Shakesville on Fat Shaming

Two very worthwhile discussions going on at Shakesville that I wanted to recommend checking out. One with people sharing stories of being fat shamed, and one with people sharing stories of having fat shamed others. I'm not the only one with stories of both and reading both threads has been very enlightening.

My fat shaming experience is something I'm still ashamed of and it was very powerful to see how others really had that same instant guilt I felt. I knew better when I did it. Though I was still too young to be fat acceptance aware, I knew I thought fat girls were cute. I even rationalized what I did as sticking up for a fat girl who was being insulted for her size by a fat boy. Obviously, now I know he was just engaging in his own defense mechanism not unlike a lot of the stories being shared in the thread. I thought it would be just to turn his fat hate back on him, but its not. Fat hate is never okay and as soon as I did it I felt sick about it. I knew better and I did it anyway. That so many of us who did feel sick over fat shaming others still did it says a lot about powerful fat stigmatization is in our culture.

In my experience being fat shamed, reading other people's stories had a reaction in me I wasn't expect. I know I'm not all that fat and I know that being a man limits the abuse I receive. I wasn't even fat as a child, which is perhaps the greatest "at risk" time for fat shaming. I thought I had experienced very little fat shaming, and just from strangers. I figured reading other stories would only reinforce how lucky I was. And while it did and I'm still very aware of my privilege in this regard, I also realized all the ways I was fat shamed and just didn't process it as such. I gained a lot of weight very quickly, and this hardly went by without comment. While most of my friends were not assholes, it wasn't a big issue but I knew people were talking about me behind my back because it would get back to me. I forgot how happy people were when I got sick and lost 40lbs in a month. How is that something to ever be happy about?

I definitely encourage you to read both discussions and hopefully contribute as well. There is much to be gained by sharing our stories like this.

Um, no. I will not be a paid diet spokesperson.

I ocassionally get emails from the blog from people looking to get me to promote something. They are almost always clearly people who just culled my email address and have no awareness of what I am writing about. They are just emailing a massive number of people in the hopes someone will bite. Today, though, I got something that did show some awareness of what I right about, but absolutely no comprehension.

I'm really not sure if this is a fake. The from email address is so unprofessional that it strains credulity. Still, its not worthy trolling at the least, so I'll still share it with you. I figure I'm not the only FA blogger who got this, so feel free to chime in if you were also propositioned.

Hello, Brian.

For reasons that will become quickly apparent, I can't identify myself or the company I work with immediately.

I'm a lawyer, and one of my firm's clients is a national weight loss company. We have a marketing initiative where we find prominent writers on weight issues and pay them to try out our client's program. The pay can be substantial, starting at 1,000 dollars a week, and goes up from there, depending on a few factors, including the amount of time the writer stays with the program. We have people making six figures a year.

Two things about the initiative:

1. It doesn't matter whether or not you lose weight, as long as you stick with the program and write about it.
2. Obviously, you can't talk about the fact that you're being paid to try the program. You'll be asked to sign a non disclosure form.

If you're interested in getting started, let me know and I'll give you more details. If you're not interested, thank you for your time.

Karen Jones
It really reads like the random scam spam you always get with the whole "I can't identify myself" bit. I mean, it makes sense, though, since what is being proposed is actually against the law. Paid bloggers are required to disclose paid endorsements. I suppose the claim would be that this isn't an "endorsement", but I doubt the FTC would appreciate that distinction. The real expectation is that no one would ever know or care. Still, I wouldn't exactly praise the weight loss industry for their ethical behavior, so that hardly is a proof that its fake.

So, what do you think? A troll with too much time on his hands trying an elaborate ruse or unethical diet company trying to drum up a secret shill? Of course, either way, they don't really read this blog if they think I'd do this. Its frankly insulting to me and to you, as well. Anyone else been similarly propositioned?


"It" not being gotten

When the Marie Claire debacle broke yesterday, I felt little need to respond directly the article as others had done such a good job. Thus, my pre-reaction to the kind of backlash those sentiments tend to engender from people fretting about us wanting to force our fatness upon them. While FA voices have acquitted themselves quite well, others... well, not so much.

For starters, there is the original author herself who posted an "apologetic" postscript to the original article. Its a total non-apology, but it actually seems even worse than that, to me. It was bad enough that she was all "in my defense, the people I'm disgusted by are REALLY fat", but I realized she actually only expresses regret to people who are trying to lose weight. Either the author thinks dieters are the only kind of fat people, or the only kind who matter. She's torn up if she offended someone who agrees with her that fat is a horrible problem, but that's not really addressing what was so offensive to people who don't concur that fat people are blighting the planet.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post offered its own "not getting" reaction to the reaction wondering if we need to ban the word fat. As if that was the problem that people were up in arms over. It makes a feeble connection to some Canadian article about a politician that called him fat a lot. Look, there is nothing wrong about fat. If people paid attention to the backlash from fat people, they'd notice we use the word a lot. The problem is the attitude. If someone uses fat as a slur, its that they think our bodies are wrong that is the issue. Not anything rude about the word itself. I don't care if someone calls me fat when they are expounding about how disgusted they are at having to glimpse my body. I care that they are disgusted by my body.

Marie Claire (who don't forget commissioned the article in the first place) has also acquitted themselves poorly. Or, at least their social media team did. When they did a good thing by inviting Lesley Kinzel to write a response for their blog, they promoted it on Facebook. Lots of people declined to be terribly moved by this manner of reaction. Marie Claire then pushed back by insisting that the offending attitude was just an "opinion" and acted like they were just engaged in an exchange of ideas. Hate may be an opinion, but its not "just an opinion". No one is saying the author should be thrown in jail for her fat hatred, but they are saying its offensive and unacceptable. The level of bitterness and hatred the author displayed was openly and intentionally hurtful (well, maybe not if you loathe being fat). There is no civil debate between "your body is disgusting and should kept out of sight" and "um, no". Making it like it is just deepens the wound caused by the hateful attitudes. This isn't some sort of "point/counterpoint" situation. The disenfranchised don't have an obligation to endorse their stigmatization as a valid opinion.

Well, guess what. An increasing number of fat people don't care to know their place while other people check off Fat Hate Bingo squares. That's a very good thing.

Its okay to not be attracted to fat people

As luck would have it, the latest fatosphere topic of discussion dovetails nicely with the next thing I wanted to talk about relating to fat sexuality. A Marie Claire blogger (really, there is such a thing) wrote a post complaining about the overrepresentation of fat people in our entertainment mediums. No, really. Its all about how she feels uncomfortable with seeing fat people on TV because she's so disgusted by them. But she's only grossed out at us for our health, you see. Like everyone else who stigmatizes and bullies fat people.

Of course, that's not true. She clearly isn't concerned for our health when what she's talking about is a show about self-loathing fat people who regard weight loss as the ultimate goal. She's "aesthetically displeased" and she wants to rationalize that. So, to this writer and anyone else who is wondering, let me say this: Its okay to not be sexually attracted to fat people.

The purpose of fat acceptance is not making people be attracted to fat people. Actually, I think people in fat acceptance get this pretty readily, but ocassionally you'll see a post bemoaning the superficialism of people who only date thin partners. More likely, it'll come from people who aren't really fat accepting at all, but who think they are helping by regarding attraction to thin people as necessarily suspect. Its not. Its totally okay to not be aesthetically pleased by fat people.

I say that as someone who very much IS aesthetically pleased by fat people. Indeed, that's why I say it. My sexual attraction to fat people is not charity work. Its not because I'm enlightened in any way and am willing to date fat people in spite of their physical appearance. Its not because being fat myself, I feel it is the proper thing to do. Its not because I can't do any better. Well, actually it is. I just mean it in the other way. This is what I want. This is what my sexuality is.

I've really started seeing this through the prism of sexuality and its been making a lot of sense to me. As I started to have sexual feelings, an attraction to fat was one of the things I was immediately aware of. It reminds me a lot of stories I've heard of gays and lesbians coming to recognize their sexual orientation. This was something I felt very strongly, very innately. I simply wasn't sexually interested in thin partners. Fat is at the core of my sexual aesthetic and even calling it a preference doesn't feel like it does it justice to me. This is part of who I am and I'm prepared to demand respect for it.

And offer that respect to others. I would no sooner want anyone telling me I couldn't be attracted to fat people than I want anyone telling people oriented to attraction to thin people that they shouldn't feel that way. Both "orientations" deserve respect. And we should all recognize that this isn't something that acts as a binary. People don't all come in only fat admiring and thin admiring flavors.

I think if we had some sort of fat acceptance utopia, we'd find that a certain part of the population was specifically attracted to fat partners, a certain part of the population was specifically attracted to thin partners, and there would be a lot of people in the middle without a strong leaning towards one or the other. I don't think we see that much now because those people in the middle are strongly conditioned to believe that attraction to thin partners is appropriate and they decide to try to "pass" for thin admiring. Because its not very hard to pass. There are definitely still people who don't get caught up in this. I think a lot of fat people do have partners that come from this middle group which is awesome. But there are probably a lot more people who could potentially be in this group who instead do what they are told is expected of them.

Problem is, of course, that we can't really tell the difference. There is no way to know who is thin admiring because they are genuinely oriented that way, and who is just going along with what they think they are supposed to. So we have to just respect it all. Which also means not lionizing those who buck the system too much. Its great, and all, but no one is noble for dating fat people. Either because they want to or because they are willing to do. I think that kind of construction actually just endorses fat stigmatization by making too much out of resisting it. I mean, yeah, it means something but lets not act like it makes any of us better people. It doesn't matter in that way.

Which brings me back to the Marie Claire writer who decided to write an article consisting exclusively of things Google suggested be searched about fat people. Her problem is not that she's not attracted to fat people. Its that she thinks that matters. Its that she regards lack of meeting her sexual aesthetic is a moral failure worthy of condemnation. I'm not attracted to thin people, but I'm not disgusted by them. For pretty much the same reason I'm not disgusted by gay people. Because I'm not an asshole. Because I'm not offended by anything which doesn't turn me on. The privilege of thin attraction, though, allows this and it clearly fuels a great deal of fat stigmatization. They are allowed to elevate their sexual attraction to something that matters beyond their choice of sexual partners. There is a world of difference between not being aesthetically pleased by something and taking the time to be aesthetically displeased. But its a difference thin admiring people rarely feel the need to see.

It creates a false notion of a backlash against fat acceptance for the perception of trying to make them be attracted to fat people. While a few people do seem to advance this, I want to be clear that I utterly reject it and I think most fat accepting people would agree. We no more have a fat agenda to force ourselves on people sexually than gays are trying to turn straight people homosexual. No one is trying to take away their sexual attractions. We're just trying to get THEM to stop forcing theirs on us by elevating their sexual aesthetic to something objectively "right". You don't need to be disgusted by fat people to not be sexually interested in us. You don't need to be disgusted by fat people at all. Its just privileging your sexual interests as something more important than they are. Its okay to not be attracted to fat people. Its not okay to think that means anything more than that.


Let's reference Salt-n-Pepa, bay-bee.

I've been wanting to talk about fat and sexuality for a while now. The Rotund beat me to it and forced my hand to finally comment on the issue. Its a pretty broad topic (pun intended), so this might just be the start of a series. Be warned.

Its an important topic, though, because sex and the fat body is a vital subject not explored nearly enough while its one of the things we very explicitly deny fat people in our culture. Obviously its okay for a fat person to not be interested in sex for their own reasons. But our society denies fat people the choice. The idea of fat people as sexual beings is treated as an absurdity. The tricky thing is that its a lot easier to recognize that this is bullshit than it is to fully reclaim what gets lost.

Which isn't to say that its easy to reclaim one's sexuality as a fat person. Getting to the point of being comfortable with one's body and with another person's desire for your body is already a huge step in our culture. But the structural denial of fat sexuality means many of us lack a lot of basic vocabulary about understanding our bodies in a sexual context. I think our culture romanticizes the idea of sex as a discovery or revelation that we take for granted just how much assumed knowledge there is about the sexual experience. But all that knowledge presumes two thin bodies and that knowledge just doesn't reliably transfer to fat bodies.

Some does. For some fat people, actually a lot might. But for others there will be extremely little relevance. The truth that fat sexuality reveals is that bodies can be different and this can make a difference. I know this may seem obvious, but think of how most people relate to sex through pornography where the physical deviations are generally extraordinarily small. In the real world, though, bodies are wonderfully unique and varied.

This becomes a real problem because of the way our culture stigmatizes deviations from the "norm". Its not just about fat, of course. Anything outside of an arbitrary "normal" tends to be defined by its limitations. I think the conversation about fat sexuality needs to be about moving past this and into the possibilities of our bodies. A fat body can be very different from a thin body, especially in a sexual context. Not every position will "work". That can even be true for the same person with the same body depending on their partners. But these things shouldn't be seen as limitations, I think. Body diversity makes sexuality more genuinely a discovery because so much focus needs to be on what our bodies can do. But that requires us to start a new conversation instead of defining us by old standards of what we can't do.

This isn't easy. It requires a lot of trust and communication which aren't always well associated with sex for many people. But opening up the conversation allows us to explore our sexuality in a lot of the ways thin people take it for granted. Learning our sexual vocabulary is very much an act of empowerment and a response to oppression.

So, what does this mean? Well, a lot of is just talking about the basic mechanics. Sexual positions are a rich area of discussion because I think fat people need to draw from a rich palette to find out what works with any two bodies. Weight, height, shape, size, these all make each sexual partnership fundamentally different and unique. Positions that worked with one person, might not with another. I'll cop to have a go-to favorite, but I don't take it for granted, either. You need to explore what works for the unique scenario of any given pair of bodies.

Another thing is what does sexual desire mean to us and for us. This is something I've wanted to get into for a while from the perspective of a "Fat Admirer". I really feel like this isn't just a preference but very much a part of my sexual identity. What does that mean for my sexuality? What does it mean for the fat people I find attractive? What does it mean for myself as a fat person? What does it mean for how I perceive others with like interests? What does it mean growing up feeling this way and having it shape my sexuality? Its a pretty huge topic but I hope to get into some aspects of it moving forward as I think there really is a lot to talk about there and I think its something that doesn't get talked about enough. At least not in a serious and considered manner.

So, that's probably enough talking about sex for one night. Please dive in with your thoughts and follow the discussion over at The Rotund.

The Google Proof

Very powerful post on Tumblr looking at the suggested search results when someone tries to search for information about fat people. You will probably not be surprised to learn that the results are almost exclusively fat hostile. Its a very stark demonstration of thin privilege.

I took the author's suggestion and tried repeating these searches for thin people and was alarmed that the results there were also advancing fat hostility. About half of the results of the "thin people" search were things thin people aren't supposed to get. Like diabetes, high blood pressure, PCOS. Of course thin people have these health concerns, too, but the search suggestions were a reminder of all of the health problems thin people don't have blamed on their bodies. Its the natural result of the fat associating results for the "fat people" search.

More alarming, though, was the "thin people are" search. The results are exclusively fixated on fat stigmatization. The most important thing that thin people are, it seems, is not fat people.

I tried searches for "thin people should" and "thin people can" but it turned up no results. I'm taking that someone philisophically as an example that thin people's possibilities are unbounded. They are not limited by their body. While the "fat people should" search was most disgusting of all, thin people, it seems, can do anything. That's privilege.


Hating fat people is not "edgy"

Dr. Samantha Thomas points out a rather obnoxious ad created as a demo for some Australian ad agency. In the ad, we see a woman presented as if she is preparing drugs to give her child, only she gives him a burger and fries. The ad isn't for anyone. The ad agency itself took it upon itself to do this service announcement. Basically, they are advertising themselves as the makers of such an "edgy" and "controversial" take on condemning fat people.

Which is idiotic. This isn't an auteur art project. Its an ad agency trying to drum up work. They are doing this precisely because piling on fatties isn't really edgy at all. They are doing this BECAUSE fat people are disenfranchised. Its like people who think saying racist or homophobic jokes makes them a politically incorrect rebel instead, ya know, a fucking racist or a homophobe.

What this really is is the flattery of privilege. I feel like I saw this a lot defending fat acceptance on other sites recently. There is no shortage of people looking to congratulate themselves for hating fat people. They want to flatter their ego with the notion that they are courageous to verbally beat up on fat people. Except, of course, that they are just standing up for the status quo, defending the privileges of fat hatred. That's pretty much the opposite of "edgy", but people in power have a way of convincing themselves that THEY are the ones who are being put upon.

You see it in the "Men's Rights Activists" who rush feminists sites to complain about how much men are abused in our society. You see it in the people who send race baiting emails about President Obama. You see it in those who complain about the "assault" on Christianity in an oppressively Christian society. Its not just that they are standing up for disenfranchisement to preserve unjust power. Its that they convince themselves THEY are the ones being oppressed. They manufacture these absurd notions of an oppressed majority just to impress themselves. They think of themselves as brave as they pile on a group with little power. They think they are being edgy and contraversial but they do so purely within the confines of a shared delusion. They aren't taking any real risks. They know full well they are presenting dominant views and people will flock to congratulate them on their courage. This isn't speaking truth to power. Its smug self-satisfaction.

This ad is actually quite deft in its way. It pushes buttons of two very different threads of fat hatred and would find haughty support from both camps. For the liberals, it presents the notion of fighting an evil corporate threat with the imagery of fast good. For the conservatives, the text suggests issues of personal responsibility through the drug metaphor. It walks the line between both takes leaving just enough for either group to feel vindicated in their privileged hate.

The message, of course, is foolish. It advances the notion that fatness is something done to people, particularly children. I know progressives tend to like telling themselves that this is kinder, gentler fat hate but its still hate. Blaming anything for my body is still about defining it as transgressive. Doesn't matter if you blame McDonald's or my mother. Its still about stigmatizing me and disenfranchising me. The ad is so lazy in its cliche's, but it knows they are cliches people cling to. Fatties eating burgers is second only to donuts as a go-to insult for someone prejudiced against fat people. I could see PETA running this ad in a second to advance their increasingly untethered message of "Meat isn't murder but it is making you occasionally have to glimpse fat people and that's much worse".

Eating isn't like doing drugs. I know a lot of fat haters think they are brilliant for coming up with that silly rationalization for their prejudice, but its just plain dumb. I could not sooner give up eating than breathing. Eating gives us strength and energy. Eating brings us life. Stigmatizing eating only creates patterns of disordering eating and a frightening amount of social acceptance for disordered eating.

So, in conclusion, eating is fine. Fat people eat more than burgers and donuts. (Some of us are even vegetarians!) Hating fat people is positively ordinary and fat shamers deserve none of the flattery they lavish on themselves because there is nothing brave about standing up for the status quo.