say that we must not really have poor people in the United States. After all, “every time you see supposedly ‘poor’ people, they are fat. If they are so poor, how can they afford to gorge themselves to the point of being fat?” Few consider, though, that thanks to the Farm Bill’s agricultural subsidies, we have a caloric system that is skewed to the point that the cheapest calories are the least healthy and nutritious. I love this particular look at the issue, “What Does 200 Calories Cost – The Economics of Obesity,” because of the powerful visual it creates for the cost of calories. Thus, those with the least expendable income for food are the most likely to be obese, which is further exacerbated by the fact that food stamps most easily purchase unhealthy calories and can’t often be used in venues like farmer’s markets. Thus, I struggle with wanting not to condone too much unhealthy eating when people can avoid it, and I want to encourage healthy lifestyles, but I often forget too easily that there are indeed politics of health that are much larger than simply someone being overweight.
Beyond these politics, though, is the reality that regardless of why someone looks the way they do (whether rail-thin or big and beautiful), no one deserves to be treated as less than a person due to their weight, which is where Nikkie’s point enters the discussion. She made the point that perhaps someone’s weight is one of the few areas in which it is still socially-acceptable to be an asshole. Fat jokes are considered funny and acceptable. The “fat kid” at school is still the one who is tortured in the halls. The internet is littered with shit like this (excuse my language, but this really is just total shit):
Undoubtedly, this overt bigotry towards people who do not fit into the incredibly restrictive standard of beauty in our society is the reverse side of the “objectification of women” coin that I so often struggle with. When we ridicule those who stray even so slightly beyond the ridiculous standard of beauty and expect women and men to look like the airbrushed folks in the magazines, is it any wonder that at age 13, 53% of American girls are unhappy with their bodies and that this number jumps to 78% by age seventeen? After deciding that I wanted to focus on this topic for a blog entry, I have begun to see it everywhere. I was giggling endlessly to the “Colorado Girls” video only to look to the comments to see someone commenting that Colorado women are “fat and ugly” (which is bizarre to me because all I can see in the video are very healthy bodies). I was watching an episode of “Family Guy” only to see the “No Fat Chicks” mantra repeated (now I recognize the often-poignant societal critiques that can be laid out in this show, but the only irony or critique that I could find was in Peter, an overweight man, wearing the t-shirt). I decided to watch some “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and was barraged with “Uncle Phil is fat” jokes.
My point here is that if we should not tolerate prejudice or bigotry with regards to race or religion or sexual orientation or class or gender or ability, why in the world should we tolerate it with regards to weight and body type? While I always encourage people to live a healthy lifestyle, a person’s weight does not always reflect their lifestyle. There are people who work out regularly, eat well, and are in good health whose body type is often seen by others as “fat” or “thick.” There are people who actually have quite healthy body weights who see themselves as fat or unhealthy due to the images of tiny women they are constantly barraged with in the media. There are people who have inherited a healthy booty or healthy thighs or a delightful belly. Even further, are people who are legitimately obese or unhealthy any less deserving of my respect than someone who is “fit?” Absolutely not.
Again, it is time for us to rethink beauty. Why must beauty be so incredibly restrictive!? In what ways can “thin privilege” be interrogated? In what ways can we imagine a new standard of beauty that is respectful to all body types? Frankly, Big Girls (and Boys for that matter), You are Beautiful!
Much of my discomfort in writing this post comes from my relative inexperience in talking about issues of weight and body image. As a result, I know that many of my readers have insights that can help me and other readers advance our thinking on this subject, so I truly want to hear from you! What did I miss? What did I screw up? What are some exciting ways that you are working to combat “weight hate?” In what ways are you living and envisioning a new standard of beauty that is more inclusive? Now it’s your turn!