Lynne Murray says,
In April I saw the river of short comments on Twitter marked by the hash tag #thingsfatpeoplearetold.
I started the hashtag with some posts of ironic fat shaming but my attempts to exaggerate for effect were betrayed by the true hostility fat people are subjected to in the name of our own good. As outlandish as I was, people really do think fat people should be denied clothing and jobs lest we think it’s okay to be fat. After me, the meme took off with a stream of tragic and all too real attacks that fat people endure regularly. After the first day, I collected some of the posts for my blog, but it was really overwhelming. The life of a fat person is full of indignities and it was all too easy to catalog them but so difficult to be confronted with these truths.
The hostility fat people experience is extreme. One woman spoke about being on an operating table for a C-section and having a surgeon mock her fat, suggesting they get rid of it while they’ve got her open. Another spoke of sitting in an ambulance while a police officer refused to believe she was raped. Others were told they should be happy to have been sexually assaulted. We heard about how transgender persons were belittled for being too fat to pass. We heard about fat people who were sick and were denied treatment until they lost weight. Fat mothers were told they were selfish for being fat because they would orphan their children. Or that their children would never love them. Or that they’d just ruin their children’s lives so maybe the baby should just die in the womb. People who were told they would die before their 21st birthday (or 30th, or 40th, as the needs of the threat demanded). It is very difficult to read.
Reactions to this tidal wave of sharing were all over the map. Outrage at the abuse, encouragement to reaffirm self-esteem, and calls to solidarity in the face of this tremendous hostility.
My first thought was how feminist consciousness raising sessions of the 1960s and ’70s were inspired by the way Mao’s revolutionary army gathered together the women in Chinese villages in the 1950s to talk about how they had been treated — rapes, beatings, literally being sold as concubines. The slogan was, “Speak bitterness to recall bitterness. Speak pain to recall pain.”
With that said, I have to honestly confess my own reaction to the #thingsfatpeoplearetold tweets, though I’m not proud of it.
I couldn’t bear to read them.
Partly this is due to how much of a word person I am and how limited my resources are. Libraries are not available even by mail due to mobility issues and funds for purchasing books, magazines or even cable television are just are not there for me. So I have been more dependent on the internet and broadcast television than I would like. The internet gives a measure of freedom to tailor content, but even with constant exercise of the mute button, broadcast television provides almost more doses of socially sanctioned fat hatred than I can endure. One way I protect my sanity by only consuming small amounts of toxic attitude when I can control the source. So I could only take “things people say to fat people” in very tiny sips.
I was almost not going to write about it when I ran into a Big Fat Blog piece describing an instance of Fat Prejudice Examined that actually made me feel exhilarated. I thought about why looking at this artwork, so deftly skewering prejudice made me feel so good and I decided to couple the two subjects.
A photo of the energizing artwork was captioned by the Portland Press Herald: Rachel Herrick’s “The Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies,” a multimedia installation at the Maine College of Art. The self-deprecatory piece plays off the “Back to Nature” exhibits at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.
As described in the Herald article:
The most impressive, ambitious and unusual work in the show is Rachel Herrick’s “Museum for Obeast Conservation Studies.” It’s a one-room taxidermy-style installation not unlike the “Back to Nature” vignettes that have charmed generations at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.
Herrick has a professional hand. Everything in her “Obeast” piece is top-notch, from the phenomenal taxidermy-style, life-size Obeast on her grassy pedestal, to the wall images mapping the evolution of the Obeast from a walrus, to the glossy museum brochure and the slick informational kiosk complete with artifacts and videos. (The “museum’s” terrific website is part of the work: obeasts.org.)
Because the Obeast is an obese young woman, I was mortified when I first saw the installation, because I could have been looking at one the most offensive works of art I had ever seen. I hadn’t seen the name and did not know that the artist was a woman. I can’t remember the last time my moral sensibilities had been so thoroughly challenged.
Through the photography and the videos, however, it became clear the Obeast is the artist herself — an obese woman who looks exactly like her self-portraits in the “museum.”
Allergic to self-pity, Herrick subtly relates that obese Americans have to deal with people who routinely confuse physical largess with diminished mental capacities. Part of the joke is that Herrick plays no heavy-handed card, and leaves bigots to twist in the wind of ignorance — never the wiser despite her razor-sharp educational and informational professionalism.
Did I mention I am a word person? I have to say that I stand in awe of how this art installation manages to demonstrate why the word “obese” is SO offensive, without ever saying so.
Then the droll website (Museum for Obeast Conservation) literally “MOCS” the element of condescending superiority that sometimes accompanies the most well-intentioned efforts to rescue ANYTHING. The Obeasts in the YouTube videos are referred to as “it” even when the obeastologists are determining whether it is male or female before fitting it with a tracking collar. This demonstrates so clearly the cultural perception of the “otherness” of fat people that makes outright hostility so acceptable.
What can I say? I’ll attempt to explain my reactions this way. To me, pure, undiluted prejudice is like raw sewage, it is very hard to be around; while prejudice transmuted into art is like fertilizer, it makes things grow.,