Fat Bashing


This morning this photograph appeared on my Facebook news feed. It was posted by a thoughtful woman, who only mused that perhaps it wasn’t safe to take a wheelchair through the drive-thru. On the other hand, one can see how much easier it would be to roll around the drive-thru than to struggle with one or two sets of manual doors to get to the counter.

The comments that appeared alongside this photograph weren’t entirely surprising.  Most were polite– it’s okay to say “out for some fresh air and a snack” about anybody buying food outdoors. Right? There’s no particular snarkiness there. People went out of their way to say that they didn’t want to judge, or that they had sympathy for the woman in the chair. But one commenter, a middle-aged woman with long hair, said she “hated to see people let themselves get into that condition.”  Later in the thread, she went further saying “Obviously, she’s not trying to get out of the chair,” as if you could tell anything about the woman’s medical or social history or what ambitions she had from an uncaptioned still photograph.

I had at first presumed, wrongly, that it was a McDonald’s drive through and I pointed out that perhaps she was going through the drive-thru for a bottled water and a yogurt. To which the voice of judgment responded– “I doubt if she’s getting water and yogurt at a Pizza Hut.”

But really, what does it matter what the hell she’s getting? Do we comment on the food choices in fast food restaurants of thin people? Or athletic people? Or normal-weight-out-of-shape people? Of course we don’t. It is, rightfully, none of our damn business. But because this woman is fat,  some people think it’s their prerogative to make pejorative comments.

When I called this person on her judgmental remarks she responded “If you are offended by what I posted, you’d love what I really thought about the photograph,” and then as those sorts of people always do, she tried to make it all about her, as if somehow she’d been victimized by notice taken of her own behavior.

But why do we think it’s okay to say nasty stuff about fat people? In 2010, after the debut of the CBS television show Mike and Molly, about an overweight couple in love, the magazine Marie Claire ran a column on the show by one of their staff-writers Maura Kelly. In the column, Kelly wrote about the her response to the show:

So anyway, yes, I think I’d be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other … because I’d be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I’d find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroine addict slumping in a chair.

Now, don’t go getting the wrong impression: I have a few friends who could be called plump. I’m not some size-ist jerk.

Not surprisingly Marie Claire was bombarded with messages of outrage about this column, and eventually the writer confessed that she did have some issues about weight, given that she had struggled with bulimia and anorexia. (I don’t know what excuse she has for being a mediocre writer, that wasn’t addressed). Now, probably Marie Claire has some culpability in assigning a story about fat characters to a woman with eating disorders; and obviously an editor signed off on the story or it would not have run at all, but they conveniently let Kelly bear the brunt of her actions. But the real question is why is Fat Bashing the last acceptable prejudice?

The same people who would never engage in prejudices that involve race, gender, creed, religion, sexual orientation or disability are likely to be the ones standing around the water cooler telling fat jokes. (And obviously, fat people with disabilities, like those that might be trying to get their lunch in their wheelchair in a drive thru are not exempt from condemnation either. If you want sympathy in a chair instead of derision, you’d better be thin.)

If you do a Google search on “Funny Fat People,” it returns nearly 22 million results. Twenty-two million. It’s mind-boggling. Many sites seem to be compilations of photographs, or videos, or morbidly obese people dressed in spandex, or Lycra, or bikinis. Sometimes they’re exercising. Hoo, boy, that’s hilarious. Other times, they’re just out with friends, having fun. And if their friends are huge too, well, that’s just hysterical. The comments that accompany these funny sites are often akin to the taunts of  middle school children. Would we find these sites acceptable if they were of “humorous” photos of blacks, Hispanics, Jews, Muslims, gays and lesbians or amputees?  (Yes, I know those sites exist, but if people enjoy them they keep it a secret in polite company. But fatties, well, there’s nothing wrong with poking fun at them, right? After all, their gluttony got them to the state they’re in, right? I mean, if they’d just exercised a little self-discipline, they wouldn’t be in such a disgusting state, right? Right?

Give me a break. Obesity is, quite literally, a terrible burden. Morbid obesity is so called because it really can and will kill you. People are fat for a myriad of reasons; some genetic, some medical, some behavioral. They don’t choose to be fat, we don’t choose to be fat. The next time one of your otherwise politically correct friends indulges in Fat Bashing, call them on it. Don’t let them get away with perpetuating this hatred. Fat people have feelings too– depression, sadness, self-consciousness, self-loathing, anger.  We don’t need any extra condemnation, we have plenty of that for ourselves, thank you. And it’s none of your damn business what we order in the drive-thru.

Target number 57. Steps today 1670. (Still in too much pain to walk today.) Breakfast: two hard-boiled eggs, four cups of watermelon. Lunch: a cup of cottage cheese, half an avocado, half a cup cherry tomatoes. Frozen fruit bar. Dinner: half a cup of potato salad, half a cup of baked beans, a quarter of an avocado, 12 oz. New York strip, and 6 ounces of raspberries.


4 thoughts on “Fat Bashing

  1. Very well done Larkin – I think it just that, an acceptable form of cruelty. Overall I think we have become a nation of people who get entertainment from belittling, disounting, and mocking.

    ‘Epic Fail’, ‘look at that moron’, ‘people of Walmart’, etc…

    I am not pure, in bad moments I have said things that do not take into consideration a person as a whole human being – but mocking fat people seems not only acceptable, but encouraged.

    Great post…

  2. I don’t disagree that people are intolerant and rude about fat people — you make many good points.

    But if you think that intolerance based on sexual orientation has disappeared, perhaps you’d like to do a couple Google searches similar to the “Funny Fat People” one you did that returned 22 million results. Try “homosexuals deserve death” and you’ll get 12 million results.

    Moreover, our state’s constitution does not prohibit marriage between fat people, or between a fat person and a thin person, so long as the people involved are of opposite genders. And there are no non-discrimination laws in Ohio or federally based on sexual orientation, but refuse to hire someone based on weight, and you might run afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

    When marriage equality for queers is enshrined in our nation’s laws, when sexual orientation is no longer an acceptable legal reason to deny someone employment or housing, you can tell me that homophobia is no longer an acceptable prejudice in our society.

    Again, I’m not saying that people aren’t judged and treated horribly based on weight and based on assumptions about their lives, but last acceptable prejudice? Nope.

    • David, I agree entirely. I think what I was getting at is that the supposedly educated among us, the politically correct– people who would never dream of making a personal remark about someone based on their sexual orientation have no problem passing judgment on the fat. I didn’t mean to diminish the struggles that the LGBTG community faces on a daily basis.

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