There is nothing more cruel than fate designating a woman to be fat. Being a fat woman, in the eyes of society, immediately renders you second class. Fat women are reviled and pitied in equal measure. Being a fat woman renders you a second class citizen. Being fat means you are only allowed the leftovers in life. Being fat diminishes all of your other achievements. ‘She’s got a law degree from Harvard but what a shame that she’s fat’. ‘Only if she weren’t fat, she’d be so pretty.’ Karl Lagerfeld lamented about how much prettier the singer Adele would be if she were only ‘a little’ less fat and when he was called out for fat-shaming Adele, he was incredulous as he meant it as a compliment, after all, he said she was pretty. Being fat renders all of your other achievements pointless. At least for fat men, if they have enough other compensating factors, being fat can be and usually is overlooked. He doesn’t even have to be rich. A fat man with a degree from a good college, a stable job, good credit, comes from a good family and all around nice guy, he can most likely get the girl of his dreams. But not for the fat girl. Being skinny is the compensating factor for her other flaws. If she’s got nothing else going for her, at least she’s skinny. The sitcom ‘King of Queens’ will never happen for a fat girl. A fat girl will never get a hot, good looking guy of her dreams. A fat girl will end up more like the sitcom ‘Mike and Molly’, where Mike and Molly are both fat and they spend all their waking hours trying not to be fat.
The feminist movement have tried its best to be inclusive of women of all different backgrounds: poor, rich, white, minority, educated, uneducated, high-earning, low-wage earning, young, old, straight women, sex workers, lesbians, genderqueer, cisgender and transgender women, but there is one category we are uncomfortable talking about because it’s so sensitive. And that is fat women. Yes. F-A-T. It’s uncomfortable typing the word ‘fat’ and even more uncomfortable saying it. We have invented other words to circumvent the word fat: overweight, obese, heavy, husky, curvy, round, rotund, anything, because saying the word ‘fat’ is so cringing to say and type. You almost feel dirty writing it.
In this era of people trying to be inclusive of everyone and everything (regardless if deserving or not, but as an open and enlightened society, we’ve told ourselves that we need to be tolerant of anyone and everyone, even the intolerable) yet we leave out fat people. Especially fat women. The feelings and needs of fat women can be ignored, disregarded and not even register on the radar of society for the sole reason that she’s fat, therefore she’s not worthy of being seen or heard.
Denigrating and insulting fat people is the last taboo that is allowed and tolerated. The conversation sort of changed in the last twenty years moving away from aesthetics to health. Instead of calling people fat, we use the medical term obese. Or if we want to be really technical, they are either clinically obese or if they are really really fat, we call them morbidly obese. But it all boils down to the same thing and that is they are all fat, just varying degrees of fat. We talk about the obesity epidemic, how much obese people are costing the healthcare system (not more than smokers, chronic drinkers and drug users but they don’t get all the hate). Kids in school now are fatter than ever, juvenile Type 2 diabetes rates have soared in recent years, especially among the working poor. The talking heads and health experts intone that children are fat today because their parents are most probably fat and don’t know how to feed their children properly. So on top of being poor, uneducated, stupid, bottom of the scrap heap, they are now draining the healthcare system because they are ‘unhealthy’ (another code word for fat). People who are poor are assumed to be stupid, because, as the Republicans will tell you, they are poor because they are too lazy or too stupid to pull themselves ahead. This country is the Land of Opportunity, you will get ahead if you work hard enough. You’ve got to be stupid to let your kids get fat like you too.
Millions of dollars have been spent on studying the ‘obesity epidemic’ and the results of all those studies say pretty much the same thing. When you consume more calories than you burn off, you get fat. So, if you like to eat, join the gym or engage in more physical activity. If you don’t like to go to the gym, then moderate your eating. The diet industry is a billion dollar industry and yet obesity rates are still through the roof.
But if you look deeper, just like everything else, how fat you get has very much to do with your socio-economic background. Middle to high income earners who can afford fancy grains (brown rice, quinoa, teff or couscous), fresh fruits and vegetables have an easier time controlling their weight than those who are at bottom of the economic scale. You will never see children of millionaires and billionaires fat even though they live in the lap of luxury and have access to the finest and richest foods. Even something so basic like food and nutrition has been drawn into this ugly class war. Food conglomerates have found ways to sell consumers processed food at the cheapest price possible. These processed foods are loaded with chemicals, sugar and sodium, some of them have been deemed addictive in some way. When people are too poor, they stop reading labels, they just need to feed their families and if you can get Campbell’s Soup at 2 for $1.00, then that’s what the kids are having for dinner.
In inner city and urban areas, fresh meat, seafood and produce are scarce, also known as ‘food deserts’. Many big grocery store chains don’t want to invest in inner city areas due to security issues, crime, vandalism and the question of affordability by the residents in inner city areas, especially if a substantial number of residents are on public assistance.
But a study by economists at the University of California and Michigan State shows that little progress has been made in pinpointing the real reasons that some areas become food deserts. And some possible causes are more insidious than you’d expect.
It only seems logical that if a neighborhood grocery store shuts down, another one should be allowed to move into the abandoned space. But the anti-competitive policy of deed restrictions often prevent that from happening, which leaves the neighborhood without convenient access to groceries.
In other words Deed Restriction. Safeway and Walmart have been known to use this tactic and leave their former storefronts empty but unavailable for sale or lease. Without access to fresh groceries, inner city residents are left with greasy fast food restaurants for their meals, which contribute to the obesity epidemic.
Like everything else in America, even something so essential and basic as access to food has been commercialized and stratified. Fancy supermarkets with organic foods and produce are what the middle and upper class people consume, and the greasy, processed packaged foods are what inner city folks consume. Inner city folks eat Jif’s peanut butter, but the middle and upper class people eat freshly ground organic nut butters where the sole ingredient is the nut which Whole Foods Market and its competitors have on offer for their customers. They would never dream of eating peanut butter out of a prepackaged jar. One would never see a Whole Foods Market opening in inner city of Chicago. They are lucky to get a Ralph’s and hope the Ralph’s stay open long enough for the residents to benefit.
When a woman is fat, she is denied her womanhood. She is denied her sexuality, her femininity and her basic personhood. Being fat makes you not fuckable, undesirable, and he must need a bag over his head in order to go to bed with you. There must be something so grossly wrong with you where you cannot control your weight. Fat women are bullied senseless first by their families, then by schoolyard bullies and taunted by boys. Fat women are more likely to be unemployed as well. Nobody wants to be seen with the fat girl.
If you are the fat girl you can only adopt two personas, the sweet fat girl or the funny fat girl. If you are the smart fat girl you be bullied for being smart and fat. If you are the opinionated and outspoken fat girl, you will be accused of thinking you are the cute skinny girl when you are just fat. The skinny girl can repeat the same words the fat girl just said but somehow coming from the mouth of the skinny girl, it sounds better. Just like in the boardroom, when a man and woman essentially express the same opinion, everyone will go with the man’s version. The woman was just nagging.
Without getting to know the person, society assumes the worst from fat people. To allow yourself to become so fat, you must not take pride in your appearance, you must be lazy. You probably smell and you are most definitely a slob. Fat girls have tried to overcompensate for their fatness by being overly nice. They become doormats for the popular skinny girls. They become doormats for their boyfriends who treat them like trash or have a fetish for fat girls, after all, society tells them, they are lucky to even have a boyfriend. And if you are so unfortunate to be fat, you must get a good personality real fast. There is nothing more revolting to society than a fat girl who is loud, opinionated and outspoken. Just think how few people came to Rosie O’Donnell’s defense when Donald Trump publicly bullied her about her weight. She was treated as if she deserved what she got, for opening her big fat mouth about Donald Trump.
Fellow blogger, Cute Girl with a Banjo’s mother was a proud overweight woman who spoke her mind:
I began to notice how many people looked at my mother with contempt. I observed their posture, and the looks on their faces when they spoke to her. They hated her. Even when she was being nice (which she mostly was), she seemed to rub people the wrong way. Especially men. It always seemed to me that most men couldn’t stand my mother. After all, she had a triple whammy of “unlikable” traits: she was fat, outspoken and female.
This issue of weight is personal to me because I was always made to be aware of my weight growing up. I grew up in a family of skinny women on both sides of my family. I was skinny but curvy, which to my mother’s side of the family was ‘fat’ because of my developed chest and hips. My mother’s family comprised of small skinny Chinese women who are 100 lbs soaking wet. But I was proud of my figure because it was admired by westerners and by western standards I was thin. And in my not-so-good moments, I rubbed into the noses of my thin, flat chested family members. I was 5’8″ and 120 lbs at my best weight. And I maintained this weight without dieting. I had a few things in my favor, from the ages of 6 to 18, I was a vegetarian. I also didn’t suffer from a sweet tooth and I didn’t like carbonated drinks, so that naturally kept about 30 lbs off. I ate as I pleased but I knew how moderate and I rarely overate. I wasn’t an emotional eater. I ate when I got hungry and stopped when I was three-quarters full.
My father had a pathological hatred for fat people, especially fat women. This is a fact I am very embarrassed to talk about but it’s true and were he alive today, he wouldn’t hesitate to admit it. And God rest his soul, but his fat-phobia irritated me to no end. He disliked one of my cousins for no other reason than she’s been overweight for most of her adult life. He didn’t even care to know his niece because he was so revolted by the fat. This cousin also happens to be the daughter of the brother with whom he had a bad falling out with, but when we spoke of her, he only thought of her weight and it disgusted him. It also made me think, should I be unfortunate enough to inherit the fat gene, he wouldn’t love me as much. Knowing my dear old dad, this was a very strong possibility. It wasn’t an issue we discussed much because of its sensitive nature. I was just glad I wasn’t fat. I had enough problems already, I didn’t need those daddy issues.
Since I had my second child two years ago, there are thirty stubborn pounds which just won’t leave my body. Granted, I haven’t increased my activity level simply because there’s not enough time but I am keeping to a healthy diet. I assumed my body will bounce back postpartum because I was the girl who could eat whatever I wanted. But it didn’t happen that way. Even with my extra postpartum weight, I am nowhere near the fat category but I find myself feeling badly about my weight, which was something I never felt before. I feel as though my best days are behind me all because of this extra thirty pounds (it’s ridiculous, I know). I am still determined to lose it, but it’s just not coming off the way I expect it to.
My obsession with my inability to lose my extra postpartum weight has forced me to confront my own issues with fat-phobia. What is it about my extra thirty pounds, which really just renders me more curvy than before that is bothering me so much? Am I worried about belonging to the ‘fat’ tribe? To no longer be seen as the skinny girl? Did I subconsciously adopt the numbers on the scale as part of my identity?
And what is society’s disgust with fat people? And why does the feminist movement always skirt around this very sensitive topic. Since the medical profession got involved and gave it a medical diagnosis – obesity, feminists have left this very sensitive subject in the hands of capable doctors but it’s just a way to not deal with the problem of the poor treatment of fat women.
If the numbers on a scale are just that, numbers and nothing more. And if the reason one woman is heavier or lighter than the next woman is nothing more than genetics or lifestyle choice, we would not have such an emotional response to our weight. But the numbers on the scale are not just numbers. Those numbers represent a major part of our identity. It represents where our pecking order in society is. It represents whether we are considered desirable or not, whether we are worthy or not, whether we deserved to be loved for who we are as we are, not after we’ve lost x number of pounds.
Talking about all of this here has made me extremely uncomfortable, especially because I have never been fat before (outside of my pregnancies). And as such I don’t feel I have a right to speak about this very sensitive issue, even if I am advocating for equal treatment for fat people.
A common retort by non-fat men and women alike are, if you don’t want to be mistreated for being fat, then just lose weight. This is bigoted, unfair and wrong as fat people shouldn’t be bullied for their weight to begin with, regardless of the reason why they are fat. And as I have personal experience, losing excess weight is not so easy.
Having said all this, it doesn’t diminish the obesity crisis. It is a crisis. But is a crisis manufactured and prolonged by food poverty, the inaccessibility to fresh and unprocessed foods and fetishizing healthy eating. Healthy eating has become a dominion of the upper classes. Eating fancy, exotic, healthy and ‘clean’ diets has become a ‘lifestyle’ choice of the upper classes, thereby driving up the prices and easy access to fresh food and produce. Encouraging people to keep their weight at healthy levels is necessary and needs to be done, but it can’t be accomplished by shaming fat people to lose weight. Shaming people into doing anything has never worked. Also, what’s never discussed is, being thin does not automatically equal healthy. There are plenty of unhealthy thin people out there, people who smoke, do drugs, drink to excess, eat unhealthily as well but it doesn’t translate to weight gain, where is the boiling scorn for those people who are draining the healthcare system?