Today as I was closing down my office and getting ready to leave, I witnessed a student being called a “fat ass loser” by her own father, a large man with a beer gut. Not only were his comments abusive in general, they were incongruent with both the realities of his own body and hers; moreover they exposed the gendered nature of the cult of thinness in our culture and how it is mobilized, even in situations in which bodies and body size have no relevance, to demean and control women and girls. While his actions were done on an individual level, meant to police her physical and educational mobility, they relied on a growing fatphobic culture that depends on blaming individuals for the shape of their bodies while ignoring intersecting structural inequities, real mental and physical health, and multiple industries that profit off of both the existence of “fat” people and the fear of fatness ( defined in ever expanding ways to increase said profit). Popular media (like celebrity and obese dieting shows) and presidential foci (from Reagan’s presidential fitness plan to the present) combine to send the message that “overweight” is a universal and natural term that shows a Calvinistic lack of discipline and represents an undue economic burden on the nation; from public spaces to private conversations, despising the “fat body”, whether simply thick or morbidly obese, subsequently becomes normalized and emotional, physical, sexual, or economic (ie refusing to hire) violence against the women inhabiting them becomes ok. In other words, the discourse surrounding “fat” produces seemingly justifiable fatphobia because it argues that all people really need is
- to choose healthy food
While these are all things that lead to healthy bodies, they are not as simple as one might think. On the one hand this trinity of health assumes access to healthy food and exercise that is not as ubiquitous as implied and on the other, they assume that people with large bodies are over eating and under exercising when this too is not always the case. In fact, many large people are starving b/c they are caught in yo-yo diets and the fear of being seen enjoying even the simplest meal in public spaces.
Some of the structural issues this mantra of “health vs Sloth” ignores (and therefore fails to confront):
- each year our portions get larger
- our modified food gets less real (ie manufactured or modified ingredients outnumber those found in nature)
- the number of preservatives, salt, butter, and sugar in foods that need none of these continues to balloon
- medications whose primary or secondary side effect is weight gain constitute a considerable portion of the medical market
- research into correcting thyroid problems is stagnant
- starving yourself or yo-you dieting can lead to massive weight gain b/c your metabolism slows down
- most jobs are sedentary and being sedentary most of the day can lead to weight gain espec. when coupled with emotional issues or lack of sleep
- insurance either does not cover or does not encourage thyroid testing and people are not taught to ask questions related to thyroid health
- gyms are generally not set up to be ADA compliant beyond the basics – meaning equipment, trainers, classes, etc. are unavailable, harmful, or simply inaccessible
- some low income neighborhoods, particularly black ones, have no access to grocery stores in their own neighborhoods and the kwikimarts don’t sell fresh produce or produce at peak
- “organic” produce has become a niche/lifestyle market, that has grown up alongside the fatphobia industry, and thus is priced out of most low income family budgets
- organic produce is seldom available in working class neighborhoods and the stores are often not inviting to working class or poc customers
- while a burger at McDonald’s costs 99 cents, an apple at Whole Foods costs $4 or more; when you are on a limited budget cost matters
- exercise equipment and playgrounds in low income neighborhoods and most communities of color are inadequate or unsafe even in schools
- Stress, which is generally higher among parenting families, working class and subsistence level families, and traditionally marginalized people is a leading cause of certain kinds of weight gain
The list goes on. And when we stop to interrogate the difference between the individual decision-making model of the cult of thinness and the realities of an industry that perpetuates itself through the dual arms of negative industries (like fast food and diet pills) and “positive industries” (like organic produce and “green” gyms that are priced out of most people’s budgets, located outside of most working class and poc neighborhoods, and designed to attract middle class white liberal shoppers over working class, rural, or poc shoppers) we cannot help but witness how the myth of undisciplined, intentionally slovenly or sloth-like, bodies masks intersecting oppressions and punishes individuals regardless of body type. So while there really are things each of us can do to be healthy, the discourse of “healthy bodies” or “fat bodies” relies on self-hate and increasingly blatant hatred and discrimination against large bodies regardless of whether they are healthy or not, or who has conspired to make them unhealthy when they are so.
One counter point comes from young, large, girls themselves in the form of the body positiveness exemplified by Oscar nominee Sidibe to the “Fat Dinosty” series introduced to me by @biancalaureano when I tweeted some of the specifics of the hallway incident at the top of this post:
The next time you are inclined to affirm the myth of the doughnut guzzling super-sloth through fatphobic comments or thoughts, consider some of the things on the list above or simply how fatphobia is breaking down the self-esteem of both thin and thick girls all over this nation. Our bodies do not come in one size fits all, but one sure sign that you are thinking through the lens of oppression is when the ideas you subscribe to do.