Tag Archives: fat prejudice

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.

How do I dehumanize you, let me count the ways …

Lynne Murray says,

In April I saw the river of short comments on Twitter marked by the hash tag #thingsfatpeoplearetold.

Brian started the topic, which garnered 2000 original tweets in 48 hours, and he rounded up some responses to it in this post and in a guest post on Shakespeare’s Sister he summed up the experience:

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.,