Tag Archives: fat studies

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.

Fat Sex: The Naked Truth

An appreciation by Lynne Murray:

Sexual intimacy is the closest thing to actual magic that most of us ever get. It can be transformative and healing, but like any drive so powerful and so close to the core of existence, it can also be used to limit, devalue and manipulate.

“Using sex to make a sale” is so engrained in our collective culture that it’s hard to trace how that mental virus entered into our system (another day, another rant). Because sex is vital to our survival as a species, “sexual attractiveness equals self-worth” is an easily found, reliable button. It’s been pressed so often and vigorously that we’re now conditioned to measure our self-worth against an impossible sexual stereotype created to grab the attention of a mass audience for commercial purposes. And what “grabs that attention” has also been created by the same button-pressing and conditioning.

Fat people have been particularly vulnerable to being victimized by this brainwashing.

Fat Sex: The Naked Truth (love the cover!), by Rebecca Jane Weinstein, Esq., MSW, founder of People of Size,  (an online community and social networking site which provides information, support, and interaction for “people of size”) was inspired by Weinstein’s own experience:

“No man will ever love you,” proclaimed my grandmother in her self-assessed infinite wisdom. I was nine or ten—old enough to know exactly what she was talking about, and young enough that I believed her. Thirty-five years later, in the kind of therapy they do for veterans of war, I understood that she wasn’t entirely right. But, she wasn’t entirely wrong. Of course, as any therapy veteran would know, right or wrong, it was not about a man’s love for me, but “my love for myself.” I’ll get right on that.

It took me years—years—to say the word fat. It took what felt like an entire brain overhaul to say the words fat sex.

Weinstein’s victory over that early damage shows clearly in her poised Today Show interview describing her journey to write Fat Sex.

This book is not a how-to or resource oriented guide like Hanne Blank‘s Big Big Love: A Sex and Relationships Guide for People of Size (and Those Who Love Them). Instead, Weinstein has collected display a wide range of stories describing how people have suffered damage from hostility toward their fat bodies or because of their attraction to fat partners. Some have been irretrievably wounded, while others have creatively found ways to flourish sexually–no matter what anyone thinks.

Fat Sex was “crowdfunded,” published through a Kickstarter campaign with money raised from people who care enough about to the subject material to contribute to the process.  I was among those who contributed, and in return I received a PDF copy. Weinstein also used social media to collect fat people’s stories about their own sexual experiences. (This evokes Laurie and Debbie’s story of collecting stories, writing, and models for Women En Large before the World Wide Web was a household word.)

Inevitably the story of a fat person’s sex life plays out in the midst of our currently poisonous social climate. Margaret Cho‘s impassioned introduction reminds us that being infected with self-hatred in the form of “you’re too fat to ____ [fill in the blank]” can be a death sentence. Cho herself developed bulimia that nearly killed her after being told she was too fat to be in the television show built around her stand-up comedy routine. “I felt like I was going to die and I nearly did. It was beyond my control, and almost 20 years later I am still utterly destroyed by any negative assessment of my, or any woman’s, body.”

Many of the experiences recounted in Fat Sex are triumphant such as Samantha who reports:

…my husband thinks I’m a rock star in bed. The women before me, and there were quite a few, were afraid to get naked, were even more self-conscious than me. … Once my clothes are off, I want to embrace my sexuality. I’m a sexual being.

During sex, it’s the one place I feel like I can just be me, let it all hang out. Yeah, I’ve got fat on me. But my junk still works like everybody else’s.

Fat people manifest a wide range of flavors of sexual expression–to name a few from the book:

  • a happily monogamous couple dealing with a family that refuses to respect their son’s fat wife;
  • a fat man with many satisfied girlfriends of various body sizes (who don’t know he’s a player);
  • a fat woman in a long-term, lesbian relationship dealing with insecurity as her fat partner loses weight due to diabetes;
  • and a long-term polyamorous triad in which “All three [partners] …  have issues with their own weight, but not with their partners’ [weight].”

In some stories the search for affection along with sex plays out in a more poignant manner.  Delilah had many partners–sometimes in consensual “gang bang” situations–from high school onward. Even after she had attained a cult following in fat fetish porn films, the men who admired her and sought her out for sex refused be seen with her in public. Students of human behavior have just begun to expand beyond considering fat women’s sexual experiences solely in light of male reactions like the ones Delilah dealt with.

Researcher Sonya Satinsky and her colleagues asked an extremely pertinent question, “How does a women’s feeling about her body impact sexual satisfaction?”  in “An Assessment of Body Image and its relationship to sexual function in women.” Just as Weinstein finds self-esteem is THE major factor. Satinsky’s study concludes that “having higher levels of body appreciation predicted higher levels of sexual function (arousal, orgasm, satisfaction, overall  function), regardless of body size.

So how do you get self-esteem when the whole world is telling you that your fat body is wrongity-wrong-wrong-wrong and undeserving of pleasure?  Most of those who have come to terms with their size (or their partner’s size) have had some contact with fat activism either in person or online.

In “Fat Shame to Fat Pride: Fat Women’s Sexual and Dating Experiences,” published in the journal Fat Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Body Weight and Society, Jeannine A.  Gailey obverves that as difficult as it is to embrace fat pride, the effect on a woman’s sex life is dramatic. The women she surveyed report that, “With increased confidence, they are seeking partners who treat them well and satisfy them sexually.

As a storyteller, I have noted another development affirming the growing sexual prowress among fat women–

The recent popularity of so-called “curvy” or “Big Girl” erotica, a genre with strong romantic overtones that mark the intended audience as clearly female is another trend to watch. Authors publishing in this area inclue:  J. S. Scott (Big Girls and Bad Boys: A BBW Erotic Romance), Alexis Moore (Curves for the Billionaire), Christa Wick (Curves Ahead), Gretchen Lane (Big Girls Don’t Cry), Christin Lovell (Curvosity), Adriana Hunter (The Plus-Size Loving Series and the Wealthy Men & Curvy Women Series), and Australian Angelina Verdenis (Big Girls Lovin’ Series) and even a 2010 mainstream Silhouette entry, A Whole Lot of Love by Justine Davis.

My own experience gives credence to the “self esteem leads to better sex at any size.” I had the great good fortune to be raised to consider myself adequate to any task. Although I was a chubby kid and dieting was part of my life from age nine onward, no one ever told me anything was wrong enough with my body to make me unlovable. I naturally discovered masturbation as any adolescent will given enough privacy. By the time I was ready to explore sex with partners I was fat enough to turn some men off, but I just shrugged and moved on.

From Fat Sex to scholarly appreciation of self-esteem to curvy erotica, I feel hopeful as I watch so many fat people throwing off oppression to pursue a fully sensual life–one orgasm at a time!