Healing the Toxic Intoxication of Fat Hatred

Lynne Murray says:

I recently tried once again to read George Orwell’s 1984.

As always, I got a few chapters in and had to stop because it was so depressing that I couldn’t live in Orwell’s evocation of mind-controlled totalitarian world for a minute longer. One thing I did get out of the experience was adding one more time reading the early chapters including the Two Minutes Hate scene. Early in the book the hero, Winston Smith takes part in his office’s mandatory daily group hate ritual, an exercise in bonding and mind control.

The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but, on the contrary, that it was impossible to avoid joining in. Within thirty seconds any pretence was always unnecessary. A hideous ecstasy of fear and vindictiveness, a desire to kill, to torture, to smash faces in with a sledge-hammer, seemed to flow through the whole group of people like an electric current, turning one even against own will into a grimacing, screaming lunatic. And yet the rage that one felt was an abstract, undirected emotion which could be switched from one object to another like the flame of a blowlamp.
1984, George Orwell

Reading this reminded me of all the rituals that aim hatred at fat people and how deeply they are engrained.

Hate speech would seem to be something that progressive, counter-cultural internet-savvy folks visiting a mellow, inclusive site called Live Love Grow would want to avoid. But on October 22, 2012, when Issa posted “21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People,” she found that far from worrying about contributing to the hatred of fat people, commenters to her blog were darn proud to hate fat and fat people. After four days she was forced to conclude:

While originally I welcomed comments on this post, 4 days and 400 comments later I’m pretty much over it. Almost no comments are making it through moderation. Some positive comments will still trickle through, but if you are hear to argue, explain, or even just take a tone I don’t like, I probably won’t approve your comment. You might think you have something useful to say, but trust me, I’ve heard it all before, explained myself till I’m blue in the face, and I just don’t care. There’s a whole wide world of fat acceptance writing on the internet for you if you would actually like answers to your arguments and questions.

Hate speech with one target has a lot in common with other hate speech for any targets, but official recognition has given the stamp of self-righteous legitimacy to a very large percentage of the population that hates and fears fat.

In an April 8, 2013 Psychology Today article, Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D., psychologist and student of criminal and deviant behavior talks about the permanent damage to our society done by encouraging fat hating bullies:

When this mentality is pervasive, it is used to justify any and all harm against the target group. This technique has been employed throughout history as a means to control and subjugate. You may think that this statement is extreme. However, objectifying a group always leads to discrimination against those people.

… If you don’t believe that the bullying of the overweight constitutes hate speech, then simply substitute black people or gays in place of the derisive things said about fat people. Just switch any other group name into such statements as “they are lazy and stinky,” and the hateful nature becomes apparent.

Words have meaning. That is why totalitarian countries have propaganda ministers. The public can be manipulated by word choice.

“The Weight Hate, How hate speech against overweight people is more dangerous than you think,” Psychology Today April 8, 2013 by Deborah Schurman-Kauflin, Ph.D. in Disturbed

In “The Seven-Stage Hate Model: The Psychopathology of Hate,” FBI behavioral analyst Jack Shaefer, Ph.D., provides some answers on why hatred is such a popular and self-reinforcing group activity. Shaefer dissects seven stages in the progress from hate speech to murderous violence:

Not all insecure people are haters, but all haters are insecure people.

Hate is the glue that binds haters to one another and to a common cause. By verbally debasing the object of their hate, haters enhance their self-image, as well as their group status.

… [T]he more often a person thinks about aggression, the greater the chance for aggressive behavior to occur….

Time cools the fire of hate, thus forcing the hater to look inward. To avoid introspection, haters use ever-increasing degrees of rhetoric and violence to maintain high levels of agitation.

“The Seven-Stage Hate Model: The Psychopathology of Hate,” Psychology Today March 18, 2011 by Jack Schafer, Ph.D. in Let Their Words Do the Talking

The hatred has been building a long time. Over the past few decades I have witnessed a concerted and product-oriented effort to ramp up anxiety over body size. A resurrected 1954 Life Magazine article describing the excruciating humiliation a fat woman recently made the internet rounds. It is rightly described by psychotherapist, activist and journalist, Dr. Charlotte Cooper as “vintage fatophobia.”

As Cooper also shares, almost immediately after the LIFE article resurfaced, Rebecca Weinberger re-imagined the story in empowering terms. Weinberger links to the original article (so I don’t have to!) but she begins by explaining how she has reframed it:

To introduce this a little more: I was really sad for Dorothy, that woman in the re-issued LIFE article that I posted yesterday who had been ridiculed for 60 years in fat-shaming photos. So I made her a different life – fat, queer, femme, … feminist, poly, she likes tight dresses and picking up strangers, and is often frustrated by how she’s looked at when she goes to the gym and the lack of plus size clothing. So basically, I made her a version of me. I’m done, and I’m really excited about it, with all the photos from the new and old articles captioned and telling a story.

Cooper puts this in perspective:

This amazing and fairly tiny intervention has reminded me that we may be subjected to a thousand instances of fat hatred every day, and more, it runs through us like blood; but within that hatred there are opportunities for radical transformations that are simply done and amazingly effective. With their expansive activist imagination, The Fattening has done a great job in putting fat people into the picture and shown how essential it is that we tell our own stories. I can see this form of activism taking off in other directions.

How can we maintain and take back out humanity? It ain’t easy but it can be fun. No one is going to invite us to seize a chance to re-write our stories to confront fat hatred, but every time we take the chance, it makes it easier to see and grab the next one.