In July, I wrote about former Playboy Playmate Dani Mathers, who posted an unflattering photo of an older woman changing clothes at the gym to Snapchat. She used the caption “If I can’t unsee this, then you can’t either.”
Mathers claims she just meant to send the image to a friend, not post it publicly. Somehow, that didn’t make me feel any better about her.
Although I’m far from the only body-image activist who called Mathers out, I never imagined that she might actually face any serious consequences. Jail never crossed my mind. In so many circumstances, shaming “imperfect” bodies is the socially accepted norm, not a crime or even a mis-step.
Sam Warner’s Esquire article about the photograph tells an unexpected story:
According to TMZ, the unnamed woman is in her 70s and reportedly wants to see Mathers prosecuted, and is also willing to testify.
She could be charged with Dissemination of Private Images, which carries a maximum sentence of six months. …
[Mathers] was subsequently banned from LA Fitness for life and suspended from her slot on KLOS radio, with the LA police opening an investigation.
I didn’t know that “dissemination of private images” was a crime: I’m glad it is.I hope Dani Mathers doesn’t go to jail. I’m too much of an activist, and have too much distrust for our penal system, to want to see almost anyone go to jail. However, the ban from the gym and the suspension of her radio program are excellent responses to her behavior. And it doesn’t bother me at all that she’s currently afraid that she might have to go to jail.
If only everyday ordinary body-shaming, the kind that doesn’t involve Playmates and national news, had real-life consequences too. Maybe someday.
I have a very long links list, and it struck me that several of them are about fat acceptance which (of course) is how Laurie and I got started doing this work. So today I present you with a themed links list, starting with
I am not ashamed to admit that this made me cry. In a good way I mean. I was just so overjoyed to see how fat women are represented in this video, I burst into tears. Which is really saying something. I don’t cry about fat stuff any more. None of it ever reaches me emotionally – I’ve grown so jaded and frustrated at the way we’re portrayed, the way nobody has listened to us, the way businesses insult and disrespect us and then expect us to give them our money. I’ve never felt represented by marketing that was supposed to be aimed at me, and certainly not by the media.
But this… this is everything I’ve been banging on about for YEARS, trying to get brands and marketing to understand. That they can market to us in a positive, aspirational way that INCLUDES us. That says “We see you, and here are some products that we’ve got for you. We’d like you to shop with us.”
I do understand people can be hurt and/or offended by the implicit expectation that all fat women/people should love our bodies. I completely respect that position and I want it to be part of the discourse. At the same time, I’m with Fat Heffalump in deeply appreciating honest talk from corporate America about how hard it is to be fat and how (some) people can — with support — find a way to be happy with that. I also especially appreciate that this commercial is diverse, and that the women are truly fat: this isn’t your 160-pound white girl celebration of fat power.
In the department of “no one should have to be told this,” Aimée Lutkin at Jezebel reports on how previous Playmate Dani Mathers first posted a nasty anti-fat picture and then recanted. I’m not going to reproduce the photo; you can see it at the link if you want. I will say that Mathers apparently captioned it “If I can’t unsee this than you can’t either.
Her walkback, as quoted by Lutkin, is also less than stellar, including: “That photo was taken to be a personal conversation with a girlfriend, and because I am new to Snapchat, I didn’t realize that I had posted it and that was a huge mistake.”
Maybe Mathers should be watching the J.C. Penney commercial above?
Although Mathers’ picture was not headless, it seems like a useful time to remind people of Dr. Charlotte Cooper’s 2007 essay on headless fatties, which someone I read linked to recently.
It’s quite bizarre, fat people are in the news all the time, almost constantly; “Obesity” returns more than twice as many Google News hits as “Madonna.” But we are presented as objects, as symbols, as a collective problem, as something to be talked about. Unless we play the game and parrot oppressive, self-hating, medicalised views about fat, fat people’s own voices, feelings, thoughts and opinions about what it is to be fat are entirely absent from the discourse. Because of this, we are currently unable to capitalise on the allure a fat body holds to viewers and readers, and this will probably continue as long as we are disenfranchised beings.
As Headless Fatties, the body becomes symbolic: we are there but we have no voice, not even a mouth in a head, no brain, no thoughts or opinions. Instead we are reduced and dehumanised as symbols of cultural fear: the body, the belly, the arse, food. There’s a symbolism, too, in the way that the people in these photographs have been beheaded. It’s as though we have been punished for existing, our right to speak has been removed by a prurient gaze, our headless images accompany articles that assume a world without people like us would be a better world altogether.
Dr. Ashley Kasardo has an excellent piece at the HAES® files on “Fat Talk as a Microaggression”:
Microaggressions are subtle, often brief exchanges, intentional or not, that send denigrating messages to individuals due to their group membership. For example:
“She’s so fat- it’s unhealthy.” Equates fat with being unhealthy, which is untrue. Assumes one’s health based on physical appearance. …
“You’re not fat- you’re beautiful.” Equates attractiveness with the thin ideal. Sends the message that fat and beauty are mutually exclusive. Bashes fat as a descriptor and makes it difficult for someone to own fatness as a part of their identity without derogation.
“I’m not eating that- I don’t want to get fat.” Makes eating a moral choice- you’re good or bad if you eat certain foods. Equates eating certain food with getting fat, or the idea that if you just act “right” you can control your weight. This isn’t the case for many, especially considering the role of genetics and one’s individual fat set point in their body. Research shows fat people do not eat more compared to anyone else.
“You look amazing- you’ve lost weight.” Reinforces the thin ideal. Correlates worth with appearance- but we are more than our bodies. Reinforces the body as an object as well as fear of fat. … Complimenting weight loss or criticizing weight gain carry assumptions regarding weight and health that aren’t accurate.
Kasardo goes on to make some suggestions and recommend some reading material. In one way, I think it’s obvious that fat talk is a microaggression, and yet I don’t think I would have thought or said that so clearly if I hadn’t seen Kasardo’s piece.
Let’s close with fascinating fat science (and discount the required anti-fat moralizing that goes with it). Samoans get a lot of bad press for being fat, and I found this peek into the reasons–by George Dvorsky at io9–fascinating:
Starting around 3,500 years ago, ancestors of Samoans began the arduous task of settling the 24 major island groups of Polynesia. This colonization process—one of the most extreme examples in all of human history—took possibly thousands of years to complete. “They had to endure voyages between islands and subsequently survive on those islands,” study co-author Ryan Minster told New Scientist.
As Darwin pointed out many years ago, evolution requires long timescales. But in some instances, when environmental conditions are particularly severe and attritional, selectional processes accelerate the process—an evolutionary phenomenon dubbed “punctuated equilibrium” by the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould.
Make your own decision about reading the rest, because it does have the obligatory (microaggressive!) critique of Samoan diet and concern trolling about Samoan health. Nonetheless, it’s good to know that Samoan genetics have such a heroic history.